American diplomats scrambled Friday to salvage their nation’s bonds with Africa, Haiti and even the celebrated “special relationship” with Britain after President Donald Trump, in the span of a few hours, deeply offended much of the world with the most undiplomatic of remarks.
Trump’s description of African nations as a “shithole” and other inflammatory comments became the latest and perhaps most direct test of whether America’s global partnership can withstand its president’s loose lips. In Washington and far-flung foreign capitals, U.S. officials launched into urgent cleanup mode.
As world leaders denounced the comments as racist, Trump’s ambassadors to Botswana and Senegal were both summoned to explain his remark, as was the top U.S. diplomat in Haiti, where there is no ambassador, State Department officials said. In addition to the Africa insult, Trump during a meeting Thursday with lawmakers questioned why the U.S. would need more Haitian immigrants.
The White House, too, was reeling from the fallout. Staffers fanned out to do television appearances in support of Trump and reached out to Republicans on Capitol Hill to coordinate damage control.
Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein, in charge of U.S. public diplomacy, said Trump has the right to “make whatever remark he chooses,” calling it the benefit of being president. He said Trump’s comments notwithstanding, it was diplomats’ obligation to send the message to other countries that the United States cares “greatly about the people that are there.”
“Will they have to work extra hard to send it today? Yes, they will, but that’s OK,” Goldstein said. “That’s part of the responsibility that they have. It doesn’t change what we do.”
But how does anyone—even a seasoned diplomat—explain to a foreign leader why the U.S. president would use such a demeaning epithet to describe their country? What could they say to keep the relationship on track?
State Department officials said they were advising diplomats to prepare to get an earful and to focus on listening to and acknowledging those countries’ concerns. Rather than try to interpret or soften Trump’s remarks, diplomats were encouraged to focus on specific areas where the two countries are cooperating—trade, for example—and to emphasize that those tangible aspects of the relationship transcend anything the president did or didn’t say, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to disclose private conversations and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
“I think you just have to take it. It’s almost impossible for diplomats to say something that would make an African government feel better,” said Grant Harris, who ran Africa policy at the White House under former President Barack Obama. “So you say the U.S. government is committed to being a strong partner and that actions speak louder than words.
“The problem is, for many other administrations, the actions spoke more loudly,” Harris added.
There was at least as much at stake in the president’s jab at the United Kingdom—perhaps the most important U.S. relationship. Facing protests during an upcoming trip to London to open the new U.S. embassy, Trump canceled his visit and said on Twitter it was to protest the “bad deal” the Obama administration reached for the new embassy building. In fact, President George W. Bush’s administration announced the embassy would move because of unsolvable security concerns about the old one.
Trump ignored shouted questions about his Africa comment and about whether he’s a racist during an event Friday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. But he wasn’t silent the night before.
As his comments, disclosed by participants in the meeting, ricocheted around the world, Trump made calls to friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to the tempest, said a person who spoke to Trump but wasn’t authorized to discuss a private conversation.
He wasn’t apologetic, the person said. Instead, Trump blamed the media for distorting his meaning, arguing his description of “shithole” was not racist but rather a straightforward assessment of some nations’ depressed conditions. Trump also said he believed he was expressing what many people think, according to the person.
The long-term damage to America’s global relationships was difficult to predict. But foreign policy experts agreed it could only further alienate the United States at a time when many nations already see the U.S. as a less reliable partner than in the past.
In Africa, where the U.S. has long enjoyed widespread popularity, it was possible that countries would ultimately decide they have little recourse other than lodging angry complaints. After all, many of those nations rely on military and economic assistance from Washington. Haiti, though geographically close to the U.S. and historically intertwined, is not a major diplomatic player or key partner for trade, counterterrorism or other top priorities.
Ambassador James Jeffrey, the former U.S. envoy to Turkey and Iraq under Bush, said the ramifications of Trump’s remarks extended far beyond the countries he insulted. He said the “shithole” comment, in particular, would rattle European nations who fear a return to the xenophobic world view that devastated the continent during World War II.
Jennefer Lueck took her work home with her a couple months ago and hasn’t regretted it for a second.
Lueck, a veterinarian technician at Veterinary Emergency Service in Janesville, was one of the first to care for Sunny, the dog who survived severe burns from scalding water late last year.
