- Associated Press - Monday, December 19, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 16

Obama should order public investigation of Russian hacking

Russian hackers may not have thrown the presidential election to Donald Trump - his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was a weak and flawed candidate in a year of the outsider. She likely would have lost even without Russian hijinks.

But what the Russians appear to have done is a dangerous business, and both Congress and independent investigators need to get to the bottom of it.

And that investigation needs to be public.

Last weekend, four top senators, two from each party - John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed - pledged to investigate the alleged hacks of the Democratic National Committee through the Senate’s committee process. And that’s fine as far as it goes.

But because so much of that work may be done behind closed doors, President Barack Obama should appoint a separate bipartisan commission before he leaves office to do a separate, public investigation.

President-elect Donald Trump isn’t likely to be an ally of the truth. He hasn’t been one so far. In fact, he’s more likely to try to bury the truth, particularly on this score. So far, he has cavalierly dismissed a finding by the Central Intelligence Agency that Russian hackers acted to help elect him. His transition office said in a statement that “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” The election is over, the statement said, it’s time to “move on.”

Actually, Mr. Trump, it’s time to learn exactly how you got elected.

Time to learn the truth about your connections to Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Time to get to the bottom of an ominous and unprecedented chapter in American politics.

The CIA view, now shared by the FBI, that the Russians wanted to help Trump is based partly on the finding that thieves infiltrated both the DNC and Republican National Committee computer networks but chose not to share any of the Republicans’ information. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, denies that the RNC’s computers were infiltrated. Perhaps it depends on what the meaning of “hack” is, Mr. Priebus.

Once inside the Democratic computers, thieves captured reams of documents, which were later released by the ever-irresponsible Wikileaks and other, shadowy websites. Then the mainstream press reported on them, resulting in a steady diet of embarrassing news stories that became a nagging distraction for the Clinton campaign.

Overall, Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump but she lost soundly in the Electoral College. Democrats, furious at the assault, believe the hacking affected the outcome of the election. But many factors were at play in Clinton’s stunning loss, including the arrogance of the Clinton campaign headquarters staff in Brooklyn, which took for granted victories in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Had she won those three states instead of losing them, she would be planning her inaugural. Her loss was attributable to more than Russian mischief; it resulted, in fact, mainly from Democratic incompetence.

Even so, the hacks are not simply an embarrassment. They are state-sponsored terrorism. And the weak response so far from the Obama administration is of a piece with much of his foreign policy. During an interview with National Public Radio on Friday, Obama said “We need to take action. And we will - at a time and place of our own choosing.” Later, in a press briefing, the president defended his response saying anything he did was going to be “seen through a partisan lens.”

Obama, no doubt, was in a tight spot during the campaign; he had to be careful not to appear to be using the power of his office to tip the scales for Clinton. And he did reportedly warn Putin against interfering with the election during a side meeting at the Group of 20 Summit in China in September. But now a strong response is needed.

The two top Republicans in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, support investigations into the cyberattacks.

While they’re at it, Congress and independent investigators should look into why Donald Trump has engaged in his puzzling slow dance with Putin. Better relations with Russia are desirable - but not at any price - and Trump’s ongoing bromance with the Russian dictator is hard to fathom.

Time after time, Trump has been dismissive of Russian misdeeds - the shoot-down of an airliner over the Ukraine, the assassination of Putin opponents. He has spoken admiringly of Putin’s strength (note to the president-elect: autocrats always are strong). And he plans to nominate the chief executive of ExxonMobil for secretary of state, a man with deep ties to both Putin and Russia.

As Michael Crowley, chief foreign affairs correspondent for Politico, noted last week: “Donald Trump seems to have an almost willful ignorance about Vladimir Putin’s methods and intentions that raises the question of whether there is some unstated, unknown reason why he has sympathy toward Putin that we don’t understand.”

The American public needs to understand. Obama should appoint a bipartisan commission to find out.


