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Trump pushes allies away, embraces US adversaries


With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Stepping onto the world stage for a pair of high-profile summits, President Donald Trump is scrambling the usual breakdown of allies and adversaries. In the span of a few days, he’s embraced Russia and North Korea while pushing away America’s closest friends, like France, Canada and Germany.

It has long been Trump’s modus operandi to keep people on their toes, unable to predict what he’ll do next. But the impulse to pick fights with countries the United States relies on for solidarity around the world is striking many as a step too far.

Joel Rubin, a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, said the dual moves were “completely antithetical” to America’s foreign policy objectives. He predicted it would inflict major damage to U.S. standing in the world.

“If Obama had done that, the criticism coming down on him would have been a fusillade, coming from Capitol Hill and congressional Republicans,” said Rubin, who now teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. “But there’s nary a whimper.”

The apparent realignment has played out with dizzying speed as Trump traveled Friday to Canada for the annual Group of 7 summit. From there, he planned to jet to Singapore for an unprecedented summit with the leader of North Korea, which is technically still in a state of war with the U.S. and considered by Trump’s administration to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

Ironically, Trump was expected to receive a far warmer reception from Kim Jong Un than from U.S. allies in the West.

He descended on the small Canadian town of La Malbaie to as frigid a welcome as an American president has ever seen from the longtime allies. Even before they broke into open conflict, Trump was the odd man out in a group that favors global cooperation and has focused on issues like climate change.

Yet it was his abrupt call to reinstate Russia—kicked out of what was formerly the G-8 over its annexation of Crimea several years ago—that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“They threw Russia out,” Trump said as he left the White House for Canada. “They should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

It appalled even traditional Russia hawks, even those in Trump’s Republican Party. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called the move “weak” and added that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not our friend and he is not the president’s buddy.” And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Trump was rewarding a country that is “assaulting democratic institutions all over the world.”

“The president has inexplicably shown our adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies,” McCain said. “Those nations that share our values and have sacrificed alongside us for decades are being treated with contempt.”

And other G-7 nations immediately signaled they had zero interest in welcoming Moscow back into the club. A senior British government official responded to Trump by stating that Russia would need to “change its approach” before any conversations about rejoining the G-7 could occur. The official wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.

Leading up to the meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau openly criticized Trump’s new tariffs. Signaling he will not back down, Trump hurled himself into the fight, lashing out on Twitter about “unfair trade deals.” Privately Trump complained about having to attend the meeting at all, frustrated over the criticism, the progressive agenda and preferring to focus on the upcoming North Korea summit.

The conflict fueled speculation about a decisive shift in these global alliances toward what some have called the “G-6 plus one”—a reference to the U.S. standing alone—and appeared to mark a turning point in Trump’s relationships with longtime allies.

While he attended the Canada gathering, Trump showed up late and the White House said he planned to leave early, adding that a deputy assistant to the president—a mid-level aide—would remain in his place for the rest of the meetings.

With the U.S. the odd man out, there were serious doubts that a typical G-7 “communique”—a joint statement from the participants describing the progress achieved during the summit—could be issued. Some diplomats were even floating the possibility publicly that a communique could be included that didn’t involve the United States.

Yet Trump has made clear that even if his approach should weaken the alliance, he doesn’t particularly mind.

In contrast with previous points in the Trump administration when advisers sought to reassure a nervous world that “America First” does not mean “America alone,” Trump has now fully embraced the nationalistic policies he espoused on the campaign. The president, who has railed over trade deficits with other countries, views his protectionist trade moves as key to his base and has grown increasingly frustrated with the leaders over their critiques.

Increasingly confident in his judgment, Trump is also taking less advice from aides and has shed some of his more traditional advisers.

Trump’s recent tariffs follow a year of policy making that has distanced the U.S. from traditional allies, including Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. They are also a fresh reminder that efforts by other leaders to woo Trump in hopes of swaying his opinion have been largely unsuccessful. Both Macron and Trudeau have sought to turn on the charm in the past with little to show for it.

“What worries me most is the fact that the rules-based international order is being challenged—quite surprisingly not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor, the U.S.,” said European Council President Donald Tusk.

Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Trump seems to draw no distinction between allies who share the U.S. values of market economics and democracy, and adversaries who do not, and in the process he’s upending decades of American foreign policy.

“The president is pushing us to test what an ally means to the U.S.,” Conley said. “I fear we’ll see the answer to that test when we are in a moment of great need and our allies are no longer willing to support us.”

Anthony Wahl 

Janesville Craig soccer players Brooke Parkhurst, center, and Hannah Dunlavy, crouching, react to the team’s 1-0 overtime loss to Kettle Moraine during a WIAA sectional final Saturday, June 9, at Kettle Moraine.

Police, social worker join forces for mental-health calls


Police officers are being asked more and more to act as social workers.

