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


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


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


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: 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.)


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.)


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. 


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


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.)


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 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 He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)







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 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


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.


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.)


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.)


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.


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: 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.)


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: 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.)


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.)


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: 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.)



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

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.)


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.)


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 

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.)


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… 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.)


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: [[   ]]

  • 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


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 He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at 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.)


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  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.)


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.) 


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. 


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


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.)



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.)


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


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



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: 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:


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: 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.)


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

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. 


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: 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 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.)


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: 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, 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 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: 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: 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, 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, 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. 




(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.)


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


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 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.)


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 He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at 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.)


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.)



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 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 He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)


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 [] 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


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


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.”   


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


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.


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.


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.)


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. 


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. 


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. 


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); [[[ ]]] 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. 


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. 


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.)


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.)


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.)


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 He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)


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.


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: 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 ( 

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 (

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.


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 is dishing up good deals, recipes and food for thought. Jennifer can be reached at  Facebook: - Twitter: @checkingthegate ... And her website:  



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."


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

INFORMED COMMENT--I’d like to return today to an argument I made two years ago in The Nation, which is that President Obama should recognize Palestine before he goes out of office.  For different but related reasons, Jimmy Carter made a similar plea last month

One of the arguments often heard is that Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state if it annexes all of the West Bank, since it will ultimately acquire 4 million Palestinians (West Bank & Gaza residents) as citizens in that case.

I don’t really care whether Israel has a Jewish majority, just as I don’t care if Egypt has a Sunni Muslim one or if Germany has a German one.  In the tradition of the French revolution, I think states should be civil states, for the people of the Republic, whoever they may be.  The United States in 1789 was mostly British and had a population of 4 million.  Now it is 80 times as big, and has large Italian, Latino, German and Irish populations, not to mention over three million Muslims.  So what?  All those groups have brought gifts to enrich the nation.  In an age of globalization, trying artificially to maintain one ethnic group as a majority is probably a fool’s errand, anyway.  (Not to mention that “ethnic groups” are fluid and change definition over time).  Israel is importing Thai agricultural workers and initially was welcoming African refugees.

So what is called a “one-state” solution would be fine with me, as long as all the citizens of that one state had equal rights and it was a genuine democracy.

It just would be very difficult to get to that outcome, whereas it would be fairly easy to set up two states, since the basic framework of the two states already exists.

Moreover, it is entirely possible that the Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank will at some point engineer a civil war, and try to expel the Palestinians, making them stateless refugees all over again.

What is wrong with the present arrangement is that the Palestinians do not have citizenship in a real state.  A state controls the water, air and land of a territory.  The [Palestinian] Authority controls none of those things.  A state has a judicial system that can protect the basic property and human rights of a citizen.  Palestine has none of those things.  Important cases are kicked to the Israeli judiciary, which with a few exceptions tends to rule in favor of Israelis.  And, a lot of decisions are made for Palestinians by the Israeli army or by colonial administrators.

People who are stateless, in the phrase of Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, do not have the right to have rights.  It is unacceptable that millions of Palestinians should be kept stateless at the insistence of Israel.  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has even vowed that he will not allow a Palestinian state as long as he is in power (a violation of the Oslo Peace Accords).

The reason that all these decades of negotiations have proved fruitless is that the Palestinians, as stateless, don’t really have standing to negotiate.  You can renege on agreements with stateless people at will, as Netanyahu has repeatedly done, without fearing any consequences and without the stateless having recourse.  So you can’t start with negotiations.  You have to start by addressing Palestinians’ lack of citizenship.

It should be noted that the National Socialists in Germany stripped German Jews of their citizenship, in preparation for committing a Holocaust against them or driving them out of their homes as refugees.  (Let’s see, sniffed Goebbels, if any of their liberal champions will want them then.)  The Nazis understood very well that you can do with Stateless people what you will, and that no one will effectively so much as object.  For the Zionist right wing, Israel comes as a solution to the problem that Jews are always in danger of losing their citizenship rights when they are citizens of other states. (This was a problem of the 1930s; it is not clear that it is perennial or universal– contrast with the US).  Moreover, in a nuclear-armed world, the idea that a state can protect you from another holocaust is a false messiah; ask the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In any case, solving the artificially created problem of Jewish statelessness cannot come at the price of creating Palestinian statelessness.

One way or another, I insist on the problem of Palestinian statelessness being solved.  I don’t care how it is solved.  They can become Israeli citizens, or Palestinian citizens.  But they have to be citizens of something.  Otherwise, we will continue to see serial disasters befalling them, and the injustice being perpetrated on them will continue to generate security risks to the US.

The chair of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, said Monday that the Palestinian leadership was invigorated by the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank.  As a result, it would redouble its efforts to achieve full membership in the United Nations for the State of Palestine.

Likewise, he said, the Palestinians would take their case to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, charging Israeli officials with various crimes against the international law of occupation, chief among them flooding their own citizens as colonizers into the Occupied Territory.

Erekat recognizes that the Palestinian cause will go nowhere until Palestine has some of the perquisites of a state, such as UN membership and ability to take cases to the International Criminal Court.

So here we come to President Obama.  Just as he established diplomatic relations with Cuba, so he could do the same with regard to Palestine.  It would be one step toward resolving the decades-old problem of Palestinian statelessness.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia.  He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years and speaks Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)  


GELFAND’S WORLD-It was two days after the 9/11 attacks, on September 13, 2001, that Dave Barry published a column which began, "No humor column today. I don't want to write it, and you don't want to read it." I suspect that this is how most of us feel about trying to do a traditional Year in Review for 2016. To me, it's sufficient to say that a near-majority of the American people (but controlling a majority of the Electoral votes) made a terrible decision, and the remaining majority will have to endure its effects. We can, however, think about what we plan to do about the new administration in the coming year.

What to do? Here's a start: As a friend of mine put it, the first thing to do is to stay angry. Remember your anger. Don't let it go. In a way, this is a prescription for independents and Democrats to take the same approach that the Republican core have taken during the past several Democratic presidencies. The hatred directed towards Bill Clinton and Barack Obama went far beyond what any rational analysis could possibly justify. That emotion, carried on chronically and with intensity, had an effect on the political process and ultimately on legislation.

The difference between 2017 and those other years is that our concerns are justified. We need to figure out how to act effectively, even if we don't have it in ourselves to be a hate filled mob.

We do have justification for our anger. Everything about the incoming administration and its allies in the congress screams reactionary. Some of what we are hearing would have been inconceivable even just a few years ago. It seems hard to believe that any rational politician would talk about phasing out Medicare, but we've seen the Speaker of the House talking seriously about it. Others in that party have put Social Security, always considered a "third rail" in our lifetimes, in the crosshairs.

And then there is the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The House Republicans have been licking their chops about repeal for half a decade. This is the government program that will be the first big test. And it is a big test, particularly if you either have some preexisting condition or expect to live long enough (say 45 or so) that you will develop one.

An email arrived this week explaining that one day in January will be dedicated to protesting the possible changes to Obamacare. I don't know where those people learned their protest skills, but one day isn't enough. It needs to be a national campaign that begins right now and continues for as long as it takes, week after week and month after month. There should be no congressional office left unvisited by people who rely on the new system for health insurance. There should be no American city with a population over 30,000 that doesn't see pro-Obamacare demonstrations.

It's time that the rational and humane people in this country learn to fight back against the irrationalist impulse that fuels the right wing movement, the movement that brought on the disaster of 2016. We need to figure out how to balance and counteract the kinds of tactics that talk radio and Fox News use to mislead people. We've been looking for a strategy for more than 20 years, and we haven't quite put our collective finger on it yet.

I have a thought: We've been too nice. We have to change that. It's the kind of thought that nice liberals didn't vocalize much, until now. But fighting back is as American as a Mary Pickford movie, and we have to learn how.

We also need to learn to not be intimidated by right wing blowback. The right wing has perfected a technique which finds something to focus on, and then invites its followers to express their outrage. It doesn't matter how trivial the event is. One time, the president was sipping from a cup of coffee as he walked down the steps of Air Force One. At the bottom, a member of the armed services saluted, and Obama absent mindedly returned the salute without changing the hand holding his coffee cup. This became the cause of the day for the right wing. They used the event to imply that the president didn't respect members of the armed services.

That's right. They manufactured outrage over which hand held a cup of coffee, or that there was a cup of coffee at all. Outrage, real or feigned, is the weapon of choice for the right wing echo chamber.

We shouldn't let the right wing intimidate us with its phony outrage. We should relish it, because it will be the proof that we've struck a nerve. Whatever their outrage, double down on it. Ask for more, and explain why we too are outraged.

One other thing. We need to understand that being coldly intellectual is not always the most effective course: people don't necessarily react to the beauty of our logic or the presentation of our facts. The other side has a different tack. They use ridicule and overstatement. They raise their voices and let their feelings be heard. This seems -- shall I be so indelicate as to put it this way -- kind of rude. The other side has played at being school yard bullies, and we've watched and tsk-tsk'd at their crudeness.

When I suggest that we fight back in a similar fashion with ridicule and volume, it may sound crude, but there is a point to the exercise. The right wing uses ridicule and anger as a way of establishing its tribal boundaries and keeping its converts within the pack. You don't attract the next generation to your own pack by ignoring the bullying tactics of the opposition, neither are you likely to attract people from the other side over to your side.

But there is some possibility to attract people from the other side by establishing that your side is stronger. What that word stronger is supposed to represent will have different meanings in different contexts. In the academic context, it refers to the intellectual content. But in the social context of politics, we refer to stronger social bonds and more developed communities. In other words, the goal is to teach right wingers that they are less respected (or popular) than the other side. We make that case using logic and facts, history and story, but we need to understand that the story needs to be told with emotion and belief.

There is also a case to be made for repetition. The other side knows that part of the process. That's why we refer to the right wing echo chamber. They've learned how to take a trivial subject such as emails -- about the equivalent of doing 45 in a 35 zone -- and turn it into high treason. They got away with it using repetition and overstatement. We may be a little too honorable to get into that level of overstatement, but it's not dishonorable on our part to use repetition.

The right wing has been driven by fear of loss: loss of religious power, loss of guns, loss of white privilege. Now we fear for our own losses -- reproductive freedom, health care, the scientific approach to global warming -- and we should respond in kind. Let the members of congress and the new president be faced with massive rallies, hundreds of thousands of letters, and personal visits by those who will be most affected by health care cuts. When congressman Darrell Issa is visited by Republicans who fear the loss of their Medicare, that will be a sign that public sentiment is moving. (Note that Issa won reelection by a mere 1621 votes out of 310 thousand votes cast, a mere zero point six percent difference. Let's find all the Darrell Issas across the country and arrange constituent visits.)

All this talk of rallies and marches can't help but remind us of the antiwar protests of the 1960s. I'm particularly reminded of one aspect of that era, the teach-in. Teach-ins were gatherings in which experts on southeast Asia and foreign affairs explained the background of the Viet Nam conflict to students who would otherwise have remained ignorant and confused. The teach-in movement expanded, and pretty soon all kinds of people were attending. I suggest that we start doing teach-ins about global warming. The point is to educate a large mass of people about the technical realities of global warming so they will be immunized against the ad hominems and trivializations of the right wing. We might start by summarizing the different kinds of information that point unanimously to the existence of human-induced global warming. It is a way to educate people against the propaganda of the right wing.

We might continue by educating people about the failures of supply side economics (cutting taxes on the rich) in terms of building the economy.

We might also consider educating people about the realities of deficit spending and the national debt, that neither is a bad thing per se, and that each can be used constructively. We might want to begin a national conversation the first time that the Republican congress goes into deficit spending for the military budget.

There will be much to discuss and I intend to discuss it here on CityWatch. Next year's topics will certainly go beyond national politics  -- everything from parking enforcement to municipal government reform to pseudoscience is subject to discussion. They are all grist for the word processor. But first we have to deal with the political and legislative emergency that we've fallen into. We have a lot to talk about in this upcoming year. Let's start the conversation.

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


PURE SPECULATION-Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publishers, chose “surreal” as their Word of the Year for 2016. I doubt anyone would disagree with that assessment of the events of the past 365 days. The “Top 10” lists of news stories should actually be labeled, “Top One and Everything Else” -- the “one” being the election of Donald Trump. 

The election may not be unique, but the winner sure is. Several pundits have plumbed the depths of American history seeking an example that might shed light on the next four years. Thus far, I’ve read commentaries comparing Trump to Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, and Andrew Jackson. Strangely, at least one conservative suggested Trump was like John F. Kennedy because of a tax cut passed during his administration. Nothing yet about Washington or Lincoln. 

While some aspects of the characters of previous presidents may seem predicative, there’s no way of determining how Trump will ultimately govern. We may have a good idea of his personality, but none of us can guess what external factors and events will affect the future. Perhaps what is more potentially dangerous is not what Trump does, but what others think and do.

About half of Americans don’t like Trump. Many loathe him. As I talk to people about what happened, I’m witnessing a level of anger I’ve never seen before. There’s also a lot of folks depressed about the outcome. What I’m not seeing is acceptance. Does this mean Democrats will now adopt the Republican strategy and just dig in and oppose everything? 

On the other side, there appears to be a cocky defensiveness. A “we won, get over it” attitude. There’s also a self-righteousness based on a belief that what right-wing media says is fact. A large number of Americans choose to exist in an alternate reality that supports their notion that something is wrong and only Trump can fix it. Only he can “make America great again.” 

So, we have two sides more polarized than ever. 

What happens now? 

If we’re lucky, very little. Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid remain relatively untouched. Funding will be cut, but hopefully the basic structure remains intact. In foreign affairs, the rest of the world will spend the next four years rolling their eyes at America, but there won’t be any new wars. Trade agreements may be renegotiated, but will mostly remain in force. The federal government will not block state efforts to regulate pollution. There will not be a wall at the border and millions will not be deported. And, despite a likely lurch to the right in the courts, most will follow precedent and not upend established law. 

If the doomsayers are proven correct, we will see the social safety net in tatters and a resulting spike in poverty. Certainly there will be even greater homelessness. The federal government will abolish most clean air and water regulations or, at least, gut enforcement. Massive tax cuts combined with massive increases in government spending will drive the economy into another deep recession. This, of course, will be worsened by the elimination of anything resembling regulation of financial markets. The economic wild card is whether Trump will actually prevail in tearing up trade treaties and getting tariffs to punish importers. 

All of this is pure speculation. The truth is, nobody knows. It’s the uncertainty that’s making everybody crazy right now. Half of America is hoping that Trump will do what he says and the other half is afraid that he will do what he says. More than ever before in living memory, we are in uncharted waters.


(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: Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EASTSIDER ON THE LIES AND DIRTY TRICKS OF 2016-Having spent most of my adult life working for politicians and union officials (which are pretty much the same,) I have totally lost count of the number of times that I’ve reminded them of the headline to this article. And never, never, never -- except for a few days after some devastating headline -- have any of them paid a bit of attention to what they send out in their emails. 

Yet every time their failure to take a pause between their brain and their keyboard bites them in the you know what, they run around blaming the messenger. Witness the recent blame game between the Clintonistas and the Trumpsters. My god, even the President of the United States and the CIA and the FBI are duckin’, bobbin’ and weaving and pointing fingers. 

In the midst of all this, not once in this post-election dust up have I heard any talking heads in our esteemed media state the obvious: if they didn’t want to look like underhanded scumbags then maybe they shouldn’t have written the darned emails. And is there any real discussion as whether these emails are the honest to golly emails that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Podesta & Co actually wrote? 

No. You bet they were the real thing and they reveal the true depth of how scummy the Democratic National Committee and the Clintonistas really are. How they try to rig outcomes, just like Bernie’s people said. No doubt the same is true of the Republican National Committee, but with Donald Trump tweeting for twits 24/7 nobody has bothered to expose the RNC. The media is too busy covering every tweet that the President-Elect pops out. 

Maybe it’s just that the heads of the big media outlets are terrified that someone’s going to hack into their email accounts. I wonder if any of Roger Ailes’ emails that came into play with Megyn Kelly contributed to his recent demise. Hmm. 

Honestly. It’s almost 2017 and the best that we can fill our channels with is, “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” Next thing you know we’ll be asked to practice our nuclear attack drills and build bomb shelters like back in the 50s. Sheesh! So much for adult political discourse. 

