Appeals Court Tells DOJ to Back Off … Leave Medical Marijuana States … Like California … Alone

POT POLITICS--An appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice can’t prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers for violating federal cannabis law as long as those individuals are in full compliance with state laws legalizing medical marijuana.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held unanimously that a 2014 budget measure “prohibits DOJ from spending funds” to go after such people. 

That’s bad news for the Justice Department’s increasingly controversial war on marijuana. Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for medical purposes. 

In the 10 cases from California and Washington state before the court, the 9th Circuit ruled that the Justice Department must show that the defendants were in violation of their state marijuana laws before proceeding with the federal criminal prosecutions. The appeals court sent all 10 cases back to the trial courts to make such determinations.

But Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, writing for the court, pointed out the precarious nature of the federal block on these prosecutions. In a footnote, he said that “Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.”

The judge also noted that the next administration may “shift enforcement priorities” and place a greater emphasis on prosecution of federal marijuana crimes.

Nonetheless, “this really is a big deal,” said Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation.

“It’s an assertion by a court ― the largest federal circuit ― that federal prosecutors cannot enforce the Controlled Substances Act against those in compliance with state medical marijuana provisions,” he explained. “It’s not forever ... but it’s a lot more protection than was in place prior to the ruling.”

Kamin added that the panel’s unanimity shouldn’t give the Obama administration “much reason for optimism,” should it choose to appeal.

Tom Angell, chairman of the drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, was similarly exuberant.

“If the Obama administration is smart, they’ll drop this fight right now rather than risk an even more embarrassing defeat on appeal,” he told HuffPost.

DOJ spokesman Peter Carr told HuffPost that the department was reviewing the decision and declined further comment.

The defendants in the 10 cases had argued that the charges should be dismissed because of a bipartisan budget measure, passed in December 2014, that bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states from “implementing” their own laws authorizing the “use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Last year, another Justice Department spokesman said it interpreted that provision as blocking prosecutors from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws,” but not from charging medical marijuana patients and businesses that violate federal marijuana laws. The measure’s sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.) expressed their profound disagreement at the time. 

The 9th Circuit is not the first federal court to say the Justice Department got it wrong. Last year a federal judge in an unrelated case ruled that the department can’t prosecute state-legal providers of medical marijuana and said that its interpretation “tortures the plain meaning of the statute.”

Besides the 25 states and D.C. that have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes, voters in nine other states are expected to consider some form of marijuana legalization this year.

Still, the plant remains banned under federal law. States’ efforts to legalize the drug in some form or another have worked only because of guidance from top DOJ officials urging frontline federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.

“I applaud the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for proclaiming the law as it has been intended by congressional legislation,” Rohrabacher said in an emailed statement to HuffPost. He called the court’s decision a victory for states’ rights, medical marijuana patients and “the constitutional process of establishing law.”

The Justice Department, Rohrabacher said, should “go on notice that there should be no more prosecutions and raiding of dispensaries in those states where the state government has legalized medical marijuana.”

And Farr told HuffPost, “California and many other states allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes yet the federal government still considers it as dangerous as heroin. While I’m pleased to see the amendment that I worked on with my colleagues being interpreted by the courts correctly, there needs to be a permanent change to federal policy to ensure medical marijuana patients aren’t criminalized in states that allow it.”

(Matt Ferner is a national reporter for Huffington Post [[]] … where this piece was originally posted.)


Goodbye to ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’

CORRUPTION WATCH-Back in the days of yore, when we Baby Boomers were coming on the scene, we were nurtured on values from comic books and TV. We all knew about “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” In grade school, we also heard about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I always thought that “the American Way” meant “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So I and my fellow baby boomers blissfully grew up with a vision of America where no wrong went un-righted and happiness was our birthright. 

Just as we had picked up other phrases like, “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies…we all fall down,’” we proudly repeated, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” After all, it opened every episode of Superman. In our minds, the Man of Steel was always on the side of right and that’s how we believed the world to be. 

Many of us have never shaken ourselves free from the childish belief that, in America, truth and justice were The Way, and we all had the right to Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Oh, yes, the pursuit of happiness was very important as we became teenagers. Then, the deaths in Southeast Asia entered our world. In our minds, we could still hear the end of the rhyme, “Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down”dead. We heard that it referred to the Black Plague which had wiped out millions. That was an interpretation that fit the times. Rather than Happiness, Death awaited us. 

And, then The War was over and Nixon was gone and we could continue with the American Way. 

Decades later, as Baby Boomers, we enter retirement and look back to see our legacy catching up to us. We had been lulled into complacency and now we realize that our children will be the first American generation likely to do worse than their parents. Productivity increases have stopped going to those who produced them. Instead, 90% of all productivity gains since Obama took office have gone to the top 1%. Private pensions are following the path of the passenger pigeon and public pensions are purposefully under-funded. 

In 2016, we no longer see Truth Justice and the American Way. Rather, we see “Corruptionism.” The alliance of the wealthy and their pawns in Congress and elsewhere has departed from the path of truth and justice. In its wake, we see a string of multi-billion dollar thefts. Worse, there is no Superman to right the wrongs. 

First, there was the piddling Equity Funding Scandal in 1970. Then we had the significant Savings and Loans Scandals where millions of elderly Americans were fleeced of their life savings. Back in the 1980s, some efforts were made to hold the thieves accountable, and so the world of finance learned about Accounting Control Fraud. 

Later, we had the Dot Com Crash in 2000, followed by the Enron Bankruptcy in 2001. So, in 2004, we sent Martha Stewart to prison. Really, Martha? At least, there was a diluted notion of some type of justice, weird as it was to seize upon Martha Stewart.   

Then, we entered the world in which Rampant Criminality replaced Truth and Justice as the American Way. We got the Crash of 2008 which was due to the massive trillion dollar Credit Default Swap frauds of Wall Street executives. Gone was all pretense of holding the guilty parties liable. The government claimed that Wall Street executives had been merely careless, that nothing criminal happened. How does one carelessly bribe a rating agency to give top ratings to junk bonds? 

The government declared that the executives’ foolish risks were so huge that we had to give them back all the money they lost in the Crash, plus a few trillion more. Notice…the money went to the crooks and thieves who had crashed the entire economy, while the average Joe lost his home, lost his pension and ended up divorced, with his kids homeless. Yet the Administration continued to shovel trillions of dollars into the pockets of Wall Street thieves. Let’s remember…the Crash of 2008 began with criminality right here in Southern California with Countrywide and our courts choosing to look the other way. 

To make certain that Truth, Justice and the American Way were dead forever, Obama invented, “Too Important to Prosecute.” That’s right, Lex Luther and his minions are too important to Metropolis. Rather than let Superman imprison them in an ice cave, they became Los Angeles’ mayor and city councilmembers. 

And that brings us to the Los Angeles City Council and its criminal voting trading pact. Surely, a criminal enterprise that fleeces the city of billions of dollars is contrary to “Truth, Justice American Way.” If Mayor Luther wants anything, he takes it and all his City Council buddies agree to unanimously agree 100% of the time: “Yeah, we should tear down the homes of the poor people. Whadda ya gonna do about it?” 

Truth, Justice and the American Way no longer exist. Penal Code § 86, which forbids all vote trading on a city council, is apparently unenforceable unless all the city councilmembers write out their vote trading agreement in blood and post it on the front door of City Hall. Even then, could we ever find a judge who could figure out that 1,000 consecutive unanimous votes is indicative of a vote trading pact? Oh no, nothing amiss here…must be a coincidence or maybe the unanimity reflects how well the city is run?   

If the people who live in the Hills near Lake Hollywood do not find the nerve to reject Boss Garcetti’s choice for CD 4 councilmember, then watch for the resulting increase of tourism in the Hills. Don’t worry about the fire danger and the fact that tourists who are totally unaware of the extreme fire danger will toss cigarette butts into the underbrush. Let’s pretend the fires won’t occur. Let’s ignore the car crashes on the too narrow streets -- and the people who die because the paramedics cannot reach them in time in the too-congested hills. There’s a price to pay for crossing Boss Garcetti. For the people above Lake Hollywood, it’s the ever increasing danger of losing their homes and lives to fire. 

When the City Council votes unanimously 99.9% of the time, you know it is a criminal enterprise, but when Lex Luther’s niece is the DA, you won’t see any action. Don’t expect any Justice from the courts. In modern day Los Angeles, Justice, along with Truth and Superman, is in exile.


(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 Election from Hell

EDITOR’S PICK--Yep, it finally happened. In early May, after a long, long run, the elephants of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were ushered into retirement in Florida where they will finish their days aiding cancer research. The Greatest Show on Earth was done with its pachyderms.  The same might be said about the Republicans after Donald Trump’s version of a GOP convention. Many of them had also been sent, far less gracefully than those circus elephants, into a kind of enforced retirement (without even cancer research as an excuse). 

Their former party remained in the none-too-gentle hands of the eternally aggrieved Trump, while the Democrats were left to happily chant “USA!  USA!,” march a barking retired four-star general and a former CIA director on stage to invoke the indispensable “greatness” of America, and otherwise exhibit the kind of super-patriotism and worship of the military usually associated with... no question about it... the GOP (whose delegates instead spent their time chanting “lock her up!”).

And that’s just to take the tiniest of peeks at a passing moment in what continues to be, without the slightest doubt, the Greatest Show on Earth in 2016.

My small suggestion: don’t even try to think your way through all this. It’s the media equivalent of entering King Minos’s labyrinth. You’ll never get out. I’m talking about -- what else? -- the phenomenon we still call an “election campaign,” though it bears remarkably little resemblance to anything Americans might once have bestowed that label on.

Still, look on the bright side: the Republican and Democratic conventions are in the rearview mirror and a mere three months of endless yakking are left until Election Day. 

In the last year, untold billions of words have been expended on this “election” and the outsized histories, flaws, and baggage the two personalities now running for president bring with them.  Has there ever been this sort of coverage -- close to a year of it already -- hour after hour, day after day, night after night? Has the New York Times ever featured stories about the same candidate and his cronies, two at a time, on its front page daily the way it’s recently been highlighting the antics of The Donald?

Have there ever been so many “experts” of every stripe jawing away about a single subject on cable TV from the crack of dawn to the witching hour?  Has there ever been such a mass of pundits churning out opinions by the hour, or so many polls about the American people’s electoral desires steamrollering each other from dawn to dusk?

And, of course, those polls are then covered, discussed, and analyzed endlessly. Years ago, Jonathan Schell suggested that we no longer had an election, but (thanks to those polls) “serial elections.”  He wrote that back in the Neolithic Age and we’ve come an awful long way since then. There are now websites, after all, that seem to do little more than produce mega-polls from all the polls spewing out.

And don’t forget the completely self-referential nature of this “campaign.” If ever there was an event that was about itself and focused only on itself, this is it. Donald Trump, for instance, has taken possession of Twitter and his furious -- in every sense, since he’s the thinnest-skinned candidate ever -- tweets rapidly pile up, are absorbed into “news” articlesabout the campaign that are, in turn, tweeted out for The Donald to potentially tweet about in a Möbius strip of blather.

What You Can’t Blame Donald Trump For

And yet, despite all the words expended and polls stumbling over each other to illuminatenext to nothing, can’t you feel that there’s something unsaid, something unpolled, something missing?

