Tampering: White House Putting Thumbs On the Trump-Russia Investigation Scale

TRUMP WATCH--Dana Boente was just named by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as the acting assistant Attorney General for the national security division, which will give him oversight of the FBI’s investigation into coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

But in January, as he was leaving office, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that specifically took Boente, who is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, out of the line of succession for Attorney General. There was no explanation given for the change, but the order meant that if the Attorney General died, resigned, or became incapacitated, Boente would not be in line to be the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

After acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Donald Trump, after she said his Muslim ban was in violation of the law, Trump put Boente in that top job, which he held until the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as AG. Reversing Yates’ position, Boente said, he would demand that DOJ lawyers “defend the lawful orders of our President.”

Apparently our federal law enforcement professionals don't think foreign meddling in our election campaigns is worth worrying about much. They figure whomever these foreign actors choose for us will be fine, probably better than anyone a bunch of a lily-livered liberals and blacks and browns would pick anyway. Look at the winner they picked this time! He's awesome.

Update: This too 

Marc T. Short, the White House director for Legislative Affairs, is leading the Trump administration’s obstruction of the congressional inquiry into Michael Flynn and Russia. Short is also a major player in Vice President Mike Pence’s political operation, and further connects Pence to the Flynn scandal.

As previously reported, Pence was in charge of the Trump transition team, which ostensibly included vetting Donald Trump’s appointments to his White House. Pence received information detailing Flynn’s status as a lobbyist for a foreign government, but later denied knowledge of the entire affair, claiming Flynn had lied to him. That claim led to Flynn’s removal from the position of national security adviser.

But a recent report from NBC News reveals that Pence did conduct a background check, albeit “very casually,” and was aware of Flynn’s connections to foreign governments, which the Trump team apparently ignored in order to appoint Flynn anyway.

The House Oversight Committee is seeking documents related to this process, but the White House is actively obstructing that investigation. Short authored the April 19 letter to the committee, refusing to turn over the requested documents about what the Trump team knew about Flynn and payments he received from the Russian government for an appearance at an event that was followed by dinner with Vladimir Putin.

In the letter, Short said it was “unclear” how the documents requested “would be relevant” to the inquiry. Both Democrats and Republicans have indicated that they view Flynn’s actions as potentially criminal, as he received guidance from the Department of Defense that taking money from Russia as a former military officer could break the law.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the oversight committee, said if Flynn took the money, “it was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law.” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee, said the payments to Flynn “are extremely troubling.”


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


Why Protests Matter

RETROSPECTIVE--The protests following President Donald Trump’s inauguration and recent protests calling for the president to release his tax returns have this in common: his the-rules-don’t-apply-to-me behavior is a presidential style rejected by both our tyranny-fearing founding fathers and the majority of voters in last November’s election. 

To guard against an autocrat in the White House, our ancestors in 1787 replaced the political power once held by sovereign monarchs in Europe with a popular sovereign, placing the nation’s political power, collectively, in the hands of the people. 

With this power shift, each American now shares responsibility for the manner in which political power is wielded and a civic obligation to challenge abuse of power in Washington. 

Historically, engaged Americans have aimed their anger against major close-to-home issues, not anti-democracy presidents. Tax protests in the late 18th century were followed by abolition, woman’s suffrage and workplace conditions protests in the 19th century. 

Citizen activism took off in the 1800s, so much so, that some observers warned that the spread of popular sovereignty fever was endangering democracy itself.  

By the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous, Democracy in America, wrote, “In America the principle of the sovereignty of the people is neither barren nor concealed, as it is with some other nations….If there is a country in the world where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be fairly appreciated….and where its dangers and its advantages may be judged, that country is assuredly America…[where] the people reign in the American political world as the

Deity does in the universe.” 

But Tocqueville also tempers this glowing account by pointing out some dangers associated with America’s rush toward mass democracy.

“It is a constant fact that at the present day the ablest men in the United States are rarely placed at the head of affairs…I hold it to be sufficiently demonstrated that universal suffrage is by no means a guarantee of the wisdom of the popular choice. Whatever its advantages may be, this is not one of them.” 

Fifty years later, Princeton University professor Woodrow Wilson sized-up the hectic late 19th century period of social and political change by declaring that government by the people was not working, that an elite public workforce was needed to make democracy work. 