When professional slime mongers like political consultants send emails, they have no one but themselves to blame for the content. 

Here’s the Disconnect 

Most of the younger people I know (which is pretty much everybody) gave up the notion of any privacy long ago -- emails, cell phone calls, tweets, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat -- you name it. They know either expressly or subconsciously, that everything we do electronically is tracked by corporations, google and their ilk, aggregators, as well as every spy agency in the United States of America. Ho hum, move on. 

After years of this, you and I are pretty much inured to the fact that there is no privacy. We simply rely on the fact that most of us will never be “important” enough to have the fickle finger of hackers, cops, spies or the news media actually focus on us. 

But politicians and government officials seem to march to a different drum. Why are government institutions and politicians different? Simple, really. The politicians still believe that they can hide stuff from us because we have “no right to know.” It’s called legislative immunity. Goodness. What a quaint concept. 

And then there’s the Brown Act and the Public Records Act. Try to get a document or an email from a public figure and the entire legal establishment of the United States of America unleashes its refusals, evasions and redactions -- generally making it so expensive in time and money that you and I will never get to know what they’re doing. 

Clearly what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander, as my grandparents used to say. I say, let’s ask the same standard question of them that every law enforcement agency I’ve ever seen asks of us citizens: “If you aren’t doing something illegal, what are you afraid of?” What, indeed. I wonder if it’s the same reason that law enforcement folks don’t want to reveal any information about themselves to anyone. 

I have no idea what happened to the notion of privacy as a sacred constitutional right that we were taught in school. Events of the last decade or so clearly prove that our government views the Constitution of the United States as an archaic concept, along with movies like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or the cartoon about “how a bill becomes a law” they teach in school. 

The Takeaway 

Recognizing that people have widely different and passionately held views on the issue of privacy and leaks, here’s my take. 

If it wasn’t for Snowden, we would never know how deep and insidious our government’s spying is on you and me as ordinary citizens. We’re talking about secret courts with rubber-stamp judges and government gag orders on big tech companies -- forcing them to hand over all our information and then lie about whether they do. And all the while, government agencies and Congress lie to us denying that they’re doing any such thing. That’s not the America I knew. 

If it wasn’t for The Panama Papers, we would not know for real how the superrich, dictators and drug lords happily launder money using fake overseas corporations, aided and abetted by handsomely compensated law firms, banks and consultants. No taxes, just graft. I say we should know about these events. 

And finally, our political processes. When the head of the DNC conspires in the dark to take out Bernie Sanders, keeping him from his aspiration to become the Democratic nominee for President; when the Clinton machine engages in dirty tricks to marginalize him; when paid democratic talking heads like Donna Brazille give debate questions in advance to Hillary and not Bernie, then I say we should have a right to know. 

Most secrets are, in fact, not vital to America’s national security. They are secret because powerful people have done dirty deeds and are terrified that you and I might find out about it. 

I can only infer that the 1/2 of 1% at the top of the economic food chain believe they are safely insulated from the rest of us by virtue of their elevated position – all enforced by countless lobbyists, lawyers, accounting firms, and a stacked regulatory and judicial system. 

I say, let the disclosures roll. If those in power want to restore our constitutional right to privacy, then, and only then, we should revisit the issue. 

When these folks get outed, I personally rejoice. Heck, I even gave Wikileaks some money. I want to see more, I tell you! Maybe then, these people will think twice before they trample all over your and my rights. 

Of course I still believe in the tooth fairy.


(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.) Photo: Elizabeth Daniels/LA Curbed. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS FOR THE SEASON--A friend wrote to me despairing of the seemingly hopeless scenario of the world today. The following poured out of me in response. I thought I’d share it with my friends this holiday season. I’m turning 55 today so consider this my BIRTHday message. I’m coming out of the closet and declaring myself … A Warrior For Joy!! 

Starting with Nature, horrors are a natural part of this earthly experience. 

In my opinion the greatest horrors in the human world come from our own natural enemies, hate, envy, greed, delight in cruelty, quickness to judge and retaliate, apathy, inertia, you get the picture. 

These enemies of ours find safe harbor in our consciousness by using the weapons of fear, misinformation, isolation, constant hunger for more and constant sorrow (of which I'm guilty of all) to prevent us from experiencing our most noble and natural states of joy and Light (information, kindness, compassion, respect for and connection to ALL living beings,) liberation from our self limiting thoughts and the ability to stand up in courage and strength and justice in order to make room for these experiences within us and our community.  

The enemies control us in so many ways with their weapons of fear and sadness and seem to always get the upper hand but in fact, in this century [the last century] we've seen more progress for the Light than at any other time in our written history. We have seen the liberation of consciousness for many who have been trapped and oppressed by the insane testosterone matrix that has dominated us. One century is a small dot in time but we have seen major strides in the 20th Century of the liberation of women, slaves, nations and now a growing movement for the liberation of nature, animals and environment, from our strangling grip, the liberation of gay people and hopefully soon liberation of the least able to protect themselves...children.  

Don't despair. The Game is not over by a long shot and radical change in our history and its effects happen not over one century but two or three or more of new and radical activity. What Terrence McKenna refers to as “Novelty”. Our changes have just begun. As fast as they are happening we are still very much in the beginning. 

That is why I really believe we need to stay out of the weapons of the enemies, fear, anxiety, hopelessness and instead nurture and support a clear vision that shifts us toward a better world by the actions we take in our everyday lives based on the vision of Joy, laughter, kindness’s, speaking our truth and sincerely considering the truth of others, taking care of ourselves and then others. 

To know in our bones that Light always prevails and even when the enemies, Hate, Fear, Separateness think they are winning they ultimately find out they were unwitting tools of Light. 

We win when we maintain our connection to our joy and the joy of all living people and things we meet on a daily basis when we demand our right to Joy regardless of what is happening around us, for the enemies are the thieves of this light in our Spirit. We win when we continue to uncover the ways we misinform ourselves or others and when we are ever vigilant to the places where the enemy lies within. 

We win when we have the courage to plainly speak out against injustice especially in our everday life. 

It’s easy to rail against injustice in another city and harder to rail against injustice practiced in your own back yard. We speak for joy when we nurture a view that allows us to see how the reality of each moment is constantly in service to the good. But mostly…we win when we learn to really face the folly of our own selves and have a good laugh about it with our friends.


(Dianne V. Lawrence is the publisher/editor of The Neighborhood News and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)


REUTERS REPORT--U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called on Thursday for the country to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities until the world “comes to its senses” - a signal he may support costly efforts to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal.

During the next decade, U.S. ballistic missile submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles - the three legs of the nuclear triad - are expected to reach the end of their useful lives.

Maintaining and modernizing the arsenal is expected to cost at about $1 trillion dollars over 30 years, according to independent estimates.

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

Trump, who is at his Florida resort for the Christmas holiday, gave no details about what prompted his tweet. Representatives for his transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump, who won election on Nov. 8 and takes office on Jan. 20, campaigned on a platform of building up the U.S. military, but also pledged to cut taxes and control federal spending.

Trump met on Wednesday with a dozen Pentagon officials involved with defense acquisition programs, as well as the chief executives of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, the country’s two largest defense contractors.

Trump said he talked with the CEOs about lowering costs for two high-profile programs: Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets and Boeing’s replacement 744-8s for the presidential Air Force One plane.

Defense stocks were little changed after Trump’s tweet, but shares of small uranium miners including Uranium Resources Inc and Uranium Energy Corp rose sharply.

(This piece was posted earlier at Huff Post. Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton report for Reuters.)


GUEST WORDS--Seventy years after its publication John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men continues to stimulate debate, pro and con, about the death penalty. But justifying capital punishment was the last thing on the mind of the author, a liberal thinker who created the character of Lennie to increase our understanding of the mentally challenged and the American underclass. As a defense attorney who admires Of Mice and Men for this very reason, I’m angry that Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran used Lennie in a 2004 legal opinion about imposing the death penalty when mental capacity is at issue. The "Lennie standard," she proposed, continues to have consequences in the courts and in the lives of the condemned. 

John Steinbeck’s late son Thom, an accomplished writer, was furious about Judge Cochran’s opinion after it was rendered. In a 2012 interview with the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, Thom’s wife Gail Steinbeck, an attorney, said that “his ears turned red” when her husband first learned of Ex Parte Briseno, in his view a gross distortion of his father’s meaning. In a statement published by The New York Times on August 8, 2012, Thom complained bitterly about the misconstruction of his father's intentions in writing Of Mice and Men: 

“I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created . . . as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. My father was a highly gifted writer who won the Nobel Prize for his ability to create art about the depth of the human experience and condition. His work certainly wasn’t meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie (portrayed in photo left) was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic. I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.”

The Supreme Court Considers the Case of John Steinbeck

In 2002 the Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for the intellectually disabled, but left it to the states to define what constitutes intellectual disability. Since 2004 courts in Texas have used Judge Cochran's ill-considered Lennie standard to determine intellectual disability in capital punishment cases. Arguing before the Supreme Court last month in Moore v. Texas, the solicitor general of Texas, Scott Keller, bristled when Justice Sonya Sotomayor asked him about the state's use of the Lennie standard, an illogical jumble concocted from a sentimental -- and incorrect -- interpretation of John Steinbeck’s character. “The character from Of Mice and Men was never part of the test,” asserted Keller in the state's defense, “it was an aside [in Judge Cochran’s] opinion.” Justice Sotomayor replied, “But it informed its view of how to judge [intellectual disability]," insisting that Texas clearly "used the Lennie standard.” 

Questions about Judge Cochran’s odd Of Mice and Men citation -- and the quirkiness of a judge relying on a work of literary fiction to support a legal opinion -- had been predicted long before oral argument before the Supreme Court began. M. Todd Henderson, a University of Chicago law professor, pointed out the nature of the incongruity in 2008. “Citations to literature are extraordinarily rare in federal appellate court opinions, appearing in only 1 out of every 10,000 federal appellate cases,” he wrote. When judges do cite fictional works in judicial opinions, he continued, “they are most likely to cite to novels for propositions that are closely related to their own work and job.” That’s why it’s baffling that Judge Cochran was reportedly “unfazed” when she learned of Thom Steinbeck’s outrage over her violation of his father’s purpose in writing Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck wrote much of Of Mice and Men at the Steinbeck family cottage in Pacific Grove, California. Ironically, Judge Cochran is said to have reread “all of Steinbeck” while living in nearby Monterey, three decades later, in the 1960s. Recently my wife and I traveled to the National Steinbeck Center in neighboring Salinas to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. Driving through John Steinbeck's beloved Salinas Valley, we saw the still poor, still struggling migrant workers toiling under the California sun, like Lennie and George, for subsistence pay. That evening we left our comfortable bed and breakfast to stroll hand-in-hand along the shore celebrated by Steinbeck in Sea of Cortez and Cannery Row. Nowhere, not even in the turbulent tide pools that Steinbeck explored with his wife Carol, did we perceive the death penalty.


(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 as written for It is being published here with the author's permission.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDUCATION POLITICS-The recent victory of Donald Trump and his now almost across the board appointment of ultra-conservatives to fill key positions in his administration is no surprise. Rather, it's just the latest expression and expansion of longstanding laissez-faire corporate theories touted by the late economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago. 

These ideas are expounded and implemented through what author Naomi Klein called “The Shock Doctrine," in her 2007 book of the same name. She shows in alarming detail how Friedman and his followers, with the active support of the U.S. government, have over the last half century created a multinational corporate oligarchy throughout Latin America (Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia) and elsewhere in the world, pledging alliance to only the country it can control. Simply stated, sovereignty and the majority’s well-being now take a back seat to ever increasing corporate profits at any cost. 

What is rapidly being sought now is the phasing out of any government role in the independent performance or regulation of American and world economies in many diverse areas, including public education and the waging of endless wars motivated by perceived corporate profit in the future. More simply said, having the third largest oil reserves in the world had more to do with going to war in Iraq in 2003 than did weapons of mass destruction. 

However, it has only dawned on me recently that there is something much worse than entities like multinational corporations that determine their well-being exclusively by whether they attain ever increasing profits. If you think about it, such uncontrolled growth without reinvestment is actually much more akin to the definition of a cancer than a viable social entity. 

What is worse, for example, than targeting your most senior workers for the sole reason of replacing them for a fraction of the cost -- adding the savings" to more corporate profits -- is not realizing that the loss of your more senior workforce destroys the institutional memory that might have allowed you to know what happened the last time the economy was pushed over the edge by corporate greed. I think it was called the Great Depression.


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at Leonard can be reached at Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ELECTORAL EMERGENCY-A lot of wishful thinking is happening in America right now. “Maybe Trump the President will be different than Trump the Candidate.” We already know this is a fallacy. Trump the president-elect is exactly the same as Trump the candidate. “Maybe he’ll suddenly become more responsible and balanced.” “Maybe this is the kick in the pants America needs.” “Maybe he’ll be impeached.” But the most damaging wishful thought of all is: “Maybe I don’t have to do anything — maybe the Electors will choose to appoint someone else, on their own.”

The Electors should. But they won’t. Not without political pressure the likes of which America has rarely seen before. Which means we all need to be motivated. Well — how about the safety of our own lives, and the lives of everyone we love? Because let’s not fool ourselves. Anyone with a rudimentary appreciation of the powers of the president of the United States knows that the stakes are life and death. Pretending otherwise is wishful thinking.

The president of the United States has complete and unilateral control over 1,900 active nuclear weapons. Due to advances in modern technology, the most common protocols for authorizing American nuclear weapons allow for as little as 90 seconds of reflection by the one person alive with the power to use them. How on Earth are any of us safe, how are our loved ones safe, when that person is considered entirely unqualified by some of the most respected members of his own party, and has been assessed by hundreds if not thousands of psychological professionals as having incurable Narcissistic Personality and Sociopathic Personality Disorders? 

Other than thermonuclear war, virtually every competent scientist in the world believes that the biggest threat to human survival is global warming. Donald Trump doesn’t believe global warming exists. Members of his own party have said that his ignorant insistence of this, despite the facts, should disqualify him from the Presidency. They are right. Actions must be taken, and incredibly swiftly, to address global warming or we will reach a point of no return. But the head of Trump’s EPA transition team (himself a global warming denier) consistently fights to roll back crucial stopgap measures already underway. We’re talking about our lives, people. 

Thankfully, the founders of this nation predicted this. They foresaw that the people might elect someone unfit to be president. Hence, they added the idea of electors to the Electoral College.

There are those who mistakenly believe that the Electoral College requires electors to vote for Donald Trump. But that is the opposite of what the electors are supposed to do in circumstances like these. Lawrence Lessig, this nation’s premier constitutional expert, cleanly explains the responsibility of electors, as follows. 

“Like a judge reviewing a jury verdict, where the people voted, the electoral college was intended to confirm — or not — the people’s choice. Electors were to apply, in Hamilton’s words, “a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice” — and then decide.... [T]heir wisdom — about whether to overrule “the people” or not — was to be free of political control yet guided by democratic values. They were to be citizens exercising judgment, not cogs turning a wheel.” 

As Lessig states convincingly and with authority — the will of the people is Hillary Clinton. She won the majority of votes by a margin of over two and a half million people. It’s pretty simple. This is a democracy, and if the winner of the Electoral College, but not the popular Vote, is unfit to serve, then the elector’s sole responsibility is to elect the winner of the popular vote. 

This deserves to be repeated in simpler form: 

No less an American than Alexander Hamilton himself expressed clearly that the Constitution established electors as a protection valve; to have a group of citizens bound not by party, but by their responsibility to this nation. Whether you like her or not, the sizable majority of voters actually chose someone who is more qualified to be president than anyone in the last few decades, Hillary Clinton. Electors are obligated, by design, to elect her. 

Clearly, there is little chance that they will do so if Americans don’t demand it. The Constitution allows for, and requires, civic involvement. We need to stand up so profoundly that the electors feel protected and supported for voting their conscience. By December 19th, those who feel an itch to speak up, but haven’t done so, are going to regret it. By January 21st, those who have remained uninvolved will have a hard time containing their regret. After January 21st, if something terrible happens, it will be impossible to justify having been silent when something still could have been done. 

