Sat, Jun

Not Just ‘Bad Boy’ Talk: Election 2016 is a Referendum on Feminism

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-As we head to the last weeks of the most contentious election cycle in my memory, I’ve come to realize that our choice is much bigger than who will reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Certainly, we need to consider party platforms, candidates’ views on the economy, foreign policy, SCOTUS nominations, immigration, and civil rights. We need to look at which candidate is best qualified to serve as president. 

Perhaps it’s neither irony nor a coincidence that in the first election where a woman is on top of a major party ticket, her opponent has a decades-long history of sexual objectification and attempts to humiliate women. This election is a referendum on feminism and the way we see women in a fast-evolving world. 

For decades, Donald J. Trump has included his “bad boy” objectification of women as part of his brand. He’s made countless guest spots on Howard Stern, where their shtick typically included rating, ranking, and discussing female celebrities in graphic sexual terms. In December 2004, Trump initiated a discussion about then 18-year old Lindsay Lohan that was capped by his observation that “deeply troubled women are the best in bed.” He approved of Stern referring to his daughter Ivanka as “a piece of ass” and jokingly agreed when Stern’s sidekick Robin characterized him as a predator.

Trump shares his ideas about women whether or not he believes the mic is hot. In 1994, he told Primetime Live’s Nancy Collins that “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing,” blaming the demise of his first marriage to putting wife Ivana in a management position at one of his Atlantic City casinos. 

Three years earlier in May 1991, he was quoted in an Esquire magazine profile about bad press, “You know, it doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass. But she’s got to be young and beautiful.” 

The Republican candidate’s Twitter account has been his arsenal to disparage the looks of any woman who criticizes him, from Arianna Huffington to New York Times columnist Gail Collins, as well as a Who’s Who of celebrities. 

Trump’s surrogates and campaign staff appear on cable news panels and interviews to defend his words as “entertainment” but his words denote his character and he has escalated his M.O. since he first declared his candidacy. Many of us watched Mr. Trump taunt Megyn Kelly when she asked him during a primary debate about his insulting attacks on female celebrities. He’s come to the defense of Roger Ailes and Jeffrey Epstein as “nice guys” and said if a woman is sexually harassed at work, she should find a new job. On abortion, Trump has backpedaled on his statement that any woman seeking abortion should receive “some sort of punishment.” 

By now, we’ve all heard the 2005 tape where Trump (“egged on by the host to say bad dirty words,” per Melania) bragged how his fame allows him to grab women’s vaginas or kiss them without consent. Trump, along with Melania, Rudy Giuliani and other surrogates, have attempted to minimize his words as “locker room talk” or what happens when two teenaged boys get together. 

In a recently shared Entertainment Tonight report from 1992, Trump jokes about a ten-year old girl on the escalator at Trump Tower: “In ten years, I’ll be dating her.” 

As of this article, at least ten women have come forward alleging Trump had touched them without their consent, a list that includes People’s Natasha Stoynoff. Trump has denied all allegations, shouting at his rallies that the women weren’t “hot enough” for him to assault. “Have you seen her? She wouldn’t be my first choice.” 

At the second debate, Secretary Clinton brought up Alicia Machado, the Miss Universe Trump taunted with names and had subjected to a humiliating personal training session in front of members of the press. Mr. Trump’s early morning tweets challenged followers to watch her “sex tape.”

And of course, at the third debate, Trump muttered under his breath, calling Secretary Clinton a “Nasty Woman,” which has become the rallying cry for feminists. 

Secretary Clinton spoke what many of us have been thinking each time Mr. Trump attacks women. “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women. That’s who Donald is.” 

We do need to examine the issues and the platforms to determine which candidate we believe aligns with our ideals for our country. That’s the responsibility we all carry as participants in a democracy.

But beyond this, our vote may serve as a strong message to every man who has touched or grabbed us without our consent, to every classmate, teacher, husband, partner, colleague, boss, family member, and stranger who has attempted to humiliate us in order to boost his own ego. Our vote is a message to every man and woman who has downplayed the importance of rape, who has unfairly victim-blamed, and who has referred to aggressive references to sexual assault as “locker room talk” or “boy talk.” Assuming all men are rapists waiting for opportunity is a tremendous insult to men, as well. As Howard Beale screamed in Network (1976), “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” 

Our vote can also deliver the message that women can be intelligent, accomplished, educated, and strong. And maybe one of us can even be the president.


(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

What We Can Expect from President Hillary Clinton

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-The race for the White House is effectively over. Hillary Clinton will be the 45th president of the U.S. The question now is what can Americans expect from a Clinton White House? She has laid out pages after pages of policy wonk positions on civil and women’s rights, civil liberties, taxes, jobs, the economy, health care, education, military preparedness, and combatting terrorism on her campaign website. Most of them are the almost obligatory positions that Democratic presidential candidates have taken on the big-ticket issues. 

However, it’s one thing to spell out an agenda on paper and another to get any of it through. She’ll almost certainly kick things off by trying to make good on the pledge that she made in a speech at a Michigan auto and aircraft parts manufacturing plant near Detroit in August, 2016. She promised a big spending plan to the tune of nearly $300 billion on a vast array of infrastructure building and repair projects -- roads, bridges, airports schools, sewer systems and so on. The projects would create new jobs for thousands. 

Clinton made it clear that she expects the rich to foot much of the bill by demanding hefty tax hikes on them. She added the final FDR touch to her big spending plan by promising to plop the legislation on Congress’ table within her first 100 days in office. 

Clinton knows full well the perils ahead. The biggest threat is the Congress that she’ll have to go to with her big spending package. A GOP-controlled Congress will be as hostile to her big budget and tax increases as it was to Obama’s. 

With a big White House win, Clinton is on far more solid ground when she tries to follow through with the pledge. This will give her the breathing space needed to get parts of her jobs, education, health care, and infrastructure overhaul programs through. 

A Democratic take-back of the Senate is absolutely a must be when it comes to the Supreme Court. Arizona Senator John McCain has openly saber rattled for the GOP to block any Clinton high court pick. Clinton almost certainly will have the chance to pick one, two, or even three more justices to the bench. The judges she will choose will be in the mold of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. They will not be radical ideologues of the left. They will be judges with long standing court experience, solid legal credentials, and the highest ratings from the ABA and other legal groups. They will deliver safe and predictable votes on everything from women’s and civil rights to stemming environmental abuses.

Clinton can’t and won’t try to avoid the problem that has been perennially the single biggest tormenting lightening rod for black-white discord, namely, wanton police violence against blacks and minorities, and the astronomical numbers of blacks in America’s jails and prisons.

Her Oval Office to-do list is a mix of old and new proposals on police and criminal justice reform. They will meet with a wall of intense opposition, stonewalling or disregard by conservative Democrats and GOP congresspersons and state legislators, police and prison unions, and victim rights groups. To get one or more of her justice initiatives through Congress she’ll need a lot of help from Democrats within and without Capitol Hill. She’ll get lots of help here from civil rights groups and criminal justice reformers. 

Clinton’s policies on foreign affairs, military security, the fight against terrorism and checking Iran’s nuclear ambition, will be more muscular than Obama’s. She won’t send in troops to Syria. But she’ll be tough on sanctions, and enforcing a no-fly zone there. She will back with weapons and logistical support any faction with a pronounced tilt toward the U.S. that purports to be any kind of real alternative to ISIS and the Assad regime. 

She’ll rigorously monitor Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, cut not a penny from U.S. military financial backing to Israel, while making the obligatory nod on paper to a Palestinian state. She will take the hardest of hard lines on Russia’s saber rattling in Eastern Europe and other hot spots. But this is still a far cry from a big ramp up in the U.S. military presence in Iraq or Afghanistan as Obama did. 

President Clinton will be pulled and tugged at by corporate and defense industry lobbyists, the oil and nuclear power industry, government regulators, conservative family values groups, conservative GOP senators and house members, foreign diplomats and leaders, and in turn, LGBT, women, civil rights and liberties, and environmental watchdog groups. They all have their priorities and agendas and will vie to get either White House support for their pet legislation, or to kill or cripple legislation that threatens their interests. 

Clinton’s entire political history, if anything, has shown that she will keep a firm, cautious and conciliatory eye on American public opinion when it comes to making policy decisions and determining priorities. That’s what presidents, all presidents, must do and President Clinton will be no different.


(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of What We Can Expect from President Hillary Clinton (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/earlhutchinson.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Trump Will Go Away, but the Anger He’s Stirred Up will be Around Long After Nov 9

NEW GEOGRAPHY--For progressives, the gloating is about to begin. The Washington Monthly proclaims that we are on the cusp of a “second progressive era,” where the technocratic “new class” overcomes a Republican Party reduced to “know-nothing madness.”

To be sure, Trump himself proved a mean-spirited and ultimately ineffective political vessel. But the forces that he aroused will outlive him and could get stronger in the future. In this respect Trump may reprise the role played another intemperate figure, the late Senator Barry Goldwater. Like Trump, Goldwater openly spurned political consensus, opposing everything from civil rights and Medicare to détente. His defeat led to huge losses at the congressional level, as could indeed occur this year as well.

Goldwater might have failed in 1964, but his defeat did not augur a second New Deal, as some, including President Lyndon Johnson, may have hoped. Instead, his campaign set the stage for something of a right-wing resurgence that defined American politics until the election of President Obama. Pushing the deep South into the GOP, Goldwater created the “Southern strategy” that in 1968 helped elect Richard Nixon; this was followed in 1980 by the victory of Goldwater acolyte Ronald Reagan.

History could repeat itself after this fall’s disaster. People who wrote off the GOP in 1964 soon became victims of their own hubris, believing they could extend the welfare state and the federal government without limits and, as it turned out, without broad popular support. In this notion they were sustained by the even then liberally oriented media and a wide section of the “respectable” business community.

Three decades later a similar constellation of forces —- Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street—have locked in behind Hillary Clinton. But it is the transformation of the media itself both more ideologically uniform and concentrated more than ever on the true-blue coasts, that threatens to exacerbate Progressive Triumphalism. In this election, notes Carl Cannon, no Trump fan himself, coverage has become so utterly partisan that “the 2016 election will be remembered as one in which much of the mainstream media all but admitted aligning itself with the Democratic Party.”

 Progressive Triumphalism may lead the Clintonites to believe her election represented not just a rejection of the unique horribleness of Trump, but proof of wide support for their favored progressive agenda. Yet in reality, modern progressivism faces significant cultural, geographic, economic and demographic headwinds that will not ease once the New York poseur dispatched.

Successful modern Democratic candidates, including President Obama and former President Clinton, generally avoid openly embracing an ever bigger federal government. Obama, of course, proved a centralizer par excellence, but he did it stealthily and, for the most part, without the approval of Congress. This allowed him to take some bold actions, but limited the ability to “transform” the country into some variant of European welfare, crony capitalist state.

Hillary Clinton lacks both Obama’s rhetorical skills and her erstwhile husband’s political ones. Her entire approach in the campaign has been based on creating an ever more intrusive and ever larger federal government. Even during Bill Clinton’s reign, she was known to be the most enthusiastic supporter of governmental regulation, and it’s unlikely that, approaching 70, she will change her approach. It seems almost certain, for example, that she will push HUD and the EPA to reshape local communities in ways pleasing to the bureaucracy.

Yet most Americans do not seem to want a bigger state to interfere with their daily life. A solid majority—some 54 percent—recently told Gallup they favor a less intrusive federal government, compared to only 41 percent who want a more activist Washington. The federal government is now regarded by half of all Americans, according to another poll by Gallup, as “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.” In 2003 only 30 percent of Americans felt that way.

Nor is this trend likely to fade with time. Millennials may be liberal on issues like immigration and gay marriage, but are not generally fans of centralization, fewer than one-third favor federal solutions over locally based ones. 

Due largely to Trump’s awful persona, Hillary likely will get some wins in “flyover country,” the vast territory that stretches from the Appalachians to the coastal ranges. In certain areas with strong sense of traditional morality, such as in Germanic Wisconsin and parts of Michigan, notes Mike Barone, Trump’s lewdness and celebrity-mania proved in the primaries incompatible with even conservative small town and rural sensibilities, more so in fact than in the cosmopolitan cores, where sexual obsessions are more celebrated than denounced.