Exactly one month after Beloit police responded to the call for Sunny’s mistreatment, the year-old Labrador-mix is healing quicker than veterinary staff anticipated.
Lueck was on duty the night Sunny was taken to the hospital, she said. Despite showing signs of pain and discomfort, Sunny rolled over wanting belly rubs.
“I knew right away she was going to come with me,” Lueck said. She is now Sunny’s foster mother.
Sunny suffered burns on her head, ears, back, shoulders and chest. About 20 percent of her surface skin was damaged or removed, The Gazette reported earlier.
The dog has undergone multiple surgeries since she has been under the care of the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, said Penny Coder, shelter veterinarian. Sunny takes antibiotics, two pain medications and anti-anxiety medication daily.
“Our veterinarian staff and foster mom have done a great job at getting Sunny way ahead of schedule,” said Brett Frazier, executive director of the humane society. “It’s really impressive to see what our people can do.”
Sunny was nervous at first, but she has gotten comfortable around people and loves playing with other dogs, Lueck said. Caring for her is like caring for any other dog.
While laying on the floor of the humane society, Sunny was calm and curious.
Her demeanor was that of any other young dog. She was not fazed by the media’s cameras or Lueck’s 8-year-old daughter Peighton, who wore a kitty-cat jumper and tiara and gently petted Sunny over a gray protective vest.
The only thing to rile Sunny up was a red toy filled with peanut butter—Sunny loves peanut butter.
“Dogs always surprise me with how much they continue to love after what they’ve been through,” Coder said. “We could tell when she came in she was a good dog.”
Lueck’s husband Austin rounds out Sunny’s foster family.
The family has fostered kittens for four to five years, Lueck said. They have another dog at home, but Sunny is their first foster dog.
Sunny will remain under foster care until she is healthy enough to be adopted, Lueck said.
It’s difficult to determine how long that will take, Coder said. She hopes Sunny will be ready to go next month.
Regardless of treatment, Sunny will never be completely “normal,” Coder said. Her ears will always be scarred, and much of her fur will not grow back.
Still, many people—seemingly hundreds, Frazier said—have contacted the humane society about adopting Sunny.
When asked if Lueck would adopt Sunny, she paused and grinned.
“If Sunny chooses she wants to stay in our home, we will have a home for her.”
Tyler Myszkewicz says two of his role models died the night of Oct. 25, 2016, when his uncle Alan M. Johnson shot his father, Ken Myszkewicz.
Tyler said he and Alan had been like brothers, that he trusted Alan perhaps more than anyone else.
But Alan “betrayed that trust,” Tyler said during his uncle’s sentencing hearing Friday in Walworth County Court. He repeatedly called Alan’s actions “reckless.”
Ken’s wife, Kimberly Myszkewicz, who is Alan’s sister, called Alan a “stranger.”
“I do not know who this person is,” Kimberly said.
Kimberly and Tyler—both wearing cycling jerseys Friday in memory of Ken, an avid cyclist—asked for the maximum prison sentence for their brother and uncle.
Walworth County Judge Kristine Drettwan said her sentencing decision was “heart-wrenching.” She ordered 25 years in prison for Alan, who was convicted of first-degree reckless homicide in November 2017. She also called for 10 years of extended supervision.
More than 20 people attended the sentencing hearing.
A jury on Nov. 7 declined to convict Alan of more serious offenses—first- or second-degree intentional homicide—which means the jury believed Alan acted with utter disregard for human life, but he did not intend to kill Ken.
Alan, 32, has said he went to the Myszkewicz home Oct. 25, 2016, to find evidence of child pornography he had seen years earlier on Ken’s computer. He brought a gun because he said he feared Ken, who had physically and sexually assaulted him and another relative before.
Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo said she examined the contents of Ken’s computer, and in her experience of prosecuting child sex crimes, she could not have charged Ken based on what Alan saw.
Donohoo emphasized Ken, 43, was killed in the middle of the night, while he was naked and in his own home, by someone who brought a gun and did not have permission to be in the house. She said she could not have prosecuted Ken if he had killed Alan, based on those facts.
She asked for no less than 30 years in prison. The state Department of Corrections pre-sentence report called for 20 years.
Ken’s relatives shared what they would miss about him: his jokes, favorite foods, how he would help slower cyclists during races.