As the previous world of American politics melts and the electoral seas continue to rise, those of us in the coastal outlands of domestic politics find ourselves, like so many climate refugees, fleeing the tides of spectacle, insult, propaganda, and the rest. We’re talking about a phenomenon that’s engulfing us. We’re drowning in a sea of words and images called “Election 2016.” We have no more accurate name for it, no real way to step back and describe the waters we’re drowning in. And if you expect me to tell you what to call it, think again. I’m drowning, too.

You can blame Donald Trump for many things in this bizarre season of political theater, but don’t blame him for the phenomenon itself. He may have been made for this moment with his uncanny knack for turning himself into a never-ending news cycle of one and scarfing upbillions of dollars of free publicity, but he was a Johnny-come-lately to the process itself.

After all, he wasn’t one of the Supreme Court justices who, in their 2010 Citizens Uniteddecision, green-lighted the flooding of American politics with the dollars of the ultra-wealthy in the name of free speech and in amounts that boggle the imagination (even as that same court has gone ever easier on the definition of political “corruption”).

As a certified tightwad, Trump wasn’t the one who made it possible to more or less directly purchase a range of politicians and so ensure that we would have our first 1% elections. Nor was he the one who made American politics a perfect arena for a rogue billionaire with enough money (andchutzpah) to buy himself.

It’s true that no political figure has ever had The Donald’s TV sense. Still, before he was even a gleam in his own presidential eye, the owners of cable news and other TV outlets had already grasped that an election season extending from here to Hell might morph into a cornucopia of profits.

He wasn’t the one who realized that such an ever-expanding campaign season would not only bring in billions of dollars in political ads (thank you, again, Supreme Court for helping to loose super PACs on the world), but billions more from advertisers for prime spots in the ongoing spectacle itself.

He wasn’t the one who realized that a cable news channel with a limited staff could put every ounce of energy, every talking head around, into such an election campaign, and glue eyeballs in remarkable ways, solving endless problems for a year or more.

This was all apparent by the 2012 election, as debates spread across the calendar, ad money poured in, and the yakking never stopped. Donald Trump didn’t create this version of an eternal reality show. He’s just become its temporary host and Hillary Clinton, his quick-to-learn apprentice.

And yet be certain of one thing: neither those Supreme Court justices, nor the owners of TV outlets, nor the pundits, politicians, pollsters, and the rest of the crew knew what exactly they were creating. Think of them as the American equivalent of the blind men and the elephant(and my apologies if I can’t keep pachyderms out of this piece).

In this riot of confusion that passes for an election, with one candidate who’s a walking Ponzi scheme and the other who (with her husband) has shamelessly pocketed staggeringmillions of dollars from the financial and tech sectors, what are we to make of “our” strange new world? Certainly, this is no longer just an election campaign. It’s more like a way of life and, despite all its debates (that now garner National Football League-sized audiences), it’s also the tao of confusion.

Missing in Action This Election Season

Let’s start with this: The spectacle of our moment is so overwhelming, dominating every screen of our lives and focused on just two outsized individuals in a country of 300 million-plus on a planet of billions, that it blocks our view of reality. Whatever this “election” may be, it blots out much of the rest of the world.  As far as I can see, the only story sure to break through it is when someone picks up that assault rifle, revs up that truck, gets his hands on that machete, builds that bomb, declares loyalty to ISIS (whatever his disturbed thoughts may have been 30 seconds earlier), and slaughters as many people as he can in the U.S. or Europe. (Far grimmer, and more repetitive slaughters in Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, and other such places have no similar value and are generally ignored.)

Of course, such slaughters, when they do break through the election frenzy, only feed the growth of the campaign. It’s a reasonable suspicion, though, that somewhere at the heart of Election 2016 is a deepening sense of fear about American life that seems to exhibit itself front and center only in relation to one of the lesser dangers (Islamic terrorism) of life in this country. Much as this election campaign offers a strife-riven playing field for two, it also seems to minimize the actual strife and danger in our world by focusing so totally on ISIS and its lone wolf admirers.  It might, in that sense, be considered a strange propaganda exercise in the limits of reality.

Let’s take, for instance, America’s wars.  Yes, the decision to invade Iraq has been discussed (and criticized) during the campaign and the urge of the two remaining candidates and everyone else previously involved to defeat and destroy the Islamic State is little short of overwhelming.  In addition, Trump at least has pointed to the lack of any military victories in all these years and the disaster of Clinton’s interventionist urge in Libya, among other things. 

In addition, in an obvious exercise of super-patriotic fervor of the sort that once would have been strange in this country and now has become second nature, both conventions trotted out retired generals and national security officials to lecture the American public like so many rabid drill sergeants. 

Then there were the usual rites, especially at the Democratic convention, dedicated to the temple of the “fallen” in our wars, and endless obeisance to the “warriors” and the U.S. military generally -- as well as the prolonged Trumpian controversy over the family of one dead Muslim-American Marine. 

One of the two candidates has made a habit of praising to the heavens “the world’s greatest military” (and you know just which one she means) while swearing fealty to our generals and admirals; the other has decried that military as a “disaster” area, a “depleted” force “in horrible shape.”  For both, however, this adds up to the same thing: yet more money and support for that force.

Here’s the strange thing, though.  Largely missing in action in campaign 2016 are the actual wars being fought by the U.S. military or any serious assessment of, or real debate or discussion about, how they’ve been going or what the national security state has or hasn’t accomplished in these years. 

Almost a decade and a half after the invasion of Afghanistan, the longest war in American history is still underway with no end in sight and it's going badly, as American air power has once again been let loose in that country and Afghan government forces continue to lose ground to the Taliban.  Think of it as the war that time forgot in this election campaign, even though its failed generals are trotted out amid hosannas of praise to tell us what to do in the future and who to vote for.

Meanwhile, a new, open-ended campaign of bombing has been launched in Libya, this time against ISIS adherents.  The last time around left that country a basket case.  What’s this one likely to do?

Such questions are largely missing in action in campaign speeches, debates, and discussions; nor is the real war and massive destruction in Iraq or Syria a subject of any genuine interest; nor what it’s meant for the “world’s greatest military” to unleash its air power from Afghanistan to Libya, send out its drones on assassination missions from Pakistan to Somalia, launch special operations raids across the Greater Middle East and Africa, occupy two countries, and have nothing to show for it but the spread of ever more viral and brutal terror movements and the collapse or near-collapse of many of the states in which it’s fought its wars. 

At the moment, such results just lead to “debates” over how much further to build up American forces, how much more money to pour into them, how much freer the generals should be to act in the usual repetitive fashion, and how much more fervently we should worship those “warriors” as our saviors.  Back in 2009, Leon Panetta, then head of the CIA,talked up America’s drone assassination campaign in Pakistan as “the only game in town” when it came to stopping al-Qaeda.  Seven years later, you could say that in Washington the only game in town is failure.

Similarly, the U.S. taxpayer pours nearly $70 billion annually into the 16 major and various minor outfits in its vast “intelligence” apparatus, and yet, as with the recent coup in Turkey, the U.S. intelligence community seldom seems to have a clue about what’s going on.

Failed intelligence and failed wars in an increasingly failed world is a formula for anxiety and even fear.  But all of this has been absorbed into and deflected by the unparalleled bread-and-circus spectacle of Election 2016, which has become a kind of addictive habit for “the people.”  Even fear has been transformed into another form of entertainment.  In the process, the electorate has been turned into so many spectators, playing their small parts in a demobilizing show of the first order.

And speaking about realities that went MIA, you wouldn’t know it from Election 2016, but much of the U.S. was sweltering under a “heat dome” the week of the Democratic convention.  It wasn’t a phrase that had previously been in popular use and yet almost the whole country was living through record or near-record summer temperatures in a year in which, globally, each of the first six months had broken all previous heat records (as, in fact, had the last eight months of 2015).  Even pre-heat dome conditions in the lower 48 had been setting records for warmth (and don’t even ask about Alaska).  It might almost look like there was a pattern here.

Unfortunately, as the world careens toward “an environment never experienced before,”according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the two parties to the American spectacle continues to insist that climate change is a hoax.  Its politicians are almost uniformly in thrall to Big Energy, and its presidential candidate tops the charts when it comes to climate denialism.  ("The concept of global warming," he's claimed, "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.") Meanwhile, the other party, the one theoretically promoting much-needed responses to climate change, wasn't even willing to highlight the subject in prime time on any of the last three days of its convention.

In other words, the deepest, most unnerving realities of our world are, in essence, missing in action in election 2016.

You want to be afraid? Be afraid of that!

The Shrinking Election Phenomenon

So you tell me: What is this spectacle of ours?  Certainly, as a show it catches many of our fears, sweeping them up in its whirlwind and then burying them in unreality.  It can rouse audiences to a fever pitch and seems to act like a Rorschach test in which you read whatever you’re inclined to see into its most recent developments.  Think of it, in a sense, as an anti-election campaign.  In its presence, there’s no way to sort out the issues that face this country or its citizens in a world in which the personalities on stage grow ever larger and more bizarre, while what Americans have any say over is shrinking fast.

So much of American “democracy” and so many of the funds that we pony up to govern ourselves now go into strengthening the power of essentially anti-democratic structures: a military with a budget larger than that of the next seven or eight countries combined and the rest of a national security state of a size unimaginable in the pre-9/11 era.  Each is now deeply embedded in Washington and at least as grotesque in its bloat as the election campaign itself.  We’re talking about structures that have remarkably little to do with self-governance or We the People (even though it’s constantly drummed into our heads that they are there to protect us, the people).  In these years, even as they have proved capable of winning next to nothing and detecting little, they've grown ever larger, more imperial, and powerful, becoming essentially the post-Constitutional fourth branch of government to which the other three branches pay obeisance.

No matter.  We’re all under the heat dome now and when, on November 8th, tens of millions of us troop to the polls, who knows what we’re really doing anymore, except of course paving the way for the next super-spectacle of our political age, Election 2020. Count on it: speculation about the candidates will begin in the media within days after the results of this one are in. And it’s a guarantee: there will be nothing like it. It will dazzle, entrance, amaze. It’s going to be... the Greatest Show on Earth. It will cause billions of dollars to change hands.  It will electrify, shock, amuse, entertain, appall, and...

I leave it to you to finish that sentence, while I head off to check out the latest on The Donald and Hillary.  (Include a reference to elephants and you’ll get extra credit!)

(Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs 


The Donald and The Clintons: This Madness Has to Stop

EASTSIDER- For me, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump goes way beyond the “lesser of two evils.” In fact, this is how we wound up with Hillary and Donald in the first place. We’ve had too many years of those kinds of choices. Somehow this madness has to stop. 

I think that a lot of my fellow progressives quietly agree with me, but are afraid to be brutally honest. They worry about getting spammed and flamed all over the internet. Yes, that’s how Hillary plays the game. And maybe I could get drummed out of the Northeast Dems, but … oh well, here goes. 

As a lifetime Dem, I voted for Bill Clinton and even gave him money, he talked so pretty. Silly me. In return, I got GATT and NAFTA, and "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It should also be noted that President Bill Clinton is the guy that put the wooden stake through the heart of the Glass-Steagal Act that protected us from the financial services industry after the Great Depression. 

While I know that Hillary is not Bill, she has made it clear that she views him as her economic and jobs “go to guy.” Goody. 