Fortunately, resources exist to help us, right now. is a simple tool to reach out to electors directly — use it to voice your concerns, and offer your support and thanks for their conscientious votes for Hillary Clinton. Sign a petition at, and share it on social media. Join in any public protest. And take every opportunity to speak honestly and earnestly to friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, urging them all to join you in the fight for our shared future. If you are a Democrat, remind your Republican friends that if Trump had run as a Democrat — something he could have chosen to do - you’d be making the same argument. This isn’t about party. It’s about survival.

(Roger Wolfson currently serves as a writer/consulting producer for USA Network’s "Fairly Legal." He has also written for NBC's “Law and Order: SVU," TNT's "Saving Grace," and TNT's “The Closer.” Wolfson has also served on Senator Joe Lieberman’s staff, as Legislative Assistant and Speechwriter for Senator John Kerry, and as Chief Education Counsel for Senator Paul Wellstone.  Jared Berenholz is a television executive.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

MY TURN-Remember when the late Joan Rivers would open her TV appearances with "Can We Talk?" We knew it was her "schtik" but part of me used to feel that she was having a conversation with me. I knew it would be juicy ... scandalous ... or just a laugh ... but it was personal. 

That is how I feel right now. I want to reach out and talk to each of you. There have been few instances in my life when I can remember being at a loss for words, but this week has been one of them. I cannot recall a time when people have been so dispirited. 

I was talking with a friend who happens to be a Dermatologist. He said he has had more people come in with unexplained rashes in the last month than in the last six months. His diagnosis? “Trumpitis." And his recommended treatment is...stop watching the news! 

Certainly the President-Elect’s new cabinet selections are no cause for rejoicing -- unless you are part of the 25% who voted for him. It is by far the strangest mix of appointments I can remember. At least four of them have talked previously about getting rid of the department or agency for which they are being tapped. One of them proclaimed to the world that he was not qualified for the position but decided to accept it anyway. 

It is a strange wind that blows when the two most popular appointments are both four star Generals. Hopefully those eight stars will be able to control the three star general who, in my opinion, is a walking disaster. Not only has he been reprimanded for sharing classified information with other countries, but he has taken part in the "fake news" epidemic. 

During Bill Clinton's first Presidential campaign he touted that we would be getting "two for the price of one"...him and Hillary. That campaign rhetoric quickly disappeared. Today we learned that we will get six for the price of one. Instead of the First Lady's office in the East Wing it will be the "First Family's Office.” First daughter will be acting as First Lady until ????. So we’ve gotten more than we bargained for. 

So the question what? I mentioned a few weeks ago that we in California live in a bubble and are pretty well insulated from some Congressional actions. We just have to make sure our California Super Majority Legislature doesn't go off the rails (pun intended) and over-spend our "rainy day" funds. We may need every penny just in case the Federal government cuts off funding in some areas. Governor Brown threw down the gauntlet on Wednesday. 

There is another local election coming up in March in which more than 21 candidates are running for LA City Council in District 7. The list of those that qualified to be on the ballot and those who had enough signatures to receive equal funding has not yet been released. It has been said that any one of them would be better than former Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, so it will be an interesting contest to watch. 

We do know that the Electoral College will not change the vote next week. Unless something unforeseen happens, Donald J will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States in January. 

We can sit back and cheer for chaos. It’s tempting... but not in our own best interests. CityWatch’s Publisher and Editor, the stalwart LA cheerleader Ken Draper, asked my colleagues if we would be writing holiday and end-of-year columns. 

Writing "My turn" regularly for more than three years has subjected you all to a lot of my opinions. This year I have decided to write two articles: one for Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa that would be a “Wish List” directed toward whomever may be listening; the other is a New Year's Resolution list. 

This time I am inviting all of you to participate in both articles. I ask this partly because I have a bit of writer’s block, but mostly because I truly want to know your individual desires for the "City of Angels." If you email me at and let me know about one or two wishes you have for this holiday season, I will publish that list next week. It can be soaring -- solving the homeless crisis or having the schools start the fall semester or quarter when it's not 110 degrees. I'll try to summarize how many people have the same wishes. 

If you want our distinguished readers, of which you are part, to know it was your suggestion, let me know. But if you don't want to claim authorship, you can remain anonymous. 

The same goes for my New Year's article. I would like you to send me one helpful resolution that you intend to perform for your fellow Angelenos in 2017. Can you imagine what we could accomplish if everyone agreed to do just one thing next year to make our City more livable? 

One of my more cynical CW colleagues (we do have one or two) said people only like to complain and they won't take the time to write something positive. I don't think that is true. All of us know we cannot be complacent. So, all of you Trump Supporters, Republicans, Hillary Supporters, Democrats, (they aren't always the same), Independents and Undecideds please send me your ideas. This is a chance to share your thoughts without having to operate under the famous Brown Act. You don't have to fill out a speaker card and since CW averages over two million readers per week, you’ll have quite a significant audience. 

Perhaps, there is a silver lining here: Instead of allowing these times to tear us apart, we can find a way to pull us together, to become more involved and responsible for our collective destiny. 



(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CORRUPTION WATCH-Where are we going? Do we want to go there? If not, how do we not go there? Few know where the country is headed, but a lot of people are certain that they don’t want to go there. However, they have no idea how to change direction. 

The Destruction of Hope.
What does a people do when hope has been destroyed? Obama rode into office on a high crest of hope, made all the more significant in light of the economic crash a few months earlier. Since the Crash of 2008 happened after eight years of Bush, everyone blamed Bush, and thus, they were certain that Obama, being a Democrat, would follow the opposite economic policies from Bush.

People did not realize that both the Iraq War Profiteering and the economic Crash of 2008 were bipartisan. Bush did not abolish Glass-Steagall nor did Bush legitimize credit default swaps (CDWs), but he certainly sounded no alarm of the impending disaster. Once Glass-Steagall had been repealed, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) correctly forecasted how events would play out. In a true show of bipartisanship, everyone ignored him. Thus, it is not as if no one knew. It’s just that no one cared.

So when the worldwide crash hit in 2008, the nation turned to the Democrats under the naive belief that the GOP alone had been responsible. When Obama assumed office, he then trashed the hope of the middle class for a better future. With the help of little Timmy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury, he installed a reactionary pro-Wall Street economic policy from which the nation has yet to recover.

Psychologically, hope places control outside one’s self. It is a form of “trust in the universe” that difficult times will turn into good times, that good jobs will return, that sleepless nights of anguish over financial problems will cease. Instead, under the Obama-Geithner regime, people’s lives became worse. Meanwhile Main Street heard that Wall Street was being given trillions of dollars by Obama, yet there was no money to save the average guy’s home from foreclosure. Instead, everyone in the Obama Administration fretted that some millionaires might lose their financial shirts if their credit default swaps crashed. Obama-Geithner closed their eyes to the swelling ranks of the homeless.

The Rise of the Politics of Revenge.

Looking back, one can see why the Politics of Revenge became the dominant theme. After years of trusting in promises that the economy would improve, the reverse was occurring. After someone has invaded your home, stolen your TV and killed the kids’ puppy, you want revenge. If one candidate promises to get back all your stuff while another candidate champions the people who you believe are the thugs, who gets your vote? (We shall pause while the Dems try to figure this out.) 

What Happens when the Criminal is the Government? 

But what if the champion avenger is himself the thug? There is a significant difference from the gangsters of the 1930s and what is occurring today. 

“I got nothing against the honest cop on the beat. You just have them transferred someplace where they can't do you any harm. But don't ever talk to me about the honor of police captains or judges. If they couldn't be bought, they wouldn't have the job.” -- Al Capone 

When the criminals are on the outside as they were in the 1930s, we had a different situation than we have today where the criminals are the government. There is no Elliot Ness to come to rescue the citizens of Los Angeles. Here, the City Council itself is the criminal doling out billions of our tax dollars to its developer buddies. On the national level, there is no police force to deal with the emerging business alliance between Putin and Trump. As Trump keeps reminding us, no conflict of interest laws apply to the President. Most Americans are totally bewildered as to what Trump means by this statement, but they are certain that his friendship with Putin is a good thing. After all, Putin is a predator who takes what he wants, like Crimea, and runs the government like his personal business empire. 

Businesses Employ the Governments. 

People fail to realize that governments no longer set the parameters within which a society functions; rather, governments have become the employees of businesses. People have not yet grasped the significance of businesses being the employers of the city councilmembers, of the judges, of everyone in government. In Los Angeles, laws are passed to give developers whatever they want, and if there is a law which says that a developer cannot have something, business employs a host of judges to ignore the law. In Los Angeles courts, Facts and Fiction are Fungible, and the magic which transforms one into the other is money. 

This type of societal organization is a new form of mercantilism, razed from the dead like some Hollywood horror movie. Mercantilism’s heyday was from the 1500s to 1700s. Its official end came with Adam Smith’s publication of Wealth of Nations in 1776. Somewhere between 1999 and 2016, it rose from the grave to become our New Economics and our new form of government. 

It does not matter whither we are going or whether we even want to go there. The New Mercantilism has arrived -- whether you like it or not.


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



GELFAND’S WORLD--We've had television that celebrates old movies -- Turner Movie Classics comes to mind. We've had TV stations run marathons of a single series, the most notable of these being I Love Lucy. Recently, CBS has come out with a separate channel that does its own twist on television history. Decades is broadcast locally on subchannel 2.2. It runs what it calls binges on the weekends. That's where you can see two straight days of a single series such as The Fugitive or The Twilight Zone

What's the point of visiting old TV shows when there is so much that is new? I can think of one serious reason, one semi-serious reason, and one excuse. In order, they are the history of culture and technology, entertainment, and reminiscence. 

In recognizing and reviewing television as a medium worth taking seriously as part of our cultural history, it is worth thinking briefly about television's early days and its immediate precursor. 

Television began as a commercial entertainment medium that wasn't taken particularly seriously as art or even as entertainment. In this, it has a direct parallel in film. Consider: At this stage of our history, we can recognize that Casablanca, Metropolis, and City Lights are major works of art. But at the beginning of the movie industry, films were little more than brief documents of real life, spliced together roughly with little instinct for story or plot. Television's early days were also pretty rough hewn. It took a while for filmmakers to develop both technology and craft, and out of that foundation they learned how to tell stories made of flickering pictures. Television producers had grown up on the movies so they knew story telling, but they didn't have the pictorial quality of 35 mm film to work with. 

There is also the point that story telling has to be adapted to the medium. Reading fairy tales from a book is a lot different than watching a Disney animated cartoon of ostensibly the same story. What is important to realize is that the most memorable films, the ones we go back to see a second time, would not have happened without the existence of a commercial film industry which was churning out tens of thousands of films. Out of that mass of celluloid, there were thousands of mediocre efforts and a small percent that were masterpieces. There were also a lot of movies that don't rival Sophocles for depth and wisdom, but carry a solid entertainment punch. Not everything has to be high art, and most things cannot be great art, but decently made entertainment has a value of its own. 

So too with television. Early television was limited by a narrow picture that, unlike film, was of limited resolution. Like early film, it lacked color. Given the technical hurdles, we nevertheless got quite a lot of programs that are remembered for their comedic or entertainment value. 

I've been taking a look at some of the 1960s era programs on Decades. For some of these programs, its been to revisit shows that I saw the first time around. That's the reminiscense part. For the sake of the three reasons listed above, I'd like to say a little about three shows -- Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, the Phil Silvers Show, and Route 66. 

First to discuss -- and dispense with -- Phil Silvers and Route 66. I mention them because I saw them when they originally came out. One of them, the Phil Silvers Show, we watched as a family. It was the story of a conniving Sergeant in the U.S. Army who had a penchant for gambling and manipulating his commanding officer. I remember it as a high point of the week. At the time, the comedy clicked for me. I also saw a lot of Route 66, the story of a couple of otherwise normal seeming guys who drove from town to town in a fast corvette and found adventure wherever they went. 

When I look at them now, they just don't seem to have the same oomph that they once had. I think that the reason is a combination of the technical and the cultural. The 1960 era black and white television image didn't have the capability of showing much detail. The rule of thumb for that technology was to put your subject close to the middle of the screen, big and contrasty. Directors didn't have the luxury of providing the viewers clues that were small or off to the side of the screen. In this sense, early television was very unfilm-like. The result is that these older shows delivered their plot twists with a lot of dialog because the ability to be visually subtle wasn't there. Because information was conveyed as much by words as by the picture, things got slowed down. Compared to the modern romantic adventure shows, Route 66 comes across as stodgy. 

The Phil Silvers Show, remembered by many as Sergeant Bilko, is a little quicker, but its narrow screen format seems to render it a little claustrophobic by high definition television standards. To modern viewers, the Phil Silvers show looks like stage comedy done in front of the television camera. 

What both Route 66 and the Phil Silvers Show have in common, compared to modern shows, is that the old television system was of inherently low definition. It was a fuzzy picture at best. For this reason, it could not show human expression as well as film. Let's try to explain this a little more precisely. Even in old films, it was possible to convey emotions such as suspicion or guilt with a glance or a subtle change of expression -- possibly a nod or a shifting of the eyes. Even the earliest 35 mm film was fully capable of showing these things. Early television wasn't. So instead of an actor warning his buddy that the robbers are in the next room by using a shift of the head, the old television action hero would have to convey the same idea with a shout and a lot of words: "Look out! They're behind the door!" 

Modern viewers have become accustomed to receiving a lot of information visually. That's because the modern television screen has a wider format and lots higher resolution. In full color 1080i screen format, we have a picture that is beginning to rival that of celluloid. When television has moved on to the 4K format (even higher resolution), there won't be much difference between the movie experience and the television experience. 

We've also become used to getting bits and pieces of the plot fed to us in quick cuts. Even if television stays within a single scene on a single set, there is camera movement and a lot of cutting back and forth between different camera angles. Often, one character's lines or actions are cut away from, leaving them to the imagination of the viewer. Modern viewers have been trained to put pieces together in their own heads, mentally inserting what has been left out. 

Now for Laugh In. The show opened in 1968, a year in which street demonstrations against the Viet Nam War were on people's minds, even as the psychedelic scene brought in new art and music. Laugh In nibbles around the edges of the moment without really trying to confront political reality. That seems to have been the artistic price that had to be paid for being on network television at the time. 

What Laugh In contributes to television culture is the jump cut. That's where the picture jumps from one scene to another without the blackout or slow dissolve that traditionally represents a movement in place or time. You might see Rowan talking to Martin and then instantaneously, the picture is replaced with another actor saying one word sarcastically, followed just as instantaneously by a jump back to Rowan and Martin. Jump cuts were nothing new to movie audiences, at least those who had seen Godard's Breathless in 1960. But Laugh In seems to be doing it just to have fun with itself. 

In watching these old Laugh In reruns, you begin to figure out that the writers and video editors were making fun of all the old conventions of film and television. They also took pot shots at network censorship ("We can't say that on television"). In this sense, Laugh In is a part of our cultural history, and worth viewing in that sense. 

There is one thing a little strange about Laugh In as viewed from our modern perspective. Laugh In put together a remarkable group of comedic actors, both male and female -- Henry Gibson and Arte Johnson on the one hand, and Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, and Jo Anne Worley on the other. In Laugh In, the women were generally the funnier and had to carry a lot of the comedic load, but they are also the ones who appeared in skimpy bikinis, sometimes with words written on their skin. Modern gender studies students would probably classify this as objectifying the women. 

For example, Laugh In had a news segment (Rowan and Martin did the news portion) that was preceded by half a dozen of the women in ultra-short dresses or cheerleader costumes, singing and dancing the introduction. 

There is another difference between Laugh In and modern TV variety shows. In the first season's shows that we've reviewed so far, the cast is almost entirely white. There are one or two exceptions, but nothing equivalent to a leading role. 

One thing rather jumped out at me while viewing these old Laugh In reruns. From the news parody to the trashing of the accepted cliches of television drama, Laugh In is the precursor to Saturday Night Live. It's hard to watch the old reruns and not get that feeling in retrospect. It turns out that this wasn't either accident or piracy. Lorne Michaels, the godfather of Saturday Night Live, was a writer on Laugh In. Michaels has taken the original concepts further, but then he has had forty years of Saturday Night Live to do so. But the sarcastic approach to life and news started back in "beautiful downtown Burbank," as the Laugh In cast used to say. The writers also popularized "sock it to me" as a comedic expression, along with "you bet your bippy" and "verrry interesting." 

