RUSSIAN RELATIONS ROULETTE-Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russiagate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November -- until April 4, that is. 

On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack. 

Since Trump took those actions -- in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia -- Russiagate has almost vanished from the news. 

I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived. 

“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is -- and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.

Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russiagate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line. 

If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russiagate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus. 

McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol. 

How Washington Works 

But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket. 

Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.” 

Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.” 

But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain in a way that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term. 

In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia -- even amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years -- required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.

Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russiagate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign. 

Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism. 

For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russiagate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked. 

However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russiagate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russiagate: Mission accomplished! 

Russiagate’s Achievements 

Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russiagate could claim some other notable achievements. For instance, it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.

Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!” 

Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.

Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russiagate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance! 

It didn’t matter that the “scandal” -- the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election -- amounted to a bunch of informational dots  that didn’t connect.

Russiagate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian -- and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.” 

Another Russiagate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage -- and loads of new subscription money -- by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” 

On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; the accused had no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing. 

The Post and the Times also conflated news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department with some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money. 

To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russiagate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe. 

While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russiagate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson. 

If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan. 

Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be -- not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want -- but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia. 

For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russiagate.

 

(Robert Parry is an Investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, “America’s Stolen Narrative,” either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). This piece appeared originally on Consortiumnews and Truthdig.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

INFORMED COMMENT--Bill O’Reilly is off the airwaves, but it doesn’t really matter. The despicable strategy of press lord Rupert Murdoch to orient his Fox Cable “news” toward the nativist far right in the United States will continue. They’ll just find another O’Reilly. Worse, there is more or less an O’Reilly in the White House now, with the nuclear codes. Murdoch and O’Reilly in many ways gave us the Trump presidency, running the republic into a brick wall.

1.  Trump’s ridiculous and very expensive plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico?  That was an O’Reilly idea.  I remember seeing O’Reilly trot it out in an interview with the late thriller writer Tom Clancy after 9/11: 

O’REILLY: Now, I’ve been banging this drum for more than a year, and I did a “Talking Points” tonight on it, is that the borders are so chaotic and they’re not secured, and we’re very vulnerable from both Canada and Mexico for people who want to bring stuff in and come in here, and the INS can’t control it. Am I wrong there?

CLANCY: No, it’s one of the problems of, you know, one of the consequences of living in a free and open society. You know, the Statue of Liberty invites people in. She’s not holding a machine gun to keep people away.

Clancy wasn’t exactly left wing.  But he tried to warn O’Reilly that crackpot plans like the Wall were a long step toward the US becoming a new Soviet Union.  The latter, he said, had failed.  Now we have a president with squirrels running around in his cranium, who saw O’Reilly push this nonsense and wants to charge us billions in taxes to build it.

It all comes out of a wounded white nationalism, buffeted by globalization, where African-Americans and immigrants are allegedly stealing jobs (they aren’t).

2.  O’Reilly beat the drum nightly for George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.  He repeatedly alleged that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was behind al-Qaeda, with the implication that Iraq blew up New York and Washington, D.C.  He repeatedly alleged that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” and that he was training al-Qaeda operatives in chemical weapons use at Salman Pak.  There is no evidence that that was the case.  Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda and was clearly afraid of it.  There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

O’Reilly had said that if there turned out to be no WMD in Iraq, he would become more skeptical of the Bush White House.  But despite the collapse of the case against Iraq, O’Reilly went on cheerleading for Bush/Cheney.

3.  O’Reilly said on “The View” that “Muslims hit us” on 9/11.  Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set when O’Reilly doubled down on his hate speech and gross generalization.  When Trump said last fall “Islam hates us,” he was just echoing O’Reilly.

4.  O’Reilly has repeatedly said racist things, and his current troubles began when he said of senior Congresswoman Maxine Waters that he could not get past her “James Brown wig.”  In a famous incident on his now-defunct radio show, O’Reilly had professed himself shocked, on eating at a restaurant owned by African-Americans, that the patrons seemed perfectly respectable.  He had recently said that Trump won’t be able to help African-Americans because they are “ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads.”

Then there was all the other bigotry, as when he compared gay marriage to Goat Marriage.

5.  O’Reilly’s denial that any practical measures need to be taken to limit CO2 emissions, because they would disadvantage American corporations.  Climate denialism is the original fake news, and O’Reilly & Fox were one major source that Trump scans for news like this.

He’s a mean, mean man.  And a bad historian, which yours truly holds against him, hard.  He managed to cheapen my America and then he made millions writing “fake history.”

The O’Reilly Factor is dead.  But Fox will just go on polluting the airwaves.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)

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PERSPECTIVE--In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s shocking decision to depart from his stated foreign policy objectives and attack the Syrian government, critics of Bashar Al Assad’s regime are clamoring for further Unites States involvement. The costs and merits of regime change are debatable, but the conversations surrounding such policies often fail to address the most critical question in the event of Assad’s removal: What next? Grappling with the full scope, scale, and complexity of the Syrian conflict is vital to ensuring that any transition process maintains the stability of the region.

Yet even before the U.S. government scrambles to look into its crystal ball, there are key groups that ought to be involved in future decision-making: Syrians and Syrian Americans.

On Wednesday, New America welcomed Ammar Kahf and M. Yaser Tabbara, the co-founders of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, to discuss the research that their organization has conducted on the issues that must be addressed on the road to peace. Robert L. McKenzie moderated the event, and he explained that bringing Syrian and Syrian-American voices into the formulation and design of policy is one of his primary goals as the founding director of the Muslim Diaspora Initiative at New America.

The need for these voices goes beyond shallow appeals to diversity and inclusion — rather, they cut to the heart of our most cherished ideals: democracy, representation, and sovereignty. Kahf and Tabbara both offered visions for reform built on strong, democratic principles, but grounded in the realities of the modern Syrian state.

Kahf laid those realities out bluntly by explaining the dysfunctional role of the Syrian state security network. The multiple state security apparatuses, often with overlapping jurisdictions, foster an unstable system, mired in inter-agency conflict and corrupt management. Kahf contended that Syrian state security’s destabilizing policies are rooted in a historical pattern of the Ba’ath regime, and the Assads in particular, sowing discord in order to consolidate power.

The country’s competing factions will need to place the construction of a transitional security and justice mechanism at the forefront of their agenda in order to ensure a stable political process.

Tabbara helped to establish the state of political organization in Syria by focusing on the Omran Center’s research on Local Administration Councils, often democratically elected bodies that provide services and serve political roles. While these councils have their issues with limited resources and fairness, they are also respected for their key roles in service delivery and their relatively stable governance grounded in local issues.

Tabbara argued that, compared to the councils, Assad’s ability to manage the regime’s territory has ceded much of the local administration of services and security to militias and warlords. While many among the foreign policy elite grouse about the potential for Syria to collapse the day after a regime change, Tabbara explained that many Syrians now see Assad as a uniquely harmful force:

One cannot imagine anything worse than hundreds of people being gassed, or tens of thousands of detainees who are being tortured, as we speak, to death in Assad prisons, areas that are under siege for months, if not years…. We have come to this point in time where I can tell you, as a Syrian, the Libyan scenario looks like a very good scenario for me, compared to what we have right now.

That sentiment was countered by a Syrian-American audience member who questioned the speakers on the unstable conditions that nearly always emerge as conflicts come to a head. Tabbara and Kahf explained that their proposals are aimed at reckoning with that instability. Tabbara pointed to some local administrative councils’ success in easing sectarian violence on the borders between different zones of influence.

This dialogue about the political needs and goals of the Syrian people comes as a breath of fresh air after a week of media hand-wringing about the interests of international actors in the conflict, like the U.S., Iran, and Syria. Trump has fired a warning shot, but it is far from clear what his next move will be. In the meantime, everyone from policymakers and state officials to journalists and students should be taking the time to listen to what the people directly affected by this humanitarian crisis have to say. There’s no silver bullet to achieving peace in a conflict as complex as this, but it’s obvious that the people for whom this is a lived reality have a deeper understanding of these issues — and, more importantly, a bigger stake.

Years after the conflict has faded from foreign minds, Syrians will be the ones who have to live with the legacy of this conflict. After decades of numerous failed American interventions and feints at democracy in the region, it’s vital that we learn from what has come before and finally listen to the will of the people.

(Krish Lingala writes for Pacific Standard magazine … where this perspective was first posted.)

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COHEN TALK-Jonathan Karl said it all yesterday when he asked White House press  secretary Sean Spicer to admit, "that the president is NEVER going to release his tax returns." (Emphasis added.) Spicer's stunning response was, "We'll have to get back to you on that," strongly

suggesting the truth had been spoken.   

There have been some rumblings that Congress may have to subpoena Trump's tax returns to fully investigate Russian influence on his administration. I say absolutely. 

Congress must obtain Trump's long insincerely promised tax returns to know what dark agendas are at play now in the White House. Is Trump making decisions that secretly favor his private business interests? Do foreign powers have undue influence on him? American needs to know. 

Seriously, at what point do the American people suddenly wake up and realize they've been played for chumps? Was so-called Trump University not enough of a wildly flapping red flag? He campaigned with exactly the same boiler room pitch, for anyone with ears to hear it. 

Oh, sure you're going to release your tax returns, just like every other modern president, just as soon as the so-called audits are over. Sure you will. 

At one point Trump claimed that there was an audit in progress on his tax returns from the last 2-3 years. But he won't voluntarily release ANY of his tax returns from any year EVER.  What about the latest one? Does he automatically get to claim an audit mulligan on that one too? 

It was easy enough as a campaign ruse to accuse President Obama of not being transparent enough. Once in office, Trump has lurched dramatically in the opposite direction, hiding the White House visitor logs, which even President Obama, allowed to be made public. In fact, Trump has in less than 100 days reversed himself on EVERYTHING he ever said before, and even his most diehard supporters are starting to notice. 

What's the so-called security issue about publishing these visitor logs AFTER the visitors have left, for example? It used to be called history, and we should not have to wait for 5 years after he's left office before we know about it, long after all the damage has been done. 

Nobody's asking for advance notice, if it is a security issue which it is claimed to be. In fact what are we being told that it is impossible to protect visitors to the White House if anyone knows who is coming? 

So, one is led to ask, is it impossible to protect Trump himself if anyone knows that he is in the White House? 

Oh that’s right, that would never happen much, since he spends most of his time at Mar-A-Lago playing golf. Oops, sorry, another security breach there. With that slip all the evil doers can anticipate when and where he'll be playing golf.  

The American people need to know who Trump is meeting with and why, whether it's at the White House or anywhere else. He works for us now, or at least he's supposed to. If he doesn't want that job, he should not have it.

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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POLITICAL HULLABALOO--Ryan Lizza has a blockbuster of a story about California’s Devin Nunes and the Trump administration in the New Yorker. It doesn't seem like anyone cares anymore. But they should: 

Recently, several members and staffers on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s role in the Presidential election, visited the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland. Inside the enormous black glass headquarters of America’s largest spy agency, the congressmen and their aides were shown a binder of two to three dozen pages of highly classified intercepts, mostly transcripts of conversations between foreign government officials that took place during the Presidential transition. These intercepts were not related to the heart of the committee’s Russia investigation. In fact, only one of the documents had anything to do with Russia, according to an official who reviewed them.

What the intercepts all had in common is that the people being spied on made references to Donald Trump or to Trump officials. That wasn’t even clear, though, from reading the transcripts. The names of any Americans were concealed, or “masked,” the intelligence community’s term for redacting references to Americans who are not the legal targets of surveillance when such intelligence reports are distributed to policy makers.

The binder of secret documents is at the center of the bizarre scandal created by what may be the most reckless lie President Trump has ever told. On March 4th,
he tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” The White House made several efforts to justify Trump’s claim, including using Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as a conduit for the documents, which allegedly offered some substantiation. A former Nunes staffer now working for the White House dug up the transcripts and shared them with Nunes. As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.

It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to
report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”

I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.

Nunes is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee because, in talking about the documents, he may have leaked classified information. But this is like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. The bigger scandal is the coördinated effort to use the American intelligence services to manufacture an excuse for Trump’s original tweet.

The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.”

I know we're supposed to be upset that someone in the intelligence community leaked the story of that freakshow Michael Flynn (a man with a top security clearance who went on TV and accused Hillary Clinton of being a pedophile) talking to the Russian ambassador about lifting Russian sanctions because it shows the government using secret information for political purposes. Of course, others would call such a leaker a patriotic whistleblower so ...

This, however, is truly an abuse of intelligence for political purposes. There is no other way to look at it. It's appalling. And the president himself publicly smeared Susan Rice in truly egregious fashion. I've never seen anything like that. He owes her an apology. But she'll have to stand in a very long line and be prepared to wait forever to get it.

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for Salon and ourfuture.org

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REALITY CHECK--During the campaign, President Donald Trump promised to build a wall across the southern border some 1,000 miles long. The number of miles the president currently has money for: seven. 

United States Customs and Border Protection officials delivered the startling news this week at a conference in San Antonio for businesses eager to win contracts for beefing up security along the border. 

Although estimates to build the wall soar past $20 billion, the agency has so far managed to scrape together only about $20 million, according to its top contracting official. The rest of the cash will have to come from Congress, which so far has proven reluctant to foot the bill. 

That amount of cash would not go very far to build a real wall -- existing fence along the border costs roughly $2.8 million per mile. 

Instead, the agency plans to spend the money on eight model walls, planning, engineering, and early-stage land acquisition. 

The two-day conference in a cavernous convention center packed with border security gear like aerial drones and radar-equipped pick-up trucks was an opportunity for CBP officials to detail plans for Trump’s border wall -- and also the hurdles to its construction. 

The contracts for the prototype walls -- some made of concrete, some made of other materials, all to be “aesthetically pleasing” per Trump’s wishes for a beautiful wall --  will be announced later this summer. 

The prototypes will guide construction for more permanent walls that will be built along 14 miles in San Diego and another six miles in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, on land the agency has plans to build on or has already obtained. 

Although Trump directed the Department of Homeland Security to build a “contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier,” border officials made clear that the wall will not stretch the length of the border. Currently, about 650 miles of the 2,000-mile border has some kind of fence. 

Instead, top officials said the agency will build physical barriers in some areas and use technology such as ground and radar sensors elsewhere. 

“It’s not just physical structure,” said Ronald Vitiello, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. “We’re not just buying barrier. That would not be smart.” 

But none of the new wall will be built unless Congress approves Trump’s request for $1.4 billion in the coming fiscal year. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has indicated he will not include the money in a budget bill expected later this month to extend government funding. 

If the money eventually comes through, it will take two years to start construction, said Mark Borkowski, the agency’s chief procurement official. 

Other factors could also throw off the schedule. The cost of obtaining land along the Texas border, which is largely in private hands, and in California, where real estate is expensive, could in some cases cost more than the wall itself. 

Borkowski said he also anticipates the possibility of bid protests filed by competitors who believe they were unfairly denied contracts. And, of course, protesters may attempt to block construction.

Business leaders at the conference, skeptical of the utility of a wall, were primarily focused on technological solutions. 

Michael Pine drove a hulking gray and green camouflage tractor trailer onto the convention hall floor. Designed as a mobile command post, the trailer expanded on each side to hold 20 bunk beds, an office, two armories, 33 lockers, a television screen, and an air purification system. A second tractor trailer provided supplies. 

Pine, the vice president of business development for Florida-based Cinetransformer Group, said the system would allow border patrol agents to move up and down the length of the border for 20 days at a time without refueling. The cost: $1.5 million. 

“To heck with a wall,” he said. “You can drive these guys up and down the border. That would take care of everything.”

 

(T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica.This story originally appeared on ProPublica as “Trump’s Wall: How Much Money Does the Government Have For It Now?” and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE PREVEN REPORT--The publication of the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971 is often cited as the newspaper industry's finest moment.  And the hero of that moment is, by almost every account, Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger, then publisher of the New York Times, who made the decision to print the leaked documents despite the sternest of warnings from the Times' longstanding outside law firm. 

With the press under siege now, Sulzberger’s heroism takes on special significance—especially if you understand the not widely known context of his decision. 

For a year and a half, Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon consultant who leaked the 7000 page document, had been trying to make those papers public; in particular, he had approached several prominent members of Congress, including William Fulbright, George McGovern, Charles Mathias, and Pete McCloskey, pointing out that those men would have immunity from prosecution because of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. By putting the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record, those elected officials would have insured that the papers could not be locked away unseen. 

And yet despite their anticipated immunity, not one of the Congressmen approached by Ellsberg was willing to take the risk.  

Sulzberger’s decision to publish, by contrast, was made with the full knowledge that he would not have any of the immunities just described. And he was told by his outside lawyers in no uncertain terms that he could very well go to prison for choosing to publish. To print the papers, they warned, could be construed as treasonous and would in any case be unpatriotic and irrevocably defaming of the paper. 

All this faced by a man who had assumed the leadership role at the Times unexpectedly and at a point when no one believed he was ready. He was just 36 years old, making him the youngest New York Times publisher in that paper's history.  He had also been under attack in some circles for extending the paper into commercial enterprises such as more casual sections having to do with things like fashion.   

Sulzberger took several days to consider the decision—his editor in chief Abe Rosenthal threatening to resign if the papers weren’t published—but in the end he made his famous choice, and not just to publish but to do so on the front page, where the documents' impact was predictably powerful, leading to demonstrations in the streets against the war.  

This was not a time when those decisions were made lightly. The press at that stage was far more trusting and compliant with government, generally deferring to their authority. 

Just hours after the Pentagon Papers were printed on June 13, 1971,  President Nixon, in a telephone call with Henry Kissinger, expressed amazement at the boldness of Sulzberger’s decision.  

''My God,'' the president said, ''can you imagine The New York Times doing a thing like this 10 years ago?” Kissinger couldn’t. Nor could the rest of the free world. Nor perhaps could Sulzberger himself. But he did it. And that’s what counts.

 

(Eric Preven and Joshua Preven are public advocates for better transparency in local government. Eric is a Studio City based writer-producer and Joshua is a teacher.)

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GUEST WORDS--On Saturday, Americans protested in the streets of Washington, D.C. and more than 100 other cities as part of Tax Day. Demonstrators called on President Donald Trump to release his tax returns so the public can see if his global business interests include any conflicts of interest, including financial ties to Russia and other foreign countries. They also be raised their voices about Trump’s tax and other policies that favor the super-rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor.

They know that if Trump were forced to release his tax returns, it could single-handedly undermine his presidency and perhaps even set the stage for his impeachment. 

A broad coalition of activists -- which includes the leaders of the January women’s marches that galvanized five million people in cities across the country, MoveOn.org, the American Federation of Teachers, the Indivisible Project (which has inspired more than 7,000 local groups to organize, including protests at local town halls sponsored by members of Congress,) Americans For Tax Fairness, the Center for Popular Democracy (a network of local community organizing groups,) and Our Revolution (the organization built from Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign) -- sponsored the Tax Day events. In Washington, D.C. they walked from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, passing both Trump’s hotel and the IRS building. 

During and after his campaign, Trump pledged to release his tax returns as soon as the Internal Revenue Service was done auditing him. Then he recanted, claiming that Americans don’t care about the issue. 

In fact, Americans do care. A poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post in January found that 74% of people surveyed and 49% of those who voted for Trump said the president should release his returns. A more recent poll, conducted last week by Global Strategy Group for MoveOn.org, found that 80% of Americans – including 64% of Republicans, want Trump to release his tax returns. 

By the end of February, more than one million people had signed a petition on the White House website, launched on Inauguration Day, to “immediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.” It was by far the largest number of names on a White House petition, surpassing a 2012 petition to recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, with more than 387,000 signatures. 

Voters are also wary that Trump’s tax plan includes provisions that will further enrich him and others like him by reducing taxes for super-wealthy while raising taxes on the middle class and the poor. As the New York Times recently revealed, when one of Trump’s advisors proposed a tax change that would make it harder for real estate developers to use mountains of debt to make deals, Trump killed it. Last month, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return that showed that he paid $31 million as a result of the alternative minimum tax that year. Trump has called for the elimination of that tax rule, which would save him tens of millions of dollars in tax payments a year. 

"I think he just has an obligation to come clean,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Senate minority leader, recently said. “When you clean up the swamp, it's not keeping things secret and it applies to yourself." 

“The American people want to see what this is about,” Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told the New York Times about Trump’s proposals to revise the federal tax code. “Are our interests being protected or are these deals that somehow promote his interests?” 

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has even said that Congress should delay making any changes to the tax code until Trump releases his tax returns so lawmakers can see how revisions might directly benefit him. 

Every major party nominee since Richard Nixon has done so except Gerald Ford, who released a summary.  

Americans want to know: What is Trump hiding? 

First, Trump’s tax returns could reveal the extent of his global business dealings and entanglements, including potential conflicts of interest that violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which forbids presidents from accepting payments from foreign governments. In particular, Trump’s returns could tell us quite a bit about his ties to Russian entities and banks. Trump was required to file financial disclosure forms that revealed that he has a stake in or owns 564 businesses, corporations, limited partnerships, or limited liability companies around the world. Many of his businesses work in or with foreign countries, including Russia. Some of Trump’s business partners might be close to Putin. His tax returns might show that he’s making payments on loans from foreign banks who have invested in his businesses. 

“Until we see his taxes, we don’t know how much money he owes Russia, China, and other countries,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn, one of the groups sponsoring the Tax Day marches. 

Second, Trump’s tax returns might reveal that he isn’t as wealthy as he has claimed. During the campaign, one of Trump’s biggest arguments was that as a successful businessman, he could fix the nation’s economy and stem the exodus of jobs. As evidence of his business acumen, Trump claimed to be worth $10 billion. But Forbes magazine put the figure at $4.1 billion. Trump’s tax returns might show that even that number is a wild exaggeration, that he’s mired in debt, and that the number of his businesses that have gone bankrupt is even more than the six we already know about. (Despite this, on April 18, 2015, Trump tweeted this falsehood: “For all of the haters and losers out there sorry, I never went Bankrupt.”) 

Third, the tax returns might reveal that Trump has paid little -- and in some years, nothing -- in federal income taxes. If there’s one thing that most Americans agree on it is that the super-rich should pay their fair share of taxes. In October, the New York Times obtained and released Trump’s 1995 tax records, which revealed that he claimed a $916 million loss that could have permitted him to avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years. The losses stem from major business failures, including his mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, the financial crash landing that was Trump Airlines, and his bungled purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. 

Last month MSNBC’s Maddow revealed that Trump paid a 25 percent effective tax rate in 2005. Some observers speculated that Trump had himself directly leaked those two pages to Trump critic and investigative reporter David Cay Johnston (who provided them to Maddow) because it was one year that he did, indeed, pay taxes. But we still haven’t seen his tax returns for the past 11 years, which could show something completely different. 

In a debate last September, Hillary Clinton scoffed at Trump’s failure to release his tax returns, suggesting that he may be hiding the fact that he paid nothing in federal taxes. “That makes me smart,” Trump responded. In Trump’s logic, if a wealthy mogul with a good accountant can exploit tax loopholes created to help the super-rich avoid paying taxes, he has a moral obligation to take advantage of them. Trump didn’t mention that while enriching himself by paying little or no federal taxes, he stiffed scores of unpaid contractors and bondholders on his casinos. 

Fourth, the tax returns might reveal that Trump gives little or no money to charity. Trump has long boasted that he’s a generous philanthropist. He often showed up at star-studded charity events to demonstrate his do-gooderism. On the same day that Trump announced he was running for president, he released a 93-page list of his charitable donations. The list included 4,844 individual gifts that totaled $102 million. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold spent months trying to confirm Trump’s claims. He called more than 420 charities on Trump’s list. Only one group, the Police Athletic League of New York City, said that it had received a donation from Trump -- and that one was for less than $10,000. 

Fahrenthold discovered that even the Trump Foundation, supposedly created as a vehicle for Trump’s charitable giving, is mostly a scam. Trump has given only $5.5 million to his own foundation and nothing since 2008. Meanwhile, Trump enticed others to contribute $9.3 million to the foundation. This helps Trump look like a generous donor without spending his own money.

Moreover, Trump has illegally used the Trump Foundation for his own business purposes, a clear violation of federal tax laws against self-dealing. For example, his foundation’s largest gift --$264,631 -- was used to renovate a fountain outside the windows of Trump’s Plaza Hotel, hardly a charitable cause. In 2007, he used the foundation to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself, for $20,000, which wound up hanging on a wall in Trump’s private golf club in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Trump has also used his foundation’s funds to settle legal disputes involving his for-profit companies, another violation of federal tax laws. 

But the full extent of Trump’s stinginess can’t be known without reviewing his tax returns, because donors are required to itemize their tax-exempt charitable donations on their annual IRS forms.

If Trump won’t voluntarily release his taxes, what can be done to allow the American people to see them? 

Congress has the authority to obtain Trump’s taxes under a complex statute in the Internal Revenue Code, Section 6103, which allows three congressional committees to obtain private tax information from the IRS in order to investigate presidential conflicts of interest. The committee can then vote on whether to disclose the information to the public. 

In February, Rep. Bill Pascrell  (D-NJ) sent a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), asking the committee to obtain 10 years’ worth of Trump’s returns. Brady refused.

If the Democrats win a majority in either the House or Senate next year, they could vote to obtain Trump’s returns. They could also pass a law requiring that all presidents release their tax records, though it is unlikely Trump would sign it. 

Trump’s tax records could be made public as a result of a lawsuit filed in New York by a team of constitutional scholars alleging that Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause. The legal team intends to ask for Trump’s returns in order to ascertain what income, loans or other payments he has received from foreign governments. The courts must first rule on whether the group has standing to file the suit. 

The records could also be made public if attorneys general in states where Trump has business dealings were to sue him for violating the emoluments clause, as Fordham University Law School Professor Jed Schugerman recently argued. Such suits could give a state attorney general access to the returns, which could then be provided to a congressional committee under 6103. 

There is also the possibility that a member of the IRS staff or someone within Trump’s own operation would leak his tax returns, either to the media or to Congress, just as Daniel Ellsberg helped to bring down Richard Nixon by releasing the secret Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971. 

Any leaker would need to believe that Trump’s tax returns are so damaging that bringing him down would serve a higher purpose -- would, say, protect our democracy from a president with little respect for the Constitution, the separation of powers and the rule of law. The number of people who share this belief grows every day. 

(Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College. He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, Common Dreams, The Nation, Huffington Post and contributes occasionally to CityWatch. This piece appeared in CommonDreams.org. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

HEALTH POLITICS--Sometimes the positioning of a story is a story in and of itself.  Take, for example, the nightmarish story of a doctor who was just arrested for performing female genital surgery on two young, innocent American girls. 

Why this story didn't receive the media attention and prioritization that the United Airlines passenger beat-down and drag-out just did should concern us all. 

CNN (a liberal news site) and Breitbart (a conservative op-ed site) and all the local media outlets such as Channel 5, NBC, and ABC covered this story, but one had to dig deep to get it on the Huffington Post website. The front web pages of the Yahoo, AOL, and MSN websites didn't have it at all. 

Trust me, I checked.  And even did a check at Snopes to confirm I wasn't paranoid when I saw such an uneven coverage of this issue.  

I'm aware that the media will cover--and not cover--all sorts of issues, such as First Lady Melania Trump's visit to a home for abused girls in Lake Worth, Florida on Good Friday. 

And for good reason, the media itself is under fire after losing the trust of many Americans for decades, with the ultimate result being the election of President Donald Trump.  

Arguably, the reason for Trump's doing business at Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower (and yes, the expense is a big, BIG problematic issue) is to escape the Washington/media insider elites and do business in private. 

But the issue of female genital circumcision, which in this nation (and throughout the civilized world) is described as female genital mutilation, is one that is fraught with politically-correct nonsense. 

So let's make something clear:  there is NO medical benefit for females to have their genitals altered, and this procedure is NOT the same as male circumcision. 

In male circumcision, the foreskin is removed and the penis is left otherwise untouched: while not medically necessary for all males, a host of potential medical benefits ranging from prevention of urinary tract infections to the ability to achieve erection or normal urination later on in life is well-documented. 

An army of dermatologists, urologists, pediatricians and others would argue that, when properly performed by a trained professional, male circumcision (which is NOT the same as removal of the penis) is a valid and beneficial medical procedure ... and is much more easily tolerated and recovered from by infants who will have normal, healthy lives (including sexual lives). 

No such evidence exists for female genital circumcision, where removal of part or all of the functional clitoris is performed.   

The Muslim medical community must come out loud and strong, as should we all, in condemning and not tolerating this practice--and condemn the doctor who (rightfully) was just arrested. 

The potential of performing a small and harmless (and sterile) pinprick of the genital region of a baby girl might be something to be considered--thereby allowing cultural sensitivity of those communities involved while preventing ANY long-term harm to affected girls and women ... but that is an issue for the Islamic communities of this nation and world to decide. 

In the meantime, this arrest of the doctor in the Detroit area should make us all pay attention.  And if this is the first time you've ever heard of this story, and the first time you've learned this is going on in our nation, you should especially be incensed. 

There are a host of medical reasons why male circumcision is defended in Muslim, Jewish, and other communities in this nation and throughout the world ... but female circumcision is NOT. 

And therefore the politically-correct nonsense of covering up, or burying, a legitimate concern to our nation is indefensible and should be opposed by liberals and conservatives alike who defend the rights of girls and women everywhere. 

Sometimes the positioning of a story is a story in and of itself. 

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POLITICS-Sunday on Meet the Press, Senator Lindsey Graham said, "If you're an adversary of the United States, and you don't worry about what Trump may do any given day, then you're crazy."  Well, we already knew that Assad was stone cold nuts crazy, no breaking news there, and Kim Jong Un makes even Assad look like a sensible, sober guy. It's our closest ALLIES who are worried. It's a majority of our own CITIZENS who are worried. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

We remember well the campaign promises of George W. Bush to get America out of the nation building business. And some thought that meant less foreign interventionism. But he quickly dove into nation busting, and the human and social wreckage has been piling up in the Middle East ever since.

But although Bush infamously asserted that he was a "war president” he at least he had the constitutional respect, minimal as it was, to seek the approval of Congress before taking unilateral military action. We call on Congress to assert their authority.

It may be consistent with his tough guy "only I can do it" posture, but the action of Donald Trump to unilaterally bomb another country, without allies, without congressional authorization, can only be characterized as the act of a king.

"Oh, it was just a limited attack," defenders of this act of war are saying. There is no such thing as a limited act of war, no more than someone could be slightly pregnant.

President Obama was elected on the platform of getting us out of the Middle East. Next thing we knew he was busting up Libya with Hillary Clinton leading the policy charge. OK, technically that's Africa, not the Middle East, so no incongruity there we suppose.

Now here comes Donald Trump, who incessantly harangued President Obama on twitter not to intervene in Syria a couple years ago. And less than 100 days in office he has done a complete 180 and now has made it his personal jihad to change the regime in Syria.

Its regime change 3.0. Oh boy, here we go again.

Trump says it's because Assad used chemical weapons that he has done this about face.

Yes, it is criminal and sick that any government would produce chemical weapons let alone use them, on declared enemies let alone their own people, let alone indiscriminately on small children.

But Assad has killed a half a million people mostly with so-called barrel bombs and conventional weapons, and they are just as dead, and died as horribly, as the 80 or so from this last attack.

But the real question is as Tom Brokaw said the U.S. missile strike against a Syrian air base is “the easy part; the real question is what comes next, such as the possibility of ground troops.”

It appears that our emotions are being manipulated by the media, in just the same propaganda way that all wars are promoted to start them. Remember the phony stories from the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington, about babies being dumped out of their incubators (In truth she hadn't been in Kuwait at the time) on to the cold floor that was supposed to justify the first Iraq war? It's always about the babies, isn't it? Nothing arouses the lust for war more in America than dead babies, as long we're not stopping them at the border and accusing them of being secret terrorists.

By the way, we have no doubt that Assad has used chemical weapons. Every time people die from them he trots out the story that he just dropped conventional bombs, that happened to hit a rebel chemical weapons cache, and that's what released the gas. What has he got, laser guided munitions that home in on sarin like a blood hound? How come people only die like this when Assad is bombing?

Such a farfetched scenario as magic bombs finding rebel poison gas can't be true every time. Experts tell us that the fireball from a bomb would be as likely to destroy chemical weapons as to disperse them. Therefore, Assad has essentially admitted that he has and uses chemical weapons.

So the rest of the civilized world has to do something. The one thing that will not work is for Commander Quick Draw to go barging in all by himself, without full congressional endorsement even. The so-called Bush coalition of the willing was a cynical PR ploy. Salon.com columnist Laura McClure, noting the large amounts of foreign aid being offered in exchange for supporting the Iraq War, referred to Bush's coalition as the "Coalition of the billing" While a British activist described it as a "coalition of the shilling"

Trump doesn't even bother with that pretense. The 3 guys from Palau can sit this one out.

Senator Graham crows that there is a new sheriff in town. In the Wild West sense a new sheriff MADE the law. Many committed their own criminal acts in the process, but what is a sheriff to do, round up himself?

So it is with Trump. The constitution does not matter. International law, the only real hope for world peace, does not matter. There is just the new crazy sheriff maximally provoking the crazies on the other side.

Graham said something else. He said for Assad to get planes back in the air from the same base immediately was, he actually said this on national television, an "F" you to Trump.

Make it plain, Graham. This is all just sexual machismo, isn't it? You know, locker room talk, a Trump specialty, bragging on the world stage about his erection in the form of shooting off $100 million dollars’ worth of cruise missiles.

In 1990, Dick Cheney said the reason he did not push on in the first Gulf war to taking Baghdad was that it would destabilize everything. And that's exactly what he proceeded to do in 2003, big time, by doing exactly what he said should not be done.

And history is repeating itself, once again. Trump, Mr. “Don't even think about making war in Syria”, is hot to trot now to do it all by himself, anything to save the failing ratings of his new White House reality TV show.

"I alone can do it" means there is no law but the word of Trump, the new sheriff. He will have to learn the hard way, like every arrogant commander in chief before him, at our own dear expense in lives and treasure, that for all its military hardware America, let alone one man, cannot singlehandedly impose anything on the Middle East, as if we have in the end learned nothing from the last 15 years.

Shouldn’t we demand a congressional vote on the authority of Trump to attack on
Syria? Maybe we can get more people to speak out this time.

Can one of KellyAnne Conway’s “anonymous sources” confirm that a guy named Vladimir P  is none too happy about the way the guy he backed in the election turned out.

 In the meantime, We the People respectfully pause for a moment of silence to mark the death of the Constitution of the United States, may it rest in peace.

Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein are apparently all peachy keen with Trump acting as a total dictator. It was left to Senator Chris Murphy to object that Trump can do any unilateral thing he wants going forward if Congress does not stand up for itself now, and its exclusive prerogative to declare war.

We are told that they, and certain other congressional so-called leaders, were given advance notice of Trump's intent to bomb a Syrian military airbase. Of course they couldn't tell anyone else even if they wanted to, let alone have their constituents weigh in on whether they wanted a military escalation.

Oh, except Trump told the Russians, who are close allies of . . . wait for it . . . Assad, that we're about to launch some Tomahawks at that exact particular airbase. Wow, great big top secret! Had to keep it all hush, hush, NOT. If there was such a thing as a Kabuki farce, this is it.

But if all these members of Congress were OK with bombing Assad, why not have Congress actually vote to authorize the use of military force?

Just speaking of the Republicans, would they not vote en masse the party line to back up their new war president? So what's the big problem with having a vote?

And if there is to be none, everyone who does not object, and we mean EVERYONE, just signed up for being ruled by a totalitarian dictator, by default.

Moreover, we do not delude ourselves that Hillary Clinton, who also voiced her strong approval, had she been elected, would have done anything even slightly different.

Senator Mitch McConnell, that snake in the guise of man, said that of course he would have officially authorized President Obama to do the same thing Trump just did, not that he's interested in a vote even now.

McConnell, Mr. “Block Everything Obama”, would not have approved giving away free ice cream at President Obama's own personal expense, and we all know it.

But in fact President Obama DID ask, the Republican Congress after the August 31, 2013 chemical attack for authorization and they voted  No! 

Mendacious McConnell head of the Senate. No wonder people have lost faith in government.

To the extent this attack is being described euphemistically as a "pinprick," that only shot off about a $100 million dollars in cruise missiles by the way. A pinprick next week would have accomplished the same objective, assuming there was a strategic objective, and would have given time to demonstrate that Congress fully stands behind the commander in chief.

Maybe it's being called a pinprick because it had little real military effectiveness. It's like we're not supposed to see the pictures of intact planes in more or less intact bunkers. The same airbase had those planes in the air again the next day, notwithstanding a couple pock marks in some runways. One newscaster actually commented that he was not seeing a lot of damage, which the military "expert" he was interviewing then tried to explain away by noting these were only 1000 lb. warheads.

In fact, the bombing in Syria accomplished nothing but a dubious photo op in support of the image of our current White House resident as a tough guy, strong man.

 But we now know that this is an all-publicity-no-policy Trump administration coddled by a disingenuous Congress.

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

CIVIL RIGHTS--It was one of the uglier scandals of the Bush administration: Top officials at an agency dedicated to protecting whistle-blowers launched a campaign against their own employees based on suspected sexual orientation, according to an inspector general report. 

PERSPECTIVE--Do you remember this gem of a commercial from the 1980s?

It was one of an entertaining series produced by Alaska Airlines, parodying the gap between promises of superior customer service and actual delivery.

Good news for United – they will not have to pay a dime for advertising for a while. There’s plenty of free video available and, unlike the poor chap in the Alaska commercial who at least had a seat, passenger David Dao couldn’t keep his.

But he did receive priority deboarding.

As a frequent flyer, I have endured my share of shoddy service but, quite often, it has been more than balanced with exemplary acts of kindness by airline personnel, both on and off the plane, from the cockpit to the reservation agents and the skycaps.

I am sure the vast majority of United’s rank and file personnel were appalled by this incident, but they have to zip it up lest they face the wrath of CEO Oscar Muñoz and get dragged down the proverbial aisle of retribution.

The airline industry is as complex as it gets, but that fact is often used as tool to bamboozle the public and obfuscate poor management practices.  United and other airlines have been flying for more than half a century and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about scheduling, matching passenger loads with routes and assigning crews to flights.

When customer service goes awry, airlines’ management just shrug it off as de rigueur of the environment.

If industry CEOs learned from experience and applied fixes, the process of bumping would not be as widespread as it is today.

Airlines bumped 40,000 passengers, not including 434,000 who voluntarily relinquished their seats. Statistics for 2015 show about 895 million passengers were carried on domestic routes. So the number of inconvenienced passengers is a mere fraction of the total.

That’s good, but it is a lottery you do not want to win, especially if you are on a tight schedule.  What’s more, bumping creates delays for all passengers and causes some to miss connections.

The root cause, overbooking, is necessary because of passenger cancellations, according to the industry. Airlines risk losing revenue if they cannot fill seats left vacant by no-shows. But what they fail to admit is the windfall they make off of baggage fees, amounting to $3.8 billion for domestic carriers in 2015.  One study cited by Fortune Magazine estimated close to $11 billion for a la carte fees overall.

The disparity between the two seems inexplicable, but it is a staggering amount no matter what.

Do you think some of this money could be used to offset lost revenue from late cancellations, thereby reducing the need for overbooking? How about some for better comfort?

The public might be more forgiving of mismanagement if they had something in return thrown their way … and not just a bag of peanuts.

We are likely to face pay lavatories and other abuse, as depicted in other vintage Alaska commercials, before the airlines show some respect to the people who allow them to exist – the passengers.

-cw

UNFRIENDLY SKIES--We now have an amazing new and fearsome word in our vernacular:  reaccommodate. This is Orwellian bizarro-speak for "you get the short end of the stick", or "have your civil rights taken away", or "being violently abused".  But hey, this is United Airlines, right?

We all know that United Airlines has a deserved reputation for being so abusive to their passengers that they've forgotten how NOT to treat them with contempt, but who knew that CEO Oscar Munoz, who originally doubled down and defended the way an elderly doctor was manhandled by blaming the doctor, could be so headline-making.

So in the spirit of the absurd--from United Airlines' absurd perspective on how they view their customers as chattel, to the absurd manner in which the CEO and the rest of United's leadership have responded, here are a few fitting fantasy tweets we'd love to see the CEO make.

Heck, nothing can surprise us anymore about Oscar Munoz and the manhandling misfits who have now shown the world how to be "united" against this airline--so here's some make-believe messages that we'd love to read from Mr. Munoz:

10) Fly the Friendly Skies ... if we allow you to stay on until take-off!

9) I just got a call from President Trump … United Airlines has now been hired to reaccommodate Kim Jong Un out of North Korea!

8) OK, OK, OK ... after 2-3 tries, NOW I'll apologize for what happened! Because at United, we really are sincere about what we say and do.

7) To my United Airlines teammates:  we are now changing our name to Seal Team Six!

6) Don't you low-lifes "get it" that some travelers are "higher-priority" than others?  Duh!

5) Is there a doctor on the plane?  We have an injured passenger!  Oh ... oops ... wait ... about that ...

4) Why is China so upset about this incident?  The guy went to medical school in Vietnam.

3) It's not like this incident has racist overtones or anything like that.

2) We're United Airlines!  We can't be beat!  Our passengers can be beat ... but we sure can't!

1) So ... why the hell am I still employed as CEO of United Airlines?

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY-Time magazine’s 2016 Person of the Year was elected president, as the magazine’s headline writer waggishly put it, of the “divided states of America.” 

Donald Trump did not, of course, cause America’s long-standing divisions of class, culture, education, income, race, and politics, which have been baked into our geography and demography for a long time. But he has certainly brought them into stark relief. As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt remarked, “We have to recognize that we’re in a crisis, and that the left-right divide is probably unbridgeable. … Polarization is here to stay for many decades, and it’s probably going to get worse, and so the question is: How do we adapt our democracy for life under intense polarization?” 

The answer lies not in enforcing uniformity from left or right but in embracing and empowering our diversity of communities. The best way to do that is by shifting power away from our increasingly dysfunctional federal government and down to the local level, where partisan differences are more muted and less visible, and where programs and policies can actually get things done. 

This is hardly the first time the United States has been so divided. Yet with the exception of the Civil War, America has always been able to surmount its differences and change as needed over time. Often the most powerful and lasting innovations -- from both the left and right -- have percolated up to the national level from the grassroots politics of state and local governments, the places Justice Louis Brandeis famously called “the laboratories of democracy.” 

Far from promoting unity, centralizing power at the national level drives us further apart. This is something that the Founders recognized at the very outset of the American experiment when they designed a federalized system, and it is very much in tune with our current national mood. Almost half (49 percent) of Americans view the federal government as “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” according to a 2015 Gallup poll. And nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe that “more progress” is made on critical issues at the local rather than the federal level, according to a separate 2015 Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. 

The issue isn’t just the dysfunction of our national government, but how we can best and most efficiently address our economic needs and challenges. The United States is a geographically varied place. No top-down, one-size-fits-all set of policies can address the very different conditions that prevail among communities. Back when he was governor, Bill Clinton understood that “pragmatic responses” by local governments to key social and economic issues were critical in “a country as complex and diverse as ours.” 

Until recently, local empowerment was mostly a theme of the right, for example when Yuval Levin characterized President Obama’s use of executive orders as intrusions on local rights. Now some progressives, horrified about the orders that might come down from a Donald Trump administration, are also seeing the light. Progressives have not always been hostile to local control, as anyone who’s studied the grassroots radical movements of the 1960s well knows. But now a growing chorus of them, including Benjamin Barber and Bruce Katz, are on board with the idea. Indeed, strange times make for strange bedfellows, and we have come to a pass where conservatives and progressives can work together to reinvigorate our federalist state. 

The United Kingdom, long a highly-centralized country, has been making moves in this direction --even before the Brexit vote showed widespread opposition to meddling from an even more distant government in Brussels. In 2015, a blue-ribbon panel of British business leaders, policymakers, economists, and urbanists outlined four key steps to empower cities, including shifting decision-making authority from the national government to cities and metropolitan areas; giving cities greater tax and fiscal authority; placing city leaders on national representative bodies and giving them a permanent seat on the national cabinet; and creating new mechanisms to coordinate major investments in infrastructure, talent, and economic development across metro areas. We would be wise to follow their cue. 

It is time for American mayors and community leaders -- from small towns, suburbs and midsized ‘burgs to great metropolitan capitals like New York City, LA, and Chicago to press for a similar devolution of power. Such a strategy recognizes both the advantages that come from local innovation and problem solving and the substantial variations in local capabilities and needs. This need for devolution and local empowerment does not just apply to the federal government; it applies to the relationship between the states and municipalities as well. A greater recognition of local differences may be particularly helpful for suburbs, which often have little voice in regional decision-making compared to either big city mayors or the rural and small town interests that dominate many statehouses. 

In the America that emerged after the Second World War, unity of purpose was the watchword. In the more geographically-varied world of today, it makes sense to allow for a greater variation of policy approaches. Rather than pursuing a single vision of “national greatness,” it’s time for us to embrace and empower the country’s wondrous local diversity of cities, suburbs and communities of all kinds. 

Vive la difference!

 

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

 

Richard Florida is author of The New Urban Crisis, University Professor at the University of Toronto, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at NYU, and editor-at-large of The Atlantic’s CityLab.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOICES-Only in America do we have politicians running every two years on a platform of repealing whatever is the current healthcare bill. And Republicans seem hell bent on passing something even worse than what we have now, doing it so fast that it will have a direct negative impact on the pocketbooks of their own voters before the next election.

Every one of the other 33 countries considered "developed" has some form of universal health coverage, most prominently single payer. Only in America, the richest country of them all, do we not have that. Only in America do politicians not have the best interests of the well-being of its people at heart.

In Norway, they have had single payer for a full century. They like it just fine thank you, and they are not at all interested in junking it, precisely because there, as well as in all the other countries that have it, it has proven to be the best way to spend the healthcare dollars available to its society.

Only in America do we have the two major political parties operating as tag teams to see who can come up with the healthcare plan that people hate the most.

Kathleen Sebelius was asked a pertinent question on Meet the Press recently. If the Republicans have their way and their plan fails as well, and the Democrats return to power, would they be able to revive so-called Obamacare? Her answer was no, because the insurance providers will have already fled the system.

We say good riddance to them. Why do we need middleman insurance companies raking off 30% in administrative fees – companies that just jump ship if they don’t get what they want? We say make the existing Medicare system the basic insurance provider for everyone so that everyone has at least basic coverage.

The Republicans are fond of talking about not having the federal government "dictate" to the people in their districts. It's their big talking point, and has been since Reagan. ("I'm from the government
and I'm the boogieman.")

What they really mean is the medical services corporations don't want to have to deal with anyone with actual negotiating leverage, so that they can dictate to us we will pay for our healthcare -- like $600 for an Epipen with less than $1 worth of medicine in it.

The political reality is that one way or another Obamacare is going down, and it's not coming back. So seriously, how many bad health care bills do we have to repeal before we get single payer?

Congress is making a show of asking their constituents what they think of their plan. We say tell them.

Demand Medicare for All NOW.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

FURTHER--It's tough to choose the most egregiously ghastly element of Trump's "presidential" charade of mindless militarism in Syria.

So much offends: The illegal, unauthorized and historically knee-jerk move to armaments, the lewd wag-the-dog distraction motive, the inchoate aka non-existent long-term strategy for entering never mind exiting yet another quagmire in another Muslim country, the mirror image of rich-kid-war-tourism as the flaq-jacketed-over-blazer Jared dropped in on Iraq, the trite, bumbling language of outrage - "Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror” - or the freakish war porn swoon by a fawning media.

What was more surreally obscene: Brian Williams' unironic abuse of Leonard Cohen's "beauty of our weapons" or the New York Times' WTF claim that "Trump's heart came first?" So many crimes against journalism, so little time.

But two things emerge as key. The first, following this weekend when entirely unfazed Syrian war planes undertook at least two new air strikes in the same area as Idlib, is the utter, empty, hollow pointlessness of Trump's $75 million "message."

Bombing an empty airbase and its concrete bunkers had virtually no impact: Strikes both Saturday and Sunday reportedly killed at least 18 including five children, with the number expected to rise; at the same time, Trump took a few moments off from his Florida golf course to frantically explain he didn't take out the runways 'cause they're "easy and inexpensive to quickly fix (fill in and top)!” and anyway how's about those "great military men and women ... representing the United States, and the world, so well in the Syria attack.”

Above all, is the sickening, sanctimonious hypocrisy of the effort by a petty, vindictive, ill-informed, forever lying buffoon worried about his ratings to justify the gaudy pricey spectacle by pretending to care about Syria's "beautiful babies," when up to 60,000 of them have already suffered and died over the last six bloody years in Assad's Russian-backed barrel bombs, air raids, decimated buildings and yes chemical attacks, including the 2013 one in Ghouta that killed close to a thousand people, and let's not forget the atrocity of Aleppo. At the same time, he now seeks to cut millions in UN humanitarian funds, along of course with millions more for this country's schools, meals, clean water, health care, environmental protection and a zillion other worthy causes easily funded by a few Tomahawks.

And still, the beautiful babies remain trapped in a war zone. We need to ban them because they are Muslim and they are dangerous; notes Nikki Haley helpfully, "Syrian children come with Syrian adults" - unless they drown en route - and we can't have that. Better to leave it at our long tradition of faux righteous, utterly pointless military actions seen somehow as reflecting presidential moral resolve never before witnessed while remaining complicit in the atrocities under which kids continue to suffer.

Is this really the best we can do? Hopefully not, writes Ben Mathis-Lilley in Slate. "We can, in theory, ask the politicians who represent us and the media that reflects us to attend instead to the bigger picture - namely, to the millions of urgently needy Syrian refugees who have not yet been able to figure out how to use Tomahawk missiles to clothe or feed themselves. We can say it again: Let them in. Let them in. Let them in."

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for ourfuture.org

-cw

CORRUPTION WATCH--Does history make the man or does the man make history? Sometimes, history needs the man who knows the right time and place to make the correct move. Donald Trump does not need Jack Benny’s timing, to realize that now is the time to act. (Photo above: US Rep. Jim Jordon, a member of the Freedom Caucus.) 

Jarvanka wisely exited stage-left for a ski vacation and left the stage to Bannon and the Alt-Right during their attempt to install “TrumpCare.” The military chose Jared to travel with it to Iraq. Sanity has regained control of the National Security Council with Bannon’s banishment. Most telling, did anyone see Kellyanne Conway, Herr Stephen “Thou shall not question” Miller or Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the Sunday morning pundit shows? 

The Tea Baggers have turned Congress into a Parliament 

The lesson from the tea bagger Freedom Caucus flop is clear. Congress has become a quasi-parliament where the GOP needs the far right in order to stay in power, and that means the Freedom Caucus will have the final word on all vital decisions in the Trump Administration. While they lack the power to enact their far right agenda, they have the power to destroy sensible policies and thereby to destroy the Trump Presidency. The reality is that by acting like a separate political party, the tea baggers in Congress forget there is a far larger centrist group that can and should take its place. It is the number of votes and not who places them that counts in any parliament. 

Extremism in Governance is a Vice 

Now is the time for Trump to realize that the extremist tactics that can get one elected will make governance impossible. The only way to govern with 35% of the vote is to stage a military coup, and the intelligence agencies including those within the military are much closer to getting rid of Trump than vice versa. 

The Freedom Caucus has shown that there are two avenues open to Trump: (1) continue to be their captive, (2) form a governing coalition with the centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans. If Trump foolishly sticks with the GOP and excludes Democrats, thinking that he and Ryan can control the tea baggers, then he and Ryan are delusional. They will stab both Trump and Ryan in the back. That is the nature of true believers. 

Syria Provides the Perfect Time 

Because there is no good option with Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran and the assorted jihadists, whatever action the nation takes has to be backed by a large centrist coalition of centrist GOP and Dems, excluding the Alt-Right and the incipient Alt-Left. 

People cry for bipartisanship, but petty interests try to block every step toward Americans coming together to solve problems on a consensus basis. Fortunately, a foreign crisis deafens the ears of the populace to the claims of politicos demanding “my power first.” While many among the Democrats would rather slit their own wrists than lose the fund raising bonanza of the Midnight Tweeter, the power of an international disaster greatly dampens these voices of internal division. 

Trump, Democrat or GOP? 

Without realizing it, the Politics of Revenge elected a President who not only is more of a Democrat than a member of the GOP, but he also comes with built-in democratic advisers who are gaining ascendency. Say Hello to Jarvanka. Running a nation is not a solo act, but requires an ensemble cast all of whose members know when the first act is over and the second act has begun. The Alt-Right has dominated the opening scenes of the Trump Presidency, but now it is time for the nation to move on. 

Trump Still Has His Demons 

In order to assess Trump’s ability to put together an openly bipartisan governing coalition, we need to bite the bullet and address Trump’s personality disorders. He appears to suffer from both a histrionic and a narcissistic personality disorder with paranoid features. A centrist governing coalition plays to the traits of these disorders – hey – that’s the guy we got and we have to base decisions on what we have and not what we wish we had. If parts of Trump’s personality are simpatico with a coalition, let’s allow those traits to become our strengths. 

In a centrist coalition, Trump can see himself as the center of attention as his history embodies bipartisanship. The coalition shuts down the Alt-Right Freedom Caucus who view Trump as their puppet and the coalition rescues him from the humiliation of his failed courtship with Putin. 

Histrionic people assume that relationships are closer than they are. Despite his disclaimers, Trump always thought that he had an understanding – a shared vision – with Putin. Wrong! Putin, however, is a power player. As long as Trump is weak with no effective control over events and lacks the approval of the tea baggers, he cannot forge a working relationship with Russia. 

As Trump said in The Art of the Deal, one cannot bargain from a position of weakness, so his sole hope to gain power is to break the hold the Freedom Caucus has over him and the GOP Congress. That requires forging a centrist governing coalition that can lock out the Freedom Caucus. 

The time has arrived to realize that the tea baggers are passé. The weight of the Administration is moving toward bipartisanship, and the best time for a President to do the unorthodox is when the country perceives a threat from the outside.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

MEDIA WATCH--Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill on Sunday offered scathing criticism of corporate media's coverage of the cruise missile strike President Donald Trump ordered last week on Syria. 

Speaking on CNN's "Reliable Sources" to host Brian Stelter, The Intercept co-founder and Dirty Wars author took particular aim at that network's Fareed Zakaria and MSNBC's Brian Williams.

"The media coverage has been atrocious, particularly—and this is across the board on every network—particularly when the strike is happening. It's like they're in awe of the cruise missiles," Scahill said.

Indeed, media critics pounced on the comments by Zakaria—who called it Trump's "big moment"—and Williams—who called the strikes "beautiful" —as examples of the "classic pundit attitude toward presidential violence."

Referring to Zakaria, Scahill said "if that guy could have sex with this cruise missile attack, I think he would do it." And Brian Williams, he said, "seemed to be in true love with the cruise missile strike, in a despicable way invoking Leonard Cohen's name." Pressed by Stelter if Zakaria's comments were taken out of context, Scahill said, "Fareed Zakaria was also a major cheerleader for the Iraq War."

Scahill also criticized corporate media for elevating the voices of retired military who may now be personally profiting from continued U.S. warfare.

"CNN needs to needs to immediate withdraw all retired generals and colonels from its airways," Scahill said.

"I think that the American people deserve to know what was the private sector record of these individuals when it came to the weapons industry or profiting in the private sector off of the proliferation of U.S. wars that happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere. There is not the kind of transparency that is required of a truly democratic press when you're not revealing the extent to which these people have benefited in the private sector from these wars," he said.

He also noted that "the United States has been engaged militarily in Syria for several years now, both in the form of Special Operations forces and, increasingly, conventional 'boots on the ground,' but also just scorched-earth bombing, particularly since Trump took office."

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather also weighed in the issue of media coverage of the strikes, writing on his personal Facebook page: "The role of the press is to ask hard questions."

"The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as 'presidential' is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike," he wrote.

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

HULLABALOO--A week or so ago I noted that Jared Kushner, the son Donald Trump never had, seemed to be taking on a lot of new projects. Since then there has been a flurry of reporting on his burgeoning portfolio, including the news that Kushner is the administration’s new point man on China in anticipation of the important visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week. But just as he weirdly decided to take a ski vacation during the administration’s most important legislative battle a couple of weeks ago, Kushner inexplicably decided to take a trip to Iraq this week with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Keith Schiller.

Wait, who’s Keith Schiller? I can tell you:

Meanwhile, President Trump has installed his daughter Ivanka in an official government position that allows her to participate in all the meetings with foreign leaders — the ones in which she had already been participating since the transition. According to reports from the meetings, unlike her father, Ivanka even does some advance preparation. Foreign delegations are grateful to learn that someone in the president’s confidence can skim a briefing paper.

On Wednesday the White House announced that Steve Bannon, the president’s other right-hand man, would be stepping down from his outrageously inappropriate membership as a principal on the National Security Council. Bannon tried to spin it as a normal event, cleverly evoking the right’s designated distraction goblin of the moment, Susan Rice. 

From the New York Times: “Susan Rice operationalized the N.S.C. during the last administration,” Mr. Bannon said in a statement, referring to President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. “I was put on the N.S.C. with General [Michael] Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General [H.R.] McMaster has returned the N.S.C. to its proper function.”  

Mr. Bannon did not explain what he meant by “operationalized” or how his presence on the committee had ensured it would not be.  

His allies put out a different story: He had actually been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and now that the latter has left his position it was no longer necessary. There was no explanation as to why this took so long: Flynn has been gone for nearly two months. In any case, the Times also reported that Bannon had threatened to quit over the demotion, so all these self-serving explanations ring more than a little bit hollow.

Bannon had been running a shadow National Security Council called the Strategic Initiatives Group, described as an internal White House “think tank” and put together as an alternative to the traditional structures within the executive branch. It was seen as a terrible management idea, with its giving a back channel to a president who has no idea what he is doing and exacerbating his already chaotic decision- making. Evidently, that project has also been tabled, supplanted by Kushner’s shiny new “Office of American Innovation.” 

That Bannon stepped away from a national security role is undoubtedly a big relief to the rest of the planet, since he is an apocalyptic fruitcake who believes in a theory called “Fourth Turning,” whereby history happens in four-stage cycles of awakening and crisis. He claims that previous cycles in America were the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II, and he believes we’re now in another one that started with the bank bailout in 2008. 

As the Huffington Post reported: In Bannon’s view, we are in the midst of an existential war, and everything is a part of that conflict. Treaties must be torn up, enemies named, culture changed. Global conflagration, should it occur, would only prove the theory correct. For Bannon, the Fourth Turning has arrived. The Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, may have already emerged.
The apocalypse is now.  

“What we are witnessing,” Bannon told The Washington Post … “is the birth of a new political order.”

