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Tue, May

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. 

Comments NECESSARY!

 

(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.

 

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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]) 

-cw

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]

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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.)

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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.)

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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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Follow UP: The Water Protectors in North Dakota Didn't Just Build a Protest Camp. They Built a Community.

ON THE GROUND IN STANDING ROCK-Beyond the protests, police crackdowns, and pipeline drama, what’s it really like at Standing Rock, North Dakota? This October, I went to see for myself.

Like many other Native and non-Native visitors, I went to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s effort to keep the Dakota Access oil pipeline away from the Missouri River, which supplies water to an estimated 18 million people.

The tribe wasn’t meaningfully consulted before the pipeline slashed through its sacred lands. And even though pipelines are notoriously accident-prone, a full environmental impact study was never conducted.

Finally, on December 4, the Obama administration halted the construction of the pipeline and called for that assessment.

But in the preceding months, as the Sioux tried to protect their water, they faced surveillance, tear gas, arrests, water hoses, and attack dogs. Police were acting as the company’s protectors rather than the people’s.

Outrage and solidarity motivated my trip, but I also was eager to see the incredible multi-tribe community beside the river — Oceti Sakowin, the largest of the encampments created to sustain this difficult struggle. 

After driving in from Bismarck, I stopped first at the security booth, a small shed overlooking the terrain filled with tents, tepees, RVs, trailers, repurposed school buses, and yurts. A young man directed me to the media tent atop “Facebook Hill,” the only place you could get decent phone reception — at least when law enforcement wasn’t scrambling the signal.

The media tent was a hive of activity powered by portable solar and wind generators. Someone checked my ID and issued a media pass, along with strict guidelines for respectful and secure photography and recording.

Along the main avenue to my campsite, I walked under hundreds of tribal flags waving in the breeze. Everywhere people were chatting, sorting clothes, bustling around the collective kitchens, and chopping wood. Children were roaming about, with adults or on their own.

Before I got far, a Peruvian woman named Claudia called me over to help her husk the mountain of corn somebody had just dropped off. As we chatted, she roped in new helpers with cheerful cajoling.

In the days I was there, I ran errands for the children’s school and kitchen, drove people to actions and from jail, helped build a wigwam, and assisted a disabled elder. I attended meetings, made friends, and got my hurt foot treated at the medic tent and my migraine at the herbalist tent. No money, no appointments — just a pervasive spirit of mutual aid.

It was the same story with food. Besides the main kitchen, with its large army-style tents, tribes set up other kitchens. Each had its own specialties and personality lent by the cooks, who created fabulous meals on wood stoves and campfires with whatever donations came in.

Many recommended “Grandma’s Kitchen,” where Grandma Diane, a Paiute from California, starts each meal by honoring the ancestors and always adds abundant servings of love. No need to call for volunteers, she said. Folks “jump up to help.” Hundreds of hungry folks came in for elk stew, quinoa casserole, cabbage salad, sweet potato fritters, and fried bread — a favorite at every kitchen.

Despite the risk, Diane moved her kitchen a mile north to the front-line camp set up across the path of the pipeline. A few days later, police destroyed it.

I worried about Diane, until I heard she was okay and still calling for supplies to keep cooking for the folks in the struggle, who were then hunkering down to resist the ferocious winter — and the even more ferocious repression.

I didn’t just find a protest camp at Standing Rock — I found a model community. As Natives there celebrate their recent victory, how can anyone not celebrate with them?

(Juliana Barnet is an activist and anthropologist who studies communities that arise out of social movements. Posted first at OtherWords.org.) Photo: Dark Sevier / Flickr

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Did Economics or Bigotry Motivate Trump Voters?

ONE LAST LOOK--There seems to be some bickering happening in the post-mortem analysis of the recent election. I sense a failure among shell-shocked liberals to communicate because of a false dichotomy: Those who argue that economic dislocation or privation is largely responsible for the election result are often accused of trivializing the expressions of racism and other forms of bigotry that accompanied this turn of events. Similarly, they feel that their critics trivialize economic concerns. 

I believe that the two classes of issues are intimately related. While there is certainly a subset of voters who harbor purely reflexive suspicion, disdain, or hatred for others based solely on identity (and I speculate we all fit this description to some degree,) it's not a useful observation in itself. If politics is the art of the possible, then what do we propose to do about bigots who vote? Put them in internment camps for re-education? 

The history of racism, gender discrimination, xenophobia, and indeed, all forms of oppression in our country is tightly interwoven with economic issues. We didn't rip Africans from their homelands and haul them across an ocean because it was fun for white folks to feel superior. We abducted people to be slaves to run plantations and serve other economic purposes. Racist attitudes were cultivated and reinforced by the economy. We don't redline neighborhoods primarily because we care who lives in the houses. We do it because we deem classes of people financially unworthy. Redlining can be managed completely without regard to race and purely by the numbers, and is an example among many forms of institutionalized, structural, or algorithmic racism that are self-perpetuating. This is a distinction without a difference for the victims of the discrimination, and is not any kind of justification, but it is essential to understand to get past it. 

We don't have to love or approve of our political adversaries. But they needn't be our adversaries if we can placate them in ways that we find acceptable. That means putting our own justifiable anger aside and doing what we need to do to live and govern together. It doesn't mean compromising principles, but it does mean compromising, and it does mean swallowing some pride. There are not 60 million virulent, violent racists in the United States. There is instead a very complex continuum of individuals, each with their own set of motivations, and their own experiences and circumstances. A relatively small number of these people are those with whom we cannot coexist peacefully — or even respectfully. 

When we speak of justice, we often refer to symbolic issues like the words we use and the gestures we make. But most of us know that real justice involves economic justice. It means pay equity for women. It means changing policy and procedure to end the mass incarceration and disenfranchisement that is a burden imposed disproportionately on people of color. It means being vigilant against discrimination and protecting potential victims. This remediation is concordant with policies that lift up unfortunates in every swath of society, and that might include some rednecks and neo-nazis. But we cannot legislate emotions. 

In the Venn diagram of our society there is huge commonality among the economically deprived and the victims and perpetrators of racial and gender-based discrimination. The environment fostered by rivalries for power and prestige is a breeding ground for generalized intolerance and its free expression. Thus we see hate crimes and hate laws perpetrated against categories of people who might appear to be above the economic fray, in particular, LGBTQ people. 

I would never suggest that we forget about slights and indignities of victims of bigoted behavior, much less the appalling acts of intimidation and violence, nor should they be excused. But I hope we will get away from the Us vs. Them narrative and lean more heavily on nuance. If stereotyping is part of the problem, then we would be well served by a reduction of hypocrisy.

 

(Bill Michaelson is a software developer who lives with his family and his opinions in central New Jersey. He has been engaged with various social justice matters and governance in various capacities over decades. This piece originally appeared in newsworks.org.) 

Why Democrats in Congress Should Just Say ‘No’

POLITICS-Should Democrats seek common ground with Donald Trump or oppose him at every turn? On Capitol Hill, should they abet or obstruct? (Photo above: Senators Feinstein and Schumer.) 