At some point, historians will consider television to be a serious art form, just as they already consider it to be some of the best available data on cultural progression, fashions, and hard news. I can imagine future students of the 20th century checking out old collections of ER.


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


FREE RANGE RACISM-It could have happened anywhere. It’s been a white guy in a Tesla on the I-10. It’s been another white guy in his construction truck. This time it was shortly after the election, and we were driving back from a few days of camping in Joshua Tree, about halfway to Yucca Valley. The pickup truck pulled up alongside us, and the white guy inside, maybe in his 30s, waved his fist at us. Menacing. Intimidating. Haughty. Gloating. Then he roared on, leaving us in the wake of his muffler. 

I suppose an old Obama sticker on our bumper, another for Kamala and one for Hillary marks us. We’ve become targets for behavior certain white people now say they feel comfortable expressing. Anger. Rage. No more “political correctness.” They report feeling more comfortable in their white skin. 

Really? White people, mostly men, run the country. They dominate our institutions. Fortune 500 company boards are overwhelmingly white and male (about 86 percent). White families hold more wealth than non-white families. White workers have jobs that pay more. A Gallup study released in August found that Trump supporters, on average, earn slightly more than other Americans. As the New York Times reported, 45 percent of Trump’s voters were college graduates. And 37 percent have done post-graduate work. That doesn’t seem like exclusion and powerlessness to me. 

Furthermore, white people as a group do not walk around intimidated. We don’t get hazed just because we pulled up to a red light at an intersection. We don’t worry about when “it” will happen next. We don’t need to have “the conversation” with our kids. We don’t carry anxiety about a police traffic stop because we “fit the profile” of someone the police were looking for. 

Too many white people feel disempowered because a black man has sat in the Oval Office for the past eight years -- and, for the first time in the history of this country, a white woman could have followed him. 

Many white voters deny any taint of racism, yet they have stirred a deep vein of it. While the Tea Party pushed the House to vote five dozen times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, Republicans passed voter restriction laws that disproportionately affect people of color. This polarizing year has unleashed fringe white-identity groups that have stepped into the headlines, with hundreds of racist incidents having been reported across the country since November 8.  Taken together, these actions point to a deeper significance – a campaign of erasure. 

The poet Claudia Rankine uses the phrase in her award-winning book, Citizen, An American Lyric. She means the effort – conscious or not – to remove all traces of something or someone. Obliteration. She uses it to indicate how black people in society go unseen, their lives and experiences unacknowledged, and their triumphs unnoted. In the moment and in history, erasure makes people invisible. 

A self-value and cultural heritage based on living in opposition to those who are different – people of color, the immigrant, the refugee, the poor, the unhealthy, the broken, people who aren’t like me – is a sad version of identity. Too many white people know what they are not, but do not have a firm grasp of what they are. That so much of this shallow identity remains male-dominated only makes it feel more tenuous. 

In a workshop once, I heard the poet Robert Bly comment that “Americans elect one president after another in order to forget.” We forgot who began union busting and welfare “reform,” when good-paying jobs started moving away. We forgot who started wars we still fight and pay for. We forgot who allowed the economy to almost self-destruct. Now as a nation we reach beyond forgetting to erasure. And it comes with intimidation, emphasized with hand gestures and road rage.


(Rev. Jim Conn is the founding minister of the Church in Ocean Park and served on the Santa Monica City Council and as that city's mayor. He helped found Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Los Angeles, and was a founder of Santa Monica's renter's rights campaign. This piece first appeared in Capital & Main.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--What will international relations be like with Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed master negotiator? Will the United States really get wonderfully advantageous new trade agreements? Will our currently negative trade balance reverse itself? 

Let's start with this simple fact. Every other major country has watched and listened to Trump during his presidential run. They all have a file on him. They have catalogued his personal and business history, his level of understanding of technical matters, and his personal relationships. They have psychological profiles and estimates of his trustworthiness. By now, they have studied his negotiating style and importantly, how deals he made turned out for each side. 

Out of all of these data points, one thing stands out. Trump has a tendency to renege on his obligations, often at the last moment. His record of unpaid bills became a part of the campaign narrative. Unless the rest of the world's trade ministers are total suckers, they will have noticed. 

If you were a trade negotiator in Mexico, China, or Korea, what would you be thinking right now? If I were in that position, my first thought would be, "What used to be a trade negotiation will now be a battle to the death. Trump will be looking for scalps to hang on his belt. I don't want to be the one to be his first victim." 

At a more rational level, what foreign trade negotiator would enter into an agreement if there is no reason to believe that the other side (that's us) will keep its word? After all, Trump breaks his word. That's his style. He bragged about it during the campaign. 

What is the rational strategy to adopt when dealing with the untrustworthy? 

About three decades ago, Herb Cohen authored You can negotiate anything. It was a precursor to scads of self-help books and pop-management books. In the book, he described a negotiating method used by the Soviet Union in purchasing property in this country. The Russians created lots of difficulties early on and dragged things out in order to exhaust the seller. Then, as completion of the deal seemed to approach, the Russians demanded a whole new set of substantial concessions. Cohen dubbed this the Soviet style of negotiation, and recommended avoiding involvement with those who practice it. 

Trump has his own style, but it isn't any better. He likes to make wild claims, but somehow fails to pay what he owes when the bill comes due. True, this was in the private sector, but it's an indication of personal character. This isn't appropriate to international trade deals which depend on both parties acting in good faith. 

Negotiating a trade deal is typically a laborious process, often taking years. The agreements can encompass thousands of products, processes, and legalistic details. There is no point in getting into such a negotiation unless you believe that each day's work leads to something productive. The likelihood that you will be faced with a whole new round of hurdles right at the end of the negotiation would be a spoiler. Countries which can afford to negotiate from a position of strength (those are the ones we want a better deal from) will avoid such scenarios. 

Therefore, one rational strategy for dealing with the Trump administration is to avoid any new negotiations. There is no point in upending current relationships, and Trump will be gone in less than a decade, maybe much less. The prediction therefore is that foreign countries, faced with offers to negotiate, will find excuses to stall. It will be "thanks, but no thanks. I'm washing my hair this year." 

The problem, you see, will arise when Trump explains confidentially, "Don't take what I said during the campaign seriously. I really mean this, and I will negotiate in good faith." Reporters refer to this maneuver as the pivot, but it will be unconvincing to any nation which is keeping a file on Trump. 

And they are all keeping a file on Trump. 

The Bubble 

American presidents gradually lose contact with the American people because they are of necessity kept in a bubble. Access is limited not only to assure personal safety but also for political reasons. Trump seems to have made his own bubble during the campaign. Stories he didn't like were tweeted out of existence. 

We might have expected him to tone down the reactivity after the election -- you know, engage in the pivot we were told to expect. One recent Trump action suggests otherwise. When confronted with the fact that he finished second in the popular vote by more than two million votes, he went right back into denial, claiming a grand and glorious win. If it hadn't been for illegal votes, he argued, he would have won the popular vote easily. This is of concern because it shows that Trump has not abandoned his propensity to lie when it provides him some political advantage. 

But presidents have the ability to appoint cabinet officers and advisers who can keep them aware of reality. It's not obvious that Trump is doing any such thing. The cabinet picks and security adviser he has chosen look to be precisely the opposite. There does not appear to be anyone in his close circle to tell him that global warming is a fact, that Putin is aggressive, or that vaccination saves lives. Needless to say, there doesn't appear to be anyone to tell him that cutting taxes on the ultra-wealthy is a bad plan, and not the recipe for economic expansion.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at


ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE-Over the past eight months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota have been joined by more than 200 allied tribes and tens of thousands of non-Native activists for a nonviolent resistance campaign against Energy Transfer Partners’ (ETP) $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline, which has been projected to transport at least 470,000 barrels of oil per day over 1,100 miles from the Bakken oil field to an existing hub in Illinois for delivery to refineries on the Gulf Coast, was rerouted in 2014 from north of Bismarck to the south, taking it through unceded treaty lands of the Sioux. Pipeline construction over this altered route desecrated sacred ancestral sites, and, until last Sunday, was slated to cross the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe reservoir, which would have threatened the safety of the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux and millions of people downstream. 

Since April 1, individuals, groups and organizations from around the world have come together at Standing Rock to proclaim Mni Wiconi, Lakota for “water is life.” They have put their bodies and freedom on the line in support of the water protectors of the #NoDAPL effort. Veterans For Peace (VFP), on whose board of directors I currently serve, is one of these organizations. We released a solidarity statement in September. A number of our members have been actively involved in the campaign. In mid-October, I had the great privilege and honor of joining nearly a dozen of my VFP colleagues at the main resistance camp, Oceti Sakowin (the proper name for the Sioux, meaning Seven Council Fires). 

During my visit, I was welcomed with respect, kindness and love, and treated as a family member – a relative, a profound experience of Mitakuye Oyasin, a Lakota term/prayer meaning “all my relations” or “we are all related.” 

As of last week, DAPL construction was all but completed. It seemed nothing could stop the Black Snake, as the Native people call it (a moniker that is based on an old Lakota prophecy which speaks of a “black snake” bringing destruction and devastation.) Then, last Sunday, following various legal decisions over many months that allowed the pipeline construction to continue, the easement to cross Lake Oahe was abruptly denied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The announcement came down just hours before an evacuation order for the Oceti Sakowin Camp, which was issued by USACE in late November, was set to take effect. USACE added that it would be undertaking an environmental impact statement (EIS) to examine possible alternate pipeline routes. The decision was hailed by many as a significant victory for the #NoDAPL struggle. 

Following news of the easement denial, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II released a statement, which read in part: “…We want to thank everyone who played a role in advocating for this cause…Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner – and that is how we will respond to this decision….We hope that Kelcey [sic] Warren, Governor Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point…Treaties are paramount law and must be respected, and we welcome dialogue on how to continue to honor that moving forward...To our local law enforcement, I hope that we can work together to heal our relationship as we all work to protect the lives and safety of our people. I recognize the extreme stress that the situation caused and look forward to a future that reflects more mutual understanding and respect.” 

After months of waves of brutal crackdown tactics perpetrated against the water protectors by militarized police and private DAPL security forces, which included the use of attack dogs, sonic cannons, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and water cannons in freezing temperatures, thousands of veterans, under the operation banner Veterans Stand For Standing Rock (VSSR), organized by Wesley Clark, Jr. (son of retired U.S. Army General and former presidential candidate Wesley Clark,) and Marine veteran Michael A. Wood, Jr., converged at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with the resistance. 

Based at least in part on their military experience, many of the veterans who joined VSSR wanted to intervene in and stop long-standing U.S. imperial policy of waging war for resources against vulnerable peoples. They understood that this was not something strictly happening abroad; it was also happening at home. They recognized that the violence against the water protectors was an expression of rampant U.S. militarism and structural white supremacy. They were aware that the targeting of Indigenous sovereignty by a colonial power is a strategic tool, used to dispirit, conquer and exterminate. They knew that the genocidal war against American Indians has never ended. Rather, it abates periodically until more resources are coveted, such as oil and lands to lay pipeline. 

Violation of the basic human rights of our Native sisters and brothers in the name of profit has been a recurring theme throughout U.S. history, often carried out through acts of state terrorism. The militaristic response by the state of North Dakota and ETP toward the unarmed water protectors has been one of the most blatant examples of this theme to unfold in modern times. The veterans of VSSR, like the activists who came to Standing Rock before, could not stand idly by and allow these abuses to continue. These veterans felt an obligation to do all they could to stop the assault on this land's original peoples. As American Indian rights activist, author and educator Four Arrows said in a recently published article, “The courage recognized in many veterans seems inherent in all Indigenous peoples who have managed to follow traditional ways. This is why especially courageous veterans seem to get along so well with American Indians. In the Indigenous worldview that guided all of us for 99 percent of human history, generosity is the ultimate expression of courage and fearlessness.” 

The VSSR mobilization, which included dozens of VFP members, was in its first official day when USACE’s rejection of DAPL’s easement was announced. It is reasonable to believe that the convergence of veterans at Standing Rock influenced the decision, even if only in some small way. Officials may have been acting to prevent conditions that could have led to a confrontation between law enforcement and the veterans, which would have been a national tragedy and a political nightmare. While we may never know for certain if VSSR had any sway over the decision-makers, it is safe to say that a considerable increase in the mainstream media coverage and public’s awareness of the situation occurred in the days prior to and during the VSSR operation. All things considered, the veterans played a small but important role in a much larger effort to prevent DAPL from crossing Lake Oahe. 

Last Sunday’s decision was an historic win for American Indian rights and environmental justice. More specifically, it was a win for the Standing Rock Sioux and the millions of non-Native people who would have been put at risk by DAPL going under the Missouri. It is an affirmation of the strength of the resistance, which demonstrated that prayerful people, guided by the virtues of fortitude, courage, humility and peacefulness, can indeed overcome enormous adversity. The power of nonviolence that was harnessed by the Native-led struggle on the North Dakota prairie over eight long months chipped away at the foundation of plutocratic and corporate interests that frequently put profit over people. 

Only time will tell if ETP has indeed been defeated. In a statement released by ETP just hours after the easement denial was announced, the company vowed to push forward with the pipeline on the route that takes it through treaty lands and under Lake Oahe. We know that the incoming Trump administration has different financial and business ties to the fossil fuel industry. ETP’s strategy may well be to bide their time until Trump takes office. Or, perhaps they will seek a legal ruling beforehand that could overturn USACE’s decision. The fight to force ETP to re-route the pipeline is probably not over. 

The #NoDAPL resistance has not ended, nor should it. People should continue to divest from the banks financing the pipeline and urge these banks to reconsider their funding. People should contact their elected officials and demand justice for Standing Rock, including investigations into the hostile and unconstitutional acts of Governor Dalrymple and his police. 

Vigilance must be maintained and the prayerful and peaceful campaign must continue on the ground even in the wake of Sunday’s decision. History tells us that settler colonialism, environmental racism and corporate fascism are three very resilient evils. The resistance must be equally resilient.           

Regardless of the future decisions and actions of the government and ETP and the nonviolent struggle against it, our children and grandchildren will be told of the historic unification of Native tribes and the efficacy of people power that made Sunday’s victory possible. It is imperative that we put our trust not in the promises of government but in the actions of people who hold their government accountable to those promises. Nonviolent direct action has been proven to work in grassroots movements and campaigns against oppression. Whatever the outcome of DAPL construction, the beautiful and enduring spirit of bridging differences to work collectively to protect and secure human rights, as seen in the #NoDAPL resistance, is something that will inform and inspire peace and justice efforts worldwide for many years to come.


(Brian Trautman is an Army veteran, peace educator/activist, and national board member of Veterans For Peace. On Twitter @brianjtrautman.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


AN AMERICAN WINS THE NOBEL--At a Stockholm ceremony this weekend, rocker and longtime colleague Patti Smith accepted Bob Dylan's Nobel in Literature by offering up to the glittering audience a searing, timely rendition of "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall." Evidently rattled by the grand proceedings, Smith faltered on the second stanza, put her hands to her face and apologized to the audience - murmuring "I'm so nervous" in a lovely human moment - before gathering her strength and delivering a scorching, powerhouse performance.    (Photo above: Patti Smith performs at Nobel Ceremony.)

Smith's appearance in lieu of Dylan capped months of sometimes clamorous debate about whether the blue-eyed son's decades of ineffable poetry are or are not literature - and, later, if his delay in responding and his failure to appear was or was not arrogance. The uproar was best laid to rest by one Committee member who serenely noted, "He is who he is."

While Dylan had told the Committee he couldn't attend, he did send a notably Dylanesque letter of thanks.  Assuring them he was honored and "most definitely with you in spirit," he expressed astonishment he had thus joined the ranks of "giants of literature."

"From an early age, I've been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway," he wrote. "That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words."

With a  slyly elliptical nod to the debate about his worthiness, he noted that he has long been so too focused on writing the "songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do" that, perhaps much like Shakespeare, "Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, 'Are my songs literature?' So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer."

All in all, not dark yet.

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

  • Patti Smith Nobel performance (Video)


(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams  … where this perspective was first posted.)



