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Fri, Jul

Don't Think the Republicans Won't Impeach Trump Because Pence Is Next In Line

VOICES--One of the many compelling arguments for having Hillary Clinton pick Bernie Sanders as her VP running mate (at least what should have been an argument from her standpoint,) was that it would have dampened enthusiasm for impeaching her in the future -- a kind of impeachment insurance. Elizabeth Warren would have accomplished much the same thing. 

The current dynamic with Donald Trump is quite the opposite. If Trump were impeached, Pence is next in line, and the Republicans can live with that big time. 

At the moment, the Republicans see Pence as a kind of chaperone, which is why they are so upset that Pence was apparently out of the loop and last to know that Michael Flynn was lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Since Trump knows so little about either foreign or domestic policy, they figured they could control the White House through Pence, Dick Cheney style. 

But if that's not happening, all bets on standing behind Trump are off. 

Lots of people on the left are already screaming "Impeach, impeach!" And there may already be strong grounds for it. But has anybody actually thought this through? 

Most Republicans are officially disinterested in a dedicated Trump investigation. They don't have to be. As we pointed out yesterday the press is highly motivated (understatement?) to dig up something. Dark forces within the CIA and NSA infrastructure may even hand it to them on a platinum platter, and we'll talk more about that tomorrow. 

However it comes to them, if they dig up something big, and a scandal is exploding around Trump's ears, have no doubt that even the Republicans will be saying, "Sorry, Donald, you gots to go," in a hot Washington political minute. 

They are not married to Trump. At best this was an affair of convenience for them. As long as the rubes would turn out and vote for him they would go along with it, grumbling caveats and all, while allowing them to benefit in their down ticket races. But if Trump goes down, we'd get the same Supreme Court picks from Pence, or worse, the same extreme right wing policies…or worse, with Paul Ryan next in line after that. 

Trump's Achilles heel is his pathological lying. If he's going to survive at all, he's got to stop lying about anything and everything. Frankly, lying is so dyed in the wool with him we are skeptical he is even capable of stopping it. 

His lies are so blatant, and so easily debunked, it has to catch up to him. Friday he boldly proclaimed at his press conference that his election represented the biggest Electoral College margin since Reagan. There wasn't a reporter in the room who did not know the actual numbers there.

 

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

Blacks for Trump 2020 … The Prevaricator-in-Chief’s Latest Con?

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--They had the best, closest and most visible spot in the crowd behind Trump at his much-touted recent pep rally in Melbourne, Florida. They being the handful of blacks that enthusiastically waved the “Blacks for Trump” signs behind him. The black Trump boosters didn’t stop there. They promoted and ballyhooed their website primping Trumps presumed re-election campaign in 2020, complete with a re-election website Gods2.com. 

Now in case one thinks this is a recent Trump stunt or stunt by some black odd balls to get their 15 minutes in the bask of Trump’s presidential glow, it’s a little more involved. This bunch popped up at a Trump rally in Florida back in October a couple of weeks before his win. Their very conspicuous appearance on the political scene has prompted more than a few conspiratorial musings about whether and how much they’re being paid by Trump operatives, what does Trump know about them. This is coupled with some murky, even unsavory, facts about the one identifiable cheerleader of the Trump cause in the group, Michael the Black Man. 

He’s got a shadowy past that once garnered a lot of media attention when a few years back he emerged as head of a fringe black nationalist/religious cult in South Florida. He, and more than a dozen other members of the group, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder (not convicted). Since then he and other group members have been hauled into court several times on various charges, but nothing has stuck. He’s parlayed this notoriety into one of the biggest scams or beliefs depending on how one wants to look at Blacks for Trump on the political stage. 

This still doesn’t answer the dangling question just what Trump really knows about his vocal and suddenly media grabbing coterie of black boosters? Trump certainly didn’t have any problem snatching one of their placards at the rally last October and waving it around. Whether he knows or cares about the shady history of the principal organizer is unknown. However, the group isn’t slithering under the public radar. Its website is chock full of racial rants, homespun bizarre conspiracy concoctions about war, religion, and the secret global cabal that supposedly runs the planet. 

This stuff seemingly would be more than even a Trump could stomach. But that’s probably less important than the fact that they are out front, visible, and imminently promotable as being supposed proof that he’s got some blacks beyond the handful of ex-jocks and entertainers he’s met with who are willing to wave signs backing him. 

This also kind of, sort of, boosts the case that he makes that he’s got much more black support and votes than anybody ever believed he could possibly get. He actually did edge close to getting into double figures with black votes. His talk of blacks being used and spit out when no longer needed for votes by Democrats, underserved black neighborhoods that are supposedly a mess with lousy public schools, high crime and violence, and chronic joblessness and poverty got some traction. His non-stop trash of Hillary Clinton played to the latent and not so latent loathing by some blacks of the Clintons for allegedly there being the architects of mass incarceration, and the welfare gut. 

Trump also can trot out a bunch of black apologists and spokespersons to toot his line that he genuinely wants to be an inclusive President and harbors no racial animus toward blacks. This ploy finds a soft spot with more than a few blacks, most notably black conservative evangelicals, who are always deeply susceptible to GOP conservative pitches on some issues such as abortion. 

Now there is no evidence as of yet that any money has changed hands between anyone, or any group, connected with Trump to get black placard wavers into the stands in well-positioned posts behind Trump at public appearances. The only thing that really counts for the moment is that by being there they add an odd, curious, element to the usually overwhelming crowd of fevered shouting white Trump acolytes we see.  This is exactly the kind of element that would appeal to a Trump who revels in doing everything humanly and politically possible to ensure that his presidency is the most bizarre, contentious and controversial in the annals of American politics. Blacks for Trump 2020 fits neatly into that mold. 

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

-cw

The Screwed Generation Turns Socialist

NEW GEOGRAPHY--Increasingly American politics are driven by generational change. The election of Donald Trump was not just a triumph of whiter, heartland America. It also confirmed the still considerable voting power of the older generation. Yet over time, as those of us who have lived long enough well know, generations decline, and die off, and new ones ascend.

In this past election, those over 45 strongly favored Trump, while those younger than that cast their ballots for Clinton. Trump’s improbable victory, and the more significant GOP sweep across the country, demonstrated that the much-ballyhooed millennials simply are not yet sufficiently numerous or united enough to overcome the votes of the older generations.

Yet over time, the millennials—arguably the most progressive generation since the ’30s—could drive our politics not only leftward, but towards an increasingly socialist reality, overturning many of the very things that long have defined American life. This could presage a war of generations over everything from social mores to economics and could well define our politics for the next decade. 

To best understand the battle lines, you must know the generations and their differences, and where they will leave this increasingly fractured republic.

The Greatest Generation

The last “civic generation” before the advent of the millennials—a term coined by generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss—was forged in the Depression, fought the Second World War, and managed the ensuing cold conflict with the old USSR. Born between 1901 and 1927, members of the much admired ++“greatest generation” were civic minded, embracing the idea that government provided an ideal mechanism to address the nation’s problems. 

Like the millennials, who also follow this civic impulse, this generation was decisively Democratic. They are also, sadly, dying out, with the last remnants now in their 80s and 90s. According to generational analysts Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, this group was the only generation, besides the then small cadre of voting age millennials, to support John Kerry in 2004.  

Under two million in 2010, per the Census, their numbers have dwindled to 750,000. Yet even so, as recently as 2014 , the remnants of the “greatest generation,” according to Pew, still favored the Democrats by 7 percentage points. Even fewer will be around in 2020 but those who remain may well remain liberal. It’s no sample, but my 93-year-old mother holds to pattern. Brought up poor in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, she voted for the oldest and most left leaning major candidate—Bernie Sanders—in the primary and then cast her ballot for Hillary.

The Silent Generation Slow to fade

The “silent generation,” born between 1925 and 1942, mostly came of age in the conservative ’50s. These products of the Eisenhower era have been the prime beneficiaries of the sustained boom that took root between the end of the Second World War and the ’70s. As a result, they continue to hold a big share of America’s wealth—roughly 33 percent –even as they enter their seventies and eighties.

Given their embrace of the normative social values of their era, and their wealth, it’s not surprising that the silents have tended to the right. These older voters went for Trump by a significant margin, and overall, note Winograd and Hais, 53 percent lean to the Republicans, compared to just 40 percent who lean Democratic.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the silents before their time, as Democratic theorists sometimes seem to do. They still number upward of 29 million, and more than forty members of Congress hail from this generation, including, ironically, much of the  Democratic leadership. Given their extended longevity, particularly among those in the upper middle class, they may remain influential well into the next decade.

Boomers: For Now, the Power Generation

The largest generation in American history before the millennials, the Baby Boomers were born between 1943 and 1960 and they remain the power generation. After all, both presidential candidates last year were clearly Boomers, with sufficient evidence of the narcissism that defines this generation. They also predominate in Congress, with 270 members, roughly half the total, in 2016. Hais estimates that they number between 75 and 82 million strong. 

Ever since the turbulence of the ’60s, the Boomers have been sharply divided. Peace protests, psychedelics, and Woodstock defined only a part of that generation. Indeed, rather than tending to the left, the Boomers over time have slowly moved to the right. In 1992, note Winograd and Hais, they leaned 49 to 42 percent Democratic; last year, they leaned 49 to 45 Republican. Overall, Boomers supported Donald Trump by a narrow margin.

In the future, economics more than culture may define Boomer politics. Somewhat more socially liberal than the silent generation before them, they control a dominant share of the nation’s wealth—some 50 percent—and according to a recent Deloitte study will still control about 45 percent well into their seventies and eighties. This may make them naturally suspicious of the redistributionist agenda of the left Democrats, since this would naturally come from their wealth. They will also have to resist attempts by GOP reformers like Paul Ryan to meddle with Medicare, social security, and, for some, pensions. One reason Trump won over these voters—both in the primary and the general election—was by promising not to touch these holy of holies.

Xers: Long-time outsiders but soon the next power generation

Smaller than the boomers, and generally less privileged, the X generation—born between 1965 and 1981—gets short shrift among advertisers as well in the media, but seem poised to take power by the end of the decade. Numbering more than 65 million, they are a smaller generation than the boomers but they are slowly gaining control of politics, with 117 members in Congress compared to just five for millennials. They already dominate the leadership of the GOP. Paul Ryan is their poster boy.

Today, the Xers, many already in their fifties, have only 14 percent of the nation’s wealth, a relative pittance compared to the boomers. But by 2030, as the boomers finally start to fade from the picture, Xers should account for 31 percent of the nation’s wealth, twice the percentage for the millennials. Critically, the heads of most companies backed by venture capital come from this generation, according to the Harvard Business Review. Raised largely during the neo-conservative heyday of Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, Xers also dominate the ranks of managers at major companies.

Yet at the same time, they have faced a rockier economic ride than the boomers, suffering particularly in the 2007 housing crash. The percentage of Xers who own their own homes dropped far more precipitously compared to the more entrenched Boomers The impact was particularly tough on younger Xers, who often got into the market around the housing bust.

Millennials: The Red Generation?

The long-term hopes of the American left lie with the millennial generation. The roughly 90 million Americans born between 1984 and 2004 seem susceptible to the quasi socialist ideology of the post-Obama Democratic Party. They are also far more liberal on key social issues—gender and gay rights, immigration, marijuana legalization—than any previous generation. They comprise the most diverse adult generation in American history: some 40 percent of millennials come from minority groups, compared to some 30 percent for boomers and less than 20 percent for the silent and the greatest generations.

Millennials’ defining political trait is their embrace of activist government. Some 54 percent of millennials, notes Pew, favor a larger government, compared to only 39 percent of older generations. One reason: Millennials face the worst economic circumstances of any generation since the Depression, including daunting challenges to home ownership. More than other generations, they have less reason to be enamored with capitalism.

These economic realities, along with the progressive social views, has affected their voting behavior. Millennials have voted decisively Democratic since they started going to the polls, with 60 percent leaning that direction in 2012 and 55 percent last year. They helped push President Obama over the top, and Hillary Clinton got the bulk of their votes last year. But their clear favorite last year was self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, who drew more far millennial votes in the primaries than Clinton and Trump combined.

The West is red, too? Maybe, maybe not.