Yet Trump’s strongest states, with some exceptions, remain in the country’s mid-section; he still clings to leads in most of the Intermountain West, Texas, the mid-south and the Great Plains. He is still killing it in West Virginia. This edge extends beyond a preponderance of “deplorables” and what Bubba himself has referred to as “your standard redneck.”

Exacerbating this cultural and class discussion is the growing division between the coastal and interior economies. Essentially, as I have argued elsewhere, the country is split fundamentally by how regions makes money. The heartland regions generally thrive by producing and transporting “stuff”—food, energy, manufactured goods —while the Democrats do best where the economy revolves around images, media, financial engineering and tourism.

Energy is the issue that most separates the heartland from the coasts. The increasingly radical calls for “decarbonization” by leading Democrats spell the loss of jobs throughout the heartland, either directly by attacking fossil fuels or by boosting energy costs. Since 2010, the energy boom has helped create hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the heartland, many of them in manufacturing. At the same time, most big city Democratic strongholds continued to deindustrialize and shed factory employment. No surprise then that the increasingly anti-carbon Democrats control just one legislature, Illinois, outside the Northeast and the West Coast.

Trump’s romp through the primaries, like that of Bernie Sanders, rode on the perceived relative decline of the country’s middle and working classes. For all her well-calculated programmatic appeals, Hillary Clinton emerged as the willing candidate of the ruling economic oligarchy, something made more painfully obvious from the recent WikiLeaks tapes. Her likely approach to the economy, more of the same, is no doubt attractive to the Wall Street investment banks, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, renewable energy providers and inner city real estate speculators who have thrived under Obama.

Yet more of the same seems unlikely to reverse income stagnation, as exemplified by the huge reserve army of unemployed, many of them middle aged men, outside the labor force. The fact remains that Obama’s vaunted “era of hope and change,” as liberal journalist Thomas Frank has noted, has not brought much positive improvement for the middle class or historically disadvantaged minorities.

The notion that free trade and illegal immigration have harmed the prospects for millions of Americans will continue to gain adherents with many middle and working class voters—particularly in the heartland. We are likely to hear this appeal again in the future. If the GOP could find a better, less divisive face for their policies, a Reagan rather than a Goldwater, this working-class base could be expanded enough to overcome the progressive tide as early as 2018.

The one place where the progressives seem to have won most handily is on issues of culture. Virtually the entire entertainment, fashion, and food establishments now openly allied with the left; the culture of luxury, expressed in the page of The New York Times, has found its political voice by identifying with such issues as gay rights, transgender bathrooms , abortion and, to some extent, Black Lives Matter. In contrast, the Republicans cultural constituency has devolved to a bunch of country music crooners, open cultural reactionaries and, yes, a revolting collection of racist and misogynist “deplorables.”

Yet perhaps nowhere is the danger of Progressive Triumphalism more acute. Despite the cultural progressive embrace of the notion that more diversity is always good, the reality is that our racial divide remains stark and is arguably getting worse. As for immigration, polls say that more people want to decrease not just the undocumented but even legal immigration than increase it.

And then there’s the mountain rebellion against political correctness. Relative few Americans have much patience with such things as “micro-aggressions,” “safe spaces,” the generally anti-American tone of history instruction whose adherents are largely concentrated in the media and college campuses. Fewer still would endorse the anti-police agitation now sweeping progressive circles. For some, voting for Trump represents the opportunity to extend a “middle finger” to the ruling elites of both parties.

Yet Trump’s appeal also represented something of a poke in the eye for the old-school religious right; Trump has actually helped the GOP by embracing openly gay figures like Peter Thiel. He may have caused many bad things, but the New Yorker succeeded, as no Republican in a generation, in making the holy rollers largely irrelevant.

The dangers for the Democrats lie in going too far in their secularism. As recent emails hacked by WikiLeaks have demonstrated, there is widespread contempt in left circles for most organized religion, most importantly for the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, even under a more progressive Pope. Some Democrats may argue that irreligiosity will remain “in” among millennials. Yet this was also said about boomers and turned out to be wrong. Few sociologists in the 1970s would have expected a religious revival that arose in the next decade.

Simply put, millennials’ economic and cultural views could shift, as they become somewhat less “idealistic” and more concerned with buying homes and raising children. They could shift more the center and right, much as Baby Boomers have done.

No matter what happens this year, the battle for America’s political soul is not remotely over. Trump may fade into deserved ignominy and hopefully obscurity, but his nationalist and populist message will not fade with him as long as concerns over jobs, America’s role in the world, and disdain for political correctness remain. If Hillary and her supporters over-shoot their nonexistent mandate and try to impose their whole agenda before achieving a supportable consensus, American politics could well end up going in directions that the progressives, and their media claque, might either not anticipate or much like.

(Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org. This column was posted most recently at New Geography.)





Talkin’ Baseball: Rival Interpretations of Billy Goat's Curse

GELFAND’S WORLD--I am not by birth or upbringing a fan of the Chicago Cubs. But I know a few. For them, it's been a life of tragedy. Some of them have moved here to Los Angeles and have found it extremely odd that local baseball teams can win pennants and even on occasion the World Series. They don't know how to react or what to say. For the native Chicagoan, doom is the normal order of the universe, at least when it comes to National League baseball. Come to think of it, it's also pretty much the case for American League baseball, but White Sox fans (World Series victories in 1906, 1917, and then nothing until 2005), haven't had the kind of public relations that the Cubs (aka "cubbies") had. 

That's because the Cubs had Mike Royko as a fan and observer. It didn't hurt that Mike Royko was the Vin Scully of newspaper columnists, albeit a sarcastic and argumentative version. As an example of his 7500 published columns, here is one that got a lot of play at the time, a wry take on the corporate MBA takeover of once family organizations. Royko spun out newspaper columns the way Scully spun out play calling, with the right train of words and without shouting. 

Royko wrote for a series of Chicago newspapers. What the Sun Times and the Tribune had in common was a restaurant called the Billy Goat Tavern, known colloquially as Billy Goat's. It is in an odd location, underneath Michigan Avenue. Billy Goat's is a long flight of stairs down from the avenue, but an even longer way above the Chicago River. That's the way the river crossing was designed, with the Wrigley building set high above the water, back along the northern end of the bridge, with Chicago's version of Rodeo Drive to the north, and with a lower level and its own road in proximity to the newsrooms of the day, back when newspapers were flourishing. And along that road, there is the tavern. It was a hangout for writers and printers and typesetters back in the days before automation. 

Billy Goat's was memorialized by comedian John Belushi in the early days of Saturday Night Live. On the show, it was the fictional place made famous by the words "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger." The phrase wasn't a Belushi invention, but was taken from the real life lunch counter. 

In the next few days, sports fans will be hearing about Billy Goat's curse ad infinitum. Billy Sianis was a Greek immigrant to Chicago who founded the tavern. The story goes that Sianis went to the 1945 World Series at Wrigley, taking his pet goat with him. The goat was ejected, ostensibly for smelling like a goat, and Sianis was annoyed. He cast a curse of Wagnerian proportions on the Cubs, and they never got to another World Series ever again, throughout the remainder of the millennium. 

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to rid the Cubs of the curse, but to no avail. You have to understand that curses of this magnitude are hard to abolish. After all, in Richard Wagner's ring cycle, ridding the world of its curse required the death of the gods and the destruction of Valhalla. Now that was a curse. 

As to Billy Goat's curse, I have a theory, as Royko had his. My theory goes like this: Just like Purdue University went to the Rose Bowl once in the preceding millennium and then once more in the current millennium, the Cubs are absolved of the curse for at least one World Series appearance between now and the year 3000. Maybe even a couple more. The millennium broke curses, at least on midwestern sports teams. 

Royko had a different slant, being a Chicago native, friend and patron of the tavern and its Sianis owners, and a deep social observer. In his very last column (March 21, 1997), just before succumbing to a massive stroke at a relatively young age, Royko wrote a piece titled, It was Wrigley, not some goat, who cursed the Cubs. As Royko explained, the Cubs went through World War II with a team populated by players who were rejected by the army. They were good enough to get into the 1945 World Series because most of the other teams had lost a substantial amount of talent to the armed services. After the war, the other teams brought back the talent and Wrigley kept his team of 4F's. As Royko explained, the Cubs could have beefed up their postwar lineup by following in the footsteps of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had desegregated baseball in 1947. 

Wrigley wouldn't do that, and the very white Cubs floundered for a few more decades. (It's a story not unlike that of the Boston Red Sox, who continued to lose under racist ownership throughout much of the modern era.) 

Times have changed, and Chicago baseball is now competing on a more even level. It's been a while since the Cubs won a World Series -- it was last done in 1908 -- and I don't have enough fingers and toes to count off the time lapse. Back in 1908, the movie capitals of the world were New York, Paris, and London, and even the existence of Hollywood was known to only some. There were a few cars at the time, and there were steam powered locomotives. Radio had been invented, but it was dots and dashes, and ships at sea communicated by Morse Code. There were a few airplanes, mostly crafted of wood and canvas, and the Wright brothers went public with an airplane that could carry a passenger.  

And that's the last time the Cubs won a World Series. 

So here's to the Chicago northside, to Steppenwolf Theater and the Second City, to the Parthenon restaurant and the Lyric Opera, and to a World Series victory in this, the new millennium. 


Tom Hayden died on Sunday. He personified one wing of 1960s youth radicalism which he turned into a productive career in California politics and later into political education. There will be long articles written about him. Those who had a chance to chat with him at Democratic Party events will remember his remarkable wit.


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


This Year’s Angry Populist Politics are Threatening America's Silent Majority

GOD BLESS OUR INDIRECT DEMOCRACY--Suppose we ask all Americans to vote on whether anyone whose first name starts with the letter “A” should pay an extra tax, giving everyone else a tax break. The appalling measure would probably pass. 

From the perspective of us A-listers (sorry, couldn’t resist), that would amount to a classic case of the kind of “tyranny of the majority” our Founding Fathers were so eager to avoid, illustrating why certain filters, or brakes, on direct democracy are desirable. The idea was that people shouldn’t legislate themselves, but instead leave that up to their representatives. 

And even if the people’s representatives get carried away, our political system has other checks and balances to insulate it from too much democracy: Congress itself is split into two bodies; unelected judges protect the Constitution from lawmakers; our nation’s monetary policy is set by an “independent” (undemocratic, that is) Federal Reserve Board. We’ve also developed a stable of technocratic agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to govern areas of American life at a dotted-line remove from the democratic process.

All these checks on democracy, together, constitute the genius of American democracy. We pride ourselves on our freedom to do as we damned please, but at the same time we’ve locked away all the chocolate and given the key to a friend, and warned him not to listen to us if we call to ask for it urgently late some night. Of course we then complain about how the system doesn’t work, about how we can’t binge on chocolate whenever we want. 

Such complaints are the fuel of the term “populism.” The word wasn’t current in the era of the Founders, and it remains vaguely defined in ours, but it’s precisely what our republic’s designers were intent on protecting against: The danger that over-indulging majority passions could overwhelm and subvert the system at any given moment. 

This is the election year of mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore populism (to cite the Howard Beale character from the classic Network movie), with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump railing against how bankers, Washington, the Federal Reserve, foreigners, and conspiring elites are holding back “the people.” Those are familiar rants, yet, there is something novel about the threat posed by today’s populism: The real threat nowadays is a potential tyranny of an agitated minority, more so than a potential tyranny of the majority. 

The two dangers are easy to confuse because agitated minorities can look very much like a majority now that they can mobilize via once unimaginable communications technology and dominate wall-to-wall cable TV news coverage. Who knows how far William Jennings Bryan or Eugene V. Debs would have gotten with a Twitter following, a YouTube channel, and the ability to call into CNN? 

Let’s tweak our imagined tax referendum to illustrate what a tyranny of the minority looks like. Suppose that instead of asking Americans whether people whose first name starts with an A should pay more taxes, we ask them to vote on whether A-listers should be exempted from ever again having to pay any taxes. 

This measure, if uncoupled from any other balloting in a low-turnout vote, might conceivably pass. Why? Because we A-listers would turn out to vote in droves, and most everyone else would have little incentive to vote, or to speak out against the measure. 

The real threat nowadays is a potential tyranny of an agitated minority, more so than a potential tyranny of the majority. 

It’s an extreme hypothetical, but too much of American political life has become vulnerable to hijacking by intensely motivated and agitated minorities. It’s why teachers unions can control school board elections, why the gun lobby can punch above its weight in Washington, and why we haven’t fixed our broken immigration system. 