FURTHER--What a sight. The extraordinary coming together of Natives and veterans at Standing Rock culminated with a deeply moving forgiveness ceremony where vets  sought atonement for U.S. military aggression against Natives.

"We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke," said Wes Clark Jr., who took a knee at the head of other supplicant vets. "We've come to say that we are sorry."

From one observer, "This is how healing begins." Many of the vets will reportedly now move on to Flint, where vital water is likewise threatened and "people are suffering." 

Here’s what Clark said:

“Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you.

“We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”

Watch the ceremony. 

(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)


The ever worsening polarization of American politics—demonstrated and accentuated by the Trump victory—is now an undeniable fact of our daily life. Yet rather than allowing the guilty national parties to continue indulging political brinkmanship, we should embrace a  strong, constitutional solution to accommodating our growing divide: a return to local control.

Such an approach would allow, within some limits, local constituencies to follow their own course, much as the Founding Fathers suggested, without shaking the fundamentals of the federal union. Localism, as I label this approach, would address the sentiments on both right and left by reversing the consolidation of central power in Washington.

What Americans across the political spectrum need to recognize is that centralizing power does not promote national unity, but ever harsher division. Enforced central control, from left or right, polarizes politics in dangerous ways. The rather hysterical reaction to Trump’s election on the left is a case in point, with some in alt-blue California calling for secession from the union. Had Clinton and the Democrats won, we would have heard other secessionist sentiment, notably in Texas. 

This is no way to maintain a “United” States. Under Obama, conservative states resisted ever expanding federal executive power; now it’s the progressives’ turn to worry about an overweening central state. Some blue states are already planning to go on their own in such areas as health care and somewhat less plausibly, immigration. Progressives may also face potential federal assaults on such things as legal marijuana by a now GOP-controlled central government.

Do people want Washington to rule everything? The real issue is not the intrinsic evil of government itself, but how we can best address society’s myriad problems. For decades, many progressives have embraced an expansive central government as the most effective method of changing society for the better. Yet it is far from clear that most Americans prefer that alternative. A rough majority in November cast their votes for either Trump, who attacked President Obama’s executive orders, or libertarian Gary Johnson, a candidate with an even stronger localist tendency. Since 2007, the percentage of people who favored expanding government has dropped from 51 to 45 percent.   

In contrast, localism is widely embraced by a broad majority of the American public. By 64 percent to 26 percent, according to a 2015 poll—Americans say that they feel “more progress” on critical issues take place on the local rather than the federal level. Majorities of all political affiliations and all demographic groups hold this same opinion.  

The preference for localism also extends to attitudes toward state governments, many of which have grown more intrusive in recent years. Some 72 percent of Americans, according to Gallup, trust their local governments more than they do their state institutions; even in California, where executive power has run riot, far more people prefer local control to that of Sacramento.  

Critically, millennials, notes generational analyst Morley Winograd, generally  favor community-based, local solutions to key problems. Indeed, a recent National Journal poll found that less than a third of millennials favor federal solutions over locally-based ones. They are also far less trusting of major institutions than their Generation X predecessors. 

Any party, right or left,  that wishes to expand federal power will face broad political headwinds. Roughly half of all Americans, according to a 2015 Gallup poll, now consider the federal government “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens”; in 2003, only 30 percent felt that way. The federal bureaucracy is held in such low regard that 55 percent of the public says “ordinary Americans” would do a better job of solving national problems.

The election of Trump and his “deplorables” is leading more progressives, after years of cheering on President Obama’s ever increasing policy of rule by decree, to seek ways of preserving their own progressive bubble. Cheerleaders for Barack Obama’s imperial presidency, such as The New Yorkerare now embracing states’ rights with an almost Confederate enthusiasm. There are increasing plans to promote new progressive measures, for example on energy as a means to counter the nefarious, anti-planetary intentions of the new monarch.

Yet in reality, progressivism and localism are hardly incompatible. The progressive Justice Louis Brandeis invoked the notion that the states, not the federal government, should serve as “laboratories of democracy,” empowering them to “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”  

This more decentralized progressive approach was also expounded by David Osborne in his 1990 book, Laboratories of Democracy. Notably, Osborne’s book featured a foreword by the then-governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton. The future president praised “pragmatic responses” to key social and economic issues by both liberal and conservative governors. Such state-level responses, he correctly noted, were critical in “a country as complex and diverse as ours.”

Localism also has fans among grassroots leftists. Some embrace the ideal of localism as a reaction against globalization and domination by large corporations. For example, grassroots progressives often support local merchants and locally produced agricultural products. Some have adopted localist ideas as an economic development tool, an environmental win, and a form of resistance to ever-greater centralized big business control.   

Yale Law professor Heather Gerken makes the case that progressive social causes like racial integration, gay marriage, marijuana legalization, and others have historically tended to be adopted first at a local level before spreading to other areas. Gerken argues that it’s necessary for cities and states to have these powers so that local “cities upon a hill” of social reform can be allowed to flourish and lead by example.

With Trump and the GOP ensconced in Washington for a likely four more years, more progressives can be expected to adopt Gerken’s strategy. Longtime Washington insiders such as Brookings’ Bruce Katz already have made a strong pitch for a supplanting federal control with a regional approach. Although this usually leads to the dominance of regions by well-connected urban elites, Katz’s approach at least leaves smaller cities and towns free to govern themselves.  

President-elect Trump needs to recognize there is no great clamor to replace one “imperial president” for another. The authoritarian tendencies of some of his key allies, notably Senator Jeff Sessions, to perhaps overturn state marijuana, abortion and gay rights measures would simply extend, in different fields, the pernicious federalization of daily life. This is not exactly a consistent message for a party that often promotes itself as the voice of “liberty” and local choice.

We have already seen some harbingers of right-wing centralism on the state level, notes analyst Aaron Renn, where conservative state legislators contravene the progressive agenda of their core cities. Already in some states such as North Carolina and Texas, conservative legislatures have overturned actions adopted by certain cities on issues as diverse as transgender bathrooms and fracking. A better solution would be to allow blue places to reflect their values on as many issues as possible, while granting to conservative places the same right.

When it comes to preserving the character of our communities, there is often no red or blue. We choose places for their character and, if they need to change, this is preferably shaped along the lines favored by local residents. What may be fine with residents of Portland or Brooklyn does not necessarily work for people in suburban reaches of Dallas, Houston, or, for that matter, New York. As far as I am concerned: vive le difference!

Localism, of course, is not a panacea for all issues, some of which are indeed better addressed on a larger scale. And some basic rights need to be protected from local overreach. But overall, nothing is more basic to the American identity than, whenever feasible, leaving control of daily life to local communities, and, as much as practical, to individuals and families. Effective policy can only be shaped where there exists a “common civic culture” of shared values, something far more evident today on the local than the national level.

In his drive to make America “great” again, the new president needs to revitalize our flagging democracy not by doubling down on federal power but by empowering local communities to determine what’s best for them. Anything else gives us a choice between ideological despotisms that can only enrage and alienate half of our population by forcing down their throats policies they can’t abide, and, in most cases, should not be forced to accept.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of … where this piece was most recently 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. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. This piece first appeared at The Daily Beast and was published most recently by New Geography.) 


ON THE GROUND IN STANDING ROCK-Beyond the protests, police crackdowns, and pipeline drama, what’s it really like at Standing Rock, North Dakota? This October, I went to see for myself.

Like many other Native and non-Native visitors, I went to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s effort to keep the Dakota Access oil pipeline away from the Missouri River, which supplies water to an estimated 18 million people.

The tribe wasn’t meaningfully consulted before the pipeline slashed through its sacred lands. And even though pipelines are notoriously accident-prone, a full environmental impact study was never conducted.

Finally, on December 4, the Obama administration halted the construction of the pipeline and called for that assessment.

But in the preceding months, as the Sioux tried to protect their water, they faced surveillance, tear gas, arrests, water hoses, and attack dogs. Police were acting as the company’s protectors rather than the people’s.

Outrage and solidarity motivated my trip, but I also was eager to see the incredible multi-tribe community beside the river — Oceti Sakowin, the largest of the encampments created to sustain this difficult struggle. 

After driving in from Bismarck, I stopped first at the security booth, a small shed overlooking the terrain filled with tents, tepees, RVs, trailers, repurposed school buses, and yurts. A young man directed me to the media tent atop “Facebook Hill,” the only place you could get decent phone reception — at least when law enforcement wasn’t scrambling the signal.

The media tent was a hive of activity powered by portable solar and wind generators. Someone checked my ID and issued a media pass, along with strict guidelines for respectful and secure photography and recording.

Along the main avenue to my campsite, I walked under hundreds of tribal flags waving in the breeze. Everywhere people were chatting, sorting clothes, bustling around the collective kitchens, and chopping wood. Children were roaming about, with adults or on their own.

Before I got far, a Peruvian woman named Claudia called me over to help her husk the mountain of corn somebody had just dropped off. As we chatted, she roped in new helpers with cheerful cajoling.

In the days I was there, I ran errands for the children’s school and kitchen, drove people to actions and from jail, helped build a wigwam, and assisted a disabled elder. I attended meetings, made friends, and got my hurt foot treated at the medic tent and my migraine at the herbalist tent. No money, no appointments — just a pervasive spirit of mutual aid.

It was the same story with food. Besides the main kitchen, with its large army-style tents, tribes set up other kitchens. Each had its own specialties and personality lent by the cooks, who created fabulous meals on wood stoves and campfires with whatever donations came in.

Many recommended “Grandma’s Kitchen,” where Grandma Diane, a Paiute from California, starts each meal by honoring the ancestors and always adds abundant servings of love. No need to call for volunteers, she said. Folks “jump up to help.” Hundreds of hungry folks came in for elk stew, quinoa casserole, cabbage salad, sweet potato fritters, and fried bread — a favorite at every kitchen.

Despite the risk, Diane moved her kitchen a mile north to the front-line camp set up across the path of the pipeline. A few days later, police destroyed it.

I worried about Diane, until I heard she was okay and still calling for supplies to keep cooking for the folks in the struggle, who were then hunkering down to resist the ferocious winter — and the even more ferocious repression.

I didn’t just find a protest camp at Standing Rock — I found a model community. As Natives there celebrate their recent victory, how can anyone not celebrate with them?

(Juliana Barnet is an activist and anthropologist who studies communities that arise out of social movements. Posted first at Photo: Dark Sevier / Flickr


ONE LAST LOOK--There seems to be some bickering happening in the post-mortem analysis of the recent election. I sense a failure among shell-shocked liberals to communicate because of a false dichotomy: Those who argue that economic dislocation or privation is largely responsible for the election result are often accused of trivializing the expressions of racism and other forms of bigotry that accompanied this turn of events. Similarly, they feel that their critics trivialize economic concerns. 

I believe that the two classes of issues are intimately related. While there is certainly a subset of voters who harbor purely reflexive suspicion, disdain, or hatred for others based solely on identity (and I speculate we all fit this description to some degree,) it's not a useful observation in itself. If politics is the art of the possible, then what do we propose to do about bigots who vote? Put them in internment camps for re-education? 

The history of racism, gender discrimination, xenophobia, and indeed, all forms of oppression in our country is tightly interwoven with economic issues. We didn't rip Africans from their homelands and haul them across an ocean because it was fun for white folks to feel superior. We abducted people to be slaves to run plantations and serve other economic purposes. Racist attitudes were cultivated and reinforced by the economy. We don't redline neighborhoods primarily because we care who lives in the houses. We do it because we deem classes of people financially unworthy. Redlining can be managed completely without regard to race and purely by the numbers, and is an example among many forms of institutionalized, structural, or algorithmic racism that are self-perpetuating. This is a distinction without a difference for the victims of the discrimination, and is not any kind of justification, but it is essential to understand to get past it. 

We don't have to love or approve of our political adversaries. But they needn't be our adversaries if we can placate them in ways that we find acceptable. That means putting our own justifiable anger aside and doing what we need to do to live and govern together. It doesn't mean compromising principles, but it does mean compromising, and it does mean swallowing some pride. There are not 60 million virulent, violent racists in the United States. There is instead a very complex continuum of individuals, each with their own set of motivations, and their own experiences and circumstances. A relatively small number of these people are those with whom we cannot coexist peacefully — or even respectfully. 

When we speak of justice, we often refer to symbolic issues like the words we use and the gestures we make. But most of us know that real justice involves economic justice. It means pay equity for women. It means changing policy and procedure to end the mass incarceration and disenfranchisement that is a burden imposed disproportionately on people of color. It means being vigilant against discrimination and protecting potential victims. This remediation is concordant with policies that lift up unfortunates in every swath of society, and that might include some rednecks and neo-nazis. But we cannot legislate emotions. 

In the Venn diagram of our society there is huge commonality among the economically deprived and the victims and perpetrators of racial and gender-based discrimination. The environment fostered by rivalries for power and prestige is a breeding ground for generalized intolerance and its free expression. Thus we see hate crimes and hate laws perpetrated against categories of people who might appear to be above the economic fray, in particular, LGBTQ people. 

I would never suggest that we forget about slights and indignities of victims of bigoted behavior, much less the appalling acts of intimidation and violence, nor should they be excused. But I hope we will get away from the Us vs. Them narrative and lean more heavily on nuance. If stereotyping is part of the problem, then we would be well served by a reduction of hypocrisy.


(Bill Michaelson is a software developer who lives with his family and his opinions in central New Jersey. He has been engaged with various social justice matters and governance in various capacities over decades. This piece originally appeared in 

POLITICS-Should Democrats seek common ground with Donald Trump or oppose him at every turn? On Capitol Hill, should they abet or obstruct? (Photo above: Senators Feinstein and Schumer.) 

I can answer that. But first, let’s flash back to Inauguration Night, 2009. 

Barack Obama had just beaten John McCain by a margin of 10 million votes and 7.2 percentage points — the biggest Democratic win since 1964. Democrats also won both congressional chambers. And yet, despite this decisive pro-Democratic mandate to govern, congressional Republicans resolved, at a private dinner on day one, not to offer a scintilla of cooperation. 

Resistance Isn’t Futile. 

They resolved to thwart Obama’s efforts to fix the Great Recession, hoping that his failures would grease a Republican comeback in the 2012 race. Newt Gingrich, a dinner guest, reportedly told his former colleagues, “You will remember this day. You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.” 

Here’s where we are today: Trump has lost the popular vote (at last count) by a whopping 2.66 million. His losing share of the popular vote (46.2 percent) is the worst for an Electoral College winner since John Quincy Adams in 1824. Even his winning electoral vote margin (74 votes) is a pittance compared to Obama’s winning ’08 margin (192). So why should Democrats on Capitol Hill give Trump the cooperative deference that Republicans denied to Obama? 

Godfather Wisdom. 

As Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather II” movie, “My offer is this: Nothing.” 

Cooperating with Trump, behaving as if he were just another Republican, would lend legitimacy to his authoritarian bent. Cooperating with Trump would “normalize” his racist populism and his serial lies. Such a strategy — tantamount to surrender — would be disastrous for a Democratic Party that has spent decades fighting for tolerance and diversity. 

Democrats have buckled in the past. Even though George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, they acted as if the guy had a mandate to govern. Lots of Democrats voted for Bush’s deficit-cratering tax cuts. They voted for his Iraq war resolution, despite the dearth of evidence that Saddam had WMDs. They supplied enough votes to put John Roberts in charge of the Supreme Court. Republicans reciprocated by foiling Obama on a regular basis, blocking everything from his 2011 American Jobs Act  (which could’ve put as many as two million people back to work) to his last Supreme Court nominee (the radical refusal to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland was unprecedented.) 

Do What Mitch Did. 

David Faris, a political science prof at Roosevelt University, said it well in a column the other day: 

“[Cooperation] is the first instinct of the Democratic Party even after a crushing, incomprehensible defeat … The urge to minimize the damage in defense of the public interest is broadly shared, and understandable. It must make many Democrats proud to support a party that truly believes in the public good, even at the expense of winning. 

“On the other hand, no. It’s time for Democrats to say no. To everything … 

“It helps that the Republicans — led by a man who rage-tweets fake news in the middle of the night — are about to embark on a long voyage of turning every single thing they touch into garbage. There should be no Democratic fingerprints whatsoever on the coming catastrophe … Hand Trump the keys and let him drive into a tree.” 

