Wed, Dec

War on Facts Sparks Scientists' March on Washington … Facebook Members Already at 300,000

DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE--The Trump-Pence administration's war on facts may have galvanized the next major demonstration in the nation's capital—the Scientists' March on Washington, which is as yet unscheduled but is garnering significant enthusiasm online.

Spurred by the new administration's stance on climate change, muzzling of scientists, and slashing of environmental regulations, the idea grew out of a Reddit thread started in the wake of Saturday's inspirational Women's March on Washington and global solidarity events.

As the Washington Post reports:

[S]omeone wrote, "There needs to be a Scientists' March on Washington."

"100%," someone replied. Dozens of others agreed.

One participant in the exchange, University of Texas Health Science Center postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Berman, took the conversation to heart. In short order, the march had a Facebook page (whose membership swelled from 200 people on Tuesday night to more than 150,000 by Wednesday at noon), a Twitter handle, a website, two co-chairs, Berman and science writer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg, and a Google form through which interested researchers could sign up to help.

Indeed, the Facebook group had swelled to nearly 300,000 members as of later Wednesday, and @ScienceMarchDC now has more than 50,000 followers. 

Organizers said Wednesday they would "soon be releasing our formal vision" (as well as a date for the march), but for now they summarized their mission thusly:

Although this will start with a march, we hope to use this as a starting point to take a stand for science in politics. Slashing funding and restricting scientists from communicating their findings (from tax-funded research!) with the public is absurd and cannot be allowed to stand as policy. This is a non-partisan issue that reaches far beyond people in the STEM fields and should concern anyone who values empirical research and science.

There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.

Indeed, Union of Concerned Scientists president Ken Kimmell said Wednesday in response to the latest crackdown on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in particular: "Demands to shut down informational websites and prevent the release of scientific findings are straight out of Orwell. We don't live in a world of 'alternative facts'—you can't delete climate change and you can't overrule the laws of physics by preventing scientists from talking about them."

"President Trump and his representatives in the EPA and other agencies are accountable to the public interest," Kimmell said, "and the scientific community will continue to expose and resist abuses like these."

"This is not a partisan issue," the March for Science team told Mashable by email. "Scientific research moves us forward."

On other pro-science fronts, the climate movement is planning a redux of the People's Climate March for April 29, and The Atlantic reported Wednesday that a newly formed group called 314 Action has been "created to support scientists in running for office." 

As 350.org noted in its call to action for the April 29 march, "Now more than ever, it will take everyone to change everything."

Keep up to date on the scientists' demonstration under the hashtag #ScienceMarch.

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams where this piece was first posted.)


‘Reality’ - The Biggest Loser in Trump World

AMERICAN CARNAGE-It has been said that the first casualty of war is truth. Certainly that’s the case in the fight between Donald Trump and reality. So far, reality appears to be losing.

In the realm of fiction, readers and viewers engage in a willing suspension of disbelief. They know human beings don’t have super powers, animals can’t talk, and magic is an illusion, but the ability to set aside this knowledge allows them to enjoy the story.

When most of us finish the book or leave the theater, we re-enter the world where truth and nonfiction are synonymous.

But, there are some who apply a suspension of disbelief to the real world. These folks range across a broad spectrum from the spiritual to the merely eccentric to the seriously deluded. Conspiracy theorists inhabit a particular niche of paranoia many of us find amusing. When the president of the United States engages in this behavior, it’s not funny anymore.

Trump and the Republican establishment apparently believe in, and practice, social and economic Darwinism. Regardless of where they start, individuals are expected to compete for everything. It is not government’s job to level the playing field.

The government’s job is to reward the winners and ignore the losers. That’s how a nation competes in the global arena—by putting its best team on the field. United States foreign policy is no longer concerned with peace and stability. America First means everyone else second.

Trump’s world is divided into winners and losers. If you are poor, sick, disabled, or not born in this country, you are a loser. And if you are Donald J. Trump, you cannot be a loser.

That’s what drives Trump to insist that more people attended his inauguration than any other in history and that he only lost the popular vote because millions of “illegals” broke the law and cast ballots for Hilary Clinton.

And the people who work for Trump repeat those lies. They pretend he’s a victim of the big, bad media. They complain that opponents are attempting to “delegitimize” Trump’s presidency. And, of course, those lies aren’t lies, they’re “alternative facts.”

Perhaps the most dangerous of alternative facts in Trump’s mind is that the law does not apply to the President. In fact, numerous rules regarding conflicts of interest and self-enrichment do bind our chief executive. But if he can get away with breaking those laws, why can’t he just ignore them all?

According to Trump, the world is a dark and scary place. The “carnage” wreaked on America by Obama can only be fixed by Trump. Americans have been losers and now he can make us winners. We just have to suspend our disbelief, buy the lies, and follow the leader.

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

Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck

THE POWER OF WORDS-Donald Trump bragged, via tweet, that he’s the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter. Unfortunately for us, the new president possesses neither the courage nor the self-control of Hemingway, winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature for writing unforgettably about bravery under fire. As the problems created by Trump-tweets pile up, the source of Trump's addiction to Twitter has become all too clear. Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, described it in words worthy of John Steinbeck: “Trump’s Twitter tantrums are a message of weakness.” 

When I read Trump’s recent Twitter attack on Congressman John Lewis, the venerated civil rights leader who, despite vivid memories and bloody images to the contrary, Trump had the temerity to write was “[a]ll talk, talk, talk – no action or results,” I was reminded of the lecture Toni Morrison gave when she won the Nobel Prize in 1993. Like the speeches of two previous Nobel Prize-winners, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck, her lecture extolled the power of language in explaining and validating human experience. “We die,” she observed. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 

Echoing George Orwell, Morrison warned that “the systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forego its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation.” Foreshadowing Donald Trump’s grade school twitter-burns, she described “language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind.” 

At her popular blog BrainPickings.org, Maria Popova praised Toni Morrison’s lecture as “perhaps our most powerful manifesto for the responsibility embedded in how we wield the tool that stands as the hallmark of our species.” I agree with this assessment, and with Morrison’s Orwell-like admonition. “Whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities,” she said, “it must be rejected, altered and exposed.” 

I also agree with Kyle Sammin, the lawyer and writer from Pennsylvania who advised Donald Trump to delete his Twitter account, quoting Calvin Coolidge: “[t]he words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.” As Toni Morrison noted, Abraham Lincoln provides an even better example of presidential brevity: “When a President of the United States thought about the graveyard his country had become, and said, ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. But it will never forget what they did here,’ his simple words are exhilarating in their life-sustaining properties because they refused to encapsulate the reality of 600, 000 dead men in a cataclysmic race war.” 

By the time Republicans convened in Cleveland last summer, I had already blogged that the Republican nominee for president was the antithesis of Abraham Lincoln. He’s no Coolidge either. Hell, he may not be as good as Dan Quayle, who at least had the sense to stop explaining when he misspelled “potato” at a Trenton, New Jersey elementary school during the 1992 campaign. As Arthur Delaney pointed out in a recent Huffington Post headline, “Donald Trump Can’t Stop Tweeting Mean Things About People.” America's new president is like a gambler on an all-night binge in Atlantic City, compulsively feeding nickel-and-dime tweets, retweets, and mentions into the slot-machine of his ego. 

Since he shows no sign of stopping, Trump would do well to follow the example of John Steinbeck, whose son Thom -- also a writer -- had this to say about the virtue of authorial self-control during a 2012 interview with Alexander Jaffee. “Ultimately,” he noted, “the greatest amount of time in all writing is spent editing. My father said there’s only one trick to writing, and that’s not writing, that’s writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Like sculpture. I mean, the first thing off the top of your head isn’t the most brilliant thing you ever thought of. And then when you’re writing about it, when you want others to understand what you’re still talking about, then it really requires that you edit yourself really, really well, so that other people can comprehend it.” 

Sadly, Donald Trump has a problem in this area that no amount of self-editing can fix. Describing John Steinbeck's honesty, Thom wrote: “[e]verything he wrote had truth to it. That’s what he was addicted to. He was addicted to the truth.” As demonstrated by Twitter attacks on true American heroes like John Lewis, Donald Trump has the opposite addiction.


(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq. This piece was written for Steinbeck Now. It is being published here with the author’s permission.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Thick Irony On All Sides of Anti-Trump Rallies

@THE GUSS REPORT-If the whole point of “Love Trumps Hate,” the slogan used throughout most of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency, is that love, inclusiveness and positivity are better than the divisive statements, particularly Tweets, of now-president Donald Trump, you wouldn’t know it by some of Saturday’s protests and related social media activities over the weekend. 

Saturday Night Live writer Katie Mary Rich, 33, wrote that 10-year old Barron Trump “will be this country’s first homeschool shooter,” taking a triple pot-shot at Trump’s youngest son, those who homeschool their children and school shootings. (Note: Trump’s son is not homeschooled, but attends a pricey private school in New York.) In the meantime, as ironic as it gets, the NY Times reports that Rich was suspended indefinitely from her SNL job for cyber-bullying Barron.   

Rich got a taste of her own cyberbullying medicine as a tidal wave of bad publicity called for her firing.   She subsequently put her Twitter account on private, then shut it down altogether, followed by shuttering all of her other social media accounts, as well as her website. Whether she stays employed by NBC Universal or ends up with a quiet development deal somewhere remains to be seen, but no protest leaders were heard calling for an apology or retraction, and none was offered by Rich. 

Pop singer Madonna, 58, who sings a familiar lyric of “respect yourself” while coming off a year in which she lost custody of her son, and had a string of other bizarre incidents, told throngs of protestors in Washington, D.C., that “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” Way to go on that peace and love thing, Madge.

Pollster Frank Luntz Tweeted that he was called a “fascist MFer” and had paint thrown on himself and a form of confetti thrown in his eyes, for sharing an observation about drunk protesters harassing guests at a local hotel, and the vulgarity of some protest signs. But Luntz may have overlooked his own irony when he referred to protestors as “ineffective,” while reporting on them. He also Tweeted a photo of trash strewn on a sidewalk at one of the protests, noting that it isn’t in sync with protestors’ concerns about the environment, when it simply could have been a by-product of the crowds being so immense that public works officials underestimated the need for more and bigger trash receptacles. Or perhaps they were still overflowing from the activities of the inauguration and protests of a day earlier. 

Regardless of where you stand on the political issues, you have to love this photo from an unknown source on the web. 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The New Normal: ‘Alternative Facts’

GUEST COMMENTARY--Many of us in this election season have referred to the Trump 'anshluss' as a world of 'smoke and mirrors', and we were correct.  But now we know from the twisted mouth of his hired gun, KellyAnne Conway, that it is really not so much calculated duplicity, but rather it is a presentation of "alternative facts."  She says we must look at the news as "BROADcast, not NARROWcast."  A whole new political vocabulary has emerged from the Trumpists in our new 'post factual' world.  Veracity is now in the eyes and ears of the beholder. 

As a student, and then a professor, of public policy, I learned early on that a fact was considered true when, as a thesis, it was proven by non biased investigation.  However, we have changed course in epistemology and linguistics to find that we now live in a world where there is a sliding scale of what registers as fact and what is fiction, and either or both can come out  in every sentence of the limited vocabulary spouting from Donald Trump's mouth. 