It’s unknown how much Donald Trump bought into this daft worldview, or if he even understood it. We do know that he considered Bannon one of his most important advisers. This is a recent relationship born of the excitement of the campaign and the thrill of winning, however, so it’s not surprising that Trump might turn on Bannon when the going got tough. Now that the administration is suffering one humiliating defeat and embarrassment after another — and blaming the previous president or Hillary Clinton or even the GOP Congress isn’t working — Trump’s circle is narrowing to the only people he’s ever truly trusted: his family.

This turn of events was foretold by the people who know Trump better than anyone: his biographers. The late journalist Wayne Barrett, who wrote “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth,” predicted that Bannon wouldn’t last. 

As Barrett told the New Republic: A guy like Steve Bannon … I don’t know much about the guy, so I could be completely misunderstanding him, but I think that’s a guy Trump uses up quickly. That’ll be a body he steps over Timothy O’Brien, who wrote “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” pointed out that Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani both lost favor for having high profiles. In that light, Bannon’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine may have sealed his fate. 

O’Brien told CNN’s Anderson Cooper: Trump likes advocates and loyalists and people who advocate his viewpoint, but not people who get more air time and attention than he does. That’s been the kiss of death for anybody who is an adviser to him who’s not a family member. 

O’Brien also had the Kushner rise pegged in January, when he participated in a Politico roundtable of Trump biographers:

O’Brien: At the end of the day, the two most powerful people in his White House, other than him, are going to be Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and they’re going to have the final say on everything. And whatever Gary Cohn or Rex Tillerson or Gen. Mattis or Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon has to say, it will all end up getting filtered through Javanka.  

Michael Kruse: Did you just say “Javanka”?  

O’Brien: Yeah. Other than those two, he won’t listen to anyone in a meaningful way, and he never has listened to anyone outside of his core group and family at the Trump Organization for decades, and that’s not going to change.

All the palace intrigue around this White House is so thick you never really know what’s happening or who has Trump’s ear. But all signs point to Javanka ordering the hit. The question now is: Who’s next?

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for ourfuture.org

-cw

GUEST COMMENTARY-I came to this country as an immigrant from India to go to college. My parents used all their savings to send me here because they knew what we all know and what we all tell our kids: if you want a good job, you’ll need more than a high school education. Whether it’s a two-year, a four-year or a vocational institute, the reality is that in today’s world, you must get more than a high school diploma. 

The unfairness of it, though, is that getting that advanced degree has become completely unaffordable. Today, our young people are making untenable choices: going to college and taking on mountains of debt, or foregoing the college degree to work part-time or minimum-wage jobs that simply won’t allow them to build a future. Or, if they go to college and come out with an average of $30,000 per person in debt, they live in perpetual fear. That choice hurts not only our young people, it hurts our families, our communities and our economy. 

It wasn’t always that way. Getting a college degree used to be free, or low cost, because as a society, we saw providing higher education to young people as an investment -- in them and in the future of our own country. More people with good educations meant more trained workers. More trained workers meant more jobs filled. More jobs meant more money back into our economy. And of course, better jobs ultimately meant people could have a better future, raise a family, and live with economic security. 

We were investing in a cycle of prosperity. That’s why places like the City University of New York and the University of California’s system used to be free. That’s why we invested in the GI Bill to cover college costs for millions of veterans. That’s why we invested in Pell Grants to help cover more than half the cost of tuition at public colleges, helping our lowest income students and millions more to be first in their families to attend college and have the promise of a brighter future. 

And because of that investment, we led the world in terms of the percentage of young people with college degrees. Today, we’re 11th and the trend is continuing downward. In-state tuition at four-year public colleges has almost quadrupled, and state spending on public colleges is at its lowest rate since 1980. 

If current trends continue, spending on public colleges could drop to zero in some states by 2022. Pell Grants today only cover about 30 percent of the cost of attending a public institution --and a full 83 percent of all students attending public universities graduate with student debt. 

Too many people stay in debt their entire lives -- a recent study found that there are 3 million older adults still with student loan debt, seeing their Social Security earnings garnished. And students of color and low-income people are hit especially hard. It is absolutely unacceptable that student debt in America today totals a staggering $1.3 trillion dollars -- even more than credit card debt. 

In my home state of Washington, tuition at the University of Washington grew five times the rate of inflation over ten years before it was frozen in 2013. While I was in the state senate, we worked together to boost state spending enough to lower tuition by 5 percent, and the state is continuing to do this, but we need more. We need to incentivize states across our country to spend on higher education, and ensure that we go back to allowing people to go to college tuition-free. 

That’s what our bill does. The College for All Act takes the agreement we built into the 2016 Democratic Party Platform and codifies it into legislation. 

It’s not rocket science. 

The bill creates a federal-state partnership where the federal government provides 2/3 of the cost of free tuition for all students and the state provides 1/3. We do this for families earning up to $125,000/year -- which covers about 80 percent of students. 

By the way, our plan also recognizes the unaffordability of non-tuition costs -- fees, books, housing -- and allows for those who receive maximum Pell Grant awards to use those awards to cover those expenses. We include tribal and historically black colleges and minority serving institutions because we know how important these institutions are to educational equity. And all students, regardless of income, who want to attend a two-year community college would do so completely tuition and fee-free. 

Another thing that’s not rocket science -- we cut student loan interest rates in half for new borrowers and we allow existing borrowers to re-finance student loans at those same rates. Profiting from student loans is usury, and we just can’t continue to allow it. 

Our bill also triples our current investment in the Work Study and GEAR UP programs, because we know that we have to particularly target help to our low-income and first generation students and these programs have been enormously successful. 

This bill creates a new normal. 

You see, there’s nothing normal about graduating with massive student debt, where you live in fear of predatory debt collectors and wage garnishers even as you are starting to live your life. 

There’s nothing normal about not being able to have a family or buy a house because you have spent years trying to pay off your loan and you just can’t take care of anything else. 

There’s nothing normal about not being able to refinance a student loan for a lower rate, when your own federal government profits off your student loans to the tune of $127 billion in profit, according to the Congressional Budget Office! 

The stories I have heard from my constituents are horrifying. 

  • Lillian, who made every payment on time until she ended up in the hospital with heart failure and had to choose between paying her health care bills or paying her student loans so went into default. 
  • Theresa, who is 57 years old and said, “Either I manage to work another 20 years and somehow manage to pay the damn thing off, or I die or become disabled, and it gets discharged.” 
  • Susan, who is a public school teacher and has over $80,000 in student loan debt and is dealing with the sale of her loans to predatory lenders and lives in fear of being homeless. 
  • Sydney, first to go to college, a National Merit Scholar with a physical disability, can’t make her payments or fulfill her dream of going on to law school to be a civil rights lawyer. 
  • Hanna, who was first in family to go to college, wanted to be a teacher but gave up that dream and dropped out because she realized she would forever be in debt. 

This is simply not right. The College for All Act renews our compact with our young people -- and really, with our futures. We’re going to piece back together the broken promises of a broken American Dream, and give back hope and opportunity to the middle class and working families across this country. 

I’m proud to be the sponsor of this legislation in the House and I look forward to building a strong bipartisan coalition of people who commit to taking on this horrendous and unfair crisis.

 

(Pramila Jayapal is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives where she represents Washington state's 7th District. Follow her on Twitter: @RepJayapal. This piece appeared most recently in Common Dreams.) 

-cw

GOP REALITY CHECK-Recently, the Republicans got whacked by reality. The “Trumpcare” or “Ryancare” replacement of Obamacare failed when the G.O.P. couldn’t garner enough votes to pass a bill in the House of Representatives. 

Despite threats from the White House, the so-called “Freedom” Caucus of far-right Republicans dug in their heels and refused to support the legislation. Speaker Paul Ryan’s offer to gut the essential health benefits requirements and remove protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions appealed to the group, but lost less conservative Republicans representing swing districts in states like New Jersey. 

Republicans in Congress are trying to resurrect some kind of Obamacare replacement, but the odds are against them. Trump talks about working with Democrats to get enough votes to overcome the Freedom Caucus opposition, but Ryan says, “No way.” 

Will the Republicans be able to get their act together on health care? A look at the history of Congress suggests the answer is no. 

Throughout much of the nearly 23 decades of Congressional activity, the House of Representatives, in particular, has functioned not so much as a two-party system, but rather as a collection of three (and sometimes more) factions. Looking at the numbers of “Democrats” and “Republicans” who have been elected to successive Congresses doesn’t give the real picture of how things have worked. 

Prior to the Civil War, it wasn’t just Democrats and Whigs. More likely, it was free state versus slave state. To complicate things, there were also Northerners, Southerners and Westerners. In this case, Western was considered anywhere beyond the Appalachians (especially Kentucky and Tennessee.)

Votes on issues moved more according to geographic and not party lines. In 1824, there were four major candidates for president. The House of Representatives eventually chose John Quincy Adams. As a result, Andrew Jackson (who beat Adams by 10 percent of the popular vote) created the modern political party to avoid a repeat. 

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, America split mostly east and west. The Democrats battled back and forth between their eastern “Wall Street” faction and western populist faction. Unhappy with the dominance of rich easterners in the Gilded Age, the agricultural west elected populist and progressive candidates to Congress. For a while, this handful of representatives influenced and, in some cases, controlled the outcome of legislation. Their strength in places like Minnesota still resonates. 

The Great Depression and the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt scrambled Congressional factions as never before. A coalition of northern blue collar Democrats and southern “Dixiecrat” populists created the WPA, Social Security, fought World War II, and finally enacted Medicare. In essence, Congress consisted of three parties: northern Democrats, southern Democrats, and Republicans. 

What that coalition of Democrats could not do was pass civil rights legislation. That happened only because Lyndon Johnson strong-armed the Republicans (as the party of Lincoln) to support bills like the Voting Rights Act. The resulting breakup of the New Deal coalition was exploited by Richard Nixon in 1968. His “Southern strategy” set the G.O.P. firmly on the road of “law and order” and anti-minority “dog whistle” politics. 

Which brings us to where we are now. Congress again has three parties: Democrats, Republicans, and the Freedom Caucus. The three dozen or so ultra-right Republicans who make up the Freedom Caucus are the tail that wags the House of Representatives dog. As Ryan and Trump are discovering, party loyalty is a one-way street for a lot of legislators. “R” doesn’t always stand for “Republican.” Sometimes it means “renegade.”

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--Ben Montgomery and a team from the Tampa Bay Times asked 400 law enforcement agencies across Florida for records of when an officer fired a gun and injured or killed someone between Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri prompted questions about how often such shootings happen. The result of the inquiry is an extensive report titled "Why Cops Shoot." 

"It was very difficult to get agencies to cough up records," Montgomery says in a video accompanying the story. Collecting the information took two years. Their mission was to answer a basic question: "Are there ways to do this where people don't have to die?"

The Tampa Bay Times report arrives even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a March 31 memo that his office would call a 90-day pause in its consideration of police reform efforts begun under the Obama administration. 

In Baltimore last night, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar issued an order rejecting the attempt by Sessions and the Trump administration to delay public consideration today of the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the Baltimore police department. Bednar's writes in the order, "To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public." The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT.

The Sessions memo recommends that the "misdeeds of individual bad actors" not "impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work" of law enforcement. Yet the Tampa Bay Times report uncovers yet again patterns of policing that result in unnecessary deaths of citizens — many unarmed — and community mistrust of police services. Too many police shootings are “lawful, but awful” according to Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

This is one such example from "Why Cops Shoot": 

In January 2010, Orange County sheriff's deputies moved in on Torey Breedlove, a suspected car thief in an SUV. Breedlove tried to drive away but was surrounded by deputies with guns drawn. A witness said Breedlove raised his hands, but deputies said they heard an engine revving, so they fired 137 rounds, killing Breedlove. A grand jury cleared the deputies, but Breedlove's sister sued on behalf of the man’s four children. Evidence presented in the civil case showed the revving engine was a deputy's SUV, not Breedlove’s. His sister got $450,000.

“The conduct at issue here,” wrote U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell, “is more akin to an execution than an attempt to arrest an unarmed suspect.” 

Montgomery is circumspect. "There are not any incidents that we looked at in these 770 cases, in which 830 people were shot," Montgomery says, "which clearly spell out that this officer intended to murder someone. That's not the case at all as far as we could find. What is the case are, in some cases, lack of training, just the rush to judgment."

And simply bad practice. 

In 2014, for the first time ever, police took more from American citizens than burglars did, according to economist Martin Armstrong, who used statistics from the FBI and Institute for Justice. Police departments use the money, cars and homes seized through civil asset forfeiture to support their budgets.

“The answer to the riddle of why officers who are assigned to drug and gun and other contraband-oriented assignments, who are armed to the teeth, often in military fashion, take the time and trouble to make traffic stops for mundane offenses like ‘tag light out’ or ‘no seat-belt’ can be answered by the multi-million dollar forfeiture trade that supplements police incomes,” Cook said. 

Mike Chitwood, now sheriff of Volusia County, was police chief in Daytona when Montgomery interviewed him. Chitwood believes the key to the use of force is proportionality. He has been engaged for years in Wexler's group and brought training in deescalation and active listening to Daytona:  

“We’re proficient in (shooting), but we’re not proficient in the No. 1 thing: dealing with people,” he said. “I think the No. 1 complaint in America against police officers is rudeness.”

He also began to try to keep crooked cops out of his department by hiring people with solid, deep background investigations. He established an alert system to try to identify rogue cops. He started randomly drug testing officers.

[...]

What’s particularly interesting about Chitwood is the stricture of his policies, especially when it comes to police chases and use of force. He’s blunt. Don’t shoot into a vehicle. If you do shoot, he said, you’d better have tire tracks on your chest.

“I think most shootings that we see are because we the police put ourselves in a position that we don’t need to be in,” he said. “Today, for some reason, we’ve switched out of the guardian mentality and we’ve become warriors. And that’s not what American policing was founded on.”

We've looked at the "warrior cop" here before

One might not blame an incoming administration for stopping to review the policies of its predecessor. Then again, people are dying. "Why Cops Shoot" gives an indication of why and what might be done about it in addition to creating a national police violence database for studying it.

Montgomery concludes we need one. The question this morning is whether Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are more interested in American policing being tough or just. Wait, don't answer that.

"We're the only country in the world that polices like this," Chitwood says.

(Tom Sullivan is a North Carolina-based writer who posts at Hullabaloo and Scrutiny Hooligans. A former columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, his posts have appeared at Crooks and Liars, Campaign for America's Future, Truthout.org, AlterNet, and TomPaine.org.) Photo by Kate Sheets via Creative Commons

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MAKING OURSELVES HEARD--It’s easy to read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, winner of the 1940 Pulitzer Prize, and as Stephen King describes in his best-selling book On Writing, to have “feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy—[thoughts like] I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand.” 

Like King’s wise counsel about how to be a writer, John Steinbeck’s masterwork is a “spur” that “goad[s] the writer to work harder and aim higher.” During President Donald Trump’s regime of diminished-to-defunct arts funding, new writers—in addition to emerging musicians, painters, sculptors, photographers, and all creative people committed to contributing to civilization through art—can take inspiration from the inauspicious circumstances surrounding the publication of Steinbeck’s difficult second novel. 

In the introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of To a God Unknown—originally published in 1933, four years after Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup Of Gold, and six years before The Grapes of Wrath—the poet-scholar Robert DeMott writes that “Steinbeck labored longer on [it] than on any other book.” As DeMott notes, it took Steinbeck many, many revisions, crises in confidence, and almost five years to complete his second novel. (The Pastures of Heaven, published in 1932, is a sequence of stories—not a traditional novel—about the bad luck a new family brings to a happy valley.) 

Flush with cryptic and crystalline allusions to paganism, Christianity, and the Greek epics, To a God Unknown is at base a pioneering tale. It tells the story of Joseph Wayne and his family leaving Vermont to homestead initially fertile but increasingly—and eventually, climactically and cataclysmically—drought-ravaged farmland in California’s southern Salinas Valley. Putting aside California’s recent rainy spell, and considering President Trump’s already abysmal record on global warming and the environment, one might say the book portends critical warnings for America’s future. In a journal entry, Steinbeck wrote, “[t]he story is a parable . . . the story of a race, growth and death. Each figure is a population, and the stones, the trees, the muscled mountains are the world – but not the world apart from man – the world and man – the one indescribable unit man plus his environment.” 

Critical reviews of To a God Unknown were as savage as the feral wilderness it depicts. Virginia Barney opined in The New York Times that the novel was “a curious hodgepodge of vague moods and irrelevant meanings.” A book critic from The Nation characterized it as  “pitifully thin and shadowy.” As Robert DeMott notes in Steinbeck’s Typewriter: Essays on His Art, “not [even] enough copies [of the book] sold [for the publisher] to recoup the small advance” Steinbeck received. 

And yet it is precisely through this example of Steinbeck’s early literary stumbles that I submit all brave new artists can find the courage, the resoluteness, and the abiding faith in the value of their art to persevere t hrough rough spots, honing their craft through lean times as Steinbeck did—at risk to wallet, ego, and at times, to relationships. 

Imagine the gaping, un-fillable hole in American literature if, after the unfavorable reviews of To a God Unknown and The Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck had decided to up and quit. What if, disheartened and disconsolate by the failure of To a God Unknown—which foreshadows elements and devices brought to masterful fruition in The Grapes of Wrath—Steinbeck had packed up his pen, paper, and typewriter, period, end of story—and I hasten to add, end of all his stories? 

In 2014 the novelist David Gordon described the business of writing in The New York Times as “a risky and humiliating endeavor.” Softened by self-deprecation, Gordon’s column firmly gut-kicks prospective authors with an honest peek at the lonely, ascetic, self-possessed lives that most writers by necessity lead. “Let’s face it [Gordon observed]: just writing something, anything and showing it to the world, is to risk ridicule and shame. What if it is bad? What if no one wants to read it, publish it? What if I can’t even finish the thing?” Both during and after the writing of To a God Unknown and the book's blisteringly bad reception, Steinbeck could have succumbed to any of these common writer’s ailments, never to be heard from again. 

But he didn’t. He kept on writing instead. 

To paraphrase Don Chiasson’s recent New Yorker magazine review of the biography of the poet Robert Lowell by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Perhaps [he had no choice, because as Gordon observed] being a writer is a bit like having Tourette’s, a neurological disorder. Or what psychologists call ‘intrusive thoughts’: unwanted and disturbing ideas and images that suddenly attack us unbidden. A need to speak the unspeakable thing.” Adds Chiasson, “mood disorders occur with staggering frequency in creative people, and writers seem to suffer the most.” 

Perhaps. But unquestionably To a God Unknown—written when Steinbeck was a published-but-still-struggling 30-year-old grinding away in obscurity and insecurity—provides evidence of a sturdy self-belief, the kind of grit I submit all successful or striving artists must possess. This tough and necessary tenacity is embodied in Steinbeck’s advice to his friend and fellow novelist, George Albee: “Fine artistic things seem always to be done in the face of difficulties, and the rocky soil, which seems to give the finest flower, is contempt. Don’t fool yourself, appreciation doesn’t make artists. It ruins them. A man’s best work is done when he is fighting to make himself heard, not when swooning audiences wait for his paragraphs.”

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas including CityWatch. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq)

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OUR OWN ‘BERLIN’ WALL--So much for Mexico paying for it. According to a recent CNBC article, “Trump will request more than $4 billion in defense spending to build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first federal dollars that would be allocated for one of his most divisive campaign promises.”  

The same article stated that Trump’s “great, beautiful wall” will be significantly more expensive than the president’s original estimate of 12-15 billion dollars.”The U.S. border with Mexico is roughly 2,000 miles long and underlines four states, from California to Texas, more than half of it along the Colorado River and Rio Grande. It is a massive stretch of land — the Berlin Wall spanned just 96 miles comparatively, and it cost about $25 million to build in 1961, or around $200 million with inflation.” 

We can all do the math. 

Make no mistake. Trump’s wall is going to cost the American tax payers at least 25 billion. If Mexico won’t fork over a single penny then someone must pay for the wall. It will not be the president and his modest fortune. So the American people will pay for it at their own detriment. It is going to be a shark frenzy. It is going to be one of the largest pay to play rackets in the history of crony capitalism. It is going to be an unsurpassed fiasco that will have far reaching consequences for decades to come. In due course Ronald Reagan’s most historic words will be summoned to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds. Reagan’s words will instruct Republicans and conservatives that tearing down walls that separate and barricade humanity is fundamentally right. Until then it is going to be a disaster. 

Referring back to the Berlin Wall, that is exactly what this Mexican-American division line will become in the eyes of the world. Like the Berlin Wall, as long as it stands, it will be used as a urine fence, art mural, protest site, commercial zone, terrorist magnet, money pit, and giant FU to internationalism and human rights. It will be climbed over and dug under. It will be burned through and broken apart. It will be a stupendous waste of time, energy, and all other precious resources needed to maintain it. It will be one of the stupidest things America has ever done. For every dollar used to build this wall, Trump will take one from the mouths of the elderly, the classrooms of the young, the hospitals of the newborn, and the lakes and rivers of our communities. 

Allow me to get granular. The proposed budget eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and ceases payments to the U.N. climate change programs. The budget reduces funding to the U.N. and affiliated agencies and limits contributions to 25% for U.N. peacekeeping costs. The budget eliminates the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account; reduces funding for educational and cultural exchange programs, and calls for a nearly 18% cut next year at Health and Human Services. 

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Trump will take away $4.2 billion in grants, including the decades-old Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans with heating bills. It eliminates $403 million in training programs for nursing and other health profession; reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending by $5.8 billion, including administrative costs and federal contributions to research funding; eliminates the Fogarty International Center, which coordinates global health research; and increases fees for Food and Drug Administration pre-market review of medical products. 

The president will eliminate funding for Community Development Block Grants, cutting $3 billion; eliminate funding for community development groups that create affordable housing; eliminate HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, cutting more than $1.1 billion. 

Trump’s wall will be built at the expense of the land in which it is staked and the natural materials from which it is constructed. The Los Angeles Times reports that Trump’s budget “reduces National Forest System land-acquisition programs; eliminates the water and wastewater loan and grant program; reduces staffing in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Service Center Agencies; cuts funding for the Clean Power Plan and international climate change programs; diminishes the role of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which uses civil and criminal litigation to target the most serious water, air and chemical hazards; and decreases federal support for employment services programs for unemployed seniors and disadvantaged youth, shifting the responsibility to state and local agencies.” 

Sadly, I can go on. Trump’s budget cuts $60 million from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs; eliminates training grants from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; eliminates or reduces more than 20 education based programs, including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership and International Education; and eliminates $1.2 billion for before- and after-school programs as well as summer programs. 

But who needs clean water, safe food and after-school programs when you have a “big, beautiful wall?”

 

(George Cassidy Payne is a SUNY Adjunct Humanities Instructor and founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. This piece was posted first at Creative Commons.) 

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FEAR, HONOR AND INTEREST-Over the past quarter century, the information technology revolution has transformed relations between people and between states, including in the conduct of warfare. For the U.S. military, the manifestations of this revolution have covered the full spectrum from the dramatic to the prosaic. Unmanned aerial vehicles, ships, and ground systems now carry increasingly sophisticated surveillance capabilities and precision guided weapons. (General Petraeus with President Obama-photo above.) 

Less visible, but also hugely important, has been development of the ability to integrate and analyze vast quantities of intelligence from all sources and determine precise locations of friendly and enemy elements. Finally, we cannot overlook growth of the seemingly matter-of-fact but nonetheless essential reliance on email, video teleconferences, and applications like PowerPoint to communicate, share information, plan, and perform the tasks of command and control. 

Information technologies that did not exist at the time of the first Gulf War are now so fundamental to the conduct of military operations that it is difficult to imagine functioning without them. And the growth of the internet, social media, and now the “Internet of Things” represents a further stage in the information technology revolution whose full consequences are still unfolding. Nonetheless, some preliminary implications of such cyber capabilities for warfare are already clear. 

First, cyberspace is itself now an entire new battlefield domain, adding to the existing domains of land, sea, air, subsea, and space. This reality has enormous ramifications for military doctrine, operations, organizational structures, training, materiel, leadership development, personnel requirements, and military facilities. Most significantly, it adds a powerful new element to the challenges of the simultaneous “multi-domain warfare” in which we are now already engaged and for which we need to do more to prepare in the future. 

Second, cyber technology is adding another element to the already ongoing dispersion and fragmentation of global power. While no nation has contributed more to the growth of the internet and the digitized world than the United States (and no nation has developed more sophisticated cyber military capabilities), the nature of these technologies ultimately presents one more disruptive challenge to the preeminence that the U.S. has enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, as others exploit the potential of offensive cyber capabilities in new and increasingly sophisticated and diabolical ways. 

Examples of this include the use of cyberspace by extremist networks like ISIS and Al-Qaeda to inspire far-flung terrorist strikes; by Russia to wage ideological and political warfare that seeks to undermine the cohesion and self-confidence of the Western democracies; and by China to collect the technological know-how that is speeding its already rapid rise and undercutting America’s conventional military edge and industrial advantages. 

Security in the century ahead will depend more on our moral imagination -- and with it, the ability to develop concepts of restraint -- than it will on amazing technological breakthroughs. 

Third, cyber capabilities are further blurring the boundaries between wartime and peacetime, and between civilian and military spaces. These are distinctions that have, for various reasons, been eroding in recent decades and which technological developments are now accelerating. At present, it is likewise clear that offensive capabilities are outstripping defensive and retaliatory options. And as long as difficulties in identifying and attributing responsibility for cyberattacks persist, that reality is likely to undercut deterrence and encourage aggression in cyberspace. 

Yet even as technological changes inspire us to speculate on the future of warfare, perhaps the most important insights about the implications of the cyber age can be gleaned from the past.

While technology promises to disrupt the conduct of war, it is equally important to recognize what it will not alter -- namely, the causes of war, which continue to lie in the character of humanity. As Thucydides documented more than two millennia ago, it is the elemental forces of fear, honor, and interest that are the wellsprings of conflict, and it is often the choices of individual leaders that determine how conflicts develop. 

It was for this reason, in fact, that, when I was in uniform, I argued against the concept of “network-centric warfare” -- put forward in the late 1990s -- and instead contended that a better formulation would be “network-enabled, leadership-centric warfare.” It is, after all, still leaders who determine strategies and make the key decisions. And even as development of autonomous weapons systems and other such capabilities proceeds, parameters for actions by such systems will continue to be established by human beings. 

Furthermore, history suggests that humanity’s capacity for technical innovation often outpaces our strategic thinking and development of ethical norms. Indeed, the methodical development of doctrine around nuclear weapons by the “Wizards of Armageddon” in the 1950s and 1960s, which did much to help prevent a nuclear apocalypse, appears to have been the exception rather than the norm. More typical is the experience of the European powers of the early 20th century, which failed to recognize that the mass industrialized armies they were constructing were the components of a doomsday machine that would unleash a civilizational slaughter that none of the combatants had previously considered possible. 

As we and other major powers race to develop cutting-edge cyber capabilities -- expanding swiftly into realms such as robotics, bioengineering, and artificial intelligence -- we would be wise to devote equal energy and attention to considering the full implications of our ingenuity. Security in the century ahead will depend more on our moral imagination -- and with it, the ability to develop concepts of restraint -- than it will on amazing technological breakthroughs. 

This in turn suggests a final reality about warfare in the age of cyber. Regardless of the innovations that lie ahead, technology by itself will neither doom nor rescue the world. Responsibility for our fate, for better or worse, will remain stubbornly human.

 

(General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Retired) is Chairman of the KKR Global Institute, a Judge Widney Professor at the University of Southern California, and a member of the board of Optiv, a global cybersecurity services firm. He culminated his military career with six consecutive commands, five of which were in combat, and then served as Director of the CIA. This essay was posted first at Zocalo Public Square produced by the Berggruen Institute and Zócalo Public Square, on what war looks like in the cyber age.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

AT LENGTH--We are just over the 60-day mark of Trump’s first 100 days in office and he has yet to do anything that would make the nation or the galaxy think, “Hey, he’s making America great.”

As for his legendary deal-making prowess, his repeal-and-replace health care legislation that went down in flames speaks for itself.

There are those, however, who continue to shout the refrain, “Give him a chance.”  Clearly that’s not an option for the nearly 66 million who voted against Trump. As we’ve seen from the day of his inauguration, there are just a whole lot of Americans who are not going to just sit back and take what #45 is dishing out — at least, not without a fight.

The Democrats are finally starting to look like they have some fight left in them — from sanctuary cities to the state house, to Gov. Jerry Brown saying that Trump “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about” on health care. OK, so now that the Dems have finally got their nerve back up, who’s actually got the lead on the resistance?

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) on the Senate Judiciary Committee tore into Republicans for their contradictory positions on blocking President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, saying their arguments reminded him of his past life as a comedian on Saturday Night Live.

“I used to make a living identifying absurdity,” Franken said at the top of fiery remarks in the committee hearing. “I’m hearing a lot of it today.”

But even satire can’t slap some folks into governing with common sense. It will take more political craft — something that is in short supply as the Republican majority in Congress splinters between fiscal conservatives, Freedom Caucus right-wingers and GOP moderates. All the Democrats had to do was hold tight and stay loyal to core liberal values, while the Republican infighting imploded party unity. Trump is still looking for someone to blame.

The universe, it is said, abhors a vacuum, including the somewhat curious part of it known as Washington D.C. where the vacuous arguments about government seem to be spiraling dangerously out of control.

At this point, the idea that healthcare is a right and not a privilege (an idea  proposed back in 1944, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Second Bill of Rights), now seems to have passed its latest test of survival.

Roosevelt’s argument was that the “political rights” guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

His remedy was to declare an “economic bill of rights” to guarantee these specific rights:

  • Employment, food, clothing, and leisure with enough income to support them
  • Farmers’ rights to a fair income
  • Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
  • Housing, medical care, Social Security and education

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that these are the core issues opposed by the Tea Party Freedom Caucus and the antithesis of which the Republican Party stands.  It is curious that one of the few Democrats who has clearly taken the lead on these issues is former presidential candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who continues to be the sole Independent in Congress to huddle with the Dems.

In the wake of the Republican failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leading figures in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — Sanders among them — are rallying behind a single-payer health insurance. These lawmakers and grassroots leaders have long believed that the problems plaguing the ACA are rooted in the original health care law’s attempt to accommodate, rather than gradually replace, the private, for-profit health insurance system.

“We have got to have the guts to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and move forward toward a ‘Medicare For All,’ single-payer program,” said Sen. Sanders  on MSNBC’s  All In with Chris Hayes on Friday night after the vote failed. “And I’ll be introducing legislation shortly to do that.”

Sanders’ call “to have the guts … for a single-payer program” is the clarion call to action to progressive Democrats as well as old New Deal Democrats to act while the confusion in the Republican Party reigns.

For the Senate to pass this bill, they would only have to convince five moderate GOP senators to switch sides, but in the House of Representatives they’d have to find 44 — a daunting challenge. The success of this strategy comes down to whether the Dems are better at the “craft” of governance (and deal-making) to overcome the current political warfare that has ruled Washington for the past six years.

The advantage in this situation goes to the ones who have the guts, courage and a plan to lead rather than just oppose.

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.)

JUST SAYIN’--First there was a so-called war on Christmas. Now Trump says there's been a war on coal. We're so tired of the Republicans declaring policy war on things that we're ready for a war on coal in Christmas stockings. For that one Americans should take up arms.

From pronouncing his blessing on Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline, to his most recent move to prop up coal mining, Trump has declared a full out war on the environment. By his executive orders he's trying to make America a 19th century energy user again.

The fact is that coal mining was and is a dying industry. Just among fossil fuels it has been losing the battle to cheaper natural gas. And as foul as the fracking is to produce the gas, calling coal "clean" is a1984 perversion … a black is white, P.R. fraud that flies ash in the face of reality.

At a time when fossil fuels are blowing up global warming, what Trump is doing is the exact opposite of wise policy.

Even his fellow Republicans having talked to Trump one on one on issue are appalled at how little he knows, and is even less interested in learning.

But as fast as his Russian collusion scandal is blowing up, with nearly his entire team lying about their Russian ties, even as they are caught red-handed (so to speak) we may well soon be rid of him.

That can't be a bad thing, with him doing as much damage by executive order as fast as he can. Policy-wise Pence would be just as bad, but without Trump the narcissistic promoter he can at least be slowed down.

As a candidate it started as chronic lying day one and has continued to worsen.

The coal miners don't realize it yet, but what Trump will actually deliver in their Christmas stockings is their very own coal, in the form of more mountain top destruction, more stream pollution, and inexorable for all humanity, increasing global warming and destruction of our environment.

Trump claimed during his campaign that America was like a third world country. His actions will actually help make that lie reality.

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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Most Americans don't want Elmo to get fired

They also don't want enormous funding cuts to medical research, after-school and summer programs, new road and transit projects, climate change research, and a program to help low income people heat their homes.

Those cuts—and many more—comprise the "morally obscene" budget put together by the Trump administration, and a new Quinnipiac poll published Friday demonstrates that those proposals are deeply unpopular with most Americans.

The numbers showing widespread disapproval of President Donald Trump's budget are out just as public figures call for a "total shutdown" of government over the president's alleged ties to Russia, and as Trump grapples with the collapse of his attempt to pass a cruel and unpopular healthcare bill.

This latest poll also comes on the heels of other recent surveys that show tanking public support for the president and his policies.

Trump's proposed severe funding cuts face disapproval by huge margins. The budget's slashing of public funding for medical research, for example, faces a whopping 87 percent disapproval, with only ten percent of respondents voicing approval.

"By wide margins," Quinnipiac notes, "American voters say other proposed cuts are a 'bad idea:'"

  • 84 - 13 percent against cutting funding for new road and transit projects;
  • 67 - 31 percent against cuts to scientific research on the environment and climate change;
  • 83 - 14 percent against cutting funding for after-school and summer school programs;
  • 66 - 27 percent against eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities;
  • 79 - 17 percent against eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

President Donald Trump's oft-repeated campaign promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is also a "bad idea," 64 percent of respondents said. Only 35 percent approved of the wall.

"[W]hen it comes to cutting public TV, the arts, after-school programs, and scientific research to improve the environment, it's a stern 'hands off' from voters," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. "And that wall? Forget it."

Respondents supported just two aspects of the budget: increased funding for health programs provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (85 - 13 percent), and increased military funding (58 - 39 percent).

Most Americans also don't agree with significantly increasing funding for charter schools and school voucher programs, as the budget proposes. In addition, they believe that tax cuts to the wealthy are a bad idea (74 - 22 percent), an opinion even shared by most Republicans (50-43 percent).

When it comes to the budget, it seems that quite a lot of voters agree with progressive critics such as the Institute for Policy Studies, which argues that "[i]n cut after cut, the proposal pours salt in the wounds of the very working people Trump pledged to help."

Moreover, an overwhelming majority—73 percent—are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about the climate crisis, and 59 percent want the U.S. to do more to address it. The Trump administration, meanwhile, is committed to denying climate science and obliterating environmental regulations. (The poll also found that most voters don't want Trump to repeal those regulations.)

In answers to questions about other controversies swirling around the Trump administration—namely, the allegations that Trump's campaign was linked to Russia and the ongoing court defeats of his immigration policies—it's clear that voters are not on Trump's side, either.

The majority of respondents oppose the Muslim ban, and support the court decisions blocking it. They also oppose his now-rescinded ban on all refugees entering the U.S.

Sixty-three percent of respondents are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about Trump's relationship with Russia, and 65 percent believe that alleged Russian interference in the November election is a "very important" or "somewhat important" issue.

A wide majority also supports an independent investigation into the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

The poll was conducted from March 16 to 21, and Quinnipiac surveyed 1,056 voters nationwide in phone calls to landlines and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

(Nika Knight writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

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THE DOCTOR IS IN--One of the nice things about "keeping up" on Facebook is that we bump into those bright minds that helped shape us in our developing years and, to our delight, we discover they really made something of themselves.  Hence, when my old Jewish religious school classmate, Dr. Lori Lander Goodman, came up with the idea of "Repair and Improve" now that "Repeal and Replace" failed, I felt the need to continue with the theme of my last articles about the need to create a replacement for the ACA. 

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) appears to have failed (for now), which might cause some gloating, anger, joy, and scorn (depending on where you are politically), but for those of us able to compartmentalize the political and the policy-making, and for those of us able to compartmentalize the ideology from the need to develop a coherent and sustainable health care policy... 

... it's not over.  It's really not.  No need for joy, or anger ... just a willingness to accept a few hard truths, not the least of which there is a need to not make this problem (health care affordability and access) fixed in a manner that doesn't alienate large hunks of the general population. 

Like it or not, it was a BIG, if not fatal, mistake for the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama to create an Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was so partisan.  It's easy to say that the GOP was the party of "no", but for those of us who remember through nonpartisan eyes it did appear that the Democrats were pretty quick to say "no" to any GOP ideas or additions. 

So get over yourselves that the Democratic Party was great in establishing the ACA--look what happened to the makeup of Congress and state legislatures. 

But ditto for those in the GOP--including and especially House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump, who darned well should have known better--than to create an AHCA that was as partisan as the ACA it was supposed to replace. 

And why oh why was there such a rush?  Just to say this was placed on the President's desk for signing by Easter?  Did the public even understand it, let alone the House?   

For example, only today did I get this summary, which probably would have made it easier to figure out what the heck the AHCA was. 

Remember, Speaker Ryan, what happened when former Speaker Pelosi told the nation we had to pass something to know what was in it? 

To Democratic partisans, they're relieved and overjoyed ... but the ACA is still spiraling down because of a lack of affordability and sustainability. 

To conservative Republican/libertarian partisans, they're similarly relieved and overjoyed...but the nation is NOT going back to pre-ACA realities, and they've just threatened their own political dominance of the House in 2018. 

And for those of us in the middle--whether it is Dr. Goodman (specializing in child abuse prevention and intervention) and myself (a dermatologist)--there's probably more confusion and concern as to how to get past this as a nation. 

The overriding historical legacy of President Barack H. Obama should be, and probably will be, that the era of "doing nothing and letting market forces rule health care" is over. 

It will be up to President Donald J. Trump to determine how to ensure how, or even if, market forces and government mandates can find an economically viable, and sustainable, medium. 

The House Freedom Caucus and President Trump are not on good speaking terms right now, and it will be up to moderates, both Republican and Democrat, who value "deal-making" to step up and find common ground

Meanwhile, President Trump will move on to tax reform, which is arguably what he should have focused on first.  And no, I don't think that businesses, Wall Street, and individual taxpayers want to wait until August to find out which way our taxes will be going.  

But as the door is opened by President Trump and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to the Democrats to discuss health care reform it should be emphasized that there are a lot of Americans--mainly Democrat, but certainly many Republican, who do NOT want our federal deficit and debt repaired on the backs of the poor and in ill health. 

Our economy is not where it should be, thanks to not just one but two past Presidents, and 2017 is the wrong year to tell everyone to "buck up" and "tighten their belts". 

So where can a divided Republican party go to get past the health care issue to become the new "majority" instead of a "perpetual minority”? 

Certainly, the GOP leadership and President Trump need to find some common ground, particularly on the one true safety net that has both saved many a patient's medical and financial life (to say nothing of their family's lives):   

Medicaid. 

When Medicaid provides a safety net and provides health for those with disastrous medical conditions, it's a wonderful thing.  When Medicaid (called Medi-Cal) is abused by ne'er-do-wells and dished out to those not supposed to be on that form of government relief, it's a horrible thing. 

More money to the sick?  Certainly. 

More money to the healthy?  Certainly not. 

And government oversight and mandates is NOT the same as creating a monstrous, expensive bureaucracy that should only be overseeing how state and local governments are operating the Medicaid program--and, more importantly, what those state and local governments are doing to get healthy Medicaid recipients OFF of that program. 

Are the healthy and able-bodied required to work ten (or some other number) hours a week for their health care, paid for by the taxpayers?  There are jobs they can and should be assigned to do, and they should either do those jobs or be sent to the county clinic for their free health care. 

Are the Medicaid programs funded and operated well?  Certainly, there's a growth industry in Medicaid who opposed the AHCA, but while they offer a host of excellent reforms for Medicaid, the state and local governments should incentivize healthy individuals to both get a job in order to KEEP their health care, and/or incentivize businesses to hire workers and offer benefits. 

That's "incentivize" folks, not "beat down" businesses to offer benefits. 

Which means goodbye business mandates, and hello business tax credits, to get more workers hired WITH benefits. 

And which also means goodbye individual mandates, but offer incentives to have individuals get their own insurance...and offer more variety of plans between states as well as bare-boned plans that don't require couples in their 50's to purchase insurance that covers pediatric psychiatry. 

The AHCA just went down ... for now ... but the ACA is also going down.  They're going down. 

But WE don't have to go down.  Common ground is hard, but common ground provides incentives for us as a nation to help those who've been laid low for the mere "crime" of being sick ... and for giving a boot in the rear to those who are able to take care of themselves, and should have been taking care of themselves for many years now. 

Whether it's "Repeal and Replace" or "Repair and Improve", the option of doing nothing cannot, and should not, ever be an option for the American people.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

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GELFAND’S WORLD--The senate Democrats are right to filibuster Trump's Supreme Court appointment. There are plenty of reasons, including the appointee's judicial philosophy. But there is one overriding reason, the one that Democrats haven't been explaining very well. Let's give it a try. 

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate made it clear from the moment of Barack Obama's inauguration that they intended to obstruct everything that the new president tried to do. They would do everything in their power to make Obama into a failure, and in so doing, cause him to fail to be reelected. Senator Mitch McConnell made this explicit. The Republicans failed in preventing Obama's reelection, but the policy of obstruction continued. 

In 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died. Under the Constitution, the president is empowered to appoint Supreme Court justices, and the appointees take office provided that they receive the consent of the Senate. McConnell and his colleagues said that they would not consent to any Obama appointee. They were willing to stall until a new president took office. 

In effect, the senate Republicans established an 8 member Supreme Court as national policy. That policy was intended to continue until the United States got a president that the senate Republicans liked. They made various unimpressive arguments to explain the new line, but in actuality it was a raw power grab. 

As reprehensible as this tactic was, it wasn't all that surprising. More than a decade ago, economist and political analyst Paul Krugman had been warning the American people that the Republican Party had become something different from a classical conservative party. It was, he pointed out, a revolutionary force that was willing to break any rule and violate any precedent. 

The refusal by senate Republicans even to hold hearings on Obama's nomination was more than just a routine parliamentary maneuver. It is what historians and political analysts would refer to as a provocation. In the world of diplomacy, a provocation is something that the opposition must respond to or, in failing to do so, lose face and influence. A provocation is intended to reduce one's opponent's power and simultaneously to inflict humiliation. That's the course of conduct that the senate Republicans followed throughout Obama's presidency. 

A policy that blocks the right of a president to nominate a justice to an open court seat certainly is a provocation. Notice that there have been fights over Supreme Court appointments in the past, the most notable being that of Robert Bork. But the Bork nomination was handled according to the normal procedures of the Senate. Bork did not gain a seat on the court, but another controversial appointee, Clarence Thomas, was confirmed. 

The Republican response to Obama's nomination took obstruction to a new level. It was a provocation that must be answered if the Democrats are to maintain any semblance of credibility. 

The proper approach is for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate to make clear that once the Republicans established the 8-justice doctrine, even for just the last year of Obama's second term, the Democrats have had no choice but to respond in kind. The Democrats should make clear that there will be no Trump appointees to the Supreme Court confirmed during this four year term. That would not be a revolutionary act on the part of the Democrats, but merely a reflection of the precedent established by the Republicans in 2016. To use the old phrase, turnabout is fair play. 

This does not mean that the eight justice system needs to continue indefinitely. It might be possible for some sort of deal to be cut, but it would involve a good faith negotiation. 

Alternatively, the Republicans can try to abolish the right to filibuster Supreme Court nominations, but this "nuclear option," as it has been called, might be hard to execute. If any three Republican senators vote No, then the nuclear option won't succeed. 

In one way, this story is analogous to an interaction with a school yard bully. You either fight back or he owns you. It's time for the senate Democrats to fight back. Eight will suffice. 

Addenda 

During the preparation of this column, I became aware of a piece by Bill Humphrey titled Eight is enough for now: Unpacking the Supreme Court.  It first appeared in The Globalist and was picked up by Salon.com. It provides a detailed historical and legal analysis of the current situation and, as its title indicates, comes to much the same conclusion as what is stated here -- that there is no compelling reason to confirm a ninth justice at this particular moment. Bill Humphrey's piece is definitely worth a read. 

Meanwhile, it's somewhat amusing to listen to the bleating and whining of Trump administration spokesmen. The latest complaint, in response to the failure of the Republicans' healthcare bill, is that the administration is learning that everything is more broken than they first realized. Let's try to translate that into English: They have suddenly discovered what the term checks and balances actually means, and they think it is a bad thing. To quote the old adage, that is a feature, not a bug. The irony is that the most conservative wing in the House of Representatives was threatened by Trump for having the nerve to make use of this feature, and they laughed in his face. 

It's also of interest that Donald Trump is talking about dropping repeal of Obamacare and moving on towards other issues. One possible interpretation is that Trump was never all that interested in the subject, and when he discovered (seemingly for the first time) that health care is ‘complicated’, he lost interest in seeing things through.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

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CORRUPTION WATCH--America has four political parties in Congress, and thus, Congress has become a de facto parliament in which the President can govern if and only if he puts together a ruling coalition. The four American parties are: 

  1. The Tea Baggers: They have renamed themselves the Freedom Caucus and are the right wing True Believers; everything is their way or the highway. By their nature, they cannot play nicely with others. In fact, they cannot play at all with the other kids in the political sandbox. 
  1. The Alt-Left Democrats: This faction includes Punch a Nazi in the Face people who favor violence in public gatherings. During the campaign, the Trump supporters perpetrated the violence, but since the election, it seems to be the Alt-Left that starts the violence -- as happened in Huntington Beach (Orange County) California last Saturday. These trolls push others out of the sand box altogether. 
  1. The non-tea bagger GOP: This part of the GOP is motivated by one thing: power. Lust for power is often a bad thing. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton in 1887. Our Constitution is based on the need to constrain one power block with another power block.   
  1. The run-of-the mill Democrats: These politicos are like most in the GOP as they also only want power. They look to the Politics of Identity as their demographic savior. This is not the place to disabuse them of that self-deception. 

Bannon – The True Threat to the Trump Presidency 

None of these four parties pose as lethal a threat to Trump as does Steve Bannon with his agenda to destroy government. 

Nothing in Trump’s history ties him to Bannon’s destructionist philosophy. While Trump himself is devoid of any coherent political philosophy, he should be astute enough to recognize true disloyalty to him. Let’s be clear – Trump’s demand for loyalty involves personal loyalty to him. Bannon’s goal of destroying government requires the destruction of the Trump Presidency. If Trump is too mentally dense to figure out he’s being stabbed in the back, tripped in the dark and shoved down the stairs backwards by Steve Bannon -- then he’s beyond all hope. 

How the American Parliamentary System Works 

This year, 2017, is the first time America has had four political parties in Congress, and thus, it’s the first time it could operate as a type of “parliament” in which the President can succeed only by putting together a ruling coalition. 

There is only one ruling coalition: center GOP and center Dems. These two groups form the only combination able to give Trump a governing majority. As the tea bagger Freedom Caucus has shown, they will work with no one. But they have only thirty-six members; alone, they can accomplish nothing. Trump tried to put together a governing coalition of the Freedom Caucus members and the rest of the GOP. However, the tea baggers proved that such a coalition is impossible. Consequently, Trump has only one option. 

The general GOP has been held hostage by the tea naggers since 2010. The sole reason for this is that they feared losing power if they did not toe the right-wing line. On Friday, March 24, 2017, the GOP escaped the clutches of the Freedom Caucus – maybe they are smart enough now to see the open door and walk out of captivity. 

Power is the Glue that Holds Government Together 

Without the power to accomplish things, there can be no governing. The only functional combination will be between Trump (who used to be a Democrat) and a coalition of the moderate GOP (who want to be rid of their domestic Talibanese) and the Schumer Democrats.   

Will Sen. Chuck Schumer allow the left-wing talibanese in his a party to intimidate him into remaining powerless, risking that the tea baggers will gain more members in November 2018? As the tea baggers scream and holler and get bank-rolled for 2018, the Alt-Left will be their natural counterbalance. But unfortunately, Americans will be further polarized. Schumer knows that in politics, access to power heals all wounds. 

What Item to Tackle First 

Here the situation becomes complicated. Forging this new parliamentary alliance is child’s play compared to deciding which items to address and how to address them. It’s certainly not tackling the freaking Wall or the approval of Neil Gorsuch. The Wall was simply Trump’s replacement for the idiotic claim that Obama is a Muslim. Approval of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court would be a win for the tea baggers. The Wall plan needs to go to the back burner and the Dems have to make sure Gorsuch does not get 60 votes. 

Then, the Trump Parliamentary Alliance can move ahead to what both the vast majority of the GOP and the Dem electorate want: a sound economy

The Looming Disaster of Mercantilism 

Trump has to set aside his so-called tax reform as well as his Mercantilism from 1550. He is so wedded to 16th Century Mercantilism that getting him to understand its dangers will be difficult. This Mercantilist philosophy only serves Bannon’s agenda to wreck the government. Like almost all businessmen, Trump’s comprehension of macro-economics is worse than non-existent. 

The repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 and other economic policy decisions around the year 2000 led us into a new economic system known as “Corruptionism.” This crashed the economy in 2008 and now we are gearing up for another Crash. Obama-Geithner blew a chance to jettison Corruptionism and get back to Keynesian economics. Instead, they decided to give trillions of dollars to Wall Street, send Middle America to bankruptcy court and pave the way for Trump’s Politics of Revenge. 

My nomination to head Trump’s economic policy is former Senator Byron Dorgan, who is currently with Washington D.C. law firm Arent Fox, LLP. Whether Dorgan becomes Secretary of the Treasury in the place of Mnuchin (who could be moved to be head of international trade,) or if Dorgan becomes head of the Council of Economic Advisors, a deal maker like Trump should create a place for the #1 person in the nation who correctly called the shots on the economy since 1994. 

A Formula for a Functioning Government 

  1. Get rid of Bannon and his cronies since their objective is to destroy government which entails destroying the Trump Presidency. 
  1. Make an alliance with the two center parties in Congress-parliament. 
  1. Address the macro-economic disaster which is just around the corner. The crash of 2008 hit at the end of Bush’s tenure, but the crash of 2018 will hit at the beginning of Trump’s tenure (which may be truncated by treasonous activity with Russia, which is a separate matter.)

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOICES--While intra-party disagreement among Republicans and a nationwide grassroots effort to stop the cruel and unpopular healthcare reform bill known as Trumpcare undoubtedly fueled its collapse on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday morning made it quite clear that Democrats not cooperating with Donald Trump and the GOP's regressive agenda is not the problem that needs addressing on Capitol Hill.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa," Sanders told CNN's Dana Bash during an interview when she asked if he would reach across the aisle to Republicans and tell Democrats to "stop being intransigent" with Trump and the Republicans on healthcare.

Cutting off Bash with a smile, Sanders said, "Look, what rational people would say is, 'What are the problems? And how do we fix it?' Are deductibles too high? Of course they are. Are there some parts of the country where people don't have a choice? Yes, that's true. Let us do, among other things, a public option. Let us give people in every state of this country a public option from which they can choose. Let's talk about lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55. Let's deal with the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. Those are areas that we can work together on."

On Friday night, after the spectacular collapse of Trumpcare (officially the American Health Care Act of AHCA) in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Sanders discussed the implications of the defeat and announced that he would soon introduce new Medicare for All legislation.

And on Sunday, speaking with CNN's Bash, Sanders again drew the connections between the downfall of the GOP plan and the need for a Medicare-for-All solution:

As Common Dreams reported Friday, the collapse of the AHCA has now opened the door for Democrats to go on the offensive when it comes to solving the real shortcomings of the nation's healthcare system and a growing number of progressive organizations and labor unions are now actively calling for, and organizing around, a demand for Medicare for All.

(Jon Queally writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)

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GELFAND’S WORLD--There is a tradition on the internet that the use of analogies to Hitler and the Nazis are disqualifying. This unofficial rule was originally stated by Mike Godwin back in 1990 and is known colloquially as Godwin's Law. That tradition may now be obsolete, having been surpassed by current events. In a talk this week, distinguished historian and author Timothy Snyder rejected our hesitancy to discuss the Nazis and the holocaust, particularly with respect to the way that Hitler's rise parallels much of what we are seeing in the American political landscape. He paints a grim picture of the methods that turn democracies into tyrannies, but offers lessons by which to resist the process and to survive if possible. 

His book On Tyranny is subtitled Twenty lessons from the twentieth century. It's a mere 126 pages from cover to cover and physically small enough to fit in your jacket pocket. Snyder points out that what has just happened in America parallels what happened in Ukraine just a few years earlier. A giant campaign of disinformation originating in a foreign power was used to attempt to affect a national election. As Snyder explains, the foreign power is Russia, and the plan was effective in America. The Ukrainians were better able to resist the Russian propaganda campaign. 

Snyder spoke to a packed crowd at Writers Bloc on Tuesday night. If the audience reaction suggests anything, it is that On Tyranny is going to be read by lots of people and will become, alongside the Indivisible guide, the manual for how to deal with the Trump years. Snyder's book is darker and more ominous, making the Indivisible guide seem optimistic by comparison. His analysis and the accompanying corollaries are chilling. 

As Snyder explains both in person and through his book, the situation in the United States under the new presidency goes beyond mere electoral misfortune. It is regime change. What Snyder means by that term is developed more fully in the book, but comes down to the idea that our idea of American democracy is not inevitably destined to survive. The process is not automatic. Other western democracies failed, turning into dictatorships during the 1930s and '40s. We've taken a dangerous first step. 

I'll mention just a few of the twenty lessons. 

Lesson one says, "Do not obey in advance." It seems obvious, but it isn't. As Snyder points out, people tend to follow along and even anticipate what will be expected of them. I'll quote the lesson in its entirety: 

"Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do." 

Snyder expands and explains the lesson through the history of how Nazi rule arose out of a free election, bit by bit gobbling up the institutions that might have withstood Hitler but ultimately failed. 

Lesson Ten says, "Believe in truth." Here is the expanded description: "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights." 

The idea isn't new; it's something that most ethical journalists treat as an implicit assumption. But putting Believe in Truth right up there as an explicit principle is something that we need. If nothing else, it is a statement to the opposition who have accepted Trump's big lie campaign as, if nothing else, amusing. It's time that we remind Trump followers that truth is something that matters. 

Some of the lessons are more appropriate to people who live in already-fascist countries. "Make eye contact and small talk." 

Snyder summarizes a point that has occurred to many of us. When Donald Trump attempted to blame any future terrorist attack on federal judges who uphold the Constitution and civil rights, it was a first step towards preparing the American people to turn against their fellow citizens and to accept significant loss of freedom. Snyder says, "Be calm when the unthinkable arrives . . . When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power." Snyder develops the argument by referring to the 1933 fire that burned the German Reichstag (the parliament building). Hitler used the fire to blame his enemies, tear down the authority of legitimate institutions, and consolidate power in himself. 

Notice that there is a tendency for the reviewer (either the person who interviewed Snyder at Writers Bloc or yours truly) to take up one's favorite lessons from the book and quote them. I suspect that a lot of people will be doing this in the near future. I happen to like "Be kind to our language" and "Stand out." The former was explored by George Orwell. The latter is the warning that because there are some philosophies and movements that you should not follow, there are times when you should not be a follower. 

One thread in these arguments is a little jarring, so there is an argument that has to be made explicitly. As mentioned above, Snyder brought it up and discussed it at Writers Bloc. The issue is using the history of the holocaust in present day discussions about present day politics. 

The counterargument has some merit. The Nazi holocaust was such supreme evil that it stands out against most other human history. Snyder points out that treating the holocaust as unique and not to be spoken of lightly has a certain validity. But he then argues that if we treat the holocaust as a sort of sacred subject that is out of bounds for use in comparisons, then how can we use it to extract lessons for the present day? Timothy Snyder is ready and willing to compare the onset of the Trump presidency to the rise of Adolph Hitler. 

It turns out that Snyder is not alone in rejecting the underlying tenets of Godwin's Law, at least for one tongue in cheek statement in the Urban Dictionary

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

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FIRST PERSON--Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently called marijuana use a “life-wrecking dependency” that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

Really?

If that were true, maybe my little brother would be alive.

I don’t know the full story of my brother’s drug use. He kept it a careful secret from our family. I can only piece together the details from his autopsy and what his friends told me after his death.

My brother had a severe anxiety disorder, with daily panic attacks. If you’ve never had one, all you need to know is that people often respond to their first panic attack by calling 911 because it feels like they’re dying.

He went through that every day.

In a better world, he would’ve gone to therapy and sought appropriate medical help. But he didn’t. Deep down, he thought he was so awful that all a therapist would do was confirm that he was a repulsive freak who deserved no love. He couldn’t face that.

As a teenager, he found a Band-Aid for his anxiety: marijuana.

It wasn’t healthy. It didn’t address the root of his problems. But it provided some comfort and it got him through the day.

He smoked pot for years. He preferred it to alcohol, although he drank too. His friends told me he dabbled in other drugs as well. But mostly he liked marijuana.

In his first year of college, he was arrested for marijuana possession. He was given two years of probation and kicked out of school. That probably didn’t improve his prospects any.

At age 23, my brother did heroin for the third time in his life. His friends knew, but our family did not. He didn’t answer his phone for five days after that. Then his landlord found his body.

I’ve known people who use marijuana recreationally and medicinally for years. I’ve known cancer patients who rely on it to quell their nausea over the months I’ve watched their bodies waste away.

I had a friend who smoked it daily while double majoring at an elite university and then reduced his habit while pursuing a PhD at Stanford.

I know people who smoke it casually and rarely, just for fun, but with no interruption to their lives.

And I’ve known people who don’t smoke at all, but suffer from alcoholism, slowly killing themselves legally.

The people I’ve observed who had pot habits that harmed their lives all had underlying problems, like my brother’s anxiety. Their drug use was a symptom. They needed treatment, not punishment.

Many others used pot either medicinally, to relieve nausea, anxiety, or pain, or they used it recreationally without much interruption to their daily lives.

One could smoke an entire field of marijuana, as my brother probably did, without dying from an overdose.

The same could not be said of heroin, which killed 13,000 Americans in 2015.

My baby brother, my best friend in the world, a kid who was hurting so bad on the inside he was looking to anything he could find to relieve his pain, died alone in his favorite chair, just the third time he ever tried heroin.

My brother would’ve had a hard road ahead if he’d lived. He needed years of therapy, and recovery would’ve been painful and difficult.

But the same isn’t necessarily true of others. Each person who relieves pain with marijuana instead of opiates takes a path that won’t lead to a debilitating addiction and potentially a deadly overdose.

The attorney general is wrong. Pot is a relatively mild and harmless drug compared to deadly, addictive heroin. Treating users like criminals is a threat to their safety — and so is perpetuating the lie that some drugs are no less harmful than others.