He’s Already Too Extreme. 

That sounds harsh. But, lest we forget, Republicans paid virtually no political price for their eight years of anti-Obama obstruction. Voters didn’t seem to care that Republicans thwarted a president who twice won elections with a majority of the popular vote. Why would they punish Democrats for standing in steadfast opposition to an unqualified poseur who was rejected last month by 53.8 percent of all voters? Chuck Schumer, the new Senate minority leader, is indeed warning that when Trump gets too extreme, “we’ll go after him with everything we’ve got.” 

Senate Democrats can set the tone by putting Trump’s Cabinet picks through the wringer, because a number of them deserve to be seriously slow-walked — most notably, attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions (rejected for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, due to his racist remarks), Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin (who made piles of money foreclosing on homeowners during the Great Recession), and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price (who wants to kill Obamacare, a move that would nix coverage for 20 million people). And what remotely qualifies Ben Carson to be housing secretary, beyond the fact that he lives in a house? 

Fortunately, Democrats are indeed vowing to combat those nominees. Hey, it’s a start. My unsolicited advice is simple: Grow a pair.


(Dick Polman, former political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs at This piece was posted most recently at CalBuzz.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

POST-ELECTION DISORIENTATION-America is in a muddle and our President-elect is the center of our national confusion. If you think that the general public is disoriented by “Trumpism,” that’s nothing compared to the panic within both the Democrat and Republican parties and our allies and enemies worldwide. The real cause of apprehension is not Trump’s highly questionable economic policies and strange affection for foreign dictators (except for Fidel Castro.) A legitimate concern is Trump’s mental stability or lack thereof. 

Over months of campaigning, Donald Trump exhibited some bizarre behavior, particularly with his late night tweets. The content of his tweets and other statements were beyond the pale. However, these eccentricities were excused by his background as a reality TV star and a lack of any political experience. 

Trump’s Post-Election Behavior 

Trump’s behavior after the November election, however, has set off alarm bells. The inability of a person to conform his behavior to the norms of society suggests that he could be mentally unstable. In all societies, there are cultural expectations. What is appropriate for a child is not permitted for an adult. A toddler who runs outside naked provokes giggles, but a 35-year old naked man walking around a department store will be arrested. In the words of William Shakespeare: 

   All the world’s a stage,

   And all the men and women merely players:

   They have their exits, and their entrances;

   And one man in his time plays many parts.

   [As You like it, Act II, Scene VII] 

Because the social role of Leader of the Free World is defined by the expectations of hundreds of millions of people, Trump’s inability to control his behavior is noticable. 

Perhaps, his first serious post-election mis-tweet came when he told the cast of Hamilton to “apologize” for asking Vice-President Pence make sure that the new administration represented all Americans. As a people, we have no more basic liberty than Free Political Speech. Yet Trump demanded an apology for free speech. He called the Hamilton cast’s message “harassment.” 

There is one aspect of Trump’s Hamilton tweets which people have not heeded: the cast was not speaking to Trump, but to Vice-President Pence. Nonetheless, Trump launched his vituperative tweets, possibly transgressing the respect he owed the Vice President-Elect’s ability to speak for himself. When Pence did have an opportunity to comment, he affirmed the American passion for free speech, saying that he told his family that the boos and cheers they heard when entering the theater were the “sound of freedom.” 

Loss of Citizenship for Displeasing President-Elect Trump 

On November 28, 2016, out of nowhere, Trump tweeted that anyone who burns the American flag should lose his US citizenship. Justice Jackson in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, (1943) 319 U.S. 624 stated America’s position on obnoxious speech: 

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” 

Even arch-conservative Justice Scalia agreed with Liberal Justice Brennan in 1989 when both endorsed Justice Jackson’s opinion that the American Constitution protects obnoxious speech in Texas v Johnson, (1989) 491 U.S. 397. It’s vital for us to recognize that Americans across the political spectrum are unanimous on the sanctity of obnoxious speech. Trump’s repudiation of that shows that he either does not comprehend American values or he does not feel bound to behave as an American. 

His Actions Alarm Even Sarah Palin 

Quite recently, we’ve seen Trump intervene with the decision of Carrier to move jobs to Mexico. Independent of whether Carrier should move jobs to Mexico is Trump’s double disregard for his actual role as the President-Elect who is not yet the President. Furthermore, Presidents should not operate by making threats to private businesses or obtaining special benefits for them. The movement of jobs to foreign countries has complex causes; it requires Americans to act as a group through their elected representatives to decide what should be done. 

The Trashing of International Protocol 

The most egregious departure from international norms came with Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Since 1979, the United States has followed a consistent and complicated policy with respect to Mainland China and Taiwan. Whether that policy should be altered is open to debate, but Trump’s gross violation of diplomatic protocol is beyond disturbing. President-Elect Trump has not even selected his Secretary of State. Thus, we know that his rash deviation from accepted world-wide procedure did not happen after discussing its ramifications with his nominee for Secretary of State. Even Vice-President-elect Pence’s comments on the Sunday, December 4, talk shows indicate that this change in China policy caught him by surprise. 

The Personal Punitive Nature of Donald Trump 

There is another aspect of Trump’s behavior that has thrown all of Washington into disarray. He seems to believe that people who disagree with him should be punished. Women who receive abortions should be thrown in jail. Companies whose business decisions he dislikes should be subject to a 35% tariff (as if this were 1650, the height of Mercantilism.) Free speech merits loss of citizenship.

This punitive approach against people who offend him is the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s personality. People we often lump under the labels of anti-social, psychopathic and sociopathic share these traits: an inability to abide by deeply held social norms and the tendency to attack people who displease them. 

As is customary when faced with a bully’s blatant disregard for fundamental values, no one has the nerve to stand up and denounce Trump’s psychopathic behavior. Rather, it seems that most, with the possible exception of David Frum, try to accommodate it. If you want to see how dictators take over a country, just turn on your TV set.


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

ALPERN AT LARGE--Much to the anguish of those who remember the 20th Century, and the horrific lessons learned during that era's worldwide conflicts, too much of our youth will never know of it. As with Civics, Financial Literacy, Home Economics, Shop Class, Cursive, and Typing/Keyboarding, there are many things that high school (and even college!) graduates just aren't being taught. 

So with the understanding that Millennials, much to the horror of their parents, often graduate high school (and college) with an understanding of U.S. History that stops at the American Civil War, I will continue to throw out occasional quizzes of the 20th Century and of history/civics-related issues.  

And one gigantic conflict that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century was the Cold War.

Because the 20th Century ... and all of its painful lessons ... DID happen.  


(Correct answers at bottom of this column)  

1) "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe." This comment, part of a speech which many believe formally began the Cold War, was said by which World War Two leader? 

  1. a) Harry Truman of the United States 
  2. b) Winston Churchill of Great Britain
  3. c) Josef Stalin of The Soviet Union
  4. d) Charles DeGaulle of France

2) The Cold War was fought between which two entities?

  1. a) The Allied and Axis powers
  2. b) The Western (the Americas) and Eastern (Europe and Asia) Hemispheres
  3. c) The United States and its allies in Europe, and the Soviet Union and its satellite states
  4. d) The United States and China

3) Which organization was formed to halt the spread of Communism to western Europe, to forbid the recurrence of nationalist militarism, and to encourage political integration in Europe? 

  1. a) The North American Treaty Organization
  2. b) The North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  3. c) The United Nations
  4. d) The Warsaw Pact

4) The following Central and Eastern European nations had unsuccessful revolts against the Soviet Union and their Soviet-placed leaders in the 1950's and 1960's except: 

  1. a) Yugoslavia
  2. b) Czechoslovakia
  3. c) East Germany
  4. d) Hungary

5) The barrier that kept East Germans from escaping to the West, and was emblematic of "The Iron Curtain", was known as: 

  1. a) The German Divide
  2. b) The Great Wall of Germany
  3. c) The German Partition
  4. d) The Berlin Wall

6) The U.S. President who declared, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!" was:

  1. a) John F. Kennedy 
  2. b) Ronald Reagan
  3. c) Jimmy Carter
  4. d) Richard Nixon

7) The U.S. President who declared, "Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!"... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!" in order to boost the morale of West Berliners, who lived in an enclave within East Germany, was:

  1. a) John F. Kennedy 
  2. b) Ronald Reagan
  3. c) Jimmy Carter
  4. d) Richard Nixon

8) Which President led a boycott of a Summer Olympics in Moscow, and in response to a Soviet invasion of which country? 

  1. a) John F. Kennedy/Cuba 
  2. b) Ronald Reagan/Granada
  3. c) Jimmy Carter/Afghanistan
  4. d) Richard Nixon/Vietnam

9) The United States and Soviet Union had major involvements in the following conflicts, and which were major sources of tension between the two superpowers, except for: 

  1. a) The Korean War
  2. b) The Vietnam War
  3. c) The Yom Kippur War 
  4. d) The Cyprus Civil War

10) Which of the following statements is true? 

  1. a) The United States was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, and to land a man on the moon
  2. b) The Soviet Union was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, and to land a man on the moon
  3. c) The Soviet Union was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, but the United States was the first nation to land a man on the moon
  4. d) The United States was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, but the Soviet Union was the first nation to land a man on the moon
  5. e) Both the United States and Soviet Union succeeded in landing a man on the moon 

It's nice to know that the International Space Station is a first-rate example of how the United States and Russia (the predominant entity of the Soviet Union) can work together and even be friends.

In the War on Terrorism, both the U.S. and Russia have been friends and enemies--"frenemies", if you will--because both nations have been and are threatened/victimized by terrorism.  But old rivalries die hard. 

And while President Obama ridiculed Republican contender Mitt Romney, during a 2012 election debate when Romney's declared that Russia was the foremost threat to the U.S., much of the outgoing President's foreign conundrums in office stemmed from the European, Asian, and Middle Eastern conflicts with Russia.  Again, old rivalries die hard. 

It's anyone's guess whether President-Elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be friends, enemies, or "frenemies".  A half-century of pent-up and open frustrations and nuclear threats (HOW MANY OF US REMEMBER HOW HORRIFYINGLY REAL THE MOVIE "THE DAY AFTER" WAS?), to say nothing of nuclear bomb drills and ingrained fears of the Soviets, doesn't go away overnight. 

Because the Twentieth Century, and all of its horrific disasters (including the Cold War that dominated the foreign policy of the latter half of that century) DID happen. 


1) b

2) c

3) b

4) a

5) d

6) b

7) a

8) c

9) d

10) c


(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 He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)


POST-ELECTION CONCERNS-Watching Donald Trump pick his Cabinet members has been like watching a 16-car pileup unfold in slow motion. Each move fills us with horror in the knowledge of what the near future brings. 

But the assembling of Trump’s transition team has been distracting us from one crucial aspect of our current political mess: what our current president is doing in his last few weeks in office -- or, more accurately, not doing. President Barack Obama appears so eager to be done with his tenure that he seems more invested in a smooth transition of power than in fulfilling his duty to the American people. 

Ensuring a smooth transition implies business as usual. Except that there is absolutely nothing usual, or even presidential, about Trump’s Electoral College win. And what the president-elect is promising us is so harrowing that Obama owes the nation a last-minute flurry of political actions that are within his power to take before the “Trumpocalypse,” as some are calling it, is upon us.

Democrats, are you desperate to do something about Trump? Then demand that your current president do you a solid and actually use the popular mandate he earned when he was elected, twice. Obama’s refusal so far to do even one of the following is only more proof of the Democratic Party’s ineptitude and spinelessness. 

Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline Project 

The most important political battle of this year outside the electoral realm has been the indigenous-led resistance against the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL). After many months of activism by the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters, law enforcement has upped the ante in incredibly violent ways, unleashing military-grade weaponry on an unarmed citizenry. President Obama has been forced by public pressure to delay completion of the pipeline. But what is needed is an end to the project.

President-elect Trump, on the other hand, is already eager for the decision to be made during his term and has promised to speed up the Army Corps of Engineers’ review process. Among Trump’s many financial conflicts of interest is his stake in the DAPL.  It would be disastrous for him to be the decider on this issue. There is absolutely no doubt about whose side he would take. 

Meanwhile high-profile political figures have tried in vain to get Obama to do the right thing on DAPL. From Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Al Gore and even musician Neil Young, many have appealed to Obama to end the project. Twenty-eight tribal leaders, appreciative of the attention Obama has paid to their communities in the past, have now called on him to “reroute the pipeline away from tribal lands, waters, and sacred places.” 

What does Obama have to lose by exercising his authority through the Army Corps of Engineers and doing the right thing? 

Make a Recess Appointment to the Supreme Court 

It is outrageous how the GOP has stood in Obama’s path to filling the Supreme Court vacancy. Without a doubt Democrats would not treat a Republican president in the same manner. No other Supreme Court nominee in the history of the United States has waited as long as Merrick Garland to be confirmed. What’s more, Obama’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia does not even come close to espousing the leftist counterpart to Scalia’s extremist right-wing ideology. Like Obama, Garland is a centrist liberal. Unlike Obama, Trump will not hesitate to appoint the most conservative justice possible. The resulting Supreme Court will probably roll back even more of the Voting Rights Act, possibly Roe v. Wade, and who knows what other social and political progress this nation has made in recent decades. 

What Obama can do to send a strong message to the Republican Party is make a temporary recess appointment of Garland to the court. Legal experts point out that Obama has the right to do it, even though he has taken scant advantage of the power to make recess appointments as compared with his predecessors. While temporary, Garland’s presence on the court could stave off regressive court decisions for at least a year. Sadly, Obama has given no indication that he plans to exercise his authority. 

The larger context is that Trump might get to appoint as many as three justices to the court during his tenure: for Scalia’s seat and those that might be vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who is 83, and Stephen Breyer, 78, both strong liberals. Again, what does Obama have to lose by making a strong gesture with a recess appointment to the court? 

Pardon DACA Recipients 

Among the most terrifying promises Trump made during his campaign was to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. There is especially great fear that he will repeal Obama’s signature immigration executive action, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Already, lawyers are recommending that those eligible for DACA should not apply at this time, given Trump’s election, because in order to be eligible for deportation relief, immigrants have to out themselves to federal authorities. With access to the information of hundreds of thousands of DACA registrants, Trump could easily deport them. 

Some people have urged Obama to use his presidential power to pardon DACA recipients. In California where many cities, as well as state and private universities, have declared themselves “sanctuaries” for the undocumented, Democratic lawmakers have publicly called on Obama to grant them legal status. According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama “promptly batted down the idea,” saying that pardons are not applicable because immigration violations are civil offenses, not criminal ones. 

Astonishingly, there is actually a Republican-led effort to help DACA recipients. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has announced plans to introduce legislation to extend DACA protections.

It might certainly be a legal gray area for Obama to pardon violators of civil offenses, but so is Congress’ stonewalling of the president’s right to appoint a Supreme Court justice. Where DACA is concerned, the lives of 750,000 young people are at stake. These are people who trusted the government and turned over their personal and contact information in order to live and work without fear. If Obama does not even attempt to protect the members of a program he created, he will be partly responsible for what they might face under Trump. 

Undo His Executive War Powers 

Many on the left spent the last eight years denouncing Obama’s unprecedented use of executive power for destructive purposes: the “war on terror.” Citing the Bush-era Authorization for Use of Military Force, Obama expanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and used it to justify military actions against Islamic State, even though Congress is supposed to authorize war. The legal gray areas where Obama appears reluctant to operate seem sometimes perfectly black and white when it comes to his right to drop bombs, particularly through the unmanned drone program.

The Intercept’s Alex Emmons summarized the “terrifying powers” that Trump will have as commander in chief, thanks to Obama—including the power of mass surveillance, the misuse of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers, and more. 

Obama can undo the destructive powers he has granted himself before he leaves office. According to Emmons, “Most of the new constraints on the security state during the Obama years were self-imposed, and could easily be revoked.” After all, Obama warned Americans before this election of the dangers of having a president as unstable as Trump with access to the nation’s nuclear codes. He now owes it to us to take as much action as he can to curb the presidential powers he has unleashed. 