As I listened carefully, admittedly with tears in my eyes, to the inauguration speech of this deplorable new President of the US, and leader of the Free World, who was standing only feet from four of our past Presidents as he defamed each of them with his rhetoric about how he finally, for the first time, is giving the nation back to the people, I was amazed at his bizarre gall, his ignorance,  and his despicable manners to insult Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Carter, by asserting that they were all inept, uncaring, and failing in their duty to America.  He vilified them in so many ways that it was mind blowing, and watching their faces, the faces of their wives, and the others on the dais, I came to finally understand what a villainous demagogue this new President is, and how dangerous he is, and what is even worse, how dangerous and uninformed his followers are.  

I have read much in these past weeks since he won this questionable election by a fluke of the Electoral College, but without the popular vote, and with the interference of both Russian hacking and Comey's false Clinton report and the NY Times knowing about it all for weeks before the election but choosing not to report any of it.  Much has been written by groups of psychiatrists who go beyond his personality disorders like Narcissism and megalomania, to discuss his potential brain dysfunction and the possibility of dementia which rules his lies and  loss of control as with the endless tweets at the smallest and the most inconsequential of slights.  Yesterday, sending his lackey, now known as Afghanistan Sean Spicer, in to the first formal White House press announcement only to admonish the media for "fake" reporting on how many people were standing to watch this nonsensical reality show of an inauguration was incomprehensible and will be recorded in the history books for posterity.  This man continues to make himself, and America, the laughing stock of the planet. 

Facts on the emerging Russian connection now being investigated by the CIA and the FBI, not only with the Putin hacking of the US election process, but with the years of contact and 'deals' between Trump and Putin and Manafort, and the Russian Oligarchs who now seem to be bankers to Trump, and all of them also possible black mailers of Trump, and purveyors of films of "golden showers" which is a topic most never heard of before this election, all of this boggles the mind of voters and citizens of the US and is even more terrifying to the other nations of the world which have to deal with his nuclear threats and the angst of being his target if he gets insulted.  I suspect his family knows how deranged he is and that is why they have Jared Kushner,  who is evidently the smartest among them, posted in the West Wing as his closest advisor.  Jared strikes me as playing Iago to his father-in-laws madman, Othello.  

Not only do we Americans have to worry about his little fingers on the button of the cataclysmic nuclear coded football, but the world now wonders who he will blow up first.  

Democrats are asked by Republicans to foster unity and support him...to give him a chance, yet everything he says brings us back to his lack of intellectual stature, lack of political experience, lack of calm judgment, and his over arching greed, mendacity, and self aggrandizement.  It is not rational to support anything or anyone he recommends for his edicts do mirror the manipulating and false populist claims of tyrants from Nero to Hitler.  His speeches about giving the decision making "to the people" are almost word for word the speeches of the Third Reich and they are a page out of his favorite bedside book, Mein Kampf.  The Drumpf family has long been known known to consort with others of the underworld like Roy Cohn, and their Mafia ties, and most probably the similar Russian mob.  Why would anyone think that due to this 'trumped up' election, Donald has changed from his lifelong playboy, misogynistic, self serving, highly bigoted persona?  

Just look carefully at those he has chosen to run OUR country with him as their leader, their Commander in Chief.  Keep wearing the pussy cat hats and speaking up without fear. Keep Rex Tillerson at Exxon Mobil instead of in the role of the US Sect. of State where he will be dropping US sanctions (to insure vast profits for the oil barons) against an aggressive Putin Kremlin which is committing war crimes, and keep the ignorant and spoiled, religious ideologue debutante, Betsy DeVos, out of the Dept. of Education, and keep the well determined bigot, Jeff Sessions, from being America's AG ... and send all the rest of this crew of US oligarchs back to their well padded nests under the rocks from which they crawled into Drumpf's daylight including HUD, Labor, Health and Human Services et al.  What a bunch of over privileged thugs they all are. 

  • What can you do about it? For one thing, join the over 100,000 people that have signed the Impeach Donald Trump Now’ petition and get your voice on record.


(Ellen Lubic is Director of Joining Forces for Education, a public policy educator and journalist and an occasional CityWatch contributor.)



The Divided States of America: Trump May have Already Lost His Chance to Unite the Country

AT LENGTH-Amidst the uproar over Donald Trump’s latest tweet, his latest cabinet picks, and the latest revelations on the impact of Russian hacking on his surprise election win, the airing of Michael Kirk’s documentary film, Divided States of America, on Frontline (PBS) was overlooked. 

The documentary, which aired on January 18, examines President Barack Obama’s two terms in office and the widening divide over politics, race, and economics. The film noted that when Obama was elected eight years ago, Democrats became a majority in both houses of Congress. Pundits prognosticated that the Republican Party would be out of power for at least a generation. 

The documentary, however, reveals how, instead of accepting the dead-on arrival prognosis, Republican Party members gathered at their favorite watering hole and mapped out a plan to stop Obama. The plan from the very beginning was to keep any of his objectives from ever being implemented or passed. And that’s exactly what they’ve done for the last eight years. 

Their strategy explains a great deal about why so little has been accomplished by this Republican-led Congress, which was won back a majority of seats, starting with the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate by 2012. This is also why Obama began to increasingly turn to using executive orders to accomplish his agenda. 

The stalemate was planned by none other than Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and a co-author and architect of the Contract With America. 

It also reveals how politically naïve Obama was to the ways of D.C. politics as he tried repeatedly to cross the divide between liberals and conservatives and weld bi-partisan support for the economic recovery and the Affordable Care Act, subsequently dubbed ObamaCare. 

This was probably Obama’s greatest failing as president. Under his tenure, the nation has only grown more divided. In the end, that divide created both the Tea Party revolt and the election of someone who is the exact opposite of Barack Obama. Our country hasn’t been this divided since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War era. 

As the nation celebrates the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. with street parades and closed government buildings, I’m reminded of how my generation reacted to the assassinations of national leaders like King, President John F. Kennedy and his brother Sen. Robert Kennedy and never found satisfaction in the official explanations given. This was also so after the FBI Counter Intelligence Program was exposed following the 1971 burgling of an FBI field office of classified dossiers which were distributed to the media. News of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal spread. He and his merry band of political plumbers were caught red handed. 

President Obama likes to quote Dr. King regarding the nature of justice, saying: 

‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’ many of my generation are still not willing to wait, nonetheless endure a repeat of the injustices of the past. This is among the many reasons why I, and millions of other Americans, am not going to ‘just give the new guy a chance to prove himself.’ 

Trump has already lost his opportunity to unite this nation behind his alt-version of reality.


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



PERSPECTIVE-By the time this article is published, either the most awaited or un-awaited presidency, depending on your point of view, will have begun. Trump’s loyal supporters believe he will initiate sweeping, long-overdue changes; his most ardent detractors fear he will take us down the road to fascism. 

For certain, we are in for a wild ride, but I do not believe President Trump (can’t believe I am typing those two words together) will be able to wave a magic wand and have his way across the board. This is a guy who did not have a majority of his own party behind him. His victory was more about the other candidate’s problems. 

A Washington Post/ABC poll showed his favorability rating on the eve of taking office as forty percent. That does not signal a honeymoon; an impending divorce is more like it, a nasty one at that. 

Without a broad consensus behind him, Congress will not rubber-stamp much of Trump’s agenda, assuming he really has one other than poorly defined tweeting points. 

So one should not expect broad support for any of his plans beyond the selection of a new Supreme Court judge. That’s a big one, but the High Court has always ebbed and flowed between conservative and liberal influence. It’s been that way for a few decades. There’s always a wild card, too, like Justice Kennedy. Let’s not forget that Chief Justice Roberts saved Obamacare. You just never know. 

I anticipate we will have a balanced court, unless one of the liberal judges retires during Trump’s term. It is unlikely any of them will retire during a first term. It would take a Scalia-type departure for another vacancy on the left side of the bench. 

What about a wall across our southern border? 

I think you might see some segments constructed in strategic locations, but funding will be a problem for any lengthy stretch. It will be more show than substance. The repercussions will give Republican lawmakers pause. 

But there will be some extensive changes to immigration policy, some of which will be embraced. Take for example tightened restrictions on H-1B visas. Even there, Trump will learn that this abused program can only be throttled back so far, because our schools are not turning out enough STEM talent to meet the demands of science and industry. 

A beefed-up Border Patrol is one practical objective many will support. The members of the USBP save lives and interdict dangerous criminals. Unlike a wall, they offer a flexible response for dealing with illegal immigration. Walls cannot make arrests or render assistance to those challenging the hostile terrain which exists over a vast swath of the border. 

Government environmental regulations will be reduced, but to what degree depends on popular support. A majority of our citizens do care deeply about the environment. People depend on it for recreation, comfort, health and a safe food and water supply. If they feel the environment is significantly threatened, they will push back in noticeable numbers, enough to turn up the political heat in Congress. 

A reduction in corporate taxes is almost a certainty. However, it will be a balancing act between what it will take to bring offshore earnings back home and avoiding the appearance of catering to Wall Street. And no politician wants the Wall Street label to stick. This could be the biggest battle Congress faces, one in which Trump will have the least influence for fear of alienating blue collar workers, the very constituency that helped push him over the top in the election. 

The greatest uncertainty involves international relations. A president has wide leeway in deploying or redeploying troops. Some would argue he has the power to terminate a treaty without the consent of Congress. The Constitution is not specific on this subject. 

Most certainly, Trump could effectively undermine NATO by pulling resources from it, turning the alliance into a mere shell. 

How about a trade agreement such as NAFTA? 

NAFTA is a congressional-executive agreement, not a real treaty. There are no rules as to who can terminate one, so it would appear Trump could pull out over the objections of Congress. 

In the end, for Trump’s policies to prevail, he needs broad support from both Congress and the public. 

You do not earn broad support with provocative remarks in social media. Think of the number of people who are unfriended on Facebook because of their relentless partisan posts and memes.

The Tweeter-in-Chief will have more to lose than gain in his use of the internet. People just might un-vote him. 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Random Acts of Kindness in a Time of Uncertainty

OBAMA … LESSON LEARNED--American history is being written this weekend, and we all have front row seats watching the many inaugural events unfolding before our very eyes. This change in regime in our Capitol is leaving most Americans feeling very tentative about our immediate future. Not helping is the fact that Donald Trump has the lowest rating of any president-elect in recent history. 

Although I am really not a strong Barack Obama policy supporter, I unequivocally admire his calm, likeable, humble demeanor. I love that he has placed an importance on spreading goodwill at home and abroad. President Obama, along with wife Michelle, engender community service of all kinds working to increase youth healthier lifestyles, childhood obesity awareness, empowerment in minority groups, and an early start in child education. 

In addition to the Obama’s organized community service, there are also random acts of kindness. There was a story I had read many years ago in the Daily Kos published in 2008 of a newlywed traveling from Washington DC back to Norway to meet up with her husband and did not have money to bring her luggage back. Feeling helpless with tears in her eyes, a stranger from behind gave her the $100 fee. She vowed to return the money and asked him to kindly write his name and address down for her. It turned out to be President Barack Obama. What an amazing story of kindness to a stranger!  

We all can emulate these acts of kindness. With a time of political, economic and international uncertainty, we need it more than ever. Charity brings out the best in ourselves and builds each other up. 

If you don’t know where to start, there is a great national website, www.volunteermatch.com that connects those who want to volunteer to organizations that need man power. Using the filters, you can choose the location, where to serve. You can choose a cause that you are passionate about such as advocacy and human rights, immigration, housing, LGBTQ issues, arts and culture, animal rescue, and so many more. You can do a recurrent event such as reading to children in a library every Saturday, or a onetime event such as the 2017 Art Walk for Homeless Vets Feeding and Sock Drive (which just happens to be on February 9th in Pasadena). You can also choose how to volunteer, as a group of children, teenagers or seniors. 