“There is,” he wrote, “scarcely a single duty of government which was once simple which is not now complex; government once had but a few masters; it now has scores of masters.” He declared none other than the founding principle of popular sovereignty of the people was standing in the way of a more efficient government.

“The very fact that we have realized popular rule in its fullness has made the task of organizing that rule just so much more difficult…An individual sovereign will adopt a simple plan and carry it out directly…But this other sovereign, the people, will have a score of differing opinions.”

The protests matter because they are a reminder that with the election of Mr. Trump we are once again, as a nation, engaged in a tug-of-war between autocratic efficiency and popular government.

Efficiency has never been the foremost goal of our democratic government. Rather, democracy is designed to be responsive to the values and traditions near and dear to liberty loving citizens. Public officials who do not understand the difference do not understand democracy. 

And, because it is a dangerous step toward tyranny, the office of the president is no place for an autocrat.


(Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., is the author of a new book, America, Democracy & YOU: Where have all the Citizens Gone? He can be reached at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Keep Truth Alive

THE COHEN COLUMN--Back in his college days George W. Bush was infamous for denying he'd said what he just said 30 seconds earlier. Lately, Trump has repeatedly claimed he never promised he'd do in 100 days all the things he put in his 100 day "contract" as a candidate.

It is interesting, given his history of breaching contracts, that Donald Trump would call his campaign promises a contract.

This is not the first time that a Republican candidate has offered America a contract, framed just that way. In 1994, the Republicans took back Congress behind such pledging by Newt Gingrich, but at least they actually tried to pass the legislation they promised they would bring to a vote.

BTW: That legislation was their undoing when voters booted them out in the next bout of Congressional elections. After which Newt resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives. If only Trump would act so.

Trump hasn't even bothered to introduce most of what he promised. He did not have idea one about how to draft a "great" health care bill. And even now it is not clear how the Republicans in congress, who also campaigned on a health care repeal promise, are going to get it together to pass anything.

It’s like his campaign promises? What campaign promises?

What will he tell us he never said next?

What's a contract with Donald J. Trump worth? Not much if you ask the guy who sold him pianos for his casino, who Trump then refused to pay, along with innumerable other contractors he stiffed on his way to four bankruptcies. He has even espoused this as a smart business strategy, breach your contracts and force people to sue you.

This brings us to the so-called wall. You remember the wall … the one Mexico was going to pay for? Now Trump wants Congress to pay for it. They won't, even though Trump said he wouldn’t sign a budget unless it was included. Now it's "Mexico will pay us BACK." Sure they will. Maybe we can sue them for the money.

BTW Read how Trump’s lone border visit foreshadowed his flawed vision for a wall and [spoiler alert] how afraid he actually was.

Trump said he would fight for his supporters. Trump is not even willing to go to the wall (so to speak) for his own boondoggle folly of a wall.

He promised them a big, beautiful wall. But at most all they may end up with is a fence, like what we ALREADY have on at least 1/3 of our 2000 mile southern border.

The reason we go on like this is because someone needs to keep truth alive out here.

Somebody needs to keep calling him out on his relentless output of bigger and bigger lies.

Somebody needs to constantly be setting the record straight and asking 'who's the real fake here?'

The news media is starting to seriously editorialize instead of just repeating his lies as if they could be taken at face value,

Be one of those voices calling Trump out for his lies.

Keep truth alive. And somehow we'll all make it through this.


(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.)


The Worst Presidential 100 Days Ever

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-#45 Trump got one thing right about the media-hyped first 100 days measuring stick of a new president. It’s a silly measure. In fact, presidents from John F. Kennedy to Obama have derided the 100-day fetish and correctly noted that the far better to gauge how effective or bumbling an incoming president is the first 1000 days. A quick look at the presidency of Clinton and Bush is enough to prove that. Clinton bombed badly in pushing Congress for a $16 billion stimulus package; he bungled the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, and got the first flack on his healthcare reform plan. Yet, the Clinton presidency is regarded as one of the most successful, popular and enduring in modern times. 

Then there’s the Bush presidency. He got off to a fast start. At the 100-day mark in April 2001, his approval ratings matched Obama’s. He was widely applauded for his trillion-dollar tax cutting program, his “Faith-Based” and disabled Americans Initiatives, and for talking up education, healthcare reform and slashing the national debt. But aside from the momentary adulation he got after the 9/11 terror attack his presidency is rated as one of the worst in modern times. 