Roughly half of Millennials  have positive feelings about socialism, twice the rate of the previous generation. Indeed, despite talk about a dictatorial Trump and his deplorables, the Democratic-leaning Millennials are more likely to embrace limits on free speech and are far less committed to constitutional democracy than their elders. Some 40 percent, notes Pew, favor limiting speech deemed offensive to minorities, well above the 27 percent among the Xers, 24 among the boomers, and only 12 percent among silents. They are also far more likely to be dismissive about basic constitutional civil rights, and are even more accepting of a military coup than previous generations.

Millennials clearly have not been well-schooled by the founders’ vision. This could augur a grim prospect, a kind of voluntary 1984 with cellphones and social media. Potential economic conflicts between millennials and boomers and Xers for scarce resources could accelerate support for a federally mandated agenda of redistribution. After all, if they have little money, own even less and have modest prospects for achieving what their parents did, why not socialism, constitutional norms be damned?

Yet this future is not guaranteed. Already white Millennials, still 60 percent of the total youth electorate (less than the 73 Anglo share among older voters but still a large bloc), show signs of moving to the right, particularly outside the coasts. Overall, they backed Trump by 48 to 43 percent and, notes one recent Tufts University survey, they were more enthusiastic about their candidate than were the Clinton backers.

Other factors could slow the lurch to the left. There is a growing interest in third party politics, not so much Green but libertarian; 8 percent of Millennials voted for Third Party candidates, twice the overall rate. Overall, Tufts finds that moderates slightly outpace liberals, although conservatives remain well behind. Millennials, note Winograd and Hais, also dislike “top down” solutions and may favor radical action primarily at the local level and more akin to Scandinavia than Stalinism. 

As Millennials grow up, start families, look to buy houses, and, worst of all, start paying taxes, they may shift to the center, much as the Boomers did before them. Redistribution, notes a recent Reason survey, becomes less attractive as incomes grow to $60,000 annually and beyond. This process could push them somewhat right-ward, particularly as they move from the leftist hothouses of the urban core to the more contestable suburbs.

Yet even given these factors, Republicans have their work cut out for them as the generational wheel turns. Certainly, to be remotely competitive, they must abandon socially conservative ideas that offend most Millennials. The GOP’s best chance lies with making capitalism work for this group, sustaining upward mobility and expanding property ownership. If we see the creation of a vast generation of property serfs with little opportunity for advancement, America’s future is almost certain to be redder, a lot less   market-oriented, and perhaps a lot more authoritarian than previous generations have ever contemplated.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com… where this analysis was first posted. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

-cw

The For-Profit Presidency, Month One

THE POLITICS BUSINESS--One month into the Trump administration, and it’s clear that there has been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government. (Photo above: President Donald Trump meets with pharmaceutical CEOs in late January.)

A day-by-day review of the administration’s first month shows that virtually every day there has been a new, extraordinary grant of power to corporate interests and/or another development in Donald Trump’s get-rich-quick-scheme known as the American presidency.

America has never seen anything like this, and it’s only the first month.

Poorly attended though it might have been, the inauguration itself was a paean not just to the new president but to his corporate backers. Corporations that have pending business before the president -- AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Chevron, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase and United Parcel Service – were among the top funders of the inauguration and surrounding festivities. We still do not know the full list of donors to the inauguration.

New President Trump signaled his intent to deliver on the corporate wish list by signing two executive orders, one designed to start the process of destroying the Affordable Care Act and another freezing all regulatory activity for 90 days. The regulatory freeze included public protections already finalized but not yet published in the Federal Register. One such rule would protect the public from five tons of mercury discharges every year. 

It’s been downhill since then.

President Trump has assembled what is probably the least qualified and certainly most corporate cabinet of all time. Although the unqualified and hostile-to-his-agency nominee for Secretary of Labor Andy Puzder was forced to withdraw, the rest of Trump’s corporate cabinet has been or seems likely to be approved. By way of reminder, this list includes: [[ http://corporatecabinet.org/   ]]

  • The former CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, remarkably now the Secretary of State, despite virtually no qualifications for the job and a lifetime career leading the corporation that has done more to impede action to address catastrophic climate change than any other. 
  • A slew of former Goldman Sachs executives – hailing from the Wall Street giant that Candidate Trump attacked by name as embodying corporate-government corruption, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, chief strategist and white supremacist Steve Bannon, and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn. Reports The Independent: “Its shares have been Wall Street’s leading performers and hit a ten-year high close on Tuesday as investors banked on friendly policies coming from a White House filled with several former Goldman employees.” 
  • Tom Price, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has engaged in dubious pharmaceutical stock trades while a Member of the House of Representatives. Price wants not only to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but Medicare itself. He refuses to say that every American has a right to health care, only that they have a right to “access” to health care – which means they should get it if they can pay for it. Pay or Die. 
  • Betsy DeVos, the megafunder of the Republican Party, who made herself the butt of countless late night jokes with her pathetic confirmation hearing performance and claim that schools need guns to fend off grizzly bears. DeVos is a supporter of privatizing public schools, and has herself invested in for-profit school ventures in the past.

Having a corporate cabinet has apparently not satisfied Trump’s yen to hang out with the corporate elite. Trump started his first full weekday in office with a breakfast meeting with CEOs of a dozen corporations including Arconic, Corning, Dell, Dow Chemical Company, Ford Motor Company, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, UnderArmour and U.S. Steel. Later in his first month, he would meet with: auto company executives (environmental regulations are “out of control,” Trump said);  Big Pharma CEOs (75 to 80 percent of FDA regs should be cut, Trump said);  his Wall Street-dominated Strategic and Policy Forum, made up of a dozen-and-a-half corporate executives;  and airline CEOs (where Trump supports privatizing air traffic control).

It’s not just meetings and personnel. The Trump administration is off to a roaring start on delivering the goodies to Big Business.

It has taken care of its Dirty Energy friends. By Executive Order, Trump overturned Obama measures to block the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. A few days later, the Army Corps of Engineers granted Energy Transfer Partners the final permit it needs to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. It has also put in place measures of other pipelines and fossil fuel projects, and is expected in the coming days to announce measures to upend the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is taking care of its Wall Street friends. Trump has signed executive orders aimed at unraveling and repealing an Obama administration Labor Department rule requiring financial advisors to give advice based on their customers’ best interests. The Labor Department rule, if adopted, will save consumers $17 billion a year in rip-off fees and bad advice. Contemplated changes in Dodd-Frank rules, the Wall Street Journal reports , will enable the six biggest banks to return $100 billion of reserves to shareholders. A staggering gift to the shareholders – at the cost of making the financial system far, far more unstable, insecure and prone to another 2008-style meltdown.

The interim chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission has even launched a review of the congressionally required pay-ratio rule – which will require companies to disclose the ratio of pay received by CEOs and their median worker wage – an important but mechanical reporting requirement that Fortune 500 companies have nonetheless claimed will cost them a staggering amount of money.

And the administration has commenced its full-fledged assault on health, safety, environmental, worker, consumer, financial security, civil rights and other regulatory protections. It has issued an executive order that aims to block the issuance of any such measures. The regulatory executive order directs federal agencies to repeal two federal regulations for every new rule they issue, and requires that any cost to industry of new rules be offset by savings from repealed rules. In this crazy scheme, regulators are not permitted to consider the benefits of rules. No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment and the economy would ever adopt this approach – unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on Big Business. That is indeed the goal here.

(With the Natural Resources Defense Council and Communication Workers of America, Public Citizen has sued President Trump and the administration to have this executive order overturned.) 

Meanwhile, Congress has been hard at work serving the interests of Corporate America, as well. Congressional Republicans are prioritizing a series to repeal regulations issued in the last six months of the Obama administration. With many more to come, two such measures have passed both houses and been signed into law. The most recent was a rule to protect streams from coal waste. The first, amazingly, was an anti-corruption measure that required oil, gas and mining companies to report their payments to foreign governments – a measure that now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lobbied against.

It makes poetic sense that Trump has gleefully signed the repeal of an anti-corruption measure. For accompanying Trump’s gift-giving spree to Corporate America has been an astounding series of actions making clear that his pervasive and consequential conflicts of interest will immerse the administration in a permanent miasma of corruption: the Nordstrom tweet, the new $200,000 fee to join Mar-a-Lago, the ongoing financial updates to President Trump on the Trump business, the Kellyanne Conway advertisement for the Ivanka Trump line of clothing, the apparent plans to massively expand Trump hotels in the United States, the conduct of presidential business at Mar-a-Lago, and on and on.

And on and on.

(Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world. This piece was cross-posted originally at Common Dreams and Daily Kos

-cw

President's Day Conundrum: Everything We Thought We Knew Is False ... Or Is It?

ALPERN AT LARGE-You know the drill -- new century, new millennium, new era, etc. We're supposed to be open-minded, but those claiming to be enlightened are often the most closed-minded. We have the "fake news", but many decrying the "fake news" are responsible for that "fake news”. To make matters worse, we're divided as a society, yet those decrying that division are too often the ones responsible for that division. 

So how do we proceed? First off, we accept that things are complicated -- and trying to oversimplify things makes things inevitably worse. Second, we stop trying to create or promote pure heroes and pure villains -- they rarely exist, but by and large, they do not

Example #1:  Roe vs. Wade (yep, we're goin' there!) 

Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion, just died. Bulletin to all: she fought for the rights of women to have legalized abortion for much of her life...then converted to Christianity and devoted the rest of her life to protecting the lives of the unborn and undoing Roe v. Wade

Was she pro-choice? Was she pro-life? Aren't the choices of women reduced when they have an unwanted child? Does the unborn child have any rights to live when they are aborted? What choices do women have when they have an unwanted pregnancy? What choices does a healthy fetus have in its second to third trimester when it could live in an incubator but his/her mother wants to abort? 

Is a first trimester abortion the same as a third trimester abortion? Is a second trimester abortion of a just-diagnosed deformed child the same as that of a healthy child? What about the need to have birth control over-the-counter just as we have "Plan B"? Why aren’t all teenagers and all adult women aware of "Plan B"? And what is the responsibility of women versus that of men? 

Is it still true that minority and even white babies won't be adopted if they're unwanted by their mothers? Or is that paradigm as "fake" as ever in our modern blended-family reality? And why aren't men educated to practice their own contraception and take their own responsibility when it comes to sex? 

Lots of questions, but here's an answer:  the rights and responsibilities of all parties must be promoted and weighed against each other...and those bandying around the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" monikers are the real problem. Stop dividing us -- most of us recognize the need to avoid oversimplifying this just to make political points. 

Example #2: Immigration and Assimilation (yep, we're goin' there, too!) 

The false canards, fake news, and conflation exist on this hot button issue as much as any. More Latinos (or Hispanics, if you prefer) are up in arms about our new President than about any other past president, yet more Latinos/Hispanics voted for Trump than for Mitt Romney four years ago. 

Like the rest of us, Latinos/Hispanics are being made to choose. Of course, this unleashes (as with abortion) more questions than answers: Why are illegal immigrants being conflated and lumped in with legal immigrants? When did all immigrants get lumped together, and do they all consider each other as one united group (now that we just had a "day without immigrants")? 

What makes an immigrant an "alien"? Is it the refusal of an immigrant to blend in and assimilate with the rest of American culture and the common language (English) with which we all communicate? Is it appropriate to distinguish between a "criminal alien" and an "illegal alien", and where should that delineation occur? 

Why is it Spanish-speaking immigrants, and particularly Mexican immigrants (and almost never Asian or Filipino immigrants,) almost always insist on not speaking even broken English when in the company of those who don't speak their language...even if they are fairly fluent in English? Do they not know that those only speaking English are concerned about what is being said in Spanish?  

Do immigrants, illegal or otherwise, recognize that when they choose not to even try to speak English they are also refusing to talk to Asian and Black and Latino Americans, as well as white Americans, who don't speak Spanish? It's clearly advantageous for native-born Americans to learn Spanish or Mandarin or Japanese, but why is the crisis so emphasized when it involves individuals who identify with Mexico as opposed to other Latin American or Asian nations?   

Why do so many Mexican illegal immigrants identify with Mexico yet often prefer detention and the courts to deportation in order to stay in our country? What do we owe immigrants, and what do they owe us? And when did immigrants, both legal and illegal, lose the requirement to have sponsors for their health, education, and welfare? Yet another key question: is the strength of our nation that of "the melting pot" or our "diversity"? 

