Tue, May

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.

Cut Out the Middlemen: Single Payer Means Healthcare for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demand Medicare for All NOW.


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

Is This Really the Best We Can Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Memo to President Trump: Ditch the Freedom Caucus, Embrace the Middle

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

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

The Tea Baggers have turned Congress into a Parliament 

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

Extremism in Governance is a Vice 

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

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

Syria Provides the Perfect Time 

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

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

Trump, Democrat or GOP? 

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

Trump Still Has His Demons 

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

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

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

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

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


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

This Just In: Corporate Media’s Syria Coverage was ‘Atrocious’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Javanka Orders the Hit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Kruse: Did you just say “Javanka”?  

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

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

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


Free College for Everyone … If Congresswoman Gets Her Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not rocket science. 

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

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

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

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

This bill creates a new normal. 

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

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

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

The stories I have heard from my constituents are horrifying. 

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

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

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


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


‘The Renegades are Coming!’ … When ‘R’ Doesn’t Stand for Republican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why Cops Shoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And simply bad practice. 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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