The website includes approximately 112,000 participating organizations, 12 million volunteers, and over 80,000 volunteer opportunities. Whether you want to volunteer or are looking for volunteers for your non-profits, visit the Volunteer Match. 

Last November, I found a great opportunity for a group of kids to help pack boxes offood for the needy for Thanksgiving. We helped assemble large cardboard boxes with all the traditional fixings that were all donated, turkey, ham, stuffing, canned cranberry, sweet potatoes, and green beans. It was a wonderful way to help the community, and meet other volunteers that also want to give back. 

Usually you find my column in Deals and Discounts but today is different. It’s not about a local place to visit or about something to buy, but it is about something good to do for ourselves and our community around us. Use volunteermatch.com, and get involved.  It is good for your soul. It will empower you at this time of uncertainty and spread goodwill. And who knows, maybe that will inspire others to go out and do the same. Our world definitely needs more random acts of kindness. 







(Sue Helmy has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. She is currently providing superb administrative services at a financial management firm in Century City. She is active in countless church and civic organizations and spends every minute she can spare dancing to the Zumba beat.)


President Trump: An Answer to a Carnac Riddle

GELFAND’S WORLD--This story is like an old Carnac the Magnificent riddle. Your first three answers: The twenty-third anniversary of a major earthquake, the twentieth anniversary of a murderous weekend, and the upcoming transition of power. (Photo above: Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent.) 

Unfortunately, the answer to these clues isn't a belly laugh, but an uneasy hmmm

On January 17, 1994, the Northridge quake began at 4:31 AM, give or take ten seconds. It reminded us of the power of the natural world, but also taught us that our governmental institutions could be resilient. A broken freeway and a broken Los Angeles Coliseum were repaired in remarkably short order. Electricity and water service were restored. 

Three years later to the day, on January 17, 1997 at 8:30 PM, Laurence Austin was murdered by gunfire in the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue. That same weekend, Bill Cosby's son Ennis was murdered alongside the 405 freeway. A third murder occurred when a school girl was killed by a stray gun shot as she rode in a school bus. 

It is of note that all three murders were solved by the police and the guilty were sent to prison. 

The commonality among the murders and the earthquake damage is straightforward. We rely on our governmental institutions. We don't have a lot of choice. Whether it be protection from murderers or preservation of water services, we have to hope that we can count on the people in charge. They have to be vigilant. They must also be sober of thought and careful in their considerations. 

January 20th, 2017 -- We have a right to be concerned. Will Donald Trump show himself as a savvy businessman who can turn his real world experience into an economically successful America, or is he the American version of the elderly George III, destined to be driven by his own passions and talking to the air? 

At the moment we have little to go on as to whether it will be the one or the other. The 3 AM Tweet storms are not reassuring in this regard. 

An aside: Charles Rembar was the attorney who defended the book Fanny Hill in an obscenity case that went to the Supreme Court. He, more than any other person, was responsible for freeing Americans from the censorship of the postal authorities and local police departments. Rembar made Americans free to read. I think it would be hard to accuse Rembar of authoritarianism. 

Yet in his landmark book The Law of the Land, Rembar points out, I believe wisely, that the first responsibility of the sovereign is to keep the peace. This includes protection from thieves and murderers as well as foreign invaders. In our modern day, it also involves quick but effective response, as mayor Richard Riordan found when he had to react to that Northridge quake we spoke about above. 

Within the next few months, there will be flare-ups in the middle east, tensions in the far east, and issues to be resolved among Europeans. It's easy to make these predictions because they are what we have been having for the past several decades. American leadership is expected in these realms. 

So this is the major question. Are we going into 2017 in effect without a leader? Here's one hint -- yelling insults and hurling Tweets is not usually the stuff of real leadership. The president, more than any other human, should be capable of resisting his own inner demons in order to act in the national interest. Is Trump capable? 

Twenty-three Januaries, some more jarring than others, but each bringing its own reminder that we live in a complicated system that requires vigilance. 

The presidency is more than anything else a responsibility. In the nuclear age, it goes beyond being a responsibility to the American people alone. It has become a responsibility to the entire world. Every minute of every day, the president is on duty and the president must live up to the requirements. 

In his year-long campaign, Donald Trump looked, acted, and sounded like somebody who is not ready to accept this level of responsibility. He has mostly been accused of being petty and vindictive. These are weaknesses to be sure, but the flaw that is more critical is his intellectual laziness. It comes out in his every pronouncement. So far he comes across as a guy who doesn't have much interest in learning things. His refusal to participate in security briefings is just one example. It's a dangerously irresponsible lack. 

Another concern is Trump's appointments, for example that of former governor Rick Perry as the new Secretary of Energy. His testimony to a Senate committee was unintentionally hilarious.  Trump's appointees are eerily reminiscent of George W. Bush appointments such as his nominee to head FEMA. Can anyone remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? The power to appoint is another serious responsibility. 

We are soon to see whether the act is the real Donald Trump or whether there might possibly be a real person underneath the bluster. I (along with others) fear that the act is really all there is to the man. Perhaps, once he takes his seat in the Oval Office, he will be inspired by the magnitude of the challenge and work to become a real president, which means, first of all, working to become a person with reason and self-control. It will be interesting to see what the experience of the office will do to the man.


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


The Real Danger of Trump’s Alleged ‘Pee Party’

OTHER WORDS-The week leading up to the presidential inauguration brought streams, if not floods, of pee jokes. You might even say it was the number one opportunity for scatological humor since the poop cruise of 2013. 

My heart goes out to parents who have to find an appropriate way to explain this to their children.

The occasion for the pee jokes was a leaked, unverified report on Russian anti-Trump intelligence. Someone described as a former British intelligence agent claims the Russians have been cultivating Trump for years, in part by gathering compromising information on him to hold over his head. 

In one especially lurid example, the source claims, Trump allegedly paid sex workers to engage in lewd urination-related acts in a Moscow hotel known “to have microphones and cameras in all the main rooms.” 

For those who support Trump, it’s a heinous and untrue case of scurrilous journalism. For those who oppose Trump, it’s an opportunity to laugh at him. And laugh and laugh and laugh. 

If any of the allegations are true, though, it’s no laughing matter. 

Surprisingly, the two media outlets that got it right on this story are Saturday Night Live and Teen Vogue.  

Saturday Night Live made a lot of jokes, but they also portrayed Vladimir Putin using a tape of the “Big Russian Pee Pee Party” to blackmail Trump. 

Teen Vogue put the issue in less funny terms: “If allegations are true, and the Russian government does have compromising financial and personal information about Donald Trump, then we should be more concerned about whether or not this will have an effect on his foreign policy — and not laughing at his sexual preferences.” 

In other words, there are two possible scenarios. The better one, no doubt, is that there is no tape, there was no pee pee party, the Russians have nothing on Trump, and the whole thing was made up.

Another fake news crisis is the last thing we need, but it’s better than the other option. Imagine what Russia could do if it were actually able to blackmail a sitting president of the United States. 

“Don’t interfere with us in Ukraine or we’ll release the tape.” 

“Let us do what we want in Syria or we’ll release the tape.” 

“Keep NATO out of countries near Russia or we’ll release the tape.” 

And so on.

Trump has lashed out against the claims, calling them a “political witch hunt.”

But rather than attacking anyone who mentions the allegations, Trump should take them seriously. If a foreign country has damaging material it could use to blackmail a U.S. president, that’s a serious matter that the president should investigate.

And he shouldn’t handle it by disparaging or disbelieving his own intelligence agencies whenever they give him news he doesn’t like.

As for the rest of us, there’s no harm in making jokes, so long as we remember that the real issue is.

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

What’s Behind the Unexpected Release of Chelsea Manning

FIRST PERSON REPORT--Four summers ago on a military base in Maryland, not far from the headquarters of the National Security Agency, a handful of people crowded onto a small patch of shade, draining the last of their water bottles, unwilling to move from the spot. They waited for a court martial to resume, for what they thought was their last chance to hear the words of a young woman, one they feared they may never hear from again. I was with them, killing time while the clock ran down on the trial of Chelsea Manning. 

As soon as her sentence was known — 35 years for her act of whistleblowing, which she never contested was a violation of the law, but for which she would be punished severely—another clock began ticking. How long could Chelsea Manning survive in prison? And as a transgender woman in a men’s military prison? She was denied control over her appearance as a woman, denied access to medical and psychological care. At the prison in Fort Leavenworth, Chelsea Manning took up a fight not only for her freedom, but for her life.

This past November, Chelsea Manning formally requested that President Barack Obama commute her sentence to time served. “The Army kept me in solitary confinement for nearly a year before formal charges were brought against me,” she wrote.  “It was a humiliating and degrading experience — one that altered my mind, body and spirit. I have since been placed in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for an attempted suicide despite a growing effort—led by the President of the United States — to stop the use of solitary confinement for any purpose.”

She appealed not for absolution for her actions, but for dignity. “I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life outside the [United States Disciplinary Barracks] as the person I was born to be,” she wrote.

Now, days before leaving office, President Obama has granted her request. Chelsea Manning will leave prison on May 17, 2017. 

When I interviewed Chelsea Manning this past September, it did not feel like this day could ever come. We exchanged messages just before she found out she would be sent to solitary confinement. For days I did not know where she was. Only when she was released from solitary did I learn what had happened to her.   

It was difficult to believe she wasn’t being made an example of; it seemed that in an age of attacks on whistleblowing and transparency, her case was used to send a message. So it appeared not so long ago as if she would remain in prison, that she might soon be subject to whatever a Trump administration might do with her. It seemed to those close to her that it was unlikely she could survive.

But over the last few weeks, something shifted. Reading back now the words of those who followed her case closely, who knew what she was up against, their pleas for her freedom give some indication of what may come next.

“Defending Manning and her leaks are not just a matter of goody-two-shoes principle but immense real-life consequences,” wrote Chase Madar, author of one of the first books on Manning’s case. “The U.S. invasion of Iraq was simply not possible but for government secrecy, distortion, and lies. The architects of that dishonest war have escaped the slightest punishment, yet an on-the-ground private who tried to share her knowledge of that bloodbath is the one being severely punished.”

I would not have gone to Chelsea Manning’s trial at all if it were not for the work of Alexa O’Brien, an independent journalist who spoke passionately about the need for public attention to her trial, at which all recordings were forbidden. Few media attended regularly, but O’Brien was there the whole time. She wrote last week, “Manning was a humanist soldier trapped between the cynical realities of warfare, her youth, and her characteristic earnestness — clinging onto the exigent hope that sanity and common sense would triumph if buttressed by knowledge and deliberation.”

“An act of mercy by the Executive,” she concluded, “might evidence its display in our own imperfect experiment in self government.”

Mercy has prevailed. Perhaps a reckoning with our “imperfect experiment,” if we have ever needed one more, will also follow. And while I cannot imagine what those first days in May after Chelsea Manning is released will be like for her, it is enough, for now, to know she will have them.


(Melissa Gira Grant is a journalist and author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Columnist for Pacific Standard  … where this perspective was first posted.)


Donald J. Trump is Our Next President:  Will You Be Part of the Problem or the Solution?

LEANING RIGHT--Americans of all political stripes will have to get used to the following term: "President Trump" -- the same as they did "President Obama" or "President Bush.” While it's a shame that some of us are in so much pain during this profound transition, it's still necessary for all Americans to courageously and compassionately lead by example during this new American Era. 

