Wed, Feb

Parents, Stop the Corporate Takeover of Public Ed … Opt-Out!

EDUCATION POLITICS--Many parents and educators are outraged by the over-testing and misuse of testing that has been embedded in federal policy since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002. No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year in grades 3-8, as we have since the passage of NCLB.

Young children sit for exams that last up to 15 hours over two weeks. The fate of their teachers rests on their performance. Parents remember taking tests in school that lasted no more than one class period for each subject. Their tests were made by their teachers, not by a multinational corporation. Parents can’t understand how testing became an endurance trial and the goal of education.

Politicians claim that the tests are necessary to inform parents and teachers and the public how children in one state are doing as compared to their peers in other states. But this information is already reported by the federal test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Parents have figured out that the tests don’t serve any purpose other than to rank their child. No one is allowed to see the test questions after the test. No child receives a diagnosis of what they know and don’t know. They receive only a score. In every state, the majority of children have been ranked as “failures” because the testmakers adopted a passing mark that was guaranteed to fail close to 70% of children. Parents have learned that the passing mark is not objective; it is arbitrary. It can be set to pass everyone, pass no one, or pass some percentage of children.

In the past 14 years, parents have seen the destruction of neighborhood schools, based on their test scores. They have seen beloved teachers fired unjustly, because of their students’ test scores. They have seen the loss of time for the arts, physical education, and anything else that is not tested. They have seen a change in their local public schools that they don’t like, as well as a loss of control to federal mandates and state authorities.

In the past, testing companies warned that tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. Now, these corporations willingly sell their tests without warning about misuse. A test of fourth grade reading tests fourth grade reading. It should not be used to rank students, to humiliate students, to fire teachers and principals, or to close schools. But it is.

Communities have been devastated by the closing of their neighborhood schools.

Communities have seen their schools labeled “failing,” based on test scores, and taken over by the state or national corporate charter chains.

Based on test scores, punishments abound: for students, teachers, principals, schools, and communities.

This is madness!

What can we as citizens do to stop the destruction of our children, their schools, and our dedicated educators?

Opt out of the tests.

Use the power of the powerless: Say NO. Do not participate. Withdraw your consent from actions that harm your child. Withdrawal of consent in an unjust system. That’s the force that brought down Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Vaclav Havel and Lech Walensa said no. They were not alone. Hundreds of thousands stood with them, and the regimes with their weapons and tanks and heavy armor folded. Because the people said no.

Opting out of the tests is the only tool available to parents, other than defeating the elected officials of your state (which is also a good idea, but will take a very long time to bear fruit). One person can’t defeat the governor and the local representatives. But one person can refuse to allow their child to take the toxic tests.

The only tool and the most powerful tool that parents have to stop this madness is to refuse to allow their children to take the tests.

Consider New York. A year ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo was in full attack mode against teachers and public schools, while showering praise on privately managed charters. He vowed to “break the monopoly” known as public education. The New York State Board of Regents was controlled by members who were in complete sympathy with Cuomo’s agenda of Common Core, high-stakes testing, and evaluating teachers by test scores.

But in 2015, about a quarter million children refused the state tests. Albany went into panic mode. Governor Cuomo convened a commission to re-evaluate the Common Core, standards, and testing. Almost overnight, his negative declarations about education changed in tone, and he went silent. The legislature appointed new members, who did not share the test-and-punish mentality. The chair of the New York State Board of Regents decided not to seek re-appointment after a 20-year career on that board. The Regents elected Dr. Betty Rosa, a veteran educator who was actively supported by the leaders of the opt out movement.

Again in 2016, the opt out movement showed its power. While official figures have not yet been released, the numbers evidently match those of 2015. More than half the students in Long Island opted out. Federal and state officials have issued warnings about sanctions, but it is impossible to sanction huge numbers of schools in middle-class and affluent communities. The same officials have no problem closing schools in poor urban districts, treating citizens there as chess pawns, but they dare not offend an organized bloc in politically powerful communities.