(Jill Richardson is an OtherWords columnist and is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.)

-cw

PERSPECTIVE--A recent poll showed Donald Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent. This compares unfavorably with every president since pollsters started tracking these attitudes. Those on the left are gleefully pointing to these numbers as proof that many who voted for Trump are experiencing buyer’s remorse. Those on the right are dismissing the poll results as fake news. 

That 37 percent is meaningful for another reason. It represents, more or less, the hardcore Trump supporters. Probably about a third of Americans will believe, buy and blindly endorse anything and everything they are told by Fox News, alt-right websites, and anyone working for the White House propaganda machine. 

Last year, at the time of the Republican national convention, I read a lengthy Q & A with operatives from the campaigns of three of Trump’s primary season opponents -- Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. The major takeaway was that Trump started his campaign with a solid base of about one-quarter of the Republican electorate. 

One of those interviewed talked about daily polling done by his campaign organization which showed that this base never wavered. It didn’t matter what Trump said or did, these voters were with him. The campaign managers all said they expected Trump would finally step over the line and his support would fade. That never happened. 

In January 2016, Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, O.K.? It’s, like, incredible.” He was talking about the loyalty of his supporters. He wasn’t kidding. Thanks to that loyalty, Trump always had a head start on his rivals for the Republican nomination. It was an advantage he understood and exploited to maximum advantage. 

It’s an advantage he’s still exploiting. That’s why he’s out on the campaign trail again, giving speeches in places such as Florida and Kentucky, where he can turn out a friendly crowd. Don’t expect to see him in Los Angeles anytime soon. 

Who are these people, the 37 percent? Typically, they are more rural than urban. They are less educated. They tend to be less well off in economic terms. A large number of them are socially conservative and, considering Trump’s life story, surprisingly religious. More than anything else, they are white. 

Much is made of Trump’s popularity in small towns. Most everywhere in America, small town means white. Congressman Steve King of Iowa recently praised Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders, tweeting, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” 

A lot of commentators condemned King’s statement. King didn’t think it was a big deal and said many of his Congressional colleagues congratulated him on his words. His district in Iowa is 97 percent white. Trump took about 61 percent of the vote there. 

For all the talk about economics and making America great again, it’s hard not to conclude that a large chunk of Trump’s believers are motivated by racism. Go to places like northwestern Iowa and ask people if they are racist. Almost all will say no. Ask them if that means they would accept their child marrying a person of another color and you will be met with stony silence. Or maybe you’ll be run out of town. 

Democrats talk about needing to develop a message about jobs and revitalizing the manufacturing economy as a tool to reach voters in small towns in the heart of America. What these politicos really need to understand is that it will never work. For too many outside the big cities, Democrat is a dirty word. Whether it’s one of three or one of four, there will always be a hard core of the electorate for whom skin color beats all other considerations. 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NO JOKE-There is one area where President Trump is already delivering on his campaign promise to create jobs … on the comic circuit.

Yes, there is now actually a shortage of comedians in America. Never have there been so many jokes waiting, even begging, to be told about a new administration, and such a severe shortage of people clever enough to tell them.

The major TV networks are struggling to meet the demand, with no end in sight. Comedy schools are running classes around the clock to keep up with it. Small blogs are being hit the hardest, being forced to repost clips from late night standup routines in an effort to stay in the game.

Trump says these new jobs will all be red-blooded American jobs. He’s even imposed an outright ban on importing jokes from predominantly Muslim countries, at least those that have a sense of humor and don't declare a fatwa on you if you poke fun at them.

Supporters of Trump are even stepping into the breach themselves, saying as many laughable things as they can think of. In fact, a guy to do ‘rim shots’ has been elevated to a cabinet position.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

@THE GUSS REPORT-The axiomatic history of white men hashing out shady political deals in smoke-filled backrooms has come a long way, baby. On Friday, Donna Brazile, the former CNN commentator and interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, finally confessed to that which most already knew and that she spent the past half-year denying: rigging a March 2016 Democratic primary debate on CNN by funneling to the Hillary Clinton campaign at least one pre-screened audience question that she did not also provide to the Bernie Sanders campaign, which she had planned to do again in subsequent debates. 

In a defensive, just-published essay she wrote for Time Magazine, Brazile said she would regret that decision for the rest of her life. But while she deserves credit for finally coming clean, she continues to blame the Russians for her own actions, and fell short of apologizing to Sanders and every registered voter who deserved the opportunity to hear him make his case for the presidency on a level playing field.

But the situation is actually worse than that. 

On the literal eve of the DNC convention last July, Brazile was suddenly appointed to the interim DNC job when President Obama persuaded her predecessor, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, to step down from the role because Wikileaks had just released scores of internal DNC emails showing significant bias for Clinton and against Sanders -- including snarky comments about whether and how they should use Sanders’ Judaism, or perceived atheism, to sow distrust of him among Southern Baptists who, DNC officials figured, would trust Sanders if they felt he was Jewish, but not if they could be persuaded he was atheist. 

Immediately upon her appointment, Brazile published an apology on behalf of the DNC (that was not signed by Wasserman-Schultz) which read, “On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email…. These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not — and will not — tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates.”  

But at the same time Brazile was apologizing for DNC misconduct under Wasserman-Schultz, promising neutrality going forward, she knew that just a few months earlier, she committed similarly egregious acts prior to the March 6 CNN debate. The public didn’t find out about it until just a few days before the general election, when in late October Wikileaks dumped proof of it. 

Right up until Election Day on November 8, Brazile refused to verify that the October Wikileaks emails were hers, even playing the victim card in a riveting live interview with then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly, with Brazile claiming that she is a persecuted Christian woman. 

The DNC and Clinton campaign were perplexed and frightened throughout the election cycle by the organic enthusiasm that imbued Sanders’ entire run. It was completely unanticipated by them for a man from the state with the second lowest population, and who was portrayed by Larry David on Saturday Night Live as a lovable, impossibly honest, curmudgeon.

Clinton, for her part, also has yet to apologize for the misconduct of those on her campaign staff. Wasn’t the buck supposed to stop with her? What heroes they would all have been if they made it known to the public prior to the debates that they were given an unfair advantage!

About the same time as Brazile’s confession this past Friday, Clinton delivered a speech in Pennsylvania, hinting about returning to public life, jokingly saying, “it’s time to come out of the woods,” a reference to the numerous selfies taken by people encountering her on trail walks near her home in Chappaqua, N.Y. With the 2018 mid-terms not looking too rosy for the DNC, it will need all the help it can get gearing up for 2020. Clinton, Wasserman-Schultz and Brazile, women who didn’t just occupy, but owned, the smoke-filled backroom in 2016, would be wise to each offer a clear, concise and unequivocal two words to Sanders and every registered 2016 voter across all party lines: I apologize.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TRUMP WATCH--Responses were varied as to what made Trump's presidency seem illegitimate. Some said it was his nationalist rhetoric and policies; others said they doubted whether he was fairly elected. (Most young Americans see President Donald Trump as illegitimate, according to a new poll out Friday.

The survey by GenForward, conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 57 percent of adults between 18-30 years old—including three-quarters of black Americans and a large portion of Latinos and Asians—see Trump's presidency as illegitimate.

A slim majority of white young adults, 53 percent, consider him a legitimate president, but even among that group, 55 percent disapprove of the job he's doing.

Responses were varied as to what made Trump's presidency seem illegitimate. Some said it was his nationalist rhetoric and policies; others said they doubted whether he was fairly elected.

One respondent said he keeps remembering Trump giving a speech in which he referred to Mexicans as criminals and rapists. "You can't be saying that [if] you're the president," said the respondent, 21-year-old Jermaine Anderson, a student from Florida.

"I'm thinking, he's saying that most of the people in the world who are raping and killing people are the immigrants. That's not true," Anderson said.

Megan Desrochers, a 21-year-old student from Michigan, said, "I just think it was kind of a situation where he was voted in based on his celebrity status verses his ethics."

The poll of 1,833 adults age 18-30 was conducted February 16 through March 6. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams ... where this report was most recently posted.)

-cw

CONSERVATIVES AGREE--While it seems that the American public holds a dim view of most of its elected officials these days, a recent Fox News poll highlighted one lawmaker who has seemingly won over the majority of voters: Sen. Bernie Sanders

The survey, published Wednesday, found that 61 percent of respondents said they view the Independent senator from Vermont, an avowed Democratic socialist, favorably.

At the same time, only 32 percent of respondents said they approve of the the job that Democrats are doing in Congress (60 percent disapprove), and even less (29 percent) agree with the work of the GOP.

Notably, the polling comes as Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats and lost in a competitive presidential primary bid to Hillary Clinton, has faced antipathy from the party establishment. 

Pointing to the Fox News poll as well as a Huffington Post chart that tracks Sanders' favorability over time, the Guardian's Trevor Timm wrote Friday: "One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Donald Trump right now."

"Yet," Timm continued, "instead of embracing his message, the establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don't have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swaths of the country."

But, as the conservative news survey seems to suggest, Sanders' message of economic justice may be one of the few points of popular resonance in the U.S. Case in point, earlier this week the progressive senator traveled to West Virginia to connect with supporters of President Donald Trump over the growing interest in a single-payer healthcare system.

Another interesting statistic from the Fox News poll: Planned Parenthood, the embattled women's healthcare provider widely scorned by Republican lawmakers, also boasts strong favorability among U.S. voters. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they are either 'strongly' or 'somewhat' in favor of Planned Parenthood, compared to only 32 percent who view the organization unfavorably.

Sanders' rating is the highest yet for the poll, which has also taken samples in September 2015, as well as in March, June, and August 2016. Planned Parenthood's popularity has also jumped 7 percent since August 2015.

Notably, Sanders is the only individual among those on the survey who broke 50 percent favorability. Some of the others include: Vice President Mike Pence (47 percent); President Donald Trump (44 percent); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), with 39 percent; House Speaker Paul Ryan (37 percent); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (33 percent); Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (26 percent); and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (20 percent).

(Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--Some of us here may be old enough to remember looking at black and white television as President John F. Kennedy spoke to the nation about offensive missiles that the Soviet Union was installing in Cuba. It was October, 1962. This recollection is stimulated by the reshowing on late night TV of the 1974 dramatization, The Missiles of October. Those with a critical eye will notice a much younger William Devane as the president and an equally younger Martin Sheen as Robert Kennedy. Even more curious, celebrated actor Ralph Bellamy played then ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson. Bellamy had previously starred in Sunrise at Campobello, a Broadway play about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a role he reprised on a local stage in Los Angeles. 

Why is this forty year old made-for-television movie of interest all of a sudden? Obviously there is the contrast between JFK and the current occupant of the office. But it is the nature of this contrast that is concerning, and therefore worth dissecting. 

The year 1962 found the western world and the Russian empire locked in an ideological struggle that had been escalating on the nuclear front for a decade. The development of the hydrogen bomb had made the world an unsafe place. The competition to be able to deliver thermonuclear explosives over long distances was an active area for technical research and military development. The placement of intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba would have made the United States more vulnerable at the time. One day, a U.S. spy plane brought back aerial photos from Cuba showing the construction of a missile site. 

The plot of the movie bounces back and forth between the Kennedys and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev. Each leader is involved in intense debates which include their top military commanders and their foremost political analysts. Krushchev, as portrayed in this dramatization, first rationalizes the risk he is about to take and later begins to understand that the risk of a disastrous war is the result. And it is growing. 

JFK is faced with the task of getting the Russians to back down and to remove the missile emplacements. A ray of hope begins to develop as each side begins to understand that it is necessary to give the other a chance to compromise without losing face. 

The movie portrays Kennedy's inner circle as a group of influential men who bring enormous experience and education to the task. What begins to dawn on the present day viewer is that we are expected to view the characters as people with intelligence, honesty, and honor. It's not surprising that generals and admirals try to push the president in the direction of air strikes and invasion. JFK and his broth Bobby do their best to keep the war talk under control. But each of the participants shows respect towards all of the others. JFK knows how to give orders and the others understand how much they can push back. 

As the crisis continues, we realize that even a leader of the caliber of JFK is driven by real world events. Depending on how the Russians act, he may be forced to order the invasion. He understands the grave danger this would bring. 

That was real life in 1962. Over the past couple of election cycles, we have endured irritating political ads in which a telephone call to the White House at 3 AM about some developing world crisis is used to represent the immediacy of presidential responsibilities. 

In the year of 1974 when this televised movie appeared, viewers were entitled to consider the president and his advisors as people who took their responsibilities seriously, who brought depth and broad intelligence to the table, and who didn't lie to each other. There is a lot of back and forth in the movie about how to withhold information from the press and when exactly to reveal it. But there is no inkling of a president or a presidential press secretary telling lies just for the sake of trivial expediency. 

There is no doubt that The Missiles of October glorifies its participants and avoids their all too human blemishes both as human beings and as politicians. But all of the characters in the story manage to maintain their dignity in public as they did in real life. Then again, they didn't have Twitter in 1962. 

These are characters who would take care to avoid being caught in a public lie. They would avoid becoming the public buffoon. The real life versions of these men didn't always live up to the public perception, but they at least paid lip service to the expectation and the ideal. 

It's hard to imagine the American people of 1960, in the face of thermonuclear risk, supporting a buffoon for the Oval Office. Even Richard Nixon, the 1968 winner, had the ability to carry on fairly learned discourse about international affairs without looking like a complete idiot. 

Perhaps the lesson of 2016 is that Americans simply don't worry very much about mass destruction on the scale that 1960s era Americans faced on a daily basis. Nowadays we are entitled to think about terrorism, but that is at a different level than the prospect of tens of millions of dead in a nuclear exchange. 

Jack Kennedy was aware of the danger, and at least in this dramatized portrayal, does his absolute best to avoid doing anything that would humiliate his opponents. Let this be a reminder. 

As I was watching this old rerun, there was the increasing sense of dismay that at one time, we had the right to expect our top elected officials to act at least in their official capacities with some sense of honor and in the performance of their duties with a considerable amount of intelligence. 

Addendum 

The Congressional Budget Office, as expected, came up with an estimate that the current House bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of insured by 14 million people, and over a decade, by nearly twice that many. Then the White House mentioned that their estimate was even a little worse. It remains to be seen how House Republicans will deal with wide scale public fears about the potential loss of Medicaid benefits. We can expect that Democrats will start to talk about Paul Ryan's stated intention of cutting back on Medicare. I'd like to think of some other descriptive term besides perfect storm, but that's what fits.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

TAX LEAK RAISES QUESTIONS-- President Donald Trump paid $36.6 million in federal income tax on more than $150 million in income in 2005, according to leaked documents obtained Tuesday night by Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston.

"The 1040 shows how Trump obtained money—salary, business profits, dividends, and the like," Johnston wrote at the DC Report after the White House confirmed the documents' authenticity. "But there is still far more that it doesn't say."

Indeed, the release, which comprised just two pages of returns, in some ways raised as many questions as it answered:

  1. Where did his income actually come from?

As Johnston reported Tuesday night, the 1040 form shows that Trump made money through "salary, business profits, dividends, and the like," but does not name the sources of his income—"whether rich golfers playing on his various courses or Russian oligarchs visiting his various hotels," Johnston wrote at DC Report. "Nor does the 1040 distinguish between Trump's business and personal expenses—money spent traveling in his personal jet between homes and offices in New York and Florida or between hotels and golf courses around the world."

What he did get out of, Johnston noted, was "repaying nearly $1 billion he borrowed for his failed casino business" by making use of a tax shelter that Congress shut down soon after. "Ten years later, on his 2005 return, Trump was still saving tax dollars thanks to that tax shelter."

  1. What's this AMT all about?

Trump has called for the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), the mechanism through which he paid the bulk of his 2005 taxes—about $31 million. The AMT is a federal rule that requires individuals pay the higher of two taxes—either their standard income tax or their AMT, which is imposed at a much higher threshold. The rule was implemented to keep a lid on tax-dodging by the wealthy. During his 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to abolish the mechanism, claiming it put a burden on middle-class families.

"But for AMT, which Trump wants to scrap, he'd have paid a lower tax rate than the poorest ½ of Americans—under 3.5 [percent] on $152.7 million," Johnston tweeted.

  1. Who leaked Trump's tax returns?

The answer is thus far unclear, but many—including Johnston—speculated that it could be someone acting on the president's behalf, or the president himself.

"It's entirely possible that Donald sent this to me," Johnston told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

"It's a possibility, and it could have been leaked by someone in his direction."

On CNN Wednesday, Johnston also noted that Trump has "a long history of leaking things about himself." However, he continued, the White House "behaved pretty unethically" in its response, which included refusing to comment on Johnston's story and instead disseminating the documents to friendly, conservative outlets—which ultimately hints that Trump wasn't behind the disclosure, he said.

Still, many saw the leak's favorable reflection on Trump as too coincidental to be discounted.

As New York Times labor reporter Noam Scheiber wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, the returns showed "basically nothing incriminating." He continued, "If this was someone trying to bust Trump, why wouldn't they leak more than summary page? If this is all they had, why leak it at all?"

Many noted that the forms were marked "Client Copy," indicating that the documents came from someone close to Trump, rather than the IRS, as the Washington Post pointed out.

  1. Was it okay to expose these documents?

The White House said in a statement that it was "totally illegal to steal and publish" Trump's tax returns. But as Johnston and Maddow clarified, they didn't seek out the documents, and Maddow said the First Amendment gives them the right to put them on air.

  1. Where are the rest of the tax returns?

Theories aside, many observers—particularly those in the conservative media, which pounced on Maddow's reporting as a "fake news bonanza," per the rightwing blog Breitbart—said the returns reflected positively on Trump, showing that he paid an effective tax rate of 25 percent.

But that outcome only bolstered the argument that the president's team leaked the documents on purpose, and fueled a separate call to release all the pages in his returns, not just the two-page summary.

As Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted, "If [Trump] has nothing to hide, why not release complete #TrumpTaxReturns? Not enough to just show 2 pages."

And Slate's Adam Chodorow wrote on Wednesday, "Tax Day is fast upon us. In a normal world, our president would release his tax returns for all to see. This ritual both reinforces the idea that we are all subject to the law and allows the American people to know that their president is not a crook. It also lets us know where the president's financial interests lie so that we can be sure he has our interests at heart when he sets policy."

"Perhaps Trump will surprise us all by releasing his taxes in the next few weeks," he continued. "I'm not counting on it. While we cannot force him to behave as his predecessors have, we can at the very least refuse to let his nondisclosure pass unremarked upon. This still isn't normal. And no one, whether Democrat or Republican, should let it become so."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

ALPERN AT LARGE--The issue of healthcare, sadly enough, has become highly contentious and viciously partisan, but the need to compartmentalize politics and healthcare policy is critical.   

My previous article was kindly responded to by fellow CityWatch writer Bob Gelfand, who set the right tone:  we've got to TALK and COMPROMISE. 

Particularly if we're not so much on different sides of a given issue.  Part of the reason why health care appears so troubling politically is that we're not always "hearing" what the other side is saying. 

But there ARE differences, and they must be addressed...yet in a manner we've not seen to date.

Example #1: President Obama made it clear that doing nothing is NOT an option, and President Trump, interestingly enough, agrees. 

Example #2: Too many individuals, and families, and businesses were hurting because of the rising cost of health care, so President Obama took action.  Again, interestingly enough, President Trump agrees ... yet uses the "Obamacare" model as the unsustainable and unaffordable option that was hurting the same individuals and families and businesses that President Obama was trying to help. 

So once you/me/we get past the "Obama's coming to getcha!" or "Trump is Hitler!" and focus on fixing the problems, we'll disagree on a few things...but, like Mr. Gelfand and myself, we'll probably agree more than we disagree.   

It's all about the quality, affordability, and access to health care, right? 

1) What we can do, and MUST do, is emphasize transparency and flexibility for negotiations and improvements.   

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (who's as responsible as anyone for no longer being the Speaker of the House and for Democrats losing the House) wants transparency now

Well, ain't THAT rich?  OK, I agree, but perhaps the Democrats would do well with different leadership, because it was Ms. Pelosi who rammed the ACA down our throats, and the results have been less than stellar. 

Costs are UP, Enrollment is DOWN and one need not be a right-wing partisan to suggest that the "Affordable Care Act" hasn't been so appropriately named. 

President Trump has made it clear that the ACA repeal/replace is a work in progress, and will speak to ANYONE willing to talk to him. Some Republicans are fighting Trump's and House Speaker Paul Ryan's plan, and many Democrats are vigorously concerned about it (as they should be). So, let's talk.  And no one party should be relegated to "the back of the bus". 

2) There's the inevitable, and potentially beneficial, divide of universal health COVERAGE vs. ACCESS. 

The ACA or "Obamacare" did NOT get to its goal of universal coverage, and even ended a host of health plans that were used and cherished by tens of millions of Americans. 

Paul Ryan is NOT trying to achieve universal health insurance and without getting too reflexively angry at that, let's catch our breath and remind ourselves of competing realities: 

a) A 43 year-old woman with sudden-onset breast cancer should not lose her insurance, and her family should not be destroyed financially because of her terrible misfortune.  Period. 

b) A 43 year-old man in good health who has not worked in 5-10 years and who wants ongoing health insurance is someone who should be offered the ability to work for his healthcare benefits, or should be relegated to the free public health care system that counties are legally obligated to provided.

The first situation requires much attention and fiscal support from all parts of government, and the second situation shouldn't get us too concerned about "how will he be covered?" 

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are emphasizing opportunity over mandate and affordability over forced full-coverage for all Americans. 

(And even though it's tough for some of us to talk about, the issue of how much we're spending on those not here in the country legally isn't a trivial one, or an issue that's going to go away.) 

The rest of the issues relate to the need to balance capitalism and socialism, between the benefits of the free market and the need to have government protect us all from predatory behavior, and Gelfand, in his CityWatch column, addresses many of them: 

1) Drug costs are three or more times more expensive in the U.S. than the rest of the world, and we're indirectly subsidizing Europe and Canada.  That must end. 

2) We need more residencies, and government-subsidized health educational costs of physicians and nurses to pay for health care in underserved areas.  Lots of health care professionals would give up a few years of their lives to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. 

3) Opportunities for individuals and their families to work for their health care should be promoted so long as they are able-bodied, and a host of public works projects can be addressed by those opportunities...you know, that "win-win" situation Trump has always talked about? 

4) There will be arguments over the federal and state roles in funding and overseeing health care, but the first step is always the hardest step...particularly since this will be a neverending argument. Just pass something, and so long as it’s financially sustainable we can deal with fine-tuning the inevitable glitches in ANY system that is passed in Washington, D.C. 

On a final note, it should be emphasized that Republicans and Democrats both have major problems with Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan ... which can and should be used to the advantage of all of us. 

Because debate and compromise is a form of arguments and policymaking that is ... well ... healthy.

And healthy is what our nation needs to become, more than ever.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw 

 

 

 

 

 

EASTSIDER-Having negotiated and mediated a good number of healthcare agreements all over the State of California for a lot of years, I have a reasonable understanding of the fundamentals of how these systems work. And after being inundated with all the highly politicized nonsense from both political parties lately, I say, enough! 

As long as we have a healthcare system which is underwritten by insurance companies, the mathematics of healthcare is simple. Hat tip to Dave Winer, a NYC (Queens) software developer and author of the Scripting News blog, who hit the real issue right on: ”The insurance industry, left to a completely free market, will only insure young, healthy people, and will cancel their policies as soon as they get sick.” 

In the current “debate” in Washington D.C., I don’t think it matters too much whether the politicians are Democrats or Republicans. They all take in gobs of personal money from the health insurance industry and big pharma so that they can stay in office -- even as they tell you and me how much they care while they count their take. 

Be it Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, or President Trump and Representative Tom Price (now Secretary of Health and Human Services,) they all take money from the trough. I will, however, admit that Tom Price personally investing in a joint replacement company and then introducing legislation to benefit them, was over the top, even for D.C. On the other hand, what he did is legal for legislators (who make their own rules,) and Zimmer Bionet Tom, as we can now call him, didn’t do anything that a whole bunch of other legislators in both houses of Congress haven’t done in the past. 

The reality of medical care is that none of us really know when or how much of it we will need. So there has to be some kind of a cushion against life-threatening medical events, or long term illnesses that require expensive treatments, such as dialysis, organ transplants, etc. Otherwise, to put it bluntly, we can get sicker and even die. 

Insurance companies have no economic interest in covering any of this stuff. At the same time, rich people have lobbied Congress so that they don’t have to pay for dialysis, organ transplants, or special needs care. The fact that you and I also benefited from these changes was incidental. Congress, of course goes with the bucks and passes such legislation. It is not a coincidence that it was Ronald Reagan who passed the ADA; his donor base wanted it. 

The Math 

The healthcare equation is that insurance companies don’t want to lose any money on their insurance, and you and I don’t want to get an expensive medical condition, and then get real sick or die because we can’t pay for the medical care. This affects all of us, every person in the United States. Absent some resolution to this conflict, we are all one major medical event away from bankruptcy, or worse. 

Think about it. One major event -- be it long term unemployment, divorce, or major medical emergency -- away from bankruptcy. I’m not making this up. Look at The Two Income Trap, by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, written way back in 2003. It’s an impressive (and depressing) read about bankruptcy, a long time before the financial crisis that beggared all of us (except for the banks that caused it.) 

There is really only one entity that has the resources to cover that inherent conflict -- and, you got it, it’s the Government. Because we are really talking about how much risk the insurance industry is prepared to cover (not much) at what cost (a lot), and who’s going to pay for the rest your and my unmet healthcare costs. Realistically, the only entities that can do this are government agencies. And since they govern (and tax) all 360 million of us in the United States, the Feds have the deepest pockets. 

How much the Feds could cover vs. how much state and local entities could cover is pretty much a redistribution of costs issue, since the tax base is progressively smaller as you go down the food chain. Yet the statistical risks for all of us are roughly the same no matter where we happen to reside. A very small state, county or city is simply not going to be able to provide the cushion that the Federal government can. 

That’s the math. 

All the stuff you and I see on TV, hear about on the radio, or that is pushed out to us via social media and our mailboxes, is mostly just noise. Most of it is smoke and mirrors, designed to get you and me to vote for brand X or brand Y, like that will really fix our fundamental healthcare problems. 

Truth is Bernie Sanders was right in his analysis of healthcare, and he paid for it by having both the establishment DNC and RNC try to bury him. Whether or not the government can afford to go to his model, or should, is a public policy discussion that needs to occur and never really has. Instead we get this silliness. 

Budget Cycles and the Cliff 

The timing of all of the proposed changes to our healthcare system is not propitious, either. Most public agencies and corporations operate on one of two budget cycles: July 1 - June 30, or January 1 - December 31. Add in to this the fact that open enrollment for most healthcare providers is October/November for January 1 implementation. In order for them to do the necessary premium calculations, the data and coverage changes need to be in place well before summer. 

So here we are in March with the President and the Republicans playing around with what they call the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare. After braying the same mantra for about seven years, it is clear that they didn’t have a clue what that slogan really meant. And for their part, the Dems have refused to play and are saying, “You break it, you own it.” Wonderful. 

If you are an insurer, if you are a small business person, if you are a public agency with a July 1 budget deadline, or if you are just a consumer at the mercy of all of these parties, this is incredibly anxiety producing. 

All that “striking while the iron is hot” rhetoric over healthcare is going to do is to make every insurer nuts as they try to figure out what premiums they will have to charge for next year. And they will have to take into account the impact for the rest of this year as hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers have to make mid-year adjustments. 

The Insurers

It’s a prescription for chaos, even if all the insurers were playing fair. And let us not be deceived -- they are not all playing fair. I keep referring to Aetna as being a poster child for cheating, so let’s take a look at the details. First, they are one of the two largest insurance companies in the “health services industry” space. Whatever they do is therefore a big deal. 

Second, their mega-merger with Humana, another large player in the Medicaid and Medicare space, was a fix. They got caught by a federal judge lying about their decision to drop out of some 17 state exchanges on the grounds that they were losing money. Turns out that they threatened the Feds to do this if the Feds tried to block their merger with Humana. You can read about the skullduggery here.  

While Aetna called off the merger after being nailed by a federal judge, the moves to lessen, rather than encourage, competition in the Obamacare world have been marching on. The other 800 pound gorilla in the Obamacare game is Anthem Blue Cross, and they too are engaging in mergers to limit choice. You can read all about the insurance carriers shrinking our choices for Obamacare here, notwithstanding the blah blah blah of most news media

Whatever people’s ideology or political identification, let’s agree on one thing: insurance companies are in the business of making a profit, period. They are going to budget and set rates based on very conservative assumptions that will keep their CEOs employed. 

Most of the media reports over the Republican healthcare bill concern saving money, and how ok it is to charge folks from 60-65 more money because they “use” medical care more than younger people. Egad! You think? 

Here’s a modest proposal that will save a lot of money. Stop paying for organ transplants, stop paying for dialysis, and stop paying for long term care for the elderly. It would be really cost effective and save a ton of money! Insurance companies would love it. Heck, repeal the Special Ed statute. And make Congress have the same healthcare that you and I have. 

Anyone think they will do it? 

The Takeaway 

Here’s the practical problem: while the Republicans have elected to embrace Speaker Ryan’s plan without any substantive conversations with the Democrats, their math simply doesn’t work. A bill which pushes some 14 million poor and older Americans out of medical insurance while the relatively affluent get significant tax breaks is something that I cannot believe our political system will countenance. 

At the same time, the Establishment, limousine liberal Democratic leadership of Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House seems incapable of doing much more than ignoring the fact that they lost the election and are still trying to punish the Republicans for their choice of a deeply flawed candidate -- even as they themselves repudiated Bernie Sanders in every way possible. 

Well, we are all Americans. We all deserve affordable healthcare no matter who we are. What is missing here and deeply troubling, is that if the Republican effort fails, there is no Plan B being worked on by the few adults left in our political system, be they Republican or Democrat – at least that I’m aware of. This is not good and somebody needs to get crackin’ now

Remember, the ACA (Obamacare) is not sustainable in its current form after all that has happened in the last year, and while the big health insurance carriers are good at evading antitrust and gaming the system, I haven’t seen them or big pharma come up with anything sustainable either. 

We need to start electing politicians at every level who are reasonably honest and interested in actually representing you and me instead of the deep pocketed political parties and their owners. As long as election turnouts are in the under 20% range (heck, in LA that would be a big increase,) we’re going to keep getting what we got. 

Get involved, pay attention…and vote!

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--#45 Trump made news again when he abruptly switched gears and said that he wouldn’t keep hands off Medicaid as he kind of, sort of, promised to do during the campaign. Now, says Trump, it’s fair game for a quick assault, namely, the part of the program that some governors, including GOP governors, used to expand coverage in their states. This was made possible under a provision of the Affordable Care Act. Trump ignored the warning that by attacking Medicaid it could screw up the time table for the GOP congressional assault on Obamacare. 

This is incidental to the real reason Trump broke his promise and why the GOP has a manic obsession with savaging Medicaid. The GOP’s stock arguments that reining in Medicaid is about cutting costs, federal intrusion in health care, and restoring health care to the states is hogwash. It’s all about the program itself -- who it benefits from it and what it means politically to the GOP. 

The root of the GOP attack and loathing of Medicaid starts with who created it and what it was created to do. It was a Lyndon Johnson era, Democratic Great Society, War on Poverty Program that was unabashedly aimed at covering welfare recipients and the poorest of the poor. Despite the outrageous and very serviceable myth that is still happily fanned by conservatives as well as many in the media that Medicaid is a gigantic taxpayer health care give-away to the black poor, the majority of Medicaid recipients have always been whites. 

Over time, Medicaid was tweaked, reconfigured, and expanded to provide health care for millions more who had absolutely no access to affordable -- if indeed any kind -- of health care coverage. The greatest beneficiaries, though, have remained the poor, and especially their children. Medicaid covers the cost of prenatal care and hospitalization. 

Medicaid has been wildly successful in controlling health care costs, providing poor and working families with coverage unobtainable in the private insurance market, and acting as a brake on run-away medical care cost coverage in the states. Conservatives have seen deep political peril in this. And they saw even deeper peril when Obamacare expanded coverage more, bumping the number of those now receiving health care coverage under the program to nearly 20 million persons. 

When conservative GOP governors such Ohio’s John Kasich publicly took the expanded coverage deal with Medicaid, saying it could be a boon to the state, the die was cast. Medicaid had to be assailed. The political horror for the GOP is that as long as Medicaid is seen as a Democratic measure (more specifically an Obama measure to aid the needy) there’s a real possibility that many of those millions of voters in crucial swing states such as Ohio will begin to connect the dots. The dots being that Medicaid is a health care program that helps families in need, the Democrats support it and fight for it, while GOP conservatives bitterly oppose it. Therefore, come election time, those families might, just might, cast a vote for the friends, not the enemies, of Medicaid. 

This is an especially fragile political proposition for the GOP given that Trump won by only the barest margin in a handful of states, nearly all of Congress is up for re-election in 2018, and GOP governors and legislatures have only tenuous control in several states. Medicaid, and the lies and stereotypes told about it, appear to be a tailor-made issue to rally conservatives, and hopefully keep the GOP political ducks in contested states in line. That’s only the start since Medicaid -- because of those lies and stereotypes -- is regarded as the easiest of pickings to go after. If successful, this would open the gate wide for the next two perennial right-wing targets: Social Security and Medicare. 

As with Medicaid, Trump claimed during the campaign that he wouldn’t touch Social Security and Medicare, but that almost certainly will go the way of his Medicaid hands-off promise. The two programs are and have always been seen as Democratic inspired and backed. And that has made them conservative whipping boys with the usual storehouse of lies about run-away costs, waste and heavy handed federal intrusion. 

Medicaid then is the proving ground to convince the millions that benefit from these foundational federal programs that they aren’t really in their best interests. The GOP will try to pound home that there are better alternatives and the GOP, not the Democrats, is the party that can provide those alternatives. Trump got that message and will try to deliver this point to those voters who have grave doubts about hacking away programs that have been life-savers to them. For tens of millions, Medicaid has been at the top of the list of life-saving programs. This is what makes it the enduring political target it is -- or putting it bluntly, why the GOP hates it.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of In Scalia’s Shadow: The Trump Supreme Court (Amazon Kindle). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

HISTORICAL MODELS-Why Does Andrew Jackson’s 250th birthday this week matter? What does his history of accomplishment tell us about the voids of our current president who admires him so much? It’s a good time to remember what an important political figure our seventh President was, and how far the 45th President needs to go to equal his idol. 

What can Donald Trump learn from Andrew Jackson, who was born 250 years ago on March 15, 1767? It will be a steep learning curve for Trump, who hung Jackson’s portrait on the Oval Office wall the day he took over and uses it as a photo-op backdrop as often as possible. 

Attempting to become Jackson-like, Donald Trump styles himself as the leader of a “populist” movement he energized with his “America First!” and “Make America Great Again!” slogans as he played on nativist sentiments. Such leanings are an identifying hallmark of Andrew Jackson, who shifted political power from the established elites to the ordinary voters, and played a leading role in granting all white males the right to vote, not just white male property owners. This was part of Jackson’s program of “Jacksonian Democracy” that morphed into the creation of the Democratic Party that, in turn, replaced Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian-based Democratic-Republican Party, changing American political history forever. 

This political advance led to greater democracy for the common man and better representation of poor citizens in the United States. With it, Jackson achieved inclusion. So far, Trump has practiced exclusion and his separatism and division are splitting the country. His campaign call to arms emasculated the Republican establishment and terminated the Bush and Clinton political dynasties. 

Jackson started out against the odds. Trump may also want to try to run the table and see what he can create. It will be worth watching. Jackson, like Trump, was not an Establishment political figure – “Old Hickory” was hardly a name the Boston Brahmins and Philadelphia lawyers, one generation removed from the Founding Fathers, would use to address a peer. Like Jackson, Trump is not an Establishment insider. 

Trump was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Not so Jackson who, by adolescence, was an orphan on the Indian-dominated frontier: his father died before he was born, and his mother when he was twelve. He inherited no legacy or fortune. His apprenticeship was “life,” and he was able to parlay that into becoming a frontier lawyer, judge, congressman, senator, heroic general (famously known as “the Hero of New Orleans” in the War of 1812,) and twice a presidential candidate – winning on his second try in 1828, then serving two terms. 

Trump came to the White House partially from a background as a television reality show host where, for fourteen years, he presided weekly over a low-brow, unscripted entertainment program that specialized in humiliating contestants. As President, he continues to be executive producer of that show. Daily Variety reported that for the first time ever “a sitting president will be on the payroll of a current TV show.” Trump also spent years building up and branding himself and the property development business he inherited from his father. More recently, he has been creating his Trump-branded chain of country clubs and golf courses. 

Getting elected was a challenge for both presidents as each was up against the Establishment. Jackson’s opponent in the 1824 election was John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president, who won the election and became the sixth President of the United States. Thus began the concept of political dynasties in America that would come to include the families of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton, dynasties that have occupied center-stage in modern Presidential history. Trump had his own equally worthy Establishment adversary in the Clinton-Obama coalition. 

One trait that Trump and Jackson share is a doubt about their fitness for office. Jackson biographer Jon Meacham recounts some of the concerns his contemporaries had, concerns that “a man of Jackson’s temperament might turn the Republic into a dictatorship...unqualified for the difficult and complicated business...a wild-eyed backwoodsman brandishing a whip and a pistol.” However, Jackson turned out to be a man of real accomplishment. Trump’s immediate predecessor, who held the job for eight years, has referred to Trump as “unfit to serve as president...he keeps on proving it." 

Jackson overcame many doubts about him, drawing on his substantial experience as a military officer, a jurist, and a legislator. Trump’s experience coming into office is much more limited. If he’s the student of history he claims to be, and admires Andrew Jackson the way he demonstrates, he may be able to learn on how to be the president on the job. 

Jackson held two terms of office. His likeness was engraved onto the twenty-dollar bill in 1928 -- the 100th anniversary of his election as President. 

Generations from now, will a future President think that Trump’s picture is worth hanging on the Oval Office wall or being engraved onto currency? Will Trump, the student of history, make the kind of history that is worth commemorating?

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The United States is witnessing a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic acts, which are sweeping over the country in wave after wave. In St. Louis, more than a hundred tombstones were tipped over; similar hate crimes have taken place in Philadelphia and New York. Attacks are taking place not only in cities across the country, but also in small towns. In Scottsburg, Indiana (a community with less than ten thousand residents), the gravestones of a Jewish couple were defaced with spray paint. To date, there have been reports of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in thirty-three states, and across college campuses.

The rise in hate crimes has risen sharply since Trump’s election. As early as four days following President Trump’s electoral win, an Episcopal Church in a small town in southern Indiana was vandalized with “Heil Trump”. Last weekend, in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo, New York, residents and local law officials discovered spray-painted swastikas and vulgar graffiti on overpasses, a dozen vehicles, and on an elementary school playground. Ten Jewish community centers have been targeted with bomb threats for the fourth time in five weeks. And the list goes on.

While it is not only Jewish individuals and groups who have been increasingly subjected to bigotry and xenophobic outbursts, these latest acts are the escalation of overt anti-Semitism which re-appeared during the 2016 election. What began with tweeting and Internet trolling, is now manifesting itself in more brazen and threatening ways. Unless the underlying conditions are answered, there is every reason to expect that these attacks will persist and become more violent.

As reported by CBSLA, the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles was one of the Jewish facilities across the country that received a bomb threat, authorities said Tuesday.

Officers searched the facility on Olympic Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue Monday afternoon, but found no explosives, Los Angeles police said.

“There was no evidence that it was a credible threat,” LAPD spokesman Officer Tony Im said.

The growing anti-Semitism in the United States has been fed by a social-political atmosphere that is conducive to groups that thrive on racist ideology. White nationalist groups have been encouraged by the current administration's willingness to lend an ear and more to those on the far right.

The president of the United States does not have to be explicitly, or even implicitly, anti-Semitic in either words or deeds to create conditions in which anti-Semitic groups feel emboldened. By being ever ready to entertain conspiracy theories, by showing little regard whatsoever for facts when they are not to his liking, by "remembering" the Holocaust without any mention of the destruction of European Jewry, by failing to condemn these acts in a more timely manner, by empowering figures such as Steve Bannon, and by lending credence to the agenda of the alt-right, the president has helped to make these waves of anti-Semitism and bigotry possible.

Over the past year, the space of public discourse has deteriorated; what was once political spin has been replaced by palpable and shameless lying. It is clear that Trumpism – with its contempt for inconvenient truths, and glorification of authoritarian strongmen – is in part responsible for what is taking place. Racist ideology feeds off of illusions, beliefs which are held because they satisfy deep-seated wishes, without regard for evidence, justification, or warrant. Trumpism has provided the soil in which such illusions are free to grow unhampered by a sense of epistemic and moral responsibility.

The current rise of antisemitism was able to take root more easily when common manners and basic decency were shoved aside during an increasingly ugly election. Courtesy and manners are not insignificant things, but essential to ethical life (in the Hegelian sense), to our shared social substance, the ethical medium in which we dwell with others. The loss of the simple decency that we generally take for granted has wide ramifications and ultimately it creates a social environment where inhibitions against overtly racist acts are weakened, and hate crimes are more likely to occur.

Trump has shown himself ready to make brazen accusations without citing any evidentiary support; he has shown contempt for the rule of law and the freedom of the press, turning away the New York Times and CNN and referring to the media as "the Enemy of the American people" – language which is itself fraught with fascist undertones. Trumpism insists that we cannot be held morally responsible for the claims we make and the statements we endorse.

Indeed, what Trumpism represents is, to put it simply, the suicide of thought (to borrow a phrase from G. K. Chesterton). We are being reminded every day that the human intellect is free to destroy itself precisely by abdicating the responsibility and authority we have to think – we are becoming a society increasingly at war with reason and ‘the tower already reels.’ Trumpism is one of the great-thought destroying forces of our time in its contempt for things like objective knowledge and the disinterested pursuit of truth. The assault on epistemic values has moral consequences – to entertain ‘alternative facts’ and endorse theories on the basis of rumor or heresy is a moral failing, not only because it can lead to actual harm, but because in time it corrupts the mind itself.

To stem the rise of anti-Semitism, we need to restore the integrity of our public discourse, our commitment to intellectual honesty and self-scrutiny. Anti-Semitism has been allowed to grow because we as a country have created an environment that is conducive to race-minded reactionaries. Our country has grown meaner and more cynical. In the span of only a decade, comments that it would have been inconceivable to say in public are now becoming increasingly commonplace.

To properly address the deterioration of our nation’s ethical substance, we cannot underestimate the importance of trust. As the philosopher Jay Bernstein observed, “…trust relations provide the ethical substance of everyday living… Trust relations are relations of mutual recognition in which we acknowledge our mutual standing and vulnerability with respect to one another.” Trust is the “invisible substance of our moral lives” – we only notice it when it has been shattered.

These anti-Semitic and racist acts are attacks precisely on that trust which, under normal conditions, we take for granted. Restoring social trust is a long and difficult process. In this case it will involve, among other things, undoing the moral and epistemic harm caused by Trumpism, and Trump himself must begin this undertaking.

(Sam Ben-Meir, PhD is an adjunct professor at Mercy College. His current research focuses on environmental ethics and animal studies. He can be reached at sam@alonben-meir.com.)

-cw    

The Dark Side of Globalization-When I was a gloomy 16-year-old grasping to find some meaning in the world, my father gave me a tattered copy of social philosopher Michael Novak’s The Experience of Nothingness. Seriously. 

There have been times over the past few decades when I’ve considered this “gift” a few yards short of insensitive and maybe even borderline teenager abuse. But I’m quite certain Dad’s intentions were no more malicious then than when he took me to see Annie Hall when I was 11. 

The essence of Novak’s argument -- and to some extent Woody Allen’s classic 1977 rom com -- is that individuals can achieve some semblance of wisdom if they stop believing in culturally sanctioned sentimental pablum about life (and love) and embrace the essentially tragic nature of human existence. 

In my dad’s defense, Novak’s 1970 book was in no way a prescription for fatalism. Rather, it was an exhortation to find enlightenment on the other side of disillusionment. Accepting life’s despair and emptiness, Novak argued, was a prerequisite for becoming a liberated and fully conscious human being. 

Novak knew that what he was prescribing was no easy task. “Because it lies so near to madness,” he wrote, “the experience of nothingness is a dangerous, possibly destructive experience.” Having no recourse to the comfort of broadly embraced cultural symbols and benchmarks requires inordinate doses of honesty, courage, and ethical self-reflection. 

Novak’s brand of transcendent nihilism was itself a response to a cultural breakdown caused by the rapid social change of the late 1960s. Neither nostalgic for tradition nor putting full stock in the coming of the Age of Aquarius, Novak’s push to accept the void was more a do-it-yourself guide to living in the void than it was a viable call to collective action. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about nihilism lately, both because Novak passed away in February and also because I just finished reading Indian writer Pankaj Mishra’s brilliant new book, The Age of Anger: The History of the Present. Mishra offers a sweeping, textured, unified theory of our dysfunctional age and explains what angry Trumpites, Brexiters, and radical Islamists all have in common: an utter fear of the void. 

Eschewing facile political or religious explanations for the rise of nihilistic social movements around the world, Mishra points to a crisis of meaning wrought by globalization. He sees the destruction of local, intimate, long-rooted systems of meaning as the opening of a spiritual Pandora’s box within which lies infinite doubt and disillusion. Mishra sees these negative solidarity movements as the psychically disenfranchised targeting what they see as “venal, callous and mendacious elites.” 

Brexiters railed against liberal cosmopolitan technocrats, as did Trump’s white nationalists. Radical Islamists loathe the hedonism and rootlessness of wealthy Muslims who’ve surrendered to Western consumer society. Rather than advocate for an agenda that would provide them tangible returns, they all cling to nostalgia for simpler times and rally around their hatred for those they see as the winners in a new world order. 

In Mishra’s view, this new world order isn’t simply neoliberal capitalism allowing money, goods, and services to flow unimpeded across the globe. It’s also the attendant ideal of liberal cosmopolitanism first advocated in the 18th century by Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Voltaire, and Kant. It’s the belief in a universal commercial society made up of self-interested, rational individuals who seek fulfillment. 

Theoretically, modern global capitalism liberates individuals from the constraints of tradition, and encourages them to move about freely, deploy their skills, and fulfill their dreams. But the burdens of individualism and mobility can be as difficult to carry for those who’ve succeeded in fulfilling that modern vision as for those who cannot. A decade ago, one study found that a disproportionate number of Muslim militants have engineering degrees, a prestigious vocation in the developing world. So, while accepting the conventions of traditional society may leave a person feeling as if he or she were less than an individual, rejecting those conventions, in Mishra’s words, “is to assume an intolerable burden of freedom in often fundamentally discouraging conditions.” 

What concerns Mishra most is that when personal freedom and free enterprise are conflated, the ambitions released by the spread of individualism overwhelm the capacity of existing institutions to satisfy them. There are simply not enough opportunities to absorb the myriad desires of billions of single-minded young people. As Mishra sees it, today’s nihilistic politics are themselves a product of the sense of nothingness felt by growing numbers of uprooted outsiders who’ve failed to find their place in the commercial metropolis. “A moral and spiritual vacuum,” he writes, “is yet again filled up with anarchic expressions of individuality, and mad quests for substitute religions and modes of transcendence.” 

Despite his call to harness the experience of nothingness, Michael Novak duly warned of its dangers and potential for destructiveness. Unfortunately, his exhortation to lean in and embrace the void strikes me as about as helpful to frustrated millennials as it was to me when I was an angst-ridden teenager. The answer to today’s nihilistic political movements clearly isn’t more hyper individualism. Nor is a violent return to a traditional past realistic. No one knows how to escape from our current global age of anger. But I suspect that whatever answer there might be will first require us Western liberals to admit that we have finally reached the limits of the Enlightenment’s cult of secular individualism.

 

(Gregory Rodriguez is publisher of Zócalo Public Square … where this column was first posted … and editorial director at the Berggruen Institute. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

In the coming days or weeks or months, a police officer will kill an American, and a controversy will erupt. Maybe the person will be shot while walking away or holding a toy gun, or strapped to a chair and hit by a Taser, or the person’s spine will be severed in a police wagon.

There will be questions about who the victim was and what role she played in her own death, and whether the department is being upfront with the public about what really took place. Protests will bring out hundreds — perhaps thousands — of citizens demanding police transparency and accountability. The media will dig into the officers’ history, looking for allegations of racism or a record of excessive force complaints.

Under the national spotlight, the focus will shift to how the department interacts with the citizens they’ve sworn to protect and serve. It’ll become clear that the protests are about more than this one tragic incident. Perhaps the police department turned into a revenue-collection agency, with officers targeting black citizens for minor offenses while top city officials traded racist emails. Maybe officers were abusing the constitutional rights of civilians through routine stops, frisks and arrests that targeted black residents.

“We know that we have Americans with cell phones. We know that some tragedy is going to be captured on video. And we know that hashtag activism will bring it forward to public consciousness,” says NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.

What we don’t know, Brooks says, is what will happen next. How will the Justice Department respond? How will the attorney general respond? How will the president respond? 

Just a few months ago, the answer to those questions were relatively straightforward. Under Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s attorneys general, the Justice Department made a habit of launching broad investigations of police departments following controversial shootings.

It’s rare for the Justice Department to bring charges against an individual officer in connection with a shooting. The standard for bringing federal civil rights charges against an individual officer is high. Under federal civil rights law, prosecutors must prove an officer used excessive force willfully, and in all but the most egregious cases, it is extremely difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer intentionally violated an individual’s civil rights. And even successful excessive-force prosecutions don’t always expose underlying problems and often fail to improve the climate within a police department or prevent abuses. 

That’s where the Justice Department’s broad probes, also known as pattern-or-practice investigations, or 14141 probes, come in. Under a provision of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed in 1994 in the wake of the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, the Justice Department can investigate systemic problems within law enforcement agencies to identify “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers” that “deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

These sorts of independent federal investigations allowed the healing process to begin in cities that were “in real pain because of a gulf in trust between the police and certain segments of that community,” says Jonathan Smith, a former DOJ Civil Rights Division official.

But under the Trump administration, the future of broad investigations into police departments is in doubt. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently pledged to back law enforcement. The Trump administration has vowed to eliminate America’s “anti-police atmosphere.” And the nation’s new top cop, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has long been a skeptic of broad civil rights investigations of police departments. 

Sessions is leery of consent decrees, in which police departments agree to change their practices, and believes “bad apples,” as opposed to systemic failings, are the cause of police violence. He went further in prepared remarks for a recent speech to the nation’s attorneys general, arguing that police felt the political leadership of the country had abandoned them. The federal government should not be in the business of “dictating to local police how to do their jobs” or spending “scarce federal resources” to sue cities in court, he argued. And Sessions said the DOJ would “pull back” on investigations that he believed had diminish the effectiveness of police departments.

Police stand guard as demonstrators mark the first anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 10, 2015. More than 100 people were arrested in Ferguson and St. Louis.

“We’re going to try to pull back on this, and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights,” Sessions said. Speaking with reporters the day before his speech, Sessions said he believed the DOJ reports released during Obama’s presidency — which he hadn’t read — were “anecdotal” and not based in science. 

Conservative news outlets got the message. “Jeff Sessions Signals That Obama’s War on Cops Is at an End,” declared RedState. Another conservative website said Sessions would “End Federal Harassment of Local Police.”

There’s no evidence that the Obama administration waged a “war” on cops. Only a couple dozen of the more than 18,000 police departments in America came under DOJ scrutiny during the Obama administration. And supporters of the Obama administration’s approach to police reform say the investigations benefit police officers as well, because effective policing requires the trust of the community.

“Fundamentally, you can’t fix the public safety problem in Chicago until you fix the police department. Those things have to go hand and hand,” says Smith, the former Civil Rights Division official. “I’m worried that without this tool available that you will see increasing frustration and growing mistrust.”

When a Huffington Post reporter asked Sessions how he thinks the Justice Department should respond after the next policing controversy, the attorney general focused on DOJ’s role in investigating individual incidents. But federal criminal investigations in excessive force don’t look at the whole department and miss broader issues inside law enforcement agencies that need to be addressed, argues Christy Lopez, a former deputy chief in the Special Litigation Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “That officer, even if he did willfully do this thing, why was he hired in the first place? Why was he allowed to stay on? How many other officers have done that and escaped accountability at this department?”

Protecting the reputation and effectiveness of police departments, said Lopez, requires making sure they are abiding by the rule of law. Backing off of police department investigations, she said, “is not friendly to the police any more than it’s friendly to your children to let them run amok in the streets.”

“Obviously I get it, there are a lot of people in the FOP and line officers who feel under attack by the fact that these decrees exist,” Lopez added. “But it’s a narrative I wouldn’t buy into because there are a lot of people in law enforcement who recognize that this is a legitimate part of law enforcement, to make sure that law enforcement officers are abiding by the law just like everybody else.”

All the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police organization, wants from the Trump administration is “fairness and due process,” says Jim Pasco, the senior adviser to the FOP president. “Police officers deserve and are entitled to the same due process that anyone is ― and they should receive it…. Police are not perfect, but neither is anybody else, and we’re hopeful that all American citizens will benefit from evenhanded justice in a Trump administration.”

But most activists and experts who favor broad investigations of police departments concede they’re unlikely under Trump.

“There’s not going to be an Attorney General Holder, who’s flying down to Ferguson to shake hands with people at a coffee shop,” says Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “There’s not going to be an Attorney General Lynch to go to Baltimore and sit with community leaders around the table in the midst of the unrest.”

Lopez is even blunter: “I think we’re more likely to see the National Guard go in than the Civil Rights Division.”

(Ryan J. Reilly is senior justice report at Huff Post and Julia Craven reports for Huff Post … where his piece originated.) Photo credit: Ryan j. Reilly.

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY--Numerous commentaries from both the political left and right have expounded the parlous state of the Democratic Party. And, to be sure, the Democrats have been working on extinguishing themselves in vast parts of the country, and have even managed to make themselves less popular than the Republicans in recent polls.

Yet, in the longer term, the demographic prospects of a Democratic resurgence remain excellent. Virtually all of the growing parts of the electorate — millennials, Latinos, Asians, single women — are tilting to the left. It is likely just a matter of time, particularly as more conservative whites from the silent and boomer generations begin to die off.

But, in politics, like life, time can make a decisive difference. It’s been almost a decade since the Atlantic proclaimed the end of “white America,” but Anglos will continue to dominate the electorate for at least the next few electoral cycles, and they have been trending to the right. In 1992, white voters split evenly between the parties, but last year went 54 percent to 39 percent for the GOP.

Identity politics vs. social democracy

To win consistently in the near term, and compete in red states, Democrats need to adjust the cultural and racial agenda dominating the “resistance” to one that addresses directly the challenges faced by working- and middle-class families of all races. This notion of identity politics, as opposed to those of social class, is embraced by the progressives’ allies in the media, academia, urban speculators, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, since environmentalism, gender and race issues do not directly threaten their wealth or privileged status.

The rise of identity politics, born in the 1960s, has weakened the party’s appeal to the broader population, as Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla argued in a November New York Times column. But most progressives, like pundit Matthew Yglesias, suggest that “there is no other way to do politics.” To even suggest abandoning identity politics, one progressive academic suggested, is an expression of “white supremacy,” and she compared the impeccably progressive Lilla with KKK leader David Duke.

This hurts the Democrats as they seek to counter President Donald Trump. Americans may not be enthusiastic about mass deportations, but the Democratic embrace of open borders and sanctuary cities also is not popular — not even in California. And while most Americans might embrace choice as a basic principle, many, even millennials, are queasy about late-term abortions.

Democrats also need to distance themselves from the anti-police rhetoric of Black Lives Matter. Among millennials, law enforcement and the military are the most trusted of all public institutions. Rabid racial politics among Democrats, notes Lee Trepanier, political science professor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan and editor of the VoegelinView website, is steadily turning white voters into something of a conscious racial “tribe.”

Finally, Democrats have now embraced a form of climate change orthodoxy that, if implemented, all but guarantees that America will not have a strong, broad-based economic expansion. The economic pillars of today’s Democratic Party may thrive in a globalist, open-border society, but not many in the more decidedly blue-collar industrial, agricultural or homebuilding industries.

Toward a transracial populism

To appeal to the middle and working classes, the Democrats need to transcend cultural avant-gardism and embrace a more solid social democratic platform. Inequality and downward mobility have grown inexorably under both parties, which is why Bernie Sanders, and his eventual “mini-me,” Hillary Clinton, essentially ran against the Obama administration’s economic record.

On immigration, they don’t have to embrace Trump’s misguided views, but they should seek policies that don’t displace American workers. High-tech oligarchs may love H1-B visas that allow them access to indentured foreign geeks, but replacing middle-class IT workers with these foreign workers seems certain to alienate many, including the majority of white, college-educated people who voted for Trump. In contrast to oligarch-friendly Clinton, Bernie Sanders questioned both open borders and H1-B visas.

Sanders’ key plank — a single-payer, Canadian-like health care system — also could appeal to many small businesses, consultants and the expanding precariat of contract workers dependent on the now imperiled Obamacare. Critically, both health care and economic mobility priorities cross the color line, which is crucial to spreading social democracy here.

The key remains embracing growth and expanding opportunity. A pragmatic and work-oriented form of social democracy, as seen in Scandinavia, could be combined with a growth agenda. The Nordics may preen about their environmental righteousness, but their economies depend largely on exploiting natural resources — wood, iron ore, oil — as well as manufactured exports.

Opposing Trump’s plan to expand opportunity and bring jobs back to the country just to spite the president may not play so well in the long run. Most Americans may disapprove of Trump, the person, but they seem far more open to his policies, and are more optimistic than under the far more popular Obama. Trump’s defense of popular entitlements and infrastructure spending should garner some Democratic approval.

Rather than resist and posture in megadollar glitter, Democrats would be better served by developing their own middle-class-oriented growth program. This would be nothing unique for Democrats, and was central to the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and, most recently, Bill Clinton. If Donald Trump gets sole credit for a massive infrastructure expansion and a robust economy in the face of hyperpolarizing “resistance” histrionics, then the timeline for a Democratic resurgence could be put off for a decade or more.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of New Geography … where this analysis was first posted. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

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RESISTANCE WATCH--Black Lives Matter. Occupy Wall Street. The Tea Party. Even before the nationwide protests in response to Donald Trump’s election, civil unrest was roiling American politics. Citizens who a generation ago might never have considered speaking out are taking to the streets, shouting down officials at town halls, and deluging your social feeds with diatribes.

And it’s not just the United States: Good data is rare, but one survey of news coverage found that protest actions around the globe annually doubled from 2006 to 2012. It’s hard not to feel like you should be out protesting something these days. So, what’s the best way for the novice agitator to affect change?

Commit to Non-Violence

From 1900 to 2015, about half of all non-violent campaigns for regime change succeeded, compared to about one-quarter of violent insurgencies. That’s one much-discussed finding from the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes catalogue of nearly 500 uprisings since 1900, compiled by the political scientist Erica Chenoweth of the University of Denver.