Then of course, there’s The Donald. The idea of voting for Donald Trump is pretty simple for me. I simply substitute the name P.T. Barnum for Donald Trump and the parallels are eerie. For those of you who may not remember, P.T. was a showman and promoter (of some hoaxes, as well as the Barnum & Bailey circus.) He was also a Connecticut Republican politician who has been (incorrectly) credited with coining the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Clearly, he was in it for the bucks. 

If you substitute real estate developer for showman, the business and ego traits of both are pretty similar. The biggest difference seems to be that The Donald has tapped into the overwhelming anger and disgust people have for both political parties that merrily sell us out in Washington without a qualm. PT was simply in it for the glory and the bucks, up front. 

Hillary Clinton is harder to characterize with a sound bite. There are so many Hillary Clintons that it’s hard to find a core beyond her incredible lust to become President of the United States. Evidently at any cost. 

What we do know is that the rhetoric of the Clinton Campaign evades the truth about anything Clinton…like the fact that she’s a card-carrying member of the 1/2 of the One Percent (via the Clinton Foundation). She is owned by Wall Street, as Bernie Sanders correctly pointed out during the primary. So is Bill and so is their daughter, who is on the Clinton Foundation Board and is married to a Hedge Fund investment banker. 

Hillary is also very hawkish for a Democrat, from the Iraq war forward. As it relates to Israel, she might as well be on the staff of Prime Minister Netanyahu. 

Finally, as I wrote some time ago in a CityWatch article, “While I’m at it, I have absolutely no idea what Hillary Clinton actually stands for -- there have been so many “nuances” and “pivots” and “shifting stances” between the primaries and the general election as reported by the 200 channels of electronic media. It makes my head hurt. Again, it may be true that this is “smart politics” like the pundits say, and proof of her political abilities, but what does it say about our electoral politics?” 

So these are the two candidates for President of the United States. 

A Third Way and Why--Somewhere in all this, “the lesser of two evils” loses all meaning for me. While I can understand why Bernie Sanders, a lifetime elected official, chose to live up to his pledge to support the Democratic candidate, I do not feel similarly obligated. 

I think the two visions of America represented by both candidates are too flawed for sale. Whether it’s Hillary letting Wall Street suck the last money out of our pockets until they tank the entire financial services industry again, or The Donald, who, like all real estate developers, seems to want to subdivide us into easily digestible pieces, we are faced with Hobbesian choices that don’t interest me. 

Here is what’s important to me about politics: Politicians are supposed to ensure that everyone in our society has a legitimate shot at a job if they want to work. Historically, that’s been a myth for our elected officials, this “underpinning” of the so-called social contract between the state and the governed. It’s the hype we have all been fed up through the 80’s. 

Well, it’s simply not true anymore. Huge swaths of our population can’t get any job, at all. Older people are routinely dumped in the wastebasket, never getting a call back or even an interview; and those convicted of almost any crime (other than snorting coke in Wall Street) have their resumes dumped in the same wastebasket. It’s the same for those less educated, the same for “people of color,” and the list goes on and on. If you go to Kings County in California’s Central Valley, the unemployment rate for working age white guys is over 50%!  

In addition to the money, which may or may not be enough to get by on, jobs offer a sense of self-worth, security and inherent pride. 

Back in the 60’s in Watts, another social worker and I ran some off-the-books group sessions for folks on General Relief. “Off the books” because the Welfare Department was absolutely uninterested in such ideas. The overwhelming majority of these people felt alone, isolated, believing that no one understood their circumstances. It was a total bummer. But in a group, they could share with each other and find out they were not alone. 

We went over basic skills like how to regularly get up on a schedule and how to arrive at a specific place, on time, each day. This is how beaten down people were. But we hustled some local employers and achieved over a 50% success rate in helping many of them get off General Relief. And once off, they tended to stay off. 

So, after then-president Bill Clinton went on TV to tell us there’d be no more “guaranteed jobs” -- that we would have to work for a number of different employers and constantly upgrade our “job skills” (whatever that meant) -- there really are no job guarantees. Period. 

Except, of course, for the professional political class, their hangers-on and the one-dollar-one-vote billionaires who own all of them. 

Well that just sucks. I have no sympathy for either political party or the politicians who dance to their tunes. It is they, not us, who have created the current “no job, no hope” class of Americans. And, as for the new “gig economy” that’s available for younger people, who can only look forward to intermittent employment, high rents, and permanent uncertainty, it’s no better. 

The Takeaway--For what it’s worth, I am supporting the national progressive candidates that Bernie endorsed -- and giving them money. Especially Tim Canova in Florida, who I pray will displace the toxic Debbie Wasserman Schultz once and for all. She can go back to fronting for PayDay Loans. 

And, no surprise here … I’m voting for Jill Stein.  

Something has to change and it has to be from the bottom up. It all starts with electing real, honest, progressive Democrats (or even Republicans, if there is such a thing.) Or how about an honest Green Party Candidate? You know, people who will really vote against the 1/2 of 1% who run the country. 

On the other hand, Hillary would be the first woman president... 

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

Donald Trump and the ‘Banality of Evil’

EDITOR’S PICK-Too many headlines about what Trump said about Clinton and the "2nd Amendment people" don’t explain what he meant or put what he said in political context.

Donald Trump’s comment on Tuesday about how “Second Amendment people” could stop Hillary Clinton if she gets elected is hardly subtle. This is a clear provocation to commit murder, however he and his handlers may try to spin it. 

At a rally in Wilmington, N.C., Trump told the crowd that “Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment.” Of course, this isn’t true. This is how Trump and his NRA friends refer to people who want tougher gun control laws. But that wasn’t the most inflammatory thing he said. 

"Many of his comments are just stupid. But others are dangerous, and some may be illegal. Who draws the line? And what do we do to a public figure who crosses it?"

“And if she gets to pick her judges,” Trump went on. “Nothing you can do, folks.” 

Then his lack of impulse control kicked in: “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is,” he added. 

He was suggesting that “Second Amendment people” -- clearly, gun owners -- deal with Hillary before she gets to appoint Supreme Court justices who will permit strong gun laws. And he didn’t mean invite her to an NRA meeting. 

A week ago, reporters were writing about whether Trump’s invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails was treasonous or otherwise illegal. That was bad enough. But now this. As Ezra Klein pointed out in a Vox column and video last week, there are no words to describe this kind of behavior. “Abnormal” doesn’t do it justice. Nor does “monstrous.” 

“Sociopathic” might describe Trump’s condition, but it doesn’t describe our condition as we routinely hear such Trump statements on the campaign trail. 

The only thing that comes close is philosopher Hannah Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil.” She coined this phrase in her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, about the trial of Adolph Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, in an Israeli courtroom. If someone carries out unspeakable crimes often enough, he or she comes to accept them as “normal.” That was Arendt’s view of Eichmann. 

But the “banality of evil” also applies to an entire society. We can get used to outrageous things -- slavery, Jim Crow segregation laws, massive homelessness, widespread malnutrition, the frequent killing of Black men by police -- until we are provoked to view them as unjust. 

This is the dilemma now facing Americans -- and particularly American journalists -- in thinking about Trump’s presidential campaign. We’ve become so used to his daily outrages -- about Mexicans, about women, about Muslims, about NATO, about nuclear weapons, about “Mexican” Judge Curiel, about renegotiating America’s debt with other countries, about getting Mexico to pay for a wall on the border, about Melania Trump’s plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech, about his Trump University con job, about his ignorance of basic issues like Brexit, and many more -- that we’re almost numb to them. It is difficult to renew outrage day after day. 

Many of his comments are just stupid. But others are dangerous, and some may be illegal. They reflect a temperament and mental instability that makes him unfit to be president. 

It is a matter of what kind of words, and what kind of behavior, crosses the line so blatantly, and violates whatever standards of basic decency we have, that it is beyond contempt. But who draws the line? And what do we do to a public figure who crosses it? 

The New York Times’ media critic Jim Rutenberg, in his analysis in Monday’s paper, Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism”, did a good job of examining how difficult it is for the mainstream media, caught in the web of “he said/she said” reporting and admonitions to be “neutral,” to deal with Trump’s campaign and his almost daily outrages. 

Rutenberg wrote: “If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?” 

Reporters don’t want to be glorified tape recorders, just transcribing what Trump (or any other candidate) says without providing context and, if necessary, correction. 

Reporters faced this dilemma in 1950, when Senator Joseph McCarthy began giving speeches accusing the U.S. State Department of harboring Communists. In almost every speech, he used different numbers of alleged “reds” inside the department. Reporters who covered McCarthy knew he was lying, but they couldn’t write that. They couldn’t even say he was “inconsistent.” If they wanted readers to understand that McCarthy had gone overboard with his accusations, they had to find other politicians to say so. They had to be “balanced.” That’s what passed for “objectivity” back then. He said versus she said. 

We’ve made some progress since then -- allowing journalists to analyze as well as report -- but reporters and editors still find themselves in a journalistic straightjacket when covering Trump on the campaign trail. (I was going to write “someone like Trump,” but although there are many whackos in recent politics -- think Sarah Palin -- there isn’t anyone else really like Trump, and certainly no one who has won a major party’ s nomination for president.) 

The stories about Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment reflect this journalistic conundrum. How do you report a story about a candidate for president implying that people with guns might want to consider killing his opponent? Yes, that isn’t what he actually said but it is clearly what he meant -- or what he wanted his supporters to hear. That was his dog whistle. But you don’t need to be a dog to know what he was saying. Even so, reporters and headline writers couldn’t report what Trump meant, only what he said. They could call his comment “controversial” or even “inflammatory,” but they did say what was obvious to everyone in that room and anyone who watched the video. 

The headlines about Trump’s comment that appeared on-line within hours of his speech reflect how constrained the media are in reporting such an outrageous statement: 

  • “Trump Appears To Suggest ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Stop Clinton” (NPR) 
  • “Donald Trump Says ‘Second Amendment People’ Can Stop Hillary Clinton From Curbing Gun Rights” (Wall Street Journal
  • “Trump sparks uproar by saying ‘maybe there is’ a way for ‘2nd Amendment people’ to keep Clinton from naming justices” (Los Angeles Times
  • “Donald Trump Suggests ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Act Against Hillary Clinton” (New York Times
  • “Trump suggests ‘Second Amendment people’ could stop Clinton” (Chicago Tribune)  
  • “What Ever Could Trump Have Meant With This Joke About ‘Second Amendment People’ and Clinton?” (Slate

“Trump ‘Second Amendment’ Quip Seen as Veiled Threat Against Clinton” (NBC) 

  • “Donald Trump says ‘Second Amendment people’ may be the only check on Clinton judicial appointments” (Washington Post
  • “Trump in trouble over ‘Second Amendment’ remark” (Politico). 

All these headlines are accurate but misleading. They don’t explain what he meant or put what he said in political context. The subhead on the Politico story -- “The campaign says he was referencing gun-rights voter mobilization, but the remark was widely interpreted as a joke about using guns against his Democratic rival” -- is about as close as any of them got to explaining the importance and the outrageousness -- and perhaps the criminality -- of what Trump said. 

Headlines or news reports suggesting that Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment was a “joke” reflect the “banality of evil” problem. A joke? Really? 

Where is George Orwell when we need him?


(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Tags: Peter Dreier, Donald Trump, Second Amendment, objective journalism, Hillary Clinton, Common Dreams


What it Really Means to be a Patriot

AT LENGTH-I get extremely nervous when true believers start wrapping themselves in the American flag and then call others “unpatriotic” when they don’t stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. 