The danger of not appreciating the threat posed by an extremely motivated minority, as opposed to an untrammeled majority, is that our society is enabling the former threat with its overzealous vigilance against the latter. So, for instance, while a bicameral Congress and the separation of powers that allots the executive a veto and the courts judicial review are good brakes on majority rule, the Senate’s filibuster rules and the so-called “Hastert Rule” observed by House Republicans go too far in empowering agitating minorities. 

The Senate’s longtime filibuster rules were infamous in delaying the adoption of needed civil rights in the 20th century, long after a majority of Americans were ready to go along. This was a case of an aggrieved minority—white Southern Democrats—subverting the will of the majority to protect said minority. 

The Hastert Rule in the House is a more recent, and less formalized, tradition in the House of Representatives that has similarly served to block immigration reform favored by a majority of Americans, and by a majority of their representatives in Congress. The policy, enunciated by Dennis Hastert when he was the Republican Speaker of the House (long before he was revealed to be a child molester), and loosely followed by some predecessors and successors, is that proposed legislation should not be brought for a vote on the floor of the House unless it is supported by a majority of the party’s own caucus. 

As speaker in recent years, John Boehner set aside the rule at key times to allow for bipartisan votes to keep the government open when some far-right Republicans were threatening to close it down, and that’s one reason Mr. Boehner is no longer in office. But he did not allow the House to vote on a sensible immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013, which would have legalized the status of the millions of undocumented workers in this country. The bill could have passed in the House with the support of Democrats and more moderate Republicans (as it did in the Senate), but the Hastert Rule stood in the way. 

The Founding Fathers intended for both chambers of the Congress, as well as the president and the judiciary, to all wrestle with thorny issues like immigration—balancing the will of the people with the Constitution. It’s a perversion of their design for one faction within the House to hijack the process, and allow for an agitated minority of anti-immigration nativists to become the arbiters of what constitutes a proposal worth voting on. 

Immigration and international trade feature prominently in this election cycle’s populist discourse, but it’s inaccurate to portray these issues, as the media often does, as pitting elites against “the people.” Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans view trade in a positive light and favor immigration reform along the lines of what the Senate passed three years ago (as opposed to mass deportations and a wall). It’s easy to lose track of that reality, though, given the asymmetry of passion and interest between supporters and opponents of immigration and free trade. 

Richard Nixon’s odes to the concept of a “silent majority,” whose support he cherished, were often mocked by pundits in his day but it’s a concept worth revisiting. Today there is a silent majority that thinks it’d be insane to deport millions of hard-working, law-abiding immigrant workers. But, like many other insane ideas out there, this one isn’t going to keep most people from going about their daily business. It’s the supporters of the insanity who likely consider immigration THE ISSUE of our times, and can be found screaming at rallies and pestering their members of Congress, threatening to have them “primaried” if they work with Democrats on the issue. 

The dangers posed by agitated minorities are not merely an American phenomenon. They are wreaking greater havoc in other western democracies, like Colombia and Britain, that have ill-advisedly put big questions to a public vote in 2016. Elites in London and Bogotá were seeking additional legitimacy for their decisions to stay in the European Union and reach a final peace settlement with a vanquished narco-insurgency by engaging their silent majorities in the process. In the end, sizable impassioned minorities prevailed.

Trump’s populist campaign narrative of elites pitted against “the people” is off. Today’s politics is pitting elites and a silent (or quieter) majority against a loud, angry, mobilized faction of people susceptible to a populist pitch. The question on November 8 is whether the silent majority makes itself heard, or whether it will cede the electoral battleground to the more clamorous minority.


(Andrés Martinez is the executive editor of Zócalo Public Square. Primary Editor: Joe Mathews. Secondary Editor: Sara Catania. Photo by Brynn Anderson/Associated Press.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)


Such a Nasty Man … Who Cares Whether he Concedes? A Contrarian Thought or Two on Debate Three

GELFAND’S WORLD--This week, the nation's press and pundits are all aflutter about Donald Trump's response to a question that came up in Wednesday's third and final presidential debate. Trump refused to agree to accept the results of the November 8 election. His answer is being quoted by every commentator: "I will look at it at the time," but it might just as well have been, "I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it." My view is that the editorial writers are taking a rather pessimistic view of the American people in treating this one remark as the most newsworthy event of the evening. 

First of all, let's make the point that a Trump loss without a formal concession speech would not be the worst outcome ever for an American presidential election. Consider one previous election back in the 1860s, when the state of South Carolina attacked a federal fortification and seceded from the United States. They didn't even wait until Lincoln's inauguration. 

So when Trump loses, it hardly matters whether he makes a gracious concession speech, engages in fiery rhetoric, or says nothing at all. It's not going to lead to a civil war. The fiery rhetoric would actually be better for his reputation, because his failure to say anything would just mark him as a pouting loser. 

Perhaps I'm being a little naive here, but I took Trump's response to be an attempt at his Trumpian form of standup comedy. His follow up line, "I will keep you in suspense," made that point. What he may have been trying to say in effect was that we are all getting a little tired of the pomposity of debate moderators, so take this question and shove it. 

Of course turning the presidential election into one big joke is not what normal people expect, but it's in line with the entire Trump campaign. I suspect that the long-term interpretation of that response eventually will be that Trump came unprepared for this question -- unprepared in the deeper political sense -- just as he has been unprepared on so many other topics. 

This is my day to be optimistic about American democracy (fueled in part by the substantial repudiation of Trump's answer by so many well known conservatives). Assuming Hillary Clinton wins, which is becoming ever more likely, the majority of the American people will accept the result as legitimate. It's true that some will refuse to accept the result, but that would be the case whether Trump concedes or not. Most of us will tune in to the inauguration on January 20 and watch the peaceful transfer of power. Those who have some grasp of world history (and particularly European history) will be thankful. 

As to the debate itself, a few points are worth making. Let's start with the lesson of Richard Nixon and John Kennedy from their initial debate back in 1960. Historians love to tell us that people who heard the presidential debate on the radio either called it a draw or felt that Nixon won marginally. But television viewers got a favorable view of John Kennedy and an unflattering view of Nixon when picture was added to sound.  

Somehow, Donald Trump didn't get the memo. In contrast to Hillary Clinton's poise, he couldn't keep himself from twitching, frowning, smirking, and interrupting. He did a little better job of holding back on the interruptions during the first half hour or so, where he appeared to be scripted and rehearsed. His answers were plainly arguable from the intellectual standpoint, but he had his words in grammatical order and his attacks followed one another in some semblance of structure. 

In this, he seemed to have help from the moderator, who has paradoxically been praised for his performance in a lot of places. It's true that he asked real questions and largely stayed away from Bill Clinton's sex life, but his economic biases came through. Particularly when he brought up the national debt, his question, you might say, was questionable. One commentator on the Daily Kos website who writes under the pseudonym dcg2 summed up the moderator's approach deftly.  The moderator took it as a given that a mounting national debt is a bad thing, even though some serious economists point out that we don't, at this time, have an economic problem based on the debt. 

And yes, it's true that the questions thrown at the candidates were filtered through the conservative perspective, without raising real world worries such as climate change or the continuing loss of union power. This had two opposing effects, one negative and one positive. The negative effect was to force the more liberal candidate to recite a few conservative platitudes such as creating a deficit-free federal budget. The more positive side is that it allowed Hillary Clinton to present the liberal argument on topics such as Planned Parenthood, Roe vs. Wade, and social security, all without some obnoxious talk show host constantly interrupting her. There are not all that many opportunities for the liberal side to tell its story to conservative viewers, and Hillary made use of this one.

Speaking of interruptions, the Donald managed to hold himself in check for that first half hour or so. Perhaps he shouldn't have agreed to participate in 90 minute debates, because he obviously cannot maintain self control for more than a few moments. His style of interrupting with the word "wrong" escalated through the evening, leading to his most serious mistake of the evening, his interruption with the phrase, "Such a nasty woman." Perhaps Trump was trying to play to those who have been propagandized against the Clintons for decades, but the remark will reverberate against him for the remainder of the campaign. 

After the debate, I chatted with a few people to get their take. One view struck me as perspicacious: Trump comes across as somebody who is used to talking to underlings. In that context, he can interrupt, insult, and be dead wrong, and he doesn't expect to be corrected. In short, he expects to be treated as the boss. Some of this came out earlier in the campaign, when he complained about debate moderators such as Megyn Kelly. He expects subservience from most everyone, and goes ballistic when he doesn't get it. 

In the world of the corporate board meeting, the CEO presides not as an equal, but literally as the boss. There is a big contrast in candidate debates, where no candidate has the right to rule over the others. Trump understands this at some intellectual level, but his lifelong habits, now ingrained as instincts, keep pushing him towards the boss role. He appears unable to help himself, and keeps succumbing to his instincts by making irritating interruptions. 

Some of the deeper thinking pundits are beginning to understand that Hillary Clinton is not just the passive beneficiary of Trump's ineptitude. She, along with her otherwise invisible campaign staff, have played Trump like a violin, and he has cooperated in his own downfall. 

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


Civility and Its Abusers

PUFFED UP POLITICS-In a few more weeks, on the heels of a final Presidential decision by voters, and after the punditry and handwringing recedes, we may get a breather from the spew that has shredded this election season’s political discourse. This is neither the first nor last battering that will be visited on democracy’s dented carapace, but rather another in a long series of assaults born of ignorance, profit-seeking, appeals to outrage and delight in cheap and cheesy titillation. 

Those who pitch their political wares from such a low view of the world are regrettable, but expected features of the human landscape. They often rise higher than their deserved station on the back of moxie, materialism, vanity, and cultural division. This election cycle we have experienced a species of this parasitic ilk that personifies incivility. We’ve borne witness to a kind of acting out that sunders civil discourse and rejects a shared sense of mutuality and reciprocity. Instead of a striving vision for a common future, we’ve received a “gonna-tell-it-like-is” tough-guy, sneering and dog-whistling to the very darkest beliefs and urges in those who see themselves as losing out to everyone else. 

Highly visible figures, especially those inclined to preen in their own perceived exceptionalism, tacitly approve and effectively uncork ideas and actions in people who occupy the more impulsive margins of society. They stir the latent anger, rage and pent-up hatreds of society's discontents, too often at the peril of people who prefer to behave – and live alongside others who behave – in more civilized and tolerant ways.  

Community grows at the epicenters of tolerance and civility. Chaos threatens when those willing to pull the strings of a distorted public imagination grant their adherents permission to act in concert with base, even violent instincts, no matter the cost or collateral damage to others. There's nothing inherently wrong with alternative views, outright protest, angry demonstration, competing ideologies, and even nonviolent rebellion that challenges the status quo. We see these in all forms and permutations, often contained in the places where American civil society and nonprofit organizations offer a social safety valve to blow off steam and channel discontent productively. Problems arise, however, when putative leaders ignite righteous passions and then turn their backs on or disavow responsibility for the consequences of the rebellion they incite.  

Unbound, the “tell it like it is” mantra becomes “do as you please, it’s okay.” That’s when people end up getting wounded, further disaffected or abandoned. Surely a large part of the American electorate, called to take up electoral arms, will suffer political abandonment in the months and years ahead. Those who have chanted racist, sexist, anti-immigrant and other vicious incantations will resort to simmering and stewing, some feeling validated enough by their so-called democratic engagement to abuse and damage civility even more. Others will see loyalty and devotion rewarded by their crass commodification as the next audience for a low-brow television series or as customers for more worthless crap hocked their way. 

The degree of abuse visited on American democracy this election season has left civility punched in the face and momentarily knocked senseless on the street. We’re owed a refund, I believe, but it’s one we are never likely to collect because professed leaders obsessed with merely their own grasping, groping needs think not a jot about what happens next, nor do they care for the collective who.  

It is up to those who care about strengthening democracy to see demagoguery for what it is, to name it, to call it out and, in so doing, to sustain the vigilance and struggle that counters chaos and strives toward civil society. 


(Paul Vandeventer is President and CEO of Community Partners.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

Does American Politics Need Villains to Be Successful?

VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--For most of 2016, American politics could best be described as caught in a populist moment. Populism has always come in two variations, and we’ve seen both this year. The most familiar form, ably represented in all its raw madness-of-crowds by Donald Trump, is based on resentment of immigrants and other non-majority identities (racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious most prominently), and rancor directed at political elites for their perceived role in changing social norms. This is the populism familiar from historian Richard Hofstadter’s “status anxiety” explanation of late 19th Century populism, or, in more recent history, the presidential campaigns of George Wallace.