One thing is for certain: the "great divide" over the rights and responsibilities of native-born and foreign-born residents of our nation is coming to a boiling point after our last two Presidents failed to achieve a unifying answer to our nation's immigration policies – and now that we have the election of Donald J. Trump as our 45th president. 

Example #3:  Speaking of President Donald J. Trump (aaaaand we're goin' there, to boot!) 

It's President's Day and there are many who are perpetually enraged, appalled, bewildered, and gobsmacked that we have an iconoclastic, mega-tweeting billionaire president who led a populist rebellion meant to "stick it to both political parties.” After eight years of our nation's first black president overseeing a worsening in the lives and prosperity of black Americans, and with black children and young adults routinely killed in "liberal, Democratic" Chicago, we now have a man who has said openly misogynistic things yet has a strong segment of female Americans behind him. 

Everything is upside-down -- for every female and minority American who opposes Trump, there are many who support him. And the oft-mentioned “unwillingness to accept” our first black president appears to be repeating itself in the unwillingness of many to accept Donald J. Trump as Barack H. Obama's successor. 

Hollywood now appears to represent the elites, while billionaire Trump purportedly assumes the mantle of representing the common man (wasn't that Barack Obama's claim to fame, though?) The literary elites like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling appear apoplectic about Trump's election, while liberal Piers Morgan now feuds with J.K. Rowling. And for those who claim Trump is another Lord Voldemort, isn't is more like Mad-Eye Moody than Voldemort, based on his style and bluster, in contrast to what my literary role model Ms. Joanne K. Rowling has stated? 

Meanwhile, alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos surprisingly finds much common ground with liberal iconoclast Bill Maher to the disparagement of so many. Is Yiannopoulos right when he says that tolerance and free speech are conservative principles, and not liberal principles like they once were? Based on his experience at Berkeley and other college campuses, it's worth a gander because Political Correctness is emerging as a new Groupthink of our era. 

Finally, nowadays, what is "liberal" or "conservative” anyway? Isn't "liberal" supposed to be synonymous with "open-mindedness"? Are today's liberals truly open-minded or are they "old-fashioned" because they've been growing in power since the 1960's? 

Is it among conservatives or liberals where open debate and tolerance of other points of view are most likely to occur? Will conservatism appeal to young Americans in ways we don't see in older citizens? After all, when liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich supports President Trump's concerns about the over-empowered governmental bureaucracies of the "Deep State", then things are truly upside down. 

Everything we once took for granted is false, or so it seems. 

But on this President's Day Weekend, where we honor those who served our nation as its leaders, it is incumbent upon us all to ask ourselves: were things always this complicated…or is it only now that we're finally confronting just how complicated things have always been? 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [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.

Stunning New Survey: Reality of President Trump Is Stressing Out Americans ... Big League

ANXIETY CENTRTAL--Americans have been taking to the streets in record numbers since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, but amid that uptick in resistance something else has been rising within the U.S. electorate: personal anxiety and stress caused by the nation's new political reality. (Photo above: White House press secretary Sean Spicer.)

According to a new survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 66 percent of respondents report feeling increasingly stressed out by the current political climate and prospects for the nation's future.

The APA findings—contained in their Stress In America: Coping With Change (pdf) report—reveal that 57 percent of those surveyed said that politics have become either a "very" or "somewhat" significant source of anxiety in their lives. Meanwhile, 49 percent of those questioned said the outcome of the 2016 election, in which Trump was elected president and the Republican Party kept control of both the House and Senate, has become a specific source of new stress.

On these questions, the divide unsurprisingly broke along partisan and ideological lines. "While Democrats were more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs. 26  percent) to report the outcome of the 2016 presidential election as a significant source of stress, a majority of Republicans (59 percent) said the  future of our nation was a significant source of stress for them, compared to  76 percent of Democrats," the report notes.

Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist and member of APA's Stress in America team, speaking with the Washington Post, admitted the severity of the findings caught her off guard.

"The fact that two-thirds of Americans are saying the future of the nation is causing them stress, it is a startling number," Wright told the Post. "It seems to suggest that what people thought would happen, that there would be relief [after the election] did not occur, and instead since the election, stress has increased. And not only did overall stress increase, what we found in January is the highest significant increase in stress in 10 years. That's stunning."

Prior to its 2016 poll, the APA explained, "top stressors for the American population remained steady, with Americans being most likely to report money, work, and the economy as very or somewhat significant sources of stress in their lives."

However, as the election took center stage in the spring of 2016, APA's member psychologists began reporting that their patients were increasingly  concerned and anxious about the political climate. It was this trend that spurred the group to make specific inquiries about how national politics were impacting stress levels for Americans.

While the group conducted surveys and collected data last year during the campaign and after the election, it was a new round of questions posed to Americans last month, subsequent to Trump's taking office, that fueled the latest findings.

"From the appointees to the executive orders to the laws that have just been proposed ... it's hard for me to see a bright future for my family, which in turn causes me a great amount of stress," Bryanna Zoltowski, a 40-year-old mother of two from Macomb Township in Michigan told the Detroit Free Press.

"I'm afraid," Zoltowski said. "I really am afraid. I'm scared for the future of my kids."

Are you feeling stressed? Earlier this month, the Huffington Post reported on 10 things therapists and psychologists recommend when it comes to de-stressing around politics. 

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

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Jeff Sessions Takes Over DOJ … Say Goodbye to Police Reform

OTHER WORDS-In July 2016, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch committed the Department of Justice to investigating the shooting of Alton Sterling, a black man who was murdered by police outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. 

The move represented the deepening of a tangible (if tenuous) relationship between the Department of Justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained national prominence in 2014 after the police shooting of Eric Garner.  

Until this year, civil rights advocates and critics of police violence had allies in both the Department of Justice and the White House — one of whom was President Obama himself. 

At a minimum, these allies were sympathetic to the fight for racial justice. Not infrequently, they were willing to expend their institutional resources to secure it. The fruits of this relationship included a series of damning reports on police misconduct from Ferguson, Missouri to Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, and Baltimore. 

In the age of Trump, that alliance has come to an end. In the false dichotomy between holding police accountable and advocating for communities of color, Trump has made it clear that his administration will come down on the side of the police. 

Under Trump, the official White House website now ridicules the movement for police accountability as an effort to “to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.” In the Trump administration’s version of the world, protesters are disorderly agitators whose demands for justice only interfere with the work of good men and women in blue. 

If law enforcement has found a new friend in Trump, it’s consistently had one in Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator just confirmed as attorney general — during Black History Month, no less.

As a senator, Sessions published an opinion on consent decrees, which are agreements local departments make with Washington to reform policing practices that violate their citizens’ rights. Sessions called those deals “dangerous.” 

In 2015, Sessions participated in a Senate hearing provocatively titled “The War on Police,” during which he lambasted the Obama administration’s aggressive investigations into police misconduct. He called those actions evidence of “an agenda that’s been a troubling issue for a number of years.” 

During his confirmation hearings, Sessions again reiterated his disdain for consent decrees, claiming that they “undermine respect for our police officers” and testifying that he might be interested in doing away with them altogether. 

Nor has Sessions ever bothered to hide his disdain for civil rights activists. At the same 2015 hearing, Sessions chastised, “I do think it’s a real problem when we have Black Lives Matter making statements that are really radical, that are absolutely false.” 

Trump’s censure of the movement has been even more provocative. After lamenting the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling as “terrible” in the summer of 2016, Trump quickly changed his tune. He condemned police reform advocates for “dividing the country” and blamed them for the murders of two police officers in Baton Rouge. 

Candidate Trump went so far as to claim that he’d charge his attorney general with leading an investigation into the Black Lives Matter movement — an assignment that Sessions, by the looks of things, would enthusiastically accept. 

There will be more police shootings of black men in the future. There will be more protests that call for justice for these victims. But with a Department of Justice led by Jeff Sessions, people who want justice will be on their own.

 

(Ebony Slaughter-Johnson is a freelance writer whose work covers history, race, and the criminalization of poverty. Provided to CityWatch by OtherWords.org.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Why American Internet Should Be a Public Utility

NEW ATTACKS COMING ON YOUR INTERNET--Back in June, when the insanity of the election and the chaos to follow was simply a glistening bomb lingering on the horizon, the United States Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit made a huge decision regarding the future of how America looks at the Internet. In the decision, the court upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s rules over net neutrality, which require Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all traffic equally.

At the very least, it kept the lid tight on the can of worms that would allow ISPs to offer preferential treatment (read: faster load times, more bandwidth for video streaming) to websites that chose to pay whatever money the ISPs wanted, deregulating the Web into a purely capitalistic experiment that also, weirdly, gave the power to the near-monopolistic gatekeepers. It would probably have been really bad.

But more than the specifics, the case moved the needle in the minds of those considering how the Internet should act. Should the Web be a battle of private enterprises butting up against one another to, theoretically at least, provide consumers with the fastest, most reliable, most affordable service? Or should it be thought of as a public utility, something like electricity or sewage, owned by singular communities?

The biggest argument for keeping the Internet as it currently exists is that its “free market” incentivizes innovators to invent new products. The other pathway would lead toward a bureaucratic mess that takes over any public institution. But the failure with this line of thinking is that the Internet marketplace was never really a free market. Most of this has to do with its history.

At first, the Internet was a dial-up service, in which computers talked to one another by piggybacking onto the pre-existing copper wires of telephonic infrastructure that was already in place throughout America. As such, this Internet was essentially just a visual version of a phone system: It was slow and unwieldy, sure, but it also could be turned off and on as you would a phone call. When broadband Internet came around — in the form of either cable or DSL — the entire concept of the Internet suddenly shifted from a portal into a 24/7 link into this other world.

The Internet marketplace was never really a free market.

Since the demands of this connection far outpaced what dial-up wires would allow, this development necessitated a whole new infrastructure. Luckily, one was already in place: cable television.

In the eight years following the Telecommunications Act of 1996, cable companies spent upwards of $65 billion laying down additional broadband networks that were able to “provide multichannel video, two-way voice, high-speed Internet access, and high definition and advanced digital video services all on a single wire into the home.” And because of this initial investment in infrastructure, the cable companies have had close to full control.

The market, therefore, was never really free, as much as those who succeeded were able to do so because they had an initial leg up. As a result, only a few massive companies have been able to compete with one another, and a majority of those competitions have ended in a kind of stalemate where they just end up carving up the marketplace block by block, or building by building, and forcing the residents to either choose their service or choose nothing.

Maybe your own place isn’t like that. Maybe you have multiple choices when it comes to deciding where you want your Internet from. If so, that puts you in the minority. According to a 2015 report by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, 61 percent of U.S. households have either one or zero choices when it comes to high-speed broadband providers in their area.

But this kind of thing already happened in American history a little over a century ago with this newfangled thing called electricity. As Susan Crawford writes in her book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age:

[P]rivate electrical companies consolidated, wielded enormous influence in state and national legislatures, cherry-picked their markets, and mounted huge campaigns against publicly owned electrical utilities, calling them “un-American.” At the beginning of the twentieth century, private power companies electrified only the most lucrative population centers and ignored most of America, particularly rural America. Predictably, the private utilities claimed that public ownership of electrical utilities was “costly and dangerous” and “always a failure.

This practice ended in the middle of the 20th century, when electricity was soon considered a “natural monopoly,” meaning that the high barrier of cost of entry — you can’t just pool together money and construct a power plant and transmission wires — meant that it didn’t make sense for competitors to invest money in this business. Other examples like public water and garbage collection work the same way. One publicly owned company is good enough for each district to handle its own business; there are hundreds of electric utility companies in the U.S., each servicing a relatively small chunk of the country.

Many would argue this is the direction American Internet should head.

As it stands, there is not only no incentive for the cable companies to not only expand far beyond the metropolitan areas where there are residences — it doesn’t make fiscal sense to go much further, which is why 43 percent of rural California residents have no broadband access— but there’s no real incentive for them to even innovate their products to provide better service for their existing customers. They’re getting their $50–80 a month for their substandard service anyway, as the only other choice is cutting the cord entirely. 

Perhaps the dissonance is one of first impressions. When the Internet was introduced, it was a strange portal into a hidden “other” world. There was an entry point — PC computer screen, dial-up modem — so there was a division between being online and off. That has completely changed, not least because of the smartphone. Now, if you don’t have the Internet at home, you miss out on connecting with peers and culture, sure, but also the ability to bank, work, or do homework.