I can answer that. But first, let’s flash back to Inauguration Night, 2009. 

Barack Obama had just beaten John McCain by a margin of 10 million votes and 7.2 percentage points — the biggest Democratic win since 1964. Democrats also won both congressional chambers. And yet, despite this decisive pro-Democratic mandate to govern, congressional Republicans resolved, at a private dinner on day one, not to offer a scintilla of cooperation. 

Resistance Isn’t Futile. 

They resolved to thwart Obama’s efforts to fix the Great Recession, hoping that his failures would grease a Republican comeback in the 2012 race. Newt Gingrich, a dinner guest, reportedly told his former colleagues, “You will remember this day. You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.” 

Here’s where we are today: Trump has lost the popular vote (at last count) by a whopping 2.66 million. His losing share of the popular vote (46.2 percent) is the worst for an Electoral College winner since John Quincy Adams in 1824. Even his winning electoral vote margin (74 votes) is a pittance compared to Obama’s winning ’08 margin (192). So why should Democrats on Capitol Hill give Trump the cooperative deference that Republicans denied to Obama? 

Godfather Wisdom. 

As Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather II” movie, “My offer is this: Nothing.” 

Cooperating with Trump, behaving as if he were just another Republican, would lend legitimacy to his authoritarian bent. Cooperating with Trump would “normalize” his racist populism and his serial lies. Such a strategy — tantamount to surrender — would be disastrous for a Democratic Party that has spent decades fighting for tolerance and diversity. 

Democrats have buckled in the past. Even though George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, they acted as if the guy had a mandate to govern. Lots of Democrats voted for Bush’s deficit-cratering tax cuts. They voted for his Iraq war resolution, despite the dearth of evidence that Saddam had WMDs. They supplied enough votes to put John Roberts in charge of the Supreme Court. Republicans reciprocated by foiling Obama on a regular basis, blocking everything from his 2011 American Jobs Act  (which could’ve put as many as two million people back to work) to his last Supreme Court nominee (the radical refusal to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland was unprecedented.) 

Do What Mitch Did. 

David Faris, a political science prof at Roosevelt University, said it well in a column the other day: 

“[Cooperation] is the first instinct of the Democratic Party even after a crushing, incomprehensible defeat … The urge to minimize the damage in defense of the public interest is broadly shared, and understandable. It must make many Democrats proud to support a party that truly believes in the public good, even at the expense of winning. 

“On the other hand, no. It’s time for Democrats to say no. To everything … 

“It helps that the Republicans — led by a man who rage-tweets fake news in the middle of the night — are about to embark on a long voyage of turning every single thing they touch into garbage. There should be no Democratic fingerprints whatsoever on the coming catastrophe … Hand Trump the keys and let him drive into a tree.” 

He’s Already Too Extreme. 

That sounds harsh. But, lest we forget, Republicans paid virtually no political price for their eight years of anti-Obama obstruction. Voters didn’t seem to care that Republicans thwarted a president who twice won elections with a majority of the popular vote. Why would they punish Democrats for standing in steadfast opposition to an unqualified poseur who was rejected last month by 53.8 percent of all voters? Chuck Schumer, the new Senate minority leader, is indeed warning that when Trump gets too extreme, “we’ll go after him with everything we’ve got.” 

Senate Democrats can set the tone by putting Trump’s Cabinet picks through the wringer, because a number of them deserve to be seriously slow-walked — most notably, attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions (rejected for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, due to his racist remarks), Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin (who made piles of money foreclosing on homeowners during the Great Recession), and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price (who wants to kill Obamacare, a move that would nix coverage for 20 million people). And what remotely qualifies Ben Carson to be housing secretary, beyond the fact that he lives in a house? 

Fortunately, Democrats are indeed vowing to combat those nominees. Hey, it’s a start. My unsolicited advice is simple: Grow a pair.

 

(Dick Polman, former political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs at NewsWorks.org. This piece was posted most recently at CalBuzz.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Who Will Defend Free Speech Against Trump’s Bullying?

POST-ELECTION DISORIENTATION-America is in a muddle and our President-elect is the center of our national confusion. If you think that the general public is disoriented by “Trumpism,” that’s nothing compared to the panic within both the Democrat and Republican parties and our allies and enemies worldwide. The real cause of apprehension is not Trump’s highly questionable economic policies and strange affection for foreign dictators (except for Fidel Castro.) A legitimate concern is Trump’s mental stability or lack thereof. 

Over months of campaigning, Donald Trump exhibited some bizarre behavior, particularly with his late night tweets. The content of his tweets and other statements were beyond the pale. However, these eccentricities were excused by his background as a reality TV star and a lack of any political experience. 

Trump’s Post-Election Behavior 

Trump’s behavior after the November election, however, has set off alarm bells. The inability of a person to conform his behavior to the norms of society suggests that he could be mentally unstable. In all societies, there are cultural expectations. What is appropriate for a child is not permitted for an adult. A toddler who runs outside naked provokes giggles, but a 35-year old naked man walking around a department store will be arrested. In the words of William Shakespeare: 

   All the world’s a stage,

   And all the men and women merely players:

   They have their exits, and their entrances;

   And one man in his time plays many parts.

   [As You like it, Act II, Scene VII] 

Because the social role of Leader of the Free World is defined by the expectations of hundreds of millions of people, Trump’s inability to control his behavior is noticable. 

Perhaps, his first serious post-election mis-tweet came when he told the cast of Hamilton to “apologize” for asking Vice-President Pence make sure that the new administration represented all Americans. As a people, we have no more basic liberty than Free Political Speech. Yet Trump demanded an apology for free speech. He called the Hamilton cast’s message “harassment.” 

There is one aspect of Trump’s Hamilton tweets which people have not heeded: the cast was not speaking to Trump, but to Vice-President Pence. Nonetheless, Trump launched his vituperative tweets, possibly transgressing the respect he owed the Vice President-Elect’s ability to speak for himself. When Pence did have an opportunity to comment, he affirmed the American passion for free speech, saying that he told his family that the boos and cheers they heard when entering the theater were the “sound of freedom.” 

Loss of Citizenship for Displeasing President-Elect Trump 

On November 28, 2016, out of nowhere, Trump tweeted that anyone who burns the American flag should lose his US citizenship. Justice Jackson in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, (1943) 319 U.S. 624 stated America’s position on obnoxious speech: 

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” 

Even arch-conservative Justice Scalia agreed with Liberal Justice Brennan in 1989 when both endorsed Justice Jackson’s opinion that the American Constitution protects obnoxious speech in Texas v Johnson, (1989) 491 U.S. 397. It’s vital for us to recognize that Americans across the political spectrum are unanimous on the sanctity of obnoxious speech. Trump’s repudiation of that shows that he either does not comprehend American values or he does not feel bound to behave as an American. 