A “patriot,” by definition, is one who loves and strongly supports or fights for his or her country. 

Patriotism does not exclusively belong to those who serve in the military or those who recite the pledge, created 116 years after the founding of our republic. 

There are many more who have served this country bravely that never once donned a uniform or carried a weapon (read President John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage). 

What most of our super patriot neighbors don’t know about this common civic ceremony is that it was written in 1892 by the socialist Christian minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) with the hope that it would bind the open wounds of the American Civil War and unite the nation in a common creed of “liberty and justice for all”— healing a still divided nation.  

These same ideals were enunciated in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson in 1776. 

The essential words of that founding document give both light and interpretation to the U.S. Constitution’s meaning, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Note that Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers avoided the use of the word “God” in this document. The original Pledge of Allegiance written by a Christian minister, avoided making the same mistake, but we now find it inserted into this oft-recited 1952 version, a legacy inherited from the McCarthy Era witch hunts against communists, who by definition were atheists. 

It seems that once every decade I have to remind readers of this paper and others that the Pledge of Allegiance is not an expression of patriotism demanded by the state, or even legally required for entry into the discourse at our local neighborhood councils, several of which in San Pedro, are now turning the Pledge into a mandatory exercise. 

It has even been the ceremonial protocol for the opening of every chamber of commerce meeting -- as if patriotism was a necessary requirement for engaging in free enterprise in the ever-globalized marketplace. 

The list accompanying a new report from the Partnership for a New American Economy found some surprising information: Steve Jobs, the famous co-founder of Apple, is a child of an immigrant parent from Syria. 

Walt Disney was a child of a Canadian immigrant; the founders of Oracle are from Russia and Iran; IBM (Germany); Clorox (Ireland); Boeing (Germany); 3M (Canada); and Home Depot (Russia).

Not only do we not demand military service from the founders of this elite group of Fortune 500 corporations, we don’t even require their loyalty in business to this nation. 

The Pledge is not a requirement of law but has been adopted by custom. Saying the Pledge is reinforced by regimentation in schools and by protocols at some public ceremonies. But when the words are examined they are at best “aspirational” towards liberty and justice and they avoid pledging any loyalty to an underlying creed of this nation as expressed in both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights. It would be better, as I suggested back in the 1980s, for the Pledge to be updated as follows: 

A Patriot’s Pledge of Allegiance 

I pledge allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Of the United States of America and to the ideals for which they stand;
Among these are the rights of the people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, with freedom and justice for all. 

There is no need to mention God or the flag, which is merely a symbol, or that we are indivisible. It goes without saying that we as a nation of people are often divided and take great liberty to express those divisions whenever and wherever we choose. The creed behind the symbol is what we as a nation should be pledging allegiance too, not a piece of cloth. 

However, it was an exquisite form of irony to see Muslim immigrant, Khizr Khan, father of a U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004, ask Donald Trump if he had ever read the U.S. Constitution. One might ask the same question to those who are now demanding that every meeting of a neighborhood council start with the politically outdated pledge. 

How many of you have a copy in your coat pocket that you could pull out the next time you are stopped by the authorities? Perhaps reading the Constitution should be a mandatory step for anyone wearing a uniform or elected to office.


(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 was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

My Mother, Stopped for Driving While Black

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL-When the police pulled their guns on my middle-aged mom, a white motorist pulled up to tell them what a good job they were doing. 

When the police pulled their guns on my mother, I reached for my phone and told her to be calm and do as they say. 

My parents and I had just been swarmed by police cars, sirens blaring, as we drove on I-64 through Virginia. Shock and fear consumed my family as we came to a stop and were ordered out of the vehicle at gun point. A third car even showed up to stop traffic. 

The officers then arrested my mother without any explanation. I felt helpless. 

As I questioned the police about why they stopped us, a family of three just driving along and minding our own business, a passing white motorist stopped his car. He gave the police officers a thumbs-up and told them, “We support the great job you’re doing.” 

I was stunned. 

My parents sought asylum in the United States from Eritrea many years ago. We work hard and obey the rules. But that’s not enough. In a sad twist of fate, our family has stumbled into institutional injustice in a new form. 

Eventually the arresting officer accused my mother both of going too slow and eluding his siren for 10 miles. Three police cars, guns, and handcuffs for my middle-aged mom, apparently for going too slow on a highway. Being too cautious seems to be yet another thing that can get you stopped for driving while black. 

Two weeks later, police in Minnesota stopped Philando Castile for an alleged broken taillight. When Castile reached for his identification, he carefully told the cop his every move. To avoid any wrong assumptions, he explained that he had a license to carry a concealed weapon, which he had in the car. 

Castile was then shot several times and killed. What was his crime? Is a broken taillight a reason to be shot? Is driving too slow a reason to be handcuffed at gunpoint, surrounded by three cop cars?

The mistreatment of black people by police officers isn’t new, nor is it surprising. According to the Justice Department, black people are almost four times more likely than whites to experience the use of force during police encounters. 

Before Castile’s slaying by the St. Anthony Police Department, he’d been stopped by police over 50 times and acquired thousands of dollars in fines and fees. Castile’s mother had encouraged her son to complain about the police’s racial profiling.  But like many black people, Castile chose not to. 

Why bother reporting police harassment, they reason, to the very people who commit the assault?

During our eight-hour drive to Alleghany County Court, I remember being so confident that the judge would be on my mother’s side. The police had no evidence at all, and they’d plainly exposed my family to unnecessary emotional and financial hardship. Surely, the judge would see that. 

I was wrong. Not only was my mother found guilty of both counts, they also revoked her driver’s license. Our lawyer refused to press our case, demurring, “I’m not in the business of suing police officers.” 

We are but one of thousands of black families in America who are targeted, profiled, fined, incarcerated, and — as we saw with Castile — sometimes killed by unaccountable police officers and a justice system that supports them. 

The American dream can’t be a reality if the very color of our skin makes us criminals in the eyes of the law.


(Milen Mehari is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies, where she researches the criminalization of race and poverty. Distributed by Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

What Khizr Khan Said That Wasn't About Trump and You Probably Won't Hear

MEDIA OMISSIONS-As the United States this week expands its bombing campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) to Libya, Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who gave a powerful anti-Donald Trump speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), has criticized U.S. wars in Muslim nations as leaving us in a "quagmire," "more vulnerable," and creating "chaos for ourselves." But Khan's take on the war on terror is unlikely to be amplified by corporate media, as one political writer points out. 

Khan, a Muslim, Pakistani-American, and father of a U.S. Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004, made waves last week for his speech at the DNC. Standing beside his wife, Ghazala, he directed his criticism at the Republican presidential nominee, and said, "You have sacrificed nothing and no one," and asked, "Have you even read the United States Constitution?" 

As the New Yorker's Amy Davidson wrote, "Khan, though his speech centered on the loss of his son, had made the case against Trump more powerfully than almost any other speaker." 

Since the convention, Khan "has become something of a media celebrity," writes Ben Norton, politics staff writer at Salon. The portrayal often used in these accounts, Norton continues, focuses on patriotism. One such example can be seen here, as posted on CNN Money on Tuesday:

Here was an in-the-flesh example of Muslim assimilation—a man who had lost his son, yet who espoused patriotism to the point of literally brandishing a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. Not only was the couple's grief universal and relatable, but the Khans put a face on Muslims who are pursuing the American Dream just as countless other ethnicities have done. 

On Monday, the same day the U.S. started its new campaign in Libya -- a move one antiwar group said will only further "entrench divisions and intensify violence" in the region -- the Khans gave an interview on MSNBC's "Hardball." 

Asked by host Chris Matthews, "What do you think when you, or feel, when you see us attack Iraq or go into Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden, or we go attack with bombs Libya? We're bombing Syria now -- all Islamic countries. What do you feel as an Islamic man?" 

Khizr Khan replied, "As a Muslim-American, not just as Islamic man -- as a Muslim American, I feel that these policies are not in the interest of United States of America, and we see the result of it. We are more vulnerable now. We have created a chaos and -- for ourselves." 

"Well, you know you're speaking to the choir," Matthews responded. (In fact, "Matthews’ record isn't entirely consistent" on being against either the war in Iraq or on avoiding a military approach to confronting ISIS, Norton notes.) 

"I wish this country would have listened to Chris Matthews when he was talking, when he was preaching," Khan said, "we could have saved ourselves from this quagmire." 

This section of the interview, Norton points out, "is not included in the isolated clips for the episode on MSNBC’s website. One has to watch the full episode to see it." 

The situation may remind some of how the corporate media chose to portray Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel laureate and children's education advocate who was attacked by the Taliban. She met with President Barack Obama at the White House and told him that "drone attacks are fueling terrorism." Yet, as Peter Hart wrote at FAIR in 2013, that "didn't register in a corporate media that followed Malala's visit, and her story, very closely." Hart continued: 

This is in keeping with other media patterns we've seen. Earlier this year, Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni writer and activist, came to Washington to deliver moving testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the effect of drone strikes on his country: “What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America.” His words received scant coverage in the US media (FAIR Blog, 4/24/13).  

If Americans wish to understand how US wars are experienced by those on the other side of the military attacks, it is important to hear these voices. But will US media allow these voices to be heard? 

Meanwhile, the US-led coalition's strikes on ISIS continue with deadly consequences. According to the transparency group Airwars, July 2016 had the highest number of reported civilian deaths in Syria from coalition strikes since the bombing campaign began nearly two years ago. 

Also this week, the U.S. has said it will begin, based on credible evidence, a second probe into whether its strikes near Manjib, Syria killed civilians. 

The second formal investigation centers around a July 28 strike, which, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, left at least 28 civilians dead.  

The first formal investigation, which the Pentagon announced last week, will look into a July 20 strike which, according to the monitoring group, may have killed scores.

(Andrea Germanos is senior editor and a staff writer at Common Dreams.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Riverside DA Promotes His County’s Infatuation with the Death Penalty

DEATH PENALTY POLITICS-The Riverside County D.A.'s office likes seeking the death penalty so much it was featured by the BBC in December in a chilling article called, “Why is one county handing down one in six US death sentences?” The BBC darkly observed: “The number of death sentences handed down in the US dropped by a third in 2015, continuing a long-term trend, but one county in California seems to be going against the grain.” 

Defensively, Riverside County D.A. Michael Hestrin, who took office at the beginning of 2016, told the BBC: “Of the 11 new cases that came in this year, where I was the first to make a determination, I am only seeking the death penalty four times.” Realizing (perhaps) that this grim statistic still makes Riverside County an outlier (in California, the United States, and the world) in its steadfast bear hug of capital punishment, Hestrin said: “the people of Riverside support the death sentence to [a] greater degree than other counties” because “there is a certain feeling of how they want criminal justice to operate.” 

Barely a half-year later, D.A. Hestrin is now, in an opinion piece he has had published around the state (see, e.g., Times of San Diego), seeking to export Riverside County’s zeal for state-sponsored executions to all of California. An unsurprising cheerleader of Proposition 66 (a terribly flawed ballot initiative that ghoulishly and fecklessly seeks to “speed up” executions), Hestrin has been mischaracterizing Riverside County’s infatuation with the death penalty – macabre enough, as described above, to draw the unseemly attention of the foreign press – as an infatuation possessed by all Californians. It’s not. 

