Fri, Apr

Let the Sun Go Down on 2016

Everyone is ready to be rid of 2016. Scores of people are posting to social media, personifying the year as a dreaded tormentor: 

#2016, you’re the worst.

I hate you #2016

#2016, don’t you dare (beside a photo of Carrie Fischer) 

2016 did take Carrie Fisher. It took George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder and Florence Henderson – Patty Duke, Garry Shandling and Merle Haggard. 

It took civil rights fighter Georgia Davis Powers, and it took Fred Hayman, the godfather of Rodeo Drive. 

It took John Glenn, Nancy Reagan, Edward Albee, Harper Lee, and Morley Safer. 

It took the greatest – Muhammad Ali 

It took El Commandante, Fidel Castro. 

It took Tupac’s father, Afeni Shaukur. It took my co-worker’s father and my home-town neighbor’s mother. 

It took the twin sister of Iran’s deposed Shah and Thomas E. Schaefer, retired Air Force Colonel who was one of the 52 American hostages held in Iran in 1980-1981. 

It took progressive California Senator Tom Hayden and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who the Republi-Tea party refused to replace during the Obama administration. 

It took Margaret Vinci Heldt, who created the bee-hive hairdo. 

It took Sam Iacobellis, the Rockwell CEO who handed up 100 B-1 bombers to Ronald Reagan in six years and Phyllis Schafley, who led the charge to defeat the ERA in the 1970’s. 

It took James Delligatti who invented the “Big Mac” and Henry Heimlich, who created the lifesaving maneuver of his namesake. 

It took 1058 people who were killed by US police according to The Guardian’s “The Counted” project. 148 of them were unarmed. 

It took 74-year-old Francisco Serna, the most recent death reported on The Buardian’s website. Francisco had dementia. He often took walks in his Sacramento neighborhood to help himself sleep. He was carrying a crucifix that was mistaken for a gun. 

It took the lives of 5,000 refugees in the Mediterranean Sea (UNHCR.org). 

2016 took the safe homes of a record 5.8 million people according to the International Business Times. This brings the total number of forcibly displaced people in the world to 65.3 million (UNHCR.org).

2016 took “more than enough to provide an education for all of the 124 million children currently out of school, and to pay for health interventions that could save the lives of six million children” (Oxfam Policy Paper, 12.12.2016). This due to their research which shows developing countries’ loss of around $100 billion due to tax avoidance schemes that benefit 65 people.

Right here in The City of Los Angeles, over 28,464 people are homeless on any given night (2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count). This is up by 11% from the 2015 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Youth homelessness accounts for 52% of that increase.

These researchers cited LA’s affordable housing crisis, its’ high unemployment rate and its’ prevalence of low wage jobs as culprits.

The good news is that homelessness among veterans fell by 41% in the City.

2016 brought another report – this one from the LA County Economic Development Corporation. The report projects that a whopping 63% of all jobs expected over the next five years in LA County will require a high school education or less and will not afford the ability to pay the high cost of living as housing prices continue to outpace income.

I could go further and deeper into the horrors of 2016. Did the year bring any bright spots?

My personal bright spots were all about family, friends and the beauty of nature. My parents and I were able to travel to Oregon where my father worked as a boy, picking produce in the Hood River Valley. We saw the orchards where he and his brother worked. We visited the now defunct saw mill where they also labored to gain some money for the family back in New Mexico.

Thanks to social media, we witnessed the heroic stand of the people of Standing Rock and their allies who remain to this day in the bitter killing cold. No longer a sensation, but still fighting perhaps the hardest battle yet to come as they face blizzards and continued arrests and harassment.

The opening of friendlier relations with Cuba allows Americans access to the lung cancer vaccine developed and available for free in the island nation since 2011.

The end of the year saw the discovery of an ebola vaccine.

After being liberated from jihadists, the people of Aleppo were able to celebrate for the first time in five years.

PBS reported that the world’s tiger count rose for the first time in 100 years.

In Los Angeles, the FightFor$15 campaign won a path to victory in 2016 – and paid sick days for all workers.

UniteHere! And the Teamsters brought union protection and wages to drivers and cafeteria workers across the Silcone Valley.

Pope Frances was out there making friends across the globe and making me want to become a Catholic.

Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on some money – best exchange I’ve heard of in years.