In the 20 years since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Internet has gone from optional to obligatory. It is now a part of the world. It only makes sense to change the way it’s delivered.

(Rick Paulas writes for Pacific Standard Magazine … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

The Real Reason Carl’s Jr. CEO and Trump’s Labor Nominee Ran for Cover

CAPITAL & MAIN REPORT--Andrew Puzder (photo above), whose nomination by President Donald Trump to head the Department of Labor ignited heated controversy even against a field crowded with contentious cabinet picks, withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday afternoon. Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the corporation that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s diners, was the target of growing criticism amid charges he and his company had a history of shortchanging store workers and managers of wages and promotions, as well as discriminating against women and minority employees.

Puzder was the subject of a six-week series of investigative stories by Capital & Main, which was widely cited in other media outlets as well as in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s February 13 letter to Puzder. Our team of reporters found a widespread pattern of alleged employee abuse at CKE Restaurants, which has been named in dozens of civil suits and federal complaints. The public record of these court cases, alongside our interviews conducted with current and past employees, reveal a male-dominated culture extending from CKE’s highest executive ranks to franchise store kitchens — and a company that seems to operate with impunity and a special contempt for employees who are seen as weak or a burden on the company.

Focusing on Puzder’s more than 16 years as CEO of CKE, our stories uncovered the following: 

  • Seventy-eight employment discrimination cases filed in federal court alone, more than any other large U.S. hamburger chain on a per-revenue basis. 
  • Six Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases filed against CKE and its restaurants, far more than any other large burger chain on a per-revenue basis, with the exception of Sonic Drive-In. The EEOC only takes on the most serious of discrimination cases. 
  • Twenty-seven cases, representing 41 people, filed in California state courts against CKE directly, alleging wrongful termination or discrimination in the company’s decision to fire employees. Of these cases, 20 of the employees involved worked at the store level, 12 of the employees involved worked at the corporate level, and 10 cannot be undetermined. 

These cases show a similar pattern of workers being targeted for termination and harassment, including: workers who get sick or take medical leave, including maternity leave; workers who go to human resources offices for help with sexual harassment, discrimination or safety violations; and workers who are older and have worked their way up to a higher salary. (These legal complaints do not include the many cases that deal with wage and hour violations.) 

  • Twenty-two complaints filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging discrimination at CKE or its franchisees. 
  • One lawsuit filed in California at the executive level of management describing behavior by Puzder and his executive team that was discriminatory and sexually inappropriate. The lawsuit alleges the kind of sexual harassment that was reported in recent interviews collected by the Restaurant Opportunities Center with workers in Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants. It depicts a culture in which women are demeaned, sexual impropriety is tolerated and those who complain are punished. 
  • Nine interviews with former or current workers, most describing the same working conditions alleged in the lawsuits — an environment where employees have no security, where discrimination is persistent and where anything seen as making a worker inconvenient or too expensive is grounds for termination. Two workers had positive things to say about the work environment. 
  • A practice at some locations of paying employees with fee-based debit cards, resulting in sub-minimum wages. This practice was found by the Department of Labor to violate minimum wage laws in a 2014 case involving Hardee’s. 
  • A refusal to take responsibility for labor violations at franchised locations. The basis for this position is the assertion that the company does not exercise control over the behavior of franchisees – despite the fact that CKE requires franchisees to sign a highly detailed agreement stipulating a wide range of conditions. That same agreement exempts CKE from any responsibility for compliance with labor laws.

(This analysis was posted first at Capital and Main.) 

-cw

The New Flip-Flopper-in-Chief

GELFAND’S WORLD--When presidential candidate John Kerry famously said, "First I voted for it, then I voted against it," the Republicans grabbed the quote and ran with it. The term flip-flop became embedded in our language to imply a particularly unacceptable form of political action. With the current president, the verbal flip-flop is a way of life. 

One evening this week, the Trump administration announced that General Michael Flynn had resigned as National Security Advisor because of a problem of trust. (By that point, the whole world had been told that Flynn had openly lied to the Vice President.) In an amount of time approximating the interval required to cool your soup, the president turned around and blamed Flynn's political demise on the press. They treated him unfairly, etc. etc. said Trump. 

Trump makes Richard Nixon look like a professor of logic. 

Did Michael Flynn freelance, going out on his own to create a back channel with the Russian government, or was he doing Trump's bidding all along? Is it just happenstance that so many of Trump's inner circle have had close ties -- paid work, in other words -- with Putin's government? Anyone remember Paul Manafort? 

So which is it? Was Trump in the loop or not? I don't think this is a really difficult question. 

There is a growing movement within the center and the moderate left to push for continuing investigations of the ties between Trump and the Russians, although some of it is couched as calls for investigations of Flynn while some is more direct. What's interesting is that some solid conservatives are curious enough to be speaking out, John McCain among others. Perhaps this is one way for McCain to do a little getting even with the man who insulted him so profoundly. Or perhaps McCain is just doing what he sees as his patriotic duty. 

Whichever way it is for McCain and the other few (as yet) Republicans in congress who will push the question, it is inevitable that the subject will be kept alive by opinion leaders including the news media. We can expect the same from presumptive candidates for office and pretty much from every living Democrat. If you see a Democrat who is not already complaining, check to see if there is a pulse. 

The Trump administration will continue doing its best to cover things up, but the first month shows how difficult that is going to be. The fact that Flynn's phone conversation with the Russian ambassador has become public knowledge was, not to put it too dramatically, just the beginning. Did Trump know about Flynn's conduct or not? It's pretty much that simple. A prediction: It will eventually come out that Trump knew about Flynn's activities, and things will accumulate from there. 

If you'd like a fairly comprehensive view of the links between Trump and the Russians, take a look at Steven Harper's chronicle posted on Bill Moyers' site.  

Thinking about things other than politics 

I like to write about local theater companies in the harbor area. One of the best was known as the Theatrum Elysium. They moved out of their 7th Street quarters last year and more or less fell off the radar. Except that they didn't, at least to local movers and shakers. The original company is now resurrected as the Elysium Conservatory Theatre, and it is enjoying glorious new digs in the space that used to be Ante's Restaurant, once a legendary San Pedro center for conversation, drinks, and mostaccioli. Now the old restaurant space holds a newly enlarged company of actors, both youngsters and seasoned veterans. 

Company director Aaron Ganz likes to lead with Shakespearean heavyweights. The previous 7th Street location opened with Hamlet. This year's season leads off with Romeo and Juliet on March 31. 

I'm treating this as a story about the creation of art by an organization through its newly enabled recreation of itself as an artistic fount. 

So what's new with the ECT? In other words, what's in store for Romeo and Juliet that hasn't been done a thousand times before? And we might even ask, why is it necessary to do anything different when the original is a pillar of western culture? 

I can't argue that there should be anything new or novel -- or that there shouldn't be. Shakespeare has been performed by companies that transform the era, the venue, the surroundings, or all of the above, and it generally has not been a hindrance as long as the language is preserved. Shakespeare is also performed in its original trappings to wondrous effect. 

So what is the deal with a new Romeo and Juliet that may be worth a trip down the Harbor Freeway? Aaron has some ideas of his own that are worth pondering. His theatrical style has been expanding to the exploration of the use of choral voices along with dance to interpret and communicate the undertones of the great works. The idea isn't all that new actually, going back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. But it's rewarding to watch the development of a new score to accompany something like Romeo and Juliet. 

This is, in fact, operatic, as Aaron himself comments. In opera (and for the last century, in film) the musical score accentuates what is happening inside of the characters' heads, sometimes communicating an inner emotion when the character's outward expression is more controlled. You might say that the actor's voice and the musical score harmonize with each other in the emotional sense. Wagner even used musical phrases (leitmotif's) to carry on a musical dialog that could be entirely apart from the thoughts and words of the singers. 

So far in early rehearsals, we are seeing the development of a choral piece that accompanies the scene in which Romeo kills Tybalt. It's been interesting watching and listening to the music director as he brings the actors to express grief, pleading, and vengeance using only four or five notes, but coached to bring varying intonations and volume, sometimes at an enormous level. It was also fascinating to watch the dance director bringing together a group of young Shakespeareans to communicate the moods of the play using moves varying from classical to hip-hop. 

I'll be continuing to follow the creation of this production over the next month as a study on the process of creativity. 

Addendum 

My previous piece here in CityWatch, in which I predicted that the American Republic would survive the Trump administration, provoked a couple of serious comments. 

One pointed out that the judiciary in 1930s Germany was not ultimately able to resist Hitler, even though it tried mightily for as long as it could. I was aware of this history in a general sense, but thank the commenter for stating it more clearly. The substance of my argument was (and remains) my judgment that acceptance of the role of the judiciary is strongly embedded in American culture. 

In brief, the decision of a single federal judge in the state of Washington prevented the execution of a presidential order, at least for the time being and the American people in general understood that this is our way. I did not pursue the argument further to point out that Anglo-American law -- and therefore the culture of our two realms -- includes a strong element of common law. That is to say, we frame many of our social and economic arguments in terms of legal questions, and from those questions our system creates precedents. 

It's hard for us as Americans to imagine the system being different, but it is significantly different in other parts of the world including Europe. The American people accepted that the Supreme Court had the authority to judge the Constitutional validity of the Affordable Care Act. Many of us worried about the outcome, but we didn't directly challenge the balance of power. Even when 1960s era segregationists disagreed hotly with Supreme Court decisions, their demand was that the Chief Justice be impeached, a legally defined remedy under the written Constitution.

 

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

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Suggests ‘La La Land’ Sends a Bigoted Message about Black People

FILM POLITICS--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has shared some incredibly poignant thoughts on the way Oscar-favorite “La La Land” handles its black characters. 

The critically-acclaimed film stars Emma Stone as an aspiring actress who falls in love with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling musician with dreams of opening his own jazz club one day. 

In an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday, Abdul-Jabbar praises the film for being “bold, daring and deserving of all its critical and financial success,” but points out that it has a few weaknesses, specifically “its portrayal of jazz, romance and people of color.” 

The NBA icon thinks the film’s biggest fault is in its only main black character Keith (John Legend), a jazz musician who has found success in the mainstream. 

“No, I don’t think the film needs more black people,”Abdul-Jabbar explains.

“Writer-director Damien Chazelle should tell the story as he sees fits with whatever ethnic arrangement he desires. However, it is fair to question his color wheel when it involves certain historical elements — such as jazz.”

Abdul-Jabbar goes on to add that he’s “disturbed” by the fact that the only major black character in the film is portrayed as “the musical sellout,” while Gosling’s character is seen as more authentic and more passionate about jazz.

“It’s not that a black man can’t be the sellout or the drug dealer, it’s just that they shouldn’t be if they’re the only prominent black character in the story,” he says.

“Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, that sends a bigoted message rippling through our society.”

“La La Land” is currently the favorite to win Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards, where it leads with 14 nominations. 

(Zeba Blay is culture writer for Huff Post … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

The Miracle of Trump: Why Did Evangelicals Deliver the Votes for a Sinner?

ELECTION MIRACLE EXPLAINED--Eighty-one percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. In a sense, the choice isn’t surprising. Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is unambiguously pro-life, and Trump’s promise to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment — a provision in the tax code barring non-profits from political participation — closely follows the evangelical playbook. (Photo above: Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University on January 18th, 2016.)

But in another way, Christian support for Trump is puzzling. Trump’s Christian bona fides are (at best) shaky and his personal demeanor, marked by swashbuckling moral indecency, contradicts the evangelical temperament. Evangelicals made these concerns widely known during the campaign. The Atlantic noted how the Trump vote “concealed deep, painful fractures.”

Still, for all the angst over electing a moral reprobate, the evangelicals delivered. Why? One explanation is pragmatic: The ends (desired political outcomes) justified the means (Trump’s ethically offensive personal demeanor).

But to stop with this explanation would be to overlook a deeper and less tangible motivation. Remember: Evangelicals — and Christians in general — elected a man who has systematically and blatantly denigrated women, suggested that he’d date his daughter were she not his daughter, proclaimed “you can never be too greedy,” mocked a disabled reporter, characterized Mexicans as rapists and criminals, and bragged that “the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” None of this is especially Christ-like. Ends-means pragmatism can only take us so far.