His Actions Alarm Even Sarah Palin 

Quite recently, we’ve seen Trump intervene with the decision of Carrier to move jobs to Mexico. Independent of whether Carrier should move jobs to Mexico is Trump’s double disregard for his actual role as the President-Elect who is not yet the President. Furthermore, Presidents should not operate by making threats to private businesses or obtaining special benefits for them. The movement of jobs to foreign countries has complex causes; it requires Americans to act as a group through their elected representatives to decide what should be done. 

The Trashing of International Protocol 

The most egregious departure from international norms came with Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Since 1979, the United States has followed a consistent and complicated policy with respect to Mainland China and Taiwan. Whether that policy should be altered is open to debate, but Trump’s gross violation of diplomatic protocol is beyond disturbing. President-Elect Trump has not even selected his Secretary of State. Thus, we know that his rash deviation from accepted world-wide procedure did not happen after discussing its ramifications with his nominee for Secretary of State. Even Vice-President-elect Pence’s comments on the Sunday, December 4, talk shows indicate that this change in China policy caught him by surprise. 

The Personal Punitive Nature of Donald Trump 

There is another aspect of Trump’s behavior that has thrown all of Washington into disarray. He seems to believe that people who disagree with him should be punished. Women who receive abortions should be thrown in jail. Companies whose business decisions he dislikes should be subject to a 35% tariff (as if this were 1650, the height of Mercantilism.) Free speech merits loss of citizenship.

This punitive approach against people who offend him is the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s personality. People we often lump under the labels of anti-social, psychopathic and sociopathic share these traits: an inability to abide by deeply held social norms and the tendency to attack people who displease them. 

As is customary when faced with a bully’s blatant disregard for fundamental values, no one has the nerve to stand up and denounce Trump’s psychopathic behavior. Rather, it seems that most, with the possible exception of David Frum, try to accommodate it. If you want to see how dictators take over a country, just turn on your TV set.

 

(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.

The Cold War and the Twentieth Century: Yes, That Happened

ALPERN AT LARGE--Much to the anguish of those who remember the 20th Century, and the horrific lessons learned during that era's worldwide conflicts, too much of our youth will never know of it. As with Civics, Financial Literacy, Home Economics, Shop Class, Cursive, and Typing/Keyboarding, there are many things that high school (and even college!) graduates just aren't being taught. 

So with the understanding that Millennials, much to the horror of their parents, often graduate high school (and college) with an understanding of U.S. History that stops at the American Civil War, I will continue to throw out occasional quizzes of the 20th Century and of history/civics-related issues.  

And one gigantic conflict that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century was the Cold War.

Because the 20th Century ... and all of its painful lessons ... DID happen.  

THE ALPERN 20TH CENTURY QUIZ—HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW/REMEMBER?

(Correct answers at bottom of this column)  

1) "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe." This comment, part of a speech which many believe formally began the Cold War, was said by which World War Two leader? 

  1. a) Harry Truman of the United States 
  2. b) Winston Churchill of Great Britain
  3. c) Josef Stalin of The Soviet Union
  4. d) Charles DeGaulle of France

2) The Cold War was fought between which two entities?

  1. a) The Allied and Axis powers
  2. b) The Western (the Americas) and Eastern (Europe and Asia) Hemispheres
  3. c) The United States and its allies in Europe, and the Soviet Union and its satellite states
  4. d) The United States and China

3) Which organization was formed to halt the spread of Communism to western Europe, to forbid the recurrence of nationalist militarism, and to encourage political integration in Europe? 

  1. a) The North American Treaty Organization
  2. b) The North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  3. c) The United Nations
  4. d) The Warsaw Pact

4) The following Central and Eastern European nations had unsuccessful revolts against the Soviet Union and their Soviet-placed leaders in the 1950's and 1960's except: 

  1. a) Yugoslavia
  2. b) Czechoslovakia
  3. c) East Germany
  4. d) Hungary

5) The barrier that kept East Germans from escaping to the West, and was emblematic of "The Iron Curtain", was known as: 

  1. a) The German Divide
  2. b) The Great Wall of Germany
  3. c) The German Partition
  4. d) The Berlin Wall

6) The U.S. President who declared, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!" was:

  1. a) John F. Kennedy 
  2. b) Ronald Reagan
  3. c) Jimmy Carter
  4. d) Richard Nixon

7) The U.S. President who declared, "Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!"... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!" in order to boost the morale of West Berliners, who lived in an enclave within East Germany, was:

  1. a) John F. Kennedy 
  2. b) Ronald Reagan
  3. c) Jimmy Carter
  4. d) Richard Nixon

8) Which President led a boycott of a Summer Olympics in Moscow, and in response to a Soviet invasion of which country? 

  1. a) John F. Kennedy/Cuba 
  2. b) Ronald Reagan/Granada
  3. c) Jimmy Carter/Afghanistan
  4. d) Richard Nixon/Vietnam

9) The United States and Soviet Union had major involvements in the following conflicts, and which were major sources of tension between the two superpowers, except for: 

  1. a) The Korean War
  2. b) The Vietnam War
  3. c) The Yom Kippur War 
  4. d) The Cyprus Civil War

10) Which of the following statements is true? 

  1. a) The United States was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, and to land a man on the moon
  2. b) The Soviet Union was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, and to land a man on the moon
  3. c) The Soviet Union was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, but the United States was the first nation to land a man on the moon
  4. d) The United States was the first nation to send an unmanned satellite into space, but the Soviet Union was the first nation to land a man on the moon
  5. e) Both the United States and Soviet Union succeeded in landing a man on the moon 

It's nice to know that the International Space Station is a first-rate example of how the United States and Russia (the predominant entity of the Soviet Union) can work together and even be friends.

In the War on Terrorism, both the U.S. and Russia have been friends and enemies--"frenemies", if you will--because both nations have been and are threatened/victimized by terrorism.  But old rivalries die hard. 

And while President Obama ridiculed Republican contender Mitt Romney, during a 2012 election debate when Romney's declared that Russia was the foremost threat to the U.S., much of the outgoing President's foreign conundrums in office stemmed from the European, Asian, and Middle Eastern conflicts with Russia.  Again, old rivalries die hard. 

It's anyone's guess whether President-Elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be friends, enemies, or "frenemies".  A half-century of pent-up and open frustrations and nuclear threats (HOW MANY OF US REMEMBER HOW HORRIFYINGLY REAL THE MOVIE "THE DAY AFTER" WAS?), to say nothing of nuclear bomb drills and ingrained fears of the Soviets, doesn't go away overnight. 

Because the Twentieth Century, and all of its horrific disasters (including the Cold War that dominated the foreign policy of the latter half of that century) DID happen. 

QUIZ ANSWERS 

1) b

2) c

3) b

4) a

5) d

6) b

7) a

8) c

9) d

10) c

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

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Five Things Obama Should Do Before Leaving Office (but Probably Won’t)

POST-ELECTION CONCERNS-Watching Donald Trump pick his Cabinet members has been like watching a 16-car pileup unfold in slow motion. Each move fills us with horror in the knowledge of what the near future brings. 