But while Trump, like Kennedy and Obama, got it right in ridiculing the 100-day time span as being way too short to call a new presidential administration a success or failure, it’s not too short a period to call his White House stint the worst 100 days ever. It’s not his consistent bottom wallowing popularity rating that tags his administration the worst first time start ever. It’s not even his record of non-accomplishment which amounts to a slew of inconsequential executive orders that mostly attempt to torpedo some of Obama’s executive orders, and his disastrous, court-derailed Muslim immigrant ban. It’s the utter lack of any hint that things will get any better during his next 100, or even 1000 days in the White House. 

The tip offs of his future cluelessness are everywhere. He’s the least politically equipped winning presidential candidate to ever sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. Now that was the great asset that got him elected since so many Americans were supposedly so fed up with the insular, corrupt, deal making, corporate dominated, politics of Beltway Washington. Trump was supposedly the remedy for that. This delusion should have been shattered with the parade of Goldman Sachs tied, Pentagon connected generals, and Trump corporate cronies that he plopped into his cabinet and top staff positions. This could only mean one thing, the corporate and political regulars that Trump pretended to sneer at would do what they always do and that’s run the government show for him, as they have for other GOP presidents. 

The flop on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the polarizing vote on his Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch did two seemingly impossible things. It turned off legions of hard right GOP House conservatives and moderate Senate Democrats who had made some soundings about trying to work out an accommodation with Trump on some legislative and policy issues. The future here is going to be one of never-ending, time consuming, get nothing done rancor and in-fighting between Trump and Congress. 

The Russia election meddling scandal, Trump’s refusal to disclose his taxes, and his dubious conflict of interest business dealings insure that the screams for congressional investigations will only get louder in the days and months to come. This will continue to keep the tens of millions who want Trump bounced from office revved up. They’ll continue to turn up at GOP and Democratic congresspersons town halls and shout them down on any defense they try to make of Trump’s policies and actions. 

Trump’s weak defense against prolonged and guaranteed failure is to toss a few missiles or drop a bomb every now and then or saber rattle the usual suspect villains, ISIS, Assad, the Taliban, and the North Koreans. The media will run with this for a time, and some commentators who should know better will even call his acts forceful and presidential. This will wipe his political and legislative flops off the front page for a day or so, and give him a point or two bump up in the polls. But even here, he can only go to the well so often with the military tough guy act before this starts to wear thin, and some begin to catch on to his wag the dog game. 

The 1000-day mark that Obama, Kennedy and other presidents cited as the more realistic time frame is not an arbitrary number. That marks the near end of a president’s first White House term. The honeymoon is over, and the president has fought major battles over his policies, initiatives, executive orders, court appointments and programs with Congress, the courts, interest groups and the media. Battles that by then have been won or lost, or fought to a draw, and there’s enough time to gauge their impact and the president’s effectiveness. In Trump’s case, it won’t matter. His first 1000 days will be like his first 100, the worst presidency ever.


(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and CityWatch contributor. He is the author of the new ebook How the Democrats Can Win in The Trump Era (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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!

CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY FANS … TAKE HEED--Appointed February 13 by ousted “Love Gov” and misdemeanant Robert Bentley, Alabama’s Attorney General (AG) Steven Marshall is new on the job. 

This could, in theory, be one reason AG Marshall is taking to Twitter, Facebook, and Alabama’s news media to drum up support for the so-called “Fair Justice Act.” He promises the proposed law will speed the state’s executions by hacksawing the amount of time already overwhelmed and underfunded death penalty attorneys have to effectively represent their clients. 

Vociferous in his support of the “Fair Justice Act” – a bill there’s nothing fair about  – it’s notable and unacceptable that AG Marshall has yet to make any public statement explaining the horrible circumstances of Alabama’s last execution – the horrendously botched execution of Ronald Bert Smith on December 8, 2016; Mr. Smith endured a thirteen-minute death-rattle as lethal injection chemicals ravaged his insides – when he was supposed to be unconscious – heaving, coughing, clenching his fists, moving his lips, and opening his left eye. 

Smith’s grisly torture followed Alabama’s January 2016 execution of Christopher Brooks, an execution where questions remain whether, like Smith’s patently brutal and violent poisoning, Brooks too was not properly anesthetized and then burned alive from the inside with caustic chemicals. Other than opaque and blanket denials in court filings, AG Marshall has thus far adopted the same officious silence on the possibility Alabama tortured Brooks to death – just as it did Smith. 