Things to Consider: 

1) We had miserable and suffering Americans without proper and/or affordable health care before the Affordable Care Act, and we have miserable and suffering Americans without proper and/or affordable health care after the Affordable Care Act. The debates rage on as to who was better or worse off -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

2) We have natural-born Americans, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, illegal aliens, and criminal aliens. Employment, crime, and balancing our city/county/state budgets have all been adversely affected by our federal government taking an inconsistent approach to this vital issue -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

3) Our budgeting for Social Security and Medicare is threatened by those programs either being mismanaged, redirected into the general budget, or misspent. Retirees who are among the happiest in our nation do not rely on Social Security for their survival, and the debate rages on as to how best to accommodate the needs of Medicare patients-- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

4) As a nation, we spend too little on saving for our own retirement, and spend too much for the basics of day to day living. The debate rages as to what "the basics are" but most believe our utility bills are too high to be sustainable for the middle class -- in all fifty states. Housing costs and food costs are also increasingly unaffordable for too many -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

5) Our youth has too little knowledge of history, civics, fiscal literacy, or even how to take care of themselves as self-sustaining adults. High school students (and even college students) have too often a dearth of job skills that allow them access to higher-paying careers, and there are too few apprentice programs for vocational skills/degrees to allow for other vital jobs in our nation -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

6) Our urban centers suffer from too much unemployment in quality jobs, too much under-employment, and too little hope for a better future -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

7) Environmental issues abound, and economic woes for the average American middle class citizen abound, while those living in elite bubbles proclaim that there's never been a better time to be alive. And at the same time parents wonder if their children will enjoy a better quality of life than they have had -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

8) The concepts and paradigms of "the melting pot" and "the American identity" appear to be in perpetual conflict with "diversity”, while the concepts and paradigms of "political diversity" appear to be in perpetual conflict with "political correctness" -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

9) Freedom of Religion appears to be in increasing conflict with Freedom from Religion, and the role of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions in both our nation and our world appears to be leading to ever-increasing levels of strife and even violence -- moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer? 

10) Finally, too many Americans are looking at outgoing President Obama or incoming President Trump as their all-saving, all-preserving hero while entirely ignoring the individual shortcomings of their personal lives. 

Moving forward, will you be part of the problem or the answer?


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Goodbye Antiques Road Show, Sesame Street: Trump Plan Would Privatize PBS and Destroy National Arts

SPECIAL REPORT-President-elect Donald Trump is aiming to slash government spending across the board, with numerous public services in the crosshairs, according to staffers on his transition team who spoke to The Hill on Thursday. 

The proposals, The Hill's Alexander Bolton writes, "are dramatic."

The departments of Justice, State, Energy, Transportation, and Commerce are all targeted for massive budget cuts, with some programs under their jurisdiction slated entirely for elimination. Certain projects overseen by the Commerce and Energy agencies would also be transferred to other bureaus.

Meanwhile, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—which funds, among other things, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)—would be privatized.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Bolton reports:

At the Department of Justice, the blueprint calls for eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation, and for reducing funding for its Civil Rights and its Environment and Natural Resources divisions.

At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Under the State Department's jurisdiction, funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are candidates for elimination.

"The federal investment in public media is vital seed money—especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations," the Corporation for Public Broadcasting said in an email to Common Dreams. "The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect."

"Moreover, the entire public media service would be severely debilitated," the corporation wrote. "There is no viable private substitute for the federal funding that ensures universal access to public broadcasting' programming and services."

As Bolton notes, Trump's proposal aligns with a blueprint published in 2016 by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has aided the Trump transition. It also echoes similar cuts included in the 2017 budget adopted by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of House conservatives.

Several members of Trump's transition team also previously worked for the Heritage Foundation.

A full budget is expected to be released in April after the team finalizes its cuts. As ThinkProgress noted, it "looks like it will be far more extreme than anything the Republican Party has proposed so far."

Observers took the dire plan as a call to action.

"Nothing is lost. Nothing is inevitable. They are a few, we are many. We just need to make our voices heard. It is NOT too late," wrote one. "[The] probability of budget making its way to Congress in this form is high...But that's where we come in. We protest 24/7 to stop it."

"In case it's not clear: Women will die because of this," wrote another, a statistics professor and health advocate. "Others will suffer needlessly. This is absolutely horrifying."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this report originated.)


Is MLK’s Legacy to the 99 Percent Being Reversed in the Age of Trump?

ISSUES WATCH--Reaction has two main meanings in English.  One is to respond to some new situation (not specifying the nature of the reaction).  The other is to resist some innovation. In this second sense, a reactionary is one who wants to go back to a previously existing condition of society.  A reactionary is worse than a conservative.  A conservative resists progressive change that benefits large numbers of people but does not help the rich.  A reactionary wants to undo a progressive change already long since effected, taking achievements away from the people for the sake of the 1%. 

We live in a reactionary age.  Trump crony Newt Gingrich wants to undo the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt entirely, getting rid of social security and condemning large numbers of elderly Americans to penury.  (In the 1930s the elderly were the poorest segment of society; that is no longer true today, and people can hope to retire and live with dignity, because of social security).  We live in a moment where 8 billionaires are as rich as the poorer half of humankind and when the top 1% takes home 20% of the US national income (up from 10% only a few decades ago).  

Ironically, it is in this moment, when workers and the middle classes are prostrate and the lion’s share of resources is going to 1.2 million households out of 124 million American households– it is at this very moment that reactionaries are demanding that ordinary people surrender their pensions and social security and health care for the sake of a further fat tax cut for the super-rich. 

The average wage of the average worker has been flat since 1970 in the US, as any increases in productivity or real economic growth appears to have been taken right to the top and the 1% by the Republican tax-cut conveyor belt.  A loss of entitlements would actually reduce their incomes substantially, sending them back to the 1950s.

I saw the Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Stephens on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS recently, opining that he goes around the country talking to small business owners, and they are complaining about excessive regulation and the injustices of the 2002 Sarbanes Oxley Act.  Let me just say that I believe Mr. Stephens was using “small business” as a more sympathetic stand-in for his actual client, mega corporations.  Sarbanes-Oxley made it illegal to destroy records to forestall a Federal investigation, in the wake of Enron and other scandals that robbed large number of employees of their pensions.  Very inconvenient. 

Dodd-Frank is also no doubt very inconvenient for “small business.”  Any let or hindrance on the super-rich whom Stephens and his like serve is of course a brake on economic progress.  Except that Enron and the 2008 crash, which occurred in the absence of regulation were not in fact good for the economy or for workers and the middle class.  Stephens may well get his way, and these regulatory reforms may well be deep-sixed in the Age of Trump.  Many among the rich dream of getting back to the halcyon unregulated 1920s, managing to forget the plunge their predecessors took off the Empire State building in 1929. The very definition of reaction is a nostalgia for an age whose time has passed.

Reaction menaces us in the realm of civil rights as well as in that of the economy, where we have become a hereditary plutocracy.  The Voting Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  It made it illegal for state officials to give literacy (or even Latin) tests only to African Americans as a prerequisite to register to vote.  It ended racial discrimination in establishments that offered what was defined as a public accommodation. That is, white southerners like George Wallace insisted that a restaurant is a private business and so the owner should be welcome to discriminate in which customers he or she would serve. 

The Voting Rights Act begged to differ.  If you’re serving the public, it said, you are in some ways a public institution and you may not operate in a racist manner.  Some members of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party still hold the George Wallace position on restaurants, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

In this age of reaction, the achievements of the Voting Rights Act have been deeply eroded when they haven’t been entirely reversed.  After three decades in which desegregated schools operated perfectly well throughout the country and came to be supported by many progressive southern Whites, from about 1990 the Federal courts began ceasing to require desegregation.  The result?  Apartheid schooling in the United States is again a reality.  Given the high rates of racial segregation in neighborhoods, this reality, partly economic, has come to be reflected in the schools.  We’ve seen large-scale re-segregation.  Call it Jim Crow by other means.

Ironically, all students benefit from being in racially mixed schools, including the white students.  There are cognitive benefits; i.e. you learn to think more clearly in a more hybrid social situation.

Not only have the schools been re-segregated but once the Roberts court removed oversight from the Deep South states, they immediately ran and put back in the Latin tests for African-Americans.  This time though they cleverly did it more subtly by requiring identification papers in order to vote.  If challenged, the white racists who passed these laws will say it is to prevent voter fraud. 

But there isn’t any voter fraud to speak of, at least from these quarters.  Maybe the law should have been restricted to the Russian embassy.  That supposed Libertarians who squawk at the idea of national identity cards should have suddenly decided we need identity cards to vote can only be explained by bigotry.  John Roberts was snarky in asking whether court oversight was really any longer needed for the former Jim Crow states, asking if people in the New York-Boston corridor really were less racist nowadays.  I don’t know, John.  Why don’t you tell me?  Here’s a map to help you decide.  Notice where the white spaces are.

h/t Sun Herald

So we are back to de facto restrictions on the voting rights of African-Americans, which may have affected the election outcome in 2016.  And we’re back to all-Black schools.  The Republican Party is still dedicated to equality in one area, though.  They’d love to make us all wage slaves with no unions, no rights (even to have a break), no minimum income, no health care and no social security.  Indeed, there is a sense in which the 99% are all Black in the Age of Trump, whether they know it yet or not.

That is why we need the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., today more than ever.

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



The Road to a New Affordable Care Act: “Trumpcare” Not "Obamacare"

LEANING RIGHT--If you hate Republicans more than you love the healthcare of Americans, perhaps this piece isn't for you.  If you hate Democrats more than you love the healthcare of Americans, perhaps this piece isn't for you, either. 

The singular and permanent benefit of "Obamacare", a.k.a. "The Affordable Care Act" is that something HAD to be done, and there's no going back on that. The outgoing President merits any and all credit for that.  

Now it's up to the incoming President and the GOP-led Congress to determine that the successor to "Obamacare" will be a more health-focused, more fiscally-sound, and less politically-driven plan...and it's hoped that Democratic critiques and recommendations will be listened to and addressed appropriately.  

The replacement to "Obamacare" MUST be bipartisan to ensure that health care access and quality will be improved in the years to come. 

Which is why the so-called Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., "Obamacare" had such a problematic implementation, and an almost inevitable death that would inevitably have arrived sooner or later. The establishment of "winners" and "losers", the jumps in premiums and deductibles, and the health plans and physicians no longer accepting ACA patients...all pointed to something that just didn't add up. 

The goal was worthy, but when the majority of those most strongly advocating for the Affordable Care Act were NOT on any of the ACA-required plans there was something wrong.  It's the old liberal cariacature of treating the general population like lower lifeforms--as in "yes, I have my old pre-ACA plan and I love it, but this new and very different plan is good enough for the rest of you". 

Those foaming at the mouth and defending the ACA were too often not impacted by either the ACA or its repeal...and their patting the heads of those shrieking about the ACA's negative personal and national economic impacts were as condescending and deferential as...as... 

...as those who deferentially and condescendingly patted the heads of those unable to access health insurance and affordable care prior to the passage of the ACA. 

So now we have an incoming President and Congress who have already taken measures to defund and unravel an ACA that would have, sooner or later, died of its own accord despite its good intentions. 

A first-rate, must-read article ("The End of Obamacare") by Jonathan Oberlander, PhD in the January 5, 2017 New England Journal of Medicine does a first-rate job of analyzing how the ACA's unpopularity led to its upcoming demise. 

Dr. Oberlander has this excellent "money quote": 

"Obamacare’s vulnerability reflects not only the 2016 election results, but also its shallow political roots. The ACA has achieved much, including a large reduction in the uninsured population. Still, it lacks strong public support and an organized beneficiary lobby, has encountered significant problems in its implementation, and has been enveloped by an environment of hyperpartisanship. If the ACA were more popular and covered a more politically sympathetic or influential population, if its insurance exchanges were operating more successfully and had higher enrollment, and if Democrats and Republicans were not so ideologically polarized and locked in a power struggle, then an incoming GOP administration would probably be talking about reforming rather than dismantling Obamacare. 