But the assembling of Trump’s transition team has been distracting us from one crucial aspect of our current political mess: what our current president is doing in his last few weeks in office -- or, more accurately, not doing. President Barack Obama appears so eager to be done with his tenure that he seems more invested in a smooth transition of power than in fulfilling his duty to the American people. 

Ensuring a smooth transition implies business as usual. Except that there is absolutely nothing usual, or even presidential, about Trump’s Electoral College win. And what the president-elect is promising us is so harrowing that Obama owes the nation a last-minute flurry of political actions that are within his power to take before the “Trumpocalypse,” as some are calling it, is upon us.

Democrats, are you desperate to do something about Trump? Then demand that your current president do you a solid and actually use the popular mandate he earned when he was elected, twice. Obama’s refusal so far to do even one of the following is only more proof of the Democratic Party’s ineptitude and spinelessness. 

Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline Project 

The most important political battle of this year outside the electoral realm has been the indigenous-led resistance against the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL). After many months of activism by the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters, law enforcement has upped the ante in incredibly violent ways, unleashing military-grade weaponry on an unarmed citizenry. President Obama has been forced by public pressure to delay completion of the pipeline. But what is needed is an end to the project.

President-elect Trump, on the other hand, is already eager for the decision to be made during his term and has promised to speed up the Army Corps of Engineers’ review process. Among Trump’s many financial conflicts of interest is his stake in the DAPL.  It would be disastrous for him to be the decider on this issue. There is absolutely no doubt about whose side he would take. 

Meanwhile high-profile political figures have tried in vain to get Obama to do the right thing on DAPL. From Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Al Gore and even musician Neil Young, many have appealed to Obama to end the project. Twenty-eight tribal leaders, appreciative of the attention Obama has paid to their communities in the past, have now called on him to “reroute the pipeline away from tribal lands, waters, and sacred places.” 

What does Obama have to lose by exercising his authority through the Army Corps of Engineers and doing the right thing? 

Make a Recess Appointment to the Supreme Court 

It is outrageous how the GOP has stood in Obama’s path to filling the Supreme Court vacancy. Without a doubt Democrats would not treat a Republican president in the same manner. No other Supreme Court nominee in the history of the United States has waited as long as Merrick Garland to be confirmed. What’s more, Obama’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia does not even come close to espousing the leftist counterpart to Scalia’s extremist right-wing ideology. Like Obama, Garland is a centrist liberal. Unlike Obama, Trump will not hesitate to appoint the most conservative justice possible. The resulting Supreme Court will probably roll back even more of the Voting Rights Act, possibly Roe v. Wade, and who knows what other social and political progress this nation has made in recent decades. 

What Obama can do to send a strong message to the Republican Party is make a temporary recess appointment of Garland to the court. Legal experts point out that Obama has the right to do it, even though he has taken scant advantage of the power to make recess appointments as compared with his predecessors. While temporary, Garland’s presence on the court could stave off regressive court decisions for at least a year. Sadly, Obama has given no indication that he plans to exercise his authority. 

The larger context is that Trump might get to appoint as many as three justices to the court during his tenure: for Scalia’s seat and those that might be vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who is 83, and Stephen Breyer, 78, both strong liberals. Again, what does Obama have to lose by making a strong gesture with a recess appointment to the court? 

Pardon DACA Recipients 

Among the most terrifying promises Trump made during his campaign was to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. There is especially great fear that he will repeal Obama’s signature immigration executive action, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Already, lawyers are recommending that those eligible for DACA should not apply at this time, given Trump’s election, because in order to be eligible for deportation relief, immigrants have to out themselves to federal authorities. With access to the information of hundreds of thousands of DACA registrants, Trump could easily deport them. 

Some people have urged Obama to use his presidential power to pardon DACA recipients. In California where many cities, as well as state and private universities, have declared themselves “sanctuaries” for the undocumented, Democratic lawmakers have publicly called on Obama to grant them legal status. According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama “promptly batted down the idea,” saying that pardons are not applicable because immigration violations are civil offenses, not criminal ones. 

Astonishingly, there is actually a Republican-led effort to help DACA recipients. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has announced plans to introduce legislation to extend DACA protections.

It might certainly be a legal gray area for Obama to pardon violators of civil offenses, but so is Congress’ stonewalling of the president’s right to appoint a Supreme Court justice. Where DACA is concerned, the lives of 750,000 young people are at stake. These are people who trusted the government and turned over their personal and contact information in order to live and work without fear. If Obama does not even attempt to protect the members of a program he created, he will be partly responsible for what they might face under Trump. 

Undo His Executive War Powers 

Many on the left spent the last eight years denouncing Obama’s unprecedented use of executive power for destructive purposes: the “war on terror.” Citing the Bush-era Authorization for Use of Military Force, Obama expanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and used it to justify military actions against Islamic State, even though Congress is supposed to authorize war. The legal gray areas where Obama appears reluctant to operate seem sometimes perfectly black and white when it comes to his right to drop bombs, particularly through the unmanned drone program.

The Intercept’s Alex Emmons summarized the “terrifying powers” that Trump will have as commander in chief, thanks to Obama—including the power of mass surveillance, the misuse of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers, and more. 

Obama can undo the destructive powers he has granted himself before he leaves office. According to Emmons, “Most of the new constraints on the security state during the Obama years were self-imposed, and could easily be revoked.” After all, Obama warned Americans before this election of the dangers of having a president as unstable as Trump with access to the nation’s nuclear codes. He now owes it to us to take as much action as he can to curb the presidential powers he has unleashed. 

Offer Justice to Snowden, and Clemency to Political Prisoners and Drug Offenders 

One way in which Obama could offer a mea culpa for his aggressive legal pursuit of whistleblowers is to offer the chance for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to return to the U.S. with assurances of a fair trial for crimes with which he has been charged. A letter signed by 15 former intelligence officials who served on the Watergate-era Church Committee asks the president for leniency in Snowden’s case. 

Going further, Obama could offer clemency to political prisoners who have spent decades behind bars (or in exile) under unjust circumstances and as a result of political persecution. A great starting point is this list compiled by Sara David, naming Assata Shakur, Oscar López Rivera, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and Chelsea Manning as worthy of clemency. 

Human Rights Watch has also written the president a letter urging him to offer relief to federal prisoners serving long sentences for drug offenses through the use of his clemency power. HRW reminded Obama of the positive impact his commutation of hundreds of prison sentences has already had and warned, “The opportunities for addressing unfairly long sentences in 2017 appear bleak, as President-elect Trump publicly criticized your commutations grants during his campaign.” 

There are many other suggestions my list could include, such as President Jimmy Carter’s appeal to Obama to recognize the state of Palestine. But I offer this list not with a naive optimism that Obama will actually act on them, but rather to point out how many crucial issues a sitting Democratic president has the power to control but often chooses not to. Clinton supporters and Obama defenders need to acknowledge the moral complacency that such inaction reveals, which in turn feeds into the political losses of the Democratic Party. 