Dave Chappelle came back to television.

By the looks of it, 2017 will be a real whopper. The incoming administration promises to undo all of the layers of gains that workers fought and died for from the 1800’s to the time of the New Deal.

Still, the past year has also shown that in the face of heartbreaking loss, there are those who will risk it all to open the portal to moments of joy, unity, justice and peace. As the vise on the lives of regular people becomes tighter, more and more of us may find ourselves in their ranks.

On the death of George Michael and the end of the year, I am struck by the lyrics of one of his songs: 

Do you think we have time?

Do you think we have time?

These are the days of the open hand

They will not be the last

Look around now

These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man

Whose place is in the past

Hand in hand with ignorance

And legitimate excuses 

Let’s hope 2017 will be a year of movement towards a future where the hungry man, ignorance and legitimate excuses are in their place in the past. Better yet, let’s fight for it.


Help the Water Protectors of all our water in their Titanic struggle to stop the DAPL: 

Watch the award-winning must-see doc, “13th.” It documents the history of slavery to mass incarceration as well as putting police brutality in context. 

Be part of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count 

Join the Fight for $15 LA



(Jennifer Caldwell is a an actress and an active member of SAG-AFTRA, serving on several committees. She is a published author of short stories and news articles and is a featured contributor to CityWatch. Her column at www.RecessionCafe.wordpress.com is dishing up good deals, recipes and food for thought. Jennifer can be reached at [email protected].  Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jennifercald - Twitter: @checkingthegate ... And her website: jenniferhcaldwell.com)  



The Trumpster Creates a New Industry!

EASTSIDER-After being unkind to the Dems, I thought it only fair but equal to make a couple of observations about the Trumpster and the RNC. As I was watching all the news junkie channels this weekend, I suddenly became aware of a big change in how the news is covered -- particularly news about Donald Trump. 

You see, under the “old” news format for TV, you had a talking head moderator, flanked on either side by a paid “left” consultant and a paid “right” consultant. Depending on the niche market of the news channel, the moderator would then side with whichever side he or she was getting paid millions to front for. 

More recently, with the demise of Clinton, we saw a shift to the “roundtable” format in which directly paid news channel “consultants” offer whatever niche news slant the TV channel uses to keep its audience. However, they do tend to keep the “left” Dems and the “right” Republicans. 

But with Donald Trump, that old dog won’t hunt -- mostly because The Donald doesn’t speak in any detail. He tweets for twits. (Note: since I’ve used that phrase a few times, I should probably explain what I mean.) The tweeter is, of course, The Donald; the twits I’m referring to are the talking head moderators of the TV shows in question. You see, in 140 characters, no one can really tell what the heck he is saying. 

This is perfect for news anchors. They get to hire a whole new host of paid consultants to explain what The Donald really meant! I mean, Fox News gets to create a new set of (paid) Republican consultants to tell us what The Donald really meant when he tweeted. This is diabolically clever -- Donald Trump is completely free to explain himself later on, after the tweet has been debated for an entire news cycle by all the media; he can repudiate anything that the talking heads said that he said! 

There is another economic benefit for the TV news channels. They don’t have to spend any time actually investigating the news and hiring a lot of expensive staff. Since the “news” is only talking about the tweets, who cares about factual anything? In a day or two, The Donald will either clarify or simply move on. The savings to the network can be huge, giving a nice bounce to profit margins. 

Whether anyone, including Mr. Trump, has any idea what he’s really saying, remains undetermined. After all, for a fella who can repudiate stuff he did or said that is readily contradicted by tape or audio files, what’s the reframing of a tweet? 

How this new format will play out after Mr. Trump is sworn in as president, who can tell? It’s possible he will continue tweeting. Maybe the government will have to give him a secure twitter account so that it can’t be hacked. On the other hand, it is quite possible that The Donald wouldn’t care if he got hacked, because it’s all really out there in the first place. 

What we do know is that Donald Trump loves the spotlight, and I doubt that this will change after he becomes President of the United States. If you look at his cabinet and key staff picks, it seems to be a group with considerable differences, along with strong egos. My personal guess (you read it here) is that he will foment and exaggerate policy differences, so that he can step in and publicly announce the Trump Policy after all the newsies have had a day or so to keep him and the issue in the headlines. 