Conscientious Californians are horrified by the very real prospect our criminal justice system might someday execute an innocent person – if it has not already – because, as any consumer of news or the casual courtroom TV drama knows, DNA evidence and other emerging scientific disciplines continue to expose flaws in how we administer justice in this country (even with the great legal system that we have). Californians are equally revolted – and have been for some time – by the disproportionately unjust imposition of capital punishment on poor people of color. 

We are tired of the constant acerbic legal and public relations battles that will always surround capital punishment – unless it’s replaced with a penalty of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). We plain don’t want to hear about the death penalty in the news in our state anymore. And, we don’t want precious time and scarce resources diverted from the rest of our criminal justice (and our court system generally) because of continued fighting over the imposition of death sentences.  We’ve had enough. 

That’s why I’m confident that Californians will overwhelmingly vote against Proposition 66, which D.A. Hestrin champions. Instead, I believe they’ll vote for the competing ballot initiative, Proposition 62, which will replace capital punishment in California with a sentence of LWOP – just like other civilized, peaceful, justice-minded people the world-over have done. 

Proving how out of touch D.A. Hestrin’s views are with mainstream Californians, his recent op-ed pooh-poohs the savings Proposition 62 is projected to yield by replacing the death penalty with LWOP; Hestrin writes: “Even at an estimated $150 million reduction in annual costs, one would still have to concede that the savings is a paltry drop in the bucket compared to the vast size of California’s budget and hardly the worst use of taxpayer funds.” 

Excuse me? Is that the standard by which Californians should judge the spending of $150 million dollars by the state of our hard-earned tax dollars each year – that we shouldn’t care about it because $150 million is a “paltry drop in the bucket?” – or, because it is, “hardly the worst use of taxpayer funds?!” 

It’s a good thing Hestrin is not running California’s economy because $150 million dollars could do a lot of good for California schools, including schools in Riverside County. Consider for a minute if the state invested even a portion of the projected $150 million a year (from the savings that ending the death penalty in California is projected to yield) on a school near your house? 

If we vote for Proposition 62 (and maybe give that extra money to schools) and against Proposition 66 (which throws more money down the drain on a barbaric, antiquated punishment that demeans us all and that the civilized world rejects), wouldn’t that be an investment we could truly claim, as Hestrin’s op-ed puts it, as an investment that is “hardly the worst use of taxpayer funds”? 

(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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

11-Year-Old Boy Challenges Pence to Explain Why He Covers for Trump (Video)

Adults say the darndest things--Which is why at a political rally featuring Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence in North Carolina on Thursday, it was an 11-year-old boy named Matthew who forced the adult on the stage into an awkward situation by asking him to explain exactly where he stands when it comes to his running mate Donald Trump.

"I noticed that you’ve been softening up some of Mr. Trump’s policies and words, is this going to be your role in the administration?" asked the young boy when called upon – a question that despite its apparent earnestness drew immediate laughter from the crowd.



In response, Pence first complimented Matthew—"this boy's got a future," he said—but then answered the question forthrightly by saying, "I couldn’t be more proud to stand with Donald Trump, we are shoulder to shoulder in this campaign, my friend." He went on to say that Trump is someone "larger than life" but that "sometimes things don't out like you mean."

The exchange between young Matthew and the Republican governor of Indiana comes as much political reporting indicates the Trump campaign is in tatters following a week of fallout over the billionaire candidate's attacks on the parents of a U.S. soldier killed in action in Iraq, disputes with key members of his own party, and new rounds of poll numbers showing rival Hillary Clinton increasing her lead both nationally and within key swing states.

On the other side of that coin, new fundraising numbers for Trump released Wednesday show a surprising level of grassroots giving to his campaign and progressive critics continue to warn both the Clinton campaign and media figures of dangers associated with bashing Trump too much or repeating the idea that Trump can't possibly win.

(Jon Queally writes for Common Dreams … where this video was most recently posted.)


Why Isn’t The Republican Party Supporting Medical Marijuana?

POT POLITICS--Considering Donald Trump has said he supports medical marijuana, and so have several other top Republicans, it seems strange to me that medical marijuana is not part of the Republican Party’s platform this year. That’s not to say there weren’t efforts to make it part of the platform, but they failed for the worst reasons.

After Maine legislator and delegate Eric Brakey submitted a measure that would add medical marijuana support to the Republican platform, the measure received criticism from people who clearly know little-to-nothing about marijuana.

According to the Huffington Post, some party leaders claimed marijuana causes mental health issues, mass murders smoke marijuana, marijuana caused the opioid epidemic and more absurdities. Some prominent Republicans tried to fight back, but they ultimately failed. 

“It’s not like we’re talking about Cheech and Chong here, folks. We’re talking about allowing people with debilitating conditions to ease their suffering,” Maryland delegate Ben Marchi said during arguments.

The strangest thing, to me, about the Republican Party’s failure to endorse medical marijuana is just that it’s so popular. A Harris poll from last year found a whopping 81 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana nationwide. If you can’t get behind something that 8 out of 10 people support, it’s hard to imagine what you can get behind.

If we want to take this a step further, it’s also pretty surprising that legalizing recreational marijuana doesn’t seem to have been discussed at all. I can understand why the party might be hesitant to support marijuana legalization, as there’s still some concern around recreational use in some circles and support for legalizing nationwide is closer to 60 percent, but it’s pretty shocking there’s no evidence of the idea being mentioned.

Furthemore, states that have legalized medical marijuana are raking in millions in taxes. You would think a party that is always talking about the debt and the government not having enough money would want to get in on that.

Not to play favorites, but the Democrats have endorsed marijuana in a major way. The Democratic platform includes language supporting a “pathway to legalization“ and supporting immediately rescheduling marijuana. You can almost surely thank Bernie Sanders for that, because he made his millennial followers swoon by being the first major candidate to support legalization while Hillary Clinton was arguing that marijuana should be a Schedule 2 drug.

So why haven’t the Republicans decided to endorse medical marijuana? Either they really do believe some of these more ridiculous claims about what marijuana does to people and society, or they may have Big Pharma, police unions, private prison companies and other peddlers breathing down their necks. You’d imagine the Democrats have at least some of the same pressures, but apparently they were able to get around them to some degree.

(420 Times is a medical marijuana and natural healing magazine where this piece was originally posted. It was most recently posted at Huff Post)


The New Manchurian Candidate

PERSPECTIVE-Growing up, novels and films about political intrigue and international conflicts were my favorites. 

To an extent, they still are. There just haven’t been enough of them; the last notable one was “Bridge of Spies,” about the real-life negotiations to free downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers during the height of the Cold War. Coincidentally, the hero, James Donovan, graduated from the same school I attended in the Bronx – way more than a few years before I entered its doors. 

Ian Fleming, who created James Bond, sparked my interest in the espionage genre. I binge read all twelve Bond novels before freshman year in high school. 

My all time favorite thriller, though, was The Manchurian Candidate, a novel by Richard Condon, and released as a film in 1962. Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey were the leads, but Angela Lansbury stole the show with her portrayal of a conniving, cold-blooded conspirator – a far cry from Jessica in Murder, She Wrote. The 2004 version was disappointing, but that is usually the case with a remake of a classic. 

In the novel and the film, a seemingly ultra-conservative demagogue and his wife are part of a communist plot to win the presidency. 

My memories of the story have been reawakened by the potential subterfuge involving Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Julian Assange. I can’t help but project those three against the fictional plot: Trump as the blabbering demagogue serving as a front for the communists, Putin as the Soviet handler responsible for enabling the conspiracy and Assange as the one who pulls the strings (Lansbury’s role). The plan entails playing on the emotions of the nation in order to achieve the sinister objective. 

Am I allowing my imagination run wild? 

You bet, but I just can’t pass this stuff up. It has all the components of the film: deceit, conspiracy and reprehensible characters. 

Can life imitate art? 

Yes, but with limits. 

Although it is true that Putin and Assange would dearly love to embarrass the United States by exploiting the DNC and Clinton e-mail fiascoes, it is far less likely that Trump possesses the planning skills to make it work in his favor. His campaign, after all, is a series of spontaneous outbursts. Encouraging Putin to continue hacking the Clinton campaign e-mails, while disgusting, is not a crime. It is more like irrational bombast. If he did go as far as to conspire with them, his next reality show would be broadcast from inside his cell at a federal prison. 

That’s not to say Trump will not benefit from Putin’s caginess and Assange’s willingness to release potentially embarrassing e-mails about Clinton, but any gains will be offset by his ongoing diatribes against any person or group who possess any sense of moderation. More than 20 Republican senators, not to mention a fair handful of Members of Congress and governors, as well as key party figures, did not attend the RNC. They have followers who will sit this election out, if not cross over and vote for Clinton. 

But this nation has never before experienced such an asymmetrical campaign strategy. No one can reasonably estimate the degree of emotion, especially among voters who have stayed on the sidelines in other presidential elections, doing so out of disgust with the establishment. 

Last December, I wrote an article describing Trump as America’s Putin, emphasizing the destructive synergy that could result if both men were in power. However, I concluded that Trump would not win the Republican nomination. 

Boy, was I wrong. The Manchurian Candidate still has a chance.


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

Superbugs, Sewage, and Scandal: Rio Olympics Poised for Disaster?

OLYMPICS POLITICS--A biology professor has simple advice for athletes and tourists descending on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Olympics' start on Friday: "Don't put your head underwater."

Dr. Valerie Harwood, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida, remarked on the dangers posed by Rio's water to AP, which reported Monday that a 16-months-long study revealed that "the waterways of Rio de Janeiro are as filthy as ever, contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria."

The wire service adds that superbugs—bacteria resistant to most forms of antibiotics—were not the only cause for great concern. Shockingly high levels of viruses have alarmed scientists:

[T]he AP investigation found that infectious adenovirus readings—tested with cell cultures and verified with molecular biology protocols—turned up at nearly 90 percent of the test sites over 16 months of testing.

"That's a very, very, very high percentage," said [Dr. Harwood]. "Seeing that level of human pathogenic virus is pretty much unheard of in surface waters in the U.S. You would never, ever see these levels because we treat our waste water. You just would not see this."

Swimmers risk serious illness by competing, experts say. "According to a study by the University of Texas School of Public Health, athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water from the contaminated bay in Brazil have a 99 per cent chance of being infected," the National Observer noted.

"Dead animals, plastic, garbage, and furniture are only a sample of the vile items reported to pollute its waters," the newspaper added, "and the athletes competing this August have been told to swim with their mouths closed to avoid contracting serious illness from the water."

The National Post reported: "Untreated hospital waste is the probable cause of waterborne superbacteria, but chemical waste from factories is another culprit. However, the chief reason that Rio's waterways are such a petri dish of contaminants is the torrent of untreated human feces that spews out of open sewers such as one located at the east end of the Guanabara Bay, where it is hemmed in by apartments where many of the city's wealthiest citizens live."

"Contracts for everything from stadium and train-line construction to port renovations have funneled billions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized revenues to a handful of Brazil’s most powerful, well-connected families and their companies."
—Alex Cuadros, The Atlantic And it is those wealthy denizens who stand to benefit the most from the Olympics, while the region's poorest have been displaced by the tens of thousands, their homes demolished to make room for massive sports stadiums.