To better understand the evangelical mindset, I contacted Jon Bialecki, honorary fellow with the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, and the author of the forthcoming A Diagram for Fire: Miracles and Variation in an American Charismatic Movement. Bialecki spent three years doing an ethnographic study on members of the Vineyard, an American evangelical movement that started in Southern California in 1975 and has since become a global religious movement (with over 1,500 churches). 

During his fieldwork, Bialecki attended Vineyard services, recorded and studied sermons, conversed daily with church members, visited prayer groups, observed and analyzed rituals (which often included casting out demons or being healed), and interviewed church leaders. He studied several Vineyard chapters, but eventually settled on one, a Southern California congregation whose leaders welcomed him into its inner sanctum. 

Vineyard members, as with many charismatic Christians, “are part of an evangelical Left concerned with combating racism and anti-immigrant sentiments, criticizing American military overreach, and exposing the deleterious effects of unhampered capitalism.” 

One might expect a congregation of evangelicals to be universally politically conservative. But, much to Bialecki’s surprise, this was not entirely the case with his subjects. He writes that some Vineyard members, as with many charismatic Christians, “are part of an evangelical Left concerned with combating racism and anti-immigrant sentiments, criticizing American military overreach, and exposing the deleterious effects of unhampered capitalism.” Many members “have even argued for a more open and affirming attitude toward gay, lesbian, and transgender people.”

These opinions did not always resonate well with the Vineyard establishment. Internal arguments sometimes ensued. But the fact remains that genuine political diversity — at least in terms of different opinions over specific issues — prevailed within the Vineyard community.

For all the diversity of opinion within Vineyard churches, members of the “evangelical Left” didn’t necessarily represent that diversity at the polls. While some obviously voted for Hillary Clinton, third-party candidates, or abstained from voting, many pressed the button for Trump despite the fact that his platform and policies ran counter to their political opinions.

On the surface, this disparity makes little sense. Why would people vote against their interests? Or could it be that we have misunderstood what is meant by “interests”? Bialecki thinks the latter. One of his central discoveries was that the evangelical mindset, whatever its political suasion, craves something beyond policy prescriptions to political change: it craves a miracle.

In an email, he explains: 

I was surprised how “left” or “progressive” many of these Vineyard believers were. But when they talked about political action, they kept on talking about “big things” where someone would change their mind, or where some unjust institution would fall away. In short, the surprising nature of the turn was what allowed them to understand politics as being “of God” and not “of Man” or “the flesh.”

It seems that what mattered politically was less the platform than the miraculous implications in its delivery. To a non-evangelical person, this distinction will likely seem inane, but, as Bialecki further elaborates the idea, “the progressive wing of the Vineyard, instead of calling for incremental social activism through coalition politics, is drawn toward hopeful anticipation of large transformative events.” Such a “politics of the miraculous” taps into a spiritualized disposition that not only favors the “logic of surprise,” but it’s a logic of surprise that “hampers the capacity to work through the usual institutions.”

Bialecki believes this quest for the miraculous is not necessarily limited to his Vineyard members. A lot of Christians — and I suppose some non-Christians — prefer to think in terms of miracles rather than contemplating the boots-on-the-ground work of incremental social change, at least enough to shape their choice at the polls.

Bialecki developed his argument well before the rise of Trump. But when I ask him to relate his research to the election of 2016, he explains: 

On the day after the election, Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, posted on Facebook to explain why he felt that the “secular media” didn’t see [Trump] coming. The secular media, he said, was “shocked.” This, Graham said, was because they didn’t understand “the God-factor.” He explained that, all over America, Christians were praying, and that, when they went to the polls, “God showed up.”

Bialecki adds: 

There are two things that have to be highlighted here: first, this was counter to the usual order of things. Stuff like Trump’s election does not happen, and was even unimaginable by the secular media. This was, in other words, a surprise. The second thing to highlight was that the election was not framed as, say, a group of people reclaiming power after having been marginalized (which is one of many other ways that Graham could have presented it). It was presented as God showing up.

And he had weird hair, a fake tan, and small hands.

In 1964, the historian Richard Hofstadter published The Paranoid Style of American Politics. In it, he argued that American political activity was driven by paranoia-like fear of unknown corporate, intellectual, and religious conspiracies. Perhaps today, as the most recent reminder that American voters of all political persuasions do not necessarily vote their interests in the way we might expect them to, we should acknowledge the miraculous style of American politics. Trump, after all, is, according to Bialecki, “a break with the natural order of things.” He demands, in turn, “an unusual causal account.”

 

(James McWilliams is a Writer. Runner. Reader. Plant eater. Coffee snob. Impending recovering academic. Who posts at Pacific Standard  … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

Trumpism and Fascism: Parallel Politics?

GELFAND’S WORLD--A large number of intelligent, knowledgeable people have been pointing out the parallels between Trumpism and the development of Fascism and Naziism in 1930s Europe. The parallels are, indeed striking.  The Trumpist arguments are taken right from the totalitarian playbook -- that we are in dire straights, that only one man is capable of bringing us to safety, and that the process requires total loyalty lest we suffer further international humiliation. Our CityWatch colleague Doug Epperhart referred to the sum total of Trump's message as a witch's brew, a not unreasonable description of a poisonous mixture. 

If nothing else, Trump's propensity to lie is unique in the annals of the American presidency. This leads to the next question which has a few of the deep thinkers staying awake at nights: Does Trump actually believe the statements he makes with such surety? Does he believe deep down that the crowd at his inauguration was larger than Obama's or that millions of illegal votes were cast in the presidential election? 

The difference is between that of a pompous ass vs. somebody with some form of mental illness. Is it bluster or is it delusional thinking? One respected political writer, Andrew Sullivan, argues that it is the latter.  Sullivan's piece is worth reading in the entirety. He invites us to imagine a neighbor whose newly painted living room is blue, yet continues to describe it as red. (I know, it seems a bit simplistic, but it fits the inauguration argument perfectly.) Here's how Sullivan sums up: 

"If the next time you dropped by, he was still raving about his gorgeous new red walls, what would you think? Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return." 

Whether Trump is merely a liar's liar and a bully's bully or whether he is already at the point of delusion is, I think, yet to be determined. Only those extremely close to him might possibly know, and their behavior since before the Republican convention tells us that whichever way it is, they are in on the scam. 

So the question we have before us might be summed up as follows: Is this 1933 all over again, or is it merely 1968? Is it the beginning of fascism in America -- and the consequent loss of some of our liberties -- or are we just going through a phase in which the prevailing political power in the executive and legislative branches is not to our liking? Is it to be a horrid disaster or just a political setback? 

In assaying the prediction I am about to make, I understand full well that I will be disappointing a number of friends and colleagues who live in other countries or came here from elsewhere. They recognize the parallels all too well, particularly those who lived at one time or another under dictatorships. They chuckle (a little contemptuously) at what they see as my naivety. But my response is that in some ways we are seriously different from Europe in 1933, or Asia or South America at other times. There are two main reasons. 

The first: If anything can save us, it is an independent judiciary serving under a written Constitution. The defense against dictatorial conduct will depend on what Trump referred to as a "so-called judge" and a few hundred of his colleagues. We can also put some small hope in members of congress who went to law school and practiced law before going into politics. 

Why do these things matter? The comparison comes down to the relationship between the European and his sovereign prior to the twentieth century. Admittedly there are nuances, but the concept of individual rights, particularly of minorities among the majority, is more entrenched in American thought going all the way back to 1788 than existed in 1933 Germany or Italy. 

To put it more simply, any attempt by Trump to muzzle the New York Times or CNN shouldn't last very long in the federal courts, certainly not at the lower level. We should also be able to expect of higher courts including the Supreme Court that they will find within themselves the duty to uphold the most fundamental rights of Americans. Freedom of speech, religion, and the right to assemble (ie: to join demonstrations on public streets) will be upheld by the courts. We have the right to expect this from our judges. 

And yes, I would be the first to agree that there have been a lot of bad decisions made by the Supreme Court over the years, just as there have been many bad laws introduced in state legislatures. But good decision or bad, each has been made under the basic fundamental fact that the Constitution exists and that it is the supreme law of the land. It's been a long time now that our Constitution has been in effect, approaching two and a half centuries. We're coming up on half the age of the Roman empire, even if we still think of ourselves as a young country. 

So any federal judge faced with the latest lawsuit over a Trump executive order has that tradition at his back. It's in our blood and bones. 

The difference between Americans and our foreign-born colleagues is that we Americans expect our institutions, including the armed forces and governmental agencies, to obey the lawful orders of the courts. We expect the courts to follow the Constitution. We've seen worrisome tendencies such as the secret powers conferred by the Patriot Act, but we have the right to expect that our fellow Americans will not give up all our liberties for an emotional security blanket. Trump is wrong to think that he is the one necessity in order that we be saved from a hideous menace. Rather, he is the menace, and it's the sum total of our Constitution, our fealty to its principles, and the agencies we have developed in their defense that we should depend on. 

The second reason to argue that this is just 1968 and not 1933 is that we've been through the Second World War, we've seen communism and dictatorships, and we've learned from them.

 

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

-cw

Fairbanks, Murfreesboro, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles … The Resistance is Mounting

GELFAND’S WORLD--What do Fairbanks, Alaska, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma have in common with Los Angeles and San Francisco? The answer: All of them have newly established resistance groups dedicated to opposing Donald Trump's policies. How this came to be, and how the rest of us can join in opposition to Trump's craziness is a short but fascinating story. 

In these first 3 weeks of the Trump presidency, the shocks have piled up, one outrage atop the other, ranging from the billionaire's club of unqualified Cabinet appointees to the president's executive orders which spurred tens of thousands of our fellow citizens to take to this country's streets and airports. 

It became painfully obvious that resistance is necessary. It was equally obvious that we couldn't bumble along as before, with hundreds of different groups, each with its own vision and agenda, and each believing itself to be the epitome of progressivism. Some of us (such as me) even cling to the old fashioned term liberal, as opposed to the new-fangled (i.e.: since Ronald Reagan) term progressive

This is a national emergency. We have to put our differences aside. The stakes are too great. For some, such as the people who would lose their health coverage under the extremist right wing, it's literally a matter of life and death. For the country as a whole, it is the question as to whether this nation will face up to critical challenges such as global warming or be stuck in denialism. 

We have to be effective, and that means that we have to be together. Many of us have reached this conclusion either independently or by reading each others' blogs. There is really only one meaningful question: Which group shall we mutually create and then join? 

I think we have an answer. 

Only a few days back, I (like so many others) was musing about the spontaneous development of a leftward-leaning version of the conservative Tea Party. I even linked in passing to an instruction set, as it were, for how it might best be done. The instruction set was titled Indivisible. It explained how the right wing Tea Party had developed and how it had acted in order to damage the work of the Obama administration. The description of how to be your own progressive version of the Tea Party is the part that is of interest. 

And apparently a lot of people all over the country took the hint, read through the guide book, and joined the movement. 

Indivisible is the resistance. How do we know that? One clue is that within the past few weeks, close to 5000 groups have joined in the Indivisible coalition. 

By the way, the authors of the Indivisible guide point out that at this moment in history, the best approach to resistance is to create groups that act locally and defensively. That is to say, the message is to stop Trump from getting away with what he is trying to do, and the way to do this is to stay on your congressman's butt without letup. We don't need to divide ourselves over long-term agendas. (Anybody really want to whine about the quest for single-payer when the Affordable Care Act itself is in jeopardy?) 

It's important to go to congressional town hall meetings and in the absence of publicly advertised meetings, to protest at any and all opportunities. The really advanced activists will be thinking about how to reach out to the media and to the people and businesses that have been supporting each congressman. 

So how do you join the movement? It's simple. Go to the Indivisible website and click on the button that says Find a Local Group.  A little basic math tells us that on the average, each congressional district will have about a dozen such groups. Obviously there are some places (such as Los Angeles) that have more. In fact, the L.A. area already has nearly 200 groups associated with Indivisible. But there are groups in Idaho Falls, Idaho and Casper, Wyoming, not to mention Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. We need such groups to form up in every congressional district. 

As the authors of the Indivisible guide like to point out, the one most important issue to a congressman is getting reelected. Everything else is secondary. Let's apply that to a local congressional seat. Darrell Issa beat Democrat Doug Applegate by 1621 votes out of a total of more than 310,000. That's a little over half of one percent. How is Issa going to react when he is set upon by groups of people asking him about whether he will support phasing out Medicare? It's not just a gotcha question. It's a serious question that deserves an answer. In the past, Issa has been able to skate on such issues, but maybe this time things will be different. 