Now, Janesville officers are getting help from a real social worker in dealing with people having mental-health crises.

“I wish we had enough money to do it at every police department,” said Lt. Mike Blaser, the department’s lead crisis intervention officer.

“We’re not social workers. We’re not psychotherapists. We have a lot of experience (and training), but having someone who has gone to school for this and has expertise in that arena is very helpful,” Blaser said.

A social worker who responds to emergencies with officers is part of a pilot project that officials hope they can expand. It also highlights a serious problem in American policing.

About 25 percent of police calls nationwide involve mental illness, said Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore, and about 25 percent of police shootings are of people with mental illness.

And it’s estimated that people who suffer from mental illness are 16 percent more likely to be shot by police.

Moore said some of his officers have estimated as much as 40 percent of their calls have a mental-illness element, although Janesville police have not had to take a life in these circumstances, at least not yet.

“When these crisis events go bad, it’s a tragedy because there is potential harm done to the mental-health consumer, harm to that family; there’s ham to the officer. These officers don’t desire to use that level of force, and officers often don’t finish out their careers because of that stress,” Moore said.

Moore was referring to the fact that police officers tend to leave policing after they have had to take a life or faced some other high-stress tragedy.

“Knowing these facts, why would we wait around for the next crisis and police use of force?” Moore asked. “I believe it’s important to address issues of mental illness before the crisis occurs.”

Janesville police already are trained in mental-health crisis intervention, and they recently began a joint program with Rock County Human Services so police get information when going to a call that a person involved has mental-health problems and gives tips on how to handle individual situations.

Now the two agencies have added this pilot program in the person of Wisteria Gunnink, who works for Rock County Crisis Intervention but has part-time office hours at the Janesville Police Department.

County Human Services Director Kate Luster said the hope is to gather data to show that having Gunnink on scene with officers will get people the mental-health treatment they need more quickly and keep some of them out of jails and courts. The result should be savings in government mental-health costs, although pinpointing those cost savings will be difficult, Luster said.

Gunnink is developing a police officer’s “radio ear” so she can respond quickly to emergencies with officers, Blaser said.

Once a scene is safe, Gunnink can talk to the person experiencing the crisis and determine what needs to be done: get him to outpatient treatment in some cases, get him committed to a hospital in others.

Gunnink and other county crisis workers do this all the time but not as quickly.

“Being at residences gives us much greater insight as to what’s going on with an individual, versus us meeting them at a hospital,” Gunnink said.

And sometimes it keeps them from being taken to a hospital altogether, which might have happened if police were operating on their own.

Gunnink can access confidential information about patients that police can’t see. She might even know a person’s history and can connect the person to professionals already treating him or her.

Crisis Intervention normally has two to three workers available for the entire county at any given time, so it’s convenient to have Gunnink available, Blaser said.

Officials hope that positioning the expertise on the front end will save on recovery time and costs later on.

“Early in this process, we want to identify people who may have mental-health needs and intervene so their behavioral symptoms don’t become criminalized,” leading to jail rather than treatment, Luster said.

Putting someone in jail often worsens mental illness, and a criminal record can raise barriers to housing and employment, Luster noted.

Luster hopes the early intervention will also help dispel the notion that people with mental illness are often dangerous. They are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence, she said.

Anne Quaerna, a registered nurse and director of emergency services at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, is enthused about the partnership. She said ER professionals and police don’t always know if a person is receiving mental-health treatment, but if Gunnink can access that information, it could keep a patient from being taken to an emergency room.

Mental-health emergencies are a drain on ER services. They have increased 156 percent at Mercy since 2015, and length of stay in the ER is increasing, Quaerna said.

That time in the ER is part of a longer process of getting a person in a crisis to the right kind of treatment, Blaser said.

After a medical evaluation and possibly treatment at the local hospital comes a transfer to a hospital with a psych unit that will take the patient, most often outside the county, which takes officers anywhere from a few hours to more than a day.

And a person in crisis might have to be handcuffed and might be fearful of police, but they have to spend all that time with a person they fear, Blaser said.

“If we can limit the delay for a patient, that’s going to provide a better outcome,” he said.

“The Janesville Police Department has been a champion of this kind of collaboration between law enforcement and mental health, and Chief Moore has been a true leader in prioritizing this, and we’re grateful for the opportunity,” Luster said.

“We have had great relationships with (Rock County) Human Services, and I think in many communities, people in various disciplines don’t talk and work collaboratively to solve these issues. Shame on them because it works so well with the people we have here in Rock County,” Moore said.

Police and Gunnink will soon end the three-month pilot program, and then it will be up to higher-ups to decide whether money in the county human services budget should be shifted to continuing or expanding the partnership.

Mike Blaser Jr.

Changes to The Gazette coming Tuesday


Starting Tuesday, you’ll see some changes in The Gazette.