“The Trump administration can do much to undercut the ACA. The insurance exchanges, buffeted in many states by high premium increases, sicker-than-expected risk pools, and insurer withdrawals, require stabilization; simply by doing nothing the GOP could damage them." 

So while some Republicans and Independents (and even Democrats) are cheering the end of "Obamacare", the work is only just beginning to replace the ACA with something more sustainable. 

And it's the GOP and incoming President-Elect Trump who have the burden--and make no mistake about it, it's a huge (YUGE?) burden--to replace and "trump" the ACA with something better. 

Arthur Caplan, PhD writes another excellent, must-read article ("Healthcare and Healthcare Ethics in the Trump Era") for Medscape on the challenges of replacing "Obamacare". 

Dr. Caplan points out that "Even though Trump has said that he will repeal and replace it, I suspect that certain features of Obamacare are so well embedded that they are going to be very tough to get rid of without politically uncomfortable complaints." 

The good news, for those who may not remember, is that Trump himself stated he would not "let people die in the streets", and caught both heat and political support among Republicans (and Independents, and even some Democrats, who switched party affiliation during the GOP primary races) as Trump fought off over a dozen GOP presidential contenders. 

Trump stated that he DOES favor an end to pre-existing conditions, and DOES favor the allowance of adult children to stay on their parents' health plans until the age of 26.  

The era of a lack of access to affordable health care is over. 

The era of winners and losers under a top-down, government-imposed and taxing ACA is over...or at least will be soon. 

It will be up to President-Elect Trump and the new 2017-2018 Congress, in THIS session, to also end a few new eras: 

1) An end to unaffordable prescription drug costs. 

2) An end to high-deductible, limited-access policies that force individuals and families to pay for benefits that have little to no relevance to their personal needs. 

3) An end to states suffering from limited plans and health insurers, and a beginning to more interstate options to allow competition and encourage lower costs of health care. 

4) An end to federally-mandated health plans (effectively tax increases, as stated by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts in his support for the Constitutional vetting of the ACA) that had unsustainable premium hikes and penalties for not joining. 

5) An end to fiscally strapping businesses (and perhaps a beginning to enticing and rewarding businesses) to hire full-time workers with career-jobs and benefits. 

6) An end to forcing those with cancer or debilitating diseases into poverty, and the establishment of high-risk pools so that society in general can pay for those who are incapacitated, and to reward innovative new medical technologies to further the science of medicine. 

7) An end to the decades-long debate of how to create a fiscally-sound national health policy that benefits all Americans, and is not merely politically-driven, and finally has the backing of the majority of American health care professionals and advocacy groups.


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [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.)


The Progressive Tea Party Arising

GELFAND’S WORLD--It's starting. All over the country, people are waking up to the fact that the Republican congress wants to take their health coverage away. This weekend, thousands of people demonstrated in several cities. But the more telling event occurred at a library in Aurora, Colorado. As reported by 9 News. 

"When Berthie Ruoff arrived at the Aurora Central Library to meet with Congressman Mike Coffman, she was hopeful to find encouraging answers about the impending changes to the Affordable Care Act. 

"My husband passed away and the only way I was able to get insurance was through the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare," Ruoff said. 

"When she walked in, she saw a crowd she didn't expect. 

"There were hundreds of people here," Ruoff said." 

As the 9News story explains, the crowd was so large that the congressman couldn't (or wouldn't) meet with all of them. What's a Republican to do when a large number of his constituents object to his party's policy? The Denver Post picked up on the story, adding some background including the fact that Coffman had previously announced his intent to overturn the ACA. 

The story was picked up by the website Talking Points Memo and Daily Kos and has found a nationwide audience. 

As people begin to realize that they are being put in peril by the actions of the new congress, they will build a true grass roots movement. Right now the movement is not organized and lacks the spontaneous ad hoc leadership that such movements eventually achieve. But we can expect that some spontaneous leadership won't be long in coming. Anger and fear have that effect. Speaker of the House Ryan's intent to phase out Medicare should inspire even more fear and anger, adding to the movement. 

The one thing that would make this movement most effective is if thousands of traditional Republican voters join in the complaining. There should be lots of them. Considering that there are somewhere between ten and twenty million Americans who have gained access to health insurance through the ACA, the backlash against the congressional actions is to be expected. The only question is how big it is going to become. How many people will make the effort to communicate with their elected leaders? We should expect that the projected loss of health insurance will be powerfully motivating to a lot of people. After all, the prospect of choosing between bankruptcy or your next surgery should get people's attention. 

In the meanwhile, as the movement is building, make sure you do two things. First of all, call your representative's office and make your position clear. Then, follow up with a hand written note. There are plenty of online tools [http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/] that provide phone numbers and mailing addresses. The link I've provided here starts with your zip code. Sometimes you have to narrow the search by also providing your street address. 

Here is a summary of the strategy and detailed instructions. It's called Indivisible


Congressman John Lewis has managed to strike a nerve in the Republican administration with his proclamation that the Donald Trump presidency is not to be treated as legitimate. The moaning and groaning from the Republican Party leadership is hilarious to watch. They can't exactly criticize Lewis for who and what he is -- a true hero of the civil rights movement with the legacy of being physically beaten in defense of human rights -- so they talk about how unfortunate it is that someone is being divisive and blah blah blah. These are the same people who enjoyed watching the birther movement when Obama was first elected. 

The thing is, Trump's legitimacy becomes more and more suspect as the weeks go by. The recent episode of Saturday Night Live circulated the story (alleged, anyway) that the Russians have some incriminating video tape of Trump in a compromising position. When I saw the show, I wondered if the story was something that the writers made up, but no, it turned out that the story is true -- our intelligence services alerted both the Obama administration and Trump about the existence of the claim. The claim may or may not be accurate, but it's out there. 

Why is this so damaging to Trump's legitimacy? That part is clear. The head of the FBI made it a mission to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential run right before the election, but couldn't seem to remember to let us know about Trump's problems. Would Trump have been elected had this latest scandal been exposed at the same moment that the FBI Director discussed Hillary's minor indiscretion? Hillary was accused of being sloppy with confidential material, basically little more than the equivalent of a speeding ticket in comparison to Trump's vulnerabilities both financial and sexual. 

Trump's illegitimacy for having been placed in office by the Russians is compounded by the fact that he actually finished three million votes behind Hillary Clinton. In the past, most of us haven't spent too much time thinking about the Electoral College, but when it screws up this badly -- twice in 16 years -- it's worth thinking about. It would take states with a combined total of 105 electoral votes (in addition to the states which are already signatories) to create the interstate compact that would do away with this slavery-era fossil. 

Addendum and reply 

I don't usually reply to readers' comments. After all, if I haven't convinced you in the first 750 words, then it's pretty much on me. However, one reader provided a detailed response as to why it would be a bad idea to give California the first primary. I will be the first to admit that provoking a fight with New Hampshire and running up public expenses for a first-of-the-season primary has its negatives, as the commenter so deftly stated. In addition, it is possible to come up with various proposals such as regional primaries, although this is not the only way to do things. 

What I was trying to say is that the current system is badly flawed and terribly unfair to voters in other parts of the United States. New Hampshire voters have adopted an attitude that they are uniquely suited to picking presidential candidates, in spite of their northeastern-centric bias and small town attitudes. 

I'm reminded of an interview with a New Hampshire voter just before the 2016 primary. She explained that she had met and talked with ten of the presidential candidates (!) but had not as yet made up her mind. 

I don't fault her for her failure to make up her mind after so many meetings. I do fault the system which conveyed that privilege to the few people of New Hampshire, while millions of other people only heard about such meetings from a distance. 

It's long since time to give people in other states a chance. If we want to go with one or two small states for the first primary/caucus then let's invite applications and pull a name out of the hat. How about Oregon or Delaware? Either one is vastly more representative of the country as a whole than either New Hampshire or Iowa. 

My main point (or it was supposed to be my main point) is that it's time for the Democratic National Committee to take responsibility and do something. The DNC could start with a statement that it will be rethinking the primary process and if nothing else, plans to give other states a chance. 

The point about California taking charge and establishing a primary on the same day as the other first primary was that we have it within our power. It may not be optimal, but it is something we can do and, if nothing else, our discussion of the idea would put pressure on the DNC to finally do something creative.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])


Benny King and the Criminalization of Addiction in America

PUNISHMENT POLITICS-Benny King is a gregarious, good-hearted, God-fearing 53-year-old black man from Alabama who shouldn’t be in prison. 

But he is. 

Mr. King is serving 14-months at the federal correctional institution in Jesup, Georgia, for violating conditions of his supervised release; conditions ordered as part of King’s sentence over eleven years ago, in 2005, for bank fraud. Mr. King’s underlying conduct in that nonviolent, low-level federal criminal case (involving stolen checks) bears no relation to his current incarceration other than the fact that, it too, like the entirety of King’s nonviolent criminal history, was a byproduct of decades-long untreated drug addiction.    

You see, just like hundreds of thousands of poor, disproportionately black and brown Americans sidelined from American life – stuffed out of sight in state and federal penal institutions across the U.S. – King is serving time for one, and only one, unconscionable reason: he suffers from a substance abuse problem. He drinks. 

Mr. King (photo left with picture of sister who died) started drinking when he was just twelve years old and the problem got worse at age fourteen when his mother died; it became still worse, a bare three years later, when his father passed too. Poverty, tragedy, and alcohol abuse are a multi-generational scourge in the King family. 

And for Benny King, as with many alcoholics, when the alcohol flows, other substances quickly join stream -- marijuana, cocaine, whatever’s around. As anyone who has battled drug addiction knows (or equally, has had a friend or loved one fight that hellacious war), once the substance-spigot starts its drip, the situation often spirals, becoming impossible – without effective, often repeated, long-term inpatient drug treatment – to stop.    

That’s why what happened this past November 16 in a courtroom in Montgomery, Alabama – when Senior U.S. District Judge W. Harold Albritton III threw the proverbial book at Mr. King because he relapsed, using alcohol and drugs in the wake of his sister’s death -- should outrage every American who cares about reducing our abominably bloated prison population. 

Using an official transcript for reference, here is an abbreviated version of the proceedings: 

Judge Albritton: Mr. King, you are charged with two violations. It’s alleged that you violated the special condition that required you to participate in a program for substance abuse. You violated that term of your supervision by showing up at Herring House, where you were to be given treatment, and they would not admit you because you had been drinking alcohol. The second violation is a charge that you violated the standard condition that you refrain from excessive use of alcohol or any controlled substance. 

Assistant Federal Defender Donnie W. Bethel: I have a few things I would like to say, Your Honor. Mr. King was arrested on a Thursday. The following Saturday, his sister passed away from cancer. It was an older sister, 12 years his senior. It was a sister who, after his mother died when Mr. King was a boy, had essentially been his surrogate mother. We were back in court on a preliminary hearing that following week, and at that point I asked for him to be released on bond so he could attend his sister’s funeral. That was vehemently opposed by the prosecution, by probation, by the United States Marshal Service, which I am still befuddled by. I know what it’s like to lose a sibling. I was really taken aback that there’s such a lack of basic Christian compassion in the criminal justice system, that we would do everything we could to deny a man simply the opportunity to attend his sister’s funeral. 