Non-violence works slightly more often than not; violence rarely works. This data only accounts for national movements to secede, or to remove heads of state or military occupations — sweeping fights — so they may not be instructive for narrower protests against, say, excessive use of force by law enforcement in minority communities.

On the other hand, there is some disputed evidence that, in limited circumstances, violent protests can help achieve small, temporary gains in the form of expanded financial assistance for low-income families or higher wages for workers.

… Even When the Other Side Gets Violent

Easier said than done, unless you believe your cause is worth life and limb. Chenoweth and her colleagues Marie Stephan and Jonathan Pinckney have found that violent state crackdowns in response to protests can shake even well-organized, well-trained movements’ commitment to their non-violent principles, and that violent repression is one of the most common points at which such movements fail. Strong, vocal support for non-violence from protest leaders, and extensive training for participants, might be key.

One of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers of activism, Richard Gregg, recognized this when he suggested that protestors should be as well-trained as soldiers, to tame their instinct to respond to violence with violence.

Be Welcoming to Less Ideological Newcomers

The pro-life movement has made striking gains in state legislatures since the 1990s, with new laws limiting abortion access sprouting nationwide every month. At the core of that movement is a legion of activists, many of whom who were initially invited to events despite holding pro-choice views, as Ziad Munson explored in his 2008 book The Making of Pro-Life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works

One effective strategy of the movement: Once someone with a “thin” connection to the movement gets sucked in, they are encouraged to specialize in one protest tactic, whether it’s outreach to potential recruits, calling congresspersons, or picketing outside Planned Parenthood facilities. Pro-life organizations have gained a lot of very loosely affiliated members with this approach, helping them seem more influential and legitimate.

As much research suggests, the bigger the movement, the more likely it is to secure favorable outcomes.

Timing Is Key

In early 1933, Dr. Francis Townsend published an open letter calling for every person over the age of 60 to receive $200 per month from the federal government, paid for by a 2 percent national sales tax. Millions of people quickly passed the letter along to their friends, who signed up for the doctor’s newsletter.

Their plan rallied the elderly and set the agenda nationally, but elections loomed and competing, less-generous policies developed in the Senate. The Townsend army’s hardline advocacy distracted from bills with more votes in the Senate, so Franklin Roosevelt — who hated the Townsend Plan — passed the even less generous Social Security Act.

Townsend and his followers were bitterly disappointed, despite having helped create what would become one of the most popular government programs in history. The sociologist Edwin Amenta concluded in his 2010 review of dozens of protest studies, including his own on the Townsend effort, that “movements are less influential in later parts of the policy process” and “a national challenger with far-reaching goals is likely to need its issue already on the agenda.”

In the case of the Townsend Plan, their continued insistence on a perfect solution, along with their opponents’ maneuvering, hampered their ability to secure a more favorable compromise.

Understand That Strategy Matters

Protesters of all ideological stripes look to the early civil-rights movement, leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, for strategic guidance. In a thorough study published earlier this year, the Princeton University politics professor Omar Wasow measured the effect of non-violent protests on Democratic vote share in the 1964 election.

Protests like the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins helped pro-civil rights Democrats.

The Watts riots hurt: Counties near violent protests saw decreased Democratic vote share, which Wasow suggests helped spark the law-and-order backlash that swung the 1968 election to Richard Nixon, and gave us mass incarceration that reformers are still trying to undo: “In public-opinion polls between 1950 and 1980, a majority of subjects identified ‘civil rights’ as the most important problem facing America at the same time that non-violent black protest activity peaked and, likewise, responded with ‘law and order’ when black-led violent protests were most active.”

(Michael R. Fitzgerald is Senior Editor, Pacific Standard  … where this guide was first posted.)

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GUEST WORDS--"What should a United States senator, or any citizen, do if the president is a liar?" asks Bernie Sanders.

We face a very serious political problem in this country, and that problem is manifested in a post written yesterday by Amber Phillips of The Washington Post. In her piece, Phillips criticizes me for lowering the state of our political discourse, because I accused the president of being a “liar.”

What should a United States senator, or any citizen, do if the president is a liar? Does ignoring this reality benefit the American people? Do we make a bad situation worse by disrespecting the president of the United States? Or do we have an obligation to say that he is a liar to protect America’s standing in the world and people’s trust in our institutions?

I happen to strongly believe in civil political discourse. The vast majority of people in Congress who hold views different than mine are not liars. It is critical we have strong, fact-based debates on the important issues facing our country and that we respect people who come to different conclusions. In a democracy people will always have honestly held different points of view.

But how does one respond to a president who has complete disregard for reality and who makes assertions heard by billions of people around the world that have no basis in fact?

In her post, Phillips reprints five tweets that I sent out yesterday as examples of “the sorry state of political discourse right now.”

Here they are:

One of my great concerns is that there undoubtedly will be major crises facing the United States and the global community during Trump’s tenure as president. If Trump lies over and over again what kind of credibility will he, or the United States, have when we need to bring countries around the world together to respond to those crises? How many people in our country and other countries will think that Trump is just lying one more time?

Trump said three to five million people voted illegally in the last election. This is a preposterous and dangerous allegation which intentionally opens the floodgates for an increase in voter suppression efforts. Amber Phillips herself previously wrote, “There is just no evidence of voter fraud. Why launch an investigation into something that nearly everyone in U.S. politics — save one notable exception — doesn’t believe warrants an investigation?”

Trump claimed that his victory “was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.” Anyone with access to Google could see that this is factually incorrect. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all had bigger electoral margins of victory than Trump.

And then there are the trivial lies. Trump stated “it looked like a million and a half people” at his inauguration. Who cares? But none of the people who are trained to estimate crowd size believe that one and a half million people attended his inauguration.

More importantly, Trump helped lead a baseless and dangerous attack against the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency by suggesting over and over again that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore not eligible to become president. This was not a disagreement with Obama over policy. It was a deliberate and dishonest effort to appeal to racist sentiment in this country and deny the right of our first African-American president to serve.

Lastly, my tweet which states that the United States will not be respected or taken seriously around the world if Trump continues to shamelessly lie is self-evident. We are the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. If we have a president who is not taken seriously by people throughout the world because of his continuous lies, our international standing will clearly suffer.

I find it interesting that Ms. Phillips did not take issue with my facts. Her complaint appears to be that it is improper for a United States senator to state the obvious. And that is that we have a president who either lies intentionally or, even more frighteningly, does not know the difference between lies and truth.

What do you think?

It is easy to know how we respond to a president with whom we disagree on many, many issues. I disagree with Trump’s support for repealing the Affordable Care Act. I disagree with Trump’s plan to give huge tax breaks to billionaires. I disagree with Trump’s appointment of an anti-environmental EPA administrator. I disagree with Trump’s appointments of major Wall Street executives to key economic positions and his plans to loosen regulations on Wall Street designed to protect consumers. And on and on and on! These strong policy disagreements are a normal part of the political process. He has his views. I have mine.

But how do we deal with a president who makes statements that reverberate around our country and the world that are not based on fact or evidence? What is the appropriate way to respond to that? And if the media and political leaders fail to call lies what they are, are they then guilty of misleading the public?

What are your views on this extremely important issue? I look forward to your comments.

(Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website.  Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders or @BernieSanders. This perspective provided CityWatch by Common Dreams.

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ALT-RIGHT HISTORY-Donald Trump’s assertion that he will “Make America Great Again” suggests that at some point America became “not great.” Let’s put on our alt-right thinking caps (is that a non sequitur?) and see if we can figure out when that happened. 

If we start with the assumption that America was great when our bewigged forefathers wrote the Constitution, we only have about 220 or so years to examine. When did it all go wrong? 

Bad stuff happening, like the British burning the White House in 1814, doesn’t count. We bounced back from that one fairly quickly. The same goes for the occasional economic depression, rebellion against taxes on whiskey, and cholera epidemics. 

And thanks to shrewd bargains and an ability to win wars with Mexico, the United States grew bigger. Nobody worried about immigration because there were millions of acres to fill with farmers and, later, coal to mine, railroads to build, and factories to fill with cheap labor. 

For some of the alt-right, pro-Trump crowd (think brown shirts and white hoods), the first big “not great” moment occurred at the end of the Civil War when slavery was abolished. Literally, millions of black slaves were freed so they could begin exploiting the poor taxpayers who were forced by the federal government to pay for the 40 acres and a mule promised by General Sherman. 

It took a few years, but America was made great again by successive administrations whose priorities were keeping Wall Street happy, eliminating Native Americans, and doing everything possible to prevent workers from organizing unions. 

Disaster struck at the turn of the century when Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of William McKinley. The progressive Republican (a traitor to his class and party) broke up financial trusts and regulated business. Imagine how people felt when they could no longer walk into a drug store and buy patent medicines whose main ingredients might be wood alcohol and cocaine. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Roosevelt’s run as a third-party candidate resulted in the election of Woodrow Wilson. After promising continued American isolation from world affairs, he took the U.S. into World War I and then consorted with Europeans to ensure peace. Fortunately, the Senate put a stop to that. 

Making America great again, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover napped their way through the 1920s until the stock market ran off the cliff. Following a financial prescription now touted by Trump, the United States went from “really, really great” to “not great” almost overnight. 

During the next two decades, Roosevelt and Truman pulled us out of the Great Depression, fought World War II, and established government programs and policies that have, for the most part, endured because they make the lives of Americans better.

For the alt-right and, apparently, the vast majority of Republicans, this is when it all went wrong. Since the advent of Ronald Reagan, it’s all about demolishing everything in government, at all levels that might involve helping people who do not deserve “entitlements.” Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are targets even though individuals pay for much of the cost of these programs. 

What “Make America Great Again” really means is “Every man (and woman and child) for themselves.” 

The scorched earth policy of much of the alt-right is about erasing the history of the New Deal and Trump and the Republicans are their willing tools to achieve that goal.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

RESISTANCE--I have been on picket lines defending abortion clinics since the 1980s. I remember well the wintry morning in December 1983 when I got a call to come up from Seattle immediately to help support the Feminist Women's Health Center in Everett, Washington, which had been firebombed during the night. The clinic put out the call and dozens of supporters from around the area arrived to stand with the staff in an early morning daze that was dispelled by our anger and concern. That was the first of three bombings the clinic experienced before the cost of rebuilding and escalating insurance premiums finally closed their doors. 

Over decades, I and my Radical Women sisters conducted similar clinic defense work in Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Australia, and other cities. Our Bay Area chapter for many years took the lead in mounting the counter-protest of the annual “Walk for Life” in San Francisco. We built and worked in reproductive justice coalitions and participated in actions, marches, forums, lobbying, conferences and speak-outs. Our work continues today as Planned Parenthood and other providers come under an intensified onslaught. 

Little has changed over the years as far as the stakes involved. Access to abortion is still a lifeline for women who for any number of reasons are unwilling to have a child at a particular time in their lives.
 
Our opponents are just as vicious, moralistic and dangerous today – whether they're launching their attacks through legislative means or outright terrorism.
 
But one thing that has changed is the attitude of some clinic owners and non-profit officers. Where clinic managers used to regularly walk the lines with us and thank us for our efforts, many are now so isolated from the movement that won abortion rights that they deplore the mobilization of community support outside their offices. They want to view reproductive services as a business, a professional apolitical enterprise, like dentistry. In another world this would be true, but it is certainly not the case in today's USA. Wishful thinking can't take the politics out of the struggle for accessible abortion – it is a key bulwark in the larger fights for women's rights, racial justice, economic parity, and the separation of church and state.
 
I was disturbed to see some clinic operators call on their supporters to not show up on February 11 outside Planned Parenthood, where anti-choicers had announced protests. Some clinic managers claimed it would cause stress and fear for staff and clients to encounter a face-off between the two sides. In my opinion, it causes much more stress and fear for clinic users to arrive at a site where only opponents are present. This also intimidates community members who assume they are alone in supporting women's reproductive rights if it appears that misogynists have won the disputed territory.
 
Counter to what some providers claim, reproductive rights defenders are frequently thanked for our presence by community members, staff, and people seeking clinic services. They know we are an important buffer between those who are ready to use any means to undermine their rights. 

Clinic defenders are not the problem. We can keep the volume down when staff let us know procedures are being performed. We are controlled in our face-offs with the fetus fetishizers, because our goal is not to change their cement-hard beliefs but to keep them from trampling on ours. Like clinic managers, we have the needs of clinic users paramount in our minds – not just on a particular day but for years to come.
 
The days for clinic defense are not over. In fact, our presence may be more urgent than ever given the heightening war against women.             

                                                    
(Helen Gilbert is a longtime activist with Radical Women and is Managing Editor of Red Letter Press in Seattle, Washington.)

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TRAVEL BAN WATCH--President Donald Trump on Monday rolled out "Muslim ban 2.0"—a new executive order blocking entry to the United States to people from six majority-Muslim countries, a directive one civil liberties group says amounts to doubling down on religious discrimination.

Politico noted earlier Monday that in the roughly five weeks since his first now-blocked travel ban was issued, Trump has been "promising the public that the revised version would be substantially the same as the original—while telling courts just the opposite." Also during that time, two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documents obtained by the press debunked the administration's rationale for any such travel ban.

The new ban will be effective March 16; the previous order went into effect immediately.

It blocks for 90 days people from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Iraq has been left off the new list, as the country "has taken steps to increase their cooperation with the United States in the vetting of Iraqi nationals," a fact sheet (pdf) from the White House says. It also states that "the significant presence of U.S. forces in Iraq," contributes to its different treatment.

The executive order affects those who did not have already a valid visa by January 27, 2017. The first travel ban originally blocked even those with green cards and current visas from re-entry.

In addition, the new order blocks all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days. Unlike the previous version, Syrian refugees are subject to this same pause, not blocked indefinitely.

Following the signing of the order, DHS Secretary John Kelly declared at a press conference that "unvetted and unregulated travel is not a universal privilege."

According to David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU and a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, "The new order will be less catastrophic in its roll-out than the first, both because it exempts those who already have visas and because it will not go into effect until March 16. But it's still religious discrimination in the pre-textual guise of national security. And it's still unconstitutional."

And in response to the order's impacts on refugees in particular, David Miliband, president and CEO of humanitarian aid group International Rescue Committee, said it's "a ban that heartlessly targets the most vetted and most vulnerable population to enter the United States. This ban doesn't target those who are the greatest security risk, but those least able to advocate for themselves. Instead of making us safer, it serves as a gift for extremists who seek to undermine America."

The original ban sparked protests across the nation and beyond—as well as multiple lawsuits—and immigrant and civil rights groups have already vowed to return to the courts to take on the new order.

Omar Jadwat, head of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, added: "The Trump administration has conceded that its original Muslim ban was indefensible. Unfortunately, it has replaced it with a scaled-back version that shares the same fatal flaws. The only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban. Instead, President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people."

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams … where this report originated.) Photo credit: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc

DECODING BAD BEHAVIOR-Forces from the Right and Left don’t want the public to ask the obvious question: Is Trump insane? The American Psychiatric Association has its Goldwater Rule stating, “it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined in person, and obtained consent from, to discuss their mental health in public statements.” The American Psychological Association does not have a Goldwater Rule, but it has a wordy statement against diagnosing public figures.   

Perhaps the first time Western Civilization needed to the address the question of whether someone was crazy was when Cain slew Abel. After all, the killing arose from sibling rivalry when God said He liked Abel’s freshly slaughtered meat better than Cain’s veggies. 

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” 

So, I guess the first crazy person was God who set brother against brother. Only a crazy person would do that. Should vegans everywhere take heed that God does not like vegetables? 

The point is that since the beginning, mankind has been trying to figure out why people (and divine beings) do bad things, and we are not going to stop now because some stuffed shirts in professional associations want to ride herd on us. 

The Bible continued to discuss kings who went mad as did the Greeks and the Romans and every other society on the face of the earth. Very recently, our own society has been trying to classify troublesome behaviors. It is through an on-going work called the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM-5 came out in 2013. But psychiatrists and psychologists do not want us mere mortals to read the DSM for the same reason that many priests conceal sacred texts from the masses. Only the initiated may have access to the Truth. Hmm, kind of sounds like a rule Donald Trump would promulgate. 

What is the benefit in comparing Trump to definitions in the DSM-5? 

We could continue to use the Bible and decide to burn him at the stake or we could strictly apply criminal law and arrest him for criminal fraud. Neither the Bible nor the legal code will be of much benefit in understanding why The Donald behaves as he does. There is no sane reason for us to just sit here waiting for The Donald to deport us to Mexico before we look around for some common language to describe his bizarre behavior. 

How would the DSM-5 classify The Donald? 

Right now the category de jour is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (DSM-5, 301.81), but I think we need to pay attention to Histrionic Personality Disorder (DSM-5, 301.50). According to the DSM, a person may suffer from more than one Personality Disorder. I think I see aspect of Antisocial Personality Disorder (DSM-5, 301.7 - the old “psychopath”). The overlap is normal since all three are part of what the DSM calls Cluster B.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

KEEP ON MARCHING--Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) (photo above) implored congressional Republicans to change tack on an Obamacare repeal by cutting out conservatives and working with Democrats to preserve coverage for millions of Americans ― and he admitted that the raucous town halls across the country are influencing the debate.

“There’s going to be a problem in the House of getting anything out of there that still provides coverage to people,” Kasich told “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson. “That’s why the Republicans have to reach out to some of the Democrats.”

Kasich mentioned that there were some conservatives in the House who were trying to get rid of the entirety of Obamacare.

“And that’s not acceptable when you have 20 million people, or 700,000 people in my state [using Obamacare], because where do the mentally ill go?” Kasich asked. “Where do the drug addicted go?”

Kasich is a proponent of the Medicaid expansion, which allowed states like Ohio to offer Medicaid to a broader range of people (including individuals making roughly $16,000 a year). Conservatives have already indicated they won’t vote for an Obamacare repeal that preserves the Medicaid expansion, while some Senate Republicans have indicated they won’t support a repeal that removes the expansion. That has left the GOP in a bind, and Kasich thinks the answer is to turn to Democrats.

Kasich also said he thought protests were affecting Republicans.

“Look, I don’t understand everything that’s going on with these town halls, but ... I think it’s having an impact from the standpoint of ‘Hey, people are watching,’” Kasich said. “I don’t think they mind reform, but don’t take everything away.”

On Saturday, governors were briefed about the GOP replacement plan, with the expectation that millions could lose coverage.

Kasich reiterated that he didn’t want to kick 20 million people off of health care, and that this debate was bigger than a political argument.

“At the end of the day I’m going to stand up for the people that wouldn’t have the coverage if they don’t get this thing right,” Kasich said. “And I happen to believe that the best way to get this right over time is for actually both parties to work together.”

(Matt Fuller is congressional reporter for Huff Post … where this report was first posted.)

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URBAN PERSPECTIVE-(Editor’s Note: President Trump deliver’s his first State of the Union address Tuesday, Feb 28.) #45 Trump is not calling his State of the Union Address a State of the Union Address. There’s a few good reasons why. Apart from what Trump calls it, a newly elected President’s first address before Congress and the nation is technically not a State of the Union address. It’s “an address to a joint session.” A President must be in office one year before he gives a State of the Union Address. 

This makes sense since it would take that long for a new President to have done anything that he merits discoursing on. Semantics aside, Trump has done everything he can to give the appearance that his presidency will be the most unorthodox, unconventional and precedent shattering of any administration. So, the wonder is he didn’t take it all the way and simply tweet his address. 

However, Trump, as all newly minted Presidents know, will be watched by the biggest audience any politician could ever hope to have watch and listen to them. And Presidents take full advantage of the moment since traditionally a State of the Union Address can boost the stature, prestige, and power of their presidency. It can even bump up a President’s approval rating by a point or two. 

Presidents also know that the opposition’s response to their speech is feeble, pale, and little watched or counted by Americans. In some cases, the opposition response can even backfire. This happens when the rebuttal comes off across as a mean-spirited, partisan, petty rant against the President. The GOP got deservedly plastered with that charge in just about every rebuttal it gave to Obama’s State Addresses. 

If Trump stays on script, the odds are that his address won’t do what these addresses are supposed to do, and that’s fine-tune and administration’s policy, draw a roadmap for the nation of where his administration is going, and add luster to the president’s image. Just look at how other Presidents have done that. President James Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln flatly called for the end of slavery in the rebellious states. This was the prelude to the Emancipation Proclamation he issued a year later. Woodrow Wilson warned of the dangers of impending war in 1913. Franklin Roosevelt outlined the famed Four Freedoms in 1941. 

Lyndon Johnson unveiled the outlines of his Great Society program to fight poverty in 1965. Bill Clinton unveiled his health care reform plan in 1993. George Bush in his State of the Union speeches in 2002 and 2003 prepped the nation for the Iraq invasion. Presidents quickly latched onto the media to give their State of the Union speech more exposure and political wallop. Calvin Coolidge gave the first radio broadcast in 1923. Truman gave the first televised broadcast in 1947. 

These were all conventional presidents and politicians who played within the system’s ground rules, respected the traditions of office, and gave a nod to bi-partisanship and the country in their addresses -- not to their party, let alone their egos and themselves. None of that applies with Trump. He’s picked fights with the Democratic Party leadership, the press, the courts, and even some in his own party. His string of accomplishments include trying to gut consumer protection regulations, pecking away at the Affordable Care Act, terrorizing lawful immigrants to the country, and loud threats to swiftly send anyone who sets foot in the U.S. without papers back to where they came. 

When he gets to his signature campaign issues of job creation, health care, and tax reform, don’t expect much in the way of details. Instead, Trump will fill up the teleprompter with his stock rhetorical fluff about bringing jobs back to America, whacking down taxes even more for the rich and corporations, and getting rid of Obamacare. 

There’s also not a lot he can really say about foreign policy besides bluster about making America a military muscle man that strikes fear in friend and foe alike, maybe making China the whipping boy on trade and currency, and claiming that he’s got ISIS on the permanent run. The one nation and leader that you can bet will get short shrift, if not be totally missing from Trump’s foreign policy diatribe, will be Russia and Putin. 

If one counts, Trump almost certainly will smash the “Guinness Book of Records” for the number of times he’ll use the pronoun “I” in referencing anything about his presidency and the nation. It will be a case study in how one man sees himself as the all-knowing, always right, font of personal and political wisdom. There will be no room on his throne to share even a sliver of limelight with anyone not named D. Trump. In this sense, it can rightly be said that Trump’s non-State of the Union will be an address not of the State of the Union, but the State of Trump.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and a CityWatch contributor. He is the author of “In Scalia’s Shadow: The Trump Supreme Court” ( Amazon Kindle). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

INSIDER REPORT--As a team of elite U.S. commandos found themselves under unexpectedly heavy fire in a remote Yemeni village last month, eight time zones away, their commander in chief was not in the Situation Room.

It’s unclear what he, personally, was doing. But his Twitter account was busy promoting an upcoming appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

“I will be interviewed by @TheBrodyFile on @CBNNews tonight at 11pm. Enjoy!” read a tweet from President Donald Trump’s personal account on Saturday, Jan. 28.

Whether it was Trump himself or an aide who sent out that tweet at 5:50 p.m. ― about half an hour into a firefight that cost a Navy SEAL his life ― cannot be determined from the actual tweets, and the White House isn’t saying. Likewise, it’s not clear who deleted the tweet some 20 minutes later, or why the new president, just a week on the job, chose not to directly monitor the first high-risk military operation on his watch.

The CBN interview did not actually air until the following night, Jan. 29, and Trump or an aide may have realized the error and deleted the tweet for that reason. Alternatively, Trump or an aide might have realized that the Yemen operation was going badly and deleted the tweet to avoid looking callous. The tweet appears to have been sent via an iPhone, not via Android. Tweets sent from an iPhone are generally from the president’s staff, often taking his dictation, while tweets sent by Android are usually composed by Trump himself. 

The White House did not respond to The Huffington Post’s queries on the issue.

“He was obviously aware of the strike occurring,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the day after the raid. “He was kept in constant contact Saturday night of the status of the mission, both of the success that it had and the tragic loss of life that occurred to that member.”

Spicer, though, has not specifically said what Trump was doing between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 28, other than to say he was in the White House residence ― not in the Situation Room. That’s the hour ― 1:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. local time ― when the firefight in Yemen resulted in the deaths of some 30 people, according to news reports. U.S. forces had called in air strikes because of the ferocity of the resistance they encountered. At least 10 of those killed were women or children.

The last event on the presidential schedule released to the media for that Saturday was a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at 5 p.m. According to the White House pool reporter that day, Trump was on the phone with Turnbull at 5:11 p.m. when reporters were taken to witness the call through the Oval Office windows.

“Obviously, if a raid is only 20 minutes in, you should wait to see how it turns out before tweeting,” said one former National Security Council participant under former President Barack Obama. The staffer added that while Obama did not monitor every operation from the Situation Room (as he did during the one that killed Osama bin Laden), it seemed odd that Trump did not monitor this operation. “It is your first one.”

The timing of the CBN tweet and its deletion is the latest detail in the story of a military special operation that went not at all as planned.

Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was killed in the raid, and four U.S. service members were wounded. A $75 million Osprey aircraft was damaged and had to be destroyed to keep it from falling into enemy hands. Subsequent reports pointed out that Trump did not participate in a formal National Security Council review of the plan, but instead was briefed over a dinner meeting three nights before the raid.

Spicer on Feb. 2 said that Defense Secretary James Mattis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, CIA director Mike Pompeo, then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, National Security Council chief of staff Keith Kellogg, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon took part in that dinner, as did Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“Doing it over dinner with Kushner and Bannon, without someone from the State Department present? I considered that a little odd,” said Luke Hartig, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the NSC under Obama. He added that more comprehensive planning might not have averted problems, but could have ensured that better contingency strategies were in place.

In any event, Spicer on Feb. 2 essentially described the raid as something planned and approved under Obama (a characterization that Obama aides dispute). That places it about midway along the evolution of the White’s House description of the operation ― from immediately afterward, when Spicer declared the raid a complete success, to the following week, when he accused anyone who questioned that assessment of dishonoring the fallen serviceman.

In the initial aftermath, Spicer said the raid had killed 14 fighters with the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Within a few days, as reports spread of civilian deaths which the Defense Department acknowledged, Spicer said the whole point of the mission was “intelligence gathering,” in the form of laptops and cellphones that were taken.

By the following week, amid reports that Yemen had withdrawn permission for U.S. troops to conduct raids there and that the purported main target of the raid, AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi, had escaped and was now taunting Trump, Spicer denounced criticism of the raid of any kind.

“The life of Chief Ryan Owens was done in service to this country and we owe him and his family a great debt for the information that we received during that raid,” Spicer said on Feb. 8. “I think any suggestion otherwise is a disservice to his courageous life and the actions that he took, full stop.”

(Shirish Dáte is a senior White House correspondent at The Huffington Post ... where this report was first posted. He's the author of five novels and two political biographies, including one of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.)

-cw

CONSIDER THIS--Recently, I’ve been catching up on episodes of “The Americans.” It’s a television program about Russian sleeper agents posing as a middle-class couple in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the Reagan era. In one show, a veteran KGB agent talks about a colleague who was declared an “enemy of the people” and taken away never to be heard from again. 

Donald Trump’s recent tweet referring to media as an enemy of the people suggests he may have picked up the phrase from his pal ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Though the rhetoric might be borrowed from Soviet-era Russia, presidential enmity toward the press has a long history in America. 

The first official action aimed at media was the Sedition Act of 1798. President John Adams and the Federalists were so put out by their opponents’ newspapers they passed a law making it a crime to “defame” the government. Punishment included fines and imprisonment. Although clearly unconstitutional, it would be five years before the Supreme Court established its right to review and rule on the actions of Congress. In any event, the law expired in 1801, at which time those in jail were released and those who had been fined got their money back. 

Jefferson and his successors understood freedom of the press was necessary to making democracy work. That didn’t mean they liked it. But they understood there was only one First Amendment and it protected them and their supporters the same as the opposition. 

It’s only in the last 80 years or so that technology has allowed presidents direct access to the American people. Franklin Roosevelt used the power of radio to reach out in a series of speeches called “fireside chats” to promote his programs and positions on events at home and abroad. 

Truman was often vilified by the press and once threatened to beat up a columnist who criticized his daughter, Margaret, who had embarked on a career as a professional classical singer. 

As president, Lyndon Johnson installed three televisions in the oval office so he could watch the major network news programs at the same time. If he didn’t like what he saw, he’d call network executives and complain about the coverage. 

Johnson understood the power of media (he owned radio and TV stations) and especially the credibility of news broadcasters like Walter Cronkite of CBS, often referred to as the most trusted man in America. When Cronkite criticized the war in Vietnam, Johnson said, “When I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” 

Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, hated the media. Questions about Nixon’s relationship with campaign donors and acceptance of gifts started as early as the 1952 campaign, when Nixon was running for vice president. Ten years later, after losing the California governor’s race, Nixon famously told reporters, “You’re not going to have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

In 1969, comeback achieved, Nixon took the oath of office and sent his vice president, Spiro Agnew, out to declare war on the media. Calling them “nattering nabobs of negativism”, Agnew chastised TV networks and major market newspapers as out of touch with the average American. Nixon claimed to represent the “silent majority”, who didn’t like hippies, supported law and order, and were fine with whatever the government wanted. 

Mark Twain warned about picking fights with people who bought ink by the barrel. Instead of intimidating the press, Nixon invigorated them. The first major fight happened when the New York Times and Washington Post published secret Department of Defense documents critical of American actions in Vietnam. When the government tried to stop publication of “The Pentagon Papers”, the courts turned it down saying it could not engage in prior restraint. 

Along the way to Watergate, reporters wrote about systemic corruption involving shadowy figures engaging in bribery and dirty tricks. Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson was a particular thorn in the side of the Nixon administration. Ultimately, the burglary at the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee was the thing that broke open the Pandora’s box of wrongdoing by Nixon and much of his government. What ended it was Congressional committees, grand juries, independent prosecutors, and judges who brought the full weight of the law to bear on conspirators, high and low, who believed the ends justified the means. 

If there is a key to predicting the future of the Trump administration, this is it. Trump can refer to the press as an enemy of the people. He can deride the judiciary and claim to be above the law. He has the advantage that half of Americans have tuned out truth and embraced “alternative facts”. But he does not have enough to become a dictator. At least not as long as the First Amendment still guarantees freedom of speech.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--On Monday, NBC News reported that a wave of bomb threats had resulted in the evacuations of Jewish Community Centers in 10 cities across the country, from Milwaukee and Cleveland to Nashville and Birmingham. The new outbreak of threats makes 69 incidents at 54 centers in 27 states this year, according to the JCC Association of America. The FBI told CNN that, together with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, it is “investigating possible civil rights violations in connections with threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country.”

Though Monday’s wave of threats were proven to be hoaxes, the anxiety felt by Jewish Americans is still very real. These bomb threats weren’t an isolated incident, coming amid the vandalizing of the grave sites of more than 170 Jews at a St. Louis cemetery. More significantly, these events came in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which became a magnet for white nationalists and neo-Nazis—the sort of people who would gather in Washington, D.C. with so-called alt-right leader Richard Spencer to throw up Nazi salutes in the Ronald Reagan Building and proclaim “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” That Trump forgot to remember the Jews in his official White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day certainly hasn’t helped quell those anxieties.

Under growing pressure from Jewish community and civil rights leaders, Trump on Tuesday morning denounced “age-old” anti-Semitism for the first time since he announced his candidacy in 2015. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he told the New York Times.

At the same time, the president quietly distanced himself from allegations that his campaign is somehow responsible for the uptick in anti-Semitic hate crimes. “Anti-Semitism is just terrible. You don’t know where it’s coming from, and I hope they catch the people responsible,” he said in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday. “I think you maybe have had it for longer than people think, and it gets brought up a little bit more. Anti-Semitism is horrible and it has to stop.”

But given the fears of anti-Semitism that have dogged Trump’s campaign, these attacks raise the question as to whether it’s appropriate to saddle the president with responsibility for the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes. Trump claims he denounces anti-Semitism at every turn, but until today, that hasn’t been the case. Consider Thursday’s presser, where Trump was questioned by Jake Turx of the ultra-Orthodox Ami magazine regarding the strains of anti-Semitism that permeated Trump’s unusual campaign. Trump’s answer was a simple but forceful dismissal: “Here’s the story, folks. number one: I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

The truth is that the connection between Trump and the sudden uptick and anti-Semitic hate crimes is more complicated than most realize. Blaming Trump for anti-Semitism also ignores the fact that anti-Semitism has been here all along.

Despite the fact that Jews are the most positively received of all religious groups according to a recent Pew Research Center report (and also benefit from increasingly warm feelings among Americans toward religion in general), they’re also a major target of religiously-motivated hate crimes. Per FBI data, 56.8 percent of the 1,140 anti-religious hate crimes committed in 2014 targeted Jews; while anti-religious hate crimes saw a 22 percent increase in 2015 mainly due to an uptick in anti-Muslim bias, Jews still remained the victims of the majority of religiously motivated hate and harassment.

It’s also not as if there’s definitive proof of the election itself serving as a direct catalyst for a spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes. Indeed, despite the vivid examples detailed by local media reports, there’s very little coherent statistical evidence that Trump’s election unleashed a rising tide of anti-Semitism versus a temporal wave of far-right enthusiasm.

Part of this is a methodological problem: As Quartz points out, the federal government doesn’t collect hate-crime data on a weekly basis (although cities do), and informal counts by places like the Southern Poverty Law Center rely on anecdotal evidence that, while powerful and persuasive, “do not comprise long-term, normalized data that can be used to track granular trends.”

Even the anecdotal data is lacking: An SPLC survey of almost 867 reports of harassment and intimidation in the 10 days following Trump’s electoral victory found 100 instances of anti-Semitic violence, a tally eclipsed by racist or anti-immigrant acts. One month after the election, anti-Semitic hate crimes had dropped off, replaced instead by anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim crimes.

Going by the SPLC survey, it’s white nationalists with an axe to grind against Muslims and immigrants who have disproportionately flocked to the Trump campaign. And the reality is that despite the ongoing rise of extremist groups across the country, neo-Nazis never became an organized, coherent force outside of relentlessly harassing journalists on Twitter and calling in phony bomb threats to local temples. According to the SPLC, organized and dangerous white nationalism during the 2016 campaign tended to coalesce around anti-immigrant xenophobia, while attempts to build coherent neo-Nazi coalitions failed miserably:

Aside from the rise of Andrew Anglin’s Daily Stormer site and its real-world “clubs” — new chapters that profited directly from the Trump phenomenon — the year on the neo-Nazi scene was marked by a number of attempts to build new coalitions among groups. Several of them, like the Coalition of Aryan Organizations and the United Aryan Front, collapsed almost as quickly as they appeared.

That left what was first called the Aryan Nationalist Alliance and then was rebranded as simply the Nationalist Front. The unity effort was spearheaded by Jeff Schoep, leader of the National Socialist Movement, Josh Steever of the Aryan Strikeforce, and Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party. 

The coalition peaked at 26 mostly tiny groups, but that had fallen by year’s end to 16, reflecting the perennial infighting that characterizes the neo-Nazi scene.

This doesn’t make the anxiety spreading through American Jewish communities any less real. This fear of anti-Semitism is best articulated by Rabbi Francine Roston, whose town of Whitefish, Montana, was menaced for months by neo-Nazis who threatened to parade through town to flaunt their newfound power. “It has been very depressing to accept the reality that Nazism and Nazi imagery and ideas are alive and well and raging in our country.” The virulent enclaves of vile trolling that comprise the nodes of the alt-right are just the latest manifestation of a sad truth Jews around the world have always known: They’re not always as welcome as they might feel.

Trump may be only somewhat responsible for emboldening America’s neo-Nazi elements, but he is fully responsible, as president, for doing something to bring an end to the fear sweeping through American Jewish communities. That’s why many assert it’s important for Trump to take the symbolic yet powerful step of actually attending services at a synagogue—as a show of solidarity with Jews navigating uncertain times.

As Anne Frank Center for Mutual respect executive director Steven Goldstein put it, the president’s remarks on Tuesday on anti-Semitism is “a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own Administration … When President Trump responds to anti-Semitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment.”

(Jared Keller is a contributing editor at Pacific Standard  … where this piece was first posted. His articles have been published in The Atlantic, Entrepreneur, LARB, Maxim, Slate, Smithsonian, Village Voice and CityWatch.)

-cw

 

NEW GEOGRAPHY--While running for office, President Trump said the border wall would cost about $8 billion, a figure widely recognized as an unreasonably low estimate". This week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated the cost of construction at $21.6 billion. Figuring out what the wall would cost has been a source of debate for longer than the last election cycle. In 2013, the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators set aside $1.5 billion for a plan to add 700 miles of wall - also a completely unrealistic budget.

In this edition of TruMpISSION: Impossible we examine the numbers behind building a wall along the U.S.- Mexico border. There are five main reasons why this mission is impossible.

  1. It will be hideously expensive. The un-walled portion of the border covers the most difficult terrain, a lot of which could cost $17 million per mile. Historically, building on flat land cost about $4 million per mile. The government spent $2.4 billion between 2006 and 2009 to build a stretch of wall along 670 miles of easy terrain (Secure Fence Act of 2006). A 2009 attempt to build along one rugged stretch of the border was budgeted at $58 million for just 3.5 miles.

Since most of the easier stuff is already built, I calculated that the cost for the next 1.289 miles could easily run $19.3 billion - I think the new DHS estimate is close to the mark. To put the number into perspective, the cost will be about seven times the entire 2016 budget of the U.S. Border Portal. Construction isn't the only expense. Section 10 of the Executive Order basically "deputizes" local law enforcement - at the expense of local taxpayers - to act as immigration officers for carrying out deportations.

  1. More than 1,000 of the open border is under water. Building a wall in the water would be wildly expensive and would have to be replaced frequently. In February 2012, construction began to extend began to extend an 18-foot high border fence 300 feet into the Pacific Ocean to seal off the gap that opened at the beach between Tijuana and San Diego during low tide. The private contractor who built it (Granite Construction Company, NYSE:GVA) gave the government a 30-year warranty. The budget for that Surf Fence Project was $4.3 million (I did not find the final cost in any public source). Based on that budget, the cost of building the wall in water could run $75.9 million per mile or about 4.5 times the cost of building on rugged land and nearly 20 times the cost of building the parts on more level ground. Building a fence on the water part of the border would cost close to $9 billion alone.
  2. Maybe Trump does not really mean to build on the border that lies underwater. The Executive Order defines the "Southern border" as only the "land border". To avoid the extra expense of building in the ocean, the gulf, and two rivers, we can build on the land outside the flood-plain/tidal-zone. It is likely the Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has heard of the "adverse possession". Along the border, state laws transfer rights to abandoned property to the possessor in 5 to 10 years. Building just one half mile from the rivers means the United States could relinquish at least 657 square miles to Mexico. Are we prepared to cede to Mexico an area 1.5 times the size of Los Angeles?

Fox News has noted that "[w]hile 1,254 miles of [the] borders is in Texas, the state has only 100 miles of wall". At least 65 miles of the 100 mile route proposed through Texas in 2008 sat a half mile from the border. In some places, like the McAllen area of Texas, the proposed track separated a water reservoir from the pumping stations that bring water to US citizens. Building up to a mile into the US side has already stranded the property of US citizens on the Mexico side of the wall.

  1. The border land that is not under water or already fenced is mostly in private hands. In a January 2016 story Fox News recognized that finishing the wall along the border in Texas could require hundreds of lawsuits by the federal government. The Washington Post also reported going into the 2009 expansion of the wall that much of the planned route would slice through private property. Private property adds an average of $61,491 per mile (based on actual costs in 2012).

During the 2009 expansion, 135 private landowners refused to let surveyors onto their property. Seventy percent of the landowners who held out were in Texas. Anybody remember Jade Helm 15 when part of Texas was labeled "hostile territory" during military exercises? The Governor ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercises. What do you think will happen if bulldozers show up uninvited to begin claiming 1,000 miles of Texan's private property? The federal government can use eminent domain, but it is costly, takes a long time and holds an uncertain outcome.

  1. There may not be enough brick and mortar to build a wall along the US/Mexico border, especially if Trump keeps talking it up. During the 2009 expansion of the wall, cost estimates ballooned as a Border States construction boom led to labor shortages and rising costs for construction materials (e.g., steel and cement). Try building more than 1,000 miles of border wall while re-building transportation infrastructure, the strain will be beyond the global peak in prices seen when shovel-ready projects were initiated under post-financial-crisis stimulus spending.

Sources various, including https://www.ibwc.gov/files/US-Mx_Boundary_Map.pdf

The Executive Order gave DHS 180 days (until about the second anniversary of Jade 15) to come up with a plan. DHS also has to figure out how to return deportable aliens “to the territory from which they came” – imagine millions of aliens lined up along the US/Mexico border. DHS has less time (until March 26) to figure out how to pay for the wall by withholding “all bilateral and multilateral development aid, economic assistance, humanitarian aid, and military aid” that the US may be planning to send to Mexico. That sounds like it could actually work to balance the budget outlay. Except that it won’t actually work. Total U.S. foreign aid to Mexico disbursed from all agencies in 2015 was $338.5 million (that’s “million” with an “m”). At that rate, it will take 54 years to recover the cost!

Aid to Mexico includes $215 million for international drug and law enforcement plus $50 million more for in-country drug enforcement. The other hundred million or so was for justice projects, legal reform, crime prevention and military support. According to former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, “…experience teaches that border security alone cannot overcome the powerful push factors of poverty and violence that exist in Central America. Ultimately, the solution is long-term investment in Central America to address the underlying push factors in the region.”

[After I calculate the costs for several more truMpISSIONs, I will calculate the cost of financing with debt. Just because something is impossible, doesn’t mean Trump won’t spend your money on it.]

(Susanne Trimbath, Ph.D. is CEO and Chief Economist of STP Advisory Services. Dr. Trimbath’s credits include appearances on national television and radio programs and the Emmy® Award nominated Bloomberg report Phantom Shares. This piece was posted first at New Geography.)

-cw

GUEST WORDS--A recent blog post of the National Book Critics Circle asked members “at this time of cultural shift” in the dawning era of Donald Trump to identify their “favorite work of resistance literature.” The writer Paul Wilner identified John Steinbeck’s “quietly furious” strike novel In Dubious Battle as his personal choice. 

“We may not see the future lying before us,” Wilner explained, “but Steinbeck has provided a valuable road map to the lessons of the past. He may have fought kicking and screaming against the label of ‘engaged’ writer–he’ll never be confused with Sartre, to his credit–but he understood the power, as well as the perils, of resistance.” 

True enough, but my choice of road map for resisting Donald Trump would be The Moon Is Down, the play-novella John Steinbeck wrote during the early, dark days of World War II about anti-fascist resistance by the citizens of a Nazi-occupied country in northern Europe. Steinbeck’s little book inspired citizen resistance in Nazi-occupied territories from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It contains practical advice for Americans opposed to Donald Trump's attitudes and actions as president, 75 years after it was written. 

Set in a fictionalized version of Norway, The Moon Is Down tells the story of what residents do when alien soldiers—never named as Nazis, but unmistakable nonetheless—invade their peaceful coastal mining town by air, land, and sea. Hitler’s forces tried hard to suppress The Moon Is Down in Nazi-occupied lands (possession was punishable by death in Mussolini’s Italy), but contraband copies, printed and passed on by hand, were widely credited with sustaining anti-fascist resistance until Nazi occupation ended in 1945. Once World War II was over, John Steinbeck was awarded the Freedom Cross by King Haakon VII of Norway, that nation’s highest civilian honor. 

Magnified by an unforgiving winter, the passive bitterness of an occupied people morphs into active rebellion that begins quietly when the town’s mayor refuses to drink with the army officer who—unlike Donald Trump—is a moral man following orders from others. The refusal to cooperate eventually costs the mayor his life, but not before his example inspires numerous acts of rebellion, some violent, by residents of the town. 

Sanctuary-city mayors around the United Stats are setting a similar example by signaling their refusal to cooperate with federal orders to round up undocumented residents for deportation. Demonstrations at legislative town hall meetings, by citizens concerned about health care, are following a similar pattern. People are standing up to power. 

When U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis was interviewed on Meet the Press not long ago, he prepared the stage for official resistance by explaining to Chuck Todd why he felt Donald Trump was “not legitimate” and why he refused to attend Trump’s inauguration. “You cannot be at home with something that is wrong,” Lewis told Todd, citing the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.” 

John Steinbeck understood this principle but professed to be surprised that The Moon Is Down proved so popular, explaining that he wrote the book “as a kind of celebration of the durability of democracy.” When the mayor in Steinbeck's story says that he feels the will of the people and acts accordingly, he gives unspoken permission for their resistance, the ultimate result of which is left—in typical Steinbeck fashion—for readers to decide. As Steinbeck makes clear, however, the occupiers are flummoxed because they fail to understand the psychology of people brought together by crisis. Products of a top-down, authoritarian culture familiar to students of Donald Trump, they are unprepared for popular resistance and cannot cope when confronted with democratic dissent. 

As Steinbeck's mayor explains to the puzzled commandant who is trying to keep order, “Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.” John Steinbeck’s advice couldn’t be clearer: Once a bully picks a fight, resist. You may lose the battle, but you’ll eventually win the war.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He is a contributor to CityWatch and numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq. [[hotlink]] This piece was written for Steinbeck Now.  It is being published here with the author’s permission.)

-cw

VOICES--One of the many compelling arguments for having Hillary Clinton pick Bernie Sanders as her VP running mate (at least what should have been an argument from her standpoint,) was that it would have dampened enthusiasm for impeaching her in the future -- a kind of impeachment insurance. Elizabeth Warren would have accomplished much the same thing. 

The current dynamic with Donald Trump is quite the opposite. If Trump were impeached, Pence is next in line, and the Republicans can live with that big time. 

At the moment, the Republicans see Pence as a kind of chaperone, which is why they are so upset that Pence was apparently out of the loop and last to know that Michael Flynn was lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Since Trump knows so little about either foreign or domestic policy, they figured they could control the White House through Pence, Dick Cheney style. 

But if that's not happening, all bets on standing behind Trump are off. 

Lots of people on the left are already screaming "Impeach, impeach!" And there may already be strong grounds for it. But has anybody actually thought this through? 

Most Republicans are officially disinterested in a dedicated Trump investigation. They don't have to be. As we pointed out yesterday the press is highly motivated (understatement?) to dig up something. Dark forces within the CIA and NSA infrastructure may even hand it to them on a platinum platter, and we'll talk more about that tomorrow. 

However it comes to them, if they dig up something big, and a scandal is exploding around Trump's ears, have no doubt that even the Republicans will be saying, "Sorry, Donald, you gots to go," in a hot Washington political minute. 

They are not married to Trump. At best this was an affair of convenience for them. As long as the rubes would turn out and vote for him they would go along with it, grumbling caveats and all, while allowing them to benefit in their down ticket races. But if Trump goes down, we'd get the same Supreme Court picks from Pence, or worse, the same extreme right wing policies…or worse, with Paul Ryan next in line after that. 

Trump's Achilles heel is his pathological lying. If he's going to survive at all, he's got to stop lying about anything and everything. Frankly, lying is so dyed in the wool with him we are skeptical he is even capable of stopping it. 

His lies are so blatant, and so easily debunked, it has to catch up to him. Friday he boldly proclaimed at his press conference that his election represented the biggest Electoral College margin since Reagan. There wasn't a reporter in the room who did not know the actual numbers there.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--They had the best, closest and most visible spot in the crowd behind Trump at his much-touted recent pep rally in Melbourne, Florida. They being the handful of blacks that enthusiastically waved the “Blacks for Trump” signs behind him. The black Trump boosters didn’t stop there. They promoted and ballyhooed their website primping Trumps presumed re-election campaign in 2020, complete with a re-election website Gods2.com. 

Now in case one thinks this is a recent Trump stunt or stunt by some black odd balls to get their 15 minutes in the bask of Trump’s presidential glow, it’s a little more involved. This bunch popped up at a Trump rally in Florida back in October a couple of weeks before his win. Their very conspicuous appearance on the political scene has prompted more than a few conspiratorial musings about whether and how much they’re being paid by Trump operatives, what does Trump know about them. This is coupled with some murky, even unsavory, facts about the one identifiable cheerleader of the Trump cause in the group, Michael the Black Man. 

He’s got a shadowy past that once garnered a lot of media attention when a few years back he emerged as head of a fringe black nationalist/religious cult in South Florida. He, and more than a dozen other members of the group, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder (not convicted). Since then he and other group members have been hauled into court several times on various charges, but nothing has stuck. He’s parlayed this notoriety into one of the biggest scams or beliefs depending on how one wants to look at Blacks for Trump on the political stage. 

This still doesn’t answer the dangling question just what Trump really knows about his vocal and suddenly media grabbing coterie of black boosters? Trump certainly didn’t have any problem snatching one of their placards at the rally last October and waving it around. Whether he knows or cares about the shady history of the principal organizer is unknown. However, the group isn’t slithering under the public radar. Its website is chock full of racial rants, homespun bizarre conspiracy concoctions about war, religion, and the secret global cabal that supposedly runs the planet. 

This stuff seemingly would be more than even a Trump could stomach. But that’s probably less important than the fact that they are out front, visible, and imminently promotable as being supposed proof that he’s got some blacks beyond the handful of ex-jocks and entertainers he’s met with who are willing to wave signs backing him. 

This also kind of, sort of, boosts the case that he makes that he’s got much more black support and votes than anybody ever believed he could possibly get. He actually did edge close to getting into double figures with black votes. His talk of blacks being used and spit out when no longer needed for votes by Democrats, underserved black neighborhoods that are supposedly a mess with lousy public schools, high crime and violence, and chronic joblessness and poverty got some traction. His non-stop trash of Hillary Clinton played to the latent and not so latent loathing by some blacks of the Clintons for allegedly there being the architects of mass incarceration, and the welfare gut. 

Trump also can trot out a bunch of black apologists and spokespersons to toot his line that he genuinely wants to be an inclusive President and harbors no racial animus toward blacks. This ploy finds a soft spot with more than a few blacks, most notably black conservative evangelicals, who are always deeply susceptible to GOP conservative pitches on some issues such as abortion. 

Now there is no evidence as of yet that any money has changed hands between anyone, or any group, connected with Trump to get black placard wavers into the stands in well-positioned posts behind Trump at public appearances. The only thing that really counts for the moment is that by being there they add an odd, curious, element to the usually overwhelming crowd of fevered shouting white Trump acolytes we see.  This is exactly the kind of element that would appeal to a Trump who revels in doing everything humanly and politically possible to ensure that his presidency is the most bizarre, contentious and controversial in the annals of American politics. Blacks for Trump 2020 fits neatly into that mold. 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and CityWatch contributor. He is the author of In Scalia’s Shadow: The Trump Supreme Court ( Amazon Kindle).  He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.)

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NEW GEOGRAPHY--Increasingly American politics are driven by generational change. The election of Donald Trump was not just a triumph of whiter, heartland America. It also confirmed the still considerable voting power of the older generation. Yet over time, as those of us who have lived long enough well know, generations decline, and die off, and new ones ascend.

In this past election, those over 45 strongly favored Trump, while those younger than that cast their ballots for Clinton. Trump’s improbable victory, and the more significant GOP sweep across the country, demonstrated that the much-ballyhooed millennials simply are not yet sufficiently numerous or united enough to overcome the votes of the older generations.

Yet over time, the millennials—arguably the most progressive generation since the ’30s—could drive our politics not only leftward, but towards an increasingly socialist reality, overturning many of the very things that long have defined American life. This could presage a war of generations over everything from social mores to economics and could well define our politics for the next decade. 

To best understand the battle lines, you must know the generations and their differences, and where they will leave this increasingly fractured republic.

The Greatest Generation

The last “civic generation” before the advent of the millennials—a term coined by generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss—was forged in the Depression, fought the Second World War, and managed the ensuing cold conflict with the old USSR. Born between 1901 and 1927, members of the much admired ++“greatest generation” were civic minded, embracing the idea that government provided an ideal mechanism to address the nation’s problems. 

Like the millennials, who also follow this civic impulse, this generation was decisively Democratic. They are also, sadly, dying out, with the last remnants now in their 80s and 90s. According to generational analysts Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, this group was the only generation, besides the then small cadre of voting age millennials, to support John Kerry in 2004.  

Under two million in 2010, per the Census, their numbers have dwindled to 750,000. Yet even so, as recently as 2014 , the remnants of the “greatest generation,” according to Pew, still favored the Democrats by 7 percentage points. Even fewer will be around in 2020 but those who remain may well remain liberal. It’s no sample, but my 93-year-old mother holds to pattern. Brought up poor in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, she voted for the oldest and most left leaning major candidate—Bernie Sanders—in the primary and then cast her ballot for Hillary.

The Silent Generation Slow to fade

The “silent generation,” born between 1925 and 1942, mostly came of age in the conservative ’50s. These products of the Eisenhower era have been the prime beneficiaries of the sustained boom that took root between the end of the Second World War and the ’70s. As a result, they continue to hold a big share of America’s wealth—roughly 33 percent –even as they enter their seventies and eighties.

Given their embrace of the normative social values of their era, and their wealth, it’s not surprising that the silents have tended to the right. These older voters went for Trump by a significant margin, and overall, note Winograd and Hais, 53 percent lean to the Republicans, compared to just 40 percent who lean Democratic.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the silents before their time, as Democratic theorists sometimes seem to do. They still number upward of 29 million, and more than forty members of Congress hail from this generation, including, ironically, much of the  Democratic leadership. Given their extended longevity, particularly among those in the upper middle class, they may remain influential well into the next decade.

Boomers: For Now, the Power Generation

The largest generation in American history before the millennials, the Baby Boomers were born between 1943 and 1960 and they remain the power generation. After all, both presidential candidates last year were clearly Boomers, with sufficient evidence of the narcissism that defines this generation. They also predominate in Congress, with 270 members, roughly half the total, in 2016. Hais estimates that they number between 75 and 82 million strong. 

Ever since the turbulence of the ’60s, the Boomers have been sharply divided. Peace protests, psychedelics, and Woodstock defined only a part of that generation. Indeed, rather than tending to the left, the Boomers over time have slowly moved to the right. In 1992, note Winograd and Hais, they leaned 49 to 42 percent Democratic; last year, they leaned 49 to 45 Republican. Overall, Boomers supported Donald Trump by a narrow margin.

In the future, economics more than culture may define Boomer politics. Somewhat more socially liberal than the silent generation before them, they control a dominant share of the nation’s wealth—some 50 percent—and according to a recent Deloitte study will still control about 45 percent well into their seventies and eighties. This may make them naturally suspicious of the redistributionist agenda of the left Democrats, since this would naturally come from their wealth. They will also have to resist attempts by GOP reformers like Paul Ryan to meddle with Medicare, social security, and, for some, pensions. One reason Trump won over these voters—both in the primary and the general election—was by promising not to touch these holy of holies.

Xers: Long-time outsiders but soon the next power generation

Smaller than the boomers, and generally less privileged, the X generation—born between 1965 and 1981—gets short shrift among advertisers as well in the media, but seem poised to take power by the end of the decade. Numbering more than 65 million, they are a smaller generation than the boomers but they are slowly gaining control of politics, with 117 members in Congress compared to just five for millennials. They already dominate the leadership of the GOP. Paul Ryan is their poster boy.

Today, the Xers, many already in their fifties, have only 14 percent of the nation’s wealth, a relative pittance compared to the boomers. But by 2030, as the boomers finally start to fade from the picture, Xers should account for 31 percent of the nation’s wealth, twice the percentage for the millennials. Critically, the heads of most companies backed by venture capital come from this generation, according to the Harvard Business Review. Raised largely during the neo-conservative heyday of Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, Xers also dominate the ranks of managers at major companies.

Yet at the same time, they have faced a rockier economic ride than the boomers, suffering particularly in the 2007 housing crash. The percentage of Xers who own their own homes dropped far more precipitously compared to the more entrenched Boomers The impact was particularly tough on younger Xers, who often got into the market around the housing bust.

Millennials: The Red Generation?

The long-term hopes of the American left lie with the millennial generation. The roughly 90 million Americans born between 1984 and 2004 seem susceptible to the quasi socialist ideology of the post-Obama Democratic Party. They are also far more liberal on key social issues—gender and gay rights, immigration, marijuana legalization—than any previous generation. They comprise the most diverse adult generation in American history: some 40 percent of millennials come from minority groups, compared to some 30 percent for boomers and less than 20 percent for the silent and the greatest generations.

Millennials’ defining political trait is their embrace of activist government. Some 54 percent of millennials, notes Pew, favor a larger government, compared to only 39 percent of older generations. One reason: Millennials face the worst economic circumstances of any generation since the Depression, including daunting challenges to home ownership. More than other generations, they have less reason to be enamored with capitalism.

These economic realities, along with the progressive social views, has affected their voting behavior. Millennials have voted decisively Democratic since they started going to the polls, with 60 percent leaning that direction in 2012 and 55 percent last year. They helped push President Obama over the top, and Hillary Clinton got the bulk of their votes last year. But their clear favorite last year was self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, who drew more far millennial votes in the primaries than Clinton and Trump combined.

The West is red, too? Maybe, maybe not.

Roughly half of Millennials  have positive feelings about socialism, twice the rate of the previous generation. Indeed, despite talk about a dictatorial Trump and his deplorables, the Democratic-leaning Millennials are more likely to embrace limits on free speech and are far less committed to constitutional democracy than their elders. Some 40 percent, notes Pew, favor limiting speech deemed offensive to minorities, well above the 27 percent among the Xers, 24 among the boomers, and only 12 percent among silents. They are also far more likely to be dismissive about basic constitutional civil rights, and are even more accepting of a military coup than previous generations.

Millennials clearly have not been well-schooled by the founders’ vision. This could augur a grim prospect, a kind of voluntary 1984 with cellphones and social media. Potential economic conflicts between millennials and boomers and Xers for scarce resources could accelerate support for a federally mandated agenda of redistribution. After all, if they have little money, own even less and have modest prospects for achieving what their parents did, why not socialism, constitutional norms be damned?

Yet this future is not guaranteed. Already white Millennials, still 60 percent of the total youth electorate (less than the 73 Anglo share among older voters but still a large bloc), show signs of moving to the right, particularly outside the coasts. Overall, they backed Trump by 48 to 43 percent and, notes one recent Tufts University survey, they were more enthusiastic about their candidate than were the Clinton backers.

Other factors could slow the lurch to the left. There is a growing interest in third party politics, not so much Green but libertarian; 8 percent of Millennials voted for Third Party candidates, twice the overall rate. Overall, Tufts finds that moderates slightly outpace liberals, although conservatives remain well behind. Millennials, note Winograd and Hais, also dislike “top down” solutions and may favor radical action primarily at the local level and more akin to Scandinavia than Stalinism. 