The other version of populism is built around policies that would support working and low-income families, often coupled with a sharp critique of economic elites—“the 99 percent” versus “the 1 percent.” This was the populism that Bernie Sanders rode during a surprisingly successful challenge to the anointed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and that mobilized younger voters almost as powerfully as Barack Obama had eight years earlier.

It would be a mistake to treat these two populisms as flip sides of the same coin. The white cultural resentment generated by Trump—particularly because it represents a distinct minority defined by identity rather than ideology—is a profound challenge to the Republican Party and to mainstream conservatism, just as Wallace’s was to the Democratic Party in another era. The policy differences between populist Democrats like Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren and their mainstream counterparts such as Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, however, are subtle. Sanders’ proposals, for example, flowed easily enough into the party platform and the vision of its nominee Hillary Clinton.

Remaining policy differences between the two camps are relatively minor, such as those between “free college” and “debt-free college,” or between a restoration of the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall banking regulations repealed in 1998 and a proposed new regulatory regime. These are still differences of ideology, but modest ones; and the differences in identity between the Sanders and Clinton camps, other than on matters of age and style, are hard to find. Instead, the left’s version of populism can seem more like a fresh coat of paint, or a sharper argument for otherwise standard liberal policies.

Nonetheless, the distinction between left populism and mainstream progressive politics does diverge in one significant way: Sanders and Warren want to name names. Their narrative, like Trump’s, is one of “heroes and villains”—the villains being not immigrants, but the “millionaire and billionaire class” or big political donors. Warren, for example, has been relentlessly focused on personnel, more insistent on limiting the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street and going after the Obama administration acolytes of former Citigroup chairman and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (whom she blames for the tame treatment of executives during the financial crisis) than on any other particular policy.

In Hillary Clinton’s view of the world, though, there are few villains, and when they are named it is with legalistic care. (Trump himself is a villain, but carefully distinguished from other Republicans, even those who support him.) Politics, in this view, is a matter of problems, to be fixed, often by elites wielding dispassionate expertise.

So one of the central questions of our era has become: Does successful American politics need villains? Since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, left populists have imagined that the politics of resentment that motivates the right can be coopted or converted to the left, redirected toward corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy. While Trump attacks the “corruption” that leads to, in his view, bad trade deals, an ill-fated embrace of immigration and diversity, and American failure, left populists seem to be betting that an attack on “corruption” that names alternative targets betraying the American ideal—the Citizens United decision, middle-class wage stagnation, or the cost of college—will hook voters in the same way.

But there are major flaws in this thinking. The bonds of right populism are not so easily broken and reformed. The “heroes and villains” of Trump’s narrative (he is the only hero) are not forged by policy positions but by deep ties of cultural identity and affinity. Put more bluntly, white Trump and Tea Party supporters are not interested in a populism that involves an alliance with non-white, younger, culturally diverse voters. Meanwhile, the relentless attack on “corruption” from populists on both sides has led to the strange paradox that voters still view Hillary Clinton, merely a lifelong denizen of the existing political system, as more corrupt than the genuinely venal Trump, a master of tax scams, direct-marketing scams, and charity scams. Politics based on resentment and attacks on “corruption” have merely deepened mistrust of government, which is in itself a barrier to the policies that left populists favor.

Instead, perhaps what American politics really needs is a third kind of populism. Instead of the “them” populism of left and right, we should look to the tradition of “us” populism—one in which citizens work together, from local to national levels of government, to define and solve problems. A politics in which citizens are not just engaged as angry protestors calling on the system to change, but as part of the system itself.

America has had a populism like this before, as described in historian Lawrence Goodwyn’s portraits of the rise of late 19th century agrarian alliances, in Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America, and several other books. Where Hofstadter saw only resentment and status anxiety, Goodwyn saw millions of people who had been quiescent suddenly becoming engaged, participating fully through unions, farmers alliances, and new political movements to redesign the economic structures of a fast-growing country. He celebrated the cross-racial alliances forged in the South and the transformations of political consciousness experienced by individuals participating in this democratic renascence.

Our democracy would benefit from an investment in this kind of “us” populism, especially its ideas about refining existing institutions to strengthen citizen voices and public trust, and creating new mechanisms for public engagement and deliberation. This might include steps such as setting up participatory budgeting or seeing labor unions, community organizations, and similar associations as civil society institutions—rather than just economic claimants.

This new populism can’t simply be conjured into existence. It has to rise up from the lived experience of millions of individuals. But we have tools, including new technologies and new techniques of organizing, that can help. There are signs of a more meaningful and participatory democracy emerging in many American cities. Perhaps by the next presidential election, this budding “us” populism can compete with the populism of resentment that dominated in 2016.

(Mark Schmitt is the director of the Political Reform Program at New America. This piece originated at Zocalo Public Square.)



Trump's Resistance is Feudal

GELFAND’S WORLD--It would be a mistake to jail Dick Cheney just as it would be a mistake to jail Hillary Clinton 

The other night, Donald Trump said that if elected, he would throw Hillary Clinton in a dungeon. OK, I exaggerate a bit. He said that he would appoint a special prosecutor whose job it would be to send Hillary to jail. But actually, the two accounts are not all that different, since the desired outcome is essentially the same and the underlying attitude is essentially feudal. 

There are powerful historical and social reasons for opposing this approach to government and, curiously enough, they are exactly the same reasons why it would have been wrong for the Obama administration to try to prosecute George W. Bush or his vice president for war crimes. 

In stating this assertion, I oppose positions stated emphatically on the one hand by some American liberals and on the other hand by some American conservatives. The one group wanted Dick Cheney sent to prison, and the other group is now calling to have Hillary jailed. 

Those who fail to understand why both sides are wrong are failing to understand the fragility of democratic governance. 

Consider: We take for granted that there will be a presidential election every four years and that there will be a new president every four or eight years. This hope is actually one extreme on a continuum. It is optimistic in the sense that we have a national tradition -- presidential elections -- that has never been broken, but perhaps under the wrong circumstances could be. 

If we are to recognize that maintaining this tradition for over 220 years has at least partly been a lucky break for us, then there is a corollary: We should be careful about not taking democracy for granted, and we should be especially careful about doing what it takes to maintain the democratic tradition. 

There is of course an opposing, more pessimistic point of view: In one form, it is the claim that the current president intends to postpone or cancel the next election. I think I first heard people making that statement as far back as the Nixon administration, and the claim seems to get reborn with each new presidency. When you look at this claim carefully, it becomes apparent that it's opposite in one critical way from the throw her in jail trope. The throw her in jail view, although malicious, takes the continuation of our democracy for granted, while the assertion that the president plans to carry out a coup by cancelling elections assumes that our democracy is illusory. After all, if the president can crown himself king or declare himself dictator then it isn't much of a democracy. 

Historians tell us that we've had moments in our history when presidents took extraordinary powers. Lincoln negated the right of habeus corpus at one point in his presidency. Nixon in effect took the U.S. off the gold standard. George W Bush allowed the use of torture. Obama is accused (true or not) of violating the Constitution. 

Many of these allegations are demonstrably true, and others are matters of opinion. So if it is possible for an American president to act like a dictator, then what sort of democracy do we actually have? 

One obvious answer is that no president gets to be a complete dictator. Presidents sometimes push the envelope, but none has so far managed to collect a crown and royal scepter. There is plenty of balance in our system of checks and balances. 

But the most important element of this presidential system of ours is that new presidents come in and old presidents go out. The ultimate solution to presidential overreach is to elect a different one. The solution to political party overreach is the same. Routine elections are the answer. 

It's how we get rid of dictatorial behavior on the part of our leadership. Presidents stay as long as their electoral terms last, and no longer. It's almost the definition of true democracy vs. faux democracy. Any country in which the leader can cancel the upcoming elections (or never has elections) is not a true democracy. 

I'd like to think that there is a reason for why we have been able to maintain our tradition of 8 years and out. Part of that reason is that our government involves the participation of multiple actors, from presidents to senators to congressmen, and they have one thing in common. They are all players in a political game with defined rules of winning (getting more votes) and losing (getting fewer votes). It's not just a game of taking power as in a feudal monarchy, but a game of winning power according to a particular type of conflict. 

You might therefore treat our electoral system as having certain features analogous to chivalry. There is a cultural system with its own norms. Rather than the loyalty of the knight to his duke, we have a certain level of loyalty to a system as a whole. You can call it fealty to Constitutional law, or you can just say that this is the way that things are done. In either case, there were a lot of Republicans who chose loyalty to the system over their loyalty to Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis. We can see some of the same reaction from Republicans who are deserting Trump. 

Now let's imagine for a moment that when Obama ascended to the presidency, he didn't give George W Bush that well-photographed hand clasp, but instead acted to prosecute Bush and Cheney for war crimes. What message would this send? 

If you have any sense of history, you would immediately recognize that this would be a recipe for any future Republican president to find some reason to prosecute his predecessor. Allow me to remind you that a lot of Republicans carried decades-long grudges over the forced resignation of Richard Nixon. "He was hounded from office" was their claim. It took a while, but they finally got even (rightly or wrongly) through the impeachment of Bill Clinton. 

The effect of a current president taking legal action against a former president would create a dangerous incentive. Any current president would understand the risk inherent in becoming a former president. It could get him or her thrown in prison. One way of avoiding becoming a former president is to find some excuse for cancelling elections. 

In other words, our democratic system depends on a tradition, and we don't know whether that tradition is strong enough to stand up to presidents prosecuting their opponents. There's a reason that the authors of the Constitution limited removal of the president to a specific series of actions that require both houses of congress, and leave the sitting president out of the process other than as the person facing trial. The founders even required a supermajority in the Senate to complete the act of removing a president from office. Notice by the way that there have only been two impeachment trials in the history of our republic, and both failed to achieve a guilty verdict. 

Viewed in this way, Donald Trump's threat to jail Hillary Clinton is more feudal than modern. It is the idea that kings battle against other kings, with the winner taking all. America rejects that culture, replacing it with written rules that define how authority is gained, and how it is shared among competing arms of government. It's true that there have been occasional lapses, as when a member of congress beat another member in response to a difference of opinion over slavery, or when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel. But our culture does not exult Aaron Burr the way feudal culture exulted conquest and assassination. We make changes in executive power by electing new presidents, not by a process in which presidents imprison their opponents. 

While preparing this column, I came across a piece by Garrison Keillor.  It says some of what is said here (at least I'd like to think that) but in the unique Garrison Keillor style. It's worth a read, particularly where Keillor, referring to Trump's views, says, "The government is not a disaster; it is a culture of process and law and organization that is alien to him." 

One more brief story. A few years ago, I attended a scientific meeting in an eastern city. I shared a cab to the airport with a fellow scientist from one of the remaining dictatorships. He asked me a little about the American system, and as we passed various monuments, I tried to explain: "What made George Washington great was that he gave up power." There have been many military leaders, but not many national leaders have established a tradition of the peaceful transition of power. My fellow scientist looked a little surprised at this answer, as it was not something that his world included. 

The peaceful transition of power signified by the presidential inauguration is a continuing miracle in a world that has only slowly been adopting such traditions. It is this peaceful transition of power that Trump mocks in his threats to jail his opponent.


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


Hillary Hating Has Become a Cottage Industry

MY TURN-I literally have spent the last week trying to figure out why there is such fear and loathing expressed when it comes to Hillary Clinton. I have read so many outlandish "facts" from friends and neighbors on Facebook and other sites that baffle me beyond description. 

Some are people I have known for forty or more years. We carpooled together...our kids grew up together...we celebrated and commiserated together. How these honest, and in most cases, bright people could not only swallow but repeat these outlandish stories is beyond me. 

I have stayed away from writing about the Presidential election. I have never been a partisan voter, even though I identify more with the Democratic platform than with the Republican. I vote according to my considered preference, whether it comes to politicians or initiatives. 

When I discussed the content of this article with CityWatch publisher Ken Draper, it was supposed to be ready for last week. I wrote it, then let it sit for a day; then I decided I came off almost as strident and emotional as the people I was accusing. 

So I decided to start all over again. Believe it or not, this now represents a far more gentle approach. Now is a good time to reflect with so many "news" programs have lavished opinions and from all sides. Unfortunately, it was too early to start drinking so I doubled my usual caffeine intake. 