I convinced Judge Moore to release him to my custody. Everybody was thrilled that Mr. King was able to attend the funeral. At the funeral, he played the piano and he sang. He’s actually a talented musician. And before I left that day, every member of his family made a point in coming to me and thanking me for taking the time out of my weekend to bring Mr. King up there to attend his sister’s funeral. And I say that only to make this point. This isn’t a violation that involves Mr. King out on the street with a gun; Mr. King selling dope; Mr. King committing some other crime, burglary, theft of property. Mr. King has a drug problem. Mr. King knows he has a drug problem. That’s what this case is about. 

He would like another opportunity to go to the Herring House to get some drug treatment, because that’s what he needs. And I think we’ve become so callous, so used to in the federal criminal justice system to shipping people off to prison, that nobody would bat an eye if, for having a drink and getting high, we’re going to send Benny King off to prison for 14 months. I think we need to step back and say, let’s stop doing the easy thing, and let’s do the right thing. 

Mr. King, tell the judge what your plan is after you’re released. 

Mr. King: My plan is to go to Florida, be with my fiancée, get married. I’ve already started the process of enrolling for a GED to get my diploma. And I’m going to take some college courses at night. I’m going to work doing paving and construction, and also I’m working for a church called New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Ft. Myers, Florida. 

I violated, Your Honor. And I know you can’t overlook that, and I don’t expect you to. But I was – when I left and went home and saw my sister. And she was fading away, and I just – which was no excuse, but I used that as an excuse to drink. And when I drink, I get high. I violated, and I apologize, and I ask the mercy of the Court. But I’m just going to be honest with everybody. I’m tired. Benny King is tired today. I’m tired. I’m not trying to pacify nobody ears. 

Mr. Bethel: He’s 52 years old. Give him another chance. Let him go to the Herring House. He’s clean now. He’s not going to be positive when he shows up down there this time. Let’s get him straightened out. Let’s just do what we were planning to do a month ago. 

Assistant United States Attorney Curtis Ivy, Jr.: So coming forward now with all these great plans and ideas is an easy thing, but it’s not going to work. What’s proper in this case is 14 months’ imprisonment with no supervised release to follow. 

Mr. Bethel: Anybody who thinks that it’s easy for a drug addict not to use drugs has never had someone close to them who’s been a drug addict. I have. It’s not easy. No matter what you do to help them, no matter how much they go through, it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen in my life for someone to overcome a drug addiction. And that’s what we’re talking about. Talking about criminalizing this case, drug addiction. 

Judge Albritton: Under the law, being a drug addict is not a defense. In this case, Mr. King has been given more than one opportunity to try to get himself straightened out. I’m sympathetic with you – and I’m sorry about your sister’s death. This time I’m going to sentence you to the maximum under the sentencing guidelines of 14 months, with no supervised release to follow. You’ll be on your own after that. The court system and the probation office and everybody has done all they can to help you break your habit. 

Just a day after Benny King was “maxed out” by Judge Albritton in Alabama, The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein wrote about a new “landmark” report authored by the U.S. Surgeon General calling the drug crisis ‘a moral test’ for America.” Distressingly, the report noted that, “[i]n 2015, substance abuse disorders affected 20.8 million people in the U.S., as many as those with diabetes, and 1 ½ times as many as those with cancer. Yet, only one in ten receives treatment.” 

Echoing Benny King’s defense counsel, the Surgeon General said: “We would never tolerate a situation where only one in 10 people with cancer or diabetes gets treatment, and yet we do that with substance abuse disorders. Regardless of persistent beliefs, addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing.” 

And then, just a month after Benny King began his newly imposed $31,000+ taxpayer-funded prison term – over four hours away by car from his fiancée and family – a rigorous, scholarly study by the Brennan Center for Justice convincingly demonstrated that 39% of prisoners in the U.S. should not be in prison. Specifically, the study found (1) that “39% of the nationwide prison population (576,000 people) is behind bars with little public safety rationale,” and (2) “25% of prisoners (364,000 people), almost all non-violent, lower-level offenders, would be better served by alternatives to incarceration such as treatment, community service, or probation.” 

Benny King is one of these sad, sad, stories in the sea of the overly incarcerated. 

Writing about another equally sad case with many parallels to Benny King, Tamra Ryan, CEO of the Women’s Bean Project, wrote: “Jessie is now back in prison and we are unlikely to hear from her again. While she may not have access to drugs in prison, she will also likely not receive drug treatment. Instead, she will do her time and, at some point, start over again without addressing the underlying issues that led to her relapse. Jessie’s addiction and inability to cope with stressors have been criminalized.” Ryan concluded “the time has come to address the underlying issue of addiction with treatment, not punishment, so that the potential of the individual is not wasted.”   


We don’t need more drug addicted people like Benny King or “Jessie” filling up this nation’s jails and prisons. They’re already overly full. We’ve got to start moving in the other direction. Now.


(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq This column was first published by JURIST and is being republished with the author’s permission.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Keeping America Secure Goes for Terrorism and … Health

GELFAND’S WORLD--The newly elected Republican majority in Congress wants to be sure that America is protected against terrorist attacks. They're willing to do what it takes and spend what is required to ensure our security. Otherwise, hundreds or even thousands of us could die. 

I suspect that most Americans are on board with this philosophy. 

What we're talking about is the idea of collective security. It would be unreasonable to expect every coastal community from Maine to Georgia to raise its own navy. We do it as a nation, not as individuals or families. And when Pearl Harbor was attacked, we treated it as a national loss, not the responsibility of a few Hawaiians. Likewise, when major Hurricanes hit the Gulf coast and the Atlantic seaboard, the national government pitched in with the recovery. Taxes coming from California and Nevada went to those recovery efforts. Few Californians complained. 

One reason for creating collective security is that there is an element of randomness in regard to who happens to be in the line of fire. We can't know that it is going to be ourselves or somebody else who gets blown up. And even if it was somebody else who was at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, we treat such events as attacks upon all of us. 

We used collective efforts to deal with the problem, in this case the matter of catching the killers. When an airport terminal was attacked a few days ago, police agencies all over the country raised the alert level and federal agencies were involved. 

Terrorism is definable not just by its underlying motives, but by the serious level of its effects. Petty theft isn't terrorism. Graffiti isn't terrorism. Terrorism involves direct threats to human life and, sadly enough, the loss of life or permanent injury. 

So we have a pretty good reason to take precautions against terrorism. As a liberal, I share with conservative Americans the desire that we all be protected against terrorism. We have this, at least, to agree on. 

I would like to suggest to both liberals and conservatives alike that there is a parallel when it comes to sickness. For a number of conditions, there is an unhappily random element to the whole thing. Childhood diabetes and childhood cancers are examples, as are broken bones and congenital heart defects. What these have in common is that they come as surprises to otherwise normal families and that they can cost a lot. 

Considering that these conditions are fairly random and fairly rare, it doesn't make sense for people to consider them in advance as a normal element of their own lives. Young couples planning a family can be forgiven if they don't decide up front what they would do if their new baby has a heart defect requiring surgery. Should every young couple be advised to set aside a couple hundred thousand dollars in advance of having children? 

At this level, it makes sense to consider randomly occurring birth defects and childhood cancers as physically and financially analogous to terrorist attacks. They are of course very different things, but each happens without warning and results in costly, painful effects. 

In other words, we should consider at least some physical ailments as falling into the category of collective responsibility, in the same way we think about collective security against foreign invasion, because individuals and individual families shouldn't be expected to either anticipate them or (if they happen) to be able to afford them. 

Beyond such near-catastrophic events are the severe but usually non-fatal chronic conditions such as asthma, scoliosis, and severe allergies, all of which are amenable to medical care following proper diagnosis. 

Let's get to the crux of the argument. If we are to have the equivalent of collective security against serious congenital defects -- in other words, a national healthcare system, or Obama Care, or socialized medicine -- and if we want to extend it to appendicitis, pneumonia, and dangerous allergy attacks, then where exactly do we draw the line? Where do you define a set of symptoms that are guaranteed to be so non-dangerous that we deny access to the national healthcare system for them? 

If this seems like a slippery slope argument, I assure you that this is exactly what it is. Nations that create a universal healthcare system for heart disease and cancer don't draw the line against treating the common cold or the flu. The public can't be expected to know in advance that a nagging cough is nothing to be concerned about. 

Western industrial nations that create some kind of national healthcare system do draw lines. But they do it after the diagnosis, not before. 

When we talk about childhood leukemia, it is easy to make a case, at least at the level of common decency, for some system of universal healthcare. Why then does the conservative political wing insist that healthcare should be provided through the free market? 

I suspect that the clash lies in the imagined picture of real world healthcare. It is possible to think of routine medical checkups, teeth cleaning, and the like, as normal expenses of being alive. We shouldn't expect the government to cover the cost of getting your nails done, buying tires for your car, or painting your house. Why then, they might ask, should we put the tab for your yearly physical on the taxpayer? 

The answer, I think, lies in the realization that the annual physical, the well-baby exam, and the emergency room are all parts of the same continuum in which mostly normal people are screened for dangerous conditions. What happens from there depends on the diagnosis. 

I wonder why conservatives treat our collective fear of cancer as less important than our collective fear of terrorist attacks. Each is susceptible to treatment, but only one is accepted by conservatives as requiring collective spending.


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


It’s Easy to Forget How Scary the ‘Good Times’ Were … Back When America was ‘Great’

EDITOR’S PICK--The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us.

Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the “post-Cold War” era. Now that it’s over, a more descriptive name might be in order.  My suggestion: America’s Age of Great Expectations. 

Forgive and Forget

The end of the Cold War caught the United States completely by surprise.  During the 1980s, even with Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin, few in Washington questioned the prevailing conviction that the Soviet-American rivalry was and would remain a defining feature of international politics more or less in perpetuity. Indeed, endorsing such an assumption was among the prerequisites for gaining entrée to official circles. Virtually no one in the American establishment gave serious thought to the here-today, gone-tomorrow possibility that the Soviet threat, the Soviet empire, and the Soviet Union itself might someday vanish. Washington had plans aplenty for what to do should a Third World War erupt, but none for what to do if the prospect of such a climactic conflict simply disappeared.

Still, without missing a beat, when the Berlin Wall fell and two years later the Soviet Union imploded, leading members of that establishment wasted no time in explaining the implications of developments they had totally failed to anticipate.  With something close to unanimity, politicians and policy-oriented intellectuals interpreted the unification of Berlin and the ensuing collapse of communism as an all-American victory of cosmic proportions.  “We” had won, “they” had lost -- with that outcome vindicating everything the United States represented as the archetype of freedom.

From within the confines of that establishment, one rising young intellectual audaciously suggested that the “end of history” itself might be at hand, with the “sole superpower” left standing now perfectly positioned to determine the future of all humankind.  In Washington, various powers-that-be considered this hypothesis and concluded that it sounded just about right.  The future took on the appearance of a blank slate upon which Destiny itself was inviting Americans to inscribe their intentions.

American elites might, of course, have assigned a far different, less celebratory meaning to the passing of the Cold War. They might have seen the outcome as a moment that called for regret, repentance, and making amends.

After all, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, or more broadly between what was then called the Free World and the Communist bloc, had yielded a host of baleful effects.  An arms race between two superpowers had created monstrous nuclear arsenals and, on multiple occasions, brought the planet precariously close to Armageddon.  Two singularly inglorious wars had claimed the lives of many tens of thousands of American soldiers and literally millions of Asians.  One, on the Korean peninsula, had ended in an unsatisfactory draw; the other, in Southeast Asia, in catastrophic defeat.  Proxy fights in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East killed so many more and laid waste to whole countries.  Cold War obsessions led Washington to overthrow democratic governments, connive in assassination, make common cause with corrupt dictators, and turn a blind eye to genocidal violence.  On the home front, hysteria compromised civil liberties and fostered a sprawling, intrusive, and unaccountable national security apparatus.  Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries conspired to spend vast sums on weapons purchases that somehow never seemed adequate to the putative dangers at hand.  