As we lament the horrors that may unfold next year, let us not forget that Obama had the chance to do the right thing on any number of issues and chose instead to leave us at the mercy of the “Trumpocalypse.” I certainly hope I am proved wrong.

 

(Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women's Mission and a political writer at TruthDig …where this piece was first posted.)

Fake News and Factless Opinions and the Rise of an Alt-Press Social Media

AT LENGTH-Christiane Amanpour (Photo left above), CNN’s chief international correspondent, just won an award for championing press freedom. She is also one of the better-known faces in the mainstream media. 

In her acceptance speech at the 2016 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award at a November 22 gala in New York -- an event organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists -- she said about her fellow journalists’ coverage of the recent elections: 

Much of the media was tying itself in knots trying to differentiate between balance, between objectivity, neutrality, and crucially, the truth. We cannot continue the old paradigm. We cannot, for instance, keep saying, like it was over global warming. When 99 percent of the science, the empirical facts, the evidence, is given equal play with the tiny minority of deniers. 

She took note of the president-elect’s tweets accusing the media of instigating the uprising of protests: 

I was chilled when [Trump’s] first tweet after the election was about professional protesters incited by the media. [Because as we all know] First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating. And then, suddenly, they find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. And then, they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prisons and then who knows what. 

A sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more. 

In another tweet, Trump alleged that 3 million illegal voters cast votes in an election he won, albeit losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by some 2.5 million votes -- a number that continues to grow.

It was only after Trump called the leading national journalists to his “Tower” for a scolding about their treatment during the campaign and the New York Times stood up to him that other major media companies began tentatively calling him out on his lies, false accusations and otherwise aberrant pronouncements. 

On November 5, the Toronto Star newspaper published their list of Trump’s lies -- 494 in all that fell into 20 different categories. They wrote, “the category that has the most falsehoods is ‘Clinton’s policies,’ followed by ‘Clinton’s corruption,’ and then polls.” 

That list is far too long to be printed here but can be found on Slate.com. Since that time the presumptive president-elect has backed off on his pledge to prosecute Hilary, appoint a special prosecutor and throw her in jail. However, no one can be quite sure exactly what Trump will say next or even if he’ll do what he says next. 

This of course is his real talent: keeping everyone on edge. A negotiating trick that keeps everyone one guessing until the deal is done.  Stand back from the anxiety of the campaign and the depression from the election results to see Trump for the wheeler-dealer huckster he is. 

I was reminded this week of a quote from one of our nation’s most celebrated journalists, H.L. Mencken, who in 1920, had the prescient vision to write: 

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.  

I think at this point the emphasis should be on devious and mediocre -- clearly this man, Trump, is not to be trusted either by his own party, the people who voted for him or the rest of us who didn’t. 

It is becoming quite clear that it’s very difficult to discern fact from fiction in the media environment in which we live. People say we’re living in a post-factual era of politics, but there are several sources to fact check what you read or hear. 

Wikipedia and Snopes.com, however, is the antidote to that. And for those looking deeper into the fictionalization of facts here’s a list of those fake news sites.  And even at Wikipedia, we have to pay attention to who is editing what. 

Contrary to the accusations of some trolls on our website, we at Random Lengths News do check our facts. But we do not pretend to be neutral. 

This newspaper has always defended its brand of informed political reporting. Our progressive reporting is not blindly partisan, but is informed by a perspective not commonly found in the corporate mainstream press. 

This paradigm is changing. We now live in a world where ultra-right wing and neo-fascist ideologies threaten even the middle-of-the-road media. Breitbart News is a leading example of this phenomenon and the elevation of Stephen K. Bannon to the position of chief political strategist for the Trumpster -- with an office inside the White House is disconcerting. 

Bannon’s claim to fame is his role as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a media outlet filled with what the New York Times called “ideologically driven journalists,” that has been a source of controversy “over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic and racist,” and was a “potent voice” for Trump’s presidential campaign. 

Breitbart News has been misidentified and normalized by calling it “alt-right” media; it has been aligned with European populist right wing and what I would call fascist politics. This invention of alt-right news of course is the reaction to the myth of the “liberal media” in America. 

With the birth of Roger Ailes’ Fox News, there’s a growing rant that “all of the media are a bunch of liberals.” 

Information wars between left and right perspectives are fueled by the increasing use of disinformation -- leaked or hacked information from dubious sources and the growing distrust of the media in general. 

What has clearly evolved out of this past election cycle is that some media platforms have become “weaponized” for use in disinformation warfare -- a tactic that has its roots in the CIA’s covert operations from the Cold War Era. 

This, at its very core, is a threat to our democracy and the institutions of electoral politics. It is curious that these very same tactics are being brought home to roost in the very same chicken coop from which they were hatched -- Washington, D.C. 

And all of this confusion effectuated by the rise of social media and convenient hand-held devices has only brought us closer to the truth that all democracies are fragile and dependent upon a public being able to deconstruct the information provided. Therein lies the great divide separating America today. What media outlet do you trust to tell you the truth?

 

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

The Manhattan White House, the Secret Service, and the Painted Bikini Lady 

GUEST WORDS-High above, somewhere behind the black glass façade, President-elect Donald J. Trump was huddled with his inner circle, plotting just how they would “drain the swamp” and remake Washington, perhaps the world. On the street far below, inside a warren of metal fencing surrounded by hefty concrete barriers with “NYPD” emblazoned on them, two middle-aged women were engaged in a signage skirmish.  One held aloft a battered poster that read “Love Trumps Hate”; just a few feet away, the other brandished a smaller slice of cardboard that said “Get Over It.”  (Photo above: Security agents in front of Trump Tower, New York.)

I was somewhere in between ... and the Secret Service seemed a little unnerved.

Trump Tower is many things -- the crown jewel skyscraper in Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, the site of the Trump Organization’s corporate offices, a long-time setting for his reality television show, The Apprentice, and now, as the New York Times describes it, “a 58-story White House in Midtown Manhattan.”  It is also, as noted above its front entrance: “OPEN TO THE PUBLIC 8 AM to 10 PM.”

When planning for the tower began in the late 1970s, Trump -- like other developers of the era -- struck a deal with the city of New York.  In order to add extra floors to the building, he agreed to provide amenities for the public, including access to restrooms, an atrium, and two upper-level gardens.    

When I arrived at Trump Tower, less than a week after Election Day, the fourth floor garden was roped off, so I proceeded up the glass escalator, made a right, and headed through a door into an outdoor pocket park on the fifth floor terrace.  Just as I entered, a group of Japanese tourists was leaving and, suddenly, I was alone, a solitary figure in a secluded urban oasis.

But not for long. 

Taking a seat on a silver aluminum chair at a matching table, I listened closely.  It had been a zoo down on Fifth Avenue just minutes before: demonstrators chanting “love trumps hate,” Trump supporters shouting back, traffic noise echoing in the urban canyon, the “whooooop” of police sirens, and a bikini-clad woman in body paint singing in front of the main entrance.  And yet in this rectangular roof garden, so near to America’s new White House-in-waiting, all was placid and peaceful.  There was no hint of the tourist-powered tumult below or of the potentially world-altering political machinations above, just the unrelenting white noise-hum of the HVAC system.     