Conscientious Alabamians can’t let AG Marshall get away with it. 

Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians who want to ameliorate Alabama’s long, dark history of capital punishment – and its reputation around the world for human and civil rights abuses – must demand AG Marshall investigate and publicly address the circumstances of both Smith and Brooks’ deaths. 

Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians should harangue AG Marshall and the Fair Justice Act’s legislative sponsor, state senator Cam Ward, to answer: Why are you pushing a poorly drafted, unstudied, confusing new death penalty law to speed up executions? Why are you doing it right now – when all available evidence shows the last two executions in Alabama went horribly wrong? 

Moreover, although the current version of the bill under consideration by the House of Representatives provides a meager 365 days (provided for by current law) instead of the disastrous proposal of chopping it to 180 days for the filing of postconviction motions – the shortened time period the bill would impose is still way too short for even the best, most committed, most hard-working lawyers to effectively investigate and litigate motions for death-sentenced clients in Alabama. 

That’s because of yet another one of the Fair Justice Acts’ proposed time-accelerators for the filing of these complex Last Chance Not to Be Executed (Tortured) Despite Your Constitutional Rights Having Been Violated-type motions – motions advancing claims of juror misconduct or that the defense lawyer was a train wreck – not infrequent occurrences in capital cases in Alabama. 

This additional cockamamie time-accelerator in The Fair Justice Act was deconstructed at the end of last week in a cogent op-ed by Birmingham attorney, Lisa Borden.  Borden writes how the bill “would require persons convicted of capital offenses to pursue post-conviction legal claims at the same time the direct appeals from their convictions are being considered.” 

Mincing no words, Borden waves the red flag of warning at all folks who care about the Constitution and preventing injustice in Alabama, opining that this “proposal is neither fair nor just, and [it] will only increase the already substantial likelihood that Alabama will execute a wrongfully convicted person . . . . [It] take[s] a long time to untangle the convoluted mess that is created by Alabama’s haphazard rush to send poor people to their deaths.”       

Conscientious Alabamians concerned that, like Ray Hinton, freed after a hellacious thirty years on Alabama’s death row proclaiming his innocence, additional innocents might be unjustly thrust towards terrible and inhumane deaths – without an adequate chance to prove their innocence and/or that their constitutional rights were violated – you need to speak up. You need to speak up now! 

Demand that instead of potentially innocent, unfairly convicted poor Alabamians, that it be this unprincipled, unconstitutional, blood-thirsty Fair Justice Act that’s killed. 

And killed fast.


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

The Next Mid-Term Election Is Already In Progress

THE COHEN COLUMN-The 2018 mid-term elections are in full swing, happening right now. Every word you hear coming out of the mouth of every politician is spoken with that in mind. And it's not just about that special election on April 18 in Georgia where a Democrat was the top vote getter, though falling just short of 50% necessary for an outright win. The next highest candidate in that race came in a distant second with about 20% of the vote. A runoff in June will follow with this Republican opponent. (Ossoff pictured above campaigning.)
What we need to know from you is this: What should we be doing right now that we may not be doing to take our government back from the hands of the arrogant, the greedy, the mean spirited, the dishonest, and the incompetent?

Talk to us.

In Great Britain, nearly 1.9 million people have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of Trump's state visit to their country. Maybe they got turned off by his demand to ride in a gold plated carriage. Seriously, that's what he wanted, although he denied it through his press mouthpiece. 

In our wildest dreams could we ever imagine that in our country this many people would speak out about something – anything? And our population is way bigger than Great Britain’s. 

So let Trump eat his own beautiful piece of chocolate cake. But I am still stumped about something: Is there a cure for apathy and disconnectedness?

Trump says again and again that the election is over. But he should not be able to keep the ball and just sit in the White House for the next 8 years doing meaningless photo-op executive order signings.

He can't even be honest about the fact that he's still campaigning, including in the ongoing State of Georgia Congressional contest. In fact, campaigning is about all he's doing in office. He's still spewing the same spelling-challenged tweets attacking everyone else and even doing some of the same rah-rah rallies.

Just today the President was talking about the great healthcare bill he's going to pass real soon, the same campaign "promise" he's made all along. Nobody believes a word of it, let alone the Republicans who have all the votes they need to do this assuming they ever get on the same page – just like the Democrats in 2010.