An investigation published Monday in The Atlantic by Alex Cuadros detailed the schemes, grafts, and bribes that have gone on behind the scenes to construct the Olympics infrastructure, while many of the city's impoverished favela residents are rendered homeless and the region's battered ecosystem is further degraded.

Cuadros wrote, "Contracts for everything from stadium and train-line construction to port renovations have funneled billions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized revenues to a handful of Brazil’s most powerful, well-connected families and their companies." He continued:

[M]ost of the government's Olympic budget has been poured into the wealthy suburb of Barra da Tijuca, home to only 300,000 people. [...]

[A] flood of public money is benefiting the coterie of men who own most of Barra's land. One of them, a 92-year-old billionaire named Carlos Carvalho, controls some 65 million square feet of property in the area. His most famous project for the Olympics is the so-called Athletes' Village. After the games are over, all 31 of the Village's 17-story towers will be transformed into luxury condos featuring multiple swimming pools, tropical gardens, and an unobstructed view of Jacarepaguá Lake.

[...] Carvalho is also a partner in construction of the nearby Olympic Park, a sprawling spit of concrete sprinkled with a billion dollars' worth of sporting facilities. Here, the city handed over lakeside land that Carvalho is expected to develop into a whole new neighborhood, once the economy rebounds and demand picks up again.

As scarce as resources are in Brazil, such subsidies are common for well-connected businessmen. But they are no guarantee of quality. For Olympic athletes arriving this month, Carvalho delivered apartments with blocked toilets, leaky pipes, and exposed wiring

Of all the contradictions between Olympic vision and reality, perhaps the most glaring is in Carvalho’s choice of partners, the construction firms Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez. These companies are at the center of the multibillion-dollar corruption scandal that has plunged Brazil into political chaos, and investigators now believe they skimmed bribes from Olympic projects, too. Both companies are cooperating with investigators. As recently as May, Paes surreally claimed the Olympics were free of corruption, even though his own party is deeply implicated in the wide-ranging bribery scheme.

And the Olympics golf course, Cuadros discovered, was constructed by a wealthy businessman on stolen public lands, and in what had formerly been an environmental protection zone where construction was forbidden. The area was deemed no longer a protected zone when a nearby sand-mining operation was found to have "degraded" the ecosystem. The sand-mining operation was owned by the same businessman who built the golf course.

Cuadros also reported that over 20,000 residents of the city's favelas have been removed, their homes demolished, to make way for roads and Olympics stadiums.

Meanwhile, the weekend before the Olympics' start saw competing protests sweep Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, underscoring the political turmoil gripping the nation. In Rio de Janeiro, protesters ostensibly demonstrated against corruption—but also voiced support for the ruling neoliberal, pro-business elite, and called for the impeachment of embattled Workers' Party president Dilma Rousseff.

In São Paulo, a competing rally drew crowds calling for workers' rights and an end to the right-wing takeover of Brazil's federal government.

The Senate is expected to vote on whether to impeach Rousseff in late August.

"Since 2009, when Rio won the bid to host the Olympics, more than 2,600 people were killed by the police in the city."
—Amnesty International

Last week, protests in Rio were more locally focused: the Brazil chapter of rights group Amnesty International displayed 40 body bags in front of the office of the Local Organizing Committee for the Olympics to draw attention to the city's fatal police shootings, which have increased significantly in the months leading up to the games.

"Since April, Amnesty International has been raising concerns around the increased risk of human rights violations in the context of Rio 2016 Olympics, as it happened before in other mega sporting events such as the 2014 World Cup and the 2007 Panamerican Games," the organization noted. "Since 2009, when Rio won the bid to host the Olympics, more than 2,600 people were killed by the police in the city."

Renata Neder, human rights advisor at Amnesty International, commented: "Brazil failed to learn from past mistakes. In the month of May alone, 40 people were victims of homicides committed by the police, a 135% increase in comparison to the same period in 2015. These numbers are unacceptable and compromise the Olympic legacy."

Indeed, as political and environmental turmoil threatens the Rio Olympics, Cuadros observed in The Atlantic that "perhaps the best Olympic legacy that Brazilians can hope for is that the event will serve as a cautionary tale to future generations."

(Nika Knight writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)


No New Charter Schools – NAACP Draws Line in the Sand

EDUCATION POLITICS--In the education market, charter schools are often sold as a way to help black and brown children. 

But The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) isn’t buying it.

In fact, the organization is calling for a halt on any new charter schools across the nation. 

Delegates from across the country passed a resolution at the NAACP’s national convention in Cincinnati last week calling for a moratorium on new charters schools. Approval of the new resolution will not be official until the national board meeting later this year. 

This resolution isn’t a change in policy. But it strengthens the organization’s stance from 2010 and 2014 against charters. 

Specifically, the resolution states: 

“…the NAACP opposes the privatization of public schools and/or public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools…”

“…the NAACP calls for full funding and support of high quality free public education for all children…” 

The resolution goes on to oppose tax breaks to support charter schools and calls for new legislation to increase charter school transparency. Moreover, charters should not be allowed to kick students out for disciplinary reasons. 

This goes against the well-funded narrative of charter schools as vehicles to ensure civil rights. 

The pro-charter story has been told by deep pocketed investors such as the Koch Brothers and the Walton Family Foundation.  But the idea that a separate parallel school system would somehow benefit black and brown children goes against history and common sense. 

The Supreme Court, after all, ruled separate but equal to be Unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education. Yet somehow these wealthy “philanthropists” know better. 

People of color know that when your children are separated from the white and rich kids, they often don’t get the same resources, funding and proper education. You want your children to be integrated not segregated. You want them to be where the rich white kids are. That way it’s harder for them to be excluded from the excellent education being provided to their lighter skinned and more economically advantaged peers. 

Julian Vasquez Heilig, education chair of the California and Hawaiian NAACP chapter which proposed the new resolution, says its ironic charter schools are marketed as school choice. 

The endgame, says Heilig, is to replace the current public schools with privatized charter schools. This is exactly what’s been proposed in the US territory of Puerto Rico. 

It’s not about giving parents more choices. It’s about eliminating one option and replacing it with another. It’s about reducing the cost to educate poor and minority children while also reducing the quality of services provided. Meanwhile, public tax dollars earmarked to help students learn become profit for wealthy corporations running charter schools. 

As the Presidential election heats up, it will be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump address the issue. Already school choice policies have been wholeheartedly embraced by the Republican nominee. Not only does he favor charter schools, he also supports school vouchers and other schemes to privatize public tax money. This shouldn’t be a surprise since he ran his own private education scam – Trump University. 

Clinton, on the other hand, has been more measured in her support, even criticizing some aspects of charter schools. However, her campaign has issued statements saying she supports only “high quality charter schools” – whatever those are. 

Moreover, just this week at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton staffers met with hedge fund mangers from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). 

According to Molly Knefel who covered the meeting for Truthout, the mood was not positive toward ending corporate education reform strategies. 

She reported that moderator Jonathan Alter worried about the argument becoming based on social justice. 

“If it becomes a social justice movement, doesn’t that in some ways let, for lack of a better word or expression, Diane Ravitch’s argument win?” asked Alter. “Which is, ‘don’t blame any of us, don’t focus on schools; if we don’t solve poverty, nothing is going to get better.’ Isn’t there a danger of falling away from the focus on at least some responsibility on schools?” 

Apparently Alter is falling back on the old chestnut that under-funded schools should be blamed and shut down if they can’t help the neediest children to the same degree as well-resourced schools. And any attempt to focus on underlying inequalities would somehow give teachers a free pass? I suppose Alter believes a fire company that can’t afford a fire truck should be just as effective as one with three new ones. 

Meanwhile, longtime corporate education reformer Peter Cunningham was asked specifically if school integration was important. He responded tellingly: 

“Maybe the fight’s not worth it. It’s a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it’s been a long fight, we’ve had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It’s a good question.” 

The number of segregated schools where students “are doing great” is certainly in question. Perhaps he’s referring to well-resourced all-white private schools for the children of the rich and powerful. Or maybe he means the all-black charter schools where administrators handpick the best and brightest students and refuse to educate those most in need. 

One hopes Clinton will continue to fight alongside the NAACP and other civil rights organizations like Journey for Justice and the Rev. William Barber’s Moral Mondays to defend public schools against the failed education policies of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. 

Two weeks ago DFER President Shavar Jeffries criticized the finalized Democratic education platform for turning against corporate education reform. This transformation away from school privatization and standardized testing was the result of education activists Chuck Pascal of Pittsburgh, Troy LaRaviere of Chicago and Christine Kramar of Nevada who worked hard to ensure the platform – though non-binding – would at least set forth a positive vision of what our public schools should look like. 

Make no mistake, the tide is turning. It is becoming increasingly difficult for charter supporters to claim their products boost minority children’s civil rights. 

Too many people have seen how they actually violate them


(Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate. He blogs at This piece appeared in Common Dreams. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Best Explanation Yet of What the Dems Don’t Get and Why They Should be Worried

ANALYSIS--Donald Trump poses "extreme dangers" to the United States and the world, journalist and co-founding editor of The Intercept Glenn Greenwald says in a new interview published at Slate

But to stop the GOP presidential nominee from getting elected, "U.S. media and U.S. elites" must take a lesson from the recent Brexit debacle, he warns—and bending over backwards to link Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't the right approach.

"U.K. elites were uniform, uniform, in their contempt for the Brexit case, other than the right-wing Murdochian tabloids," Greenwald told Slate contributor Isaac Chotiner by phone.

"They all sat on Twitter all day long, from the left to the right, and all reinforced each other about how smart and how sophisticated they were in scorning and [being snide] about [U.K. Independent party] and Boris Johnson and all of the Brexit leaders, and they were convinced that they had made their case," he said. "Everyone they were talking to—which is themselves—agreed with them. It was constant reinforcement, and anyone who raised even a peep of dissent or questioned the claims they were making was instantly castigated as somebody who was endangering the future of the U.K. because they were endorsing—or at least impeding—the effort to stop Brexit. This is what's happening now."

He continued:

Do you think the people voting for Donald Trump because they feel their economic future has been destroyed, or because they are racist, or because they feel fear of immigrants and hate the U.S. elite structure and want Trump to go and blow it up, give the slightest sh-t about Ukraine, that Trump is some kind of agent of Putin? They don't! Just like the Brexit supporters. The U.K. media tried the same thing, telling the Brexit advocates that they were playing into Putin’s hands, that Putin wanted the U.K. out of the EU to weaken both. They didn't care about that. That didn't drive them.

He cautioned pundits and the political elite against harboring a limited perspective about Trump supporters and their beliefs:

One of the things that is bothering me and bothered me about the Brexit debate, and is bothering me a huge about the Trump debate, is that there is zero elite reckoning with their own responsibility in creating the situation that led to both Brexit and Trump and then the broader collapse of elite authority.

The reason why Brexit resonated and Trump resonated isn’t that people are too stupid to understand the arguments. The reason they resonated is that people have been so f--ked by the prevailing order in such deep and fundamental and enduring ways that they can't imagine that anything is worse than preservation of the status quo. You have this huge portion of the populace in both the U.K. and the U.S. that is so angry and so helpless that they view exploding things without any idea of what the resulting debris is going to be to be preferable to having things continue, and the people they view as having done this to them to continue in power.