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

The Stars and Stripes flies above the actual White House in Washington, D.C.  Inside the Oval Office, it’s joined by another flag -- the seal of the president of the United States emblazoned on a dark blue field.  Here, however, Old Glory flies side by side with slightly tattered black-and-silver Nike swoosh flags waving lazily above the tony storefronts -- Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, Burberry and Chanel -- of Manhattan’s 57th Street, and, of course, Trump Tower-tenant Niketown. 

That I was standing beneath those flags gazing down at luxe retailers evidently proved too much to bear for those who had been not-so-subtly surveilling me.  Soon a fit, heavily armed man clad in black tactical gear -- what looked to my eye like a Kevlar assault suit and ballistic vest -- joined me in the garden.  “How’s it going?” I asked, but he only nodded, muttered something incomprehensible, and proceeded to eyeball me hard for several minutes as I sat down at a table and scrawled away in my black Moleskine notepad.

My new paramilitary pal fit in perfectly with the armed-camp aesthetic that’s blossomed around Trump Tower.  The addition of fences and concrete barriers to already clogged holiday season sidewalks has brought all the joys of the airport security line to Fifth Avenue.  The scores of police officers now stationed around the skyscraper give it the air of a military outpost in a hostile land.  (All at a bargain basement price of $1 million-plus per day for the city of New York.)  Police Commissioner James O’Neill recently reeled off the forces which -- in addition to traffic cops, beat cops, and bomb-sniffing dogs -- now occupy this posh portion of the city: “specialized units, the critical response command, and the strategic response group, as well as plainclothes officers and counter-surveillance teams working hand-in-hand with our intelligence bureau and our partners in the federal government, specifically the Secret Service.”  The armed man in tactical gear who had joined me belonged to the latter agency. 

“You one of the reporters from downstairs?” he finally asked. 

“Yeah, I’m a reporter,” I replied and then filled the silence that followed by saying, “This has got to be a new one, huh, having a second White House to contend with?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he answered, and then assured me that most visitors seemed disappointed by this park.  “I think everyone comes up thinking there’ll be a little more, but it’s like ‘yeah, okay.’” 

Small talk, however, wasn't the agent’s forte, nor did he seem particularly skilled at intimidation, though it was clear enough that he wasn’t thrilled to have this member of the public in this public space.  Luckily for me (and the lost art of conversation), we were soon joined by “Joe.”  An aging bald man of not insignificant girth, Joe appeared to have made it onto the Secret Service’s managerial track.  He didn’t do commando-chic.  He wasn’t decked out in ridiculous SWAT-style regalia, nor did he have myriad accessories affixed to his clothing or a submachine gun strapped to his body.  He wore a nondescript blue suit with a silver and blue pin on his left lapel. 

I introduced myself as he took a seat across from me and, in response, though working for a federal agency, he promptly began a very NYPD-style interrogation with a very NYPD-style accent. 

“What’s going on, Nick?” he inquired.

“Not too much.”

“What are you doing? You’re all by yourself here…”

“Yeah, I’m all by my lonesome.”

“Kinda strange,” he replied in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Robert De Niro eating a salami sandwich.

“How so?”

“I don’t know. What are you doing? Taking notes?” he asked. 

I had reflexively flipped my notepad to a fresh page as I laid it between us on the table and Joe was doing his best to get a glimpse of what I’d written.      

I explained that I was a reporter. Joe wanted to know for whom I worked, so I reeled off a list of outlets where I’d been published. He followed up by asking where I was from. I told him and asked him the same. Joe said he was from Queens.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked. 

“Secret Service.”

“I was just saying to your friend here that it must be a real experience having a second White House to contend with.”

“Yeah, you could call it that,” he replied, sounding vaguely annoyed. Joe brushed aside my further attempts at small talk in favor of his own ideas about where our conversation should go. 

“You got some ID on you?” he asked. 

“I do,” I replied, offering nothing more than a long silence.

“Can I see it?”

“Do you need to?”

“If you don’t mind,” he said politely. Since I didn’t, I handed him my driver’s license and a business card. Looking at the former, with a photo of a younger man with a much thicker head of hair, Joe asked his most important question yet: “What did you do to your hair?”

“Ah yes,” I replied with a sigh, rubbing my hand over my thinned-out locks. “It’s actually what my hair did to me.” 

He gestured to his own follically challenged head and said, “I remember those days.”

Trump Tower’s Public Private Parts

Joe asked if there was anything he could do for me, so I wasn’t bashful. I told him that I wanted to know what his job was like -- what it takes to protect President-elect Donald Trump and his soon-to-be second White House. “You do different things. Long hours.  Nothing out of the ordinary. Probably the same as you,” he said. I told him I really doubted that and kept up my reverse interrogation. “Other than talking to me, what did you do today?” I asked. 

“I dunno,” he responded. “Look around. Security. We’re Secret Service.” It was, he assured me, a boring job. 

“Come on,” I said. “There’s got to be a lot of challenges to securing a place like this. You’ve got open public spaces just like this one.”

There are, in fact, more than 500 privately owned public spaces, or POPS, similar to this landscaped terrace, all over the city.  By adding the gardens, atrium, and other amenities way back when, Trump was able to add about 20 extra floors to this building, a deal worth at least $500 million today, according to the New York Times.  And in the post-election era, Trump Tower now boasts a new, one-of-a-kind amenity.  The skies above it have been declared “national defense airspace” by the Federal Aviation Administration.  “The United States government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat,” the agency warned in a recent notice to pilots. 

Back on the fifth floor, a metal plaque mounted on an exterior wall lays out the stipulations of the POPs agreement, namely that this “public garden” is to have nine large trees, four small trees, 148 seats, including 84 moveable chairs, and 21 tables.  None of the trees looked particularly large.  By my count the terrace was also missing three tables -- a type available online starting at $42.99 -- and about 20 chairs, though some were stacked out of view and, of course, just two were needed at the moment since Mr. Tactical Gear remained standing, a short distance away, the whole time.

This tiny secluded park seemed a world away from the circus below, the snarl of barricades outside the building, the tourists taking selfies with the big brassy “Trump Tower” sign in the background, and the heavily armed counterterror cops standing guard near the revolving door entrance.

I remarked on this massive NYPD presence on the streets. “It’s their city,” Joe replied and quickly changed topics, asking, “So business is good?”

“No, business is not too good. I should have picked a different profession,” I responded and asked if the Secret Service was hiring. Joe told me they were and explained what they looked for in an agent: a clean record, college degree, “law experience.” It made me reflect upon the not-so-clean record of that agency in the Obama years, a period during which its agents were repeatedly cited for gaffes, as when a fence-jumper made it all the way to the East Room of the White House, and outrageous behavior, including a prostitution scandal involving agents preparing the way for a presidential visit to Colombia. 