Many pundits trace the "Hate Hillary" phenomenon to 1992 when Governor Jerry Brown was running for President against Bill Clinton. Brown accused the former Governor of Arkansas of helping his wife’s law practice while he was in office -- an accusation that was never substantiated, like many of the Hillary tales. 

Hillary fired back via the press with a sentence that roiled traditionalists who were already fired up by the era’s culture wars: 

“I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas,” she said. Most of the media outlets neglected to report her complete quote that went on to say, “The work that I have done as a professional, a public advocate, has been aimed…to assure that women can make the choices, whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination.” 

Go back to the eighties and nineties. Women were going through their own evolutionary process. Gloria Steinem was accused of starting a gender war. Women had started to join the workforce but in mostly non-decision making positions. 

When Bill Clinton appointed Madelyn Albright as Secretary of State it was a huge achievement for women. I must admit, when I first heard Hillary talk about baking cookies I could relate to this because I felt the same way. My children will never have the memory of smelling freshly baked cookies emanating from their mother’s kitchen. To this day, I still burn the garlic bread. 

Intellectually, one can understand why men would have resented Hillary in those days. She was not the kind of role model they wanted their wives and daughters to emulate. And they were starting to resent the changes occurring to the traditional "Father Knows Best" male roles. Unfortunately, men in Trump's age group were the first to experience these vast social changes. 

Why do women hate her so much? I think it’s been partly due to jealousy; she’s always been doing important things perhaps while some have remained in traditional roles. However, over the years, she has served as a role model to more and more women, millions of whom have since discovered they have options too. 

We should differentiate between what is true and what is urban myth. I don't remember any hue and cry when Ronald Regan accepted a two week, two million dollar fee plus the usual travel/staff perks from Japan shortly after he left the Presidency. At that time, Japan was one of our main trade competitors. Of course, he was a man and was “worthy” of such an expense. A woman receiving $250,000 for a speech was unheard of.   

There was no investigation of the private RNC email server President George W. Bush used and where 55 million emails were "lost," even though they are supposed to be retained. There were no investigations of Condoleezza Rice when we had more than five terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies and military bases during her tenure. 

The fact is, Jason Chafitz, Utah Congressman and Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, turned down the request for extra money the State Department requested to beef up security at embassies and consulates in dangerous areas. This was before Benghazi. 

As a journalist, I have learned to check what are called "facts." Even the Investment Service Motley Fool, known as one of the most reliable Investment companies in the industry, recently included a list of the "Hillary Myths."  They certainly do not have anything to gain and I don't see them on the list of Hillary donors. 

Trump also blames Hillary for her husband of signing NAFTA, calling it the worst trade deal ever negotiated on the part of the United States. The initial beginnings for NAFTA were under President Reagan, who originally wanted a free trade agreement with Mexico. The famous Conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, helped draft it and the first President Bush signed it. 

While NAFTA was being negotiated, there was a lot of talk about a future extension -- eventually having a “Common Market” for the Americas. It was thought then to be a smart move to compete with the European Union. 

One more thing that irritates me: Everyone refers to Trump as "Mr. Trump.” His surrogates, news reporters, employees and even his critics have given him this "Mr." title, which infers he is above everyone else. Hillary refers to him as "Donald," which I am sure, in his world, is a breach of etiquette. On the other hand, most of the time she is referred to by her first name. 

The tapes that have been released as of this writing have featured ten women who tell Trump groping stories. He and I are from the same vintage and I will bet almost every woman over fifty who was in business or in the work force has been subjected to verbal and physical sexual overtures. (I can recall almost every incident that I ever experienced.) We didn't say anything because, 1) we would lose our jobs 2) we would lose the client 3) or we would upset our husbands, who might have thought we encouraged this kind of behavior, or worse, would threaten violence against the perpetrator. 

I developed some pretty smart responses to those overtures to ensure that a man wouldn't feel resentful and would want to continue our business relationship. I also developed a pretty good right hook. That brings up another couple of points. 

The complaint that Hillary said she has a public position and a private position is not a cardinal sin. Anyone in business faces the same situation.  

Lastly, appointed Cabinet officials "serve at the pleasure of the President.” As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s responsibility was to carry out the wishes of President Obama, whether she agreed with him or not. Similarly, the job of Trump's surrogates is also to defend his behavior and policies, whether they agree with him or not. 

Those of you who have a supervisor or a "boss" do the same. 

I think we can all agree that this election is like no other in our lifetimes. The outcome has not been determined and, in spite of the Trump rhetoric, it is not a rigged system. What frightens many of us is the consequences of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being elected as the 45th President of the United States. It is going to be an interminable three weeks. 

My personal opinion is that Hillary Clinton is being subjected to a double standard and is definitely encountering gender bias. 

Before you resend an inflammatory email or tweet, check with the professional non-biased fact checkers. Do not add to the very tense and dangerous atmosphere we are encountering. All of the facts I have discussed have been substantiated and are available online. 

As always comments welcome.


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

Finding Hope in These Dismal Times

WORKING AND WAITING FOR CHANGE-In these dismal days of climate change, imperial decline, endless war, and in my city, a hapless football team, I seem to be experiencing a strange and unaccustomed emotion: hope. How can that be? Maybe it’s because, like my poor San Francisco 49ers who have been “rebuilding” for the last two decades, I’m fortunate enough to be able to play the long game. 

But what exactly is making me feel hopeful at the moment? 

For one thing, we seem to have finally reached Peak Trump, and the reason why is important. 

Calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers didn’t do it. Promising to bring back waterboarding and commit assorted other war crimes didn’t do it. Flirting with the white supremacist crowd and their little friend Pepe the Frog didn't do it. But an 11-year-old video tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” seems to have been the drop of water that finally cracked the dam and sent even stalwart Republican leaders fleeing a flood of public revulsion. 

In the midst of the most frightening and depressing presidential election of my life, the reactions to this latest glimpse into the Mind of Trump have actually lifted my spirits. Not that many years ago, an exchange like the one between Donald Trump and Billy Bush would hardly have been news. Sexual harassment was an expected part of the lives of working women -- par for a Trump golf course. I remember, for instance, paging through my family’s New Yorker magazines and coming across a Whitney Darrow cartoon about a lesson at a secretarial school. A businessman is chasing a woman around a desk as the teacher explains, “Notice, class, how Angela circles, always keeping the desk between them...” 

There you have it: the devaluation of women’s work (secretarial skills reduced to techniques for evading the boss’s advances), the trivialization of sexual predation, and in Angela’s knowing smile, admiration for the woman who keeps her sense of humor while defending her virtue. 

What’s most surprising about the response to Trump’s hot-mic moment is the apparent national consensus that speaking -- or even thinking -- about sexual assault the way Trump did on this video is neither normal nor amusing. This shared assumption that women are not trophies for the taking marks an advance toward full personhood that we have achieved only in my lifetime. When you stop to think about it, it’s an extraordinary cultural shift. And once people figure out that women are, after all, human, it’s pretty hard to stuff that genie back into the bottle. 

Of course, there are still a lot of men who have a hard time with the woman-human being equation. Paul Ryan, for example, responded to the Trump video release by opining that “Women are to be championed and revered” -- a view that suggests we are either helpless creatures to be saved by a “champion” or other-than-human creatures belonging on some Victorian pedestal. 

Then There’s Hillary 

In her first debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton actually said the words “systemic racism.” Never in our history has a mainstream presidential candidate described our country’s racial institutions in that kind of language. Indeed, one of the biggest political problems the movement for racial justice has faced in the post-Civil Rights era has been how to account for the fact that, absent legal segregation, people of color, and especially African Americans, remain disproportionately represented among the poor, the unhoused, and the incarcerated. Institutional, or systemic, racism describes the mechanism at play. 

Here’s what Clinton said in that debate: 

“And it’s just a fact that if you're a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated. So we've got to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system.” 

She’s right of course. And she deserves credit for saying it, but it’s the analysis of groups like RaceForward, the organizing skills of the young activists of Black Lives Matter, and the moral voice of older leaders like the Reverend William Barber II of the North Carolina NAACP who created the atmosphere in which she had to say it. 

We are, in other words, witnessing a sea change in how people in mainstream politics talk about racism. Of course, there’s been pushback against Clinton’s rhetoric, but the idea that actual institutional structures exist that deeply constrain the lives of African Americans has now been admitted to the grown-ups’ table. 

Black communities have long known that they, and especially their young men, are at risk of police violence. That’s why sooner or later so many black parents of every economic class have “the talk” with their children about how to try to stay safe (or at least safer). But in the two years since the murder of Trayvon Martin by a self-styled vigilante, Black Lives Matter has focused national attention for the first time on the repeated deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve. Now, even the mainstream media no longer treat such deaths as isolated incidents unworthy of coverage. Instead, it is recognized that they form a systemic pattern, and even presidential candidates have to respond to that pattern. That is a victory and it was almost beyond imagination even a few years ago. Of course, the real victory will come when police stop shooting unarmed people, but at least now the country generally admits that it happens. 

Similarly, many of us on the left have long known that wages in this country began to stagnate in the mid-1970s. We’ve watched the minimum wage (once intended to be for a family’s “breadwinner”) shrink to a poverty stipend. We’ve seen income and wealth inequality swell to the greatest levels since the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century. But it took the Occupy movement to remind us that the 99% could reclaim political power. It took organizations like OUR Walmart and the Fight for $15, lifted by Bernie Sanders’s run for the Democratic nomination, to bring that discussion into the mainstream. 

For the first time in years, the words “working class” have slipped back into public discourse. CNN now runs stories with headlines like “Working class white men make less than they did in 1996.” A few years ago, as far as anyone could tell from the mainstream media, we lived in a country populated by a vast, undifferentiated “middle class,” and a few wealthy or impoverished outliers. Now, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have found that they must address the pain of working people. We may not agree with their proposed solutions, but they have to talk about it. That, too, is a change and a victory of sorts. 

Wait! You Mean We Won Something? 

For many years I’ve noticed that my corner of the political world, roughly the American left, has had a very hard time recognizing and claiming our victories. Maybe that’s because it’s cost us so much to understand all the ways in which the standard American narrative is a lie, to grasp how little the American Way -- whatever Superman may have believed -- has had to do with truth and justice. 

From birth, Americans normally swim in an ocean of heroic mythology about American exceptionalism, and for many of us it’s been difficult to make our way out of its riptides. So our knowledge has been hard-won. Figuring out that the United States is not the international defender of liberty we learned about in school wasn’t easy. 

It took work to realize and accept, for instance, that our country routinely supported dictators and torturers. We opposed U.S. efforts to prop up strongmen like Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and called out the hypocrisy when the U.S. government was shocked(!), shocked(!) to discover what they actually were. 

Having invested so much effort in recognizing the lies of the American exceptionalist narrative, we find it difficult to acknowledge when our government does something right. 

The Paris Agreement on climate, signed by 190 countries, comes into effect this November 4th. That’s because on October 5th, the world met two key criteria: ratification by at least 55 of the signatory countries, and ratification by countries responsible for producing 55% of the planet’s greenhouse gases. It’s fair to say that, without the Obama administration, this agreement to confront the extinction-level threat that climate change represents would not have come into being. Like any compromise, it’s by no means a perfect accord, but it’s the best chance we’ve seen in a long time that the Earth will remain the habitable and welcoming place for human beings (among many other species) that it’s been these last tens of thousands of years. This victory belongs to environmental activists around the world, and we should claim it! 

It’s almost as if, having worked so hard to understand the role and power of the United States on the world stage and of a ruling elite at home, we’ve imagined this country as a far greater powerhouse than it is.  It’s almost as if recognizing any cracks in the edifice of American power might endanger that hard-won worldview. It’s almost as if the possibility that we can sometimes push our country to do something right, that our side can sometimes win, seems to rattle us. Faced with that disorienting possibility, I suspect it’s sometimes easier to believe that, while we must always fight the good fight, our adversary is too strong for us ever to expect victories. 

On the domestic front many of us, both people of color and white Americans, have struggled to recognize our personal implicit racial biases. We’ve likewise taken the time and effort to reexamine what we were taught about U.S. history so that we could grasp the enduring and shape-shifting longevity of systemic racism. Knowing this history so well seems to make it harder for some of us to recognize and claim victories when they come. When, in front of 80 million Americans, Hillary Clinton says that “implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just [the] police,” that is a victory, and we should take it in and savor it. 