Tyler’s fiancé, Hannah Hitchcock, said she last saw Ken at a friend’s wedding, where Ken smiled at her, pointed at the bride and groom and said, “That could be you guys soon,” Hitchcock recalled.
Many people filed letters about Ken to the court, Drettwan said.
Many also wrote letters on Alan’s behalf.
One letter mentioned how Alan cooked and cleaned for his sister Nicole Carlson after her surgery. He also consistently helped her with her finances. She called him the “glue” that held the family together.
He set up college funds for his nephew and niece, according to a letter from Alan’s mother, Cathy Johnson.
Stephen Hurley, one of Alan’s lawyers, wrote in a brief before sentencing that Alan did not pose a risk to the public and should get five years in prison.
Alan has been a “model inmate” at the Walworth County Jail, which shows what kind of person he is, Hurley wrote.
Alan has helped inmates understand the charges against them. He has helped them with schoolwork, given them math worksheets and rewarded them with playing cards when they completed assignments. He created games for them to play, Hurley wrote.
So how could a person such as Alan kill someone else?
One relative wrote about how she was raped when she was 10 years old. She said she felt shame, that she has carried the burden for years, living in fear and wondering if it would happen again.
“Fear causes us to make decisions we normally wouldn’t make,” her letter reads. “He should have stopped shooting after the first shot, but with 20-plus years of pent-up hurt, anger and fear, it poured out of him as he shot (Ken).”
Alan’s father, Eric Johnson, is in declining health. He has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, post-concussion syndrome and chronic pain syndrome, according to a doctor’s note filed by the defense.
After living in New York, Alan moved back to Wisconsin and took care of his father.
“I have greater respect for Alan than any other man,” Eric wrote in his short letter. “Alan has been the stability in our family.”
That stability vanished when Alan was taken into custody.
“(Eric’s) condition has deteriorated in the context of the stress related to his son’s legal troubles, and the loss of support that occurred since his son has been incarcerated,” the letter from a Department of Veterans Affairs doctor states.
“Prior to his son’s incarceration, Mr. Johnson relied on his son routinely for both emotional support as well as to help him with getting to and from appointments and other physical support with managing day-to-day routines and activities that are challenging due to his mental health and physical disabilities.”
When Drettwan announced her sentence, Alan’s father and mother doubled over in their seats.
As his mother began to cry, his father put his arm around her.
In coming days, Facebook users will see fewer posts from publishers, businesses and celebs they follow. Instead, Facebook wants people to see more stuff from friends, family and other people they are likely to have “meaningful” conversations with—something the company laments has been lost in the sea of videos, news stories (real and fake), and viral quizzes on which “Big Bang Theory” character you are.
Here are some frequently asked questions about what users and businesses might expect from the changes.
Q: Why is Facebook doing this?
A: CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been doing a bit of soul-searching about the negative effects his company might be having on society and its users’ psyches. He’s come a long way since November 2016, when he dismissed the notion that fake news on Facebook could have influenced the U.S. presidential election as a “pretty crazy idea.”
Now it’s his personal goal for 2018 to fix the site and weed out hate, abuse, meddling by malicious nation states, while also making it more “meaningful” and less depressing for users.
While he acknowledges that Facebook may never be completely free of negative influences, Zuckerberg says that the company currently makes “too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing the misuse of our tools.”
The company also faces pressure from regulators in the U.S. and abroad, and a growing backlash from academics, lawmakers, and even early executives and investors about the ways in which social media could be leaving us depressed, isolated, bombarded by online trolls and addicted to our phones.
Facebook would much rather make changes on its own than have its hand forced by regulators—or to see disillusioned users move on to other, newer platforms.
Q: How will it affect the company’s business?
A: Facebook’s stock price dropped almost 6 percent Friday morning before regaining some ground. That suggests investors take Facebook seriously when it says the move will likely make users spend less time on its service. Less time, of course, means fewer advertising eyeballs at any given time.
This is a huge shift for Facebook, which until recently has been laser-focused on keeping users glued to the service by offering a bevy of notifications and “engaging” but low-value material.
Facebook has been doing very well financially. Its stock hit an all-time high earlier this month, and the company’s market value is more than $522 billion. Its quarterly results routinely surpass Wall Street’s expectations.