That is a really serious and dangerous and not completely invalid perception that a lot of people who spend their days scorning Trump and his supporters or Brexit played a great deal in creating.

Filmmaker Michael Moore floated a similar argument last week, when he (apologetically) predicted that Trump will beat Hillary Clinton in November.

"I live in Michigan," he said in an interview. "Let me tell you, it's going to be the Brexit strategy."

"I think one of the things I've been concerned about this week is...that we're sitting in our bubble having a good laugh at this sh-tshow, as you say, of a [Republican National Convention], but the truth is that this plays to a lot of people that he has to win to become the next president," Moore explained at the time. "The population of schools has been wrecked, and the news media is just insipid and stupid and doesn't give the people the facts about what's going on."

Meanwhile, Greenwald denounced hysteria around Trump's relationship with Russia in general and specifically the billionaire's call on Wednesday for Russia to find Clinton's "missing" emails. "[T]he history of linking your political opponents to Russia is a really dangerous and ugly one in the U.S.," Greenwald said.

This echoes a charge leveled Wednesday by editors of The Nation, who wrote that "[i]n their zeal to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president—a goal we share—representative voices of the liberal establishment have joined with the forces of neoconservatism to engage in what can only be described as McCarthyist rhetoric."

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


A Turning Point: The Week That Liberalism Began a Comeback

GELFAND’S WORLD--Some years ago, a political consultant speaking to the local Democratic Party mentioned a watershed moment in the history of social reform. It was Ronald Reagan, he pointed out, who turned liberalism into a dirty word. 

It's a historical curiosity that during the Viet Nam War era, liberals were castigated for not being liberal enough -- in this case, not being anti-war enough, or anti-racist enough. The song lyrics love me love me love me, I'm a liberal by Phil Ochs were a slightly bitter, slightly sarcastic attack on people who accepted liberal principles in theory, but weren't willing to put up with desegregation in their own lives. 

But liberalism won enormous victories, even if they were partial victories, in the form of ending de jure segregation, legalized voter suppression, and the wholesale campaign of terror against African Americans in the south. 

The more serious attack on liberalism came from the other direction. Richard Nixon took advantage of white resentment in what became known as the southern strategy. Ronald Reagan continued the strategy, although he applied a more sunny disposition in selling his negative message. But most of all, Reagan attacked liberalism itself, making it the enemy. The word has been a whipping boy of the right wing ever since. 

Any hour of the day, you can go on the internet and find some comment suggesting that liberals don't use logic, or are hypocrites, or don't support the red white and blue. This hateful campaign has been picked up by talk-radio hosts, politicians, and millions of their followers. Reagan gets the credit for making this big lie into a seeming truism. 

At first, liberals engaged in a strategy of duck and cover. They stopped referring to liberalism, or calling themselves liberals. Instead, we got that in-between term progressive. It stuck. The liberals now called themselves progressives. The word liberal is more meaningful to me, but progressive will have to do for now. 

The thing is, the word progressive is starting to resonate, not because it's such a great description of what is, after all, the classic liberal vision of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It's working because the Democratic Party suddenly figured out that the sky wouldn't fall if politicians espoused liberal positions. We can thank Bernie Sanders for attacking the southern strategy head on. 

It's particularly interesting that Hillary Clinton adopted a strongly progressive message in her acceptance speech. Speaking out for universal health care and for free college education are the sorts of ideas that would have been considered major political mistakes just a few years ago. Socialism is what they would have been called. In fact, the Republicans have been pounding on Obamacare, surely a less complete product than universal care, and they have been insisting that it's a terrible affront to our principles. 

Suddenly, the Democratic Party has adopted a full-bore attack on the status quo. I think that most of us understand that the stated goals are unlikely to be attained anytime soon, but we recognize the new Democratic Party platform as a blueprint for 21st century America. We understand Hillary Clinton's speech to be the opening shot in what promises to be a long battle. It is a battle that is worth waging because it's goals are laudable and it can be won. 

Hillary Clinton took it a step further, calling for a path to citizenship for the undocumented. The Republicans will surely call it amnesty, another word that is considered to be a profanity on the conservative side of the political divide. Amnesty is exactly what it is, and it is now Democratic Party policy. 

I think we owe a lot to Hillary Clinton for stating clearly the words "path to citizenship" rather than engaging in some polite subterfuge designed with plausible deniability in mind. We owe thanks to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for developing a serious debate over several major issues over the course of the spring so that the platform could come to fruition in July. Whatever you call it, liberalism is back as a political position, overtly and clearly. 

And it's about time. I spent a few years attending Democratic Party meetings in California back in the 1990s, right up to the state convention level and even a couple of steps higher. What I remember was the timidity that characterized a lot of the planning and its resultant positioning. It's not wrong to be careful in your thinking, it's not wrong to be prudent in your political messaging, but I think that you have to consider whether you are being so careful not to offend that you don't really stand for anything. 

Stated differently, what's the point of seeking political power if you don't aim for something useful? 

The Republicans have followed this principle of seeking power and making use of it. It's just that they have a different idea of what is useful than us liberals. They think that holding back liberal progress is righteous. They have been somewhat successful in this, largely through reducing the influence of unions, engaging in voter suppression, and reducing government services. 

Liberals -- excuse me, progressives -- haven't been willing to be as aggressive as the right wing of the Republican Party. This is a curious thing, because the right wing of the Republican Party has never exceeded 40 percent of the electorate. By taking a transparently liberal stand, Hillary Clinton is challenging the minority which currently rules the congress of the United States. She will probably win the presidency more by belittling Donald Trump than because of her policies, but she can claim a mandate for her own platform after the election. 

Follow-up: The Republicans used to accuse Democrats of appeasement 

Is Donald Trump becoming another Neville Chamberlain? Trump is now quoted as being willing to give up on Crimea, leaving it in Putin's hands. This used to be called appeasement. Had a Democrat taken this position, conservative pundits would already be talking about the Munich Pact, and how this kind of conduct leads to weakness and then war. Trump's position is a little different than 1950s era calls for unilateral disarmament, but it's of the same ilk.


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


Landmark Human Rights Complaint Lodged Against World's Worst Polluters

EDITOR’S PICK—Editor’s Note: More and more Los Angeles activists and groups are taking government and politicians to court to get their attention. It now seems to be catching on worldwide.) The world's 47 largest producers of greenhouse gases must respond within 45 days to an unprecedented legal complaint filed Wednesday by the Philippines, which alleges the fossil fuel behemoths have deprived millions of residents of the island nation of their human rights through catastrophic global warming.

"We just want to live a decent and peaceful life, without fear and being at the mercy of big corporations that only care for their profits."
—Veronica "Derek" Cabe, PetitionerThe Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR), a governmental body, sent the multinational "carbon majors" a 60-page letter (pdf) accusing them of "breaching people"s fundamental rights to 'life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self determination,'" the Guardian reports

"The commission's actions are unprecedented. For the first time, a national human rights body is officially taking steps to address the impacts of climate change on human rights and the responsibility of private actors," Zelda Soriano, legal and political adviser for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, one of the groups that brought the complaint to the CHR, told the newspaper.

"This is an important building block in establishing the moral and legal 'precedent' that big polluters can be held responsible for current and threatened human rights infringements resulting from fossil fuel products," Soriano added.

The Philippines has been one of the countries hardest hit by the effects of climate change.

The Guardian reports:

Four of its most devastating super-cyclones have occurred in the last decade, and the country has recorded increasingly severe floods and heatwaves that have been linked to man-made global warming.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing 650,000 others in 2013.

The legal complaint has been brought by typhoon survivors and non-governmental organisations and is supported by more than 31,000 Filipinos.

"We've been affected for so long by storms, droughts…by extreme weather, now made worse by climate change. We just want to live a decent and peaceful life, without fear and being at the mercy of big corporations that only care for their profits," said Veronica "Derek" Cabe, who joined the complaint from Bataan, a province where "communities are fighting against coal storage facilities and proposals for a new coal-fired power plant and where one of the community leaders advocating against coal was shot dead on 1 July 2016," as Greenpeace International writes.

"Our only choice is to defend our rights," Cabe continued. "We want those most responsible to be held accountable. We want justice and to regain the ability to protect the little that we have left for our children."

"Ultimately, those who have profited most from pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere must bear the burden of preventing the havoc already being wreaked by climate change."
—Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International

The letter was addressed to corporations "responsible for the majority of fossil fuel products that have been manufactured, marketed, and sold since the industrial revolution and have contributed the lion's share of cumulative global emissions of industrial CO2 and methane," Greenpeace International notes.

Those included Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and many other oil, gas, concrete manufacturing, and mining behemoths.

The companies were chosen based on research by Richard Heede, director of the U.S.-based Climate Accountability Institute. In 2013, Heede calculated that "a mere 90 companies, some private and some state-owned, account for a full two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions that are now driving perilous rates of global warming," as Common Dreams reported.

"Ultimately, those who have profited most from pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere must bear the burden of preventing the havoc already being wreaked by climate change. This is the first step in that process," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, in a press statement.

"The courageous Filipino people are the first to put the world's largest carbon producers on notice that they must account for their emissions," Morgan said.

The Guardian observes that the CHR "is not a court and would have no power to force companies to reduce emissions or fine them. However, it can make recommendations to government and would add to the worldwide pressure to persuade shareholders to divest from heavy carbon emitters."

And this complaint is the latest in a rising tide of climate change cases "being brought against governments and corporations," the newspaper notes.

Once the companies' responses are received, Greenpeace says, hearings will begin in the Philippines in October 2016.

(Nika Knight writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was most recently posted.)


Is Trump in Putin's Back Pocket?

GELFAND’S WORLD--The mass media over-cover a lot of immediate fads, and under-cover a lot of important stories. The big question for today is whether the media will pursue Donald Trump's involvement with Russian money and his friendliness towards Russian interests. The story has been gaining traction, but not as much as it merits. 

The question isn't so much whether Donald Trump shows poor judgment in praising Vladimir Putin and insulting our allies -- that goes without saying. It's also not his media gaffe in which he invited the Russians to release Hillary's emails if they have them. The more serious question is whether the Russians have bought themselves a candidate. I don't want to go all National Enquirer on you, but it's possible to make a pretty good case, even if it's speculative. 

We know that Trump has been in pretty severe financial difficulties at times. We know that American banks won't have anything to do with him. In the U.S., only Deutche Bank is willing to work with him. Over the past few weeks, a few thoughtful people such as Josh Marshal have wondered out loud whether Trump is beholden to Russian financial interests aligned with Putin. Marshall points out that Trump's "debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million." Marshall continues, "Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin." Others further out on the left have gone so far as to suggest that the Russians have overpaid Trump for real estate as a way to launder money. 

A story in the Washington Post mentions a Florida deal: "Trump's partners on a Panama project traveled to Moscow in 2006 to sell condos to Russian investors, according to litigation filed in Florida. Trump also sold a mansion in Palm Beach in 2008 for $95 million to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, according to property records. Trump had purchased the mansion at a bankruptcy auction less than four years earlier for $41.4 million, records show." Was this, in effect, a multimillion dollar favor? 

Back in the old days, J. Edgar Hoover spent a lot of time obsessing about people becoming susceptible to soviet blackmail. On the other side of the coin, free world fiction writers loved to insert plot twists in which the good guys found a weakness in some Russian diplomat and used it to blackmail him. It's likely that the fictional accounts were reflected in at least some real world events. Trump will be in bigger trouble than he is already if Americans start thinking about him as vulnerable to Russian influence due to secret debts. 