“What did you do before the Secret Service?” I inquired. Joe told me that he’d been a cop. At that point, he gave his black-clad compatriot the high sign and the younger man left the garden. 

“See, I’m no threat,” I assured him. Joe nodded and said he now understood the allure of the tiny park. Sensing that he was eager to end the interrogation I had turned on its head, I began peppering him with another round of questions. 

Instead of answering, he said, “Yeah, so anyway, Nick, I’ll leave you here,” and then offered me a piece of parting advice -- perhaps one that no Secret Service agent protecting a past president-elect has ever had occasion to utter, perhaps one that suggests he’s on the same wavelength as the incoming commander-in-chief, a man with a penchant for ogling women (to say nothing of bragging about sexually assaulting them). “You should come downstairs,” Joe advised, his eyes widening, a large grin spreading across his face as his voice grew animated for the first time. “There was a lady in a bikini with a painted body!”

Joe walked off and, just like that, I was alone again, listening to the dull hum of the HVAC, seated in the dying light of the late afternoon.  A short time later, on my way out of the park, I passed the Secret Service agent in tactical gear. “I think you’re the one that found the most entertainment out here all day,” he said, clearly trying to make sense of why anyone would spend his time sitting in an empty park, scribbling in a notebook. I mentioned something about sketching out the scene, but more than that, I was attempting to soak in the atmosphere, capture a feeling, grapple with the uncertain future taking shape on the chaotic avenue below and high above our heads in Manhattan’s very own gilt White House.  I was seeking a preview, you might say, of Donald Trump’s America.    

Descending the switchback escalators, I found myself gazing at the lobby where a scrum of reporters stood waiting for golden elevator doors to open, potentially disgorging a Trump family member or some other person hoping to serve at the pleasure of the next president. Behind me water cascaded several stories down a pink marble wall, an overblown monument to a bygone age of excess.  Ahead of me, glass cases filled with Trump/Pence 2016 T-shirts, colognes with the monikers “Empire” and “Success,” the iconic red “Make America Great Again” one-size-fits-all baseball cap, stuffed animals, and other tchotchkes stood next to an overflowing gilded garbage can.  Heading for the door, I thought about all of this and Joe and his commando-chic colleague and Trump’s deserted private-public park, and the army of cops, the metal barricades, and the circus that awaited me on the street.  I felt I’d truly been given some hint of the future, a whisper of what awaits. I also felt certain I’d be returning to Trump Tower -- and soon.

(Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, … where this piece was first posted … a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa recently received an American Book Award. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.) 

-cw

Three Days on the Res: Facing the Dakota Pipeline

STANDING ROCK STAND-OFF-(Editor’s Note: This is a update on Jennifer Caldwell’s earlier CityWatch article, “Thanksgiving 2016: The Worst in Seven Generation”.)In a remote, windswept corner of North Dakota, a seven-month standoff continues without an end in sight. Thirty miles south of Bismarck, where eroded buttes rise from grassland and corn fields, the Oceti Sakowin camp appears along the winding girth of the Missouri River. Here, a story of protection, protest and cultural conflict unfolds against the desolate prairie. 

At issue is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL); an “energy transfer” project that would pipe approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken Oil Fields through South Dakota and Iowa, to refining facilities in Illinois. The pipeline is a 1,172 mile, 30-inch artery that is touted by its progenitor, Energy Transfer Partners, as necessary to transport light sweet crude in a “more direct, cost-effective, safer and responsible manner.” 

At the juncture of the Missouri River and Fort Yates, along the northeastern edge of the Lakota Sioux Standing Rock Reservation, the project slowly churns its way toward a hotly disputed patch of land. Several hundred yards north of the camp, a lone bridge has come to define the front line of this conflict. On one side, the West Dakota SWAT Team stands watch over the DAPL’s border. On the other, two young Lakota men are charged with maintaining order among the camp’s curious and defiant. In between rest the carcasses of burned-out trucks, which several tribal “water protectors” torched in response to the past few days of skirmishes that had culminated in a volley of tear gas and rubber-bullets. A concrete barrier topped with barbed wire and decorated with vulgar graffiti exemplifies the air of tension. 

The stand-off has given way to violence and threats of violence, here and well beyond the borders of the Standing Rock Reservation. While law enforcement and the water protectors engage in a guarded choreography, fear strikes in the vulnerable hamlets that dot the plains. Across the prairie, the pipeline dispute has resurrected age-old enmity between the native peoples and those they perceive to have permanently occupied the territory of native birthright. 

Normally, by mid-November the ground here would be frozen with knee-deep drifts of Midwest snow. Today, however, the temperature will rise into the mid-60s with almost balmy comfort. 

“This is what I call the upside of global warming,” jokes Ken Many Wounds. “Or, perhaps Great Spirit is looking out for us.” A member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux, Ken is an organizer and the camp’s communications director. His authority is confirmed by the company he keeps with the core leaders of the action. Ken is an imposing figure. He has rugged features and strides with a cowboy’s gait as his long wiry ponytail flows from beneath a baseball cap. Ken bristles at the term “protesters” and admonishes that those opposing the DAPL are “water protectors.” 

Versed in the complex history of Sioux land disputes, Ken explains the intricacies of treaties, land grabs and the exceptions within exceptions that have chipped away at the territory of the Sioux Nation for over 150 years. “Where we stand is Sioux land, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851,” he says, adding that the subsequent Sioux Treaty of 1868, which the Sioux allege to have never been properly ratified, illegally redefined the borders of Sioux territory. At best, the state of ownership and land rights is nothing short of confused. 

Indians and non-Indians mill around nearby, executing various tasks in the maintenance of the protest camp’s daily life. The aroma of wood fires and beef stewing in cast iron kettles fills the air. The setting sun casts a shadowy skyline of tents, tepees and converted buses, all gathered to push back at the slow, oncoming creep of the pipeline. The camp ebbs and flows in population, retaining about 6,000 inhabitants, and pushing hundreds of yards to the swampy tributaries flowing into the Missouri. 

In the distance, a drilling pad pushes closer to the river with the ultimate goal of tunneling beneath it. In the process, the excavation will cut through burial grounds. Distrust of the project has intensified over allegations that non-Indian archaeologists from the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office have been exclusively charged with identifying native graves. Equally, there is concern as to what will occur should the pipeline breach below the Missouri’s pristine waters. 

On these two issues, there is an odd chorus of consensus bridging what is otherwise a de facto apartheid in this small corner of the world. On and off the reservation, the welfare of the Missouri River provokes ready conversation. 

“We don’t want that pipeline coming through here,” explains a woman named Terrie in Mandan, a town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants just west of Bismarck and 30 miles north of the standing Rock Reservation. Her youthful face softens as her distrust of me thaws. “If that pipeline ruptures, it will be the end of the Missouri. That’s going to affect millions of people down-river.” 

But, just as quickly as Terrie is to condemn the pipeline, her teenage daughter shows me photos of vandalism in the nearby veteran’s graveyard. The agitated teen exclaims, “Look! Look at this. These pipeline protesters went and put a Tonka truck in the veteran’s graveyard with a sign that says ‘Let’s start drilling here’!” 