Offer Justice to Snowden, and Clemency to Political Prisoners and Drug Offenders 

One way in which Obama could offer a mea culpa for his aggressive legal pursuit of whistleblowers is to offer the chance for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to return to the U.S. with assurances of a fair trial for crimes with which he has been charged. A letter signed by 15 former intelligence officials who served on the Watergate-era Church Committee asks the president for leniency in Snowden’s case. 

Going further, Obama could offer clemency to political prisoners who have spent decades behind bars (or in exile) under unjust circumstances and as a result of political persecution. A great starting point is this list compiled by Sara David, naming Assata Shakur, Oscar López Rivera, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and Chelsea Manning as worthy of clemency. 

Human Rights Watch has also written the president a letter urging him to offer relief to federal prisoners serving long sentences for drug offenses through the use of his clemency power. HRW reminded Obama of the positive impact his commutation of hundreds of prison sentences has already had and warned, “The opportunities for addressing unfairly long sentences in 2017 appear bleak, as President-elect Trump publicly criticized your commutations grants during his campaign.” 

There are many other suggestions my list could include, such as President Jimmy Carter’s appeal to Obama to recognize the state of Palestine. But I offer this list not with a naive optimism that Obama will actually act on them, but rather to point out how many crucial issues a sitting Democratic president has the power to control but often chooses not to. Clinton supporters and Obama defenders need to acknowledge the moral complacency that such inaction reveals, which in turn feeds into the political losses of the Democratic Party. 

As we lament the horrors that may unfold next year, let us not forget that Obama had the chance to do the right thing on any number of issues and chose instead to leave us at the mercy of the “Trumpocalypse.” I certainly hope I am proved wrong.


(Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women's Mission and a political writer at TruthDig …where this piece was first posted.)

AT LENGTH-Christiane Amanpour (Photo left above), CNN’s chief international correspondent, just won an award for championing press freedom. She is also one of the better-known faces in the mainstream media. 

In her acceptance speech at the 2016 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award at a November 22 gala in New York -- an event organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists -- she said about her fellow journalists’ coverage of the recent elections: 

Much of the media was tying itself in knots trying to differentiate between balance, between objectivity, neutrality, and crucially, the truth. We cannot continue the old paradigm. We cannot, for instance, keep saying, like it was over global warming. When 99 percent of the science, the empirical facts, the evidence, is given equal play with the tiny minority of deniers. 

She took note of the president-elect’s tweets accusing the media of instigating the uprising of protests: 

I was chilled when [Trump’s] first tweet after the election was about professional protesters incited by the media. [Because as we all know] First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating. And then, suddenly, they find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. And then, they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prisons and then who knows what. 

A sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more. 

In another tweet, Trump alleged that 3 million illegal voters cast votes in an election he won, albeit losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by some 2.5 million votes -- a number that continues to grow.

It was only after Trump called the leading national journalists to his “Tower” for a scolding about their treatment during the campaign and the New York Times stood up to him that other major media companies began tentatively calling him out on his lies, false accusations and otherwise aberrant pronouncements. 

On November 5, the Toronto Star newspaper published their list of Trump’s lies -- 494 in all that fell into 20 different categories. They wrote, “the category that has the most falsehoods is ‘Clinton’s policies,’ followed by ‘Clinton’s corruption,’ and then polls.” 

That list is far too long to be printed here but can be found on Since that time the presumptive president-elect has backed off on his pledge to prosecute Hilary, appoint a special prosecutor and throw her in jail. However, no one can be quite sure exactly what Trump will say next or even if he’ll do what he says next. 

This of course is his real talent: keeping everyone on edge. A negotiating trick that keeps everyone one guessing until the deal is done.  Stand back from the anxiety of the campaign and the depression from the election results to see Trump for the wheeler-dealer huckster he is. 

I was reminded this week of a quote from one of our nation’s most celebrated journalists, H.L. Mencken, who in 1920, had the prescient vision to write: 

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.  

I think at this point the emphasis should be on devious and mediocre -- clearly this man, Trump, is not to be trusted either by his own party, the people who voted for him or the rest of us who didn’t. 

It is becoming quite clear that it’s very difficult to discern fact from fiction in the media environment in which we live. People say we’re living in a post-factual era of politics, but there are several sources to fact check what you read or hear. 

Wikipedia and, however, is the antidote to that. And for those looking deeper into the fictionalization of facts here’s a list of those fake news sites.  And even at Wikipedia, we have to pay attention to who is editing what. 

Contrary to the accusations of some trolls on our website, we at Random Lengths News do check our facts. But we do not pretend to be neutral. 

This newspaper has always defended its brand of informed political reporting. Our progressive reporting is not blindly partisan, but is informed by a perspective not commonly found in the corporate mainstream press. 

This paradigm is changing. We now live in a world where ultra-right wing and neo-fascist ideologies threaten even the middle-of-the-road media. Breitbart News is a leading example of this phenomenon and the elevation of Stephen K. Bannon to the position of chief political strategist for the Trumpster -- with an office inside the White House is disconcerting. 

Bannon’s claim to fame is his role as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a media outlet filled with what the New York Times called “ideologically driven journalists,” that has been a source of controversy “over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic and racist,” and was a “potent voice” for Trump’s presidential campaign. 

Breitbart News has been misidentified and normalized by calling it “alt-right” media; it has been aligned with European populist right wing and what I would call fascist politics. This invention of alt-right news of course is the reaction to the myth of the “liberal media” in America. 

With the birth of Roger Ailes’ Fox News, there’s a growing rant that “all of the media are a bunch of liberals.” 

Information wars between left and right perspectives are fueled by the increasing use of disinformation -- leaked or hacked information from dubious sources and the growing distrust of the media in general. 

What has clearly evolved out of this past election cycle is that some media platforms have become “weaponized” for use in disinformation warfare -- a tactic that has its roots in the CIA’s covert operations from the Cold War Era. 

This, at its very core, is a threat to our democracy and the institutions of electoral politics. It is curious that these very same tactics are being brought home to roost in the very same chicken coop from which they were hatched -- Washington, D.C. 

And all of this confusion effectuated by the rise of social media and convenient hand-held devices has only brought us closer to the truth that all democracies are fragile and dependent upon a public being able to deconstruct the information provided. Therein lies the great divide separating America today. What media outlet do you trust to tell you the truth?


(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: Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS-High above, somewhere behind the black glass façade, President-elect Donald J. Trump was huddled with his inner circle, plotting just how they would “drain the swamp” and remake Washington, perhaps the world. On the street far below, inside a warren of metal fencing surrounded by hefty concrete barriers with “NYPD” emblazoned on them, two middle-aged women were engaged in a signage skirmish.  One held aloft a battered poster that read “Love Trumps Hate”; just a few feet away, the other brandished a smaller slice of cardboard that said “Get Over It.”  (Photo above: Security agents in front of Trump Tower, New York.)

I was somewhere in between ... and the Secret Service seemed a little unnerved.

Trump Tower is many things -- the crown jewel skyscraper in Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, the site of the Trump Organization’s corporate offices, a long-time setting for his reality television show, The Apprentice, and now, as the New York Times describes it, “a 58-story White House in Midtown Manhattan.”  It is also, as noted above its front entrance: “OPEN TO THE PUBLIC 8 AM to 10 PM.”

When planning for the tower began in the late 1970s, Trump -- like other developers of the era -- struck a deal with the city of New York.  In order to add extra floors to the building, he agreed to provide amenities for the public, including access to restrooms, an atrium, and two upper-level gardens.    

When I arrived at Trump Tower, less than a week after Election Day, the fourth floor garden was roped off, so I proceeded up the glass escalator, made a right, and headed through a door into an outdoor pocket park on the fifth floor terrace.  Just as I entered, a group of Japanese tourists was leaving and, suddenly, I was alone, a solitary figure in a secluded urban oasis.

But not for long. 

Taking a seat on a silver aluminum chair at a matching table, I listened closely.  It had been a zoo down on Fifth Avenue just minutes before: demonstrators chanting “love trumps hate,” Trump supporters shouting back, traffic noise echoing in the urban canyon, the “whooooop” of police sirens, and a bikini-clad woman in body paint singing in front of the main entrance.  And yet in this rectangular roof garden, so near to America’s new White House-in-waiting, all was placid and peaceful.  There was no hint of the tourist-powered tumult below or of the potentially world-altering political machinations above, just the unrelenting white noise-hum of the HVAC system.     

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

The Stars and Stripes flies above the actual White House in Washington, D.C.  Inside the Oval Office, it’s joined by another flag -- the seal of the president of the United States emblazoned on a dark blue field.  Here, however, Old Glory flies side by side with slightly tattered black-and-silver Nike swoosh flags waving lazily above the tony storefronts -- Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, Burberry and Chanel -- of Manhattan’s 57th Street, and, of course, Trump Tower-tenant Niketown. 

That I was standing beneath those flags gazing down at luxe retailers evidently proved too much to bear for those who had been not-so-subtly surveilling me.  Soon a fit, heavily armed man clad in black tactical gear -- what looked to my eye like a Kevlar assault suit and ballistic vest -- joined me in the garden.  “How’s it going?” I asked, but he only nodded, muttered something incomprehensible, and proceeded to eyeball me hard for several minutes as I sat down at a table and scrawled away in my black Moleskine notepad.

My new paramilitary pal fit in perfectly with the armed-camp aesthetic that’s blossomed around Trump Tower.  The addition of fences and concrete barriers to already clogged holiday season sidewalks has brought all the joys of the airport security line to Fifth Avenue.  The scores of police officers now stationed around the skyscraper give it the air of a military outpost in a hostile land.  (All at a bargain basement price of $1 million-plus per day for the city of New York.)  Police Commissioner James O’Neill recently reeled off the forces which -- in addition to traffic cops, beat cops, and bomb-sniffing dogs -- now occupy this posh portion of the city: “specialized units, the critical response command, and the strategic response group, as well as plainclothes officers and counter-surveillance teams working hand-in-hand with our intelligence bureau and our partners in the federal government, specifically the Secret Service.”  The armed man in tactical gear who had joined me belonged to the latter agency. 

“You one of the reporters from downstairs?” he finally asked. 

“Yeah, I’m a reporter,” I replied and then filled the silence that followed by saying, “This has got to be a new one, huh, having a second White House to contend with?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he answered, and then assured me that most visitors seemed disappointed by this park.  “I think everyone comes up thinking there’ll be a little more, but it’s like ‘yeah, okay.’” 

Small talk, however, wasn't the agent’s forte, nor did he seem particularly skilled at intimidation, though it was clear enough that he wasn’t thrilled to have this member of the public in this public space.  Luckily for me (and the lost art of conversation), we were soon joined by “Joe.”  An aging bald man of not insignificant girth, Joe appeared to have made it onto the Secret Service’s managerial track.  He didn’t do commando-chic.  He wasn’t decked out in ridiculous SWAT-style regalia, nor did he have myriad accessories affixed to his clothing or a submachine gun strapped to his body.  He wore a nondescript blue suit with a silver and blue pin on his left lapel. 

I introduced myself as he took a seat across from me and, in response, though working for a federal agency, he promptly began a very NYPD-style interrogation with a very NYPD-style accent. 

“What’s going on, Nick?” he inquired.

“Not too much.”

“What are you doing? You’re all by yourself here…”

“Yeah, I’m all by my lonesome.”

“Kinda strange,” he replied in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Robert De Niro eating a salami sandwich.

“How so?”

“I don’t know. What are you doing? Taking notes?” he asked. 

I had reflexively flipped my notepad to a fresh page as I laid it between us on the table and Joe was doing his best to get a glimpse of what I’d written.      

I explained that I was a reporter. Joe wanted to know for whom I worked, so I reeled off a list of outlets where I’d been published. He followed up by asking where I was from. I told him and asked him the same. Joe said he was from Queens.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked. 

“Secret Service.”

“I was just saying to your friend here that it must be a real experience having a second White House to contend with.”

“Yeah, you could call it that,” he replied, sounding vaguely annoyed. Joe brushed aside my further attempts at small talk in favor of his own ideas about where our conversation should go. 

“You got some ID on you?” he asked. 

“I do,” I replied, offering nothing more than a long silence.

“Can I see it?”

“Do you need to?”

“If you don’t mind,” he said politely. Since I didn’t, I handed him my driver’s license and a business card. Looking at the former, with a photo of a younger man with a much thicker head of hair, Joe asked his most important question yet: “What did you do to your hair?”

“Ah yes,” I replied with a sigh, rubbing my hand over my thinned-out locks. “It’s actually what my hair did to me.” 

He gestured to his own follically challenged head and said, “I remember those days.”

Trump Tower’s Public Private Parts

Joe asked if there was anything he could do for me, so I wasn’t bashful. I told him that I wanted to know what his job was like -- what it takes to protect President-elect Donald Trump and his soon-to-be second White House. “You do different things. Long hours.  Nothing out of the ordinary. Probably the same as you,” he said. I told him I really doubted that and kept up my reverse interrogation. “Other than talking to me, what did you do today?” I asked. 

“I dunno,” he responded. “Look around. Security. We’re Secret Service.” It was, he assured me, a boring job. 

“Come on,” I said. “There’s got to be a lot of challenges to securing a place like this. You’ve got open public spaces just like this one.”

There are, in fact, more than 500 privately owned public spaces, or POPS, similar to this landscaped terrace, all over the city.  By adding the gardens, atrium, and other amenities way back when, Trump was able to add about 20 extra floors to this building, a deal worth at least $500 million today, according to the New York Times.  And in the post-election era, Trump Tower now boasts a new, one-of-a-kind amenity.  The skies above it have been declared “national defense airspace” by the Federal Aviation Administration.  “The United States government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat,” the agency warned in a recent notice to pilots. 

Back on the fifth floor, a metal plaque mounted on an exterior wall lays out the stipulations of the POPs agreement, namely that this “public garden” is to have nine large trees, four small trees, 148 seats, including 84 moveable chairs, and 21 tables.  None of the trees looked particularly large.  By my count the terrace was also missing three tables -- a type available online starting at $42.99 -- and about 20 chairs, though some were stacked out of view and, of course, just two were needed at the moment since Mr. Tactical Gear remained standing, a short distance away, the whole time.

This tiny secluded park seemed a world away from the circus below, the snarl of barricades outside the building, the tourists taking selfies with the big brassy “Trump Tower” sign in the background, and the heavily armed counterterror cops standing guard near the revolving door entrance.

I remarked on this massive NYPD presence on the streets. “It’s their city,” Joe replied and quickly changed topics, asking, “So business is good?”

“No, business is not too good. I should have picked a different profession,” I responded and asked if the Secret Service was hiring. Joe told me they were and explained what they looked for in an agent: a clean record, college degree, “law experience.” It made me reflect upon the not-so-clean record of that agency in the Obama years, a period during which its agents were repeatedly cited for gaffes, as when a fence-jumper made it all the way to the East Room of the White House, and outrageous behavior, including a prostitution scandal involving agents preparing the way for a presidential visit to Colombia. 

“What did you do before the Secret Service?” I inquired. Joe told me that he’d been a cop. At that point, he gave his black-clad compatriot the high sign and the younger man left the garden. 

“See, I’m no threat,” I assured him. Joe nodded and said he now understood the allure of the tiny park. Sensing that he was eager to end the interrogation I had turned on its head, I began peppering him with another round of questions. 

Instead of answering, he said, “Yeah, so anyway, Nick, I’ll leave you here,” and then offered me a piece of parting advice -- perhaps one that no Secret Service agent protecting a past president-elect has ever had occasion to utter, perhaps one that suggests he’s on the same wavelength as the incoming commander-in-chief, a man with a penchant for ogling women (to say nothing of bragging about sexually assaulting them). “You should come downstairs,” Joe advised, his eyes widening, a large grin spreading across his face as his voice grew animated for the first time. “There was a lady in a bikini with a painted body!”

Joe walked off and, just like that, I was alone again, listening to the dull hum of the HVAC, seated in the dying light of the late afternoon.  A short time later, on my way out of the park, I passed the Secret Service agent in tactical gear. “I think you’re the one that found the most entertainment out here all day,” he said, clearly trying to make sense of why anyone would spend his time sitting in an empty park, scribbling in a notebook. I mentioned something about sketching out the scene, but more than that, I was attempting to soak in the atmosphere, capture a feeling, grapple with the uncertain future taking shape on the chaotic avenue below and high above our heads in Manhattan’s very own gilt White House.  I was seeking a preview, you might say, of Donald Trump’s America.    