Meanwhile, there is some reason to think that the protests have had an effect on the Trump administration and on the congress in terms of their intent to do violence to the Affordable Care Act. They have been forced to face a lot of difficult questions about what it would mean to replace the ACA, and they are not coming up with good answers. As they start to move away from their original positions and start talking about repairing the ACA rather than destroying it, perhaps something can be salvaged.

 

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

-cw

 

Beware! Trump’s Top Advisor Predicts Apocalypse, Says War is Inevitable

INSIDE TRUMP’S HEAD--In 2009, the historian David Kaiser, then a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, got a call from a guy named Steve Bannon. (Photo above sitting right.)

Bannon wanted to interview Kaiser for a documentary he was making based on the work of the generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe. Kaiser, an expert on Strauss and Howe, didn’t know Bannon from Adam, but he agreed to participate. He went to the Washington headquarters of the conservative activist group Citizens United, where Bannon was then based, for a chat.

Kaiser was impressed by how much Bannon knew about Strauss and Howe, who argued that American history operates in four-stage cycles that move from major crisis to awakening to major crisis. These crises are called “Fourth Turnings” — and Bannon believed the U.S. had entered one on Sept. 18, 2008, when Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke went to Capitol Hill to ask for a bailout of the international banking system.

“He knew the theory,” Kaiser said. “He obviously enjoyed interviewing me.”

Bannon pressed Kaiser on one point during the interview. “He was talking about the wars of the Fourth Turnings,” Kaiser recalled. “You have the American Revolution, you have the Civil War, you have World War II; they’re getting bigger and bigger. Clearly, he was anticipating that in this Fourth Turning there would be one at least as big. And he really made an effort, I remember, to get me to say that on the air.”

Kaiser didn’t believe global war was preordained, so he demurred. The line of questioning didn’t make it into the documentary — a polemical piece, released in 2010, called “Generation Zero.” 

Bannon, who’s now ensconced in the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s closest adviser, has been portrayed as Trump’s main ideas guy. But in interviews, speeches and writing — and especially in his embrace of Strauss and Howe — he has made clear that he is, first and foremost, an apocalypticist. 

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

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

Strauss died in 2007, and Howe did not respond to requests for comment. But their books speak for themselves. The first, Generations, released in 1991, set forth the idea that history unfolds in repetitive, predictable four-part cycles ― and that the U.S. was, and still is, going through the most recent cycle’s tail end. (In Generations, Strauss and Howe became perhaps the first writers to use the term “Millennials” to describe the current cohort of young people.)

Strauss and Howe’s theory is based on a series of generational archetypes — the Artists, the Prophets, the Nomads and the Heroes — that sound like they were pulled from a dystopian young adult fiction series. Each complete four-part cycle, or saeculum, takes about 80 to 100 years, in Strauss and Howe’s reckoning. The Fourth Turning, which the authors published in 1997, focuses on the final, apocalyptic part of the cycle.

Strauss and Howe postulate that during this Fourth Turning crisis, an unexpected leader will emerge from an older generation to lead the nation, and what they call the “Hero” generation (in this case, Millennials), to a new order. This person is known as the Grey Champion. An election or another event — perhaps a war — will bring this person to power, and their regime will rule throughout the crisis.

“The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda about which they had long dreamed and against which their adversaries had darkly warned,” Strauss and Howe wrote in The Fourth Turning. “This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention.”

Cyclical models of history are something academics kick around every now and then, said Sean Wilentz, an American history professor at Princeton University. But the idea has not caught on among historians or political actors.

“It’s just a conceit. It’s a fiction, it’s all made up,” Wilentz said about cyclical historical models. “There’s nothing to them. They’re just inventions.”

Michael Lind, a historian and co-founder of the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank, has called Strauss and Howe’s work “pseudoscience” and said their “predictions about the American future turn out to be as vague as those of fortune cookies.”

But Bannon bought it.

“This is the fourth great crisis in American history,” Bannon told an audience at the Liberty Restoration Foundation, a conservative nonprofit, in 2011. “We had the Revolution. We had the Civil War. We had the Great Depression and World War II. This is the great Fourth Turning in American history, and we’re going to be one thing on the other side.”

Major crises “happen in about 80- or 100-year cycles,” Bannon told a conference put on by the Republican women’s group Project GoPink that same year. “And somewhere over the next 10 or 20 years, we’re going to come through this crisis, and we’re either going to be the country that was bequeathed to us or it’s going to be something that’s completely or totally different.”

The “Judeo-Christian West is collapsing,” he went on. “It’s imploding. And it’s imploding on our watch. And the blowback of that is going to be tremendous.”

War is coming, Bannon has warned. In fact, it’s already here.

It’s war. It’s war. Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, 2015

“You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China,” he said during a 2016 radio appearance. “They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.”

“Against radical Islam, we’re in a 100-year war,” he told Political Vindication Radio in 2011.

“We’re going to war in the South China Seas in the next five to 10 years, aren’t we?” Bannon asked during a 2016 interview with Reagan biographer Lee Edwards.

“We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism,” he said in a speech to a Vatican conference in 2014. “And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.”

In a 2015 radio appearance, Bannon described how he ran Breitbart, the far-right news site he chaired at the time. “It’s war,” he said. “It’s war. Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war.”

To confront this threat, Bannon argued, the Judeo-Christian West must fight back, lest it lose as it did when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453. He called Islam a “religion of submission” in 2016 — a refutation of President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 description of Islam as a religion of peace. In 2007, Bannon wrote a draft movie treatment for a documentary depicting a “fifth column” of Muslim community groups, the media, Jewish organizations and government agencies working to overthrow the government and impose Islamic law. 

“There’s clearly a fifth column here in the United States,” Bannon warned in July 2016. “There’s rot at the center of the Judeo-Christian West,” he said in November 2015. “Secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals,” he argued at the Vatican conference. The “aristocratic Washington class” and the media, he has claimed, are in league with the entire religion of Islam and an expansionist China to undermine Judeo-Christian America.

This sort of existential conflict is central to Strauss and Howe’s predictions. There are four ways a Fourth Turning can end, they argued, and three of them involve some kind of massive collapse. America might “be reborn,” and we’d wait another 80 to 100 years for a new cycle to culminate in a crisis again. The modern world — the era of Western history that Strauss and Howe believe began in the 15th century — might come to an end. We might “spare modernity but mark the end of our nation.” Or we might face “the end of man,” in a global war leading to “omnicidal Armageddon.”  

Now, a believer in these vague and unfounded predictions sits in the White House, at the right hand of the president.

“We’re gonna have to have some dark days before we get to the blue sky of morning again in America,” Bannon warned in 2010. “We are going to have to take some massive pain. Anybody who thinks we don’t have to take pain is, I believe, fooling you.”

“This movement,” he said in November, “is in the top of the first inning.”

(Paul Blumenthal Money in Politics Reporter at Huff Post … where this piece was first posted.)

 

 

 

 

Dear So-Called President Trump: Where’s My Protest Paycheck?

THE PROTEST ECONOMY-Dear So-Called President Trump: I was among the roughly five million Americans who took to the streets in cities across the country a few weeks ago in opposition to your outrageous policies regarding women, Muslims, school children, immigrants, workers, the environment, and people who need health care. (That’s me in the photo above with my 20-year old daughter Sarah.) I left my home around 7 a.m., took the subway from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles, and participated in the demonstration -- marching, holding signs, shouting chants, listening to speakers and musicians -- until about 4 p.m. I got back on the subway and returned to my house around 5 p.m. In other words, I spent about 10 hours involved in the protest. 

That was the largest one-day protest in American history. A majority of the five million participants (750,000 in LA alone) were protesting for the first time. I didn’t really understand what brought them out to protest on a sunny Saturday when they could have been doing so many other things. But your recent Tweet explained why. 

Last week you Tweeted that “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Thank you for the reminder. I forgot to pick up my paycheck for protesting. Whomever is paying people to protest left me off the list -- or just ripped me off. Since the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, I am owed at least $72.50 for the 10 hours I spent protesting that Saturday. However, as of this January 1, the California minimum wage is now $10.50 an hour, so I’m actually owed $105, and even more if the people who are paying people to protest against you abide by overtime rules.

If all five million Americans who protested that day got paid the federal minimum wage, and if people spent an average of five hours protesting, those patriotic rabble-rousers are owed a total of at least $181 million in unpaid protest wages. 

I think you’ll agree that putting $181 million in Americans’ pockets is good for the economy. If you will recall the Economics 101 course you probably took at college, this is called an increase in “consumer demand.” Economists also call it the “multiplier effect.” The five million protesters will spend that $181 million in their local economies -- boosting sales, revenues, and jobs. So thank you for reminding us that protest is good for the economy. 

You will be pleased to know that Americans will continue to protest your policies for the next four years. Not all the protests will be as large as the January 21 women’s march, but the number of Americans who feel compelled to protest against you will certainly grow as you pursue reckless, dangerous and inhumane policies. Every week, in cities, suburbs and small towns across America, people will be in the streets, at town meetings, on college campuses, at their workplaces, at airports, in churches and synagogues, and elsewhere raising their voices in opposition to almost everything you are trying to do. 

Let’s take a conservative estimate that every week, on average, 100,000 Americans engage in some kind of local protest over the next four years. Let’s assume that each person spends an average of three hours participating in protest and earns the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That adds up to $452 million during your four years as president -- assuming you are not impeached. 

Of course, you won’t be surprised that in addition to all those local protests, at least four times a year, Americans will mount the kind of major nationwide protests that we saw a few weeks ago, with five million people taking to the streets. So let’s add another $181 million for each protest -- four times a year, for four years. This will increase the protest payroll by another $2.9 billion. Altogether, that’s $3.42 billion in protest paychecks over four years. I haven’t even factored in the higher minimum wage levels in many states and cities. 

You are already doing your part by adopting policies and making statements that make Americans so angry that they are joining protests in record numbers. But if you’d really like to do something to improve the economy even more, you could raise the federal minimum to $15 an hour. That would quickly and dramatically increase America’s protest payroll and be a real boost the economy. 

I realize that it is selfish of me to bring this up, but what about all the back pay I’m owed for the protests I’ve participated in since the 1960s? I’ve been to hundreds of protests for civil rights, against the Vietnam war, for women’s rights and against apartheid, for more funding for public schools, against the U.S. overthrow of Chile’s president Salvador Allende and against U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan contras, against police killing of unarmed Black Americans, in favor of workers’ rights, and against government bail-outs to Wall Street banks. 

As you can see in the above photographs, I brought my twin daughters Amelia and Sarah to a protest in Los Angeles in 2002 against the U.S. invasion of Iraq and I joined with my wife Terry, our dog Mia, and our friends last year at a huge march of workers and supporters demanding a $15 minimum wage in my hometown of Pasadena. (You’ll be please know that we won that fight). On a rainy night two weeks ago I joined about 150 people at a protest in front of the $26 million Los Angeles mansion owned by Steve Mnuchin, the Wall Street predator (known as the “foreclosure king”) who was your campaign finance chair and whom you’ve nominated to be Secretary of the Treasury. (That’s me, with the gray hair, behind the sign). 

Shouldn’t the hundreds of millions of Americans who, over the years, sat in at lunch counters, participated in strikes, carried picket signs for reproductive rights and same-sex marriage, rallied against nuclear weapons, and shouted “no justice, no peace” and “end racism” get paid for their protest activism? Rep. John Lewis, who put his body on the line hundreds of times for social justice -- and whom you described as “all talk, no action” in a twitter tantrum last month -- would be owed a fortune in back protest pay. 

Do you think we could find a “so-called” judge who would be sympathetic to this wage-theft cause and order the owners of Protest Inc. to compensate us for our labor? 

I don’t consider this reparations for radicals and reformers. I see it as the kind of economic nationalism you’ve been talking about. You can’t export protest jobs. These are American jobs for Americans. As any economist could tell you, those back payments would do wonders for the economy. 

Just as George W. Bush was known as the “war president,” and Barack Obama was known (at least by Republicans) as the “food stamp president,” you will surely go down in history as the “protest president.” You’ve done more than any other U.S. president to unite Americans and galvanize them into an oppositional protest movement. You’ve called us “paid protesters.” Once we all get paid, we will feel proud to have helped make America Great Again.