When President Obama responds to mass incarceration by commuting the sentences of federal drug offenders, that is a victory, however modest. It took half a decade for the ideas in Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow to penetrate to a mass audience. Now, the country has finally begun to recognize what prison activists have been saying for years: there is something very wrong when the “leader of the free world” has the largest prison population on the planet. An outrage that, a decade ago, was invisible to just about everyone except the affected communities and a small number of activists is now known to all. Our prisons are a national and international scandal and the spread of that knowledge -- and the urge to do something about it -- is also a victory, one worth celebrating, however provisionally. 

Who’s Most Likely to Be Hopeful? 

In the 1980s, I spent six months in Nicaragua’s war zones at a time when my government, the Reagan administration, was supporting the Contra armies against the Sandinista government. Together with many sectors of Nicaraguan society, the Sandinistas had thrown out the U.S.-supported dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Over and over I was struck by how living in the midst of war was like being stretched between two temporal realities. 

In the morning, a Nicaraguan in the town of Jalapa might help dig a communal refugio to shelter children from airplane attacks. In the afternoon, she might risk attack or kidnapping by the U.S.-backed Contras to plant trees that would take years to mature on mountains that had been clear-cut by American lumber companies during the Somoza dictatorship. You always had one eye on the present and the other on a better future. 

The Nicaraguans I knew seemed eternally ready for a party under the worst conditions imaginable. One day, in the city of Estelí, I remember running into an American friend who told me this story: she’d been feeling bummed recently because the Contras had attacked a little town near where she was living and killed seven children. It seemed to her as if this miserable war would never end. The family with whom she was staying was going to a fiesta that night and asked her along.

“I don’t feel like it,” she said. “I’m too depressed.” 

You can afford to be depressed,” they told her, “because you’re going home soon. We are the ones who will still be stuck in the war, so we have to have hope for the future. We have to dance. Now, get dressed, we’re going to a party.” 

What group in the United States is most optimistic about the future? Surprisingly, according to a recent Gallup Healthways poll, it’s not the billionaires among us, but poor African Americans. A Brookings report on the poll suggests a number of reasons for this, and adds:

“[T]he optimism of black Americans -- especially the poorest -- is a reason to be a little more hopeful. The second term of our first black President is nearing its end, but a renegade political candidate with open disdain for minority groups is enjoying rising support. At such a moment in history, it is noteworthy that it is black Americans who seem to be keeping faith with the American Dream.” 

Another poll, commissioned in 2015 by the Atlantic, found that “African Americans and Latinos are far more likely to be optimistic than their white counterparts, both about their personal station in life and the future of the country more broadly.” 

Such people are anything but stupid. They know that their communities are confronting terrible challenges, but they know, too, how important it is not to forget to dance. 

Why Doing Politics Is Like Surfing 

How do outrageous ideas -- for example, that women are human beings, or that the U.S. locks up way too many people, or even that gay people should be able to get married if they want to -- suddenly morph into everyday commonsense? It’s rarely an accident. It almost always involves dedicated people working away for years on an issue, often unnoticed, before it seems suddenly to surge into general awareness. 

Sometimes I think the politically engaged life is like surfing. You expend an enormous effort paddling past the breaking surf. Then you sit on your board breathing hard, scanning the horizon for the wave. Sometimes you sit out there for a long, long time, but when that wave comes, you have to be ready to grab it -- and enjoy it. 

Even when the wave looks like a sinking Donald J. Trump.


(Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Hoist a Martini, No Problem … Smoke a Joint, Go to Jail … What a Colossal Drug War Waste!

AN AMERICAN IS CRIMINALIZED EVERY 25 SECONDS--Two prominent human and civil rights organizations are calling on the U.S. government to decriminalize all drug use and possession in a new report which finds that the so-called war on drugs has caused “devastating harm.”

The joint report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that there were 574,640 arrests for marijuana possession nationwide in 2015, outnumbering arrests for all violent crimes combined, and that the massive enforcement of drug laws takes a toll at every level, from the individual to the institutional—ruining lives and pulling families apart, discriminating against people of color, and undermining public health.

In fact, the groups found, in the U.S., someone is arrested for low-level drug offenses every 25 seconds

“Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use,” said the report’s author and HRW/ACLU Aryeh Neier fellow Tess Borden. “These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence.”

The long-term impacts of drug law enforcement range from the separation of families to lifelong discrimination, the report states. People arrested for drug use can be excluded from employment opportunities, housing and welfare assistance, and the right to vote, among other things. The organizations interviewed hundreds of drug users, family members of those prosecuted, government officials, defense attorneys, activists, and service providers, and analyzed data from Texas, Florida, New York, and the FBI.

One woman interviewed in the report, “Nicole,” whose name was changed for privacy, was held pretrial for months in Houston, Texas away from her three children and eventually pled guilty to her first felony—possessing an empty baggie with heroin residue. The conviction cost her student financial aid, employment opportunities, and the food stamps she used to feed her children.

“The felony conviction is going to ruin my life…I’ll pay for it for[ever]. Because of my record, I don’t know how or where I’ll start rebuilding my life: school, job, government benefits are now all off the table for me,” she states in the report. “Besides the punishment even [of prison]...It’s my whole future.”

The report also found that while black adults do not use drugs more than white adults, they are over two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for possession. When looking just at marijuana possession, they are almost four times as likely to be arrested.

“Under international human rights law, prohibited racial discrimination occurs where there is an unjustifiable disparate impact on a racial or ethnic group, regardless of whether there is any intent to discriminate against that group,” the report states. “Enforcement of drug possession laws in the U.S. reveals stark racial disparities that cannot be justified by disparities in rates of use.”

As the organizations point out, since the war on drugs was formally declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, use has not significantly declined—and criminalization, coupled with a lack of treatment for addicts, forces users to go “underground,” exposing them to increased risk of disease, overdoses, and other dangers, while making it less likely that they will recover.

“While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer,” Borden continued. “Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment.”

The report concludes by calling on state legislatures and U.S. Congress to decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs, and invest in risk reduction and voluntary treatment programs.

“Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources,” Borden said. “If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead.”


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



Trump Technique: ‘Hillary is More Guilty than Me’

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, ROUND 2--The second presidential debate arrived, and if this were another year and a different set of candidates, we would probably be reading that Trump came back from his earlier defeat due to a stronger performance this time. After all, he didn't melt down into a pool of slag or run pouting from the stage. He stood his ground and exchanged punch for punch, accusation for accusation. Some commenters will score this one as a draw or even a modest Trump victory. But it's not a different year or a different Republican candidate, and this debate took place under circumstances that were not only bizarre, they appear to be rebounding against Trump. 

The following episodes are historically unprecedented but as we shall see, they have something in common. 

Trump came into the day of the second debate facing a situation in which a significant number of Republican leaders were pulling their support from him due to his comments about groping women. When you lose John McCain and others of his stature, you are pushing the envelope pretty hard. Trump got off a sort-of-apology for his comments, but he tried to make it sound as if it was just a boyish phase he was going through. After all, he was only 59 years old at the time. 

But what defines Trump as a political phenomenon is that he does things that others won't. In this case, it was his press conference held on the same day as the debate, in which he introduced women who had all accused Bill Clinton of doing something bad. The subtext was "if I did something wrong, the Clintons have done worse." The fact that his opponent is Hillary Clinton, not Bill, is obvious, but this was a play to Clinton haters of all stripes. 

The pre-debate press conference caused the MSNBC commenters to be all aflutter, with worried prognostications that Trump might call Bill Clinton a rapist during the debate itself. The story must have played out interestingly in foreign markets. 

During the debate, in response to Hillary Clinton's suggestion that Trump has avoided paying income taxes, Trump responded with dreary repetitions that a couple of other billionaires -- Warren Buffet and George Soros, alleged to be Hillary's friends -- also use available tax deductions. Once again, it was the argument that whatever Trump does, some liberal does it worse. 

When you look at these Trumpian games, it eventually becomes obvious that Trump is engaging in a technique that the American right wing has developed into a fine art: Whatever you are most guilty of, accuse your opponent of the same thing. When George W. Bush was facing a real war hero in the person of John Kerry during the 2004 reelection campaign, his side brought out the Swift Boaters. All of a sudden, Bush's failure to serve was balanced by a concerted attack on Kerry's battlefield performance. 

It's like the psychological concept of projection, except that instead of unconscious thoughts being painted onto other people, the political technique is to recognize your own defects at the conscious level and then to defend your own vulnerability by accusing the opposition of the same thing. 

In the case of Sunday night's debate, Trump took this technique to the extreme. Here is an excerpt from CNN.com. 

Donald Trump on Sunday night issued a remarkable threat against Hillary Clinton, telling the Democratic presidential nominee he would seek to imprison her if he was elected next month.

"If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your (missing email) situation," Trump said, "because there has never been so many lies, so much deception."

Trump's threat -- which he has made before on the campaign trail -- is extraordinary even by the standard of the vitriolic 2016 campaign. 

The comment is remarkable for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is how it forced Trump's campaign workers to scramble in the aftermath. His latest adviser explained this remark as Trump channeling the strong feelings of his followers. That reacting at this level to mob sentiment is the opposite of leadership didn't seem to occur to this spokesperson. The irony is rich indeed. 

But we should also notice that Trump's remark is another example of Trump doing a little conscious projection. He is the one who is under attack over the Trump University fraud as well as other scandals. He may not be at the level of criminal prosecution, but the trial over the Trump University case is approaching. 

So Trump threw the first punch. Now it happens to be true that the argument about jailing Hillary is not new. It's been going around since the early days of Trump's campaign. But this was a new element for a presidential debate. Those of an age to remember the Nixon-Kennedy and subsequent debates will recognize how weird this was. 

So Trump took out a little insurance against his own potential prosecution in the event that he does not win the presidency. He got in the first punch. But his threat is so out of bounds that even Ari Fleischer objected. You can read his remark in the CNN story quoted above. 

As for Hillary Clinton, she held her own on substantive points, but that wasn't what this debate was all about. She was forced to repeat the approach she took in the first debate, namely:

1) Point out that it is hard to fact-check Donald Trump during the debate itself, so the viewers should check out her website. 

2) Point out that what you just heard wasn't true, and that Donald lives in his own reality. 

These were useful stratagems during the first debate, but they weren't delivered with quite the oomph this time around. They sounded like something that Hillary was reminding herself to say, and didn't get the follow-up they could have profited by. 

On the other hand, Hillary did an effective job explaining that Trump is not fit for the job of president. She also got a boost from the moderators when Trump was asked to stop interrupting. 

There is one major difference in their competing personas. Over the course of their nomination acceptance speeches and two debates, the difference became clear. Trump presents himself as perpetually angry, outraged, and pessimistic. It's worked for him during the primary process, but it remains to be seen how well it will work for him in a general election. Hillary has taken the more optimistic approach. 

In one way this was forced on her, because it was necessitated by Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again." How do you compete with that, other than to say that America is great already? She is also trying to ride the Obama coattails, so she has to claim that things are improving. It's been a tightrope for Hillary to walk, but she seems to be doing about as well as she can. Historically, presidential candidates who present a positive message seem to have an advantage, as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama showed. 


As of this writing a few hours after the second debate, snap polls show Hillary Clinton as the winner. Interestingly, she won big in the category of appearing more presidential. Perhaps this can be explained by Hillary's ability to maintain a straight face in response to Trump's attacks. Compare that to Trump's constant grimacing and frowning when attacked. Perhaps future historians will conclude that Hillary turned out to be the better actor, in spite of Trump's television experience. Or perhaps it was a mistake for Trump to adopt his television persona during his presidential campaign. Alternatively, it may be that the majority of the public found Trump's aggression distasteful and for that reason, found him to be less presidential. 

One question: Does Trump always know that he is going over the line? Admittedly a lot of his performance is contrived, a vaudevillian shtick. But perhaps that anger he presents is the real Trump, and what we are hearing is that anger spilling over. What presidential candidate would fail to know that threatening to jail your opponent is off limits in the American political tradition? At the extreme level, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were not thrown in prison by the victorious side. Perhaps Trump's followers should remind him.


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


There are Transcripts of Trump’s Unaired Moments on ‘The Apprentice.’ HuffPost Got One.

HUFFINGTON POST--People took notes during shoots of “The Apprentice,” even when those moments didn’t make it into the show. 