Descending the switchback escalators, I found myself gazing at the lobby where a scrum of reporters stood waiting for golden elevator doors to open, potentially disgorging a Trump family member or some other person hoping to serve at the pleasure of the next president. Behind me water cascaded several stories down a pink marble wall, an overblown monument to a bygone age of excess.  Ahead of me, glass cases filled with Trump/Pence 2016 T-shirts, colognes with the monikers “Empire” and “Success,” the iconic red “Make America Great Again” one-size-fits-all baseball cap, stuffed animals, and other tchotchkes stood next to an overflowing gilded garbage can.  Heading for the door, I thought about all of this and Joe and his commando-chic colleague and Trump’s deserted private-public park, and the army of cops, the metal barricades, and the circus that awaited me on the street.  I felt I’d truly been given some hint of the future, a whisper of what awaits. I also felt certain I’d be returning to Trump Tower -- and soon.

(Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, … where this piece was first posted … a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa recently received an American Book Award. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is 


STANDING ROCK STAND-OFF-(Editor’s Note: This is a update on Jennifer Caldwell’s earlier CityWatch article, “Thanksgiving 2016: The Worst in Seven Generation”.)In a remote, windswept corner of North Dakota, a seven-month standoff continues without an end in sight. Thirty miles south of Bismarck, where eroded buttes rise from grassland and corn fields, the Oceti Sakowin camp appears along the winding girth of the Missouri River. Here, a story of protection, protest and cultural conflict unfolds against the desolate prairie. 

At issue is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL); an “energy transfer” project that would pipe approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken Oil Fields through South Dakota and Iowa, to refining facilities in Illinois. The pipeline is a 1,172 mile, 30-inch artery that is touted by its progenitor, Energy Transfer Partners, as necessary to transport light sweet crude in a “more direct, cost-effective, safer and responsible manner.” 

At the juncture of the Missouri River and Fort Yates, along the northeastern edge of the Lakota Sioux Standing Rock Reservation, the project slowly churns its way toward a hotly disputed patch of land. Several hundred yards north of the camp, a lone bridge has come to define the front line of this conflict. On one side, the West Dakota SWAT Team stands watch over the DAPL’s border. On the other, two young Lakota men are charged with maintaining order among the camp’s curious and defiant. In between rest the carcasses of burned-out trucks, which several tribal “water protectors” torched in response to the past few days of skirmishes that had culminated in a volley of tear gas and rubber-bullets. A concrete barrier topped with barbed wire and decorated with vulgar graffiti exemplifies the air of tension. 

The stand-off has given way to violence and threats of violence, here and well beyond the borders of the Standing Rock Reservation. While law enforcement and the water protectors engage in a guarded choreography, fear strikes in the vulnerable hamlets that dot the plains. Across the prairie, the pipeline dispute has resurrected age-old enmity between the native peoples and those they perceive to have permanently occupied the territory of native birthright. 

Normally, by mid-November the ground here would be frozen with knee-deep drifts of Midwest snow. Today, however, the temperature will rise into the mid-60s with almost balmy comfort. 

“This is what I call the upside of global warming,” jokes Ken Many Wounds. “Or, perhaps Great Spirit is looking out for us.” A member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux, Ken is an organizer and the camp’s communications director. His authority is confirmed by the company he keeps with the core leaders of the action. Ken is an imposing figure. He has rugged features and strides with a cowboy’s gait as his long wiry ponytail flows from beneath a baseball cap. Ken bristles at the term “protesters” and admonishes that those opposing the DAPL are “water protectors.” 

Versed in the complex history of Sioux land disputes, Ken explains the intricacies of treaties, land grabs and the exceptions within exceptions that have chipped away at the territory of the Sioux Nation for over 150 years. “Where we stand is Sioux land, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851,” he says, adding that the subsequent Sioux Treaty of 1868, which the Sioux allege to have never been properly ratified, illegally redefined the borders of Sioux territory. At best, the state of ownership and land rights is nothing short of confused. 

Indians and non-Indians mill around nearby, executing various tasks in the maintenance of the protest camp’s daily life. The aroma of wood fires and beef stewing in cast iron kettles fills the air. The setting sun casts a shadowy skyline of tents, tepees and converted buses, all gathered to push back at the slow, oncoming creep of the pipeline. The camp ebbs and flows in population, retaining about 6,000 inhabitants, and pushing hundreds of yards to the swampy tributaries flowing into the Missouri. 

In the distance, a drilling pad pushes closer to the river with the ultimate goal of tunneling beneath it. In the process, the excavation will cut through burial grounds. Distrust of the project has intensified over allegations that non-Indian archaeologists from the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office have been exclusively charged with identifying native graves. Equally, there is concern as to what will occur should the pipeline breach below the Missouri’s pristine waters. 

On these two issues, there is an odd chorus of consensus bridging what is otherwise a de facto apartheid in this small corner of the world. On and off the reservation, the welfare of the Missouri River provokes ready conversation. 

“We don’t want that pipeline coming through here,” explains a woman named Terrie in Mandan, a town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants just west of Bismarck and 30 miles north of the standing Rock Reservation. Her youthful face softens as her distrust of me thaws. “If that pipeline ruptures, it will be the end of the Missouri. That’s going to affect millions of people down-river.” 

But, just as quickly as Terrie is to condemn the pipeline, her teenage daughter shows me photos of vandalism in the nearby veteran’s graveyard. The agitated teen exclaims, “Look! Look at this. These pipeline protesters went and put a Tonka truck in the veteran’s graveyard with a sign that says ‘Let’s start drilling here’!” 

Terrie is angry. “Leave our veterans alone,” she says. “Why would you desecrate their graves? They have nothing to do with this.” 

It’s hard not to be taken in by the women’s congenial earthiness. On the other hand, the irony of their sensitivity to a distasteful prank, and the simultaneous indifference to the impact on Native American burial grounds, is inescapable. Here, the contempt for Native Americans is palpable and ubiquitous. “They get handouts and they are taken care of by the government,” Terrie adds. “They don’t have to work for any of it.” 

As much as there is division between races, there is also dissent within. Earlier in the day, a group from Standing Rock led a march to Mandan’s municipal offices. Working on a theme of forgiveness, love and peace, the group prayed for a cleansing of what they claim are the hatred and offenses of both sides of the conflict that occurred in the preceding weeks. Those actions led to the arrest and detention of Lakota Sioux who continued to languish in the Morton County Correctional Center in Mandan. 

The march was in stark contrast to the more extreme “direct action” principles undertaken by elements within the camp. In silence, the demonstrators encircled the jail and courthouse and pleaded for the release of their brethren. It was a display of the diverse beliefs and tactics emerging from the reservation; the hawks and the doves form a division so easily overlooked on the erroneous assumption of a monolithic Lakota Sioux culture and a unified stance in the face of adversity. 

On my way back to Standing Rock, I stop at Rusty’s Saloon in St. Anthony, a village half way between Mandan and the reservation. It is a clean and orderly establishment constructed as a lodge, and decorated with “taxidermied” wildlife. The place is awash in camos and blaze orange as hunters gather for lunch. I take a seat alongside a regular who eyes me with suspicion. Lori, the barmaid, senses my apprehension and relaxes the atmosphere with some easy talk. I oblige and the conversation soon deepens. 

Before long, she voices concern about threats to local farmers, the killing of livestock and a plethora of fires and vandalism alleged to have been perpetrated by Indians. According to Lori, the acts are the product of a native reawakening of land rights and a history of intrusion. “Our children had to have an armed escort to school because of the threats over this pipeline,” Lori adds. “People here are just plain scared.” 

These and other conversations reveal that, while there is agreement as to issues between those on and off the reservation, opinions are very much in cadence with peer allegiances and along the cultural divide. 

The dialogue of race is different here. In contrast to the low rumble of urban settings, race-based hatred in rural North Dakota is immediately explosive. The conversations with non-Indians are rife with animus toward Indians and outsiders. Likewise, the indigenous population, on and off the reservation, offers little more warmth. There is a noticeable lack of eye contact with non-Indians and the almost obligatory dirty looks cast at the “was’ichu,” (the somewhat derogatory Lakota word for “white” and non-Indian). The culture is understandably steeped in historic distrust. 

Back at the camp, three young people bide their time waiting for a march to the front lines. Today, the Standing Rock Youth Council will take an offering to those manning the SWAT vehicles. The Youth Council is a contingent of the reservation’s younger generation that is guided by the mantra of “removing the invisible barriers that prevent our native youth from succeeding.” They are steadfast in support of the water protection action. Today, they will push to the front lines in peaceful offering to the men bearing arms and armor just beyond the barbed wire. 

I am confronted by the stoicism of two visiting tribal members from Michigan, and of Maria, a young woman affiliated with several North Dakota tribes. “This is not a conflict zone,” Maria explains. “It’s not a war zone. We don’t want it to be seen that way.” 

Maria is correct. While tear gas and rubber bullets have been unleashed in the course of the DAPL conflict, the people of Standing Rock show no interest in having their actions seen as being at war with the outside world. This erroneous characterization, spawned by the mainstream media, has drawn an array of characters to Standing Rock — Indian and non-Indian, each seeking to make the action their own. I find myself having to fight my way through throngs of posers and protesters to get to the core Native American water protectors who are truly sincere in their actions. 

Likewise, within the Indian community, as in any community, I discover a great variance of identity and adherence to the mores of Indian culture. Maria points to her companion, “Me Shet Nagle,” a visiting member of the Blackfeet Nation, and chides, “He doesn’t even know what his name means! For all he knows, he could be named after a sock!” 

Me Shet Nagle meets Maria’s playful contempt with a sheepish grin. I jokingly assure that they will be portrayed in the most stereotypical manner possible. They get the humor. We all get it; the revelation of the Native American as a diverse culture with all of the beauty, humor, internal conflict and struggle for identity as any other. 

Tension builds as the time to march draws near. Dozens of water protectors assemble across the bridge from the barricade. Members of the SWAT team can be seen readying themselves in the distance. The bridge is disputed territory. Leaders from the Youth Council cradle a sacred pipe and carry an offering of the life-giving water that is threatened by the DAPL. In silence, dozens march on toward the front line. 

Within yards of the barricade, the council motions for all marchers to be seated. People pray. Some look woefully onward, expecting plumes of tear gas. Cameras click away over the crowd. Among this throng, a young woman carries an infant wrapped in a thick wool blanket. The group is completely vulnerable. I glance over the edge of the bridge and quickly calculate a two-story drop to the freezing water of unknown depth. If things went as they have before, pandemonium could break out with any incoming projectiles. 

The leaders of the Youth Council disappear behind the burned-out trucks. A number of heavily armored police and military appear from behind the barricade to take stock of the crowd. They peer from behind dark goggles beneath Kevlar helmets, adorned in heavy flak vests, with weapons slung at the ready. 

The moments linger. 

Finally, the Youth Council members emerge. They slowly walk to the crowd and command that everyone rise and move forward. In unified mass movement, the marchers close another 10 yards toward the barricade and the tension heightens. The council leaders sternly motion directions and, again, everyone is seated. The marchers are entirely under the Youth Council’s control. 

“We offered them water,” one leader reports as he raise a mason jar. “They would not drink from it!” A murmur spreads across the crowd. “However,” the leader continues, “they prayed with us.” His words are slow and punctuated with the tension of the moment. “We prayed together and, while they would not drink the water, the men did accept our water and rubbed it about their uniforms in a showing of respect and solidarity.” 

After a long pause, a Lakota woman seated before me raises a rattle in the air and shakes it with a cry of approval. One by one, hands rise and a cheer of praise breaks the quiet. The armed troops’ act of personal solidarity and sensitivity was all they asked for. In modest triumph, the marchers make their way back across the bridge in humble silence and with a renewed hope. 

In the distance, the machines churn on. 

Recently, North Dakota law enforcement authorities, reacting to what they labeled a riot, turned a water cannon on hundreds of protesters and Indian “water protectors” opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL). Tony Zinnanti’s story describes life on and around the Standing Rock Reservation in the days leading up to the assault on the protest encampment.


(Tony Zinnanti is a lawyer, freelance journalist and photographer from Los Angeles. His legal work has included defense of activists John Quigley and Ted Hayes, and representation of members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. This piece first appeared in Capital and Main. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--I came out as bisexual to more than 43,300 people last year in a Daily Bruin column. But my parents weren’t among them. 

It may be 2016, but it can still be risky for someone to publicly identify as LGBTQ, undocumented or as part of any other marginalized group. And the holidays may be especially difficult for closeted individuals. Even someone who is out to her siblings, but not her parents or the other adults in her life, like me, can struggle.

My internal monologue is always running at family gatherings. I am constantly eyeing everyone in suspicion and worrying that someone might expose my identity. And it doesn’t help that the holidays are painted as a time when families lovingly gather in peace and harmony.

Despite coming out to the UCLA community and receiving support on campus, it is difficult to translate that same support at home. UCLA is a progressive bubble. It is not reflective of the rest of the world, and certainly not reflective of my family.

But it’s precisely this difference in thought we students have to embrace and face. Simply dismissing the other side inflames tensions. And what better time to reach out than the holidays? This is the one time of the year when you are with family and everyone is taking a break from the daily responsibilities of school and work.

This month’s events have brought to the forefront issues of racism, sexism and homophobia that have been quietly simmering. They inflame the hurt of being rejected or only partly tolerated rather than fully accepted by my family. But while we are able to create our own online echo chambers free of triggering ideas from the other side, unfriending your racist and homophobic uncle on Facebook is not likely to keep him away from the Thanksgiving dinner table back home.

Since the first time my tongue slipped and called UCLA “home,” I realized the stark contrast between the definition of the word and the place it represents. Home is a feeling of comfort and acceptance, whereas being home may not elicit those same emotions.

I, like many first-generation students of color, grew up in a pivotal position for an immigrant family. My parents grew up on small ranches in Mexico. They raised cattle and chickens and grew corn to make bread and tortillas. Their life was simplified to homemaking and cleaning for the women, and yard and paid labor work for the men until they each met a partner to have their own children with. This lifestyle they grew up with did not leave much room for experimenting alternative lifestyles, let alone deviating from the patriarchal and heteronormative culture.

My parents never studied past sixth grade. They never went to a university to learn about the things they do not know and they did not have the opportunity to socialize with the diverse set of individuals that colleges bring together. But with the growing visibility of the LGBTQ community, they engage the only way they can: making homophobic jokes – sometimes in front of me.

But this difference in viewpoints is natural. I have met many diverse people, heard from a wide array of speakers and read books that my parents have not. I, like every other Bruin, have been exposed to these differences in thought and have had the had the chance to analyze both sides of the ideological spectrum in a classroom setting. But my parents – and many other students’ – aren’t currently participating in these kinds of discussions, so it’s expected we diverge in opinion.

UCLA is a world all its own, but very few will call it home forever. As students of the country’s most applied-to university, we are put on a pedestal as examples of progressive citizens. And despite how diverse a picture UCLA paints on its brochures, the real test begins the moment you leave campus. The college bubble will eventually give way to the real world full of differing opinions – good and bad – and we need to confront and accept these differences if we are to pay homage to our education.

Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you’ll meet other people with different opinions from yours. And when you graduate, you will continue to be tested on what you have learned at one of the top public universities in the world.

For me, not confronting ideological disagreement with family members would cause them to reject me and my identity. And it’s no surprise that in return, I would reject them, despite my familial ties and everything I learned at UCLA about being a leader. You cannot reject your family during the holidays because of different viewpoints because your family ties and environment are likely to bring you together.

Confrontation does not burn bridges, avoiding it does.

Moral and social progress is not linear or inevitable. It is difficult and daunting. You cannot, and should not, reject those with whom you disagree.

So open up, listen and agree to disagree. ‘Tis the season for family and love, after all.

(Jasmine Aquino posts at The Daily Bruin … where this perspective was first published.)


@THE GUSS REPORT-In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross created a framework of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While her book was essentially about grieving the loss of human life, it could also apply to the loss of a marriage, a pet or even an election. 

Denial was exemplified by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Pode