The opt out movement has been ridiculed by critics, treated by the media as a front for the teachers’ union, belittled by the former Secretary of Education as “white suburban moms” who were disappointed that their child was not so bright after all, stereotyped as privileged white parents with low-performing children, etc. There are indeed black and Hispanic parents who are part of the opt out movement. Their children and their schools suffer the greatest penalties in the current testing madness. In New York City, where opt out numbers were tiny, parents were warned that their children would not be able to enter the middle school or the high school of their choice if they opted out.

Thus far, the opt out movement has not been discouraged or slowed by these tactics of ridicule and intimidation. The conditions have not changed, so the opt out movement will continue.

The reality is that the opt out movement is indeed a powerful weapon. It is the one weapon that makes governors, legislators, and even members of Congress afraid of public opinion and public action. They are afraid because they don’t know how to stop parents from opting out. They can’t control opt out parents, and they know it. They offer compromises, promises for the future, but all of this is sham. They have not let go of the testing hammer. And they will not until opt out becomes the norm, not the exception.

In some communities in New York, opting out is already the norm. If politicians and bureaucrats continue on their reckless course of valuing test scores more than children, the opt out movement will not be deterred.

Save your child. Save your schools. Stop the corporate takeover of public education. You have the power. Say no. Opt out.

(Diane Ravitch is a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University. Posted earlier at Diane’s blog and at Common Dreams.) 


Hillary Clinton: Too Big to Jail

EDITOR’S PICK--On Monday America celebrated the 240th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which condemned King George III for “(obstructing) the Administration of Justice.” 

On Tuesday the American left celebrated as the federal government obstructed the administration of justice on behalf of one of its ruling families, the Clintons. 

Last week the attorney general of the United States met with former President Bill Clinton, whose wife and foundation were under FBI investigation. They both insisted nothing untoward happened. Days later The New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton might offer Lynch a position in her administration. 

Over the holiday weekend the Obama administration announced that President Obama would fly to North Carolina with Clinton aboard Air Force One in order to campaign with her. Americans would, in part, foot the bill for the travel. 

On Tuesday FBI Director James Comey called a supposedly impromptu press conference to announce his findings in the investigation of Clinton’s private email server. He began by announcing that nobody knew what he was about to say, which seems implausible given that Obama was preparing to go onstage with Clinton at the time. Is it even within the realm of imagination that Obama would stand next to Clinton hours after Comey announced the intent to prosecute her? Of course not. 

Then, Comey proceeded to lay out all the reasons why Clinton should have been indicted: She set up multiple private email servers, all of which were vulnerable to hack; she did not set them up in order to use one mobile device, as she has so often stated; she transmitted and received highly classified material; her team deleted emails that could have contained relevant and classified information; she knew that classified information was crossing her server. He concluded that Clinton’s team was “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” 

This was all criminal activity. 

But Clinton is a member of the Royal Family. Thus, said Comey, she was innocent. Comey tried to say he wouldn’t recommend prosecution because she didn’t have the requisite intent, but the law doesn’t require intent; it requires merely “gross negligence” under 18 U.S.C. 793. In fact, even the level of intent required to charge under statutes like 18 U.S.C. 1924 and 18 U.S.C. 798 was clearly met: the intent to place classified information in a nonapproved, non-classified place. 

Nonetheless, Clinton would be allowed to roam free — and become president. “To be clear,” Comey intoned, “this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.” 

One rule for the peons, one for the potentates. 

This is the Wilsonian legacy, finally achieved after a century of waiting: the Big Man (or Woman), unanswerable to the law, approved by the population without regard to equality under the law. We now elect our dictators. And they are unanswerable to us — except, presumably, once every four years. The commonfolk, on the other hand, find themselves on the wrong side of the government gun every day. 

Tyranny doesn’t start with jackboots. It begins with the notion that a different law applies to the powerful than to the powerless. Under Barack Obama tyranny has become a way of life. Ronald Reagan always said that freedom was one generation away from extinction. It looks like we’ve finally found that generation.


(Ben Shapiro, 31, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, a radio host on KTTH 770 Seattle and KRLA 870 Los Angeles, Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org, [[hotlink]] and Senior Editor-at-Large of Breitbart News. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans.  This piece was posted most recently at Freedoms Back.