Jimmy Kimmel did an instructive segment on Wednesday night. He asked Trump supporters on the street outside his studio if they would agree to have Charles Manson visit the White House to advise Trump on murder issues and be given a cabinet post for that purpose. 

It is truly breathtaking how far Republican partisans will go to make excuses and defend the indefensible by using ignorant reflex. No matter what Trump does they will never admit he is doing anything wrong.


(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.)

Will Trump Give America’s Science Lead to China?

INFORMED COMMENT-The marches for science in the United States and around the world are an expression of alarm about the Trump administration’s budget proposals, which slash public funding for science, medical and technology research and seek to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 billion. 

Federal funding for certain kinds of research is absolutely crucial. There are diseases, for instance, that private companies don’t see as a priority because they strike a small number of people or the cure for which is unlikely to produce big profits because most victims are poor and live in the global south. 

If you live in Florida or other semi-tropical parts of the U.S., and your family is expecting a child, you may be alarmed at the rise of the Zika virus. It is the National Institute of Health that is funding the search for a vaccine. Perhaps you remember the deep public concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Who is working on a vaccine? The U.S. government and Merck.  In the U.S. system, vaccine development is a government-private-public partnership: “Of the $1.4 billion that fund U.S. vaccine research and development annually, 46% comes from vaccine sales, 36% from taxpayers, and 18% from risk capital.” 

As for technology, entrepreneurs most often build on government-funding. Of a ten-mile journey toward innovation, 9 of the miles are often traversed by government-backed research, and the entrepreneurs come in for the last mile. Forbes admits, “the basic technologies that Apple AAPL -0.13% products are built on (and those of all tech firms), from the chips, to the Internet, to GPS, to the software protocols, were all supported or wholly developed by government programs.” 

Trump’s cuts will not only make us sick and retard the technological advances that make our lives more convenient, he will harm us in precisely the area he imagines himself to champion – U.S. competitiveness. 

You don’t compete with the rest of the world by giving an extra $54 billion to the military and deeply cutting research and development (R&D) funding. 

The National Science Foundation observes that China, South Korea and India are putting enormous government money into R&D, as well as investing in science education and the production of skilled science and engineering students. Trump, in contrast, gave away U.S. education to Betsy DeVos, who ruined Michigan K-12 education and wants Americans brought up in fundamentalist charter schools.  

The NSF writes, “Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology. According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent. 

China is already increasing its annual outlay far more than the United States, growing R&D spending nearly 20 percent a year every year from 2003 to 2013. That rate of increase far outstripped that of the U.S. in those years, and now Trump actually wants us to slash spending, while the Chinese go on investing in technological innovation.

The day when China outspends the U.S. on research and development annually is just around the corner, and Trump’s budget would bring it even more quickly. 

In some areas, China is nipping at our heels. The global share of the US in high-tech manufacturing? 29%. 

The global share of China in high-tech manufacturing? 27%! Almost half of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded every year in China are in Science and Engineering. 

In the U.S. it is only one third. 

While China and South Korea massively ramp up government R&D investments, the Tea Party Congress in the U.S. has been deeply cutting ours. 

“In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research”... “Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years… Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually -- ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP -- has not returned.” 

Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP. 

The world will not stand still while Trump walks the nation’s science and technology into mere clay.

In fact, if Trump gets his way on the science budget, my advice to Americans is to start studying Chinese. 

Ooops. Trump is cutting money for that, too.


(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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

What Happened to Russiagate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Washington Works 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russiagate’s Achievements 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Bill O’Reilly Gave Us Trump and Fake History … Here’s How

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Talking to Syrian Americans about Syria after Assad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tell Congress, Subpoena Trump's Tax Returns

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

suggesting the truth had been spoken.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Bizarre Scandal Created by the Most Reckless Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How Much Money Does the Government Have for Trump’s Wall?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Long before WikiLeaks there was Arthur Sulzberger and the NYT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tax Day Marchers Asking: What Is Trump Hiding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Americans want to know: What is Trump hiding? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the Outrage? Female Genital Mutilation Has NO Role in Our Society, or ANY Civilized Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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








King Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How Did America’s Skies Become So Unfriendly?

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

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

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

But he did receive priority deboarding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Top 10 Fantasy Tweets! United Airlines Twit CEO to Terrified United Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Want to Reunite America? Let Cities Govern Themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vive la difference!


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


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

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