 

(Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Trump’s ‘New Order’ Witch’s Brew: Not ‘New’ and Not ‘Order’

DIVINE THE FUTURE--As a student of history, I’m always drawing parallels between the present and the past. Like many of us, I believe that to divine the future we must understand what has gone before. That’s what makes the actions of Trump, Bannon and company so damn frightening. 

Let’s turn back the cover of the fascist playbook and see what’s inside. 

First, the lies and then the people who choose to believe them. 

Despite the fact that the United States under Barack Obama experienced recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, significant expansion in healthcare coverage, and a fairly peaceful world scene, Donald Trump ran a campaign that painted our nation as a failure, crime-ridden and downtrodden, kowtowing to the Chinese and even worse, radical Islam. 

The target of these lies was, and continues to be, the susceptible individuals made receptive to belief in “alternative facts” through years of indoctrination by right-wing radio and alt right websites. It’s no accident that Trump’s chief henchman, Steve Bannon, comes from that world. Propaganda is most effective when there’s a willing audience and if anyone knows how to exploit that audience, it’s Bannon. As chief executive at Breitbart, he led the pack of alt right media hounds. 

Trump’s battle cry of “Make America Great Again” was just good enough to get him the prize. He is president only because of an anachronistic electoral system in which losing by three million votes at the ballot box becomes winning by 77 in the Electoral College. So the United States is experiencing what life might have been like if someone such as the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy, had become president instead of Eisenhower. Nixon’s “law and order” rhetoric, anti-media bias, and enemies list don’t come close to what may in store under the current regime. 

The formula for Trump’s authoritarian witches’ brew is simple: 

You are in danger. 

Muslims are the enemy. 

Only I can save you. 

Anyone who opposes me is the enemy (including apparently those who no longer want to sell Ivanka’s clothing brand.) 

In keeping with his pledge to remake government, Trump has moved quickly to eliminate regulations to rein in polluters. Gutting consumer protection rules again allows the wolves of Wall Street to roam free. He’s attacked Obamacare, seeking to loosen administrative rules that make the system work. 

Most egregious, however, is his order to ban Muslims from seven nations. Despite protestations that this executive decree is not aimed at a particular religion, many know better. The judges who have done their sworn duty to the Constitution are being attacked as encouraging enemies of the state. 

The comparisons many in the United States and around the world have made to Trump’s regime and the fascists of the 1920s and ‘30s is apt. For some, “America First” carries the flavor of “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Referring to the current reality in Washington, D.C., Bannon said, “What we are witnessing is the birth of a new political order.” 

In 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt, talking about an earlier political reality, said, “These men and their hypnotized followers call this a new order. It is not new. It is not order.” 

It’s time to heed the lessons of history.

 

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

 

How the Trump Resistance Can Succeed: Change the Narrative

DOUBLING BACK ON NATIONALISM-Mike Grillo teaches political science, not literature. But he argues that, to understand the success of Donald Trump --  and the most effective ways to oppose him  --  you need to start with narratives.

In a chapter of the just-published book Why Irrational Politics Appeals, the Schreiner University assistant professor presents new evidence that Trump’s appeal --  at least among his core supporters, who voted for him in the Republican primaries --  is rooted not in “rational concerns for material well-being or economic security,” but rather in racial resentment. 

His analysis shows support for the Trump/Bannon brand of nationalism is driven by prejudice-fueled emotional responses, which are shaped by the stories people read, hear, and share. When those narratives depict certain groups as threatening, they create hostile predispositions, which in turn create support for leaders who promise to mitigate the perceived danger. 

This is known as “symbolic politics,” and it drives people on both the left and right. Grillo’s equation, “preexisting biases elicit knee-jerk emotional reactions, which influence our decisions and behavior,” is not unique to Trump voters. But, given Trump’s nationalist rhetoric during his presidential campaign, Grillo focused on them when he analyzed a detailed survey of 1,200 Americans conducted in January of 2016. 

Grillo looked specifically at how their feelings toward Trump (measured on a “warmth” scale of one to 100) coincided with their feelings about immigrants, national identity, prejudice against minorities, fear of terrorism, and “racial resentment.” He discussed his findings in a telephone interview. 

Let’s start at the first link in the causal chain you identify. What kind of narratives are you speaking of? 

Narratives can come from various sources: parental upbringing, political and cultural elites, pop culture. They can include cultural narratives: Who belongs to the group, who doesn’t, who are rival groups. Numerous studies have shown that people’s anti-Muslim narratives have come from numerous places: politicians, popular films and television shows,certain media outlets, and the even pulpit, depending on the church. 

You conclude that these stories created fears and prejudices that engendered hostility toward minorities, including immigrants. How do you define and measure that term? 

Racial resentment is this idea that minorities are getting special treatment from the government (welfare, affirmative action, etc.), usually at the expense of whites. It is usually rooted in underlying beliefs that minorities are not deserving of any special treatment. There was also the idea that whites are now at a disadvantage  --  that the system is now working against them. 

In the data set, racial resentment was measured having people indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements, including “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.” 

I assume many people differentiate between those earlier legal immigrants and today’s undocumented workers. 

They do. But even disapproval of legal immigration -- as measured by responses to the statement, “When people from other countries legally move to the United States to live and work, is this generally good for the U.S., generally bad for the U.S., or neither good nor bad?” --  was associated with racial resentment, prejudice, and other predispositions that, in turn, predicted support for Trump. 

But actual economic distress was only weakly associated with support for Trump? That would seem to contradict the narrative that his supporters were desperate, lower-middle-class whites struggling to make a living. 

Another political scientist, Philip Klinkner, examined this very same data set, and found racial resentment and prejudice had greater impact on Trump support than attitudes about whether the economy was worse off. That research also found that (one’s personal) income, and attitudes about whether it is easier or more difficult to improve one’s economic status now, as opposed to 20 years ago, were not significant predictors of Trump support. 

Now, this is data that was collected during the primaries. In the general election, the people harboring racial resentment probably voted for Trump, but there were likely other factors influencing support, such as anger with government and the Washington establishment --  the idea that they no longer serve the interests of the working class, dislike of Hillary Clinton, voting on strictly partisan lines, and the hope that a person like Trump can bring back the jobs, etc. 

Michael Moore observed in his [Michael Moore in] TrumpLand film that, for many, the Trump vote was an anger-driven decision where people felt they could torch the government and politicians hurting them. I think that all of these explanations can be explained by symbolic politics, as they are all based on predispositions that trigger emotional responses. 

The connection between racial resentment and support for Trump was even stronger than the link between fear of terrorism and support for Trump. What does that tell you? 

I think it is reflective of the fact that you have this perception among a sizable portion of the white middle-class population that the government has abandoned them, while instead providing special assistance and treatment to minorities, who they see as undeserving, either because they believe that they don’t work hard enough, or because they believe that systematic racism is no longer a problem. 

You couple this with stagnating wages, higher cost of living, unemployment, and the decimation of small manufacturing towns, and you have a recipe for a very ugly populist nationalism. We’ve seen this in other periods of American history, where whites were resentful of Irish and Italians because of this belief that they were taking all of the good jobs because they were cheap labor. 

You noted that “Trump is not creating the narratives and predispositions detailed in this paper. They have been a feature of American politics for a long time.” Do you believe he was successful because he addressed them more openly than previous politicians? Or that his pugnacious style fit his supporters’ image of a “strong leader”? 

I think it was probably a combination of both. I also think that Trump was probably the only one who could do it, because, as we have seen, he was able to say many things throughout the campaign that would have destroyed any other candidate. 

Reading your paper, I had the thought that Trump is trapped, in a way. He feels the need to give his voters what he promised them, and for good reason: Your analysis suggests that they only support him to the extent that his positions align with their prejudices and speak to their fears. But if that’s the case, he can’t really moderate his positions, can he? He’s descending.  

That is indeed a possibility. Another possibility is that he can maybe buy himself some leeway if he manages to deliver on some of his promises. Or he may begin to alienate his own base via the consequences of his policies, such as higher taxes and tariffs. His rise and win was so unpredictable that I’m just not sure at this point.One thing that I have been discussing with my colleagues here in Texas is what happens if he is serious about building the wall. There would be all kinds of eminent domain issues, which people in Texas take very seriously. That could open up a hornet’s nest. 

So if this analysis is right, what path or paths does it suggest for the anti-Trump coalition? 

One thing they could try to do is reframe the argument. Trump’s opposition has definitely been galvanized, and if you look online at social media, they have begun advancing the argument that the policies and values of Trump and his followers are un-American and will hurt America, while their values of inclusiveness, tolerance, and compassion are the epitome of American patriotism. They are in essence trying to alter the narrative. 

Another thing they might do is try to capitalize on the “Trump regret” movement. Tumblr has a whole archive of tweets from Trump supporters who expressed regret voting for Trump. Some complain that his cabinet appointees are hardly “draining the swamp.” Others express concern about their healthcare coverage. They may try to advance the narrative that Trump is not a champion of the middle class, and that his policies will hurt them. 

So, once again, it’s all about narratives, since, whether we realize it or not, they shape our assumptions and our emotional responses to issues. Are they the battleground? 

I agree with that assessment. The main challenge with altering narratives is that, in most cases, it can take a very long time. Take, for example, the abolitionist, women’s suffrage, or civil rights movements. Changing the respective narratives in each of those instances was a long and painful process.

Whether Trump’s opposition can change the narrative on racial resentment and other prejudices remains to be seen.

 

(Tom Jacobs is a staff writer with Pacific Standard magazine, where this piece first was posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Yes Sally, There are Patriots … You Just Won’t Find Them in the White House

AT LENGTH--It is one thing to pledge allegiance to the flag in the security of a neighborhood council or chamber of commerce board meeting. It is quite another to stand up to the newly-elected president of the United States and tell him that his latest executive order on immigration is indefensible and probably unconstitutional. I call that true patriotism. That’s what the now former-acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates did the other day when she directed the Department of Justice lawyers to disobey the executive order. The executive order bans entry to the United States from 7 Muslim-majority countries. Christians are exempt from the order.

“In litigation, DOJ Civil Division lawyers are charged with advancing reasonable legal arguments that can be made supporting an Executive Order. But my role as leader of this institution is different and broader,” Yates said regarding her decision. “My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts…. I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.”

Ol’ President No. 45 fired Yates. Or, just as likely, the newly-elected’s alt-right-ego and former  white nationalist news blog Breitbart editor-turned-“chief strategist” and newly- minted member of the National Security Council, Stephen Bannon, fired Yates. This only added more confusion to Trump’s executive order on immigration, which has been protested by thousands and challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union. A temporary stay has been issued by the U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of New York on Jan. 25. Now, instead of protecting America from foreign enemies, Trump has become one of the “bad hombres” that he warned us about.  So much for those who have been saying, “just give the new president a chance to prove himself”. 

Nyet! I say hurrah for those many thousands who are protesting, chanting, standing up shouting, “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” and who are now suing this administration. 

Ms. Yates heroically upheld her oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic

To many Americans, the current occupant of the Oval Office is ignorant of the Constitution he swore to uphold and is driving the nation into a direct collision with the fundamentals of our very liberties. The chaos emanating from the bloviator-in-chief would be amusing if it weren’t so tragic.

In just his first 10 days on the job, Trump has already signed more executive actions than any previous president, including Barack Obama. Trump has issued two proclamations, seven executive orders and seven presidential memoranda.

He’s even invented a new form of presidential directive — the national security presidential memorandum — and signed three of those.

For those who thought Trump’s antics were just campaign rhetoric, it is clear now that his campaign rhetoric was his real agenda — an agenda supported by “alternative facts,” his alt-right interpretation and his non-existent understanding of the Bill of Rights.

Reince Priebus signed the Memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, freezing all new regulations; it is clear that this regime is on the warpath to overturn, dismantle or destroy as much of the Obama agenda as it can by executive fiat before Congress can act in the first 100 days.

Trump’s Executive Order 13767 and his Executive Order to “Protect the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” are just a two of 19 objectionable executive actions. The other messes he’s started includes creating diplomatic rifts with Mexico over his Great Wall; lobbing the opening salvo in dismantling the Affordable Care Act; restarting the Dakota Access Pipeline; and threatening sanctuary cities. (See pg. 10 to read the whole list of Trump’s executive orders thus far.) Trump has cancelled the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, but his penchant for alienating U.S. allies and rivals alike could have real effects on import industry jobs in the Los Angeles Harbor and consumer price inflation nationwide. In the end, will Trump actually create more jobs?