Top Democratic operatives have offered to pay millions of dollars for unaired footage of Donald Trump on the set of “The Apprentice,” hoping to unearth another unscripted moment like the one that surfaced Friday from 2005, when Trump said he would grab women “by the pussy.”

Read more ...

Just Words?

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-By now, we’ve all heard the Access Hollywood tape from 2005. Presidential candidate Donald Trump joked with Billy Bush about “moving on her (Nancy O’Dell) like a b*tch”” and how fame is an open door to grabbing women’s genitals.

Read more ...

Fraud Charges, Conspiracy Theories … This Election May Never End

TRUTHDIG--Most of you are already sick of this election and are looking forward to Nov. 8. But don’t count on it being over after Election Day. 

Donald Trump is already crying fraud. People with Cold War memories are warning of Russian hackers disrupting the election. Vote-counting systems are antiquated and often poorly run. All this adds up to investigations and lawsuits alleging miscounted votes and fraud stretching far beyond Election Day, and making doubters even more skeptical of the results. 

The combination of Trump’s paranoia and fears of mysterious hackers are fuel for conspiracy theorists. But with the rapid advance in computer technology and Russian hackers’ suspected penetration of Democratic National Committee (DNC) files, even people who don’t buy the conspiracy theories are alarmed. 

The Department of Homeland Security said 25 states have asked for federal help in assessing vulnerabilities and fighting computer attacks on their voting systems, Politico reported Wednesday. 

I spoke with attorney and election expert Robert Stern, who co-authored the California Political Reform Act and was chief counsel for the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. Stern, definitely not a conspiracy theorist, is also concerned. 

“People don’t trust anything anymore, and the people who lost the election will say it was rigged,” he said. “I think now [that] we have learned Russians hacked the DNC … anything is possible. We did not anticipate all these hacks.” Stern pointed out that state election offices are often less sophisticated than federal agencies, such as the State Department and the FBI. “So,” he said, “it is much more a source of concern. … A large number of citizens will say ‘revote, revote,’ and that’s what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants. He wants mistrust, and probably the Chinese and [North] Koreans do, too.” 

Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, wrote in August: “In the last two weeks, there have been credible reports that Russia is attempting to influence our elections by hacking into the Democratic Party’s email server and other campaign files. These reports are troubling. But an attack on our country’s voting machines, once deemed far-fetched, is even more disturbing.” 

Norden and other election experts cited dangers in the use of voting machines, which don’t leave a countable paper record of the votes cast. One threat could involve hackers changing the count on machines, with no way to check the results after the election. “In November, tens of millions of voters in 14 states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia [battleground states], will vote on paperless electronic voting machines,” Norden wrote. 

“The threats to the integrity of our elections go beyond potential hacks to change the vote count on polling place voting machines,” he said. “Attackers could attempt a ‘denial of service’ attack, where machines simply crash more often. In those cases, voters could be forced to wait in line for hours while technicians work to fix the machines or replace them. Many would give up and never vote. Alternatively, the systems could be attacked after voting is complete, when results from individual machines are tallied at a central location.” 

Election Justice USA, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization fighting election fraud, examined the possibility of attacks on the machines. It issued “Democracy Lost: A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Democratic Primaries” and collaborated on another report, “An Electoral System In Crisis.”  

The organization alleges that hackers installed algorithms (a set of instructions) in electronic vote-counting machines. This would “have increased [Hillary] Clinton’s share of the vote and decreased [Bernie] Sanders share of the vote” enough to deny Sanders the Democratic presidential nomination. The group would like a rerun of the Clinton-Sanders race. 

Election Justice’s researchers also said they found evidence that the Clinton and Ted Cruz campaigns manipulated results in Wisconsin, where Cruz defeated Donald Trump in the primary.

The theory doesn’t make sense to me. Every crime needs a perpetrator and a victim. If both Clinton and Cruz were suspected perpetrators, did their campaigns work together on this scheme? Or did each have separate algorithm-installation operations? If it was a joint operation, why target two such diverse victims as Trump and Sanders?

The “Electoral System in Crisis” report admits the fraud-hunters don’t have a perpetrator. 

“At this point, we are unable to say who might be responsible for any data breaches to the voting equipment. There could be any number of independent players who would benefit from the victory of a particular candidate and would be willing to take action to influence the results. Our research also indicates that in some elections the footprint of more than one unofficial player is evident,” the report said. 

While Cruz beat Trump in Wisconsin, Clinton overwhelmed Sanders in California (2,713,259 to 2,326,030) and in New York (1,054,083 to 763,469.) That’s a lot of votes to fix. 

My first thought was to dismiss Election Justice USA. 

But this is 2016, the year of doubt and suspicion, and if Election Day is followed by months of lawsuits and investigation, the Election Justice USA reports no doubt will take their place in the evidence cited by those litigating the results. 

In addition, Trump has taken up long-standing -- and unproved -- Republican accusations of voting fraud. These allegations have inspired Republican legislatures around the country to impose limits on voting hours and demands for all-but-impossible voter identification. The moves are designed to reduce the turnout of Democratic-leaning African-American and Latino voters and students of all ethnicities. 

Trump, in fact, is urging his supporters to act as Election Day vigilantes in battleground states. “You’ve gotta go out, and you’ve gotta get your friends, and you’ve gotta get everyone you know and you’ve gotta watch your polling booths, because I hear too many stories about Pennsylvania, certain areas,” he said at a recent rally. “I hear too many bad stories, and we can’t lose an election because of you know what I’m talking about. So go and vote, and go check out areas, because a lot of bad things happen and we don’t wanna lose for that reason.” 

Trump adviser Roger Stone said, “The issue here is both voter fraud, which is limited but does happen, and election theft through the manipulation of the computerized voting machines.” 

A nationwide hack of American election machinery is probably impossible. Elections are run by thousands of local governments, loosely supervised by state governments. Each has its own system, ranging from well-run to incompetent. But a hack of electronic voting machines in a few crucial counties in key states is not impossible. And that could affect a close presidential election. 

Controversy -- remember Florida 2000? -- will follow fraud charges by Trump and others. This will sow even more doubt about the electoral process among voters ready to believe the worst about government, and inspire demands for a recount.


(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.) Photo: Seth Perlman/AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

On Corporations, their Minions and the Perversion Called ‘Mandatory Arbitration’

EASTSIDER-I am old enough to have grown up in and around labor unions and the union-management collective bargaining system, a system that today is largely broken, even as the 1/2 of 1% grow obscenely rich and the rest of us are beggared into a two class system. In fact, most people alive today have never experienced labor unions since manufacturing, American companies with roots in America, and the concept of full time employment of our citizens have all been supplanted by a new system of global financial manipulation masking as “Free Trade.” 

I mention all this because there was a method for conflict resolution that came out of those days called “arbitration.” Born out of World War II and the War Labor Board, the idea was to establish a relatively efficient, bilateral system to quickly resolve disputes without the necessity of spending zillions of dollars and decades of time playing with lawyers and the court system. It was well understood then, as now, that the American civil court system is essentially run for the exclusive benefit of those who can afford to use it. 

Anyhow, back in the day, arbitration presumed that there were two institutional parties -- labor and management -- who came to the table as relative equals interested in the resolution of their disputes. The idea was that they would agree upon a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, to hear their disputes, cogitate, and render timely, final and binding decisions as to the outcome. 

Of course, this system, which worked quite well as an alternative to the courts, flourished in a time when America actually built things in the U.S., and where a significant part of the labor force was unionized and covered by collective bargaining agreements. It also assumed that employees could work for most of their careers for the same employer or industry. 

Over time, the concept of lifetime employment relationships with employers was systematically destroyed and unions went into decline. Company CEOs were transformed into financial drones, managing debt rather than actually looking out for the long term health of the companies they ran. I can still recall President Bill Clinton proudly announcing that we should get over the idea of working for one employer, and begin to spend our lives constant retraining for whatever jobs the ‘new economy’ might require. Unmentioned was the implied destruction of pensions, employer-paid medical care, and most of the middle class. Welcome to the new “shared” or “gig” economy. 

Arbitration continued, of course, but it was and is largely a niche market for those who still work in a collective bargaining environment -- employees in the public sector and what remains of private sector unions in areas like health care, education and a few other industries who are still the beneficiaries of this system. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. As unions went into decline, those pesky personal injury attorneys started to replace the arbitration of collective bargaining with civil litigation in the court system. Given that there is no real check and balance governing the behavior of companies anymore, it is not surprising that they often engaged in behaviors which did not pass muster in court. 

Actually, as a young hot dog union organizer, I used to just love nonunion companies. You could quietly organize a key group of employees, hook up with an attorney, and start filing a bunch of tort claims in court to make them realize a contract was a lot cheaper than a bunch of expensive lawsuits resulting in damage awards, not to mention attorney fees. 

While companies hated those “shyster” plaintiff attorneys, even worse from their standpoint was the rise of class action firms who became rich in their own right, jet-setting around the country in search of raw group litigation meat. You know, like John Edwards used to do prior to his presidential dreams. 

Ultimately, companies began to feel the economic sting of all of these lawsuits. As firms like Littler, Mendelson and Jackson Lewis managed to destroy the unions, they became the victims of their very success and were putting themselves out of business. The solution was to quickly reinvent themselves as ‘employment law’ specialists to union-free employers. 

Mandatory Arbitration 

Of course, never underestimate the ability of a lawyer to turn rules on their head and make up look like down. Finally, the companies and their law firms hit upon a brilliant scheme: Bring back arbitration -- but in a rigged system that they could totally control. This brainstorm morphed into what we call today “mandatory arbitration” agreements. 

Here’s how it works: Companies and their high-priced lawyers figured out a long time ago that their worst fear is someone finding a lawyer, going to court, and suing the bejesus out of them for unlawful acts. While the plaintiffs’ attorneys might get the bulk of any award, there was still enough left over for aggrieved citizens to find that lawyer and avail themselves of their constitutional rights. And in the case of class action lawsuits, there was enough money involved that, suddenly, millions of dollars could be at risk just waiting for a hungry attorney. 

On the other hand, if you could control the arbitrators, you could (a) largely control the outcome, and (b) deny folks their constitutional right to the civil litigation system. To control the arbitrators, all you really needed to do was create a new class of “arbitrator” where you and your client get to choose the so-called neutral. That way, any arbitrator who rules against you would cease to get any more cases. 

Just to give this new system the appearance of propriety, along came a whole class of retired or retiring judges eager to make the big bucks they believed that they were denied when working for the public. You know, in relatively low-paying jobs like superior court judges. 

It worked like a charm. Agencies like JAMS & the American Arbitration Association were perfect vehicles to provide the appearance of authority and neutrality for such a system, and served as a shield between the corporate attorneys and the arbitrators themselves. Even better, the arbitrators loved the system, because they could charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their labors without fear of pushback. After all, the attorneys representing the companies were charging more than that, times the number of attorneys involved, so the arbitration fees looked reasonable. Everyone wins except the innocents sucked into the system.  

Wow! This worked so well that if you read the fine print in almost any commercial transaction agreement, you will discover (usually too late) that you have given up your right to sue the rascals for any transgressions or misdeeds against you. Instead, you will be subject to a mandatory arbitration clause in lieu of being able to go to court. 

If you listen to the people who cooked up these deals, they will proudly declare that this is a fast and efficient way of resolving disputes without clogging up the court system. Just like the tooth fairy is real. 

What they won’t tell you is that the corporate attorneys control virtually all of the so-called arbitrators, and you the innocent consumer/employee can be on the hook for 1/2 of the thousands and thousands of dollars that the arbitrators will charge for your little case. In my humble opinion, we have successfully transformed the one dollar one vote of Citizens United into a unilaterally controlled private justice system by this technique. 

A Few Examples 

If you’re not living under a rock, most of us watched or read about the recent grilling of Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf regarding the millions of fake accounts they made their employees create under threat of termination. Well, buried in the testimony, there is a reference to mandatory arbitration by Mr. Stumpf himself: 

“Brad Sherman asked if consumers who had forced arbitration clauses who wanted their day in court would get one. Stumpf tried to pass off the idea that having Wells pay for mediation was just as good but finally admitted, ‘no’.” 