The question is simple. Does Trump owe money to Russian financial interests? 

I suspect that the question will continue to be asked: Does Trump have financial dealings with the Russians, enough to be horribly embarrassing to him if revealed? Would a situation of this type make Trump susceptible to a little Russian persuasion, shall we call it? We can expect that given this kind of leverage, Vladimir Putin wouldn't hesitate to use it. Putin doesn't mind invading entire countries. It's a lot easier to twist The Donald's arm for a few favors than to maintain a foreign military occupation. 

Put it all together and you begin to wonder, is this the explanation for why Trump has been talking as if he were dictating the front page of Pravda in some pre-1989 incarnation? Let's put it this way: When have you ever heard an American presidential candidate try to undermine the NATO alliance? 

Kevin Drum has been on the story, his latest post being titled Donald Trump's Top Ten Giveaways to Vladimir Putin.  For a guy who loves giving speeches calling his political opponents weak, Trump is positively pathetic in giving away the store on Crimea, the eastern Ukraine, and NATO. 

Kevin Drum, being a careful thinker and reporter, takes the argument right up to the brink: "As much as I loathe Putin, I'm not among those who now think Mitt Romney was right when he listed Russia as our #1 geopolitical threat. Conservative fearmongering on the subject leaves me cold. Nonetheless, this list is not a coincidence. There's something behind the scenes guiding it. But what?" 

Not being a professor of finance, I don't have a strong sense about any of these speculations. But the clues lie in what Donald Trump didn't say when asked about Russian influence. As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo points out, Trump states that he doesn't have any investments in Russia. That may actually be true, but it answers a different question than what is being asked. It isn't whether the Russians owe money to Trump, but whether Trump owes money to the Russians. That's the question that Trump has so far avoided. 

This speculation is one more dot to be connected with his refusal to make his tax returns public. 

Compared to these questions, Trumps silly remarks about asking the Russians to release Hillary Clinton's emails are minor stuff.


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


The Only Convention that Makes Any Sense

CONECTING CALIFORNIA--Politics has gone mad here in mid-summer.

The political conventions make no sense. The Republicans, the folks who used to defend the flag, are running down the country. Their nominee could taint the party for a generation or more. The Democrats are suddenly the conservative party, defending the status quo.

Both parties have turned against foreigners. The Republicans demonize immigrants and foreigners overseas (who are all trying to use trade to cheat us, or want to get in the country to blow us up). The Democrats have it half-right—embracing immigrants – and half awful (they are anti-trade).

Xenophobia is bipartisan these days.

Republican and Democrats are not only basing much in fantasy; they are pitching dark fantasies that aren’t really America.

If you wanted to find the real country, united, you had to go to a third convention in July.

Comic-Con, in San Diego.

There, foreigners – even aliens to our planet – are embraced, whether they are from comic books or Star Trek or Star Wars. There was diversity (unlike at the GOP), with a new African American superhero, the Black Panther.

And there was female leadership that wasn’t old and tired. Brie Larson in a new Captain Marvel movie. Some attendees reportedly wondered why the Democrats nominated Clinton rather than Wonder Woman, who has much lower negatives.

Perhaps she’s not a natural born citizen.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. This was originally posted at Fox and Hounds.)

What Hillary Must Do in Philadelphia

CALBUZZ--Convening in Philadelphia this week, Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party must counter Donald Trump’s fear and loathing GOP convention by offering a practical and promising economic message targeted at beleaguered and persuadable middle class voters in the Midwest, especially western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

It won’t hurt to aim a few reassuring words at the Medicare and Social Security generation in Florida, either.

As a tactical matter, Clinton, her moderate vice presidential pick, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, and other allies would be smart to calm down the hot-headed lefty backers of the vanquished Sen. Bernie Sanders. They are newly aroused by the Wikileaks disclosure of Democratic National Committee emails confirming their bitter allegations that soon-to-be-ex chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz secretly influenced the nomination process on Hillary’s behalf.

The Sanders portsiders aren’t all that thrilled about Kaine either, particularly given his DLC style and previous support for the TPP trade agreement, which he flip-flopped on last week; a few are wary of his Jerry Brown-like stand on abortion rights — publicly pro-choice but personally opposed, and his “mixed choice” record as Virginia governor — although NARAL now says he’s 100% with them on the issue.

The verdant threat: A danger for Clinton is that small but significant numbers of inflamed Bernie-bots, despite the Sanders endorsement of the nominee, might switch and fight on behalf of Green Party nominee Jill Stein; she plans to crash the party in Philly to lead protests on behalf of what she calls the “economic justice” of her party’s progressive “Green New Deal.” Said Stein in a worth-checking-out interview by NPR:

And we are here especially for the Bernie Sanders movement that does not want to go back into that dark night, into the Hillary Clinton campaign, that for so many people represents the opposite of what Bernie was building and what they were building.

Although Stein now is little more than an annoying asterisk in national polls, winning even a few percentage points in key states —  a possibility given the number of Sanders voters who still reject Bernie’s lead and say they’re not ready to vote for Clinton — could damage Hillary in the same way Ralph Nader screwed Democratic Al Gore in the 2000 election.

That worked out well.

The Donald’s long shot: Trump’s only hope of overcoming Clinton’s natural Electoral College dominance is to cash in on the economic frustrations and resentments of independent and up-for-grabs white working class voters in the Midwest.

So Clinton needs to fiercely fend off Trump’s industrial state strategy by offering believable solutions for un-and-underemployment, lagging wages and fury at smug Beltway elites and the 1 percent.

You know, people like Clinton.

Specifically, Philadelphia and its suburbs have become more Democratic in recent years but Pennsyltucky out west has become more Republican.

If she captures Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Trump was running even before his ghastly convention, and also wins Kaine’s Virginia and Florida – the would-be veep’s Spanish fluency won’t hurt, as demonstrated by the enthusiastic reception he won in Florida in his debut campaign appearance over the weekend — she’ll be on the verge of a landslide.

Whatever happens in the streets or back rooms, there is likely to be little genuine controversy inside the hall, with Sanders already on board, as second-place GOP finisher Sen. Ted Cruz decidedly was NOT for Trump.

It’s the economy, knuckleheads: Overall, Democrats need to present a message and persona that is compassionate but hardheaded, caring but tough, bold yet sensible – not smug, self-regarding, ultra-liberal and elite.

To date, Clinton’s economic message has been a combination of substantive, if incremental, programs like increased government infrastructure spending, tax reforms to punish companies that outsource jobs and insurance against college students being crippled by debt; she also can credibly argue that her decades of Washington experience and mastery of policy details position her to succeed in actually passing some of her agenda, or at least fighting congressional Republicans more effectively than President Obama. How much the latter sells in a year of pitchfork populism remains unclear.

Whether her wonky promises are enough – or if she unveils some more sweeping thematic approach – may determine whether she wins a landslide or Trump threatens a stunning upset.

Her damn emails: There’s little chance that Clinton can do anything in four days to overcome the baked-in public opinion — a result not only of the Clintons’ trademark guileful, parsing style, but also of decades of GOP propaganda — that she is dishonest, sneaky and untrustworthy.

More: her high-profile backers – including Obama and Big Dog qua wannabe First Husband Bill Clinton – need to scare the hell out of people about Trump’s whack job personality, Kim Il Jung authoritarianism and nationalist aggression – without overshadowing Hillary.

It also wouldn’t hurt for her to show a glimpse of personality behind all the eat-your-spinach-in-the-principal’s office earnestness.

Oh never mind.

(Jerry Roberts is a California journalist who writes, blogs and hosts a TV talk show about politics, policy and media. Former political editor, editorial page editor and managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, he serves as student adviser for the Daily Nexus newspaper at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of “Never Let Them See You Cry,” a biography of Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Phil Trounstine is the former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, former communications director for California Gov. Gray Davis and was the founder and director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University where he created the Silicon Valley and California Consumer Confidence Indices. He is co-author of “Movers and Shakers: The Study of Community Power.” Together they publish the award-winning CalBuzz.


Human Rights: California Better than Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, and Texas!

DEATH PENALTY EXPOSED-Speaking in favor of Proposition 66, the ballot initiative that seeks to speed up executions in California to Texas-like levels of lethality, Los Angeles deputy district attorney Michele Hanisee told legislators during testimony before the Public Safety Committee in May: “The suggestion that civilized societies don’t support the death penalty is inaccurate. Many countries such as Japan (photo above), Thailand, Taiwan, and Singapore have the death penalty.” 

Ms. Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. She is being sued for lying in a declaration she made under oath during a murder prosecution and, just recently, her claims of “absolute immunity” for that egregious conduct were rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While this alone clouds Hanisee’s credibility on the death penalty debate in California (whether the punishment should be ended forever or be “speeded up”), the countries whose justice systems Hanisee extols are even more troubling. Perhaps, in addition to remedial ethics courses on an attorney’s duty of candor to the court, Ms. Hanisee should also take a closer look at the countries she is suggesting Californians emulate with their vote on the death penalty this fall. 

For example, in Japan, it has been documented that death sentences are “implemented with disregard for international law, including denying the right of prisoners to seek appeal.” The condemned are subject to “degrading and inhuman treatment” which includes “prolonged solitary confinement.” Japan even executed an 89-year-old man last year who spent 46 years on death row protesting his innocence – all the way to his long-awaited, abominable end. 

In Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore, death sentences can be meted out for drug crimes alone. Furthermore, in Thailand, allegations of the torture of suspects charged with capital offenses have been substantiated by the Thai National Human Rights Commission. Taiwan, which is moving toward abolishing the death penalty, has a record of executing “psychologically or mentally impaired prisoners,” and failing to have “a clear and complete procedure for appeals for clemency.” Last fall, in an article for Slate called, “Singapore’s harsh death penalty: Inside the fight to save one man from the city-state’s death row,” Kirsten Han wrote about, “Singapore’s mandatory death penalty regime” where, under Singapore law, “anyone convicted of murder must be sentenced to death, with no chance for mitigating factors to be taken into account.” 

(In Singapore, prisoners convicted of low-level property crimes can even be caned, a punishment Berkeley Law Professor Jerome H. Skolnick called “brutal,” describing how a “martial artist strikes the offenders” with “a half-inch rattan cane moistened to break the skin and inflict severe pain” often causing significant “loss of blood” and “shock.”)   

Like Ms. Hanisee, Ms. Bethany Webb, who lost her sister in the 2011 mass shooting at a hair salon in Seal Beach, also got a chance to address the Public Safety Committee this past May. In her courageous testimony, Ms. Webb explained her support for Proposition 62 (which would, among other things, replace the death penalty in California with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.) In voicing her opposition to the countervailing initiative, Proposition 66, Ms. Webb told lawmakers: “We could be more like Texas. We could start mass producing murder. Well, I’m sorry, California is better than Texas . . . We’re better than Texas.”      

Ms. Webb is right. When it comes to respecting human rights, California is better than Texas, where the lust for speedy executions has led to the execution of a panoply of potentially innocent men. And, despite what Ms. Hanisee thinks, we are also better than Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Singapore. Or, at least, we will be – as soon as we vote for Proposition 62 and against Proposition 66 – ending capital punishment forever in California.


(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. This column was first published by JURIST and is being reprinted with the author’s permission. [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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