As Millennials grow up, start families, look to buy houses, and, worst of all, start paying taxes, they may shift to the center, much as the Boomers did before them. Redistribution, notes a recent Reason survey, becomes less attractive as incomes grow to $60,000 annually and beyond. This process could push them somewhat right-ward, particularly as they move from the leftist hothouses of the urban core to the more contestable suburbs.

Yet even given these factors, Republicans have their work cut out for them as the generational wheel turns. Certainly, to be remotely competitive, they must abandon socially conservative ideas that offend most Millennials. The GOP’s best chance lies with making capitalism work for this group, sustaining upward mobility and expanding property ownership. If we see the creation of a vast generation of property serfs with little opportunity for advancement, America’s future is almost certain to be redder, a lot less   market-oriented, and perhaps a lot more authoritarian than previous generations have ever contemplated.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com… where this analysis was first posted. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

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THE POLITICS BUSINESS--One month into the Trump administration, and it’s clear that there has been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government. (Photo above: President Donald Trump meets with pharmaceutical CEOs in late January.)

A day-by-day review of the administration’s first month shows that virtually every day there has been a new, extraordinary grant of power to corporate interests and/or another development in Donald Trump’s get-rich-quick-scheme known as the American presidency.

America has never seen anything like this, and it’s only the first month.

Poorly attended though it might have been, the inauguration itself was a paean not just to the new president but to his corporate backers. Corporations that have pending business before the president -- AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Chevron, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase and United Parcel Service – were among the top funders of the inauguration and surrounding festivities. We still do not know the full list of donors to the inauguration.

New President Trump signaled his intent to deliver on the corporate wish list by signing two executive orders, one designed to start the process of destroying the Affordable Care Act and another freezing all regulatory activity for 90 days. The regulatory freeze included public protections already finalized but not yet published in the Federal Register. One such rule would protect the public from five tons of mercury discharges every year. 

It’s been downhill since then.

President Trump has assembled what is probably the least qualified and certainly most corporate cabinet of all time. Although the unqualified and hostile-to-his-agency nominee for Secretary of Labor Andy Puzder was forced to withdraw, the rest of Trump’s corporate cabinet has been or seems likely to be approved. By way of reminder, this list includes: [[ http://corporatecabinet.org/   ]]

  • The former CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, remarkably now the Secretary of State, despite virtually no qualifications for the job and a lifetime career leading the corporation that has done more to impede action to address catastrophic climate change than any other. 
  • A slew of former Goldman Sachs executives – hailing from the Wall Street giant that Candidate Trump attacked by name as embodying corporate-government corruption, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, chief strategist and white supremacist Steve Bannon, and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn. Reports The Independent: “Its shares have been Wall Street’s leading performers and hit a ten-year high close on Tuesday as investors banked on friendly policies coming from a White House filled with several former Goldman employees.” 
  • Tom Price, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has engaged in dubious pharmaceutical stock trades while a Member of the House of Representatives. Price wants not only to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but Medicare itself. He refuses to say that every American has a right to health care, only that they have a right to “access” to health care – which means they should get it if they can pay for it. Pay or Die. 
  • Betsy DeVos, the megafunder of the Republican Party, who made herself the butt of countless late night jokes with her pathetic confirmation hearing performance and claim that schools need guns to fend off grizzly bears. DeVos is a supporter of privatizing public schools, and has herself invested in for-profit school ventures in the past.

Having a corporate cabinet has apparently not satisfied Trump’s yen to hang out with the corporate elite. Trump started his first full weekday in office with a breakfast meeting with CEOs of a dozen corporations including Arconic, Corning, Dell, Dow Chemical Company, Ford Motor Company, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, UnderArmour and U.S. Steel. Later in his first month, he would meet with: auto company executives (environmental regulations are “out of control,” Trump said);  Big Pharma CEOs (75 to 80 percent of FDA regs should be cut, Trump said);  his Wall Street-dominated Strategic and Policy Forum, made up of a dozen-and-a-half corporate executives;  and airline CEOs (where Trump supports privatizing air traffic control).

It’s not just meetings and personnel. The Trump administration is off to a roaring start on delivering the goodies to Big Business.

It has taken care of its Dirty Energy friends. By Executive Order, Trump overturned Obama measures to block the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. A few days later, the Army Corps of Engineers granted Energy Transfer Partners the final permit it needs to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. It has also put in place measures of other pipelines and fossil fuel projects, and is expected in the coming days to announce measures to upend the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is taking care of its Wall Street friends. Trump has signed executive orders aimed at unraveling and repealing an Obama administration Labor Department rule requiring financial advisors to give advice based on their customers’ best interests. The Labor Department rule, if adopted, will save consumers $17 billion a year in rip-off fees and bad advice. Contemplated changes in Dodd-Frank rules, the Wall Street Journal reports , will enable the six biggest banks to return $100 billion of reserves to shareholders. A staggering gift to the shareholders – at the cost of making the financial system far, far more unstable, insecure and prone to another 2008-style meltdown.

The interim chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission has even launched a review of the congressionally required pay-ratio rule – which will require companies to disclose the ratio of pay received by CEOs and their median worker wage – an important but mechanical reporting requirement that Fortune 500 companies have nonetheless claimed will cost them a staggering amount of money.

And the administration has commenced its full-fledged assault on health, safety, environmental, worker, consumer, financial security, civil rights and other regulatory protections. It has issued an executive order that aims to block the issuance of any such measures. The regulatory executive order directs federal agencies to repeal two federal regulations for every new rule they issue, and requires that any cost to industry of new rules be offset by savings from repealed rules. In this crazy scheme, regulators are not permitted to consider the benefits of rules. No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment and the economy would ever adopt this approach – unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on Big Business. That is indeed the goal here.

(With the Natural Resources Defense Council and Communication Workers of America, Public Citizen has sued President Trump and the administration to have this executive order overturned.) 

Meanwhile, Congress has been hard at work serving the interests of Corporate America, as well. Congressional Republicans are prioritizing a series to repeal regulations issued in the last six months of the Obama administration. With many more to come, two such measures have passed both houses and been signed into law. The most recent was a rule to protect streams from coal waste. The first, amazingly, was an anti-corruption measure that required oil, gas and mining companies to report their payments to foreign governments – a measure that now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lobbied against.

It makes poetic sense that Trump has gleefully signed the repeal of an anti-corruption measure. For accompanying Trump’s gift-giving spree to Corporate America has been an astounding series of actions making clear that his pervasive and consequential conflicts of interest will immerse the administration in a permanent miasma of corruption: the Nordstrom tweet, the new $200,000 fee to join Mar-a-Lago, the ongoing financial updates to President Trump on the Trump business, the Kellyanne Conway advertisement for the Ivanka Trump line of clothing, the apparent plans to massively expand Trump hotels in the United States, the conduct of presidential business at Mar-a-Lago, and on and on.

And on and on.

(Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world. This piece was cross-posted originally at Common Dreams and Daily Kos

-cw

ALPERN AT LARGE-You know the drill -- new century, new millennium, new era, etc. We're supposed to be open-minded, but those claiming to be enlightened are often the most closed-minded. We have the "fake news", but many decrying the "fake news" are responsible for that "fake news”. To make matters worse, we're divided as a society, yet those decrying that division are too often the ones responsible for that division. 

So how do we proceed? First off, we accept that things are complicated -- and trying to oversimplify things makes things inevitably worse. Second, we stop trying to create or promote pure heroes and pure villains -- they rarely exist, but by and large, they do not

Example #1:  Roe vs. Wade (yep, we're goin' there!) 

Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion, just died. Bulletin to all: she fought for the rights of women to have legalized abortion for much of her life...then converted to Christianity and devoted the rest of her life to protecting the lives of the unborn and undoing Roe v. Wade

Was she pro-choice? Was she pro-life? Aren't the choices of women reduced when they have an unwanted child? Does the unborn child have any rights to live when they are aborted? What choices do women have when they have an unwanted pregnancy? What choices does a healthy fetus have in its second to third trimester when it could live in an incubator but his/her mother wants to abort? 

Is a first trimester abortion the same as a third trimester abortion? Is a second trimester abortion of a just-diagnosed deformed child the same as that of a healthy child? What about the need to have birth control over-the-counter just as we have "Plan B"? Why aren’t all teenagers and all adult women aware of "Plan B"? And what is the responsibility of women versus that of men? 

Is it still true that minority and even white babies won't be adopted if they're unwanted by their mothers? Or is that paradigm as "fake" as ever in our modern blended-family reality? And why aren't men educated to practice their own contraception and take their own responsibility when it comes to sex? 

Lots of questions, but here's an answer:  the rights and responsibilities of all parties must be promoted and weighed against each other...and those bandying around the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" monikers are the real problem. Stop dividing us -- most of us recognize the need to avoid oversimplifying this just to make political points. 

Example #2: Immigration and Assimilation (yep, we're goin' there, too!) 

The false canards, fake news, and conflation exist on this hot button issue as much as any. More Latinos (or Hispanics, if you prefer) are up in arms about our new President than about any other past president, yet more Latinos/Hispanics voted for Trump than for Mitt Romney four years ago. 

Like the rest of us, Latinos/Hispanics are being made to choose. Of course, this unleashes (as with abortion) more questions than answers: Why are illegal immigrants being conflated and lumped in with legal immigrants? When did all immigrants get lumped together, and do they all consider each other as one united group (now that we just had a "day without immigrants")? 

What makes an immigrant an "alien"? Is it the refusal of an immigrant to blend in and assimilate with the rest of American culture and the common language (English) with which we all communicate? Is it appropriate to distinguish between a "criminal alien" and an "illegal alien", and where should that delineation occur? 

Why is it Spanish-speaking immigrants, and particularly Mexican immigrants (and almost never Asian or Filipino immigrants,) almost always insist on not speaking even broken English when in the company of those who don't speak their language...even if they are fairly fluent in English? Do they not know that those only speaking English are concerned about what is being said in Spanish?  

Do immigrants, illegal or otherwise, recognize that when they choose not to even try to speak English they are also refusing to talk to Asian and Black and Latino Americans, as well as white Americans, who don't speak Spanish? It's clearly advantageous for native-born Americans to learn Spanish or Mandarin or Japanese, but why is the crisis so emphasized when it involves individuals who identify with Mexico as opposed to other Latin American or Asian nations?   

Why do so many Mexican illegal immigrants identify with Mexico yet often prefer detention and the courts to deportation in order to stay in our country? What do we owe immigrants, and what do they owe us? And when did immigrants, both legal and illegal, lose the requirement to have sponsors for their health, education, and welfare? Yet another key question: is the strength of our nation that of "the melting pot" or our "diversity"? 

One thing is for certain: the "great divide" over the rights and responsibilities of native-born and foreign-born residents of our nation is coming to a boiling point after our last two Presidents failed to achieve a unifying answer to our nation's immigration policies – and now that we have the election of Donald J. Trump as our 45th president. 

Example #3:  Speaking of President Donald J. Trump (aaaaand we're goin' there, to boot!) 

It's President's Day and there are many who are perpetually enraged, appalled, bewildered, and gobsmacked that we have an iconoclastic, mega-tweeting billionaire president who led a populist rebellion meant to "stick it to both political parties.” After eight years of our nation's first black president overseeing a worsening in the lives and prosperity of black Americans, and with black children and young adults routinely killed in "liberal, Democratic" Chicago, we now have a man who has said openly misogynistic things yet has a strong segment of female Americans behind him. 

Everything is upside-down -- for every female and minority American who opposes Trump, there are many who support him. And the oft-mentioned “unwillingness to accept” our first black president appears to be repeating itself in the unwillingness of many to accept Donald J. Trump as Barack H. Obama's successor. 

Hollywood now appears to represent the elites, while billionaire Trump purportedly assumes the mantle of representing the common man (wasn't that Barack Obama's claim to fame, though?) The literary elites like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling appear apoplectic about Trump's election, while liberal Piers Morgan now feuds with J.K. Rowling. And for those who claim Trump is another Lord Voldemort, isn't is more like Mad-Eye Moody than Voldemort, based on his style and bluster, in contrast to what my literary role model Ms. Joanne K. Rowling has stated? 

Meanwhile, alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos surprisingly finds much common ground with liberal iconoclast Bill Maher to the disparagement of so many. Is Yiannopoulos right when he says that tolerance and free speech are conservative principles, and not liberal principles like they once were? Based on his experience at Berkeley and other college campuses, it's worth a gander because Political Correctness is emerging as a new Groupthink of our era. 

Finally, nowadays, what is "liberal" or "conservative” anyway? Isn't "liberal" supposed to be synonymous with "open-mindedness"? Are today's liberals truly open-minded or are they "old-fashioned" because they've been growing in power since the 1960's? 

Is it among conservatives or liberals where open debate and tolerance of other points of view are most likely to occur? Will conservatism appeal to young Americans in ways we don't see in older citizens? After all, when liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich supports President Trump's concerns about the over-empowered governmental bureaucracies of the "Deep State", then things are truly upside down. 

Everything we once took for granted is false, or so it seems. 

But on this President's Day Weekend, where we honor those who served our nation as its leaders, it is incumbent upon us all to ask ourselves: were things always this complicated…or is it only now that we're finally confronting just how complicated things have always been? 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ANXIETY CENTRTAL--Americans have been taking to the streets in record numbers since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, but amid that uptick in resistance something else has been rising within the U.S. electorate: personal anxiety and stress caused by the nation's new political reality. (Photo above: White House press secretary Sean Spicer.)

According to a new survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 66 percent of respondents report feeling increasingly stressed out by the current political climate and prospects for the nation's future.

The APA findings—contained in their Stress In America: Coping With Change (pdf) report—reveal that 57 percent of those surveyed said that politics have become either a "very" or "somewhat" significant source of anxiety in their lives. Meanwhile, 49 percent of those questioned said the outcome of the 2016 election, in which Trump was elected president and the Republican Party kept control of both the House and Senate, has become a specific source of new stress.

On these questions, the divide unsurprisingly broke along partisan and ideological lines. "While Democrats were more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs. 26  percent) to report the outcome of the 2016 presidential election as a significant source of stress, a majority of Republicans (59 percent) said the  future of our nation was a significant source of stress for them, compared to  76 percent of Democrats," the report notes.

Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist and member of APA's Stress in America team, speaking with the Washington Post, admitted the severity of the findings caught her off guard.

"The fact that two-thirds of Americans are saying the future of the nation is causing them stress, it is a startling number," Wright told the Post. "It seems to suggest that what people thought would happen, that there would be relief [after the election] did not occur, and instead since the election, stress has increased. And not only did overall stress increase, what we found in January is the highest significant increase in stress in 10 years. That's stunning."

Prior to its 2016 poll, the APA explained, "top stressors for the American population remained steady, with Americans being most likely to report money, work, and the economy as very or somewhat significant sources of stress in their lives."

However, as the election took center stage in the spring of 2016, APA's member psychologists began reporting that their patients were increasingly  concerned and anxious about the political climate. It was this trend that spurred the group to make specific inquiries about how national politics were impacting stress levels for Americans.

While the group conducted surveys and collected data last year during the campaign and after the election, it was a new round of questions posed to Americans last month, subsequent to Trump's taking office, that fueled the latest findings.

"From the appointees to the executive orders to the laws that have just been proposed ... it's hard for me to see a bright future for my family, which in turn causes me a great amount of stress," Bryanna Zoltowski, a 40-year-old mother of two from Macomb Township in Michigan told the Detroit Free Press.

"I'm afraid," Zoltowski said. "I really am afraid. I'm scared for the future of my kids."

Are you feeling stressed? Earlier this month, the Huffington Post reported on 10 things therapists and psychologists recommend when it comes to de-stressing around politics. 

(Jon Queally writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

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OTHER WORDS-In July 2016, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch committed the Department of Justice to investigating the shooting of Alton Sterling, a black man who was murdered by police outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. 

The move represented the deepening of a tangible (if tenuous) relationship between the Department of Justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained national prominence in 2014 after the police shooting of Eric Garner.  

Until this year, civil rights advocates and critics of police violence had allies in both the Department of Justice and the White House — one of whom was President Obama himself. 

At a minimum, these allies were sympathetic to the fight for racial justice. Not infrequently, they were willing to expend their institutional resources to secure it. The fruits of this relationship included a series of damning reports on police misconduct from Ferguson, Missouri to Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, and Baltimore. 

In the age of Trump, that alliance has come to an end. In the false dichotomy between holding police accountable and advocating for communities of color, Trump has made it clear that his administration will come down on the side of the police. 

Under Trump, the official White House website now ridicules the movement for police accountability as an effort to “to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.” In the Trump administration’s version of the world, protesters are disorderly agitators whose demands for justice only interfere with the work of good men and women in blue. 

If law enforcement has found a new friend in Trump, it’s consistently had one in Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator just confirmed as attorney general — during Black History Month, no less.

As a senator, Sessions published an opinion on consent decrees, which are agreements local departments make with Washington to reform policing practices that violate their citizens’ rights. Sessions called those deals “dangerous.” 

In 2015, Sessions participated in a Senate hearing provocatively titled “The War on Police,” during which he lambasted the Obama administration’s aggressive investigations into police misconduct. He called those actions evidence of “an agenda that’s been a troubling issue for a number of years.” 

During his confirmation hearings, Sessions again reiterated his disdain for consent decrees, claiming that they “undermine respect for our police officers” and testifying that he might be interested in doing away with them altogether. 

Nor has Sessions ever bothered to hide his disdain for civil rights activists. At the same 2015 hearing, Sessions chastised, “I do think it’s a real problem when we have Black Lives Matter making statements that are really radical, that are absolutely false.” 

Trump’s censure of the movement has been even more provocative. After lamenting the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling as “terrible” in the summer of 2016, Trump quickly changed his tune. He condemned police reform advocates for “dividing the country” and blamed them for the murders of two police officers in Baton Rouge. 

Candidate Trump went so far as to claim that he’d charge his attorney general with leading an investigation into the Black Lives Matter movement — an assignment that Sessions, by the looks of things, would enthusiastically accept. 

There will be more police shootings of black men in the future. There will be more protests that call for justice for these victims. But with a Department of Justice led by Jeff Sessions, people who want justice will be on their own.

 

(Ebony Slaughter-Johnson is a freelance writer whose work covers history, race, and the criminalization of poverty. Provided to CityWatch by OtherWords.org.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NEW ATTACKS COMING ON YOUR INTERNET--Back in June, when the insanity of the election and the chaos to follow was simply a glistening bomb lingering on the horizon, the United States Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit made a huge decision regarding the future of how America looks at the Internet. In the decision, the court upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s rules over net neutrality, which require Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all traffic equally.

At the very least, it kept the lid tight on the can of worms that would allow ISPs to offer preferential treatment (read: faster load times, more bandwidth for video streaming) to websites that chose to pay whatever money the ISPs wanted, deregulating the Web into a purely capitalistic experiment that also, weirdly, gave the power to the near-monopolistic gatekeepers. It would probably have been really bad.

But more than the specifics, the case moved the needle in the minds of those considering how the Internet should act. Should the Web be a battle of private enterprises butting up against one another to, theoretically at least, provide consumers with the fastest, most reliable, most affordable service? Or should it be thought of as a public utility, something like electricity or sewage, owned by singular communities?

The biggest argument for keeping the Internet as it currently exists is that its “free market” incentivizes innovators to invent new products. The other pathway would lead toward a bureaucratic mess that takes over any public institution. But the failure with this line of thinking is that the Internet marketplace was never really a free market. Most of this has to do with its history.

At first, the Internet was a dial-up service, in which computers talked to one another by piggybacking onto the pre-existing copper wires of telephonic infrastructure that was already in place throughout America. As such, this Internet was essentially just a visual version of a phone system: It was slow and unwieldy, sure, but it also could be turned off and on as you would a phone call. When broadband Internet came around — in the form of either cable or DSL — the entire concept of the Internet suddenly shifted from a portal into a 24/7 link into this other world.

The Internet marketplace was never really a free market.

Since the demands of this connection far outpaced what dial-up wires would allow, this development necessitated a whole new infrastructure. Luckily, one was already in place: cable television.

In the eight years following the Telecommunications Act of 1996, cable companies spent upwards of $65 billion laying down additional broadband networks that were able to “provide multichannel video, two-way voice, high-speed Internet access, and high definition and advanced digital video services all on a single wire into the home.” And because of this initial investment in infrastructure, the cable companies have had close to full control.

The market, therefore, was never really free, as much as those who succeeded were able to do so because they had an initial leg up. As a result, only a few massive companies have been able to compete with one another, and a majority of those competitions have ended in a kind of stalemate where they just end up carving up the marketplace block by block, or building by building, and forcing the residents to either choose their service or choose nothing.

Maybe your own place isn’t like that. Maybe you have multiple choices when it comes to deciding where you want your Internet from. If so, that puts you in the minority. According to a 2015 report by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, 61 percent of U.S. households have either one or zero choices when it comes to high-speed broadband providers in their area.

But this kind of thing already happened in American history a little over a century ago with this newfangled thing called electricity. As Susan Crawford writes in her book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age:

[P]rivate electrical companies consolidated, wielded enormous influence in state and national legislatures, cherry-picked their markets, and mounted huge campaigns against publicly owned electrical utilities, calling them “un-American.” At the beginning of the twentieth century, private power companies electrified only the most lucrative population centers and ignored most of America, particularly rural America. Predictably, the private utilities claimed that public ownership of electrical utilities was “costly and dangerous” and “always a failure.

This practice ended in the middle of the 20th century, when electricity was soon considered a “natural monopoly,” meaning that the high barrier of cost of entry — you can’t just pool together money and construct a power plant and transmission wires — meant that it didn’t make sense for competitors to invest money in this business. Other examples like public water and garbage collection work the same way. One publicly owned company is good enough for each district to handle its own business; there are hundreds of electric utility companies in the U.S., each servicing a relatively small chunk of the country.

Many would argue this is the direction American Internet should head.

As it stands, there is not only no incentive for the cable companies to not only expand far beyond the metropolitan areas where there are residences — it doesn’t make fiscal sense to go much further, which is why 43 percent of rural California residents have no broadband access— but there’s no real incentive for them to even innovate their products to provide better service for their existing customers. They’re getting their $50–80 a month for their substandard service anyway, as the only other choice is cutting the cord entirely. 

Perhaps the dissonance is one of first impressions. When the Internet was introduced, it was a strange portal into a hidden “other” world. There was an entry point — PC computer screen, dial-up modem — so there was a division between being online and off. That has completely changed, not least because of the smartphone. Now, if you don’t have the Internet at home, you miss out on connecting with peers and culture, sure, but also the ability to bank, work, or do homework.

In the 20 years since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Internet has gone from optional to obligatory. It is now a part of the world. It only makes sense to change the way it’s delivered.

(Rick Paulas writes for Pacific Standard Magazine … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

CAPITAL & MAIN REPORT--Andrew Puzder (photo above), whose nomination by President Donald Trump to head the Department of Labor ignited heated controversy even against a field crowded with contentious cabinet picks, withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday afternoon. Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the corporation that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s diners, was the target of growing criticism amid charges he and his company had a history of shortchanging store workers and managers of wages and promotions, as well as discriminating against women and minority employees.

Puzder was the subject of a six-week series of investigative stories by Capital & Main, which was widely cited in other media outlets as well as in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s February 13 letter to Puzder. Our team of reporters found a widespread pattern of alleged employee abuse at CKE Restaurants, which has been named in dozens of civil suits and federal complaints. The public record of these court cases, alongside our interviews conducted with current and past employees, reveal a male-dominated culture extending from CKE’s highest executive ranks to franchise store kitchens — and a company that seems to operate with impunity and a special contempt for employees who are seen as weak or a burden on the company.

Focusing on Puzder’s more than 16 years as CEO of CKE, our stories uncovered the following: 

  • Seventy-eight employment discrimination cases filed in federal court alone, more than any other large U.S. hamburger chain on a per-revenue basis. 
  • Six Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases filed against CKE and its restaurants, far more than any other large burger chain on a per-revenue basis, with the exception of Sonic Drive-In. The EEOC only takes on the most serious of discrimination cases. 
  • Twenty-seven cases, representing 41 people, filed in California state courts against CKE directly, alleging wrongful termination or discrimination in the company’s decision to fire employees. Of these cases, 20 of the employees involved worked at the store level, 12 of the employees involved worked at the corporate level, and 10 cannot be undetermined. 

These cases show a similar pattern of workers being targeted for termination and harassment, including: workers who get sick or take medical leave, including maternity leave; workers who go to human resources offices for help with sexual harassment, discrimination or safety violations; and workers who are older and have worked their way up to a higher salary. (These legal complaints do not include the many cases that deal with wage and hour violations.) 

  • Twenty-two complaints filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging discrimination at CKE or its franchisees. 
  • One lawsuit filed in California at the executive level of management describing behavior by Puzder and his executive team that was discriminatory and sexually inappropriate. The lawsuit alleges the kind of sexual harassment that was reported in recent interviews collected by the Restaurant Opportunities Center with workers in Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants. It depicts a culture in which women are demeaned, sexual impropriety is tolerated and those who complain are punished. 
  • Nine interviews with former or current workers, most describing the same working conditions alleged in the lawsuits — an environment where employees have no security, where discrimination is persistent and where anything seen as making a worker inconvenient or too expensive is grounds for termination. Two workers had positive things to say about the work environment. 
  • A practice at some locations of paying employees with fee-based debit cards, resulting in sub-minimum wages. This practice was found by the Department of Labor to violate minimum wage laws in a 2014 case involving Hardee’s. 
  • A refusal to take responsibility for labor violations at franchised locations. The basis for this position is the assertion that the company does not exercise control over the behavior of franchisees – despite the fact that CKE requires franchisees to sign a highly detailed agreement stipulating a wide range of conditions. That same agreement exempts CKE from any responsibility for compliance with labor laws.

(This analysis was posted first at Capital and Main.) 

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--When presidential candidate John Kerry famously said, "First I voted for it, then I voted against it," the Republicans grabbed the quote and ran with it. The term flip-flop became embedded in our language to imply a particularly unacceptable form of political action. With the current president, the verbal flip-flop is a way of life. 

One evening this week, the Trump administration announced that General Michael Flynn had resigned as National Security Advisor because of a problem of trust. (By that point, the whole world had been told that Flynn had openly lied to the Vice President.) In an amount of time approximating the interval required to cool your soup, the president turned around and blamed Flynn's political demise on the press. They treated him unfairly, etc. etc. said Trump. 

Trump makes Richard Nixon look like a professor of logic. 

Did Michael Flynn freelance, going out on his own to create a back channel with the Russian government, or was he doing Trump's bidding all along? Is it just happenstance that so many of Trump's inner circle have had close ties -- paid work, in other words -- with Putin's government? Anyone remember Paul Manafort? 

So which is it? Was Trump in the loop or not? I don't think this is a really difficult question. 

There is a growing movement within the center and the moderate left to push for continuing investigations of the ties between Trump and the Russians, although some of it is couched as calls for investigations of Flynn while some is more direct. What's interesting is that some solid conservatives are curious enough to be speaking out, John McCain among others. Perhaps this is one way for McCain to do a little getting even with the man who insulted him so profoundly. Or perhaps McCain is just doing what he sees as his patriotic duty. 

Whichever way it is for McCain and the other few (as yet) Republicans in congress who will push the question, it is inevitable that the subject will be kept alive by opinion leaders including the news media. We can expect the same from presumptive candidates for office and pretty much from every living Democrat. If you see a Democrat who is not already complaining, check to see if there is a pulse. 

The Trump administration will continue doing its best to cover things up, but the first month shows how difficult that is going to be. The fact that Flynn's phone conversation with the Russian ambassador has become public knowledge was, not to put it too dramatically, just the beginning. Did Trump know about Flynn's conduct or not? It's pretty much that simple. A prediction: It will eventually come out that Trump knew about Flynn's activities, and things will accumulate from there. 

If you'd like a fairly comprehensive view of the links between Trump and the Russians, take a look at Steven Harper's chronicle posted on Bill Moyers' site.  

Thinking about things other than politics 

I like to write about local theater companies in the harbor area. One of the best was known as the Theatrum Elysium. They moved out of their 7th Street quarters last year and more or less fell off the radar. Except that they didn't, at least to local movers and shakers. The original company is now resurrected as the Elysium Conservatory Theatre, and it is enjoying glorious new digs in the space that used to be Ante's Restaurant, once a legendary San Pedro center for conversation, drinks, and mostaccioli. Now the old restaurant space holds a newly enlarged company of actors, both youngsters and seasoned veterans. 

Company director Aaron Ganz likes to lead with Shakespearean heavyweights. The previous 7th Street location opened with Hamlet. This year's season leads off with Romeo and Juliet on March 31. 

I'm treating this as a story about the creation of art by an organization through its newly enabled recreation of itself as an artistic fount. 

So what's new with the ECT? In other words, what's in store for Romeo and Juliet that hasn't been done a thousand times before? And we might even ask, why is it necessary to do anything different when the original is a pillar of western culture? 

I can't argue that there should be anything new or novel -- or that there shouldn't be. Shakespeare has been performed by companies that transform the era, the venue, the surroundings, or all of the above, and it generally has not been a hindrance as long as the language is preserved. Shakespeare is also performed in its original trappings to wondrous effect. 

So what is the deal with a new Romeo and Juliet that may be worth a trip down the Harbor Freeway? Aaron has some ideas of his own that are worth pondering. His theatrical style has been expanding to the exploration of the use of choral voices along with dance to interpret and communicate the undertones of the great works. The idea isn't all that new actually, going back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. But it's rewarding to watch the development of a new score to accompany something like Romeo and Juliet. 

This is, in fact, operatic, as Aaron himself comments. In opera (and for the last century, in film) the musical score accentuates what is happening inside of the characters' heads, sometimes communicating an inner emotion when the character's outward expression is more controlled. You might say that the actor's voice and the musical score harmonize with each other in the emotional sense. Wagner even used musical phrases (leitmotif's) to carry on a musical dialog that could be entirely apart from the thoughts and words of the singers. 

So far in early rehearsals, we are seeing the development of a choral piece that accompanies the scene in which Romeo kills Tybalt. It's been interesting watching and listening to the music director as he brings the actors to express grief, pleading, and vengeance using only four or five notes, but coached to bring varying intonations and volume, sometimes at an enormous level. It was also fascinating to watch the dance director bringing together a group of young Shakespeareans to communicate the moods of the play using moves varying from classical to hip-hop. 

I'll be continuing to follow the creation of this production over the next month as a study on the process of creativity. 

Addendum 

My previous piece here in CityWatch, in which I predicted that the American Republic would survive the Trump administration, provoked a couple of serious comments. 

One pointed out that the judiciary in 1930s Germany was not ultimately able to resist Hitler, even though it tried mightily for as long as it could. I was aware of this history in a general sense, but thank the commenter for stating it more clearly. The substance of my argument was (and remains) my judgment that acceptance of the role of the judiciary is strongly embedded in American culture. 

In brief, the decision of a single federal judge in the state of Washington prevented the execution of a presidential order, at least for the time being and the American people in general understood that this is our way. I did not pursue the argument further to point out that Anglo-American law -- and therefore the culture of our two realms -- includes a strong element of common law. That is to say, we frame many of our social and economic arguments in terms of legal questions, and from those questions our system creates precedents. 

It's hard for us as Americans to imagine the system being different, but it is significantly different in other parts of the world including Europe. The American people accepted that the Supreme Court had the authority to judge the Constitutional validity of the Affordable Care Act. Many of us worried about the outcome, but we didn't directly challenge the balance of power. Even when 1960s era segregationists disagreed hotly with Supreme Court decisions, their demand was that the Chief Justice be impeached, a legally defined remedy under the written Constitution.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

-cw

FILM POLITICS--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has shared some incredibly poignant thoughts on the way Oscar-favorite “La La Land” handles its black characters. 

The critically-acclaimed film stars Emma Stone as an aspiring actress who falls in love with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling musician with dreams of opening his own jazz club one day. 

In an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday, Abdul-Jabbar praises the film for being “bold, daring and deserving of all its critical and financial success,” but points out that it has a few weaknesses, specifically “its portrayal of jazz, romance and people of color.” 

The NBA icon thinks the film’s biggest fault is in its only main black character Keith (John Legend), a jazz musician who has found success in the mainstream. 

“No, I don’t think the film needs more black people,”Abdul-Jabbar explains.

“Writer-director Damien Chazelle should tell the story as he sees fits with whatever ethnic arrangement he desires. However, it is fair to question his color wheel when it involves certain historical elements — such as jazz.”

Abdul-Jabbar goes on to add that he’s “disturbed” by the fact that the only major black character in the film is portrayed as “the musical sellout,” while Gosling’s character is seen as more authentic and more passionate about jazz.

“It’s not that a black man can’t be the sellout or the drug dealer, it’s just that they shouldn’t be if they’re the only prominent black character in the story,” he says.

“Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, that sends a bigoted message rippling through our society.”

“La La Land” is currently the favorite to win Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards, where it leads with 14 nominations. 

(Zeba Blay is culture writer for Huff Post … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

ELECTION MIRACLE EXPLAINED--Eighty-one percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. In a sense, the choice isn’t surprising. Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is unambiguously pro-life, and Trump’s promise to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment — a provision in the tax code barring non-profits from political participation — closely follows the evangelical playbook. (Photo above: Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University on January 18th, 2016.)

But in another way, Christian support for Trump is puzzling. Trump’s Christian bona fides are (at best) shaky and his personal demeanor, marked by swashbuckling moral indecency, contradicts the evangelical temperament. Evangelicals made these concerns widely known during the campaign. The Atlantic noted how the Trump vote “concealed deep, painful fractures.”

Still, for all the angst over electing a moral reprobate, the evangelicals delivered. Why? One explanation is pragmatic: The ends (desired political outcomes) justified the means (Trump’s ethically offensive personal demeanor).

But to stop with this explanation would be to overlook a deeper and less tangible motivation. Remember: Evangelicals — and Christians in general — elected a man who has systematically and blatantly denigrated women, suggested that he’d date his daughter were she not his daughter, proclaimed “you can never be too greedy,” mocked a disabled reporter, characterized Mexicans as rapists and criminals, and bragged that “the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” None of this is especially Christ-like. Ends-means pragmatism can only take us so far.

To better understand the evangelical mindset, I contacted Jon Bialecki, honorary fellow with the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, and the author of the forthcoming A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement. Bialecki spent three years doing an ethnographic study on members of the Vineyard, an American evangelical movement that started in Southern California in 1975 and has since become a global religious movement (with over 1,500 churches). 

During his fieldwork, Bialecki attended Vineyard services, recorded and studied sermons, conversed daily with church members, visited prayer groups, observed and analyzed rituals (which often included casting out demons or being healed), and interviewed church leaders. He studied several Vineyard chapters, but eventually settled on one, a Southern California congregation whose leaders welcomed him into its inner sanctum. 

Vineyard members, as with many charismatic Christians, “are part of an evangelical Left concerned with combating racism and anti-immigrant sentiments, criticizing American military overreach, and exposing the deleterious effects of unhampered capitalism.” 

One might expect a congregation of evangelicals to be universally politically conservative. But, much to Bialecki’s surprise, this was not entirely the case with his subjects. He writes that some Vineyard members, as with many charismatic Christians, “are part of an evangelical Left concerned with combating racism and anti-immigrant sentiments, criticizing American military overreach, and exposing the deleterious effects of unhampered capitalism.” Many members “have even argued for a more open and affirming attitude toward gay, lesbian, and transgender people.”

These opinions did not always resonate well with the Vineyard establishment. Internal arguments sometimes ensued. But the fact remains that genuine political diversity — at least in terms of different opinions over specific issues — prevailed within the Vineyard community.

For all the diversity of opinion within Vineyard churches, members of the “evangelical Left” didn’t necessarily represent that diversity at the polls. While some obviously voted for Hillary Clinton, third-party candidates, or abstained from voting, many pressed the button for Trump despite the fact that his platform and policies ran counter to their political opinions.

On the surface, this disparity makes little sense. Why would people vote against their interests? Or could it be that we have misunderstood what is meant by “interests”? Bialecki thinks the latter. One of his central discoveries was that the evangelical mindset, whatever its political suasion, craves something beyond policy prescriptions to political change: it craves a miracle.

In an email, he explains: 

I was surprised how “left” or “progressive” many of these Vineyard believers were. But when they talked about political action, they kept on talking about “big things” where someone would change their mind, or where some unjust institution would fall away. In short, the surprising nature of the turn was what allowed them to understand politics as being “of God” and not “of Man” or “the flesh.”

It seems that what mattered politically was less the platform than the miraculous implications in its delivery. To a non-evangelical person, this distinction will likely seem inane, but, as Bialecki further elaborates the idea, “the progressive wing of the Vineyard, instead of calling for incremental social activism through coalition politics, is drawn toward hopeful anticipation of large transformative events.” Such a “politics of the miraculous” taps into a spiritualized disposition that not only favors the “logic of surprise,” but it’s a logic of surprise that “hampers the capacity to work through the usual institutions.”

Bialecki believes this quest for the miraculous is not necessarily limited to his Vineyard members. A lot of Christians — and I suppose some non-Christians — prefer to think in terms of miracles rather than contemplating the boots-on-the-ground work of incremental social change, at least enough to shape their choice at the polls.

Bialecki developed his argument well before the rise of Trump. But when I ask him to relate his research to the election of 2016, he explains: 

On the day after the election, Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, posted on Facebook to explain why he felt that the “secular media” didn’t see [Trump] coming. The secular media, he said, was “shocked.” This, Graham said, was because they didn’t understand “the God-factor.” He explained that, all over America, Christians were praying, and that, when they went to the polls, “God showed up.”

Bialecki adds: 

There are two things that have to be highlighted here: first, this was counter to the usual order of things. Stuff like Trump’s election does not happen, and was even unimaginable by the secular media. This was, in other words, a surprise. The second thing to highlight was that the election was not framed as, say, a group of people reclaiming power after having been marginalized (which is one of many other ways that Graham could have presented it). It was presented as God showing up.

And he had weird hair, a fake tan, and small hands.

In 1964, the historian Richard Hofstadter published The Paranoid Style of American Politics. In it, he argued that American political activity was driven by paranoia-like fear of unknown corporate, intellectual, and religious conspiracies. Perhaps today, as the most recent reminder that American voters of all political persuasions do not necessarily vote their interests in the way we might expect them to, we should acknowledge the miraculous style of American politics. Trump, after all, is, according to Bialecki, “a break with the natural order of things.” He demands, in turn, “an unusual causal account.”

 

(James McWilliams is a Writer. Runner. Reader. Plant eater. Coffee snob. Impending recovering academic. Who posts at Pacific Standard  … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--A large number of intelligent, knowledgeable people have been pointing out the parallels between Trumpism and the development of Fascism and Naziism in 1930s Europe. The parallels are, indeed striking.  The Trumpist arguments are taken right from the totalitarian playbook -- that we are in dire straights, that only one man is capable of bringing us to safety, and that the process requires total loyalty lest we suffer further international humiliation. Our CityWatch colleague Doug Epperhart referred to the sum total of Trump's message as a witch's brew, a not unreasonable description of a poisonous mixture. 

If nothing else, Trump's propensity to lie is unique in the annals of the American presidency. This leads to the next question which has a few of the deep thinkers staying awake at nights: Does Trump actually believe the statements he makes with such surety? Does he believe deep down that the crowd at his inauguration was larger than Obama's or that millions of illegal votes were cast in the presidential election? 

The difference is between that of a pompous ass vs. somebody with some form of mental illness. Is it bluster or is it delusional thinking? One respected political writer, Andrew Sullivan, argues that it is the latter.  Sullivan's piece is worth reading in the entirety. He invites us to imagine a neighbor whose newly painted living room is blue, yet continues to describe it as red. (I know, it seems a bit simplistic, but it fits the inauguration argument perfectly.) Here's how Sullivan sums up: 

"If the next time you dropped by, he was still raving about his gorgeous new red walls, what would you think? Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return." 

Whether Trump is merely a liar's liar and a bully's bully or whether he is already at the point of delusion is, I think, yet to be determined. Only those extremely close to him might possibly know, and their behavior since before the Republican convention tells us that whichever way it is, they are in on the scam. 

So the question we have before us might be summed up as follows: Is this 1933 all over again, or is it merely 1968? Is it the beginning of fascism in America -- and the consequent loss of some of our liberties -- or are we just going through a phase in which the prevailing political power in the executive and legislative branches is not to our liking? Is it to be a horrid disaster or just a political setback? 

In assaying the prediction I am about to make, I understand full well that I will be disappointing a number of friends and colleagues who live in other countries or came here from elsewhere. They recognize the parallels all too well, particularly those who lived at one time or another under dictatorships. They chuckle (a little contemptuously) at what they see as my naivety. But my response is that in some ways we are seriously different from Europe in 1933, or Asia or South America at other times. There are two main reasons. 

The first: If anything can save us, it is an independent judiciary serving under a written Constitution. The defense against dictatorial conduct will depend on what Trump referred to as a "so-called judge" and a few hundred of his colleagues. We can also put some small hope in members of congress who went to law school and practiced law before going into politics. 

Why do these things matter? The comparison comes down to the relationship between the European and his sovereign prior to the twentieth century. Admittedly there are nuances, but the concept of individual rights, particularly of minorities among the majority, is more entrenched in American thought going all the way back to 1788 than existed in 1933 Germany or Italy. 

To put it more simply, any attempt by Trump to muzzle the New York Times or CNN shouldn't last very long in the federal courts, certainly not at the lower level. We should also be able to expect of higher courts including the Supreme Court that they will find within themselves the duty to uphold the most fundamental rights of Americans. Freedom of speech, religion, and the right to assemble (ie: to join demonstrations on public streets) will be upheld by the courts. We have the right to expect this from our judges. 

And yes, I would be the first to agree that there have been a lot of bad decisions made by the Supreme Court over the years, just as there have been many bad laws introduced in state legislatures. But good decision or bad, each has been made under the basic fundamental fact that the Constitution exists and that it is the supreme law of the land. It's been a long time now that our Constitution has been in effect, approaching two and a half centuries. We're coming up on half the age of the Roman empire, even if we still think of ourselves as a young country. 

So any federal judge faced with the latest lawsuit over a Trump executive order has that tradition at his back. It's in our blood and bones. 

The difference between Americans and our foreign-born colleagues is that we Americans expect our institutions, including the armed forces and governmental agencies, to obey the lawful orders of the courts. We expect the courts to follow the Constitution. We've seen worrisome tendencies such as the secret powers conferred by the Patriot Act, but we have the right to expect that our fellow Americans will not give up all our liberties for an emotional security blanket. Trump is wrong to think that he is the one necessity in order that we be saved from a hideous menace. Rather, he is the menace, and it's the sum total of our Constitution, our fealty to its principles, and the agencies we have developed in their defense that we should depend on. 

The second reason to argue that this is just 1968 and not 1933 is that we've been through the Second World War, we've seen communism and dictatorships, and we've learned from them.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--What do Fairbanks, Alaska, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma have in common with Los Angeles and San Francisco? The answer: All of them have newly established resistance groups dedicated to opposing Donald Trump's policies. How this came to be, and how the rest of us can join in opposition to Trump's craziness is a short but fascinating story. 

In these first 3 weeks of the Trump presidency, the shocks have piled up, one outrage atop the other, ranging from the billionaire's club of unqualified Cabinet appointees to the president's executive orders which spurred tens of thousands of our fellow citizens to take to this country's streets and airports. 

It became painfully obvious that resistance is necessary. It was equally obvious that we couldn't bumble along as before, with hundreds of different groups, each with its own vision and agenda, and each believing itself to be the epitome of progressivism. Some of us (such as me) even cling to the old fashioned term liberal, as opposed to the new-fangled (i.e.: since Ronald Reagan) term progressive

This is a national emergency. We have to put our differences aside. The stakes are too great. For some, such as the people who would lose their health coverage under the extremist right wing, it's literally a matter of life and death. For the country as a whole, it is the question as to whether this nation will face up to critical challenges such as global warming or be stuck in denialism. 

We have to be effective, and that means that we have to be together. Many of us have reached this conclusion either independently or by reading each others' blogs. There is really only one meaningful question: Which group shall we mutually create and then join? 

I think we have an answer. 

Only a few days back, I (like so many others) was musing about the spontaneous development of a leftward-leaning version of the conservative Tea Party. I even linked in passing to an instruction set, as it were, for how it might best be done. The instruction set was titled Indivisible. It explained how the right wing Tea Party had developed and how it had acted in order to damage the work of the Obama administration. The description of how to be your own progressive version of the Tea Party is the part that is of interest. 

And apparently a lot of people all over the country took the hint, read through the guide book, and joined the movement. 

Indivisible is the resistance. How do we know that? One clue is that within the past few weeks, close to 5000 groups have joined in the Indivisible coalition. 

By the way, the authors of the Indivisible guide point out that at this moment in history, the best approach to resistance is to create groups that act locally and defensively. That is to say, the message is to stop Trump from getting away with what he is trying to do, and the way to do this is to stay on your congressman's butt without letup. We don't need to divide ourselves over long-term agendas. (Anybody really want to whine about the quest for single-payer when the Affordable Care Act itself is in jeopardy?) 

It's important to go to congressional town hall meetings and in the absence of publicly advertised meetings, to protest at any and all opportunities. The really advanced activists will be thinking about how to reach out to the media and to the people and businesses that have been supporting each congressman. 

So how do you join the movement? It's simple. Go to the Indivisible website and click on the button that says Find a Local Group.  A little basic math tells us that on the average, each congressional district will have about a dozen such groups. Obviously there are some places (such as Los Angeles) that have more. In fact, the L.A. area already has nearly 200 groups associated with Indivisible. But there are groups in Idaho Falls, Idaho and Casper, Wyoming, not to mention Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. We need such groups to form up in every congressional district. 

As the authors of the Indivisible guide like to point out, the one most important issue to a congressman is getting reelected. Everything else is secondary. Let's apply that to a local congressional seat. Darrell Issa beat Democrat Doug Applegate by 1621 votes out of a total of more than 310,000. That's a little over half of one percent. How is Issa going to react when he is set upon by groups of people asking him about whether he will support phasing out Medicare? It's not just a gotcha question. It's a serious question that deserves an answer. In the past, Issa has been able to skate on such issues, but maybe this time things will be different. 

Meanwhile, there is some reason to think that the protests have had an effect on the Trump administration and on the congress in terms of their intent to do violence to the Affordable Care Act. They have been forced to face a lot of difficult questions about what it would mean to replace the ACA, and they are not coming up with good answers. As they start to move away from their original positions and start talking about repairing the ACA rather than destroying it, perhaps something can be salvaged.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

 

INSIDE TRUMP’S HEAD--In 2009, the historian David Kaiser, then a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, got a call from a guy named Steve Bannon. (Photo above sitting right.)

Bannon wanted to interview Kaiser for a documentary he was making based on the work of the generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe. Kaiser, an expert on Strauss and Howe, didn’t know Bannon from Adam, but he agreed to participate. He went to the Washington headquarters of the conservative activist group Citizens United, where Bannon was then based, for a chat.

Kaiser was impressed by how much Bannon knew about Strauss and Howe, who argued that American history operates in four-stage cycles that move from major crisis to awakening to major crisis. These crises are called “Fourth Turnings” — and Bannon believed the U.S. had entered one on Sept. 18, 2008, when Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke went to Capitol Hill to ask for a bailout of the international banking system.

“He knew the theory,” Kaiser said. “He obviously enjoyed interviewing me.”

Bannon pressed Kaiser on one point during the interview. “He was talking about the wars of the Fourth Turnings,” Kaiser recalled. “You have the American Revolution, you have the Civil War, you have World War II; they’re getting bigger and bigger. Clearly, he was anticipating that in this Fourth Turning there would be one at least as big. And he really made an effort, I remember, to get me to say that on the air.”

Kaiser didn’t believe global war was preordained, so he demurred. The line of questioning didn’t make it into the documentary — a polemical piece, released in 2010, called “Generation Zero.” 

Bannon, who’s now ensconced in the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s closest adviser, has been portrayed as Trump’s main ideas guy. But in interviews, speeches and writing — and especially in his embrace of Strauss and Howe — he has made clear that he is, first and foremost, an apocalypticist. 

In Bannon’s view, we are in the midst of an existential war, and everything is a part of that conflict. Treaties must be torn up, enemies named, culture changed. Global conflagration, should it occur, would only prove the theory correct. For Bannon, the Fourth Turning has arrived. The Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, may have already emerged. The apocalypse is now.

“What we are witnessing,” Bannon told The Washington Post last month, “is the birth of a new political order.”

Strauss died in 2007, and Howe did not respond to requests for comment. But their books speak for themselves. The first, Generations, released in 1991, set forth the idea that history unfolds in repetitive, predictable four-part cycles ― and that the U.S. was, and still is, going through the most recent cycle’s tail end. (In Generations, Strauss and Howe became perhaps the first writers to use the term “Millennials” to describe the current cohort of young people.)

Strauss and Howe’s theory is based on a series of generational archetypes — the Artists, the Prophets, the Nomads and the Heroes — that sound like they were pulled from a dystopian young adult fiction series. Each complete four-part cycle, or saeculum, takes about 80 to 100 years, in Strauss and Howe’s reckoning. The Fourth Turning, which the authors published in 1997, focuses on the final, apocalyptic part of the cycle.

Strauss and Howe postulate that during this Fourth Turning crisis, an unexpected leader will emerge from an older generation to lead the nation, and what they call the “Hero” generation (in this case, Millennials), to a new order. This person is known as the Grey Champion. An election or another event — perhaps a war — will bring this person to power, and their regime will rule throughout the crisis.

“The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda about which they had long dreamed and against which their adversaries had darkly warned,” Strauss and Howe wrote in The Fourth Turning. “This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention.”

Cyclical models of history are something academics kick around every now and then, said Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University. But the idea has not caught on among historians or political actors.

“It’s just a conceit. It’s a fiction, it’s all made up,” Wilentz said about cyclical historical models. “There’s nothing to them. They’re just inventions.”

Michael Lind, a historian and co-founder of the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank, has called Strauss and Howe’s work “pseudoscience” and said their “predictions about the American future turn out to be as vague as those of fortune cookies.”

But Bannon bought it.

“This is the fourth great crisis in American history,” Bannon told an audience at the Liberty Restoration Foundation, a conservative nonprofit, in 2011. “We had the Revolution. We had the Civil War. We had the Great Depression and World War II. This is the great Fourth Turning in American history, and we’re going to be one thing on the other side.”

Major crises “happen in about 80- or 100-year cycles,” Bannon told a conference put on by the Republican women’s group Project GoPink that same year. “And somewhere over the next 10 or 20 years, we’re going to come through this crisis, and we’re either going to be the country that was bequeathed to us or it’s going to be something that’s completely or totally different.”

The “Judeo-Christian West is collapsing,” he went on. “It’s imploding. And it’s imploding on our watch. And the blowback of that is going to be tremendous.”

War is coming, Bannon has warned. In fact, it’s already here.

It’s war. It’s war. Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, 2015

“You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China,” he said during a 2016 radio appearance. “They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.”

“Against radical Islam, we’re in a 100-year war,” he told Political Vindication Radio in 2011.

“We’re going to war in the South China Seas in the next five to 10 years, aren’t we?” Bannon asked during a 2016 interview with Reagan biographer Lee Edwards.

“We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism,” he said in a speech to a Vatican conference in 2014. “And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.”

In a 2015 radio appearance, Bannon described how he ran Breitbart, the far-right news site he chaired at the time. “It’s war,” he said. “It’s war. Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war.”

To confront this threat, Bannon argued, the Judeo-Christian West must fight back, lest it lose as it did when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453. He called Islam a “religion of submission” in 2016 — a refutation of President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 description of Islam as a religion of peace. In 2007, Bannon wrote a draft movie treatment for a documentary depicting a “fifth column” of Muslim community groups, the media, Jewish organizations and government agencies working to overthrow the government and impose Islamic law. 

“There’s clearly a fifth column here in the United States,” Bannon warned in July 2016. “There’s rot at the center of the Judeo-Christian West,” he said in November 2015. “Secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals,” he argued at the Vatican conference. The “aristocratic Washington class” and the media, he has claimed, are in league with the entire religion of Islam and an expansionist China to undermine Judeo-Christian America.

This sort of existential conflict is central to Strauss and Howe’s predictions. There are four ways a Fourth Turning can end, they argued, and three of them involve some kind of massive collapse. America might “be reborn,” and we’d wait another 80 to 100 years for a new cycle to culminate in a crisis again. The modern world — the era of Western history that Strauss and Howe believe began in the 15th century — might come to an end. We might “spare modernity but mark the end of our nation.” Or we might face “the end of man,” in a global war leading to “omnicidal Armageddon.”  

Now, a believer in these vague and unfounded predictions sits in the White House, at the right hand of the president.

“We’re gonna have to have some dark days before we get to the blue sky of morning again in America,” Bannon warned in 2010. “We are going to have to take some massive pain. Anybody who thinks we don’t have to take pain is, I believe, fooling you.”

“This movement,” he said in November, “is in the top of the first inning.”

(Paul Blumenthal Money in Politics Reporter at Huff Post … where this piece was first posted.)

 

 

 

 

THE PROTEST ECONOMY-Dear So-Called President Trump: I was among the roughly five million Americans who took to the streets in cities across the country a few weeks ago in opposition to your outrageous policies regarding women, Muslims, school children, immigrants, workers, the environment, and people who need health care. (That’s me in the photo above with my 20-year old daughter Sarah.) I left my home around 7 a.m., took the subway from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles, and participated in the demonstration -- marching, holding signs, shouting chants, listening to speakers and musicians -- until about 4 p.m. I got back on the subway and returned to my house around 5 p.m. In other words, I spent about 10 hours involved in the protest. 

That was the largest one-day protest in American history. A majority of the five million participants (750,000 in LA alone) were protesting for the first time. I didn’t really understand what brought them out to protest on a sunny Saturday when they could have been doing so many other things. But your recent Tweet explained why. 

Last week you Tweeted that “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Thank you for the reminder. I forgot to pick up my paycheck for protesting. Whomever is paying people to protest left me off the list -- or just ripped me off. Since the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, I am owed at least $72.50 for the 10 hours I spent protesting that Saturday. However, as of this January 1, the California minimum wage is now $10.50 an hour, so I’m actually owed $105, and even more if the people who are paying people to protest against you abide by overtime rules.

If all five million Americans who protested that day got paid the federal minimum wage, and if people spent an average of five hours protesting, those patriotic rabble-rousers are owed a total of at least $181 million in unpaid protest wages. 

I think you’ll agree that putting $181 million in Americans’ pockets is good for the economy. If you will recall the Economics 101 course you probably took at college, this is called an increase in “consumer demand.” Economists also call it the “multiplier effect.” The five million protesters will spend that $181 million in their local economies -- boosting sales, revenues, and jobs. So thank you for reminding us that protest is good for the economy. 

You will be pleased to know that Americans will continue to protest your policies for the next four years. Not all the protests will be as large as the January 21 women’s march, but the number of Americans who feel compelled to protest against you will certainly grow as you pursue reckless, dangerous and inhumane policies. Every week, in cities, suburbs and small towns across America, people will be in the streets, at town meetings, on college campuses, at their workplaces, at airports, in churches and synagogues, and elsewhere raising their voices in opposition to almost everything you are trying to do. 

Let’s take a conservative estimate that every week, on average, 100,000 Americans engage in some kind of local protest over the next four years. Let’s assume that each person spends an average of three hours participating in protest and earns the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That adds up to $452 million during your four years as president -- assuming you are not impeached. 

Of course, you won’t be surprised that in addition to all those local protests, at least four times a year, Americans will mount the kind of major nationwide protests that we saw a few weeks ago, with five million people taking to the streets. So let’s add another $181 million for each protest -- four times a year, for four years. This will increase the protest payroll by another $2.9 billion. Altogether, that’s $3.42 billion in protest paychecks over four years. I haven’t even factored in the higher minimum wage levels in many states and cities. 

You are already doing your part by adopting policies and making statements that make Americans so angry that they are joining protests in record numbers. But if you’d really like to do something to improve the economy even more, you could raise the federal minimum to $15 an hour. That would quickly and dramatically increase America’s protest payroll and be a real boost the economy. 

I realize that it is selfish of me to bring this up, but what about all the back pay I’m owed for the protests I’ve participated in since the 1960s? I’ve been to hundreds of protests for civil rights, against the Vietnam war, for women’s rights and against apartheid, for more funding for public schools, against the U.S. overthrow of Chile’s president Salvador Allende and against U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan contras, against police killing of unarmed Black Americans, in favor of workers’ rights, and against government bail-outs to Wall Street banks. 

As you can see in the above photographs, I brought my twin daughters Amelia and Sarah to a protest in Los Angeles in 2002 against the U.S. invasion of Iraq and I joined with my wife Terry, our dog Mia, and our friends last year at a huge march of workers and supporters demanding a $15 minimum wage in my hometown of Pasadena. (You’ll be please know that we won that fight). On a rainy night two weeks ago I joined about 150 people at a protest in front of the $26 million Los Angeles mansion owned by Steve Mnuchin, the Wall Street predator (known as the “foreclosure king”) who was your campaign finance chair and whom you’ve nominated to be Secretary of the Treasury. (That’s me, with the gray hair, behind the sign). 

Shouldn’t the hundreds of millions of Americans who, over the years, sat in at lunch counters, participated in strikes, carried picket signs for reproductive rights and same-sex marriage, rallied against nuclear weapons, and shouted “no justice, no peace” and “end racism” get paid for their protest activism? Rep. John Lewis, who put his body on the line hundreds of times for social justice -- and whom you described as “all talk, no action” in a twitter tantrum last month -- would be owed a fortune in back protest pay. 

Do you think we could find a “so-called” judge who would be sympathetic to this wage-theft cause and order the owners of Protest Inc. to compensate us for our labor? 

I don’t consider this reparations for radicals and reformers. I see it as the kind of economic nationalism you’ve been talking about. You can’t export protest jobs. These are American jobs for Americans. As any economist could tell you, those back payments would do wonders for the economy. 

Just as George W. Bush was known as the “war president,” and Barack Obama was known (at least by Republicans) as the “food stamp president,” you will surely go down in history as the “protest president.” You’ve done more than any other U.S. president to unite Americans and galvanize them into an oppositional protest movement. You’ve called us “paid protesters.” Once we all get paid, we will feel proud to have helped make America Great Again.

 

(Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

DIVINE THE FUTURE--As a student of history, I’m always drawing parallels between the present and the past. Like many of us, I believe that to divine the future we must understand what has gone before. That’s what makes the actions of Trump, Bannon and company so damn frightening. 

Let’s turn back the cover of the fascist playbook and see what’s inside. 

First, the lies and then the people who choose to believe them. 

Despite the fact that the United States under Barack Obama experienced recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, significant expansion in healthcare coverage, and a fairly peaceful world scene, Donald Trump ran a campaign that painted our nation as a failure, crime-ridden and downtrodden, kowtowing to the Chinese and even worse, radical Islam. 