Another favorite Wall Street firm of the Great Recession, JP Morgan Chase, is also a great fan of mandatory arbitration. In an article called Wall Street’s Protection Racket: Mandatory Arbitration,” Pam and Russ Martens point out the huge differences between mandatory arbitration and a court, where the public and the press can actually observe the proceedings, and even write about it. 

In point of fact, this issue has become so pervasive that the New York Times recently described the process as In Arbitration, a Privatization of the Justice System. 

The Times article describes a whole litany of horror stories, including how an ER doctor in Philadelphia brought a sex discrimination suit, was forced into private arbitration, had an ‘in the bag’ arbitrator, and is still paying off some $200,000 that the experience cost her even after she lost the case. The article is part two of a three part report - it’s a good read, and you can follow the links. 

Recent Hopes 

It does look like the government has started to figure out that mandatory arbitration clauses are popping up in almost every kind of contract between consumer and corporation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is actually in the process of adopting a rule that will simply bar mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer financial products (read banksters). Chalk one up to Dodd-Frank. 

Also, in a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals case  in Chicago, the court threw out an arbitration clause which banned employees from joining together as a class to fight their employer. 

I mention this case because in many ways it draws my story full circle. In less than a century we have gone from meaningful labor management relations with honest and cost effective arbitration, to attempts to turn arbitration on its head and make unionization as well as group action illegal. Gee, where did that pesky idea of freedom of assembly and association come from? Oh yeah, the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. 

Moral of the story: read the fine print, and don’t believe the spin doctors.


(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.

Amid ‘Men Yelling Indistinctly’ at VP Debate, Shards of Substance

DEBATING THE DEBATES-The vice-presidential debate Tuesday night was rated by some commentators as generating more heat than light. At times, that certainly seemed true when watching Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence hurl charges at each other, insert practiced digs and cut each other off. 

But it pays to read the transcript and remind yourself that this debate did raise some points of real consequence about the economy, race relations and policing, immigration, reproductive rights, and foreign policy. It is true that this debate did not address much of what we would expect in a real “people’s debate” that focused on the real concerns of struggling Americans. But there were ample moments of real contrast between the America that works for all people that is promised by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the mix of alt-right nationalism and tea-party policies that would surely be ushered into Republican Donald Trump’s administration. 

Here are a few: 

  • On wages, Kaine pointed out that while Clinton supports raising the minimum wage, Trump has indeed said that wages are too high for American companies to be competitive, and Pence has been a “one-man bulwark against minimum wage increases” as both governor of Indiana and as a conservative leader in Congress before he became governor. 
  • Kaine said that the Clinton administration would “never, ever engage in a risky scheme to privatize Social Security,” while pointing out that Trump embraced privatization (in a 2000 book, “The America We Deserve”). PolitiFact gave Kaine a “mostly false” for the implication that a Trump administration would embrace privatization. But here PolitiFact gets it wrong by omitting that Trump’s admittedly vague statements about how he would restore Social Security’s long-term solvency by economic growth alone – a statement no serious expert on Social Security finances on either side of the aisle believes – leaves a policy vacuum that would be likely filled by Pence’s embrace of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan for Social Security, which does include allowing Social Security trust funds to be diverted into private stock market accounts. In a word, privatization. 
  • Pence sounded less strident than Trump when talking about policing in African-American communities, leavening a reference for “law and order” with support for community policing. But then he undercut that attempt at moderation by saying that talk of implicit bias and institutional racism in policing “has got to stop” and echoed Trump’s support of “stop-and-frisk” police practices that were ruled unconstitutional when they were practiced in New York City. The lessons learned in dozens of cities – that training police officers of all colors in recognizing implicit bias and how to use de-escalation strategies to prevent unnecessary use of force makes for safer neighborhoods and more safety for police – continue to be rejected by the Trump-Pence ticket, to the peril of not only people of color but the nation at large.

Kaine and Pence also reprised the well-known differences between the candidates at the top of the ticket on immigration, sparred on Clinton’s foreign policy record as secretary of state, and highlighted a sharp contrast on reproductive rights, which Pence unapologetically opposes. 

It was here that Pence left himself most vulnerable, not simply because of his faith-based stand against reproductive rights for women, but because his willingness to defend what he believes his Christian faith says about the immorality of abortion under any circumstances did not extend to what his Christian faith says about the immorality of Donald Trump. 

Kaine kept pressing Pence to defend Trump’s slurs against women, the disabled and people of color. He kept goading Pence into defending Trump’s extreme use of the tax code to avoid paying taxes for the government he now seeks to lead. He referenced Trump’s unethical business practices and the thousands of workers and vendors who have been stiffed by Trump’s businesses over the years. He noted that because Trump has not released his tax returns, we have no evidence of Trump’s charitable giving (but we do have a growing number of news stories about his abuse of the Trump Foundation). The Bible that Pence uses as the guide star for his political life contains denunciation after denunciation of people who abuse wealth for their own gain at the expense of those who do not have wealth or power. 

After the debate, the spin room was full of pronouncements that Mike Pence won. But Pence himself had to know in his heart of hearts that he was being asked to defend the morally indefensible, and that never makes you a winner. 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


(Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of the OurFuture.org blog since 2007 and is also communication director for People's Action. This piece appeared in CommonDreams.org.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Exposed: Guess Whose $$ are Behind Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson! Would You Believe the Koch Brothers?

ELECTION 2016--Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate, is currently having a moment with younger voters. Presumably this is because he has emphasized his pro-marijuana stance and stayed away from touting his views on nearly everything else, which, as AlterNet has reported, are very right-wing. Yet look behind the curtain, and you’ll find that Johnson’s candidacy is fueled by money provided by funders who are driving forces behind things most young voters abhor, like the privatization of public education and the “right” to pollute the environment.

A combination of engaging social media launched by pro-Johnson PACs and the candidate’s goofy, likable personality add up to 29 percent of voters between the ages of 18-34 telling pollsters for NBC News that they plan to vote for the third-party candidate. (His “What is Aleppo?” gaffe seems not to have made a dent in his numbers.) Several respected pollsters and political scientists have deduced that Johnson’s totals cut further into votes that would normally accrue to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton than to Republican nominee Donald Trump. Young voters comprise a critical constituency in the Democratic coalition, and Clinton has struggled to engage them, even gaining the endorsement of Bernie Sanders, the primary challenger who garnered great enthusiasm among young Democrats.

Johnson’s plan, as reported by Politico’s Ben Birnbaum, is to siphon enough votes from both major-party candidates to deprive each of the 270-electoral vote majority a candidate needs in order to win the White House. Then the race gets thrown into the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where the third-party candidate quixotically expects to win. But even if this long-shot scheme had a chance, it’s hard to imagine members of the Republican majority in Congress voting to hand the White House to someone other than their party’s nominee. That all raises the question, what is Johnson really up to, and whose interests does he represent?

Birnbaum reports that the Johnson campaign has “recently reshuffled its map,” focusing on states “with large numbers of disgruntled Sanders voters,” which he identifies as Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington. In addition, the Johnson forces are also making television and radio ad buys, according to Advertising Age, in Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire and Maine—all states identified by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten as more-or-less “must-win” states for Clinton (meaning her chances of winning the general election drop precipitously if she loses any one of them).

While the Johnson airtime buys are tiny compared with Clinton’s, they amount to gauntlets thrown, especially when you factor in the Johnson forces’ clever online strategy. If your target is young voters, television buys probably aren’t a great use of your resources. But creating viral videos probably is, and the pro-Johnson AlternativePAC is doing just that.

Despite the fact that Johnson’s poll numbers—he’s at 8 percent in the Real Clear Politics average—are higher than any previous modern-era third-party candidate at this point in the election cycle, he still has a long climb to make the 15 percent threshold required for inclusion in the presidential debates. So, the campaign’s present focus is on elevating his profile so his poll numbers go up, with the hope of making it onto the debate stage October 9. (Read the rest.) 


Vote Pact Report: The Debate’s Biggest Liar? Lester Holt!

DEBATING DEBATES-Before the face-off between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, many were pleading for Lester Holt (above left), the NBC anchor and moderator Monday night, to be a “fact checker.” 

Any delusions in that regard should have been dashed right away as he perpetrated a root falsehood at the very start of the event. 

Holt claimed that the event was “sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The commission drafted tonight’s format, and the rules have been agreed to by the campaigns.” 

While the CPD certainly controls much of the event, it’s not a “nonpartisan” organization at all. It’s about as far from nonpartisan as you can get. It’s totally bipartisan. It’s a creation of the Democratic and Republican parties designed to solidify their dominance over the public. 

Its origins are in an agreement “Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances” from 1985 signed by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., then Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Paul G. Kirk Jr., then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The two would go on to head the CPD. 

But that original agreement didn’t even have the word “debates” in it. This commission is the mechanism by which the Democratic and Republican parties came together to push aside the League of Women Voters, which had organized presidential debates before 1988. It was to make sure that the campaigns, not some independent entity, would decide on moderators, on formats—and to critically exclude other participants unless both sides agreed. They simply wanted to ensure “televised joint appearances”—which became emblematic of a pretense of democratic discourse.

Holt’s fabrication—he can’t possibly be ignorant of this—is really a root problem of our politics. All the lies and spin from Clinton and Trump largely manifest themselves because each side excuses them because “the other” is worse. That is, the very “bipartisan” structure of our elections is in large part responsible for the dynamics we’re seeing. 

Normally decent people ignore all of Clinton’s deceptions because they loathe Trump, and normally decent people excuse Trump’s fabrications because they detest Clinton. That’s why candidates with incredibly high unfavorability ratings—as Clinton and Trump famously have—may still have millions voting for them, like two crumbling buildings helped up by each other. 

And the voters have “nowhere else to go” because they are in effect held prisoners by fear. Millions of people who might agree with other candidates—Jill Stein of the Green Party or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or the Constitution Party or socialist parties—do not actually coalesce around those candidates because they fear helping Trump or Clinton. This mindset probably prevents stronger challengers to the duopoly from ever coming forward in the first place.

There are two ways out of this that I see:


Pollsters can find ways of finding out what the public actually wants. That is, every tracking poll today has the same format—some minor variation of “if the next election for president were held today, with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate, Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate, and Jill Stein the Green Party candidate, for whom would you vote?” (NBC / Wall Street Journal) 

What pollsters are not doing is asking people who they actually want to be president. That is, there are lots of people who want Johnson or Stein, but feel like they have to vote for Clinton or Trump to stop the other. So while media outlets claim that Gary Johnson is at 8 percent in “the polls” and Jill Stein is at 3 percent in the “opinion polls”—that’s not accurate. They are not opinion polls. Polls are not gauging the actual views and beliefs of the public. They are ostensibly predicting a future event. But they are molding that reality as we go along. Most brazenly because the CPD has set 15 percent in these polls as the criteria for exclusion. 

USA Today, in a refreshing departure from usual polling, recently found that 76 percent of the public want Stein and Johnson in the debates. And here’s the kicker: When reformers suggested that someone should be included in the debates if a majority wanted them in, the heads of the commission rejected the effort. Paul Kirk, now co-chairman emeritus of the CPD, said: “It’s a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States.” But that’s the problem: The polls the CPD is relying on don’t actually ask the public who they prefer to be president. We could have a “third party” candidate with plurality support and we wouldn’t know it because the question to gauge that isn’t asked of the public.

Obvious recommendation: Pollsters should actually have an interest in the opinions of the public and ask them who they prefer to be president. 

Voters Can Unite 

The other way out of this seemingly perpetual duopoly bind is that voters come together. That’s what I outline at VotePact.org: People who feel compelled to vote for Clinton because they detest Trump can team up with their opposite number. This requires real work. Instead of stopping Trump by voting for Clinton, a progressive can stop Trump by taking a vote away from him. 

That is, instead of a husband and wife who are actually unhappy with both Clinton and Trump casting votes that in effect cancel out each other—one voting for Trump and the other for Clinton—they can both vote for candidates they actually prefer. Each would be free to vote their preference—Johnson, Stein, whoever. 

The progressive would undermine Trump not by voting for a candidate they don’t trust—Clinton—but more skillfully: by taking a vote away from Trump. The conservative would not feel they have to suffer the indignity of voting for a candidate that’s distasteful—Trump. They would instead succeed in depriving Clinton of a vote. 

It’s that kind of outside-the-box thinking that’s going to get us out of the binds that the ever-duplicitous duopoly attempt to impose on the citizenry. 

(Sam Husseini is founder of VotePact.org. This piece first appeared in TruthDig. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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