Here are four things you need to know:

1. The Gazette is getting narrower. The paper on which The Gazette is printed comes from Canada and is the subject of a tariff, which has increased paper costs more than 30 percent. Paper is The Gazette’s second-biggest expense, and the newspaper doesn’t have access to alternatives, such as paper produced domestically.

Printing on pages one inch narrower will create significant savings, Gazette Editor Sid Schwartz said.

To accommodate the narrower format, the design of the front page and the sports front page will change. Inside the paper, columns on some pages will be narrower, but the size of text in stories will not change.

2. Additional cost- and space-saving measures include eliminating the weekly On Entertainment section, but TV listings will continue to be published daily on the TV/Advice page.

Leaving the TV/Advice page will be the “Tune in Tonight” column by Kevin McDonough and the JATV listings.

Other features being eliminated elsewhere include “Aces on Bridge,” “Last Word in Astrology” and the extra crossword puzzle in Sunday’s paper.

3. The minimum size of the weekly kicks entertainment section is being reduced, and the size of the calendar on the Every Day page is being trimmed. Student art will continue to be published when space is available.

The distribution of advertising through the paper will be adjusted to make the most efficient use of every page.

4. The Sound Off column, which has appeared on the Opinion Page every Sunday and Wednesday, is being eliminated.

The change is driven by journalism, not by cost, Schwartz said.

“In this era of the media being pummeled with accusations of ‘fake news,’ we feel it is more important than ever to make sure our journalistic integrity is unquestionable,” Schwartz wrote in a Wednesday column.

Anonymous commentary has no place in a publication that takes pride in its journalism, he said.

School board to vote on eliminating earned incentive pay


On May 8, the Janesville School Board voted to include Superintendent Steven Pophal in the district’s incentive pay plan for administrators.

At a closed meeting two weeks later, the board decided not to give Pophal any additional incentive pay. The discussion then “morphed” to talk of incentive pay in general, school board attorney Dave Moore said.

It’s unclear what happened in those two weeks, but if the board votes June 26 to end incentive pay, it will occur four days before the end of the contract year, meaning any administrator who earned incentive pay in the 2017-18 school year will not get it.

Board President Kevin Murray said he expects the vote to be unanimous June 26.

Incentive pay for administrators was established by board vote about five years ago. The incentive plan allows administrators to earn up to 6 percent of their salaries for meeting agreed-upon goals.

Incentive pay is not added to administrators’ base salaries.

During each year’s budget deliberations, the school board set aside money for incentives. This year, $230,000 was set aside. Not all administrators meet all of the goals. Some didn’t earn any incentive pay at all, and some only earned a portion of it.

In the 2016-17 school year, for example, only about 50 percent of administrators received the full amount of incentive pay, according to Keith Pennington, chief financial officer for the district.

Incentive pay is “at the board’s discretion,” so the board can take away incentive pay at will.

“The only promise we made was that you can get from zero to 6 percent,” Murray said. “This year, they’re going to get zero.”

Murray acknowledged that revoking the incentive pay four days before the contract ended could be seen as unfair.

That’s one of the reasons he asked to speak to all of the administrators affected by the decision.

“It was very painful for me,” Murray said. “I had to stand up in front 49 people and tell them about this, and some of those people are my friends.”

But Murray said it had to be done.

“The current board agreed to stop the ‘pay for performance’ model for teachers,” Murray said. “We no longer feel incentive pay or merit pay is effective or necessary.”

The new teacher pay plan does include additional money that can be added to a teacher’s pay if the teacher’s building and/or the district as a whole meets certain goals.

So what did happen between the May 8 meeting, when the board voted to add the superintendent to the incentive plan, and the May 22 closed-session meeting?

Board member Michelle Haworth explained that the first vote was about equity—making sure the superintendent received the same benefits as the other administrators.

At the May 22 meeting, the board decided to remove the incentive pay clause from the superintendent’s contract, and then the discussion turned to incentive pay in general.

Haworth said she was bothered that eligibility for incentive pay was not applied consistently.

She also acknowledged the timing of the decision might seem odd to people, but there were bigger issues at stake.

“We are such a resource-starved district,” Haworth said. “We need that money for things like math books.”

The money set aside for this year’s incentive pay could not go to textbooks. State statutes limit how “leftover” money can be spent, Pennington said.

Instead, the board will be asked to transfer the money from incentive pay into the fund for retirement benefits owed to employees.

Haworth stressed that she wanted to “do right” by all employees. The board is planning an administrative salary review, and adjustments to salaries to meet market demands could be in the works.

Pophal said none of the administrative staff had spoken to him about the possible change.

When asked if he thought the last-minute change would affect morale, Pophal replied by email:

“The School District of Janesville Board recognizes attracting and retaining talented leaders to the district is essential to keep its promises for students and the community. The board is committed to offering competitive compensation to all employees, based on the market for comparable positions.”