Terrie is angry. “Leave our veterans alone,” she says. “Why would you desecrate their graves? They have nothing to do with this.” 

It’s hard not to be taken in by the women’s congenial earthiness. On the other hand, the irony of their sensitivity to a distasteful prank, and the simultaneous indifference to the impact on Native American burial grounds, is inescapable. Here, the contempt for Native Americans is palpable and ubiquitous. “They get handouts and they are taken care of by the government,” Terrie adds. “They don’t have to work for any of it.” 

As much as there is division between races, there is also dissent within. Earlier in the day, a group from Standing Rock led a march to Mandan’s municipal offices. Working on a theme of forgiveness, love and peace, the group prayed for a cleansing of what they claim are the hatred and offenses of both sides of the conflict that occurred in the preceding weeks. Those actions led to the arrest and detention of Lakota Sioux who continued to languish in the Morton County Correctional Center in Mandan. 

The march was in stark contrast to the more extreme “direct action” principles undertaken by elements within the camp. In silence, the demonstrators encircled the jail and courthouse and pleaded for the release of their brethren. It was a display of the diverse beliefs and tactics emerging from the reservation; the hawks and the doves form a division so easily overlooked on the erroneous assumption of a monolithic Lakota Sioux culture and a unified stance in the face of adversity. 

On my way back to Standing Rock, I stop at Rusty’s Saloon in St. Anthony, a village half way between Mandan and the reservation. It is a clean and orderly establishment constructed as a lodge, and decorated with “taxidermied” wildlife. The place is awash in camos and blaze orange as hunters gather for lunch. I take a seat alongside a regular who eyes me with suspicion. Lori, the barmaid, senses my apprehension and relaxes the atmosphere with some easy talk. I oblige and the conversation soon deepens. 

Before long, she voices concern about threats to local farmers, the killing of livestock and a plethora of fires and vandalism alleged to have been perpetrated by Indians. According to Lori, the acts are the product of a native reawakening of land rights and a history of intrusion. “Our children had to have an armed escort to school because of the threats over this pipeline,” Lori adds. “People here are just plain scared.” 

These and other conversations reveal that, while there is agreement as to issues between those on and off the reservation, opinions are very much in cadence with peer allegiances and along the cultural divide. 

The dialogue of race is different here. In contrast to the low rumble of urban settings, race-based hatred in rural North Dakota is immediately explosive. The conversations with non-Indians are rife with animus toward Indians and outsiders. Likewise, the indigenous population, on and off the reservation, offers little more warmth. There is a noticeable lack of eye contact with non-Indians and the almost obligatory dirty looks cast at the “was’ichu,” (the somewhat derogatory Lakota word for “white” and non-Indian). The culture is understandably steeped in historic distrust. 

Back at the camp, three young people bide their time waiting for a march to the front lines. Today, the Standing Rock Youth Council will take an offering to those manning the SWAT vehicles. The Youth Council is a contingent of the reservation’s younger generation that is guided by the mantra of “removing the invisible barriers that prevent our native youth from succeeding.” They are steadfast in support of the water protection action. Today, they will push to the front lines in peaceful offering to the men bearing arms and armor just beyond the barbed wire. 

I am confronted by the stoicism of two visiting tribal members from Michigan, and of Maria, a young woman affiliated with several North Dakota tribes. “This is not a conflict zone,” Maria explains. “It’s not a war zone. We don’t want it to be seen that way.” 

Maria is correct. While tear gas and rubber bullets have been unleashed in the course of the DAPL conflict, the people of Standing Rock show no interest in having their actions seen as being at war with the outside world. This erroneous characterization, spawned by the mainstream media, has drawn an array of characters to Standing Rock — Indian and non-Indian, each seeking to make the action their own. I find myself having to fight my way through throngs of posers and protesters to get to the core Native American water protectors who are truly sincere in their actions. 

Likewise, within the Indian community, as in any community, I discover a great variance of identity and adherence to the mores of Indian culture. Maria points to her companion, “Me Shet Nagle,” a visiting member of the Blackfeet Nation, and chides, “He doesn’t even know what his name means! For all he knows, he could be named after a sock!” 

Me Shet Nagle meets Maria’s playful contempt with a sheepish grin. I jokingly assure that they will be portrayed in the most stereotypical manner possible. They get the humor. We all get it; the revelation of the Native American as a diverse culture with all of the beauty, humor, internal conflict and struggle for identity as any other. 

Tension builds as the time to march draws near. Dozens of water protectors assemble across the bridge from the barricade. Members of the SWAT team can be seen readying themselves in the distance. The bridge is disputed territory. Leaders from the Youth Council cradle a sacred pipe and carry an offering of the life-giving water that is threatened by the DAPL. In silence, dozens march on toward the front line. 

Within yards of the barricade, the council motions for all marchers to be seated. People pray. Some look woefully onward, expecting plumes of tear gas. Cameras click away over the crowd. Among this throng, a young woman carries an infant wrapped in a thick wool blanket. The group is completely vulnerable. I glance over the edge of the bridge and quickly calculate a two-story drop to the freezing water of unknown depth. If things went as they have before, pandemonium could break out with any incoming projectiles. 

The leaders of the Youth Council disappear behind the burned-out trucks. A number of heavily armored police and military appear from behind the barricade to take stock of the crowd. They peer from behind dark goggles beneath Kevlar helmets, adorned in heavy flak vests, with weapons slung at the ready. 

The moments linger. 

Finally, the Youth Council members emerge. They slowly walk to the crowd and command that everyone rise and move forward. In unified mass movement, the marchers close another 10 yards toward the barricade and the tension heightens. The council leaders sternly motion directions and, again, everyone is seated. The marchers are entirely under the Youth Council’s control. 

“We offered them water,” one leader reports as he raise a mason jar. “They would not drink from it!” A murmur spreads across the crowd. “However,” the leader continues, “they prayed with us.” His words are slow and punctuated with the tension of the moment. “We prayed together and, while they would not drink the water, the men did accept our water and rubbed it about their uniforms in a showing of respect and solidarity.” 

After a long pause, a Lakota woman seated before me raises a rattle in the air and shakes it with a cry of approval. One by one, hands rise and a cheer of praise breaks the quiet. The armed troops’ act of personal solidarity and sensitivity was all they asked for. In modest triumph, the marchers make their way back across the bridge in humble silence and with a renewed hope. 

In the distance, the machines churn on. 

Recently, North Dakota law enforcement authorities, reacting to what they labeled a riot, turned a water cannon on hundreds of protesters and Indian “water protectors” opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL). Tony Zinnanti’s story describes life on and around the Standing Rock Reservation in the days leading up to the assault on the protest encampment.

 

(Tony Zinnanti is a lawyer, freelance journalist and photographer from Los Angeles. His legal work has included defense of activists John Quigley and Ted Hayes, and representation of members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. This piece first appeared in Capital and Main. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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