The target of these lies was, and continues to be, the susceptible individuals made receptive to belief in “alternative facts” through years of indoctrination by right-wing radio and alt right websites. It’s no accident that Trump’s chief henchman, Steve Bannon, comes from that world. Propaganda is most effective when there’s a willing audience and if anyone knows how to exploit that audience, it’s Bannon. As chief executive at Breitbart, he led the pack of alt right media hounds. 

Trump’s battle cry of “Make America Great Again” was just good enough to get him the prize. He is president only because of an anachronistic electoral system in which losing by three million votes at the ballot box becomes winning by 77 in the Electoral College. So the United States is experiencing what life might have been like if someone such as the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy, had become president instead of Eisenhower. Nixon’s “law and order” rhetoric, anti-media bias, and enemies list don’t come close to what may in store under the current regime. 

The formula for Trump’s authoritarian witches’ brew is simple: 

You are in danger. 

Muslims are the enemy. 

Only I can save you. 

Anyone who opposes me is the enemy (including apparently those who no longer want to sell Ivanka’s clothing brand.) 

In keeping with his pledge to remake government, Trump has moved quickly to eliminate regulations to rein in polluters. Gutting consumer protection rules again allows the wolves of Wall Street to roam free. He’s attacked Obamacare, seeking to loosen administrative rules that make the system work. 

Most egregious, however, is his order to ban Muslims from seven nations. Despite protestations that this executive decree is not aimed at a particular religion, many know better. The judges who have done their sworn duty to the Constitution are being attacked as encouraging enemies of the state. 

The comparisons many in the United States and around the world have made to Trump’s regime and the fascists of the 1920s and ‘30s is apt. For some, “America First” carries the flavor of “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Referring to the current reality in Washington, D.C., Bannon said, “What we are witnessing is the birth of a new political order.” 

In 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt, talking about an earlier political reality, said, “These men and their hypnotized followers call this a new order. It is not new. It is not order.” 

It’s time to heed the lessons of history.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

DOUBLING BACK ON NATIONALISM-Mike Grillo teaches political science, not literature. But he argues that, to understand the success of Donald Trump --  and the most effective ways to oppose him  --  you need to start with narratives.

In a chapter of the just-published book Why Irrational Politics Appeals, the Schreiner University assistant professor presents new evidence that Trump’s appeal --  at least among his core supporters, who voted for him in the Republican primaries --  is rooted not in “rational concerns for material well-being or economic security,” but rather in racial resentment. 

His analysis shows support for the Trump/Bannon brand of nationalism is driven by prejudice-fueled emotional responses, which are shaped by the stories people read, hear, and share. When those narratives depict certain groups as threatening, they create hostile predispositions, which in turn create support for leaders who promise to mitigate the perceived danger. 

This is known as “symbolic politics,” and it drives people on both the left and right. Grillo’s equation, “preexisting biases elicit knee-jerk emotional reactions, which influence our decisions and behavior,” is not unique to Trump voters. But, given Trump’s nationalist rhetoric during his presidential campaign, Grillo focused on them when he analyzed a detailed survey of 1,200 Americans conducted in January of 2016. 

Grillo looked specifically at how their feelings toward Trump (measured on a “warmth” scale of one to 100) coincided with their feelings about immigrants, national identity, prejudice against minorities, fear of terrorism, and “racial resentment.” He discussed his findings in a telephone interview. 

Let’s start at the first link in the causal chain you identify. What kind of narratives are you speaking of? 

Narratives can come from various sources: parental upbringing, political and cultural elites, pop culture. They can include cultural narratives: Who belongs to the group, who doesn’t, who are rival groups. Numerous studies have shown that people’s anti-Muslim narratives have come from numerous places: politicians, popular films and television shows,certain media outlets, and the even pulpit, depending on the church. 

You conclude that these stories created fears and prejudices that engendered hostility toward minorities, including immigrants. How do you define and measure that term? 

Racial resentment is this idea that minorities are getting special treatment from the government (welfare, affirmative action, etc.), usually at the expense of whites. It is usually rooted in underlying beliefs that minorities are not deserving of any special treatment. There was also the idea that whites are now at a disadvantage  --  that the system is now working against them. 

In the data set, racial resentment was measured having people indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements, including “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.” 

I assume many people differentiate between those earlier legal immigrants and today’s undocumented workers. 

They do. But even disapproval of legal immigration -- as measured by responses to the statement, “When people from other countries legally move to the United States to live and work, is this generally good for the U.S., generally bad for the U.S., or neither good nor bad?” --  was associated with racial resentment, prejudice, and other predispositions that, in turn, predicted support for Trump. 

But actual economic distress was only weakly associated with support for Trump? That would seem to contradict the narrative that his supporters were desperate, lower-middle-class whites struggling to make a living. 

Another political scientist, Philip Klinkner, examined this very same data set, and found racial resentment and prejudice had greater impact on Trump support than attitudes about whether the economy was worse off. That research also found that (one’s personal) income, and attitudes about whether it is easier or more difficult to improve one’s economic status now, as opposed to 20 years ago, were not significant predictors of Trump support. 

Now, this is data that was collected during the primaries. In the general election, the people harboring racial resentment probably voted for Trump, but there were likely other factors influencing support, such as anger with government and the Washington establishment --  the idea that they no longer serve the interests of the working class, dislike of Hillary Clinton, voting on strictly partisan lines, and the hope that a person like Trump can bring back the jobs, etc. 

Michael Moore observed in his [Michael Moore in] TrumpLand film that, for many, the Trump vote was an anger-driven decision where people felt they could torch the government and politicians hurting them. I think that all of these explanations can be explained by symbolic politics, as they are all based on predispositions that trigger emotional responses. 

The connection between racial resentment and support for Trump was even stronger than the link between fear of terrorism and support for Trump. What does that tell you? 

I think it is reflective of the fact that you have this perception among a sizable portion of the white middle-class population that the government has abandoned them, while instead providing special assistance and treatment to minorities, who they see as undeserving, either because they believe that they don’t work hard enough, or because they believe that systematic racism is no longer a problem. 

You couple this with stagnating wages, higher cost of living, unemployment, and the decimation of small manufacturing towns, and you have a recipe for a very ugly populist nationalism. We’ve seen this in other periods of American history, where whites were resentful of Irish and Italians because of this belief that they were taking all of the good jobs because they were cheap labor. 

You noted that “Trump is not creating the narratives and predispositions detailed in this paper. They have been a feature of American politics for a long time.” Do you believe he was successful because he addressed them more openly than previous politicians? Or that his pugnacious style fit his supporters’ image of a “strong leader”? 

I think it was probably a combination of both. I also think that Trump was probably the only one who could do it, because, as we have seen, he was able to say many things throughout the campaign that would have destroyed any other candidate. 

Reading your paper, I had the thought that Trump is trapped, in a way. He feels the need to give his voters what he promised them, and for good reason: Your analysis suggests that they only support him to the extent that his positions align with their prejudices and speak to their fears. But if that’s the case, he can’t really moderate his positions, can he? He’s descending.  

That is indeed a possibility. Another possibility is that he can maybe buy himself some leeway if he manages to deliver on some of his promises. Or he may begin to alienate his own base via the consequences of his policies, such as higher taxes and tariffs. His rise and win was so unpredictable that I’m just not sure at this point.One thing that I have been discussing with my colleagues here in Texas is what happens if he is serious about building the wall. There would be all kinds of eminent domain issues, which people in Texas take very seriously. That could open up a hornet’s nest. 

So if this analysis is right, what path or paths does it suggest for the anti-Trump coalition? 

One thing they could try to do is reframe the argument. Trump’s opposition has definitely been galvanized, and if you look online at social media, they have begun advancing the argument that the policies and values of Trump and his followers are un-American and will hurt America, while their values of inclusiveness, tolerance, and compassion are the epitome of American patriotism. They are in essence trying to alter the narrative. 

Another thing they might do is try to capitalize on the “Trump regret” movement. Tumblr has a whole archive of tweets from Trump supporters who expressed regret voting for Trump. Some complain that his cabinet appointees are hardly “draining the swamp.” Others express concern about their healthcare coverage. They may try to advance the narrative that Trump is not a champion of the middle class, and that his policies will hurt them. 

So, once again, it’s all about narratives, since, whether we realize it or not, they shape our assumptions and our emotional responses to issues. Are they the battleground? 

I agree with that assessment. The main challenge with altering narratives is that, in most cases, it can take a very long time. Take, for example, the abolitionist, women’s suffrage, or civil rights movements. Changing the respective narratives in each of those instances was a long and painful process.

Whether Trump’s opposition can change the narrative on racial resentment and other prejudices remains to be seen.

 

(Tom Jacobs is a staff writer with Pacific Standard magazine, where this piece first was posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

AT LENGTH--It is one thing to pledge allegiance to the flag in the security of a neighborhood council or chamber of commerce board meeting. It is quite another to stand up to the newly-elected president of the United States and tell him that his latest executive order on immigration is indefensible and probably unconstitutional. I call that true patriotism. That’s what the now former-acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates did the other day when she directed the Department of Justice lawyers to disobey the executive order. The executive order bans entry to the United States from 7 Muslim-majority countries. Christians are exempt from the order.

“In litigation, DOJ Civil Division lawyers are charged with advancing reasonable legal arguments that can be made supporting an Executive Order. But my role as leader of this institution is different and broader,” Yates said regarding her decision. “My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts…. I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.”

Ol’ President No. 45 fired Yates. Or, just as likely, the newly-elected’s alt-right-ego and former  white nationalist news blog Breitbart editor-turned-“chief strategist” and newly- minted member of the National Security Council, Stephen Bannon, fired Yates. This only added more confusion to Trump’s executive order on immigration, which has been protested by thousands and challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union. A temporary stay has been issued by the U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of New York on Jan. 25. Now, instead of protecting America from foreign enemies, Trump has become one of the “bad hombres” that he warned us about.  So much for those who have been saying, “just give the new president a chance to prove himself”. 

Nyet! I say hurrah for those many thousands who are protesting, chanting, standing up shouting, “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” and who are now suing this administration. 

Ms. Yates heroically upheld her oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic

To many Americans, the current occupant of the Oval Office is ignorant of the Constitution he swore to uphold and is driving the nation into a direct collision with the fundamentals of our very liberties. The chaos emanating from the bloviator-in-chief would be amusing if it weren’t so tragic.

In just his first 10 days on the job, Trump has already signed more executive actions than any previous president, including Barack Obama. Trump has issued two proclamations, seven executive orders and seven presidential memoranda.

He’s even invented a new form of presidential directive — the national security presidential memorandum — and signed three of those.

For those who thought Trump’s antics were just campaign rhetoric, it is clear now that his campaign rhetoric was his real agenda — an agenda supported by “alternative facts,” his alt-right interpretation and his non-existent understanding of the Bill of Rights.

Reince Priebus signed the Memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, freezing all new regulations; it is clear that this regime is on the warpath to overturn, dismantle or destroy as much of the Obama agenda as it can by executive fiat before Congress can act in the first 100 days.

Trump’s Executive Order 13767 and his Executive Order to “Protect the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” are just a two of 19 objectionable executive actions. The other messes he’s started includes creating diplomatic rifts with Mexico over his Great Wall; lobbing the opening salvo in dismantling the Affordable Care Act; restarting the Dakota Access Pipeline; and threatening sanctuary cities. (See pg. 10 to read the whole list of Trump’s executive orders thus far.) Trump has cancelled the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, but his penchant for alienating U.S. allies and rivals alike could have real effects on import industry jobs in the Los Angeles Harbor and consumer price inflation nationwide. In the end, will Trump actually create more jobs?

That the mainstream media should now seem shocked by any of this after promoting his celebrity status and profiting from the TV ratings that Trump generated during the bizarre 2016 campaign is a sad irony.

Even more disconcerting is mainstream media’s late arrival on fact checking and investigating his relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin or even demanding the release of his taxes. Only now are some mainstream media outlets beginning to use the “L” word when reporting on Trump’s or his subordinate’s lies.

He is just a brand name like Coca-Cola or Twitter: empty of substance and short on communication.  That he is now slamming and abusing the White House press corps is just trumpish exploitation of the way things are in these great post-factual United States of America. Bannon said the other day that the press should, “Just shut up and listen.” As if journalists should be obedient stenographers rather than professional skeptics of the Fourth Estate.

This conflict has been coming to a head for some time as corporate public relation firms have been spoon-feeding journalists “alternative facts.”

The rest of us should not be shocked at the political confrontation now  in play. From the very birth of this nation—beginning with the Boston Tea Party through the Civil War and emancipation of the slaves and every decade and era since—the conflict has been between the rights of the people versus the tyranny of money, property and privilege. Liberty sometimes gets confused with ownership, depending on who owns what or whom.

That Trump is held up as a champion of the neo-Tea Party, neo-fascists and others only confuses both our American sensibilities and our American linguistics, such as they are. Trump is nothing more than an empty Coke bottle full of fizzy colored politics with no moral values.

Making America Great is a slogan, not a course of action or a cure for what ails this country. His inauguration was not much more than an insulting reiteration of his empty sloganeering soaked in sugar water.

However, from this chaos there will rise true patriots and heroes who, like many before Sally Yates, will stand up to speak truth to power.

 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.)

-cw

JUDICIAL JOUSTING-Because the judiciary is surrounded with mythology, Americans are unable to intellectually deal with significant issues that involve the court system. The vast majority of Americans do not even know that we have two separate court systems: (1) the federal judiciary and (2) fifty state court systems. To confuse people more, at times the two court systems are mutually exclusive and at other times, their powers overlap. (Photo above: AG speaks after federal judge in Seattle issues restraining order on President Trump’s travel ban.) 

The vast majority of Americans only want a court to validate their personal opinions. I call this the Judge Judy approach to courts. People want a bitchy, know-it-all avenging angel (devil) to wreak havoc on the villains. Increasingly, the TV courts have taken on the aura of a Roman circus, influencing the public’s beliefs about how the court system should function. 

At the same time, the public operates on myths about the impartiality of judges and an alleged respect for Due Process. When someone is promoted as thoughtful, he or she is referred to as “judicious,” or “sober as a judge.” 

On the other hand, we had a brief moment of reality in January 2015 when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the California State court system suffers from an “epidemic of misconduct.”  The California Supreme Court also requires its lower courts to enforce arbitration awards which are based on Alternative Facts and work a substantial injustice on the victim. See Moncharsh v. Heily & Blase (1992) 3 Cal.4th 1. One should note that the federal court criticized the entire California state system and blamed the “epidemic of misconduct” on the judges and justices. 

Into this muddled sea of confusion over what the courts should be and what the courts actually are, waddles the befuddled Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s idea of a fair court is limited to judges who agree with him 100%; he believes that only judges with his same ethnic background are qualified to judge him. As a result, The Donald repetitively criticized federal trial court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, charging that since Judge Curiel was a “Mexican,” he was a “hater” and that the judge was “giving us [Trump University] very unfair rulings." 

Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel were in line with the public’s “Judge Judy philosophy” – a judge is good only if he or she agrees with one’s position. Unlike the federal court which singled out the California judicial system under Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye for creating an epidemic of misconduct -- where people were railroaded into prison on the basis of lying jailhouse informants and perjury -- The Donald’s attacks on Judge Curiel were based on the judge’s heritage and his belief that Judge Curiel was out to get him. 

In this toxic mixture of public ignorance, judicial corruption, and the personal rants of an Enfante Terrible, the nation finds itself in constitutional crisis due to Trump’s Muslim ban which alleges that Muslims from seven countries are not being properly vetted. Interestingly, Trump has no known business interests in those nations, none of which have sent us a Muslim who has killed any American on American soil. 

However, the Muslim ban excludes Arab nations from which terrorists have come to the U.S. and murdered thousands of Americans. And Trump does have extensive business interests in some of those un-banned countries such as Saudi Arabia. Thus, exemptions for some Muslim countries raise questions as to whether President Trump is using his power as President to advance his personal business interests. 

Within hours, federal judges began to restrict the scope of the Muslim ban. For example, on January 28, 2017, federal Judge Ann Donnelly found that retroactively applying the ban to people who have held American Green Cards for years was beyond the power of an executive order. 

On February 3, 2017, federal Judge James L. Robart, issued a temporary nationwide injunction against the Muslim ban, prompting an angry President Trump to tweet, “The opinion of this ‘so-called judge,’ which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” 

We shall leave aside the fact that Judge Robart issued only a TRO which would hold the status quo until a Three Judge Panel could hear the matter. President Trump called into question the legitimacy of Judge Robart by his use of the words “so-called judge.” What does that even mean? Is James L. Robert some guy off the street who snuck into the federal court house and issued an order while pretending to be a judge? 

In a nation where we learn weekly on shows like 20/20, 48 Hours, and Dateline about people who’ve been convicted using falsified evidence composed of lies, deceit and bigotry, we are beginning to realize that we have a serious problem with a corrupt judiciary. A huge number of judges are former prosecutors. When they preside over criminal trials and watch former colleagues parade lying jailhouse informants in front of juries in order to obtain convictions, these judges know exactly what is happening.  

Here we are, two years after the federal court accused California judges of creating an epidemic of misconduct, and we have a new federal investigation into the on-going use of lying jailhouse informants in Orange County, California. Judges in Los Angeles County have also created an environment in which Fiction becomes Fact and Facts disappear altogether, and where attorneys who “refuse Jesus Christ” are removed from cases. But no one will deal with the implications of the epidemic of judicial wronging in California, just like no one will deal with the implications of Donald Trump’s wheeling and dealing with judicial nominations. 

At the same time that President Trump has launched his attack on federal Judge James Robart, he is nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. As we have seen with Judge Curiel as well as with Judge Robart, Donald Trump wants what he wants and that is all that matters. During the campaign, when asked by The Hill’s Peter Sullivan what he thought about the “sanctity of life,” Trump said, “I will protect it and the biggest way you can protect it is through the Supreme Court and putting people in the court.” On Tuesday night, in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, Trump said he will appoint Supreme Court judges in order to make abortion illegal. “I have become pro-life,” Trump told O’Reilly, “And the reason is, I have seen, in my case one specific situation, but numerous situations that have made me to go that way.” 

Trump habitually reminds the world that everything is a deal. His life appears to be based on his 1987 ghost-written book, The Art of the Deal. The question arises: what deal did Judge Neil Gorsuch make with Donald Trump in order to be nominated? It is a no win situation for the nation and an equally no win situation for Judge Gorsuch. If he did make a deal to get the nomination, would he admit it? 

Because the entire world sees that President Trump lacks self-restraint when acting in public, it would be naive to believe he had the self-restraint in private not to make a deal with Judge Gorsuch. It is hard to believe Trump would make any appointment without a deal. 

All the way from the faux TV court shows to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation’s judiciary is in disarray. California is fatally ill with “corruptionism,” while much of the general public cares naught for due process or human rights. If a judge does not endorse its bigoted fears and hatreds, the public can refer to him as a “so-called judge.” What will the world think of a nation where the President himself calls into question the legitimacy of the federal judiciary – and who rails against a judge who, by all accounts, is a jurist of exemplary character?   

In Trump’s America, a man is no longer judged by the content of his character, but by his loyalty to the most powerful.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

READING FOR RELIEF-A rotten egg incubated by reality television and hatched by retrograde thinking about women and the world, the presidency of Donald Trump is creating anxiety, fear, and a growing sense among progressives that an American psycho now occupies the White House. Many, like me, are turning to John Steinbeck for understanding. But that consolation has its limits. 

As Francis Cline observed recently in The New York Times, one positive result of the groundswell of bad feeling about Trump is that “[q]uality reading has become an angst-driven upside.” Anxious Americans yearning to feel at home in their own country have a rekindled interest in exploring their identity through great literature: “Headlines from the Trump White House keep feeding a reader’s need for fresh escape.” “Alternate facts,” when “presented by a literary truthteller” like John Steinbeck, are “a welcome antidote to the alarming versions of reality generated by President Donald Trump.” 

The literary tonic recommended by Cline may or may not have the power to clear the morning-after pall of Trump-facts and Trump-schisms (the two sometimes interchangeable) afflicting our panicked public dialogue, our beleaguered press, and, for those as apprehensive as I am, the American-psycho recesses of our collective mind. Perhaps counter-intuitively, his prescription for mental wellness includes works by a group of novelists with a far darker worldview than that of Steinbeck, who felt an obligation to his readers to remain optimistic about the future whenever possible. The writers mentioned by Cline include Sinclair Lewis (It Can’t Happen Here), George Orwell (1984), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), William Faulkner (The Mansion), Jerzy Kosinski (Being There), Philip Roth (The Plot Against America), and Philip Dick (The Man In The High Castle). As an antidote to Donald Trump, they are bitter medicine. Is Steinbeck’s better? 

As the Trump administration pushes plans to litter federally protected Indian land with pipelines (“black snakes”) that threaten to pollute the water used by millions of Americans, John Steinbeck's writing about the dangers of environmental degradation seems more relevant, and more urgent, than ever. To mark the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck’s birth in 2002, the award-winning author and journalist Bill Gilbert wrote an insightful article on the subject for The Smithsonian entitled “Prince of Tides.” In it he notes that “Steinbeck’s powerful social realism is by no means his only claim to greatness. He has also significantly influenced the way we see and think about the environment, an accomplishment for which he seldom receives the recognition he deserves.” 

Judging from “The Literature of Environmental Crisis,” a course at New York University, Gilbert's point about Steinbeck's stature as an environmental writer of major consequence is now more generally accepted than he thinks. Studying what “it mean[s] for literature to engage with political and ethical concerns about the degradation of the environment” the class will read “such literary and environmental classics as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath” to “look at the way literature changes when it addresses unfolding environmental crisis.” 

“Before ‘ecology’ became a buzzword,” Gilbert adds, “John Steinbeck preached that man is related to the whole thing,” noting that Steinbeck’s holistic sermonizing about nature's sanctity reached its peak in Sea of Cortez, the literary record of Steinbeck’s 1940 expedition to Baja California with his friend and collaborator Ed Ricketts, the ingenious marine biologist he later profiled in Log from the Sea of Cortez. In it Steinbeck seems to foresee how America’s precious national resources -- and collective soul -- could one day become susceptible to the manipulations of an amoral leader like Donald Trump: 

There is a strange duality in the human which makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and of bad; not changing things, but generally considered good and bad throughout the ages and throughout the species. Of the good, we think always of wisdom, tolerance, kindness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of society, the so-called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstones of success. A man – a viewing-point man – while he will nevertheless envy or admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, will hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. 

“Donald Trump has been in office for four days,” observes Michael Brune, the national director of the Sierra Club, “and he’s already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate we feared he would be.” The executive actions taken by Trump in his first week as president (“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist, I believe in it. But it’s out of control”) appear to fulfill Steinbeck's prophecy about the triumph of self-interest over social good. That’s a hard pill to swallow for anyone who cares about the planet. 

Whether Trump becomes the kind of full-throttle fascist described in It Can't Happen Here remains to be seen. Sinclair Lewis's fantasy of a future fascist in the White House appeared the same year as Tortilla Flat, Steinbeck's sunny ode to multiculturalism and the common man. Unfortunately, I'm not as optimistic about the American spirit as John Steinbeck felt obliged to be when he wrote that book more than 80 years ago. I’m afraid that the man occupying the high castle in Washington today is an American psycho with the capacity to do permanent harm, not only to the environment, but to the American soul Steinbeck celebrated in his greatest fiction.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq. This piece was written for Steinbeck Now. It is being published here with the author’s permission.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--Nation, do not despair. Despite the Trumpian carnage all around us, online wiseacres - along with mass resistance by a galvanized populace, lawsuits by the ACLU and other tireless defenders of the rule of law, ongoing investigations into multiple wrongdoings, impeachment proceedings when appropriate, our time-honored system of checks and balances, and the possible discovery one day soon by the press and Democrats of their respective spines - may help save us.

Kellyanne 'What Is This Thing Called Facts?' Conway offered the latest opportunity to be gleefully horrified - yes, these days that's possible - when in a tee vee interview with Chris Matthews she just plain made up  a "massacre" by Iraqi refugees to justify the travel ban. Conway cited two radicalized Iraqis here who were "the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre," helpfully adding, "Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered."

Yes, well. The media quickly agreed they had, in fact, failed to cover it because it had, in fact, never happened. Turns out Conway was evidently referring to a 2011 case in which two Iraqi citizens were caught in a Federal sting and indicted for trying to send weapons and money to Al Qaeda; both were convicted, and are now serving life and 40 year prison terms. Conway later admitted she'd made an "honest mistake," hastening to add that the press does that, like, all the time, like remember for the 9,784th time when that reporter said the MLK bust was removed and it wasn't so hah what's a fictional massacre anyway?

Too little too late: Twitter took  the massacre and happily ran with it. They offered "alternative thoughts and prayers" and silence for the victims. They chided commenters that the massacre jokes were too soon and "out of respect we should wait till it takes place." They offered RIP to those who lost their lives in the massacre as well as grizzly bear attacks in schools. They urged, "Never remember the imaginary victims." They blasted Conway "for attempting to politicize the massacre, in which I was killed." They listed other victims: "Paul Ryan's dignity, Marco Rubio's spine, Harambe, Voter Fraud Investigation, Cecil the Lion." They bitterly chimed in, "Thanks Obama."

They recalled their thesis on the massacre, their Ph.D from Trump University, and how Betsy DeVos plagiarized it. The best brought it all home by merging recent Trumpian catastrophes, as in, "Saddened and sickened by Frederick Douglass' silence surrounding the Bowling Green Massacre" and, "One still shudders to think how bad the Bowling Green Massacre would've been if not for the heroic intervention of Fred Douglass."

A Wikipedia page quickly sprung up. A mournful tribute folk song  - complete with fields of lollipops and unicorns - emerged. Enterprising New Yorkers held candlelight vigils for the victims: "Never remember! Always Forget! And one ingenious soul took constructive action by creating a Bowling Green Massacre Fund for the victims and families, seeking donations by intoning, "We all still carry the vivid memories of what horrors occurred at Bowling Green, but some still relive those moments every day as they work to rebuild a community torn apart...As we join together with our thoughts and prayers, we will always remember how our fortitude and compassion unite us all through these difficult times." Its website link - brilliant - goes to the ACLU.

Still, it's hard to keep up with orange-tinted idiocies: By mid-day Friday, the enthusiasm for the massacre had met its snarky match thanks to a report from the White House that the Sexual-Assaulter-In-Chief "likes the women who work for him 'to dress like women.'" This news was received about as well as to be expected, swiftly sparking the now-viral hashtag #DressLikeAWoman highlighting high-achieving women wearing whatever damn thing they want. For a change of pace, it relies on photographs not words, even though, don't forget, he has the best ones, ever.

(Abby Zimet posts at Common Dreams … where this and other excellent perspectives on the current state lives was first posted.)

-cw

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-When I finally got the keys to California, I wondered how fast it would go. So, on the 210 freeway, I floored the accelerator and within seconds I was driving 100 miles per hour. 

I immediately felt exhilaration -- and fear. This speed was totally unfamiliar to someone who has spent his life driving beaten-up Toyotas. In California we like to think we can move as fast as our imaginations can take us, but this shiny red convertible named California moved too fast for me. 

I was not driving my own car. Ferrari let me drive its latest California model -- officially the Ferrari California T -- for four rainy January days. I requested the loaner because I thought it might provide some escapist fun at a difficult time for our state and country, and because, on the north side of age 40, I deserve a mid-life crisis. 

But for journalistic purposes, I wanted to know whether the rare car named for our entire state (it’s far more common to name automobiles for specific California places, like the Chevrolet Malibu or Tahoe) could really embody California. I suspected that the folks back in Maranello, the Italian town where Ferrari makes its cars, might just be using our state’s name to sell a pretty automobile. 

My suspicions were wrong. The Ferrari California was a revelation -- as wonderful as our most kaleidoscopic dreams of the Golden State can be. The real problem was that Ferrari’s representation of California may be too faithful. The car is so damn perfect that it has a way of reminding you of our state’s imperfections. 

The Ferrari California aligns with the state on the level of metaphor. California is famously the “Great Exception” among American states, as the 20th century author Carey McWilliams named it, and California is an exception among Ferraris. But the nature of that exceptionalism might surprise you; California is not the most expensive or the most glamorous or the fastest Ferrari. 

To the contrary, Ferrari markets the California as the most practical and versatile of its cars. In its ultra-luxury, high-end way, it nods to the realities of modern California lives -- our business, our diversity, our traffic. 

The California is not a sports car, but a convertible grand touring car, built for comfort, which makes sense if you’re a Californian who works far from where you live, has kids, or is often stuck on our state’s abysmally congested freeways. It’s got two doors, but also enough space in back to fit two children’s car seats. 

“It is a little bit an exception,” Edwin Fenech, the president and CEO of Ferrari North America, told me by phone. “It’s able to be very versatile. You can drive it every day, and it’s very easy to drive. You can go to the grocery store with your car.” 

This has frustrated some Ferrari purists, who seem to equate the brand’s value with extreme male self-indulgence (you’ll see it referred to disparagingly as the “chick” Ferrari online) and complain about everything from its cupholder to its eight cylinders (most cars make do with four or six, but some Ferraris have 12.) 

But Fenech said that versatility shouldn’t detract from the car’s mystique, or California’s. It’s supposed to represent our sun-kissed Hollywood beauty, the kind he experienced as a young professional who saved up to fly his grandparents to California and guide them on a long drive up the coast, from Los Angeles to Monterey to San Francisco. The memory of that trip is a touchstone for Fenech and his family. 

“It’s a car that has all the attributes of being a Ferrari,” he said, referencing “high performance, elegance and flair.” He added pointedly that, in an era moving with surprising swiftness toward self-driving -- or autonomous -- vehicles, Ferrari wanted to affirm its support for Californians determined to steer clear of the trend. After all, what is more emblematic of the Golden State than our belief in primacy behind the wheel? 

“We are the ones who are going to defend the right to drive,” Fenech told me. “Americans in California should have the right to drive every day … Don’t brainwash the new generation with autonomous driving—it’s so beautiful, driving.” 

Fenech said that, while Ferrari makes all its cars in Italy, the U.S. and California also have defined the brand and its market. The race car driver Luigi Chinetti, who immigrated to the U.S. in the middle of the 20th century, pushed Enzo Ferrari to build his own cars and then imported them here. 

Today’s Ferrari California draws on our current infatuation with everything mid-20th century. Ferrari produced three different California models between 1957 and 1967. (Filmmakers used replicas of a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider in the classic ‘80s comedy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). The car became such a valuable collector’s item (some have sold for $20 million or more) that Ferrari revived the brand in 2008. 

The newest iteration, the Ferrari California T, was introduced for the 2015 model year. Fenech said the car fits California in multiple ways. It’s designed with a dual-clutch automatic transmission and a technologically advanced suspension, which makes it easy to navigate through the dense neighborhoods of America’s most urban state. “It’s the most urban Ferrari in our range -- you are able to drive it comfortably in the city,” he said. And the T stands for Turbo, as in the twin-turbo, 3.9 liter engine, which is a nod to our environmental awareness. It can still get the car to 196 miles per hour but uses less fuel and decreases the car’s emissions. (The auto press has speculated that all Ferraris will eventually be hybrids.) 

The Ferrari representative who loaned me the car encouraged me to do as much as I could with it. So I tested its California-ness. I drove it for 90 minutes through bumper-to-bumper traffic to my office in Santa Monica. I navigated potholes in downtown LA. (The seats are so comfortable you barely feel the bumps.) I made my rounds to the grocery store and the In-N-Out drive-through, complete with the requisite in-car consumption of a double-double. I chauffeured my kids to school, secured in their car seats in the back. And I carted luggage, golf clubs, and Little League equipment in the trunk. 

The car held up. I felt far safer while driving it in a rainstorm or on bad roads than I do with my usual ride, a five-year-old Prius. With the top down, I loved the way that the car connected me with other drivers and pedestrians, some of whom offered a thumbs-up and asked what the car was. 

When I took it out on PCH with the top down, the ride was joyful. And I’ve never had an automotive experience happier than the drive up Angeles Crest Highway, with the radio first playing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “California” (“It’s time we better hit the road”) and then R.E.M’s “Electrolite” (“Hollywood is under me. I’m Martin Sheen. I’m Steve McQueen. I’m Jimmy Dean.”) 

I didn’t want to keep this experience all to myself, so I took the historian Bill Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, for a spin, hoping for expert commentary on the car’s California-ness. He took exception to the suggestion that such a luxury item could be for anyone but the most moneyed Californians. But mostly, he just enjoyed the ride, and the respite from work. “It sure is fun,” he said. 

Of course, the car, like so many wonderful things in our state, fails the core test of accessibility: the base MSRP of the Ferrari California T is $198,973. The one I drove costs $240,000. By Ferrari standards, that’s a bargain (the hybrid La Ferrari sells for well over $1 million), which is by design: An estimated half of Ferrari California buyers are new to the brand. But the car I was driving would cost this non-profit journalist more than three years’ take-home pay. 

Which is another thing that makes the California very Californian. The good life is highly visible throughout our state. But only a few can afford more than a brief ride.

 

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor at Zócalo Public Square … where this column first appeared. Mathews is a Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).)Photos by Louis Wheatley. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

MARMOT MUSINGS-I am a scientist who loves Groundhog Day, that least scientific of holidays. Every February, as Punxsutawney Phil shakes the dust off his coat, emerges from his burrow, glances at his shadow (or not) and allegedly prognosticates winter’s end, I gather a group of professors, graduate students, and other assorted science geeks at my UCLA lab to nibble, drink, schmooze, and revel in ground-hoggery in all its magnificent splendor. 

I study the behavior, ecology, and evolution of groundhogs and the 14 other species of marmots --large, charismatic ground squirrels that live throughout the northern hemisphere. I realize that these rodents can’t tell us when seasons will change. I know that the whole idea of celebrating a mid-winter festival in Los Angeles’s usually balmy clime also makes little or no sense. I know that hanging out with a taxidermied animal I stuffed myself might seem a bit quirky for a tenured professor. 

But Groundhog Day -- and its inherent absurdity -- also serves as a reminder to me and my colleagues of why we do what we do. The United States has prospered in no small part because of our commitment to supporting science and technological innovation. With each new advance -- from the automobile to the polio vaccine to computers to space travel -- we have reinvented ourselves and the world around us. Scientific discovery is at the core of America’s success. Conversely, an Internet meme a few years ago wondered, “Why is that only in America do we accept weather prognostication from a rodent but deny climate change from a scientist?” But for my colleagues and me, groundhogs are symbols of science, not superstition. 

At my annual lab celebration, posters of groundhogs and plush stuffed groundhogs -- not to mention a glittering Swarovski crystal specimen, given to me by UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as thanks for years of service as department chair -- add to the ambiance. Groundhog-themed comics festoon the lab walls. “Two Buck Chuck,” our stuffed adolescent groundhog, presides over the festivities perched in one corner. One fall long ago, when I was doing my postdoctoral research, I found him dead on the side of the road and threw him into the freezer. My wife Janice and I had to wait to stuff him until Christmas break, when the smell associated with thawing and skinning him would be less offensive to our lab mates. 

We’ve been holding our Groundhog Day fête since 2001. America has been at it far longer than that. Groundhog Day was originally a reimagining of Candlemas Day, a Catholic mid-winter festival which itself had roots in a pagan celebration. Europeans observing Candlemas tracked hibernating hedgehogs to predict when winter would end. When the Pennsylvania Dutch came to our shores, they too looked for a hibernating mammal that might help them monitor the weather. 

Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, were native and seemed to fit the bill: Males popped up out of their burrows each February, probably checking things out and deciding when they should start waking up females to mate. The new Americans took notice, and Groundhog Day was born. 

Since 2001, I have run a long-term study, initiated 55 years ago by my mentor Ken Armitage, now an emeritus professor at the University of Kansas. Ken is the world authority on marmots, and is credited with emphasizing the importance of their annual cycle, which varies by location, in explaining why marmot sociality varies. It was Ken, actually, who first came up with the idea of celebrating Groundhog Day. He used to host the members of his lab at his house, serve “ground hog” (a.k.a. sausage), and recite marmot poetry. 

The study follows individually-marked yellow-bellied marmots at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. The value of the work is rooted in its longevity -- it’s one of the longest-running studies of its kind and an important tool for studying evolution in action. The animals are now emerging about a month earlier in the spring than they did 30 or 40 years ago. 

Understanding how individuals respond to environmental change is essential if we want to predict how animals will react to global warming and other human-driven habitat shifts. 

Science is what I do. I’m thrilled and inspired by being able to spend my days uncovering the secrets that hide in plain sight around us, and to use my marmot studies to train students to think critically and objectively. Our grand American experiment has prospered when it has the best possible information -- and I know that the scientific method is a very efficient process for revealing nature’s truths. This is the spirit in which I commemorate Groundhog Day -- celebrating America’s devotion to science, not just superstition.

(Daniel T. Blumstein is a professor at the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. His seventh book, Ecotourism’s Promise and Peril: A Biological Evaluation, will be published by Springer in 2018. This piece was first posted at Zocalo Public Square.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LET’S TALK ABOUT IT-As an African-American Democrat, I share the core values of my political party. That is why I am a Democrat. Like me, most African-American Democrats do not want to see the mass deportation of undocumented citizens and families broken up. That said, we would be completely within our right to give the side eye to political leaders who are falling over themselves to get on the “sanctuary state” PR bandwagon.  

When thousands of Blacks left Los Angeles County as a part of the Black flight into San Bernardino County and other far away cities in search of more affordable housing and better schools for their children there was no campaign urging us to stay -- in fact, some would argue cities paved the way to the freeway leading out of city limits. It is not lost on us that no one introduced legislation to help reverse the journey of our grandparents and great-grandparents from the west back to the South. 

When the number of Blacks in California dipped below 10 percent there were no emergency meetings to confer on how cities could better meet the needs of their Black residents and provide sanctuary to those living in areas rife with gentrification to keep them from leaving. 

Living in California -- particularly Los Angeles County -- there is no shortage of “sanctuary cities” with political leaders offering their residents promises of safety from arrest, detention and deportation based solely on their citizenship status. President Donald Trump has wasted no time in making good on the very same controversial campaign promises around immigration laws enforcement that many would agree put him into office.  

To date Trump has signed orders to start construction of a border wall, expand authority to deport thousands, increase the number of detention cells and punish cities and states that refuse to cooperate -- giving new meaning to the phrase “the ish is about to hit the fan.”  

Most African-Americans abhor Trump and the Republican Party, but privately agree with Trump’s assertion that “illegal immigration” has harmed the Black community economically. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that at the end of 2016, 7.8 percent of African-Americans were unemployed compared to 5.9 percent of Hispanics, 4.3 percent of whites and 2.6 percent of Asians. With Blacks making up a disproportionate number of low-skilled workers, they find themselves more likely than any other group to be competing with undocumented workers for work in the construction, service and hospitality industries -- areas where Blacks have traditionally been able to find work. 

I know it’s politically incorrect to point this out but that doesn’t make it any less true. And knowing this, when push came to shove, African-Americans still weren’t willing to let the possible security of their own economic welfare take precedence over everything else that’s wrong with Trump and the Republican Party. In other words, even though Trump told us that we have no jobs, horrible education and no safety or security, we did not buy into his “New Deal for Black America” or the idea that in order for us to succeed others had to leave the country. No, that is what disaffected white voters did last November -- not my people.  

But what have we gotten from the Democratic Party after decades of loyalty besides knowing that ethically we are on the right side of history? What has our silence and “go along to get along” attitude gotten us? The Democratic Party expects (and usually receives) our blind allegiance election after election but what is really our return on investment as African-Americans?    

Too often when it comes to the Democratic Party as a whole, we hand pick our battles based on which way the wind of popularity is blowing on an issue. It’s no secret that African-Americans have been both the conscience and backbone of the Democratic Party seemingly ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and today we are just taken for granted right along with our issues.  

I’m not sure which is worse: The Democrats continued assumption of the Black vote or how most members of the Republican Party refuse to acknowledge the passage of the 15th Amendment granting Blacks the right to vote. 

When Democrats fight for a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, childcare, paid family and medical leave it means nothing if you can’t get the job to begin with. Now, is that all the fault of undocumented workers? Absolutely not. But when you factor in a job market that demands more and more bilingual employees, employers who want to hire cheap labor, a workforce with generations of Blacks who are not prepared to meet the demands of 21st century employers, a lack of real educational opportunities as well as the highly exploitable position of the undocumented -- you have a recipe for disaster.    

Instead of ignoring or talking around the issues that plague both Black and Brown people, Democrats need to sit down and talk through them as a Party and figure out how we can all come up -- together.   

Rebuilding the Democratic Party to meet the needs of everyone and not just some means acknowledging and addressing the unequal economic impact that exploiting the undocumented has had on African-Americans in the workforce -- and not just the impact on the undocumented worker. It also means being honest about the situation and not simply labeling those who dare to talk about it as racist. It is not racist to want to figure out how all workers -- both Black, Brown and otherwise -- can work together to further everyone’s cause. On the other hand, acting like what is happening to Blacks is not happening and hushing the voices of those who try to talk about it could be considered as such.  

African-Americans know what it means to fight for human and civil rights probably better than most – hence, the constant replication of our tactics from the 60s Civil Rights Movement by various groups in the fight for theirs. In 2017, the Democratic Party stands at a crossroads. We win elections by bringing people together and working together -- not by taking each other’s support and votes for granted. As a Party we can do better. Our core values demand it and the future success of the Democratic Party requires it.

 

(Jasmyne A. Cannick is nationally known television and radio commentator on political, race, and LGBT issues who works in politics as a communications strategist. Follow her on Twitter @Jasmyne and on Facebook @JasmyneCannick. Her website is www.jasmyneonline.com.)

Photo: CFAAC, California Friends of African American Caucus. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST COMMENTARY-I am profoundly saddened and angered by the broad discrimination sanctioned on Friday night by the Trump administration against refugees -- those fleeing violence and terrorism within their country -- and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. 

There are two elements to this executive order: a ban on all refugees entering the country and a ban on all immigrants from seven, predominantly Muslim countries. Make no mistake — this is a Muslim ban, many of whom are women and children displaced by violence. 

This runs counter to our national security interests and will be used as a recruitment tool for terror groups, endangering the lives of Americans overseas. 

Furthermore, the Trump administration has proposed no practical or effective solution to make Americans safer from terrorism. Remember, between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown terrorists than by foreign-born extremists. Rather than address that threat, the administration has cruelly closed our doors to immigrants and refugees who are already vetted for more than two years to ensure they pose no threat to our citizens. 

Since the Holocaust, it has been the policy of presidents of both parties to open our doors to those fleeing war and oppression. This moral leadership has enhanced our ability to shape world events while promoting global stability and protecting Americans abroad. 

Refugees don't make us less safe; they enrich our communities. I have seen refugees in California become business owners in Sacramento who grow our economy and students in Los Angeles developing cutting-edge research, all in the pursuit of contributing to a country that proudly opened its doors in their hour of need. 

During the Holocaust, we failed to let refugees like Anne Frank into our country. And today, we are making the same mistake under the illusion of security. 

Turning our backs on millions of refugees is a dark moment in American history; one that we must rise to meet because this is only the beginning of this fight. I fear that it will get worse before it gets better. 

But I believe that our commitment to action and to defending those who have been left out and displaced will be able to overcome the bigoted policies of this administration. 

To our brothers, sisters, and friends in immigrant and refugee communities at home and all across the world -- know that you are not alone. We are fighting for you. We will not give up on you. Don’t give up on us. 

Fight on. 

(Kamala Harris is U.S. Senator for California and former California Attorney General. She can be reached here.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE FAILURE OF NEW FEDERALISM-President Nixon, though possessing the instincts and speaking the increasingly conservative language of the mainstream Republican Party all his life (his writings on domestic policy attest to this,) governed within the boundaries set by the New Deal. Where other conservatives like Barry Goldwater had no interest in “streamlining government,” “making it more efficient,” and “promoting welfare,” Nixon sought to do exactly these things. He might be considered a “good-government conservative,” seeking, as did his mentor Eisenhower, to make the institutions of the New Deal state work more effectively and efficiently for the American people. At the time, liberal Democrats had no interest in reforming governance in this way, while more conservative Republicans offered no solutions but “starve-the-beast.” Nixon was pioneering a pragmatic middle ground. 

If there was a single animating principle behind Nixon’s good-government reform efforts, it was this: lessen the power of the federal bureaucracy. There were various ways Nixon went about this, but this article will examine three. Nixon would empower the poor and those dependent on federal aid by replacing strings-attached welfare and social programs with no-strings-attached payments, believing poor people would be better at deciding how to spend their money than bureaucrats. Nixon would empower officials (and bureaucrats) at the state, city, and county levels by passing revenue sharing aid along to them. Finally, Nixon would oversee the smoother management of the federal government, by reorganizing the federal departments into departments based on broad purpose and function rather than on sector or constituency. 

These initiatives-the Family Assistance Plan, General Revenue Sharing, and Executive Reorganization- made up a significant chunk of Nixon’s domestic policy, also known as the “New Federalism.” There were other aspects, including Keynesian full-employment spending, creation of new federal regulatory departments, and a push for universal healthcare. But the Family Assistance Plan, Revenue Sharing, and Executive Reorganization were the boldest in terms of reforming the New Deal and Great Society institutions for a new era, and incidentally, they all failed to gather sufficient popular support to be institutionalized in the long term. The Reagan Administration ended most Revenue Sharing plans in 1986, while the Family Assistance Plan and Executive Reorganization never passed in Congress (in the latter case, largely due to the distracting factor of Watergate.) 

But these bold good-government reforms are worth revisiting today, if only to gain insight into the unique governing philosophy of President Nixon. 

The Family Assistance Plan 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, head of Nixon’s Urban Affairs Council, strongly advocated for what he called the “income strategy“ -- a resolution to fight poverty by boosting incomes and putting money in poor people’s pockets, rather than providing social services staffed by career bureaucrats. After much internal jockeying over such issues as the enforcement of work requirements and rates of support payments, the “Family Assistance Plan” became the administration’s keystone domestic policy initiative, the vital core of its New Federalism. 

The Family Assistance Plan (FAP) was designed to largely replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) put in place by the New Deal and expanded under the Great Society. FAP’s logic was simple: poor families would have a better knowledge and understanding of how to help themselves if given welfare payments than would the social workers and bureaucrats whose programs those dollars might otherwise fund. There was also a strong work requirement and work incentive, distinguishing the plan from previous versions of welfare programs. 

As President Nixon said in his August 8, 1969 Address to the Nation on Domestic Programs“… I, therefore, propose that we will abolish the present welfare system and that we adopt in its place a new family assistance system. Initially, this new system will cost more than welfare. But, unlike welfare, it is designed to correct the condition it deals with and, thus, to lessen the long-range burden and cost.…The new family assistance system I propose in its place rests essentially on these three principles: equality of treatment across the Nation, a work requirement, and a work incentive.” 

The FAP would have been the most significant reform in American social welfare policy since the 1930s and one of the most transformative domestic policies of the latter half of the 20th Century. It would have served the administration’s goal of weakening the bureaucracy by reducing the responsibilities of federal service agencies, opting instead for a cash handouts approach that incentivized job attainment. 

Ultimately, due to lengthy conflicts over the substance of welfare reform between the Moynihan and Burns camps, the administration never put forth a bulletproof proposal to Congress, and Congressional conservatives and liberals united to defeat what they respectively regarded as too generous and too stingy a proposal. 

Revenue Sharing 

If the purpose of the Family Assistance Plan was to remove the bureaucratic middleman from welfare policy, then the point of Revenue Sharing was to remove the bureaucratic middleman from many other aspects of federal policy, particularly social services. Revenue Sharing in its various forms- General Revenue Sharing, which did not have any strings attached, and Special Revenue Sharing, which was directed at specific sectors but still had few strings attached- was conceived in the spirit of decentralizing policymaking power to states, counties, and municipalities. 

As President Nixon said in his February 4, 1971 Special Message to Congress proposing General Revenue Sharing, “There is too much to be done in America today for the Federal Government to try to do it all. When we divide up decision-making, then each decision can be made at the place where it has the best chance of being decided in the best way. When we give more people the power to decide, then each decision will receive greater time and attention. This also means that Federal officials will have a greater opportunity to focus on those matters which ought to be handled at the Federal level.” 

Strengthening the States and localities will make our system more diversified and more flexible. Once again these units will be able to serve–as they so often did in the 19th century and during the Progressive Era–as laboratories for modern government. Here ideas can be tested more easily than they can on a national scale. Here the results can be assessed, the failures repaired, the successes proven and publicized. Revitalized State and local governments will be able to tap a variety of energies and express a variety of values. Learning from one another and even competing with one another, they will help us develop better ways of governing. 

The ability of every individual to feel a sense of participation in government will also increase as State and local power increases. As more decisions are made at the scene of the action, more of our citizens can have a piece of the action. As we multiply the centers of effective power in this country, we will also multiply the opportunity for every individual to make his own mark on the events of his time. 

Finally, let us remember this central point: the purpose of revenue sharing is not to prevent action but rather to promote action. It is not a means of fighting power but a means of focusing power. Our ultimate goal must always be to locate power at that place–public or private-Federal or local–where it can be used most responsibly and most responsively, with the greatest efficiency and with the greatest effectiveness. 

Integral to the Revenue Sharing programs, and indeed to the New Federalism as a whole, was the urge to, as Richard P. Nathan put it, “sort out and rearrange responsibilities among the various types and levels of government in American federalism.” 

With the complex ecosystem of American federalism approaching incomprehensibility, Nixon’s administration sought to rationalize it somewhat by decentralizing some functions and centralizing others. Nathan argues that inherently trans-regional issues, such as air and water quality or basic minimum welfare standards, were best managed at the federal level, as were basic income transfer payments. Meanwhile, more complex and regionally variant issues, such as social services and healthcare and education, might be better dealt with locally. 

Many of the functions of powerful federal departments would thereby increasingly be taken up by states and cities, which would now have the federal funding to manage things they once could not. In this way, Nixon weakened the federal bureaucracy by empowering political entities far away from the national bureaucracy’s central core in Washington. 

Revenue Sharing of all sorts was broadly popular across party lines, but was terminated by the middle of the Reagan Administration. 

Executive Reorganization 

The third significant aspect of President Nixon’s domestic agenda was the wholesale reorganization of the Executive Branch’s departments. The twelve departments existing at the time of Nixon’s presidency had all been born out of necessity over the first two centuries of American history, and typically corresponded to particular economic or infrastructural sectors (for example, the Department of Agriculture.) New agencies proliferated within the departments, and often times different departments would pass conflicting regulations on the same subjects, making a tangled environment for citizens navigating through the mess. 

The solution developed by the President’s Advisory Council on Executive Organization (PACEO) was to completely reorganize the Executive Branch based on function rather than constituency. The Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, and Justice would remain largely as they were; the remaining departments would be reorganized into a Department of Human Resources, a Department of Natural Resources, a Department of Community Development, and a Department of Economic Development. As President Nixon said in his March 21, 1971 Special Message to Congress on Executive Reorganization, "We must rebuild the executive branch according to a new understanding of how government can best be organized to perform effectively. 

The key to that new understanding is the concept that the executive branch of the government should be organized around basic goals. Instead of grouping activities by narrow subjects or by limited constituencies, we should organize them around the great purposes of government in modern society. For only when a department is set up to achieve a given set of purposes, can we effectively hold that department accountable for achieving them. Only when the responsibility for realizing basic objectives is clearly focused in a specific governmental unit, can we reasonably hope that those objectives will be realized. 

When government is organized by goals, then we can fairly expect that it will pay more attention to results and less attention to procedures. Then the success of government will at last be clearly linked to the things that happen in society rather than the things that happen in government. 

Rather than being a conscious component of the New Federalism, the Executive Reorganization is more rightly thought of as a part of what Richard P. Nathan calls the “Administrative Presidency“ -- Nixon’s attempts after 1972 to bring the federal bureaucracy much more directly under his personal control, through reorganizing the Executive Branch and through appointing personal loyalists to Cabinet positions and other spots. This, of course, would have lessened the influence of career bureaucrats and directly increased the President’s power over policy implementation. 

The Executive Reorganization failed largely due to the Watergate scandal. 

Conclusion 

It’s very likely that much of Nixon’s plan to weaken the federal bureaucracy and fundamentally reform the federal government was driven by his own distrust of the “Establishment.” That does not, however, detract from the very real fact that the U.S. federal government of 1968, after almost three-and-a-half decades of near-continuous expansion, was cumbersome, overbearing, and inefficient at fulfilling the tasks assigned it by the American people. Much of this dysfunction, it could be argued, lay in the fact that the federal bureaucracy was becoming an interest group committed to its own perpetuation and loathe to undergo reforms imposed from the outside. 

Nixon’s plans to lessen the federal bureaucracy’s authority, responsibility, and power, whatever their fundamental motive, bore much potential to transform the federal government from a hulking behemoth into a sleeker, more responsive, and fundamentally more effective machine attuned to the needs of the last few decades of the 20th Century. Had the Family Assistance Plan, Revenue Sharing and policy decentralization, and the Executive Reorganization passed, the apparatus of the federal government might well look different today. Agencies and departments would be more goal-oriented than constituency-oriented; many federal services would be outsourced to newly-vibrant state and local governing entities; the welfare system would be entirely transformed into a payments system rather than a services system. 

President Nixon’s legacy as a good-government reformer ought to be examined more closely, both for its own sake, and for the sake of better informing government reform efforts in the 21st Century. There is potentially much we could learn from many of Nixon’s initiatives.

 

(Luke Phillips is a political activist and writer in California state politics and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. His work has been published in a variety of publications, including Fox&Hounds, NewGeography, and The American Interest. He is a Research Assistant to Joel Kotkin at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

WORDS MATTER-One of the characteristics of the Alt-Right is how they view themselves as the victims of everyone else. To the Alt Right, Christians are the most persecuted group of people in the world. 

On the flip side of this belief we find Holocaust Deniers. These people deny the Hitlerian Genocide of Jews and others; there are also those who deny the earlier Armenian Genocide. 

Not only has Donald Trump removed Jews from Holocaust Remembrance Day, he has removed Gypsies, (called Roma these days) and he has omitted mentioning Trade Unionists and Catholic priests. Trump pretends that he is being all inclusive by excluding the groups who were actually the targets of Hitler’s genocide. 

Here is what Trump’s White house wrote: 

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror. 

Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent. 

In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.” 

Trump has removed the concept of Genocide from the Remembrance. He refers to “depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people,” but he is silent about the attempt to eradicate an entire people. Trump’s words about the Holocaust could have been used to describe the Chicago murder rate which he termed “horrible carnage.” 

Trump has taken a significant step toward the Holocaust Deniers’ camp by making no mention of Jews and no mention of Genocide. “Holocaust” by itself does not mean “genocide.” Then Trump quickly makes himself the center of attention by saying, “…I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life….” 

In 2015, President Obama’s statement remembered Jews and the other victims. Contrary to Trump, one does not have to exclude Jews in order to remember others; one does not have to omit genocide to decry other crimes against humanity. President Obama said: 

“Today, with heavy hearts, we remember the six million Jews and the millions of other victims of Nazi brutality who were murdered during the Holocaust. 

Yom HaShoah is a day to reaffirm our responsibilities to ourselves and future generations. It is incumbent upon us to make real those timeless words, ‘Never forget. Never again.’ Yet, even as we recognize that mankind is capable of unspeakable acts of evil, we also draw strength from the survivors, the liberators, and the righteous among nations who represented humanity at its best. 

With their example to guide us, together we must firmly and forcefully condemn the anti-Semitism that is still far too common today. Together we must stand against bigotry and hatred in all their forms. And together, we can leave our children a world that is more just, more free, and more secure for all humankind.” 

At the same time Trump was omitting Jews and Genocide from the Holocaust Remembrance, he was denying access to refugees seeking asylum from persecution -- except for Christians who get a free pass.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--In 1994 I volunteered to teach a Level One ESL class at a Tarzana temple. Each week I met with four men who had emigrated from Iran and one who had emigrated from Russia. We did not share a common language, other than the vocabulary and grammar I taught them in an elementary religious school classroom but we still understood each other. I can still hear the excitement in my student’s voice as he proudly recited the names of vegetables he had learned. “Artichoke! Asparagus! Broccoli!” I had no idea what he did in his home country but here, he was working in a Valley produce market. 

As I read about Donald Trump’s onslaught of executive orders during the week, I thought about my students and other immigrants I have met since I’ve lived in Los Angeles, many who are colleagues and friends. Multiculturalism is one of the greatest qualities of our city. When I rode the Red Line to the Women’s March last week, I was struck by the number of languages I heard in the car. Los Angeles is a city of immigrants -- all of whom have arrived here to make a better life for themselves and for their families, to pursue a dream. 

From Trump’s executive order Wednesday that calls for the “immediate plan, design and construction of a physical wall along the southern border” and would allow the Attorney General and Homeland Security Secretary to determine whether “sanctuary cities” like Los Angeles are eligible for federal grants to his doublespeak “extreme vetting” of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, the president has sent a loud message. 

Although a federal judge in New York had temporarily blocked part of the immigration order on Saturday, as of publication, at least seven were detained at LAX. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer stated, “People in this country -- we’re talking about lawful permanent residents who are returning to this country or coming here for the first time to be united with family --- have rights! Here in Los Angeles, we stand up for uniting families. We stand up for giving people their basic rights. We need to prevent this from having a further negative effect on our community.”

According to the Twitter feed of immigration attorney and author Greg Siskind, immigration attorney Ally Balour reported Sunday that Iranian passengers on two LAX-bound flights were given I-407 forms and ordered to surrender their green cards while in flight. Attorneys advised the passengers in question not to sign the forms and to inform other passengers. The passengers took almost five hours to clear customs, were debriefed, and an investigation is expected.

We are sure to hear much more talk about the constitutionality and legality of Trump’s executive orders in the weeks to come. In the meantime, we need to reflect on the stories of each and every person and family whose lives would be impacted by these orders. It’s far too easy to paint a broad picture of those who might be incorrectly perceived as a threat, whether in terms of security or economy. Sweeping generalizations and executive orders to appease fear and intolerance point to the worst moments of our history, of Japanese internment camps, of lynchings, and of McCarthy’s Black List. We cannot allow fear-based intolerance to dim our collective empathy and to keep us from doing what is right.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE--The Trump-Pence administration's war on facts may have galvanized the next major demonstration in the nation's capital—the Scientists' March on Washington, which is as yet unscheduled but is garnering significant enthusiasm online.

Spurred by the new administration's stance on climate change, muzzling of scientists, and slashing of environmental regulations, the idea grew out of a Reddit thread started in the wake of Saturday's inspirational Women's March on Washington and global solidarity events.

As the Washington Post reports:

[S]omeone wrote, "There needs to be a Scientists' March on Washington."

"100%," someone replied. Dozens of others agreed.