Gee, if President Trump continues to tweet and play spin the bottle with his policy agenda, he could consume the bulk of every news cycle. Heaven indeed.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Rights Icons Join Women's March … A "Movement for Dignity"

EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION? --The Women's March on Washington, a mass mobilization to champion women's rights, is growing as President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration approaches.

Organizers announced this week that several high-profile supporters, including Gloria Steinem (photo left) and Harry Belafonte, will be joining the January 21 march as honorary co-chairs. Planned Parenthood has also signed on as a partner.

"This is a historic moment to come together to protect the progress we've made," Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. "We will send a strong message to the incoming administration that millions of people across this country are prepared to fight attacks on reproductive health care, abortion services, and access to Planned Parenthood, as they intersect with the rights of young people, people of color, immigrants, and people of all faiths, backgrounds, and incomes."

Although the organizers say the march aims to be "proactive about women's rights" rather than to target Trump specifically, the connection between his incoming anti-choice administration and the organizers' goals seems clear. 

Linda Sarsour, a chair of the march and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, previously described the march as a "stand on social justice and human rights issues ranging from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, immigration, and healthcare."

Nearly 200,000 people have pledged to attend the march in Washington, D.C., with many traveling in from out of state. One of the largest contingents is expected to come from Massachusetts, where at least 8,000 people have signed up.

The Boston Globe's Cristela Guerra wrote Wednesday:

What is motivating thousands to board buses to Washington, D.C., next month? It is deeply personal.

There are mothers and fathers marching with their daughters to show that women's rights are human rights. There are Jews and Hindus and Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, and allies marching against the spike in discrimination they've seen or experienced. There are people who marched earlier against the war in Vietnam or for equal rights for women. There are students making their first march on Washington.

After a contentious beginning and numerous bureaucratic roadblocks, including a "massive omnibus blocking permit" that will prevent people from demonstrating at historic D.C. landmarks, the march seems stronger than ever.

"We know that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we are thrilled to welcome Ms. Steinem and Mr. Belafonte as honorary co-chairs," Sarsour said Tuesday. "Alongside our new partner Planned Parenthood, together we are bridging the historical struggles for women's rights and civil rights to the current intersectional movement for dignity and human rights."

ACTION INFO: womensmarch.com 

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

Now Is the Time for Obama to Recognize a State of Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New Year's Revolutions: First, Stay Angry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2016 In a Word: Surreal

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

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

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

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

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

So, we have two sides more polarized than ever. 

What happens now? 

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

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

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


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

Don’t Write that Email Unless You Want to Read it On the Front Page of the LA Times!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Disconnect 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Takeaway 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course I still believe in the tooth fairy.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Photo: Elizabeth Daniels/LA Curbed. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Coming Out of the Closet: I’m a Warrior for Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The Trumpster is Going Nuclear … ‘til World Comes to Its Senses’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Off Limits: ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the Death Penalty Today

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

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

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

The Supreme Court Considers the Case of John Steinbeck

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

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

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


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

This piece was written as written for http://www.SteinbeckNow.com. It is being published here with the author's permission.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Real Cost of Marginalizing the ‘Elderly’

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

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

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

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

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


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

Executives and Attorneys Pressing On Electoral College Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This deserves to be repeated in simpler form: 

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

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

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

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

Dear Readers: Can We Talk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

The New Mercantilism and the Destruction of Hope: Whither We Goeth?

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of the Politics of Revenge.

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

What Happens when the Criminal is the Government? 

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

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

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

Businesses Employ the Governments. 

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

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

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


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



Taking Television Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Identity Politics: White Is the New White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Can Trump Survive in His Own Bubble?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they are all keeping a file on Trump. 

The Bubble 

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

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

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


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


US Veterans On the Line at Standing Rock … Still Fighting for Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


‘Where the People Are Many and Their Hands Are All Empty’: Patti Smith Sings Dylan at Nobel (Video)

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, not dark yet.

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

  • Patti Smith Nobel performance (Video)


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



Standing Rock Follow Up: ‘We Beg For Your Forgiveness’ (Video)

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

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

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

Here’s what Clark said:

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

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

Watch the ceremony. 

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


Here’s the Secret to a United America: Learn to Love Localism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. … where this piece was most recently posted. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. This piece first appeared at The Daily Beast and was published most recently by New Geography.) 


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