Wisconsin State Journal, Dec. 18

Cop cameras again show their worth in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett understands the value of having cameras on his city’s police officers.

The Milwaukee County district attorney last week charged a patrol officer with first-degree reckless homicide in the fatal shooting of Sylville Smith. Video captured by cameras on the patrolman’s and his partner’s uniforms was key to the investigation, the mayor said.

“If this case had occurred 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, we would not have that evidence,” Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Similarly, if the case had occurred in Madison - not decades ago, but today - video evidence from cop cameras wouldn’t exist, and the officer almost certainly would not be charged. That’s because, unlike Milwaukee and so many other cities, Madison continues to resist even a small test of cameras on police uniforms.

Madison’s finance committee favored $75,000 to buy cameras for officers on the North Side in October. But the full City Council rejected that modest proposal last month, claiming the devices lacked public support and could lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

In reality, surveys suggest the public overwhelmingly supports cameras on officers because they’ve been shown to improve the behavior of police and the public. And if government officials really want to find people who are living in the U.S. without permission, using grainy images from uniform cameras would be an odd and ineffective way to go about it.

Other cities have adopted clear policies on how and when cop cameras will be used to allay legitimate privacy concerns.

The Madison City Council should learn from Milwaukee’s experience. Milwaukee has been equipping all of its patrol officers with body-worn cameras since last year. And when Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, 24, shot Smith, 23, as Smith ran from a traffic stop, uniform cameras showed Smith was carrying a gun, turned toward the officer and raised the weapon.

But after Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm watched footage from the encounter, he saw something else. The officer’s first shot hit Smith’s arm, and the gun Smith was carrying went over a fence, according to the criminal complaint. The officer’s second and fatal shot hit Smith in the chest while Smith was unarmed.

The officer said he fired a second time because he thought Smith was reaching for his waistband and possibly another weapon. But according to the criminal complaint: “A review of the body camera footage shows that at no time after the shooting did Heaggan-Brown or any other officer search Smith for a second firearm. In fact, when Smith demonstrably reaches for his waistband after being shot the second time, Heaggan-Brown does not discharge his weapon, but moves Smith’s hand away with his own hand.”

That doesn’t mean Heaggan-Brown is guilty of a crime. As Milwaukee’s police chief has noted, the officer had to think quickly under a lot of stress. The second shot came less than 2 seconds after the first, the video shows.

Ultimately, a jury may decide the officer’s fate. And if it does, it will be able to watch for itself - along with the public - what happened.

That’s about the strongest evidence possible. And cameras on police officers made it possible.


The Capital Times, Dec. 17

Attorney General Schimel should have better things to do

The longer Attorney General Brad Schimel is in office the more partisan he becomes.

He announced this week that he’ll convene a grand jury to find out who leaked the secret John Doe documents that contained details on Gov. Scott Walker’s reckless and, at the time, illegal campaign financing to the British newspaper, Guardian USA.

Schimel has made a habit of joining highly partisan lawsuits aimed at everything from denying needy people food stamps to negating overtime pay for millions of low-paid Americans, including tens of thousands in Wisconsin.

If it’s a Republican issue, Schimel and his department are right there to lend a hand. But when it comes time to go to bat for consumers and others who have been victimized by corporate America, he’s not so quick on the draw.

His latest decision to go hunting for the dreadful person who spirited the John Doe papers to the Guardian is nothing more than a waste of time for all concerned. Most of the information collected in the investigation of Walker’s shenanigans should have been released to the public in the first place when the Doe probe was halted. In a free and open society, Wisconsin citizens have every right to know just how their governor goes about shaking down businesses and the wealthy for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For the first time, the people got to know the quid pro quos that were clearly part of the shakedowns.

To find out who gave the Guardian the papers and, presumably, punish him or her serves no useful purpose other than to get even for embarrassing Schimel’s fellow Republicans who were part and parcel of the questionable fundraising.

In our view, the leaker should be given a commendation for doing what our equally partisan Supreme Court and Schimel’s office should have done in the first place.

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