One participant in the exchange, University of Texas Health Science Center postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Berman, took the conversation to heart. In short order, the march had a Facebook page (whose membership swelled from 200 people on Tuesday night to more than 150,000 by Wednesday at noon), a Twitter handle, a website, two co-chairs, Berman and science writer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg, and a Google form through which interested researchers could sign up to help.

Indeed, the Facebook group had swelled to nearly 300,000 members as of later Wednesday, and @ScienceMarchDC now has more than 50,000 followers. 

Organizers said Wednesday they would "soon be releasing our formal vision" (as well as a date for the march), but for now they summarized their mission thusly:

Although this will start with a march, we hope to use this as a starting point to take a stand for science in politics. Slashing funding and restricting scientists from communicating their findings (from tax-funded research!) with the public is absurd and cannot be allowed to stand as policy. This is a non-partisan issue that reaches far beyond people in the STEM fields and should concern anyone who values empirical research and science.

There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.

Indeed, Union of Concerned Scientists president Ken Kimmell said Wednesday in response to the latest crackdown on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in particular: "Demands to shut down informational websites and prevent the release of scientific findings are straight out of Orwell. We don't live in a world of 'alternative facts'—you can't delete climate change and you can't overrule the laws of physics by preventing scientists from talking about them."

"President Trump and his representatives in the EPA and other agencies are accountable to the public interest," Kimmell said, "and the scientific community will continue to expose and resist abuses like these."

"This is not a partisan issue," the March for Science team told Mashable by email. "Scientific research moves us forward."

On other pro-science fronts, the climate movement is planning a redux of the People's Climate March for April 29, and The Atlantic reported Wednesday that a newly formed group called 314 Action has been "created to support scientists in running for office." 

As 350.org noted in its call to action for the April 29 march, "Now more than ever, it will take everyone to change everything."

Keep up to date on the scientists' demonstration under the hashtag #ScienceMarch.

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

AMERICAN CARNAGE-It has been said that the first casualty of war is truth. Certainly that’s the case in the fight between Donald Trump and reality. So far, reality appears to be losing.

In the realm of fiction, readers and viewers engage in a willing suspension of disbelief. They know human beings don’t have super powers, animals can’t talk, and magic is an illusion, but the ability to set aside this knowledge allows them to enjoy the story.

When most of us finish the book or leave the theater, we re-enter the world where truth and nonfiction are synonymous.

But, there are some who apply a suspension of disbelief to the real world. These folks range across a broad spectrum from the spiritual to the merely eccentric to the seriously deluded. Conspiracy theorists inhabit a particular niche of paranoia many of us find amusing. When the president of the United States engages in this behavior, it’s not funny anymore.

Trump and the Republican establishment apparently believe in, and practice, social and economic Darwinism. Regardless of where they start, individuals are expected to compete for everything. It is not government’s job to level the playing field.

The government’s job is to reward the winners and ignore the losers. That’s how a nation competes in the global arena—by putting its best team on the field. United States foreign policy is no longer concerned with peace and stability. America First means everyone else second.

Trump’s world is divided into winners and losers. If you are poor, sick, disabled, or not born in this country, you are a loser. And if you are Donald J. Trump, you cannot be a loser.

That’s what drives Trump to insist that more people attended his inauguration than any other in history and that he only lost the popular vote because millions of “illegals” broke the law and cast ballots for Hilary Clinton.

And the people who work for Trump repeat those lies. They pretend he’s a victim of the big, bad media. They complain that opponents are attempting to “delegitimize” Trump’s presidency. And, of course, those lies aren’t lies, they’re “alternative facts.”

Perhaps the most dangerous of alternative facts in Trump’s mind is that the law does not apply to the President. In fact, numerous rules regarding conflicts of interest and self-enrichment do bind our chief executive. But if he can get away with breaking those laws, why can’t he just ignore them all?

According to Trump, the world is a dark and scary place. The “carnage” wreaked on America by Obama can only be fixed by Trump. Americans have been losers and now he can make us winners. We just have to suspend our disbelief, buy the lies, and follow the leader.

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE POWER OF WORDS-Donald Trump bragged, via tweet, that he’s the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter. Unfortunately for us, the new president possesses neither the courage nor the self-control of Hemingway, winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature for writing unforgettably about bravery under fire. As the problems created by Trump-tweets pile up, the source of Trump's addiction to Twitter has become all too clear. Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, described it in words worthy of John Steinbeck: “Trump’s Twitter tantrums are a message of weakness.” 

When I read Trump’s recent Twitter attack on Congressman John Lewis, the venerated civil rights leader who, despite vivid memories and bloody images to the contrary, Trump had the temerity to write was “[a]ll talk, talk, talk – no action or results,” I was reminded of the lecture Toni Morrison gave when she won the Nobel Prize in 1993. Like the speeches of two previous Nobel Prize-winners, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck, her lecture extolled the power of language in explaining and validating human experience. “We die,” she observed. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 

Echoing George Orwell, Morrison warned that “the systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forego its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation.” Foreshadowing Donald Trump’s grade school twitter-burns, she described “language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind.” 

At her popular blog BrainPickings.org, Maria Popova praised Toni Morrison’s lecture as “perhaps our most powerful manifesto for the responsibility embedded in how we wield the tool that stands as the hallmark of our species.” I agree with this assessment, and with Morrison’s Orwell-like admonition. “Whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities,” she said, “it must be rejected, altered and exposed.” 

I also agree with Kyle Sammin, the lawyer and writer from Pennsylvania who advised Donald Trump to delete his Twitter account, quoting Calvin Coolidge: “[t]he words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.” As Toni Morrison noted, Abraham Lincoln provides an even better example of presidential brevity: “When a President of the United States thought about the graveyard his country had become, and said, ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. But it will never forget what they did here,’ his simple words are exhilarating in their life-sustaining properties because they refused to encapsulate the reality of 600, 000 dead men in a cataclysmic race war.” 

By the time Republicans convened in Cleveland last summer, I had already blogged that the Republican nominee for president was the antithesis of Abraham Lincoln. He’s no Coolidge either. Hell, he may not be as good as Dan Quayle, who at least had the sense to stop explaining when he misspelled “potato” at a Trenton, New Jersey elementary school during the 1992 campaign. As Arthur Delaney pointed out in a recent Huffington Post headline, “Donald Trump Can’t Stop Tweeting Mean Things About People.” America's new president is like a gambler on an all-night binge in Atlantic City, compulsively feeding nickel-and-dime tweets, retweets, and mentions into the slot-machine of his ego. 

Since he shows no sign of stopping, Trump would do well to follow the example of John Steinbeck, whose son Thom -- also a writer -- had this to say about the virtue of authorial self-control during a 2012 interview with Alexander Jaffee. “Ultimately,” he noted, “the greatest amount of time in all writing is spent editing. My father said there’s only one trick to writing, and that’s not writing, that’s writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Like sculpture. I mean, the first thing off the top of your head isn’t the most brilliant thing you ever thought of. And then when you’re writing about it, when you want others to understand what you’re still talking about, then it really requires that you edit yourself really, really well, so that other people can comprehend it.” 

Sadly, Donald Trump has a problem in this area that no amount of self-editing can fix. Describing John Steinbeck's honesty, Thom wrote: “[e]verything he wrote had truth to it. That’s what he was addicted to. He was addicted to the truth.” As demonstrated by Twitter attacks on true American heroes like John Lewis, Donald Trump has the opposite addiction.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq. This piece was written for Steinbeck Now. It is being published here with the author’s permission.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

@THE GUSS REPORT-If the whole point of “Love Trumps Hate,” the slogan used throughout most of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency, is that love, inclusiveness and positivity are better than the divisive statements, particularly Tweets, of now-president Donald Trump, you wouldn’t know it by some of Saturday’s protests and related social media activities over the weekend. 

Saturday Night Live writer Katie Mary Rich, 33, wrote that 10-year old Barron Trump “will be this country’s first homeschool shooter,” taking a triple pot-shot at Trump’s youngest son, those who homeschool their children and school shootings. (Note: Trump’s son is not homeschooled, but attends a pricey private school in New York.) In the meantime, as ironic as it gets, the NY Times reports that Rich was suspended indefinitely from her SNL job for cyber-bullying Barron.   

Rich got a taste of her own cyberbullying medicine as a tidal wave of bad publicity called for her firing.   She subsequently put her Twitter account on private, then shut it down altogether, followed by shuttering all of her other social media accounts, as well as her website. Whether she stays employed by NBC Universal or ends up with a quiet development deal somewhere remains to be seen, but no protest leaders were heard calling for an apology or retraction, and none was offered by Rich. 

Pop singer Madonna, 58, who sings a familiar lyric of “respect yourself” while coming off a year in which she lost custody of her son, and had a string of other bizarre incidents, told throngs of protestors in Washington, D.C., that “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” Way to go on that peace and love thing, Madge.

Pollster Frank Luntz Tweeted that he was called a “fascist MFer” and had paint thrown on himself and a form of confetti thrown in his eyes, for sharing an observation about drunk protesters harassing guests at a local hotel, and the vulgarity of some protest signs. But Luntz may have overlooked his own irony when he referred to protestors as “ineffective,” while reporting on them. He also Tweeted a photo of trash strewn on a sidewalk at one of the protests, noting that it isn’t in sync with protestors’ concerns about the environment, when it simply could have been a by-product of the crowds being so immense that public works officials underestimated the need for more and bigger trash receptacles. Or perhaps they were still overflowing from the activities of the inauguration and protests of a day earlier. 

Regardless of where you stand on the political issues, you have to love this photo from an unknown source on the web. 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST COMMENTARY--Many of us in this election season have referred to the Trump 'anshluss' as a world of 'smoke and mirrors', and we were correct.  But now we know from the twisted mouth of his hired gun, KellyAnne Conway, that it is really not so much calculated duplicity, but rather it is a presentation of "alternative facts."  She says we must look at the news as "BROADcast, not NARROWcast."  A whole new political vocabulary has emerged from the Trumpists in our new 'post factual' world.  Veracity is now in the eyes and ears of the beholder. 

As a student, and then a professor, of public policy, I learned early on that a fact was considered true when, as a thesis, it was proven by non biased investigation.  However, we have changed course in epistemology and linguistics to find that we now live in a world where there is a sliding scale of what registers as fact and what is fiction, and either or both can come out  in every sentence of the limited vocabulary spouting from Donald Trump's mouth. 

As I listened carefully, admittedly with tears in my eyes, to the inauguration speech of this deplorable new President of the US, and leader of the Free World, who was standing only feet from four of our past Presidents as he defamed each of them with his rhetoric about how he finally, for the first time, is giving the nation back to the people, I was amazed at his bizarre gall, his ignorance,  and his despicable manners to insult Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Carter, by asserting that they were all inept, uncaring, and failing in their duty to America.  He vilified them in so many ways that it was mind blowing, and watching their faces, the faces of their wives, and the others on the dais, I came to finally understand what a villainous demagogue this new President is, and how dangerous he is, and what is even worse, how dangerous and uninformed his followers are.  

I have read much in these past weeks since he won this questionable election by a fluke of the Electoral College, but without the popular vote, and with the interference of both Russian hacking and Comey's false Clinton report and the NY Times knowing about it all for weeks before the election but choosing not to report any of it.  Much has been written by groups of psychiatrists who go beyond his personality disorders like Narcissism and megalomania, to discuss his potential brain dysfunction and the possibility of dementia which rules his lies and  loss of control as with the endless tweets at the smallest and the most inconsequential of slights.  Yesterday, sending his lackey, now known as Afghanistan Sean Spicer, in to the first formal White House press announcement only to admonish the media for "fake" reporting on how many people were standing to watch this nonsensical reality show of an inauguration was incomprehensible and will be recorded in the history books for posterity.  This man continues to make himself, and America, the laughing stock of the planet. 

Facts on the emerging Russian connection now being investigated by the CIA and the FBI, not only with the Putin hacking of the US election process, but with the years of contact and 'deals' between Trump and Putin and Manafort, and the Russian Oligarchs who now seem to be bankers to Trump, and all of them also possible black mailers of Trump, and purveyors of films of "golden showers" which is a topic most never heard of before this election, all of this boggles the mind of voters and citizens of the US and is even more terrifying to the other nations of the world which have to deal with his nuclear threats and the angst of being his target if he gets insulted.  I suspect his family knows how deranged he is and that is why they have Jared Kushner,  who is evidently the smartest among them, posted in the West Wing as his closest advisor.  Jared strikes me as playing Iago to his father-in-laws madman, Othello.  

Not only do we Americans have to worry about his little fingers on the button of the cataclysmic nuclear coded football, but the world now wonders who he will blow up first.  

Democrats are asked by Republicans to foster unity and support him...to give him a chance, yet everything he says brings us back to his lack of intellectual stature, lack of political experience, lack of calm judgment, and his over arching greed, mendacity, and self aggrandizement.  It is not rational to support anything or anyone he recommends for his edicts do mirror the manipulating and false populist claims of tyrants from Nero to Hitler.  His speeches about giving the decision making "to the people" are almost word for word the speeches of the Third Reich and they are a page out of his favorite bedside book, Mein Kampf.  The Drumpf family has long been known known to consort with others of the underworld like Roy Cohn, and their Mafia ties, and most probably the similar Russian mob.  Why would anyone think that due to this 'trumped up' election, Donald has changed from his lifelong playboy, misogynistic, self serving, highly bigoted persona?  

Just look carefully at those he has chosen to run OUR country with him as their leader, their Commander in Chief.  Keep wearing the pussy cat hats and speaking up without fear. Keep Rex Tillerson at Exxon Mobil instead of in the role of the US Sect. of State where he will be dropping US sanctions (to insure vast profits for the oil barons) against an aggressive Putin Kremlin which is committing war crimes, and keep the ignorant and spoiled, religious ideologue debutante, Betsy DeVos, out of the Dept. of Education, and keep the well determined bigot, Jeff Sessions, from being America's AG ... and send all the rest of this crew of US oligarchs back to their well padded nests under the rocks from which they crawled into Drumpf's daylight including HUD, Labor, Health and Human Services et al.  What a bunch of over privileged thugs they all are. 

  • What can you do about it? For one thing, join the over 100,000 people that have signed the Impeach Donald Trump Now’ petition and get your voice on record.

 

(Ellen Lubic is Director of Joining Forces for Education, a public policy educator and journalist and an occasional CityWatch contributor.)

 

 

AT LENGTH-Amidst the uproar over Donald Trump’s latest tweet, his latest cabinet picks, and the latest revelations on the impact of Russian hacking on his surprise election win, the airing of Michael Kirk’s documentary film, Divided States of America, on Frontline (PBS) was overlooked. 

The documentary, which aired on January 18, examines President Barack Obama’s two terms in office and the widening divide over politics, race, and economics. The film noted that when Obama was elected eight years ago, Democrats became a majority in both houses of Congress. Pundits prognosticated that the Republican Party would be out of power for at least a generation. 

The documentary, however, reveals how, instead of accepting the dead-on arrival prognosis, Republican Party members gathered at their favorite watering hole and mapped out a plan to stop Obama. The plan from the very beginning was to keep any of his objectives from ever being implemented or passed. And that’s exactly what they’ve done for the last eight years. 

Their strategy explains a great deal about why so little has been accomplished by this Republican-led Congress, which was won back a majority of seats, starting with the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate by 2012. This is also why Obama began to increasingly turn to using executive orders to accomplish his agenda. 

The stalemate was planned by none other than Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and a co-author and architect of the Contract With America. 

It also reveals how politically naïve Obama was to the ways of D.C. politics as he tried repeatedly to cross the divide between liberals and conservatives and weld bi-partisan support for the economic recovery and the Affordable Care Act, subsequently dubbed ObamaCare. 

This was probably Obama’s greatest failing as president. Under his tenure, the nation has only grown more divided. In the end, that divide created both the Tea Party revolt and the election of someone who is the exact opposite of Barack Obama. Our country hasn’t been this divided since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War era. 

As the nation celebrates the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. with street parades and closed government buildings, I’m reminded of how my generation reacted to the assassinations of national leaders like King, President John F. Kennedy and his brother Sen. Robert Kennedy and never found satisfaction in the official explanations given. This was also so after the FBI Counter Intelligence Program was exposed following the 1971 burgling of an FBI field office of classified dossiers which were distributed to the media. News of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal spread. He and his merry band of political plumbers were caught red handed. 

President Obama likes to quote Dr. King regarding the nature of justice, saying: 

‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’ many of my generation are still not willing to wait, nonetheless endure a repeat of the injustices of the past. This is among the many reasons why I, and millions of other Americans, am not going to ‘just give the new guy a chance to prove himself.’ 

Trump has already lost his opportunity to unite this nation behind his alt-version of reality.

 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

PERSPECTIVE-By the time this article is published, either the most awaited or un-awaited presidency, depending on your point of view, will have begun. Trump’s loyal supporters believe he will initiate sweeping, long-overdue changes; his most ardent detractors fear he will take us down the road to fascism. 

For certain, we are in for a wild ride, but I do not believe President Trump (can’t believe I am typing those two words together) will be able to wave a magic wand and have his way across the board. This is a guy who did not have a majority of his own party behind him. His victory was more about the other candidate’s problems. 

A Washington Post/ABC poll showed his favorability rating on the eve of taking office as forty percent. That does not signal a honeymoon; an impending divorce is more like it, a nasty one at that. 

Without a broad consensus behind him, Congress will not rubber-stamp much of Trump’s agenda, assuming he really has one other than poorly defined tweeting points. 

So one should not expect broad support for any of his plans beyond the selection of a new Supreme Court judge. That’s a big one, but the High Court has always ebbed and flowed between conservative and liberal influence. It’s been that way for a few decades. There’s always a wild card, too, like Justice Kennedy. Let’s not forget that Chief Justice Roberts saved Obamacare. You just never know. 

I anticipate we will have a balanced court, unless one of the liberal judges retires during Trump’s term. It is unlikely any of them will retire during a first term. It would take a Scalia-type departure for another vacancy on the left side of the bench. 

What about a wall across our southern border? 

I think you might see some segments constructed in strategic locations, but funding will be a problem for any lengthy stretch. It will be more show than substance. The repercussions will give Republican lawmakers pause. 

But there will be some extensive changes to immigration policy, some of which will be embraced. Take for example tightened restrictions on H-1B visas. Even there, Trump will learn that this abused program can only be throttled back so far, because our schools are not turning out enough STEM talent to meet the demands of science and industry. 

A beefed-up Border Patrol is one practical objective many will support. The members of the USBP save lives and interdict dangerous criminals. Unlike a wall, they offer a flexible response for dealing with illegal immigration. Walls cannot make arrests or render assistance to those challenging the hostile terrain which exists over a vast swath of the border. 

Government environmental regulations will be reduced, but to what degree depends on popular support. A majority of our citizens do care deeply about the environment. People depend on it for recreation, comfort, health and a safe food and water supply. If they feel the environment is significantly threatened, they will push back in noticeable numbers, enough to turn up the political heat in Congress. 

A reduction in corporate taxes is almost a certainty. However, it will be a balancing act between what it will take to bring offshore earnings back home and avoiding the appearance of catering to Wall Street. And no politician wants the Wall Street label to stick. This could be the biggest battle Congress faces, one in which Trump will have the least influence for fear of alienating blue collar workers, the very constituency that helped push him over the top in the election. 

The greatest uncertainty involves international relations. A president has wide leeway in deploying or redeploying troops. Some would argue he has the power to terminate a treaty without the consent of Congress. The Constitution is not specific on this subject. 

Most certainly, Trump could effectively undermine NATO by pulling resources from it, turning the alliance into a mere shell. 

How about a trade agreement such as NAFTA? 

NAFTA is a congressional-executive agreement, not a real treaty. There are no rules as to who can terminate one, so it would appear Trump could pull out over the objections of Congress. 

In the end, for Trump’s policies to prevail, he needs broad support from both Congress and the public. 

You do not earn broad support with provocative remarks in social media. Think of the number of people who are unfriended on Facebook because of their relentless partisan posts and memes.

The Tweeter-in-Chief will have more to lose than gain in his use of the internet. People just might un-vote him. 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

OBAMA … LESSON LEARNED--American history is being written this weekend, and we all have front row seats watching the many inaugural events unfolding before our very eyes. This change in regime in our Capitol is leaving most Americans feeling very tentative about our immediate future. Not helping is the fact that Donald Trump has the lowest rating of any president-elect in recent history. 

Although I am really not a strong Barack Obama policy supporter, I unequivocally admire his calm, likeable, humble demeanor. I love that he has placed an importance on spreading goodwill at home and abroad. President Obama, along with wife Michelle, engender community service of all kinds working to increase youth healthier lifestyles, childhood obesity awareness, empowerment in minority groups, and an early start in child education. 

In addition to the Obama’s organized community service, there are also random acts of kindness. There was a story I had read many years ago in the Daily Kos published in 2008 of a newlywed traveling from Washington DC back to Norway to meet up with her husband and did not have money to bring her luggage back. Feeling helpless with tears in her eyes, a stranger from behind gave her the $100 fee. She vowed to return the money and asked him to kindly write his name and address down for her. It turned out to be President Barack Obama. What an amazing story of kindness to a stranger!  

We all can emulate these acts of kindness. With a time of political, economic and international uncertainty, we need it more than ever. Charity brings out the best in ourselves and builds each other up. 

If you don’t know where to start, there is a great national website, www.volunteermatch.com that connects those who want to volunteer to organizations that need man power. Using the filters, you can choose the location, where to serve. You can choose a cause that you are passionate about such as advocacy and human rights, immigration, housing, LGBTQ issues, arts and culture, animal rescue, and so many more. You can do a recurrent event such as reading to children in a library every Saturday, or a onetime event such as the 2017 Art Walk for Homeless Vets Feeding and Sock Drive (which just happens to be on February 9th in Pasadena). You can also choose how to volunteer, as a group of children, teenagers or seniors. 

The website includes approximately 112,000 participating organizations, 12 million volunteers, and over 80,000 volunteer opportunities. Whether you want to volunteer or are looking for volunteers for your non-profits, visit the Volunteer Match. 

Last November, I found a great opportunity for a group of kids to help pack boxes offood for the needy for Thanksgiving. We helped assemble large cardboard boxes with all the traditional fixings that were all donated, turkey, ham, stuffing, canned cranberry, sweet potatoes, and green beans. It was a wonderful way to help the community, and meet other volunteers that also want to give back. 

Usually you find my column in Deals and Discounts but today is different. It’s not about a local place to visit or about something to buy, but it is about something good to do for ourselves and our community around us. Use volunteermatch.com, and get involved.  It is good for your soul. It will empower you at this time of uncertainty and spread goodwill. And who knows, maybe that will inspire others to go out and do the same. Our world definitely needs more random acts of kindness. 

NEED TO KNOW LINKS FOR VOLUNTEER MATCH 

www.volunteermatch.org  

@volunteermatch  

https://www.facebook.com/VolunteerMatch?ref=ts  

https://www.youtube.com/user/VolunteerMatch 

 

(Sue Helmy has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. She is currently providing superb administrative services at a financial management firm in Century City. She is active in countless church and civic organizations and spends every minute she can spare dancing to the Zumba beat.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--This story is like an old Carnac the Magnificent riddle. Your first three answers: The twenty-third anniversary of a major earthquake, the twentieth anniversary of a murderous weekend, and the upcoming transition of power. (Photo above: Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent.) 

Unfortunately, the answer to these clues isn't a belly laugh, but an uneasy hmmm

On January 17, 1994, the Northridge quake began at 4:31 AM, give or take ten seconds. It reminded us of the power of the natural world, but also taught us that our governmental institutions could be resilient. A broken freeway and a broken Los Angeles Coliseum were repaired in remarkably short order. Electricity and water service were restored. 

Three years later to the day, on January 17, 1997 at 8:30 PM, Laurence Austin was murdered by gunfire in the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue. That same weekend, Bill Cosby's son Ennis was murdered alongside the 405 freeway. A third murder occurred when a school girl was killed by a stray gun shot as she rode in a school bus. 

It is of note that all three murders were solved by the police and the guilty were sent to prison. 

The commonality among the murders and the earthquake damage is straightforward. We rely on our governmental institutions. We don't have a lot of choice. Whether it be protection from murderers or preservation of water services, we have to hope that we can count on the people in charge. They have to be vigilant. They must also be sober of thought and careful in their considerations. 

January 20th, 2017 -- We have a right to be concerned. Will Donald Trump show himself as a savvy businessman who can turn his real world experience into an economically successful America, or is he the American version of the elderly George III, destined to be driven by his own passions and talking to the air? 

At the moment we have little to go on as to whether it will be the one or the other. The 3 AM Tweet storms are not reassuring in this regard. 

An aside: Charles Rembar was the attorney who defended the book Fanny Hill in an obscenity case that went to the Supreme Court. He, more than any other person, was responsible for freeing Americans from the censorship of the postal authorities and local police departments. Rembar made Americans free to read. I think it would be hard to accuse Rembar of authoritarianism. 

Yet in his landmark book The Law of the Land, Rembar points out, I believe wisely, that the first responsibility of the sovereign is to keep the peace. This includes protection from thieves and murderers as well as foreign invaders. In our modern day, it also involves quick but effective response, as mayor Richard Riordan found when he had to react to that Northridge quake we spoke about above. 

Within the next few months, there will be flare-ups in the middle east, tensions in the far east, and issues to be resolved among Europeans. It's easy to make these predictions because they are what we have been having for the past several decades. American leadership is expected in these realms. 

So this is the major question. Are we going into 2017 in effect without a leader? Here's one hint -- yelling insults and hurling Tweets is not usually the stuff of real leadership. The president, more than any other human, should be capable of resisting his own inner demons in order to act in the national interest. Is Trump capable? 

Twenty-three Januaries, some more jarring than others, but each bringing its own reminder that we live in a complicated system that requires vigilance. 

The presidency is more than anything else a responsibility. In the nuclear age, it goes beyond being a responsibility to the American people alone. It has become a responsibility to the entire world. Every minute of every day, the president is on duty and the president must live up to the requirements. 

In his year-long campaign, Donald Trump looked, acted, and sounded like somebody who is not ready to accept this level of responsibility. He has mostly been accused of being petty and vindictive. These are weaknesses to be sure, but the flaw that is more critical is his intellectual laziness. It comes out in his every pronouncement. So far he comes across as a guy who doesn't have much interest in learning things. His refusal to participate in security briefings is just one example. It's a dangerously irresponsible lack. 

Another concern is Trump's appointments, for example that of former governor Rick Perry as the new Secretary of Energy. His testimony to a Senate committee was unintentionally hilarious.  Trump's appointees are eerily reminiscent of George W. Bush appointments such as his nominee to head FEMA. Can anyone remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? The power to appoint is another serious responsibility. 

We are soon to see whether the act is the real Donald Trump or whether there might possibly be a real person underneath the bluster. I (along with others) fear that the act is really all there is to the man. Perhaps, once he takes his seat in the Oval Office, he will be inspired by the magnitude of the challenge and work to become a real president, which means, first of all, working to become a person with reason and self-control. It will be interesting to see what the experience of the office will do to the man.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

OTHER WORDS-The week leading up to the presidential inauguration brought streams, if not floods, of pee jokes. You might even say it was the number one opportunity for scatological humor since the poop cruise of 2013. 

My heart goes out to parents who have to find an appropriate way to explain this to their children.

The occasion for the pee jokes was a leaked, unverified report on Russian anti-Trump intelligence. Someone described as a former British intelligence agent claims the Russians have been cultivating Trump for years, in part by gathering compromising information on him to hold over his head. 

In one especially lurid example, the source claims, Trump allegedly paid sex workers to engage in lewd urination-related acts in a Moscow hotel known “to have microphones and cameras in all the main rooms.” 

For those who support Trump, it’s a heinous and untrue case of scurrilous journalism. For those who oppose Trump, it’s an opportunity to laugh at him. And laugh and laugh and laugh. 

If any of the allegations are true, though, it’s no laughing matter. 

Surprisingly, the two media outlets that got it right on this story are Saturday Night Live and Teen Vogue.  

Saturday Night Live made a lot of jokes, but they also portrayed Vladimir Putin using a tape of the “Big Russian Pee Pee Party” to blackmail Trump. 

Teen Vogue put the issue in less funny terms: “If allegations are true, and the Russian government does have compromising financial and personal information about Donald Trump, then we should be more concerned about whether or not this will have an effect on his foreign policy — and not laughing at his sexual preferences.” 

In other words, there are two possible scenarios. The better one, no doubt, is that there is no tape, there was no pee pee party, the Russians have nothing on Trump, and the whole thing was made up.

Another fake news crisis is the last thing we need, but it’s better than the other option. Imagine what Russia could do if it were actually able to blackmail a sitting president of the United States. 

“Don’t interfere with us in Ukraine or we’ll release the tape.” 

“Let us do what we want in Syria or we’ll release the tape.” 

“Keep NATO out of countries near Russia or we’ll release the tape.” 

And so on.

Trump has lashed out against the claims, calling them a “political witch hunt.”

But rather than attacking anyone who mentions the allegations, Trump should take them seriously. If a foreign country has damaging material it could use to blackmail a U.S. president, that’s a serious matter that the president should investigate.

And he shouldn’t handle it by disparaging or disbelieving his own intelligence agencies whenever they give him news he doesn’t like.

As for the rest of us, there’s no harm in making jokes, so long as we remember that the real issue is.

(Jill Richardson is an OtherWords columnist and is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by OtherWords.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

FIRST PERSON REPORT--Four summers ago on a military base in Maryland, not far from the headquarters of the National Security Agency, a handful of people crowded onto a small patch of shade, draining the last of their water bottles, unwilling to move from the spot. They waited for a court martial to resume, for what they thought was their last chance to hear the words of a young woman, one they feared they may never hear from again. I was with them, killing time while the clock ran down on the trial of Chelsea Manning. 

As soon as her sentence was known — 35 years for her act of whistleblowing, which she never contested was a violation of the law, but for which she would be punished severely—another clock began ticking. How long could Chelsea Manning survive in prison? And as a transgender woman in a men’s military prison? She was denied control over her appearance as a woman, denied access to medical and psychological care. At the prison in Fort Leavenworth, Chelsea Manning took up a fight not only for her freedom, but for her life.

This past November, Chelsea Manning formally requested that President Barack Obama commute her sentence to time served. “The Army kept me in solitary confinement for nearly a year before formal charges were brought against me,” she wrote.  “It was a humiliating and degrading experience — one that altered my mind, body and spirit. I have since been placed in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for an attempted suicide despite a growing effort—led by the President of the United States — to stop the use of solitary confinement for any purpose.”

She appealed not for absolution for her actions, but for dignity. “I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life outside the [United States Disciplinary Barracks] as the person I was born to be,” she wrote.

Now, days before leaving office, President Obama has granted her request. Chelsea Manning will leave prison on May 17, 2017. 

When I interviewed Chelsea Manning this past September, it did not feel like this day could ever come. We exchanged messages just before she found out she would be sent to solitary confinement. For days I did not know where she was. Only when she was released from solitary did I learn what had happened to her.   

It was difficult to believe she wasn’t being made an example of; it seemed that in an age of attacks on whistleblowing and transparency, her case was used to send a message. So it appeared not so long ago as if she would remain in prison, that she might soon be subject to whatever a Trump administration might do with her. It seemed to those close to her that it was unlikely she could survive.

But over the last few weeks, something shifted. Reading back now the words of those who followed her case closely, who knew what she was up against, their pleas for her freedom give some indication of what may come next.

“Defending Manning and her leaks are not just a matter of goody-two-shoes principle but immense real-life consequences,” wrote Chase Madar, author of one of the first books on Manning’s case. “The U.S. invasion of Iraq was simply not possible but for government secrecy, distortion, and lies. The architects of that dishonest war have escaped the slightest punishment, yet an on-the-ground private who tried to share her knowledge of that bloodbath is the one being severely punished.”

I would not have gone to Chelsea Manning’s trial at all if it were not for the work of Alexa O’Brien, an independent journalist who spoke passionately about the need for public attention to her trial, at which all recordings were forbidden. Few media attended regularly, but O’Brien was there the whole time. She wrote last week, “Manning was a humanist soldier trapped between the cynical realities of warfare, her youth, and her characteristic earnestness — clinging onto the exigent hope that sanity and common sense would triumph if buttressed by knowledge and deliberation.”

“An act of mercy by the Executive,” she concluded, “might evidence its display in our own imperfect experiment in self government.”

Mercy has prevailed. Perhaps a reckoning with our “imperfect experiment,” if we have ever needed one more, will also follow. And while I cannot imagine what those first days in May after Chelsea Manning is released will be like for her, it is enough, for now, to know she will have them.

 

(Melissa Gira Grant is a journalist and author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Columnist for Pacific Standard  … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

LEANING RIGHT--Americans of all political stripes will have to get used to the following term: "President Trump" -- the same as they did "President Obama" or "President Bush.” While it's a shame that some of us are in so much pain during this profound transition, it's still necessary for all Americans to courageously and compassionately lead by example during this new American Era. 

Things to Consider: 

1) We had miserable and suffering Americans without proper and/or affordable health care before the Affordable Care Act, and we have miserable and suffering Americans without proper and/or affordable health care after the Affordable Care Act. The debates rage on as to who was better or worse off -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

2) We have natural-born Americans, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, illegal aliens, and criminal aliens. Employment, crime, and balancing our city/county/state budgets have all been adversely affected by our federal government taking an inconsistent approach to this vital issue -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

3) Our budgeting for Social Security and Medicare is threatened by those programs either being mismanaged, redirected into the general budget, or misspent. Retirees who are among the happiest in our nation do not rely on Social Security for their survival, and the debate rages on as to how best to accommodate the needs of Medicare patients-- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

4) As a nation, we spend too little on saving for our own retirement, and spend too much for the basics of day to day living. The debate rages as to what "the basics are" but most believe our utility bills are too high to be sustainable for the middle class -- in all fifty states. Housing costs and food costs are also increasingly unaffordable for too many -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

5) Our youth has too little knowledge of history, civics, fiscal literacy, or even how to take care of themselves as self-sustaining adults. High school students (and even college students) have too often a dearth of job skills that allow them access to higher-paying careers, and there are too few apprentice programs for vocational skills/degrees to allow for other vital jobs in our nation -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

6) Our urban centers suffer from too much unemployment in quality jobs, too much under-employment, and too little hope for a better future -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

7) Environmental issues abound, and economic woes for the average American middle class citizen abound, while those living in elite bubbles proclaim that there's never been a better time to be alive. And at the same time parents wonder if their children will enjoy a better quality of life than they have had -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

8) The concepts and paradigms of "the melting pot" and "the American identity" appear to be in perpetual conflict with "diversity”, while the concepts and paradigms of "political diversity" appear to be in perpetual conflict with "political correctness" -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

9) Freedom of Religion appears to be in increasing conflict with Freedom from Religion, and the role of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions in both our nation and our world appears to be leading to ever-increasing levels of strife and even violence -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

10) Finally, too many Americans are looking at outgoing President Obama or incoming President Trump as their all-saving, all-preserving hero while entirely ignoring the individual shortcomings of their personal lives. 

Moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer?

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

SPECIAL REPORT-President-elect Donald Trump is aiming to slash government spending across the board, with numerous public services in the crosshairs, according to staffers on his transition team who spoke to The Hill on Thursday. 

The proposals, The Hill's Alexander Bolton writes, "are dramatic."

The departments of Justice, State, Energy, Transportation, and Commerce are all targeted for massive budget cuts, with some programs under their jurisdiction slated entirely for elimination. Certain projects overseen by the Commerce and Energy agencies would also be transferred to other bureaus.

Meanwhile, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—which funds, among other things, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)—would be privatized.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Bolton reports:

At the Department of Justice, the blueprint calls for eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation, and for reducing funding for its Civil Rights and its Environment and Natural Resources divisions.

At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Under the State Department's jurisdiction, funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are candidates for elimination.

"The federal investment in public media is vital seed money—especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations," the Corporation for Public Broadcasting said in an email to Common Dreams. "The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect."

"Moreover, the entire public media service would be severely debilitated," the corporation wrote. "There is no viable private substitute for the federal funding that ensures universal access to public broadcasting' programming and services."

As Bolton notes, Trump's proposal aligns with a blueprint published in 2016 by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has aided the Trump transition. It also echoes similar cuts included in the 2017 budget adopted by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of House conservatives.

Several members of Trump's transition team also previously worked for the Heritage Foundation.

A full budget is expected to be released in April after the team finalizes its cuts. As ThinkProgress noted, it "looks like it will be far more extreme than anything the Republican Party has proposed so far."

Observers took the dire plan as a call to action.

"Nothing is lost. Nothing is inevitable. They are a few, we are many. We just need to make our voices heard. It is NOT too late," wrote one. "[The] probability of budget making its way to Congress in this form is high...But that's where we come in. We protest 24/7 to stop it."

"In case it's not clear: Women will die because of this," wrote another, a statistics professor and health advocate. "Others will suffer needlessly. This is absolutely horrifying."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this report originated.)

-cw

ISSUES WATCH--Reaction has two main meanings in English.  One is to respond to some new situation (not specifying the nature of the reaction).  The other is to resist some innovation. In this second sense, a reactionary is one who wants to go back to a previously existing condition of society.  A reactionary is worse than a conservative.  A conservative resists progressive change that benefits large numbers of people but does not help the rich.  A reactionary wants to undo a progressive change already long since effected, taking achievements away from the people for the sake of the 1%. 

We live in a reactionary age.  Trump crony Newt Gingrich wants to undo the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt entirely, getting rid of social security and condemning large numbers of elderly Americans to penury.  (In the 1930s the elderly were the poorest segment of society; that is no longer true today, and people can hope to retire and live with dignity, because of social security).  We live in a moment where 8 billionaires are as rich as the poorer half of humankind and when the top 1% takes home 20% of the US national income (up from 10% only a few decades ago).  

Ironically, it is in this moment, when workers and the middle classes are prostrate and the lion’s share of resources is going to 1.2 million households out of 124 million American households– it is at this very moment that reactionaries are demanding that ordinary people surrender their pensions and social security and health care for the sake of a further fat tax cut for the super-rich. 

The average wage of the average worker has been flat since 1970 in the US, as any increases in productivity or real economic growth appears to have been taken right to the top and the 1% by the Republican tax-cut conveyor belt.  A loss of entitlements would actually reduce their incomes substantially, sending them back to the 1950s.

I saw the Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Stephens on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS recently, opining that he goes around the country talking to small business owners, and they are complaining about excessive regulation and the injustices of the 2002 Sarbanes Oxley Act.  Let me just say that I believe Mr. Stephens was using “small business” as a more sympathetic stand-in for his actual client, mega corporations.  Sarbanes-Oxley made it illegal to destroy records to forestall a Federal investigation, in the wake of Enron and other scandals that robbed large number of employees of their pensions.  Very inconvenient. 

Dodd-Frank is also no doubt very inconvenient for “small business.”  Any let or hindrance on the super-rich whom Stephens and his like serve is of course a brake on economic progress.  Except that Enron and the 2008 crash, which occurred in the absence of regulation were not in fact good for the economy or for workers and the middle class.  Stephens may well get his way, and these regulatory reforms may well be deep-sixed in the Age of Trump.  Many among the rich dream of getting back to the halcyon unregulated 1920s, managing to forget the plunge their predecessors took off the Empire State building in 1929. The very definition of reaction is a nostalgia for an age whose time has passed.

Reaction menaces us in the realm of civil rights as well as in that of the economy, where we have become a hereditary plutocracy.  The Voting Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  It made it illegal for state officials to give literacy (or even Latin) tests only to African Americans as a prerequisite to register to vote.  It ended racial discrimination in establishments that offered what was defined as a public accommodation. That is, white southerners like George Wallace insisted that a restaurant is a private business and so the owner should be welcome to discriminate in which customers he or she would serve. 

The Voting Rights Act begged to differ.  If you’re serving the public, it said, you are in some ways a public institution and you may not operate in a racist manner.  Some members of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party still hold the George Wallace position on restaurants, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

In this age of reaction, the achievements of the Voting Rights Act have been deeply eroded when they haven’t been entirely reversed.  After three decades in which desegregated schools operated perfectly well throughout the country and came to be supported by many progressive southern Whites, from about 1990 the Federal courts began ceasing to require desegregation.  The result?  Apartheid schooling in the United States is again a reality.  Given the high rates of racial segregation in neighborhoods, this reality, partly economic, has come to be reflected in the schools.  We’ve seen large-scale re-segregation.  Call it Jim Crow by other means.

Ironically, all students benefit from being in racially mixed schools, including the white students.  There are cognitive benefits; i.e. you learn to think more clearly in a more hybrid social situation.

Not only have the schools been re-segregated but once the Roberts court removed oversight from the Deep South states, they immediately ran and put back in the Latin tests for African-Americans.  This time though they cleverly did it more subtly by requiring identification papers in order to vote.  If challenged, the white racists who passed these laws will say it is to prevent voter fraud. 

But there isn’t any voter fraud to speak of, at least from these quarters.  Maybe the law should have been restricted to the Russian embassy.  That supposed Libertarians who squawk at the idea of national identity cards should have suddenly decided we need identity cards to vote can only be explained by bigotry.  John Roberts was snarky in asking whether court oversight was really any longer needed for the former Jim Crow states, asking if people in the New York-Boston corridor really were less racist nowadays.  I don’t know, John.  Why don’t you tell me?  Here’s a map to help you decide.  Notice where the white spaces are.


h/t Sun Herald

So we are back to de facto restrictions on the voting rights of African-Americans, which may have affected the election outcome in 2016.  And we’re back to all-Black schools.  The Republican Party is still dedicated to equality in one area, though.  They’d love to make us all wage slaves with no unions, no rights (even to have a break), no minimum income, no health care and no social security.  Indeed, there is a sense in which the 99% are all Black in the Age of Trump, whether they know it yet or not.

That is why we need the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., today more than ever.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)

-cw

 

LEANING RIGHT--If you hate Republicans more than you love the healthcare of Americans, perhaps this piece isn't for you.  If you hate Democrats more than you love the healthcare of Americans, perhaps this piece isn't for you, either. 

The singular and permanent benefit of "Obamacare", a.k.a. "The Affordable Care Act" is that something HAD to be done, and there's no going back on that. The outgoing President merits any and all credit for that.  

Now it's up to the incoming President and the GOP-led Congress to determine that the successor to "Obamacare" will be a more health-focused, more fiscally-sound, and less politically-driven plan...and it's hoped that Democratic critiques and recommendations will be listened to and addressed appropriately.  

The replacement to "Obamacare" MUST be bipartisan to ensure that health care access and quality will be improved in the years to come. 

Which is why the so-called Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., "Obamacare" had such a problematic implementation, and an almost inevitable death that would inevitably have arrived sooner or later. The establishment of "winners" and "losers", the jumps in premiums and deductibles, and the health plans and physicians no longer accepting ACA patients...all pointed to something that just didn't add up. 

The goal was worthy, but when the majority of those most strongly advocating for the Affordable Care Act were NOT on any of the ACA-required plans there was something wrong.  It's the old liberal cariacature of treating the general population like lower lifeforms--as in "yes, I have my old pre-ACA plan and I love it, but this new and very different plan is good enough for the rest of you". 

Those foaming at the mouth and defending the ACA were too often not impacted by either the ACA or its repeal...and their patting the heads of those shrieking about the ACA's negative personal and national economic impacts were as condescending and deferential as...as... 

...as those who deferentially and condescendingly patted the heads of those unable to access health insurance and affordable care prior to the passage of the ACA. 

So now we have an incoming President and Congress who have already taken measures to defund and unravel an ACA that would have, sooner or later, died of its own accord despite its good intentions. 

A first-rate, must-read article ("The End of Obamacare") by Jonathan Oberlander, PhD in the January 5, 2017 New England Journal of Medicine does a first-rate job of analyzing how the ACA's unpopularity led to its upcoming demise. 

Dr. Oberlander has this excellent "money quote": 

"Obamacare’s vulnerability reflects not only the 2016 election results, but also its shallow political roots. The ACA has achieved much, including a large reduction in the uninsured population. Still, it lacks strong public support and an organized beneficiary lobby, has encountered significant problems in its implementation, and has been enveloped by an environment of hyperpartisanship. If the ACA were more popular and covered a more politically sympathetic or influential population, if its insurance exchanges were operating more successfully and had higher enrollment, and if Democrats and Republicans were not so ideologically polarized and locked in a power struggle, then an incoming GOP administration would probably be talking about reforming rather than dismantling Obamacare. 

“The Trump administration can do much to undercut the ACA. The insurance exchanges, buffeted in many states by high premium increases, sicker-than-expected risk pools, and insurer withdrawals, require stabilization; simply by doing nothing the GOP could damage them." 

So while some Republicans and Independents (and even Democrats) are cheering the end of "Obamacare", the work is only just beginning to replace the ACA with something more sustainable. 

And it's the GOP and incoming President-Elect Trump who have the burden--and make no mistake about it, it's a huge (YUGE?) burden--to replace and "trump" the ACA with something better. 

Arthur Caplan, PhD writes another excellent, must-read article ("Healthcare and Healthcare Ethics in the Trump Era") for Medscape on the challenges of replacing "Obamacare". 

Dr. Caplan points out that "Even though Trump has said that he will repeal and replace it, I suspect that certain features of Obamacare are so well embedded that they are going to be very tough to get rid of without politically uncomfortable complaints." 

The good news, for those who may not remember, is that Trump himself stated he would not "let people die in the streets", and caught both heat and political support among Republicans (and Independents, and even some Democrats, who switched party affiliation during the GOP primary races) as Trump fought off over a dozen GOP presidential contenders. 

Trump stated that he DOES favor an end to pre-existing conditions, and DOES favor the allowance of adult children to stay on their parents' health plans until the age of 26.  

The era of a lack of access to affordable health care is over. 

The era of winners and losers under a top-down, government-imposed and taxing ACA is over...or at least will be soon. 

It will be up to President-Elect Trump and the new 2017-2018 Congress, in THIS session, to also end a few new eras: 

1) An end to unaffordable prescription drug costs. 

2) An end to high-deductible, limited-access policies that force individuals and families to pay for benefits that have little to no relevance to their personal needs. 

3) An end to states suffering from limited plans and health insurers, and a beginning to more interstate options to allow competition and encourage lower costs of health care. 

4) An end to federally-mandated health plans (effectively tax increases, as stated by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts in his support for the Constitutional vetting of the ACA) that had unsustainable premium hikes and penalties for not joining. 

5) An end to fiscally strapping businesses (and perhaps a beginning to enticing and rewarding businesses) to hire full-time workers with career-jobs and benefits. 

6) An end to forcing those with cancer or debilitating diseases into poverty, and the establishment of high-risk pools so that society in general can pay for those who are incapacitated, and to reward innovative new medical technologies to further the science of medicine. 

7) An end to the decades-long debate of how to create a fiscally-sound national health policy that benefits all Americans, and is not merely politically-driven, and finally has the backing of the majority of American health care professionals and advocacy groups.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--It's starting. All over the country, people are waking up to the fact that the Republican congress wants to take their health coverage away. This weekend, thousands of people demonstrated in several cities. But the more telling event occurred at a library in Aurora, Colorado. As reported by 9 News. 

"When Berthie Ruoff arrived at the Aurora Central Library to meet with Congressman Mike Coffman, she was hopeful to find encouraging answers about the impending changes to the Affordable Care Act. 

"My husband passed away and the only way I was able to get insurance was through the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare," Ruoff said. 

"When she walked in, she saw a crowd she didn't expect. 

"There were hundreds of people here," Ruoff said." 

As the 9News story explains, the crowd was so large that the congressman couldn't (or wouldn't) meet with all of them. What's a Republican to do when a large number of his constituents object to his party's policy? The Denver Post picked up on the story, adding some background including the fact that Coffman had previously announced his intent to overturn the ACA. 

The story was picked up by the website Talking Points Memo and Daily Kos and has found a nationwide audience. 

As people begin to realize that they are being put in peril by the actions of the new congress, they will build a true grass roots movement. Right now the movement is not organized and lacks the spontaneous ad hoc leadership that such movements eventually achieve. But we can expect that some spontaneous leadership won't be long in coming. Anger and fear have that effect. Speaker of the House Ryan's intent to phase out Medicare should inspire even more fear and anger, adding to the movement. 

The one thing that would make this movement most effective is if thousands of traditional Republican voters join in the complaining. There should be lots of them. Considering that there are somewhere between ten and twenty million Americans who have gained access to health insurance through the ACA, the backlash against the congressional actions is to be expected. The only question is how big it is going to become. How many people will make the effort to communicate with their elected leaders? We should expect that the projected loss of health insurance will be powerfully motivating to a lot of people. After all, the prospect of choosing between bankruptcy or your next surgery should get people's attention. 

In the meanwhile, as the movement is building, make sure you do two things. First of all, call your representative's office and make your position clear. Then, follow up with a hand written note. There are plenty of online tools [http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/] that provide phone numbers and mailing addresses. The link I've provided here starts with your zip code. Sometimes you have to narrow the search by also providing your street address. 

Here is a summary of the strategy and detailed instructions. It's called Indivisible

Illegitimacy 

Congressman John Lewis has managed to strike a nerve in the Republican administration with his proclamation that the Donald Trump presidency is not to be treated as legitimate. The moaning and groaning from the Republican Party leadership is hilarious to watch. They can't exactly criticize Lewis for who and what he is -- a true hero of the civil rights movement with the legacy of being physically beaten in defense of human rights -- so they talk about how unfortunate it is that someone is being divisive and blah blah blah. These are the same people who enjoyed watching the birther movement when Obama was first elected. 

The thing is, Trump's legitimacy becomes more and more suspect as the weeks go by. The recent episode of Saturday Night Live circulated the story (alleged, anyway) that the Russians have some incriminating video tape of Trump in a compromising position. When I saw the show, I wondered if the story was something that the writers made up, but no, it turned out that the story is true -- our intelligence services alerted both the Obama administration and Trump about the existence of the claim. The claim may or may not be accurate, but it's out there. 

Why is this so damaging to Trump's legitimacy? That part is clear. The head of the FBI made it a mission to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential run right before the election, but couldn't seem to remember to let us know about Trump's problems. Would Trump have been elected had this latest scandal been exposed at the same moment that the FBI Director discussed Hillary's minor indiscretion? Hillary was accused of being sloppy with confidential material, basically little more than the equivalent of a speeding ticket in comparison to Trump's vulnerabilities both financial and sexual. 

Trump's illegitimacy for having been placed in office by the Russians is compounded by the fact that he actually finished three million votes behind Hillary Clinton. In the past, most of us haven't spent too much time thinking about the Electoral College, but when it screws up this badly -- twice in 16 years -- it's worth thinking about. It would take states with a combined total of 105 electoral votes (in addition to the states which are already signatories) to create the interstate compact that would do away with this slavery-era fossil. 

Addendum and reply 

I don't usually reply to readers' comments. After all, if I haven't convinced you in the first 750 words, then it's pretty much on me. However, one reader provided a detailed response as to why it would be a bad idea to give California the first primary. I will be the first to admit that provoking a fight with New Hampshire and running up public expenses for a first-of-the-season primary has its negatives, as the commenter so deftly stated. In addition, it is possible to come up with various proposals such as regional primaries, although this is not the only way to do things. 

What I was trying to say is that the current system is badly flawed and terribly unfair to voters in other parts of the United States. New Hampshire voters have adopted an attitude that they are uniquely suited to picking presidential candidates, in spite of their northeastern-centric bias and small town attitudes. 

I'm reminded of an interview with a New Hampshire voter just before the 2016 primary. She explained that she had met and talked with ten of the presidential candidates (!) but had not as yet made up her mind. 

I don't fault her for her failure to make up her mind after so many meetings. I do fault the system which conveyed that privilege to the few people of New Hampshire, while millions of other people only heard about such meetings from a distance. 

It's long since time to give people in other states a chance. If we want to go with one or two small states for the first primary/caucus then let's invite applications and pull a name out of the hat. How about Oregon or Delaware? Either one is vastly more representative of the country as a whole than either New Hampshire or Iowa. 

My main point (or it was supposed to be my main point) is that it's time for the Democratic National Committee to take responsibility and do something. The DNC could start with a statement that it will be rethinking the primary process and if nothing else, plans to give other states a chance. 

The point about California taking charge and establishing a primary on the same day as the other first primary was that we have it within our power. It may not be optimal, but it is something we can do and, if nothing else, our discussion of the idea would put pressure on the DNC to finally do something creative.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

-cw

PUNISHMENT POLITICS-Benny King is a gregarious, good-hearted, God-fearing 53-year-old black man from Alabama who shouldn’t be in prison. 

But he is. 

Mr. King is serving 14-months at the federal correctional institution in Jesup, Georgia, for violating conditions of his supervised release; conditions ordered as part of King’s sentence over eleven years ago, in 2005, for bank fraud. Mr. King’s underlying conduct in that nonviolent, low-level federal criminal case (involving stolen checks) bears no relation to his current incarceration other than the fact that, it too, like the entirety of King’s nonviolent criminal history, was a byproduct of decades-long untreated drug addiction.    

You see, just like hundreds of thousands of poor, disproportionately black and brown Americans sidelined from American life – stuffed out of sight in state and federal penal institutions across the U.S. – King is serving time for one, and only one, unconscionable reason: he suffers from a substance abuse problem. He drinks. 

Mr. King (photo left with picture of sister who died) started drinking when he was just twelve years old and the problem got worse at age fourteen when his mother died; it became still worse, a bare three years later, when his father passed too. Poverty, tragedy, and alcohol abuse are a multi-generational scourge in the King family. 

And for Benny King, as with many alcoholics, when the alcohol flows, other substances quickly join stream -- marijuana, cocaine, whatever’s around. As anyone who has battled drug addiction knows (or equally, has had a friend or loved one fight that hellacious war), once the substance-spigot starts its drip, the situation often spirals, becoming impossible – without effective, often repeated, long-term inpatient drug treatment – to stop.    

That’s why what happened this past November 16 in a courtroom in Montgomery, Alabama – when Senior U.S. District Judge W. Harold Albritton III threw the proverbial book at Mr. King because he relapsed, using alcohol and drugs in the wake of his sister’s death -- should outrage every American who cares about reducing our abominably bloated prison population. 

Using an official transcript for reference, here is an abbreviated version of the proceedings: 

Judge Albritton: Mr. King, you are charged with two violations. It’s alleged that you violated the special condition that required you to participate in a program for substance abuse. You violated that term of your supervision by showing up at Herring House, where you were to be given treatment, and they would not admit you because you had been drinking alcohol. The second violation is a charge that you violated the standard condition that you refrain from excessive use of alcohol or any controlled substance. 

Assistant Federal Defender Donnie W. Bethel: I have a few things I would like to say, Your Honor. Mr. King was arrested on a Thursday. The following Saturday, his sister passed away from cancer. It was an older sister, 12 years his senior. It was a sister who, after his mother died when Mr. King was a boy, had essentially been his surrogate mother. We were back in court on a preliminary hearing that following week, and at that point I asked for him to be released on bond so he could attend his sister’s funeral. That was vehemently opposed by the prosecution, by probation, by the United States Marshal Service, which I am still befuddled by. I know what it’s like to lose a sibling. I was really taken aback that there’s such a lack of basic Christian compassion in the criminal justice system, that we would do everything we could to deny a man simply the opportunity to attend his sister’s funeral. 

I convinced Judge Moore to release him to my custody. Everybody was thrilled that Mr. King was able to attend the funeral. At the funeral, he played the piano and he sang. He’s actually a talented musician. And before I left that day, every member of his family made a point in coming to me and thanking me for taking the time out of my weekend to bring Mr. King up there to attend his sister’s funeral. And I say that only to make this point. This isn’t a violation that involves Mr. King out on the street with a gun; Mr. King selling dope; Mr. King committing some other crime, burglary, theft of property. Mr. King has a drug problem. Mr. King knows he has a drug problem. That’s what this case is about. 

He would like another opportunity to go to the Herring House to get some drug treatment, because that’s what he needs. And I think we’ve become so callous, so used to in the federal criminal justice system to shipping people off to prison, that nobody would bat an eye if, for having a drink and getting high, we’re going to send Benny King off to prison for 14 months. I think we need to step back and say, let’s stop doing the easy thing, and let’s do the right thing. 

Mr. King, tell the judge what your plan is after you’re released. 

Mr. King: My plan is to go to Florida, be with my fiancée, get married. I’ve already started the process of enrolling for a GED to get my diploma. And I’m going to take some college courses at night. I’m going to work doing paving and construction, and also I’m working for a church called New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Ft. Myers, Florida. 

I violated, Your Honor. And I know you can’t overlook that, and I don’t expect you to. But I was – when I left and went home and saw my sister. And she was fading away, and I just – which was no excuse, but I used that as an excuse to drink. And when I drink, I get high. I violated, and I apologize, and I ask the mercy of the Court. But I’m just going to be honest with everybody. I’m tired. Benny King is tired today. I’m tired. I’m not trying to pacify nobody ears. 

Mr. Bethel: He’s 52 years old. Give him another chance. Let him go to the Herring House. He’s clean now. He’s not going to be positive when he shows up down there this time. Let’s get him straightened out. Let’s just do what we were planning to do a month ago. 

Assistant United States Attorney Curtis Ivy, Jr.: So coming forward now with all these great plans and ideas is an easy thing, but it’s not going to work. What’s proper in this case is 14 months’ imprisonment with no supervised release to follow. 

Mr. Bethel: Anybody who thinks that it’s easy for a drug addict not to use drugs has never had someone close to them who’s been a drug addict. I have. It’s not easy. No matter what you do to help them, no matter how much they go through, it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen in my life for someone to overcome a drug addiction. And that’s what we’re talking about. Talking about criminalizing this case, drug addiction. 

Judge Albritton: Under the law, being a drug addict is not a defense. In this case, Mr. King has been given more than one opportunity to try to get himself straightened out. I’m sympathetic with you – and I’m sorry about your sister’s death. This time I’m going to sentence you to the maximum under the sentencing guidelines of 14 months, with no supervised release to follow. You’ll be on your own after that. The court system and the probation office and everybody has done all they can to help you break your habit. 

Just a day after Benny King was “maxed out” by Judge Albritton in Alabama, The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein wrote about a new “landmark” report authored by the U.S. Surgeon General calling the drug crisis ‘a moral test’ for America.” Distressingly, the report noted that, “[i]n 2015, substance abuse disorders affected 20.8 million people in the U.S., as many as those with diabetes, and 1 ½ times as many as those with cancer. Yet, only one in ten receives treatment.” 

Echoing Benny King’s defense counsel, the Surgeon General said: “We would never tolerate a situation where only one in 10 people with cancer or diabetes gets treatment, and yet we do that with substance abuse disorders. Regardless of persistent beliefs, addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing.” 