So arguably the company can afford to shift its focus a bit away from quarterly profit gains and metrics like “user engagement” that get advertisers salivating. Zuckerberg already signaled this would happen late last year when he said the company’s planned investments in preventing abuse would hurt profitability.
While the changes could hurt Facebook’s business in the short term, happier users could make for better profits over the long term. At least, that’s what the company hopes.
Q: Is this the end for brands and publishers on Facebook?
A: Many news organizations, bloggers and businesses have grown reliant on Facebook to spread information—articles, videos, infomercials—to their followers without paying for ads. The changes could jeopardize that route to their audiences, though some speculate it could be a ploy to force these companies to buy more Facebook ads.
“It’s obvious that the days of getting exposure as a business on Facebook are coming to an end,” said Michael Stelzner, the CEO of social media marketing company Social Media Examiner. While Facebook has made plenty of changes to its news feed algorithm in the past, he said, this time might be different.
That’s because Facebook is being “far more explicit” in its wording about what sorts of posts will diminish. “It has never been this black and white,” Stelzner said.
Q: Won’t this just reinforce the “filter bubbles” that trap users among the like-minded?
A: Do you enjoy arguing with people you disagree with? Maybe, maybe not. But Facebook’s goal is to make people happier using the site—not to expose them to opposing views. So yes, this is possible.
That said, the company says this is how people make friends and interact with each other offline. We gravitate toward people like us. And Facebook says its own research shows that users are exposed to more divergent views on its platform than they would be otherwise. Of course, this is difficult to verify independently since the company doesn’t often show that data to outsiders.
Q: Are people really going to spend less time on Facebook?
A: Admitting that its changes will likely reduce the time people spend on Facebook less was a big deal for the company. Video, especially, has been a big focus for the social media giant—and videos have been especially good at keeping users around. This latest move, however, will de-emphasize videos, too.
While it’s too early to tell what users will do, there’s little reason not to trust Facebook on this particular question.
Q: Will the changes make people happier or sadder?
A: The jury is still out on how seeing mostly exuberant posts from friends and family affects people over time.
Facebook obviously believes most of its users enjoy keeping up with what’s happening in their social circles, even if the material being shared mostly revolves around parties, vacations and other fun times while omitting life’s inevitable challenges and tedium. Sharing these moments together, Facebook reasons, deepens the connections between people, even if they can’t always be together offline.
But some research and anecdotal evidence suggests that Facebook can make people feel isolated, inadequate or alienated as they experience a phenomenon known as “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. Teenagers are particularly prone to “Facebook depression” as they try to measure up to and fit in with their peers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
But other researchers believe how people react to Facebook depends on their personality. If you’re prone to anxiety, insecurity or already unhappy with your life, then seeing other people having fun could deepen your feelings of missing out or being left out. If you’re confident and content with your life, then seeing a friend or family member with a smile on their face could make you happy too.
A recent article in Perspectives on Psychological Science concluded that already-lonely people who use Facebook and other social media as a substitute for real-life relationships tend to end up feeling more isolated.
But when Facebook is used to deepen friendships that have already been struck and to forge new relationships, the social network helps people feel less alone.
local • 3A, 8A
Project to close part of Hwy. 14
Starting in late April 2022, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation plans a six-month partial closure of a segment of Highway 14. That’s as the DOT reconstructs and upgrades a stretch of Highway 14 from just east of Deerfield Drive to Milton Avenue. The work will turn the north-side business artery from a “rural” highway to an “urban” stretch, including curb and gutter, sidewalks, and a 10-foot-wide “multi-use” trail. The closure, according to a DOT release, will shut down all lanes of traffic on Highway 14 between Pontiac Drive and Milton Avenue.
state • 2A
DNR sets fee costs for parks
The Department of Natural Resources is rolling out plans for a new pricing system for camping and daily admission at state parks that will mean higher rates at the most popular campgrounds and price cuts at parks not as popular. The DNR is raising fees for camping at 38 properties at various times this year and is cutting fees at 36 others. The biggest increases would be $7 per day and the biggest cuts would be $5 per day.
Inquiries grow more partisan
Republicans who spent the early months of 2017 working with Democrats on investigations into Russian interference in U.S. elections have pivoted as the new year begins and midterm elections loom, leaving the conclusions of those congressional probes in doubt.