Rather than reflecting on such somber and sordid matters, however, the American political establishment together with ambitious members of the country’s intelligentsia found it so much more expedient simply to move on. As they saw it, the annus mirabilis of 1989 wiped away the sins of former years. Eager to make a fresh start, Washington granted itself a plenary indulgence. After all, why contemplate past unpleasantness when a future so stunningly rich in promise now beckoned?

Three Big Ideas and a Dubious Corollary

Soon enough, that promise found concrete expression. In remarkably short order, three themes emerged to define the new American age.  Informing each of them was a sense of exuberant anticipation toward an era of almost unimaginable expectations. The twentieth century was ending on a high note.  For the planet as a whole but especially for the United States, great things lay ahead.

Focused on the world economy, the first of those themes emphasized the transformative potential of turbocharged globalization le d by U.S.-based financial institutions and transnational corporations.  An “open world” would facilitate the movement of goods, capital, ideas, and people and thereby create wealth on an unprecedented scale.  In the process, the rules governing American-style corporate capitalism would come to prevail everywhere on the planet.  Everyone would benefit, but especially Americans who would continue to enjoy more than their fair share of material abundance.

Focused on statecraft, the second theme spelled out the implications of an international order dominated as never before -- not even in the heydays of the Roman and British Empires -- by a single nation. With the passing of the Cold War, the United States now stood apart as both supreme power and irreplaceable global leader, its status guaranteed by its unstoppable military might.

In the editorial offices of the Wall Street Journal,the Washington Post, the New Republic, and theWeekly Standard, such “truths” achieved a self-evident status.  Although more muted in their public pronouncements than Washington’s reigning pundits, officials enjoying access to the Oval Office, the State Department’s 7th floor, and the E-ring of the Pentagon generally agreed.  The assertive exercise of (benign!) global hegemony seemingly held the key to ensuring that Americans would enjoy safety and security, both at home and abroad, now and in perpetuity.

The third theme was all about rethinking the concept of personal freedom as commonly understood and pursued by most Americans.  During the protracted emergency of the Cold War, reaching an accommodation between freedom and the putative imperatives of national security had not come easily.  Cold War-style patriotism seemingly prioritized the interests of the state at the expense of the individual.  Yet even as thrillingly expressed by John F. Kennedy -- “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” -- this was never an easy sell, especially if it meant wading through rice paddies and getting shot at.

Once the Cold War ended, however, the tension between individual freedom and national security momentarily dissipated.  Reigning conceptions of what freedom could or should entail underwent a radical transformation.  Emphasizing the removal of restraints and inhibitions, the shift made itself felt everywhere, from patterns of consumption and modes of cultural expression to sexuality and the definition of the family.  Norms that had prevailed for decades if not generations -- marriage as a union between a man and a woman, gender identity as fixed at birth -- became passé. The concept of a transcendent common good, which during the Cold War had taken a backseat to national security, now took a backseat to maximizing individual choice and autonomy.

Finally, as a complement to these themes, in the realm of governance, the end of the Cold War cemented the status of the president as quasi-deity.  In the Age of Great Expectations, the myth of the president as a deliverer from (or, in the eyes of critics, the ultimate perpetrator of) evil flourished.  In the solar system of American politics, the man in the White House increasingly became the sun around which everything seemed to orbit.  By comparison, nothing else much mattered.

From one administration to the next, of course, presidential efforts to deliver Americans to the Promised Land regularly came up short.  Even so, the political establishment and the establishment media collaborated in sustaining the pretense that out of the next endlessly hyped “race for the White House,” another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan would magically emerge to save the nation.  From one election cycle to the next, these campaigns became longer and more expensive, drearier and yet ever more circus-like.  No matter.  During the Age of Great Expectations, the reflexive tendency to see the president as the ultimate guarantor of American abundance, security, and freedom remained sacrosanct.


Meanwhile, between promise and reality, a yawning gap began to appear. During the concluding decade of the twentieth century and the first decade-and-a-half of the twenty-first, Americans endured a seemingly endless series of crises.  Individually, none of these merit comparison with, say, the Civil War or World War II.  Yet never in U.S. history has a sequence of events occurring in such close proximity subjected American institutions and the American people to greater stress.

During the decade between 1998 and 2008, they came on with startling regularity: one president impeached and his successor chosen by the direct intervention of the Supreme Court; a massive terrorist attack on American soil that killed thousands, traumatized the nation, and left senior officials bereft of their senses; a mindless, needless, and unsuccessful war of choice launched on the basis of false claims and outright lies; a natural disaster (exacerbated by engineering folly) that all but destroyed a major American city, after which government agencies mounted a belated and half-hearted response; and finally, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, bringing ruin to millions of families.

For the sake of completeness, we should append to this roster of seismic occurrences one additional event: Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president.  He arrived at the zenith of American political life as a seemingly messianic figure called upon not only to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor, George W. Bush, but somehow to absolve the nation of its original sins of slavery and racism.

Yet during the Obama presidency race relations, in fact, deteriorated.  Whether prompted by cynical political calculations or a crass desire to boost ratings, race baiters came out of the woodwork -- one of them, of course, infamously birtheredin Trump Tower in mid-Manhattan -- and poured their poisons into the body politic.  Even so, as the end of Obama’s term approached, the cult of thepresidency itself remained remarkably intact.

Individually, the impact of these various crises ranged from disconcerting to debilitating to horrifying.  Yet to treat them separately is to overlook their collective implications, which the election of Donald Trump only now enables us to appreciate.  It was not one president’s dalliance with an intern or “hanging chads”or 9/11 or “Mission Accomplished” or the inundation of the Lower Ninth Ward orthe collapse of Lehman Brothers or the absurd birther movement that undermined the Age of Great Expectations.  It was the way all these events together exposed those expectations as radically suspect.

In effect, the various crises that punctuated the post-Cold War era called into question key themes to which a fevered American triumphalism had given rise.  Globalization, militarized hegemony, and a more expansive definition of freedom, guided by enlightened presidents in tune with the times, should have provided Americans with all the blessings that were rightly theirs as a consequence of having prevailed in the Cold War.  Instead, between 1989 and 2016, things kept happening that weren’t supposed to happen. A future marketed as all but foreordained proved elusive, if not illusory.  As actually experienced, the Age of Great Expectations became an Age of Unwelcome Surprises.

A Candidate for Decline

True, globalization created wealth on a vast scale, just not for ordinary Americans.  The already well-to-do did splendidly, in some cases unbelievably so.  But middle-class incomes stagnated and good jobs became increasingly hard to find or keep.  By the election of 2016, the United States looked increasingly like a society divided between haves and have-nots, the affluent and the left-behind, the 1% and everyone else. Prospective voters were noticing.

Meanwhile, policies inspired by Washington’s soaring hegemonic ambitions produced remarkably few happy outcomes.  With U.S. forces continuously engaged in combat operations, peace all but vanished as a policy objective (or even a word in Washington’s political lexicon). The acknowledged standing of the country’s military as the world’s best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led force coexisted uneasily with the fact that it proved unable to win. Instead, the national security establishment became conditioned to the idea of permanent war, high-ranking officials taking it for granted that ordinary citizens would simply accommodate themselves to this new reality. Yet it soon became apparent that, instead of giving ordinary Americans a sense of security, this new paradigm induced an acute sense of vulnerability, which left many susceptible to demagogic fear mongering.

As for the revised definition of freedom, with autonomy emerging as the nationalsummum bonum, it left some satisfied but others adrift.  During the Age of Great Expectations, distinctions between citizen and consumer blurred.  Shopping became tantamount to a civic obligation, essential to keeping the economy afloat.  Yet if all the hoopla surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday represented a celebration of American freedom, its satisfactions were transitory at best, rarely extending beyond the due date printed on a credit card statement.  Meanwhile, as digital connections displaced personal ones, relationships, like jobs, became more contingent and temporary.  Loneliness emerged as an abiding affliction.  Meanwhile, for all the talk of empowering the marginalized -- people of color, women, gays -- elites reaped the lion’s share of the benefits while ordinary people were left to make do.  The atmosphere was rife with hypocrisy and even a whiff of nihilism.

To these various contradictions, the establishment itself remained stubbornly oblivious, with the 2016 presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton offering a case in point.  As her long record in public life made abundantly clear, Clinton embodied the establishment in the Age of Great Expectations.  She believed in globalization, in the indispensability of American leadership backed by military power, and in the post-Cold War cultural project.  And she certainly believed in the presidency as the mechanism to translate aspirations into outcomes.

Such commonplace convictions of the era, along with her vanguard role in pressing for the empowerment of women, imparted to her run an air of inevitability.  That she deserved to win appeared self-evident. It was, after all, her turn.  Largely overlooked were signs that the abiding themes of the Age of Great Expectations no longer commanded automatic allegiance.

Gasping for Air

Senator Bernie Sanders offered one of those signs.  That a past-his-prime, self-professed socialist from Vermont with a negligible record of legislative achievement and tenuous links to the Democratic Party might mount a serious challenge to Clinton seemed, on the face of it, absurd.  Yet by zeroing in on unfairness and inequality as inevitable byproducts of globalization, Sanders struck a chord.

Knocked briefly off balance, Clinton responded by modifying certain of her longstanding positions. By backing away from free trade, the ne plus ultra of globalization, she managed, though not without difficulty, to defeat the Sanders insurgency.  Even so, he, in effect, served as the canary in the establishment coal mine, signaling that the Age of Great Expectations might be running out of oxygen.

A parallel and far stranger insurgency was simultaneously wreaking havoc in the Republican Party.  That a narcissistic political neophyte stood the slightest chance of capturing the GOP seemed even more improbable than Sanders taking a nomination that appeared Clinton’s by right.

Coarse, vulgar, unprincipled, uninformed, erratic, and with little regard for truth, Trump was sui generis among presidential candidates.  Yet he possessed a singular gift: a knack for riling up those who nurse gripes and are keen to pin the blame on someone or something.  In post-Cold War America, among the millions that Hillary Clinton was famously dismissing as “deplorables,” gripes had been ripening like cheese in a hothouse.

Through whatever combination of intuition and malice aforethought, Trump demonstrated a genius for motivating those deplorables.  He pushed their buttons.  They responded by turning out in droves to attend his rallies. There they listened to a message that they found compelling.

In Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” his followers heard a promise to restore everything they believed had been taken from them in the Age of Great Expectations.  Globalization was neither beneficial nor inevitable, the candidate insisted, and vowed, once elected, to curb its effects along with the excesses of corporate capitalism, thereby bringing back millions of lost jobs from overseas.  He would, he swore, fund a massive infrastructure program, cut taxes, keep a lid on the national debt, and generally champion the cause of working stiffs.  The many complications and contradictions inherent in these various prescriptions would, he assured his fans, give way to his business savvy. 

In considering America’s role in the post-Cold War world, Trump exhibited a similar impatience with the status quo.  Rather than allowing armed conflicts to drag on forever, he promised to win them (putting to work his mastery of military affairs) or, if not, to quit and get out, pausing just long enough to claim as a sort of consolation prize whatever spoils might be lying loose on the battlefield.  At the very least, he would prevent so-called allies from treating the United States like some patsy. Henceforth, nations benefitting from American protection were going to foot their share of the bill.  What all of this added up to may not have been clear, but it did suggest a sharp departure from the usual post-1989 formula for exercising global leadership.