And then, just a month after Benny King began his newly imposed $31,000+ taxpayer-funded prison term – over four hours away by car from his fiancée and family – a rigorous, scholarly study by the Brennan Center for Justice convincingly demonstrated that 39% of prisoners in the U.S. should not be in prison. Specifically, the study found (1) that “39% of the nationwide prison population (576,000 people) is behind bars with little public safety rationale,” and (2) “25% of prisoners (364,000 people), almost all non-violent, lower-level offenders, would be better served by alternatives to incarceration such as treatment, community service, or probation.” 

Benny King is one of these sad, sad, stories in the sea of the overly incarcerated. 

Writing about another equally sad case with many parallels to Benny King, Tamra Ryan, CEO of the Women’s Bean Project, wrote: “Jessie is now back in prison and we are unlikely to hear from her again. While she may not have access to drugs in prison, she will also likely not receive drug treatment. Instead, she will do her time and, at some point, start over again without addressing the underlying issues that led to her relapse. Jessie’s addiction and inability to cope with stressors have been criminalized.” Ryan concluded “the time has come to address the underlying issue of addiction with treatment, not punishment, so that the potential of the individual is not wasted.”   

Exactly. 

We don’t need more drug addicted people like Benny King or “Jessie” filling up this nation’s jails and prisons. They’re already overly full. We’ve got to start moving in the other direction. Now.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq This column was first published by JURIST and is being republished with the author’s permission.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--The newly elected Republican majority in Congress wants to be sure that America is protected against terrorist attacks. They're willing to do what it takes and spend what is required to ensure our security. Otherwise, hundreds or even thousands of us could die. 

I suspect that most Americans are on board with this philosophy. 

What we're talking about is the idea of collective security. It would be unreasonable to expect every coastal community from Maine to Georgia to raise its own navy. We do it as a nation, not as individuals or families. And when Pearl Harbor was attacked, we treated it as a national loss, not the responsibility of a few Hawaiians. Likewise, when major Hurricanes hit the Gulf coast and the Atlantic seaboard, the national government pitched in with the recovery. Taxes coming from California and Nevada went to those recovery efforts. Few Californians complained. 

One reason for creating collective security is that there is an element of randomness in regard to who happens to be in the line of fire. We can't know that it is going to be ourselves or somebody else who gets blown up. And even if it was somebody else who was at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, we treat such events as attacks upon all of us. 

We used collective efforts to deal with the problem, in this case the matter of catching the killers. When an airport terminal was attacked a few days ago, police agencies all over the country raised the alert level and federal agencies were involved. 

Terrorism is definable not just by its underlying motives, but by the serious level of its effects. Petty theft isn't terrorism. Graffiti isn't terrorism. Terrorism involves direct threats to human life and, sadly enough, the loss of life or permanent injury. 

So we have a pretty good reason to take precautions against terrorism. As a liberal, I share with conservative Americans the desire that we all be protected against terrorism. We have this, at least, to agree on. 

I would like to suggest to both liberals and conservatives alike that there is a parallel when it comes to sickness. For a number of conditions, there is an unhappily random element to the whole thing. Childhood diabetes and childhood cancers are examples, as are broken bones and congenital heart defects. What these have in common is that they come as surprises to otherwise normal families and that they can cost a lot. 

Considering that these conditions are fairly random and fairly rare, it doesn't make sense for people to consider them in advance as a normal element of their own lives. Young couples planning a family can be forgiven if they don't decide up front what they would do if their new baby has a heart defect requiring surgery. Should every young couple be advised to set aside a couple hundred thousand dollars in advance of having children? 

At this level, it makes sense to consider randomly occurring birth defects and childhood cancers as physically and financially analogous to terrorist attacks. They are of course very different things, but each happens without warning and results in costly, painful effects. 

In other words, we should consider at least some physical ailments as falling into the category of collective responsibility, in the same way we think about collective security against foreign invasion, because individuals and individual families shouldn't be expected to either anticipate them or (if they happen) to be able to afford them. 

Beyond such near-catastrophic events are the severe but usually non-fatal chronic conditions such as asthma, scoliosis, and severe allergies, all of which are amenable to medical care following proper diagnosis. 

Let's get to the crux of the argument. If we are to have the equivalent of collective security against serious congenital defects -- in other words, a national healthcare system, or Obama Care, or socialized medicine -- and if we want to extend it to appendicitis, pneumonia, and dangerous allergy attacks, then where exactly do we draw the line? Where do you define a set of symptoms that are guaranteed to be so non-dangerous that we deny access to the national healthcare system for them? 

If this seems like a slippery slope argument, I assure you that this is exactly what it is. Nations that create a universal healthcare system for heart disease and cancer don't draw the line against treating the common cold or the flu. The public can't be expected to know in advance that a nagging cough is nothing to be concerned about. 

Western industrial nations that create some kind of national healthcare system do draw lines. But they do it after the diagnosis, not before. 

When we talk about childhood leukemia, it is easy to make a case, at least at the level of common decency, for some system of universal healthcare. Why then does the conservative political wing insist that healthcare should be provided through the free market? 

I suspect that the clash lies in the imagined picture of real world healthcare. It is possible to think of routine medical checkups, teeth cleaning, and the like, as normal expenses of being alive. We shouldn't expect the government to cover the cost of getting your nails done, buying tires for your car, or painting your house. Why then, they might ask, should we put the tab for your yearly physical on the taxpayer? 

The answer, I think, lies in the realization that the annual physical, the well-baby exam, and the emergency room are all parts of the same continuum in which mostly normal people are screened for dangerous conditions. What happens from there depends on the diagnosis. 

I wonder why conservatives treat our collective fear of cancer as less important than our collective fear of terrorist attacks. Each is susceptible to treatment, but only one is accepted by conservatives as requiring collective spending.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us.

Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the “post-Cold War” era. Now that it’s over, a more descriptive name might be in order.  My suggestion: America’s Age of Great Expectations. 

Forgive and Forget

The end of the Cold War caught the United States completely by surprise.  During the 1980s, even with Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin, few in Washington questioned the prevailing conviction that the Soviet-American rivalry was and would remain a defining feature of international politics more or less in perpetuity. Indeed, endorsing such an assumption was among the prerequisites for gaining entrée to official circles. Virtually no one in the American establishment gave serious thought to the here-today, gone-tomorrow possibility that the Soviet threat, the Soviet empire, and the Soviet Union itself might someday vanish. Washington had plans aplenty for what to do should a Third World War erupt, but none for what to do if the prospect of such a climactic conflict simply disappeared.

Still, without missing a beat, when the Berlin Wall fell and two years later the Soviet Union imploded, leading members of that establishment wasted no time in explaining the implications of developments they had totally failed to anticipate.  With something close to unanimity, politicians and policy-oriented intellectuals interpreted the unification of Berlin and the ensuing collapse of communism as an all-American victory of cosmic proportions.  “We” had won, “they” had lost -- with that outcome vindicating everything the United States represented as the archetype of freedom.

From within the confines of that establishment, one rising young intellectual audaciously suggested that the “end of history” itself might be at hand, with the “sole superpower” left standing now perfectly positioned to determine the future of all humankind.  In Washington, various powers-that-be considered this hypothesis and concluded that it sounded just about right.  The future took on the appearance of a blank slate upon which Destiny itself was inviting Americans to inscribe their intentions.

American elites might, of course, have assigned a far different, less celebratory meaning to the passing of the Cold War. They might have seen the outcome as a moment that called for regret, repentance, and making amends.

After all, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, or more broadly between what was then called the Free World and the Communist bloc, had yielded a host of baleful effects.  An arms race between two superpowers had created monstrous nuclear arsenals and, on multiple occasions, brought the planet precariously close to Armageddon.  Two singularly inglorious wars had claimed the lives of many tens of thousands of American soldiers and literally millions of Asians.  One, on the Korean peninsula, had ended in an unsatisfactory draw; the other, in Southeast Asia, in catastrophic defeat.  Proxy fights in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East killed so many more and laid waste to whole countries.  Cold War obsessions led Washington to overthrow democratic governments, connive in assassination, make common cause with corrupt dictators, and turn a blind eye to genocidal violence.  On the home front, hysteria compromised civil liberties and fostered a sprawling, intrusive, and unaccountable national security apparatus.  Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries conspired to spend vast sums on weapons purchases that somehow never seemed adequate to the putative dangers at hand.  

Rather than reflecting on such somber and sordid matters, however, the American political establishment together with ambitious members of the country’s intelligentsia found it so much more expedient simply to move on. As they saw it, the annus mirabilis of 1989 wiped away the sins of former years. Eager to make a fresh start, Washington granted itself a plenary indulgence. After all, why contemplate past unpleasantness when a future so stunningly rich in promise now beckoned?

Three Big Ideas and a Dubious Corollary

Soon enough, that promise found concrete expression. In remarkably short order, three themes emerged to define the new American age.  Informing each of them was a sense of exuberant anticipation toward an era of almost unimaginable expectations. The twentieth century was ending on a high note.  For the planet as a whole but especially for the United States, great things lay ahead.

Focused on the world economy, the first of those themes emphasized the transformative potential of turbocharged globalization le d by U.S.-based financial institutions and transnational corporations.  An “open world” would facilitate the movement of goods, capital, ideas, and people and thereby create wealth on an unprecedented scale.  In the process, the rules governing American-style corporate capitalism would come to prevail everywhere on the planet.  Everyone would benefit, but especially Americans who would continue to enjoy more than their fair share of material abundance.

Focused on statecraft, the second theme spelled out the implications of an international order dominated as never before -- not even in the heydays of the Roman and British Empires -- by a single nation. With the passing of the Cold War, the United States now stood apart as both supreme power and irreplaceable global leader, its status guaranteed by its unstoppable military might.

In the editorial offices of the Wall Street Journal,the Washington Post, the New Republic, and theWeekly Standard, such “truths” achieved a self-evident status.  Although more muted in their public pronouncements than Washington’s reigning pundits, officials enjoying access to the Oval Office, the State Department’s 7th floor, and the E-ring of the Pentagon generally agreed.  The assertive exercise of (benign!) global hegemony seemingly held the key to ensuring that Americans would enjoy safety and security, both at home and abroad, now and in perpetuity.

The third theme was all about rethinking the concept of personal freedom as commonly understood and pursued by most Americans.  During the protracted emergency of the Cold War, reaching an accommodation between freedom and the putative imperatives of national security had not come easily.  Cold War-style patriotism seemingly prioritized the interests of the state at the expense of the individual.  Yet even as thrillingly expressed by John F. Kennedy -- “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” -- this was never an easy sell, especially if it meant wading through rice paddies and getting shot at.

Once the Cold War ended, however, the tension between individual freedom and national security momentarily dissipated.  Reigning conceptions of what freedom could or should entail underwent a radical transformation.  Emphasizing the removal of restraints and inhibitions, the shift made itself felt everywhere, from patterns of consumption and modes of cultural expression to sexuality and the definition of the family.  Norms that had prevailed for decades if not generations -- marriage as a union between a man and a woman, gender identity as fixed at birth -- became passé. The concept of a transcendent common good, which during the Cold War had taken a backseat to national security, now took a backseat to maximizing individual choice and autonomy.

Finally, as a complement to these themes, in the realm of governance, the end of the Cold War cemented the status of the president as quasi-deity.  In the Age of Great Expectations, the myth of the president as a deliverer from (or, in the eyes of critics, the ultimate perpetrator of) evil flourished.  In the solar system of American politics, the man in the White House increasingly became the sun around which everything seemed to orbit.  By comparison, nothing else much mattered.

From one administration to the next, of course, presidential efforts to deliver Americans to the Promised Land regularly came up short.  Even so, the political establishment and the establishment media collaborated in sustaining the pretense that out of the next endlessly hyped “race for the White House,” another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan would magically emerge to save the nation.  From one election cycle to the next, these campaigns became longer and more expensive, drearier and yet ever more circus-like.  No matter.  During the Age of Great Expectations, the reflexive tendency to see the president as the ultimate guarantor of American abundance, security, and freedom remained sacrosanct.

Blindsided

Meanwhile, between promise and reality, a yawning gap began to appear. During the concluding decade of the twentieth century and the first decade-and-a-half of the twenty-first, Americans endured a seemingly endless series of crises.  Individually, none of these merit comparison with, say, the Civil War or World War II.  Yet never in U.S. history has a sequence of events occurring in such close proximity subjected American institutions and the American people to greater stress.

During the decade between 1998 and 2008, they came on with startling regularity: one president impeached and his successor chosen by the direct intervention of the Supreme Court; a massive terrorist attack on American soil that killed thousands, traumatized the nation, and left senior officials bereft of their senses; a mindless, needless, and unsuccessful war of choice launched on the basis of false claims and outright lies; a natural disaster (exacerbated by engineering folly) that all but destroyed a major American city, after which government agencies mounted a belated and half-hearted response; and finally, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, bringing ruin to millions of families.

For the sake of completeness, we should append to this roster of seismic occurrences one additional event: Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president.  He arrived at the zenith of American political life as a seemingly messianic figure called upon not only to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor, George W. Bush, but somehow to absolve the nation of its original sins of slavery and racism.

Yet during the Obama presidency race relations, in fact, deteriorated.  Whether prompted by cynical political calculations or a crass desire to boost ratings, race baiters came out of the woodwork -- one of them, of course, infamously birtheredin Trump Tower in mid-Manhattan -- and poured their poisons into the body politic.  Even so, as the end of Obama’s term approached, the cult of thepresidency itself remained remarkably intact.

Individually, the impact of these various crises ranged from disconcerting to debilitating to horrifying.  Yet to treat them separately is to overlook their collective implications, which the election of Donald Trump only now enables us to appreciate.  It was not one president’s dalliance with an intern or “hanging chads”or 9/11 or “Mission Accomplished” or the inundation of the Lower Ninth Ward orthe collapse of Lehman Brothers or the absurd birther movement that undermined the Age of Great Expectations.  It was the way all these events together exposed those expectations as radically suspect.

In effect, the various crises that punctuated the post-Cold War era called into question key themes to which a fevered American triumphalism had given rise.  Globalization, militarized hegemony, and a more expansive definition of freedom, guided by enlightened presidents in tune with the times, should have provided Americans with all the blessings that were rightly theirs as a consequence of having prevailed in the Cold War.  Instead, between 1989 and 2016, things kept happening that weren’t supposed to happen. A future marketed as all but foreordained proved elusive, if not illusory.  As actually experienced, the Age of Great Expectations became an Age of Unwelcome Surprises.

A Candidate for Decline

True, globalization created wealth on a vast scale, just not for ordinary Americans.  The already well-to-do did splendidly, in some cases unbelievably so.  But middle-class incomes stagnated and good jobs became increasingly hard to find or keep.  By the election of 2016, the United States looked increasingly like a society divided between haves and have-nots, the affluent and the left-behind, the 1% and everyone else. Prospective voters were noticing.

Meanwhile, policies inspired by Washington’s soaring hegemonic ambitions produced remarkably few happy outcomes.  With U.S. forces continuously engaged in combat operations, peace all but vanished as a policy objective (or even a word in Washington’s political lexicon). The acknowledged standing of the country’s military as the world’s best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led force coexisted uneasily with the fact that it proved unable to win. Instead, the national security establishment became conditioned to the idea of permanent war, high-ranking officials taking it for granted that ordinary citizens would simply accommodate themselves to this new reality. Yet it soon became apparent that, instead of giving ordinary Americans a sense of security, this new paradigm induced an acute sense of vulnerability, which left many susceptible to demagogic fear mongering.

As for the revised definition of freedom, with autonomy emerging as the nationalsummum bonum, it left some satisfied but others adrift.  During the Age of Great Expectations, distinctions between citizen and consumer blurred.  Shopping became tantamount to a civic obligation, essential to keeping the economy afloat.  Yet if all the hoopla surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday represented a celebration of American freedom, its satisfactions were transitory at best, rarely extending beyond the due date printed on a credit card statement.  Meanwhile, as digital connections displaced personal ones, relationships, like jobs, became more contingent and temporary.  Loneliness emerged as an abiding affliction.  Meanwhile, for all the talk of empowering the marginalized -- people of color, women, gays -- elites reaped the lion’s share of the benefits while ordinary people were left to make do.  The atmosphere was rife with hypocrisy and even a whiff of nihilism.

To these various contradictions, the establishment itself remained stubbornly oblivious, with the 2016 presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton offering a case in point.  As her long record in public life made abundantly clear, Clinton embodied the establishment in the Age of Great Expectations.  She believed in globalization, in the indispensability of American leadership backed by military power, and in the post-Cold War cultural project.  And she certainly believed in the presidency as the mechanism to translate aspirations into outcomes.

Such commonplace convictions of the era, along with her vanguard role in pressing for the empowerment of women, imparted to her run an air of inevitability.  That she deserved to win appeared self-evident. It was, after all, her turn.  Largely overlooked were signs that the abiding themes of the Age of Great Expectations no longer commanded automatic allegiance.

Gasping for Air

Senator Bernie Sanders offered one of those signs.  That a past-his-prime, self-professed socialist from Vermont with a negligible record of legislative achievement and tenuous links to the Democratic Party might mount a serious challenge to Clinton seemed, on the face of it, absurd.  Yet by zeroing in on unfairness and inequality as inevitable byproducts of globalization, Sanders struck a chord.

Knocked briefly off balance, Clinton responded by modifying certain of her longstanding positions. By backing away from free trade, the ne plus ultra of globalization, she managed, though not without difficulty, to defeat the Sanders insurgency.  Even so, he, in effect, served as the canary in the establishment coal mine, signaling that the Age of Great Expectations might be running out of oxygen.

A parallel and far stranger insurgency was simultaneously wreaking havoc in the Republican Party.  That a narcissistic political neophyte stood the slightest chance of capturing the GOP seemed even more improbable than Sanders taking a nomination that appeared Clinton’s by right.

Coarse, vulgar, unprincipled, uninformed, erratic, and with little regard for truth, Trump was sui generis among presidential candidates.  Yet he possessed a singular gift: a knack for riling up those who nurse gripes and are keen to pin the blame on someone or something.  In post-Cold War America, among the millions that Hillary Clinton was famously dismissing as “deplorables,” gripes had been ripening like cheese in a hothouse.

Through whatever combination of intuition and malice aforethought, Trump demonstrated a genius for motivating those deplorables.  He pushed their buttons.  They responded by turning out in droves to attend his rallies. There they listened to a message that they found compelling.

In Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” his followers heard a promise to restore everything they believed had been taken from them in the Age of Great Expectations.  Globalization was neither beneficial nor inevitable, the candidate insisted, and vowed, once elected, to curb its effects along with the excesses of corporate capitalism, thereby bringing back millions of lost jobs from overseas.  He would, he swore, fund a massive infrastructure program, cut taxes, keep a lid on the national debt, and generally champion the cause of working stiffs.  The many complications and contradictions inherent in these various prescriptions would, he assured his fans, give way to his business savvy. 

In considering America’s role in the post-Cold War world, Trump exhibited a similar impatience with the status quo.  Rather than allowing armed conflicts to drag on forever, he promised to win them (putting to work his mastery of military affairs) or, if not, to quit and get out, pausing just long enough to claim as a sort of consolation prize whatever spoils might be lying loose on the battlefield.  At the very least, he would prevent so-called allies from treating the United States like some patsy. Henceforth, nations benefitting from American protection were going to foot their share of the bill.  What all of this added up to may not have been clear, but it did suggest a sharp departure from the usual post-1989 formula for exercising global leadership.

No less important than Trump’s semi-coherent critique of globalization and American globalism, however, was his success in channeling the discontent of all those who nursed an inchoate sense that post-Cold War freedoms might be working for some, but not for them.

Not that Trump had anything to say about whether freedom confers obligations, or whether conspicuous consumption might not actually hold the key to human happiness, or any of the various controversies related to gender, sexuality, and family.  He was indifferent to all such matters.  He was, however, distinctly able to offer his followers a grimly persuasive explanation for how America had gone off course and how the blessings of liberties to which they were entitled had been stolen.  He did that by fingering as scapegoats Muslims, Mexicans, and others "not-like-me."

Trump’s political strategy reduced to this: as president, he would overturn the conventions that had governed right thinking since the end of the Cold War.  To the amazement of an establishment grown smug and lazy, his approach worked.  Even while disregarding all received wisdom when it came to organizing and conducting a presidential campaign in the Age of Great Expectations, Trump won.  He did so by enchanting the disenchanted, all those who had lost faith in the promises that had sprung from the bosom of the elites that the end of the Cold War had taken by surprise.

Adrift Without a Compass

Within hours of Trump’s election, among progressives, expressing fear and trepidation at the prospect of what he might actually do on assuming office becamede rigueur.  Yet those who had actually voted for Trump were also left wondering what to expect.  Both camps assign him the status of a transformative historical figure.  However, premonitions of incipient fascism and hopes that he will engineer a new American Golden Age are likely to prove similarly misplaced.  To focus on the man himself rather than on the circumstances that produced him is to miss the significance of what has occurred.

Note, for example, that his mandate is almost entirely negative.  It centers on rejection: of globalization, of counterproductive military meddling, and of the post-Cold War cultural project.  Yet neither Trump nor any of his surrogates has offered a coherent alternative to the triad of themes providing the through line for the last quarter-century of American history.  Apart a lingering conviction that forceful -- in The Donald’s case, blustering -- presidential leadership can somehow turn things around, “Trumpism” is a dog’s breakfast.

In all likelihood, his presidency will prove less transformative than transitional. As a result, concerns about what he may do, however worrisome, matter less than the larger question of where we go from here.  The principles that enjoyed favor following the Cold War have been found wanting. What should replace them?

Efforts to identify those principles should begin with an honest accounting of the age we are now leaving behind, the history that happened after “the end of history.”  That accounting should, in turn, allow room for regret, repentance, and making amends -- the very critical appraisal that ought to have occurred at the end of the Cold War but was preempted when American elites succumbed to their bout of victory disease.

Don’t expect Donald Trump to undertake any such appraisal.  Nor will the establishment that candidate Trump so roundly denounced, but which President-elect Trump, at least in his senior national security appointments, now shows sign of accommodating.  Those expecting Trump’s election to inject courage into members of the political class or imagination into inside-the-Beltway “thought leaders” are in for a disappointment. So the principles we need -- an approach to political economy providing sustainable and equitable prosperity; a foreign policy that discards militarism in favor of prudence and pragmatism; and an enriched, inclusive concept of freedom -- will have to come from somewhere else.

“Where there is no vision,” the Book of Proverbs tells us, “the people perish.”  In the present day, there is no vision to which Americans collectively adhere.  For proof, we need look no further than the election of Donald Trump.

The Age of Great Expectations has ended, leaving behind an ominous void.  Yet Trump’s own inability to explain what should fill that great void provides neither excuse for inaction nor cause for despair.  Instead, Trump himself makes manifest the need to reflect on the nation’s recent past and to think deeply about its future.

A decade before the Cold War ended, writing in democracy, a short-lived journal devoted to “political renewal and radical change,” the historian and social critic Christopher Lasch sketched out a set of principles that might lead us out of our current crisis. Lasch called for a politics based on “the nurture of the soil against the exploitation of resources, the family against the factory, the romantic vision of the individual against the technological vision, [and] localism over democratic centralism.” Nearly a half-century later, as a place to begin, his prescription remains apt.

(Andrew J. Bacevich is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. His most recent book is America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. This perspective was posted first at Tom Dispatch.

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NO CONFLICT HERE, RIGHT--As many suspected, President-elect Donald Trump’s web of business conflicts is much more complicated than he has let on.

An analysis by the Wall Street Journal published Thursday found that the incoming president owes at least $1.85 billion in debt to as many as 150 Wall Street firms and other financial institutions.

According to the examination of legal and property documents, “Hundreds of millions of dollars of debt attached to Mr. Trump’s properties, some of them backed by Mr. Trump’s personal guarantee, were packaged into securities and sold to investors over the past five years,” thus “broadening the tangle of interests that pose potential conflicts for the incoming president’s administration.”

In May, Trump filed documents with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that disclosed $315 million owed to 10 companies—but that only included debts for companies that Trump completely controls, “excluding more than $1.5 billion lent to partnerships that are 30 percent owned by him,” WSJ reported.

“As a result,” wrote WSJ reporters Jean Eaglesham and Lisa Schwartz, “a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president.”

Put more directly, as Think Progress’s Judd Legum did: “As president, Trump will be responsible for regulating entities that he also owes money to.”

In one troubling example, the investigation found that Wells Fargo, currently under investigation for a years-long banking fraud scandal, “runs at least five mutual funds that own portions of Trump businesses’ securitized debt;” is “a trustee or administrator for pools of securitized loans that include $282 million of loans to Mr. Trump;” and “acts as a special servicer for $950 million of loans to a property that one of Mr. Trump’s companies partly owns.”

“Once he takes office,” Eaglesham and Schwartz observed, “Mr. Trump will appoint the heads of many of the regulators that police the bank.”

The spread of Trump’s debt can in large part be attributed to the process known as “securitization,” when debt is repackaged into bonds and sold off. More than $1 billion of debt connected to the president-elect has been handled in this way.

While concerns over Trump’s conflicts of interest continue to mount, the president-elect has thus far failed to address the issue. Despite warnings from ethics attorneys, he has refused to divest his business holdings, though there were reports that he would hand the reins of the real estate empire over to his sons and advisors, Donald Jr. and Eric. At the same time, a December press conference was postponed and is now scheduled for Jan. 11—the same day as some of his more controversial appointees’ confirmation hearings

(Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams where this piece was first posted.)

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THE CONSIDERABLE COST OF COLLEGE-The American student-debt system is so big and complex that there’s almost no aspect of it that the experts can agree on. Some commentators see a bubble overdue to burst: a trillion and a half (or so) dollars that could vanish at any moment; a housing crisis 2.0 ready to happen. Others see a well-oiled machine that is successfully expanding college access and increasing affordability --  a machine that has the most stable economic foundation possible. 

Even when there are numbers, there is disagreement over which ones to use and what they mean. There is evidence to support both of the above positions, and we might not understand the true character of student debt for decades. After all, these are long loans. 

Still, we can work with the best evidence we have. Forty-two percent of all American adults under 30 have student debt, according to a study from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, and 79 percent agree that debt is a problem, whether they have it or not. 

If everyone agrees student loans need to change, then what’s the problem? Here’s an overview. 

Reform 

One traditional progressive solution when a private industry is failing to serve the public good is nationalization, or at least a government-run competitor. In the health-care debate, for example, the left wing of the Democratic Party pushed for Medicare for all, or at least a public option. (They got neither.) In student lending, however, the government already took over. They just didn’t tell anyone.

As a cost-saving element of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the Obama administration ended the federal practice of securing private student loans, which effectively nationalized over 80 percent of the market. The Obama administration didn’t publicize the change --  probably because being associated with the student-loan checks Americans have to send every month isn’t a smart political move. 

Nationalization has not, however, made much of a difference when it comes to how the student-lending system works. Now, instead of private companies profiting off the loans, the federal government cashes the checks. As long as there is debt, borrowers will have to pay. The next target for reformers is loan fees themselves, and the Democratic Party has been promoting the idea of “debt-free college” -- though if passed into law the promise would likely include a lot of asterisks. 

Interest 

Before 2013, interest rates on federal loans were caught in limbo. While rates were officially set at 6.8 percent, Congress was using extraordinary action to hold them at 3.4 percent. Borrowers couldn’t be certain what their interest rate was going to be the next year, never mind 15 years down the line. The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act  sought to change that. 

On this issue, Democrats and Republicans cooperated in a way we’re not used to seeing these days: Both sides took positions and they compromised in the middle. Republicans got higher interest rates and pegged them to Treasury rates, while the Obama administration got a modest pay-as-you-earn option. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the two more or less cancel each other out. For borrowers, the compromise was a wash. And if Treasury rates increase (as they inevitably will), then borrowers could be looking at interest rates of 8.25 to 10.5 percent, the maximum under the law. 

Bubble 

Many commentators — notably self-styled maverick billionaire Mark Cuban — have been warning about the imminent collapse of the student-debt system. On first look, this alarmism seems prescient: Like the housing market, college costs have been rising out of control. Post-nationalization, student loans comprise a rapidly escalating percentage of the federal government’s asset profile — between one-quarter and nearly half, according to different estimates. 

Cuban and those like him worry that the government, with its easy loans, has allowed college costs to escalate beyond their value. As with the housing market, they think much of the trillion-plus dollars in outstanding debt simply will never be recouped. The class of 2014 averaged $28,950 in debt (according to the Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt); [[[   http://ticas.org/posd/home ]]] they might never make enough to pay it all back. 

It’s a compelling story, but the government probably is too big to fail as a lender. It passes laws, self-regulates, and literally prints money. The Treasury doesn’t have to worry about holding money in the form of debt owed by 20-somethings; it can stretch out repayment for decades. Those 20-somethings will be 40-somethings and 50-somethings, and eventually they’ll get Social Security payments. The feds can wait. 

Defaults 

The biggest difference between college degrees and houses --  since the costs are now basically comparable --  is that you can walk away from a house. If you take out a mortgage and the value of your property tanks and you end up owing more than it’s worth, you can leave, and the bank takes the hit. With education, there’s no way to give your purchase back to the bank because you agreed to pay more than it’s worth. 

When the federal government made a real push to subsidize higher education in the 1960s, it occurred to policymakers that some people might take out all the loans they could carry, go bankrupt after graduation, and run away with a free degree. To prevent the possibility (there’s no evidence it ever happened at any scale), they made student debt extremely difficult to escape. You can’t discharge it in bankruptcy, and the feds have extraordinary collection access. As a result, the Treasury recovers an average of nearly 100 percent of student-loan principal, even from borrowers who default. With the government collecting, defaults are not much of a threat. 

Protest 

Although there’s not much difference between Democrats and Republicans on the subject of student loans, there is what we could call an “extra-parliamentary opposition.” When Occupy Wall Street took over a square in downtown Manhattan, it had a whole litany of complaints and it was hard to find two occupiers who agreed. But when economist Mike Konczal reviewed posts to a Tumblr of OWS supporters’ stories, he found that student debt was the overwhelming central issue among the protesters. 

The occupation is long finished, but it has inspired further anti-debt activism: As late as 2014, the group Strike Debt was using donations to buy up debt (though not mostly student-loan debt) at a discount, after which they forgave it. A few borrowers have even refused to repay their student loans, urging others to join them. The future of student debt could depend on how the government responds to these outside protests. We’ve seen the demand for debt-free college go from Occupy to Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Meanwhile, the numbers keep piling up.

 

(Malcom Harris writes for Pacific Standard where a version of this story first appeared in the January/February 2017 issue.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

CALIFORNIA ALERT--Donald Trump will soon sweep into the office of the U.S. presidency, buttressed by both houses of Congress firmly in Republican control. A wave of regressive executive orders and legislation are already being prepared to ensure that Trump’s first 100 days effectively erase the Obama presidency.

Where Trump was once the most prominent “birther,” attempting to deny President Barack Obama’s legitimacy with a racist campaign accusing him of being born in Kenya, Trump now will wield a pen to legally undermine Obama’s legacy. But Barack Obama is still the president of the United States until Jan. 20, and retains the enormous executive powers that the office bestows. That is why a swelling grass-roots movement is now urging Obama to use executive clemency and the presidential pardon to protect the nation’s millions of undocumented immigrants from the mass deportations Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail.

In case some think Trump’s deportation pledge is mere bluster, the Reuters news agency reported Tuesday on an internal Department of Homeland Security memo that summarized a December meeting between the Trump transition team and the agency. According to Reuters, the Trump transition team asked for details on border wall construction, the capacity for increased immigrant detention, and about the ability to restore aggressive aerial surveillance of the southern border (which was scaled back by the Obama administration). Chillingly, they also asked if any DHS staff had “altered biographic information kept by the department about immigrants out of concern for their civil liberties.”

This last question betrays a likely Trump transition team concern that federal employees may be purging databases of identifying information from the more than 740,000 young people who registered with the government under DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated in June 2012. On Dec. 5, a group of 106 members of Congress wrote to President Obama, urging him to protect such information: “Countless community advocates, organizers, and public servants have promoted the DACA program to Dreamers on the premise that the information they supply to DHS would not be used to deport them in the future.  We cannot stand by and allow the Trump Administration to exploit the trust these young Americans placed in us and the government,” the letter read in part. In addition to name, date of birth, fingerprint and other biometric data, DHS also collects home address, which could endanger other family members who lack legal U.S. immigration documentation.

The Obama administration has already taken similar action after Trump’s election, formally shutting down the NSEER program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System created in 2002 as part of the “Global War on Terror.” The program targeted people from specific countries with majority Muslim populations, and was shut down by Obama to prevent its use as part of a Muslim registry.  Locally, cities like New York also are preparing to push back. Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to protect the information of more than 850,000 immigrants who hold the city’s municipal identification card. Numerous cities are becoming immigrant-protective sanctuary cities, or are reaffirming their status as such, in response to Trump’s threatened mass deportations.

A number of members of Congress, along with groups like the Hispanic Coalition NY and the Dream Action Coalition, are asking President Obama to go further than protecting the DACA data, and to extend a presidential pardon to all who applied for DACA. And renowned linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky has taken this idea further, saying Obama “should proceed to what is in fact an urgent necessity: to grant a general pardon to 11 million people who are living and working here, productive citizens in all but name, threatened with deportation by the incoming administration. This would be a horrible humanitarian tragedy. And moral outrage can be averted by a general pardon for immigration infractions, which the president could issue. And we should join to urge him to carry out this necessary step without delay.”

“The power to pardon is one of the least limited powers granted to the President in the Constitution,” James Pfiffner wrote for the conservative Heritage Foundation, back in 2007. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson granted amnesty to Confederate rebels. Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter gave amnesty to the more than 200,000 Americans charged with resisting the draft during the Vietnam War (Donald Trump didn’t need the amnesty; he got four draft deferments for college and one for an alleged bone spur). Forty years after Carter, President Obama can use his immense power of the presidential pardon to de-escalate the war on immigrants, which otherwise, under Trump, threatens to get immeasurably worse. 

(Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.)

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GUEST WORDS--When we think about nuclear energy, what usually comes to mind are its worst consequences. The disastrous accidents of Chernobyl and Fukushima—as well as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—loom large in the debate over whether we should rely more heavily on nuclear power as part of a shift toward a low-carbon energy economy. But do these terrible events loom too large? In a recent piece in Genetics, biologist Bertrand Jordan, of Aix-Marseille University in France, argues that most of us have an exaggerated view of the dangers of radioactivity, and that this is distorting the debate over nuclear power as a viable clean energy option. 

Jordan bases his argument on the results of long-term studies of Japanese atomic bombing survivors. 

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible human tragedies, but they were well-measured ones. In the weeks and years after the bombings, American and Japanese scientists assessed not only the physical injuries of the bombing victims, but also their level of exposure to radiation emitted by the bombs. These initial assessments grew into the world’s most important study of the health risks of radioactivity. Atomic bombing survivors of all ages and sexes, including some still in the womb, were exposed to different doses of radiation. Nearly 100,000 of them have been tracked over the subsequent six decades. 

This large study, a joint United States-Japanese effort called the Life Span Study, has also followed 77,000 children born to bombing survivors, and it continues to this day. Results from this study are the primary basis for essentially all government regulations and guidelines on safe exposure to radiation, from limits on medical x-rays and CT scans to recommendations for airline flight crews, who, working at high altitudes, are exposed to more cosmic ray radiation from space. 

What do the results of the Life Span Study show? Jordan argues that, as terrible as the atomic bombings were, there is “a very striking discrepancy between the facts and general beliefs” about the long-term effects of radiation on the bombing victims. Because we associate radiation with the awful power of nuclear weaponry (which threatened world destruction for half a century), or with disasters like Chernobyl, we tend to think that radiation is more harmful than it actually is. But if we look at the data of the Life Span Study, Jordan says, we find instead “measurable but limited detrimental health effects in survivors, and no detectable genetic effects in their offspring.” 

Jordan first points to cancer rates among survivors, which are indeed elevated, but still relatively low. Cancer is one of the most feared effects of radiation: At a low to moderate dose, you can’t see or feel radiation, yet that can be enough to cause mutations that produce a deadly cancer decades later. But only a minority of atomic bomb survivors ever developed cancer — even among those who were exposed to higher levels of radiation. For example, among one set of about 45,000 survivors, there was a 10 percent increase in solid cancers (such as breast or stomach cancer) compared to an unexposed population. This equates to roughly 850 cases (out of 45,000 people) that can be attributed to atomic bomb radiation — tragic, to be sure, but, according to Jordan, much less common than most people would expect.

Furthermore, radiation had little impact on the life expectancy of survivors. At moderately high doses, the Life Span Study found a roughly one year reduction in life expectancy. At lower doses, this reduction was less than two months. This, Jordan notes, is much less than the effect of a major social disruption, like the one that took place in Russia after the end of the Cold War, where life expectancy decreased by five years between 1990 and 1994.

Finally, radiation from the atomic bombs does not appear to have affected the next generation. Harmful mutations caused by radiation can sometimes be passed on from parents to children, which means that, in theory, the effects of the bombs’ radiation could persist across a generation. But Jordan notes that, among the children of atomic bombing survivors, there is “no detectable radiation-related pathology.” Jordan acknowledges the important caveat that some of these children are still relatively young (in their 40s and 50s), and thus an increased risk of cancer among them may not be evident for another few decades.

Given these relatively small effects, Jordan argues that the “contradiction between the perceived (imagined) long-term health effects of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs and the actual data [is] extremely striking.” He believes that the issue of nuclear energy is much like the issues of climate change or the safety of genetically modified foods, where public misunderstanding gets in the way of good policy solutions. It is therefore “important to try to clear up these questions, and to disseminate widely the scientific data when [it exists], in order to allow for a balanced debate and more rational decisions.”

Are our fears of radiation really preventing us from rationally considering an effective, no-emissions source of energy as part of our plans to curb greenhouse gases?

Probably not. It’s true that, if you survive an atomic bombing, you are still unlikely to develop cancer and your children will probably not be afflicted by genetic diseases. And major nuclear accidents are not common — there have only been five in the past 69 years. That’s certainly a much better track record than coal-fired plants, whose emissions affect the health of thousands of people in the U.S. every year.

Yet even rare nuclear accidents affect the lives of hundreds of thousands to millions of people. The reactor meltdown at the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011 ultimately led to the evacuation of about 170,000 people. Although nearby residents were exposed to only low levels of radiation, the accident caused an enormous disruption that measurably harmed residents’ mental health.

The explosion of the Chernobyl reactor in 1986 was even worse. The World Health Organization estimates that five million people currently live in areas contaminated with radioactive materials blown across Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, after the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. WHO researchers estimate that this single accident will ultimately cause up to 4,000 deaths, largely from cancers that develop decades later. And so, even if, as Jordan argues, the health risks of radiation aren’t quite as bad as most of us believe, the dangers of a nuclear accident are still considerable.

When you consider these very real dangers alongside other major issues associated with nuclear power — disposal of extremely hazardous waste, security from terrorist threats, and the generally unfavorable economics of nuclear power — it’s clear that nuclear energy faces bigger problems than our irrational fears.

 

(Mike White is Assistant Professor of Genetics at Washington University in St. Louis and is a contributing writer at Pacific Standard magazine … where this piece was first posted.)

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THE LINGERING CONSEQUENCES--There are many ways to measure the cost of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War: In bombs (7 million tons), in dollars ($760 billion in today's dollars) and in bodies (58,220).

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--By most accounts, 2016 was one helluva year. We were sideswiped by a billionaire Twitter addict who swings back and forth on withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement and building the infamous Wall while attempting to fill his Cabinet spots with an assortment of Goldman Sachs and oil company execs. We’ve lost more than our fair share of entertainers and luminaries. Closer to home, we’ve struggled with a drought and brushfires. We’ve faced the pop-up of large scale development and gentrification.

As we turn the page to the New Year, we tend to reflect on the past months while anticipating the next twelve months. We resolve to log in more time at the gym or on the yoga mat, to drink more water and less wine, to spend less time on Facebook and more time actively engaged in our communities.

I am grateful for the activists I’ve met through writing this column who inspire us to face challenges by creating change. I’ve sat in living rooms with neighbors who brought their concerns about neighborhood integrity, increased traffic, and overdevelopment to councilmembers and planning commissions.

Calabasas residents petitioned for a successful ballot measure against a proposed hotel that would have compromised a cherished hillside, against all odds. Also in Calabasas, parents work tirelessly to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer to honor the memory of their son. This fall, I attended a dinner honoring dozens of environmental activists who are committed to preserving the Santa Monica Mountains.

I joined hundreds of community members gathered in a West Hills McDonald’s parking lot to march in support of a Valley teen who was randomly attacked while his father works to organize efforts against bullying.

What will 2017 bring? Certainly not every outcome is within our control. However, what I’ve learned from the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and to interview is that we can affect change. We can make a difference, especially if we work together. That’s what grassroots activism is all about. Choose your passion. What infuriates or disappoints you? We’re fortunate we have the right to express ourselves and to assemble. Not every attempt may be successful but like the group that attempted to gather signatures to unseat Councilmember Krekorian, if you don’t succeed, try again.

I’m excited for 2017 to unfold, to check in with the activists I know and to follow those I haven’t yet met. If you have a mission or are part of a group working to make a difference, please contact me here. Together, we can make a difference, one step at a time.

  • Two Organizations to Get You Started:

- Pediatric Cance

- Anti-Bullying 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

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AMERICA’S CONFLICTED FUTURE--After the craziness of an election cycle that was as historic as anything we've ever seen, and after a host of celebrity deaths and world turbulence that defied description, 2016 is coming to an end.  So what, we're all asking, does 2017 bring to us all? So what adventures, good or bad, await us?  What themes await us?  Here are my predictions--and while arguably necessary, and arguably unavoidable, I can't say these predictions are all that pretty ... so here we go! 

For better or for worse, the majority of the nation will move politically and economically to the right, while California and some of the coastal states and larger midwest cities will attempt to lurch to the left ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, Republicans throughout the nation will be divided among those who fear this nation is losing its conservative values (and/or its Christian values) versus those who claim that true conservative and Christian values have been lost by the so-called "political establishment" ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, Democrats throughout the nation will be divided among those who fear this nation is losing its focus on civil rights and inclusion (and/or its Constitutional values) versus those who claim that true liberal and representative values have been lost by the so-called "political establishment"... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, we will hear from many that the rights of immigrants are being squashed, and we will also hear from many that the rights of "true immigrants" (who follow current immigration law) and native-born Americans are being squashed ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, we will hear from many that the civil rights of African-Americans and other ethnicities are being attacked, and we will also hear from many that those claiming to be "civil rights advocates" are the ones truly overseeing the attacks on civil rights of the same African-Americans and other ethnicities ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, American Jews will struggle between a traditional tendency to lean Democratic (or moderate Republican) versus an acknowledgement that Jews are under worldwide attack and require a new conservative leaning ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be much anger and alarm about the public sector pension and debt crises of our cities, states and nation, versus those who insist on defending the rights and benefits of our local and national civil service ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be more defense spending but with a simultaneous debate on how to best focus on how to spend on our defense (both in financial and human costs) ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be a push to add the entirety of the city of Jerusalem into the nation of Israel as a result of recent political events, and after eight years of our current foreign policy...and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be heightened rivalry, and perhaps military action, between the nations of Israel and Iran as a result of recent political events, and after eight years of our current foreign policy ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be closer and altered ties between the United States, its western and eastern European allies, and Russia, with a new focus on "North versus South" rather than the old "West versus East" conflict ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be new economic and political rivalries between China and both its Asian neighbors and the United States ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be an emphasis placed on "Buy American" and "American innovation and exclusivity" versus a push for a more global approach to economics ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be a variety of civil, economic, and perhaps even military, rivalries between the United States and its immediate neighbors to the south (Mexico and Cuba) ... and there will be conflict. 

For better or for worse, there will be a major emphasis on either internal reform within the Muslim world (both secular and religious in nature), with accompanying divisions between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors ... and there will be conflict. 

Yet here's the rub ... and hopefully a happy ending to these horrific conflicts: 

For better or for worse,  these conflicts can be resolved--some peacefully, some decidedly NOT peacefully, if cities, states, and nations all learn to balance what THEY can do better, and what THEY can do more, while demanding the same of their neighbors. 

Happy Holidays and New Year to All!  Happy 2017, and may good health, happiness, and prosperity be in your future!

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

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EDITOR’S PICK--Foreign governments concerned about climate change may soon be spending more time dealing with Sacramento than Washington. 

President-elect Donald J. Trump has packed his cabinet with nominees who dispute the science of global warming. He has signaled he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. He has belittled the notion of global warming and attacked policies intended to combat it.

But California — a state that has for 50 years been a leader in environmental advocacy — is about to step unto the breach. In a show of defiance, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and legislative leaders said they would work directly with other nations and states to defend and strengthen what were already far and away the most aggressive policies to fight climate change in the nation. That includes a legislatively mandated target of reducing carbon emissions in California to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

“California can make a significant contribution to advancing the cause of dealing with climate change, irrespective of what goes on in Washington,” Mr. Brown said in an interview. “I wouldn’t underestimate California’s resolve if everything moves in this extreme climate denial direction. Yes, we will take action.” (Read the rest.

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AT LENGTH--This past election cycle brings me back to November of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president and Random Lengths News was newly established. 

The October surprise involving the hacked emails of James Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, are far too reminiscent of the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in which 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days by Iranian students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line. 

Abolhassan Banisadr, the former president of Iran, has stated “that the Reagan campaign struck a deal with Tehran to delay the release of the hostages in 1980.” He asserted that “by the month before the American presidential election in November 1980, many in Iran’s ruling circles were openly discussing the fact that a deal had been made between the Reagan campaign team and some Iranian religious leaders in which the hostages’ release would be delayed until after the election so as to prevent President Jimmy Carter’s re-election.” 

This truth wouldn’t become publicized until the New York Times blew the lid off the Iran Contra scandal and the release of Banisadr’s memoir of the incident, “My Turn to Speak: Iran, the Revolution and Secret Deals with the U.S.” 10 years later. 

Donald Trump, like Reagan before him, denied any pre-election negotiations with foreign governments to influence these elections. But much can be read into the defense of a man who protests too much. 

At this point, we can only surmise that the Trump campaign was working in concert with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discredit Hillary Clinton during the final weeks of the 2016 general election. But this supposition was solidified by the CIA and 17 of national security agencies in a late arriving report. 

Who knew there were so many “intelligence” agencies protecting us? What we do know is that all of this “intelligence” hasn’t made our republic any safer or smarter in the face of cyberattacks and political treachery. 

Yet, this is precisely the same kind of political treason that has been used time and again to defeat Democratic candidates­. It must have been codified in the Republican playbook.

Nixon used this same play to derail Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign in 1968 by delaying the Paris peace talks on ending the Vietnam War -- a war that ultimately didn’t end until seven years later in ignominious defeat. Nixon campaigned on his “secret plan to end the war.” It turned out the secret was simply using Henry Kissinger to delay any deal prior to the 1968 election. The rest -- as they say -- is history.” Now, we are condemned to repeat it. 

Clearly, all three of these historic October Surprises were successful attempts at disrupting the electoral processes of our nation, influencing the vote and misinforming the public before the truth could be widely known or published. This will be the template by which a Trump administration rules. The Office of Public Diplomacy is one of those pages out of the Republican handbook that the Reagan administration used for the express purpose of producing propaganda. 

According to a staff report on Otto Reich (a senior official in the administrations of Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), released by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Sept. 7, 1988, investigators concluded that: 

“… senior CIA officials with backgrounds in covert operations, as well as military intelligence and psychological operations specialists from the Department of Defense, were deeply involved in establishing and participating in a domestic political and propaganda operation through an obscure bureau in the Department of State, which reported directly to the National Security Council rather than through the normal State Department channels….Through irregular sole-source, no-bid contracts…established and maintained a private network of individuals and organizations whose activities were coordinated with, and sometimes directed by, Col. Oliver North (of Iran-Contra fame), as well as officials of the NSC. 

“These private individuals and organizations raised and spent funds for the purpose of influencing Congressional votes and U.S. domestic news media. This network raised and funneled money to off-shore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands or the secret Lake Resources bank account in Switzerland for disbursement at the direction of Oliver North. Almost all of these activities were hidden from public view and many of the key individuals involved were never questioned or interviewed by the Iran/Contra Committees.” 

This, my friends, is what we are going to see recycled as foreign and domestic policy by the Trump administration. So readers, beware! 

In this era of fake news and disguised propaganda, it will be difficult at best and impossible at worst to determine who’s telling the truth. 

My greatest fear at this point is that there will be a Trumped up 9/11-style attack, initiated by our Tweeter-in-chief who would then rally white-supremacist patriots to the cause of our next war of aggression. Then he might impose martial law for the sake of national security and defense of the homeland. And it will all be packaged in a way to make you feel that Trump is making America great again.

 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Everyone is ready to be rid of 2016. Scores of people are posting to social media, personifying the year as a dreaded tormentor: 

#2016, you’re the worst.

I hate you #2016

#2016, don’t you dare (beside a photo of Carrie Fischer) 

2016 did take Carrie Fisher. It took George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder and Florence Henderson – Patty Duke, Garry Shandling and Merle Haggard. 

It took civil rights fighter Georgia Davis Powers, and it took Fred Hayman, the godfather of Rodeo Drive. 

It took John Glenn, Nancy Reagan, Edward Albee, Harper Lee, and Morley Safer. 

It took the greatest – Muhammad Ali 

It took El Commandante, Fidel Castro. 

It took Tupac’s father, Afeni Shaukur. It took my co-worker’s father and my home-town neighbor’s mother. 

It took the twin sister of Iran’s deposed Shah and Thomas E. Schaefer, retired Air Force Colonel who was one of the 52 American hostages held in Iran in 1980-1981. 

It took progressive California Senator Tom Hayden and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who the Republi-Tea party refused to replace during the Obama administration. 

It took Margaret Vinci Heldt, who created the bee-hive hairdo. 

It took Sam Iacobellis, the Rockwell CEO who handed up 100 B-1 bombers to Ronald Reagan in six years and Phyllis Schafley, who led the charge to defeat the ERA in the 1970’s. 

It took James Delligatti who invented the “Big Mac” and Henry Heimlich, who created the lifesaving maneuver of his namesake. 

It took 1058 people who were killed by US police according to The Guardian’s “The Counted” project. 148 of them were unarmed. 

It took 74-year-old Francisco Serna, the most recent death reported on The Buardian’s website. Francisco had dementia. He often took walks in his Sacramento neighborhood to help himself sleep. He was carrying a crucifix that was mistaken for a gun. 

It took the lives of 5,000 refugees in the Mediterranean Sea (UNHCR.org). 

2016 took the safe homes of a record 5.8 million people according to the International Business Times. This brings the total number of forcibly displaced people in the world to 65.3 million (UNHCR.org).

2016 took “more than enough to provide an education for all of the 124 million children currently out of school, and to pay for health interventions that could save the lives of six million children” (Oxfam Policy Paper, 12.12.2016). This due to their research which shows developing countries’ loss of around $100 billion due to tax avoidance schemes that benefit 65 people.

Right here in The City of Los Angeles, over 28,464 people are homeless on any given night (2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count). This is up by 11% from the 2015 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Youth homelessness accounts for 52% of that increase.

These researchers cited LA’s affordable housing crisis, its’ high unemployment rate and its’ prevalence of low wage jobs as culprits.

The good news is that homelessness among veterans fell by 41% in the City.

2016 brought another report – this one from the LA County Economic Development Corporation. The report projects that a whopping 63% of all jobs expected over the next five years in LA County will require a high school education or less and will not afford the ability to pay the high cost of living as housing prices continue to outpace income.

I could go further and deeper into the horrors of 2016. Did the year bring any bright spots?

My personal bright spots were all about family, friends and the beauty of nature. My parents and I were able to travel to Oregon where my father worked as a boy, picking produce in the Hood River Valley. We saw the orchards where he and his brother worked. We visited the now defunct saw mill where they also labored to gain some money for the family back in New Mexico.

Thanks to social media, we witnessed the heroic stand of the people of Standing Rock and their allies who remain to this day in the bitter killing cold. No longer a sensation, but still fighting perhaps the hardest battle yet to come as they face blizzards and continued arrests and harassment.

The opening of friendlier relations with Cuba allows Americans access to the lung cancer vaccine developed and available for free in the island nation since 2011.

The end of the year saw the discovery of an ebola vaccine.

After being liberated from jihadists, the people of Aleppo were able to celebrate for the first time in five years.

PBS reported that the world’s tiger count rose for the first time in 100 years.

In Los Angeles, the FightFor$15 campaign won a path to victory in 2016 – and paid sick days for all workers.

UniteHere! And the Teamsters brought union protection and wages to drivers and cafeteria workers across the Silcone Valley.

Pope Frances was out there making friends across the globe and making me want to become a Catholic.

Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on some money – best exchange I’ve heard of in years.

Dave Chappelle came back to television.

By the looks of it, 2017 will be a real whopper. The incoming administration promises to undo all of the layers of gains that workers fought and died for from the 1800’s to the time of the New Deal.

Still, the past year has also shown that in the face of heartbreaking loss, there are those who will risk it all to open the portal to moments of joy, unity, justice and peace. As the vise on the lives of regular people becomes tighter, more and more of us may find ourselves in their ranks.

On the death of George Michael and the end of the year, I am struck by the lyrics of one of his songs: 

Do you think we have time?

Do you think we have time?

These are the days of the open hand

They will not be the last

Look around now

These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man

Whose place is in the past

Hand in hand with ignorance

And legitimate excuses 

Let’s hope 2017 will be a year of movement towards a future where the hungry man, ignorance and legitimate excuses are in their place in the past. Better yet, let’s fight for it.

NEED TO KNOW:

Help the Water Protectors of all our water in their Titanic struggle to stop the DAPL: 

Watch the award-winning must-see doc, “13th.” It documents the history of slavery to mass incarceration as well as putting police brutality in context. 

Be part of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count 

Join the Fight for $15 LA

 

 

(Jennifer Caldwell is a an actress and an active member of SAG-AFTRA, serving on several committees. She is a published author of short stories and news articles and is a featured contributor to CityWatch. Her column at www.RecessionCafe.wordpress.com is dishing up good deals, recipes and food for thought. Jennifer can be reached at recessioncafe@yahoo.com.  Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jennifercald - Twitter: @checkingthegate ... And her website: jenniferhcaldwell.com)  

-cw

 

EASTSIDER-After being unkind to the Dems, I thought it only fair but equal to make a couple of observations about the Trumpster and the RNC. As I was watching all the news junkie channels this weekend, I suddenly became aware of a big change in how the news is covered -- particularly news about Donald Trump. 

You see, under the “old” news format for TV, you had a talking head moderator, flanked on either side by a paid “left” consultant and a paid “right” consultant. Depending on the niche market of the news channel, the moderator would then side with whichever side he or she was getting paid millions to front for. 

More recently, with the demise of Clinton, we saw a shift to the “roundtable” format in which directly paid news channel “consultants” offer whatever niche news slant the TV channel uses to keep its audience. However, they do tend to keep the “left” Dems and the “right” Republicans. 

But with Donald Trump, that old dog won’t hunt -- mostly because The Donald doesn’t speak in any detail. He tweets for twits. (Note: since I’ve used that phrase a few times, I should probably explain what I mean.) The tweeter is, of course, The Donald; the twits I’m referring to are the talking head moderators of the TV shows in question. You see, in 140 characters, no one can really tell what the heck he is saying. 

This is perfect for news anchors. They get to hire a whole new host of paid consultants to explain what The Donald really meant! I mean, Fox News gets to create a new set of (paid) Republican consultants to tell us what The Donald really meant when he tweeted. This is diabolically clever -- Donald Trump is completely free to explain himself later on, after the tweet has been debated for an entire news cycle by all the media; he can repudiate anything that the talking heads said that he said! 

There is another economic benefit for the TV news channels. They don’t have to spend any time actually investigating the news and hiring a lot of expensive staff. Since the “news” is only talking about the tweets, who cares about factual anything? In a day or two, The Donald will either clarify or simply move on. The savings to the network can be huge, giving a nice bounce to profit margins. 

Whether anyone, including Mr. Trump, has any idea what he’s really saying, remains undetermined. After all, for a fella who can repudiate stuff he did or said that is readily contradicted by tape or audio files, what’s the reframing of a tweet? 

How this new format will play out after Mr. Trump is sworn in as president, who can tell? It’s possible he will continue tweeting. Maybe the government will have to give him a secure twitter account so that it can’t be hacked. On the other hand, it is quite possible that The Donald wouldn’t care if he got hacked, because it’s all really out there in the first place. 

What we do know is that Donald Trump loves the spotlight, and I doubt that this will change after he becomes President of the United States. If you look at his cabinet and key staff picks, it seems to be a group with considerable differences, along with strong egos. My personal guess (you read it here) is that he will foment and exaggerate policy differences, so that he can step in and publicly announce the Trump Policy after all the newsies have had a day or so to keep him and the issue in the headlines. 

Gee, if President Trump continues to tweet and play spin the bottle with his policy agenda, he could consume the bulk of every news cycle. Heaven indeed.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION? --The Women's March on Washington, a mass mobilization to champion women's rights, is growing as President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration approaches.

Organizers announced this week that several high-profile supporters, including Gloria Steinem (photo left) and Harry Belafonte, will be joining the January 21 march as honorary co-chairs. Planned Parenthood has also signed on as a partner.

"This is a historic moment to come together to protect the progress we've made," Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. "We will send a strong message to the incoming administration that millions of people across this country are prepared to fight attacks on reproductive health care, abortion services, and access to Planned Parenthood, as they intersect with the rights of young people, people of color, immigrants, and people of all faiths, backgrounds, and incomes."

Although the organizers say the march aims to be "proactive about women's rights" rather than to target Trump specifically, the connection between his incoming anti-choice administration and the organizers' goals seems clear. 

Linda Sarsour, a chair of the march and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, previously described the march as a "stand on social justice and human rights issues ranging from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, immigration, and healthcare."

Nearly 200,000 people have pledged to attend the march in Washington, D.C., with many traveling in from out of state. One of the largest contingents is expected to come from Massachusetts, where at least 8,000 people have signed up.

The Boston Globe's Cristela Guerra wrote Wednesday:

What is motivating thousands to board buses to Washington, D.C., next month? It is deeply personal.

There are mothers and fathers marching with their daughters to show that women's rights are human rights. There are Jews and Hindus and Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, and allies marching against the spike in discrimination they've seen or experienced. There are people who marched earlier against the war in Vietnam or for equal rights for women. There are students making their first march on Washington.

After a contentious beginning and numerous bureaucratic roadblocks, including a "massive omnibus blocking permit" that will prevent people from demonstrating at historic D.C. landmarks, the march seems stronger than ever.

"We know that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we are thrilled to welcome Ms. Steinem and Mr. Belafonte as honorary co-chairs," Sarsour said Tuesday. "Alongside our new partner Planned Parenthood, together we are bridging the historical struggles for women's rights and civil rights to the current intersectional movement for dignity and human rights."

ACTION INFO: womensmarch.com 

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.)