That the mainstream media should now seem shocked by any of this after promoting his celebrity status and profiting from the TV ratings that Trump generated during the bizarre 2016 campaign is a sad irony.

Even more disconcerting is mainstream media’s late arrival on fact checking and investigating his relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin or even demanding the release of his taxes. Only now are some mainstream media outlets beginning to use the “L” word when reporting on Trump’s or his subordinate’s lies.

He is just a brand name like Coca-Cola or Twitter: empty of substance and short on communication.  That he is now slamming and abusing the White House press corps is just trumpish exploitation of the way things are in these great post-factual United States of America. Bannon said the other day that the press should, “Just shut up and listen.” As if journalists should be obedient stenographers rather than professional skeptics of the Fourth Estate.

This conflict has been coming to a head for some time as corporate public relation firms have been spoon-feeding journalists “alternative facts.”

The rest of us should not be shocked at the political confrontation now  in play. From the very birth of this nation—beginning with the Boston Tea Party through the Civil War and emancipation of the slaves and every decade and era since—the conflict has been between the rights of the people versus the tyranny of money, property and privilege. Liberty sometimes gets confused with ownership, depending on who owns what or whom.

That Trump is held up as a champion of the neo-Tea Party, neo-fascists and others only confuses both our American sensibilities and our American linguistics, such as they are. Trump is nothing more than an empty Coke bottle full of fizzy colored politics with no moral values.

Making America Great is a slogan, not a course of action or a cure for what ails this country. His inauguration was not much more than an insulting reiteration of his empty sloganeering soaked in sugar water.

However, from this chaos there will rise true patriots and heroes who, like many before Sally Yates, will stand up to speak truth to power.

 

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

-cw

The Donald and the Judiciary

JUDICIAL JOUSTING-Because the judiciary is surrounded with mythology, Americans are unable to intellectually deal with significant issues that involve the court system. The vast majority of Americans do not even know that we have two separate court systems: (1) the federal judiciary and (2) fifty state court systems. To confuse people more, at times the two court systems are mutually exclusive and at other times, their powers overlap. (Photo above: AG speaks after federal judge in Seattle issues restraining order on President Trump’s travel ban.) 

The vast majority of Americans only want a court to validate their personal opinions. I call this the Judge Judy approach to courts. People want a bitchy, know-it-all avenging angel (devil) to wreak havoc on the villains. Increasingly, the TV courts have taken on the aura of a Roman circus, influencing the public’s beliefs about how the court system should function. 

At the same time, the public operates on myths about the impartiality of judges and an alleged respect for Due Process. When someone is promoted as thoughtful, he or she is referred to as “judicious,” or “sober as a judge.” 

On the other hand, we had a brief moment of reality in January 2015 when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the California State court system suffers from an “epidemic of misconduct.”  The California Supreme Court also requires its lower courts to enforce arbitration awards which are based on Alternative Facts and work a substantial injustice on the victim. See Moncharsh v. Heily & Blase (1992) 3 Cal.4th 1. One should note that the federal court criticized the entire California state system and blamed the “epidemic of misconduct” on the judges and justices. 

Into this muddled sea of confusion over what the courts should be and what the courts actually are, waddles the befuddled Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s idea of a fair court is limited to judges who agree with him 100%; he believes that only judges with his same ethnic background are qualified to judge him. As a result, The Donald repetitively criticized federal trial court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, charging that since Judge Curiel was a “Mexican,” he was a “hater” and that the judge was “giving us [Trump University] very unfair rulings." 

Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel were in line with the public’s “Judge Judy philosophy” – a judge is good only if he or she agrees with one’s position. Unlike the federal court which singled out the California judicial system under Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye for creating an epidemic of misconduct -- where people were railroaded into prison on the basis of lying jailhouse informants and perjury -- The Donald’s attacks on Judge Curiel were based on the judge’s heritage and his belief that Judge Curiel was out to get him. 

In this toxic mixture of public ignorance, judicial corruption, and the personal rants of an Enfante Terrible, the nation finds itself in constitutional crisis due to Trump’s Muslim ban which alleges that Muslims from seven countries are not being properly vetted. Interestingly, Trump has no known business interests in those nations, none of which have sent us a Muslim who has killed any American on American soil. 

However, the Muslim ban excludes Arab nations from which terrorists have come to the U.S. and murdered thousands of Americans. And Trump does have extensive business interests in some of those un-banned countries such as Saudi Arabia. Thus, exemptions for some Muslim countries raise questions as to whether President Trump is using his power as President to advance his personal business interests. 

Within hours, federal judges began to restrict the scope of the Muslim ban. For example, on January 28, 2017, federal Judge Ann Donnelly found that retroactively applying the ban to people who have held American Green Cards for years was beyond the power of an executive order. 

On February 3, 2017, federal Judge James L. Robart, issued a temporary nationwide injunction against the Muslim ban, prompting an angry President Trump to tweet, “The opinion of this ‘so-called judge,’ which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” 

We shall leave aside the fact that Judge Robart issued only a TRO which would hold the status quo until a Three Judge Panel could hear the matter. President Trump called into question the legitimacy of Judge Robart by his use of the words “so-called judge.” What does that even mean? Is James L. Robert some guy off the street who snuck into the federal court house and issued an order while pretending to be a judge? 

In a nation where we learn weekly on shows like 20/20, 48 Hours, and Dateline about people who’ve been convicted using falsified evidence composed of lies, deceit and bigotry, we are beginning to realize that we have a serious problem with a corrupt judiciary. A huge number of judges are former prosecutors. When they preside over criminal trials and watch former colleagues parade lying jailhouse informants in front of juries in order to obtain convictions, these judges know exactly what is happening.  

Here we are, two years after the federal court accused California judges of creating an epidemic of misconduct, and we have a new federal investigation into the on-going use of lying jailhouse informants in Orange County, California. Judges in Los Angeles County have also created an environment in which Fiction becomes Fact and Facts disappear altogether, and where attorneys who “refuse Jesus Christ” are removed from cases. But no one will deal with the implications of the epidemic of judicial wronging in California, just like no one will deal with the implications of Donald Trump’s wheeling and dealing with judicial nominations. 

At the same time that President Trump has launched his attack on federal Judge James Robart, he is nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. As we have seen with Judge Curiel as well as with Judge Robart, Donald Trump wants what he wants and that is all that matters. During the campaign, when asked by The Hill’s Peter Sullivan what he thought about the “sanctity of life,” Trump said, “I will protect it and the biggest way you can protect it is through the Supreme Court and putting people in the court.” On Tuesday night, in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, Trump said he will appoint Supreme Court judges in order to make abortion illegal. “I have become pro-life,” Trump told O’Reilly, “And the reason is, I have seen, in my case one specific situation, but numerous situations that have made me to go that way.” 

Trump habitually reminds the world that everything is a deal. His life appears to be based on his 1987 ghost-written book, The Art of the Deal. The question arises: what deal did Judge Neil Gorsuch make with Donald Trump in order to be nominated? It is a no win situation for the nation and an equally no win situation for Judge Gorsuch. If he did make a deal to get the nomination, would he admit it? 

Because the entire world sees that President Trump lacks self-restraint when acting in public, it would be naive to believe he had the self-restraint in private not to make a deal with Judge Gorsuch. It is hard to believe Trump would make any appointment without a deal. 

All the way from the faux TV court shows to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation’s judiciary is in disarray. California is fatally ill with “corruptionism,” while much of the general public cares naught for due process or human rights. If a judge does not endorse its bigoted fears and hatreds, the public can refer to him as a “so-called judge.” What will the world think of a nation where the President himself calls into question the legitimacy of the federal judiciary – and who rails against a judge who, by all accounts, is a jurist of exemplary character?   

In Trump’s America, a man is no longer judged by the content of his character, but by his loyalty to the most powerful.

 

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

Is Reading Steinbeck an Antidote to Donald Trump?

READING FOR RELIEF-A rotten egg incubated by reality television and hatched by retrograde thinking about women and the world, the presidency of Donald Trump is creating anxiety, fear, and a growing sense among progressives that an American psycho now occupies the White House. Many, like me, are turning to John Steinbeck for understanding. But that consolation has its limits. 

As Francis Cline observed recently in The New York Times, one positive result of the groundswell of bad feeling about Trump is that “[q]uality reading has become an angst-driven upside.” Anxious Americans yearning to feel at home in their own country have a rekindled interest in exploring their identity through great literature: “Headlines from the Trump White House keep feeding a reader’s need for fresh escape.” “Alternate facts,” when “presented by a literary truthteller” like John Steinbeck, are “a welcome antidote to the alarming versions of reality generated by President Donald Trump.” 

The literary tonic recommended by Cline may or may not have the power to clear the morning-after pall of Trump-facts and Trump-schisms (the two sometimes interchangeable) afflicting our panicked public dialogue, our beleaguered press, and, for those as apprehensive as I am, the American-psycho recesses of our collective mind. Perhaps counter-intuitively, his prescription for mental wellness includes works by a group of novelists with a far darker worldview than that of Steinbeck, who felt an obligation to his readers to remain optimistic about the future whenever possible. The writers mentioned by Cline include Sinclair Lewis (It Can’t Happen Here), George Orwell (1984), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), William Faulkner (The Mansion), Jerzy Kosinski (Being There), Philip Roth (The Plot Against America), and Philip Dick (The Man In The High Castle). As an antidote to Donald Trump, they are bitter medicine. Is Steinbeck’s better? 

As the Trump administration pushes plans to litter federally protected Indian land with pipelines (“black snakes”) that threaten to pollute the water used by millions of Americans, John Steinbeck's writing about the dangers of environmental degradation seems more relevant, and more urgent, than ever. To mark the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck’s birth in 2002, the award-winning author and journalist Bill Gilbert wrote an insightful article on the subject for The Smithsonian entitled “Prince of Tides.” In it he notes that “Steinbeck’s powerful social realism is by no means his only claim to greatness. He has also significantly influenced the way we see and think about the environment, an accomplishment for which he seldom receives the recognition he deserves.” 

Judging from “The Literature of Environmental Crisis,” a course at New York University, Gilbert's point about Steinbeck's stature as an environmental writer of major consequence is now more generally accepted than he thinks. Studying what “it mean[s] for literature to engage with political and ethical concerns about the degradation of the environment” the class will read “such literary and environmental classics as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath” to “look at the way literature changes when it addresses unfolding environmental crisis.” 

“Before ‘ecology’ became a buzzword,” Gilbert adds, “John Steinbeck preached that man is related to the whole thing,” noting that Steinbeck’s holistic sermonizing about nature's sanctity reached its peak in Sea of Cortez, the literary record of Steinbeck’s 1940 expedition to Baja California with his friend and collaborator Ed Ricketts, the ingenious marine biologist he later profiled in Log from the Sea of Cortez. In it Steinbeck seems to foresee how America’s precious national resources -- and collective soul -- could one day become susceptible to the manipulations of an amoral leader like Donald Trump: 

There is a strange duality in the human which makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and of bad; not changing things, but generally considered good and bad throughout the ages and throughout the species. Of the good, we think always of wisdom, tolerance, kindness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of society, the so-called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstones of success. A man – a viewing-point man – while he will nevertheless envy or admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, will hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. 

“Donald Trump has been in office for four days,” observes Michael Brune, the national director of the Sierra Club, “and he’s already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate we feared he would be.” The executive actions taken by Trump in his first week as president (“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist, I believe in it. But it’s out of control”) appear to fulfill Steinbeck's prophecy about the triumph of self-interest over social good. That’s a hard pill to swallow for anyone who cares about the planet. 

Whether Trump becomes the kind of full-throttle fascist described in It Can't Happen Here remains to be seen. Sinclair Lewis's fantasy of a future fascist in the White House appeared the same year as Tortilla Flat, Steinbeck's sunny ode to multiculturalism and the common man. Unfortunately, I'm not as optimistic about the American spirit as John Steinbeck felt obliged to be when he wrote that book more than 80 years ago. I’m afraid that the man occupying the high castle in Washington today is an American psycho with the capacity to do permanent harm, not only to the environment, but to the American soul Steinbeck celebrated in his greatest fiction.

 

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

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