No less important than Trump’s semi-coherent critique of globalization and American globalism, however, was his success in channeling the discontent of all those who nursed an inchoate sense that post-Cold War freedoms might be working for some, but not for them.

Not that Trump had anything to say about whether freedom confers obligations, or whether conspicuous consumption might not actually hold the key to human happiness, or any of the various controversies related to gender, sexuality, and family.  He was indifferent to all such matters.  He was, however, distinctly able to offer his followers a grimly persuasive explanation for how America had gone off course and how the blessings of liberties to which they were entitled had been stolen.  He did that by fingering as scapegoats Muslims, Mexicans, and others "not-like-me."

Trump’s political strategy reduced to this: as president, he would overturn the conventions that had governed right thinking since the end of the Cold War.  To the amazement of an establishment grown smug and lazy, his approach worked.  Even while disregarding all received wisdom when it came to organizing and conducting a presidential campaign in the Age of Great Expectations, Trump won.  He did so by enchanting the disenchanted, all those who had lost faith in the promises that had sprung from the bosom of the elites that the end of the Cold War had taken by surprise.

Adrift Without a Compass

Within hours of Trump’s election, among progressives, expressing fear and trepidation at the prospect of what he might actually do on assuming office becamede rigueur.  Yet those who had actually voted for Trump were also left wondering what to expect.  Both camps assign him the status of a transformative historical figure.  However, premonitions of incipient fascism and hopes that he will engineer a new American Golden Age are likely to prove similarly misplaced.  To focus on the man himself rather than on the circumstances that produced him is to miss the significance of what has occurred.

Note, for example, that his mandate is almost entirely negative.  It centers on rejection: of globalization, of counterproductive military meddling, and of the post-Cold War cultural project.  Yet neither Trump nor any of his surrogates has offered a coherent alternative to the triad of themes providing the through line for the last quarter-century of American history.  Apart a lingering conviction that forceful -- in The Donald’s case, blustering -- presidential leadership can somehow turn things around, “Trumpism” is a dog’s breakfast.

In all likelihood, his presidency will prove less transformative than transitional. As a result, concerns about what he may do, however worrisome, matter less than the larger question of where we go from here.  The principles that enjoyed favor following the Cold War have been found wanting. What should replace them?

Efforts to identify those principles should begin with an honest accounting of the age we are now leaving behind, the history that happened after “the end of history.”  That accounting should, in turn, allow room for regret, repentance, and making amends -- the very critical appraisal that ought to have occurred at the end of the Cold War but was preempted when American elites succumbed to their bout of victory disease.

Don’t expect Donald Trump to undertake any such appraisal.  Nor will the establishment that candidate Trump so roundly denounced, but which President-elect Trump, at least in his senior national security appointments, now shows sign of accommodating.  Those expecting Trump’s election to inject courage into members of the political class or imagination into inside-the-Beltway “thought leaders” are in for a disappointment. So the principles we need -- an approach to political economy providing sustainable and equitable prosperity; a foreign policy that discards militarism in favor of prudence and pragmatism; and an enriched, inclusive concept of freedom -- will have to come from somewhere else.

“Where there is no vision,” the Book of Proverbs tells us, “the people perish.”  In the present day, there is no vision to which Americans collectively adhere.  For proof, we need look no further than the election of Donald Trump.

The Age of Great Expectations has ended, leaving behind an ominous void.  Yet Trump’s own inability to explain what should fill that great void provides neither excuse for inaction nor cause for despair.  Instead, Trump himself makes manifest the need to reflect on the nation’s recent past and to think deeply about its future.

A decade before the Cold War ended, writing in democracy, a short-lived journal devoted to “political renewal and radical change,” the historian and social critic Christopher Lasch sketched out a set of principles that might lead us out of our current crisis. Lasch called for a politics based on “the nurture of the soil against the exploitation of resources, the family against the factory, the romantic vision of the individual against the technological vision, [and] localism over democratic centralism.” Nearly a half-century later, as a place to begin, his prescription remains apt.

(Andrew J. Bacevich is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. His most recent book is America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. This perspective was posted first at Tom Dispatch.


Wall Street Owns Trump: President-to-Be’s Wall Street Debt More Than $1.5 Billion

NO CONFLICT HERE, RIGHT--As many suspected, President-elect Donald Trump’s web of business conflicts is much more complicated than he has let on.

An analysis by the Wall Street Journal published Thursday found that the incoming president owes at least $1.85 billion in debt to as many as 150 Wall Street firms and other financial institutions.

According to the examination of legal and property documents, “Hundreds of millions of dollars of debt attached to Mr. Trump’s properties, some of them backed by Mr. Trump’s personal guarantee, were packaged into securities and sold to investors over the past five years,” thus “broadening the tangle of interests that pose potential conflicts for the incoming president’s administration.”

In May, Trump filed documents with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that disclosed $315 million owed to 10 companies—but that only included debts for companies that Trump completely controls, “excluding more than $1.5 billion lent to partnerships that are 30 percent owned by him,” WSJ reported.

“As a result,” wrote WSJ reporters Jean Eaglesham and Lisa Schwartz, “a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president.”

Put more directly, as Think Progress’s Judd Legum did: “As president, Trump will be responsible for regulating entities that he also owes money to.”

In one troubling example, the investigation found that Wells Fargo, currently under investigation for a years-long banking fraud scandal, “runs at least five mutual funds that own portions of Trump businesses’ securitized debt;” is “a trustee or administrator for pools of securitized loans that include $282 million of loans to Mr. Trump;” and “acts as a special servicer for $950 million of loans to a property that one of Mr. Trump’s companies partly owns.”

“Once he takes office,” Eaglesham and Schwartz observed, “Mr. Trump will appoint the heads of many of the regulators that police the bank.”

The spread of Trump’s debt can in large part be attributed to the process known as “securitization,” when debt is repackaged into bonds and sold off. More than $1 billion of debt connected to the president-elect has been handled in this way.

While concerns over Trump’s conflicts of interest continue to mount, the president-elect has thus far failed to address the issue. Despite warnings from ethics attorneys, he has refused to divest his business holdings, though there were reports that he would hand the reins of the real estate empire over to his sons and advisors, Donald Jr. and Eric. At the same time, a December press conference was postponed and is now scheduled for Jan. 11—the same day as some of his more controversial appointees’ confirmation hearings

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


American Crisis: Solving the Student-Debt Crisis

THE CONSIDERABLE COST OF COLLEGE-The American student-debt system is so big and complex that there’s almost no aspect of it that the experts can agree on. Some commentators see a bubble overdue to burst: a trillion and a half (or so) dollars that could vanish at any moment; a housing crisis 2.0 ready to happen. Others see a well-oiled machine that is successfully expanding college access and increasing affordability --  a machine that has the most stable economic foundation possible. 

Even when there are numbers, there is disagreement over which ones to use and what they mean. There is evidence to support both of the above positions, and we might not understand the true character of student debt for decades. After all, these are long loans. 

Still, we can work with the best evidence we have. Forty-two percent of all American adults under 30 have student debt, according to a study from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, and 79 percent agree that debt is a problem, whether they have it or not. 

If everyone agrees student loans need to change, then what’s the problem? Here’s an overview. 


One traditional progressive solution when a private industry is failing to serve the public good is nationalization, or at least a government-run competitor. In the health-care debate, for example, the left wing of the Democratic Party pushed for Medicare for all, or at least a public option. (They got neither.) In student lending, however, the government already took over. They just didn’t tell anyone.

As a cost-saving element of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the Obama administration ended the federal practice of securing private student loans, which effectively nationalized over 80 percent of the market. The Obama administration didn’t publicize the change --  probably because being associated with the student-loan checks Americans have to send every month isn’t a smart political move. 

Nationalization has not, however, made much of a difference when it comes to how the student-lending system works. Now, instead of private companies profiting off the loans, the federal government cashes the checks. As long as there is debt, borrowers will have to pay. The next target for reformers is loan fees themselves, and the Democratic Party has been promoting the idea of “debt-free college” -- though if passed into law the promise would likely include a lot of asterisks. 


Before 2013, interest rates on federal loans were caught in limbo. While rates were officially set at 6.8 percent, Congress was using extraordinary action to hold them at 3.4 percent. Borrowers couldn’t be certain what their interest rate was going to be the next year, never mind 15 years down the line. The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act  sought to change that. 

On this issue, Democrats and Republicans cooperated in a way we’re not used to seeing these days: Both sides took positions and they compromised in the middle. Republicans got higher interest rates and pegged them to Treasury rates, while the Obama administration got a modest pay-as-you-earn option. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the two more or less cancel each other out. For borrowers, the compromise was a wash. And if Treasury rates increase (as they inevitably will), then borrowers could be looking at interest rates of 8.25 to 10.5 percent, the maximum under the law. 


Many commentators — notably self-styled maverick billionaire Mark Cuban — have been warning about the imminent collapse of the student-debt system. On first look, this alarmism seems prescient: Like the housing market, college costs have been rising out of control. Post-nationalization, student loans comprise a rapidly escalating percentage of the federal government’s asset profile — between one-quarter and nearly half, according to different estimates. 

Cuban and those like him worry that the government, with its easy loans, has allowed college costs to escalate beyond their value. As with the housing market, they think much of the trillion-plus dollars in outstanding debt simply will never be recouped. The class of 2014 averaged $28,950 in debt (according to the Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt); [[[   http://ticas.org/posd/home ]]] they might never make enough to pay it all back. 

It’s a compelling story, but the government probably is too big to fail as a lender. It passes laws, self-regulates, and literally prints money. The Treasury doesn’t have to worry about holding money in the form of debt owed by 20-somethings; it can stretch out repayment for decades. Those 20-somethings will be 40-somethings and 50-somethings, and eventually they’ll get Social Security payments. The feds can wait. 


The biggest difference between college degrees and houses --  since the costs are now basically comparable --  is that you can walk away from a house. If you take out a mortgage and the value of your property tanks and you end up owing more than it’s worth, you can leave, and the bank takes the hit. With education, there’s no way to give your purchase back to the bank because you agreed to pay more than it’s worth. 

When the federal government made a real push to subsidize higher education in the 1960s, it occurred to policymakers that some people might take out all the loans they could carry, go bankrupt after graduation, and run away with a free degree. To prevent the possibility (there’s no evidence it ever happened at any scale), they made student debt extremely difficult to escape. You can’t discharge it in bankruptcy, and the feds have extraordinary collection access. As a result, the Treasury recovers an average of nearly 100 percent of student-loan principal, even from borrowers who default. With the government collecting, defaults are not much of a threat. 


Although there’s not much difference between Democrats and Republicans on the subject of student loans, there is what we could call an “extra-parliamentary opposition.” When Occupy Wall Street took over a square in downtown Manhattan, it had a whole litany of complaints and it was hard to find two occupiers who agreed. But when economist Mike Konczal reviewed posts to a Tumblr of OWS supporters’ stories, he found that student debt was the overwhelming central issue among the protesters. 

The occupation is long finished, but it has inspired further anti-debt activism: As late as 2014, the group Strike Debt was using donations to buy up debt (though not mostly student-loan debt) at a discount, after which they forgave it. A few borrowers have even refused to repay their student loans, urging others to join them. The future of student debt could depend on how the government responds to these outside protests. We’ve seen the demand for debt-free college go from Occupy to Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Meanwhile, the numbers keep piling up.


(Malcom Harris writes for Pacific Standard where a version of this story first appeared in the January/February 2017 issue.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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