From Brexit to Trump: Why the World Is Rebelling Against ‘Experts’

NEW GEOGRAPHY-An unconventional, sometimes incoherent, resistance arises to the elites who keep explaining why changes that hurt the middle class are actually for its own good. 

The Great Rebellion is on and where it leads nobody knows. 

Its expressions range from Brexit to the Trump phenomena and includes neo-nationalist and unconventional insurgent movements around the world. It shares no single leader, party or ideology. Its very incoherence, combined with the blindness of its elite opposition, has made it hard for the established parties across what’s left of the democratic world to contain it. 

What holds the rebels together is a single idea: the rejection of the neo-liberal crony capitalist order that has arisen since the fall of the Soviet Union. For two decades, this new ruling class could boast of great successes: rising living standards, limited warfare, rapid technological change and an optimism about the future spread of liberal democracy. Now, that’s all fading or failing. 

Living standards are stagnating, vicious wars are raging, poverty-stricken migrants are pouring across borders and class chasms are growing. Amidst this, the crony capitalists and their bureaucratic allies have only grown more arrogant and demanding.  But the failures of those who occupy what Lenin called “the commanding heights” are obvious to most of the citizens on whose behalf they claim to speak and act. 

The Great Rebellion draws on five disparate and sometimes contradictory causes that find common ground in frustration with the steady bureaucratic erosion of democratic self-governance: class resentment, racial concerns, geographic disparities, nationalism, and cultural identity. Each of these strains appeals to different constituencies, but together they are creating a political Molotov cocktail. 

Class Conflict--The Brexit vote reflected the class aspect of the Rebellion. The London Times post-election analysis, notes socialist author James Heartfield, found the upper classes 57 percent for “Remain,” the upper middle class fairly divided, while everyone below them went roughly two-thirds for “Leave.” It doesn’t get much plainer than that. 

This dissent reflects the consequences of the globalization celebrated by elites in both parties. Britain’s industrial workforce, once the wonder of the world, is half as large was as just two decades ago. The social status of the British worker, even among the Labour grandees who pay them lip service, has been greatly diminished, notes scholar Dick Hobbs, himself a product of blue collar east London. “There are parts of London,” he writes, “where the pubs are the only economy.” 

As labor has struggled, writes Heartfield, “the Labour Party became more distant, metropolitan and elitist. It sought to re-write the party’s policy to mirror its own concerns, and also to diminish working people’s aspirations for social democratic reform in their favour.” 

A similar scenario has emerged here in America, where corporations -- especially those making consumer goods -- have grown fat on access to Chinese, Mexican and other foreign labor. Like their British counterparts, the U.S. working class is falling into social chaos, with declining marriage and church attendance rates, growing drug addiction, poor school performance and even declining life expectancy. Even during the primary campaign, as both Sanders and Trump railed against globalization, United Technologies saw fit to announce the movement of a large plant form Indianapolis, where about 1,500 jobs were lost, to Monterrey, Mexico. 

And much as the “Leave” wave crested in just those parts of the U.K. where trade with Europe is highest, so is Trump support highest in the Southern states that now dominate what remains of American manufacturing. 

Race and Ethnicity--Ethnic minorities and immigrants have now become core constituents of progressive parties in many countries -- the Socialists in France, the British Labour Party and the Democratic Party here in America. In Britain, it never occurred to party leaders that most new jobs created during the Blair and Brown regimes went to newcomers. One can admire the pluck of Polish plumbers, Latvian barmaids, Greek waiters and French technicians and still note that many of these jobs could have gone to native born British. This includes the children of the mostly non-white commonwealth immigrants who are now part of the country’s national culture. 

The parallels in America -- a much larger, richer and more diverse country -- are striking. Silicon Valley and corporate America love to bring in glorified indentured servants from abroad, earning the assent of Hillary Clinton and the corporate shill wing of the GOP. Only Trump and Sanders have attacked this program, which has cost even trained American workers their jobs. 

As tends to occur when race and ethnicity intrude, ugliness here seeps into the Great Rebellion. Trump has consciously and irresponsibly stoked ethnic resentments tied to immigration. Anti-EU continental Europeans -- notably in Eastern Europe but also France’s Marine Le Pen -- often outdo our TV billionaire’s provocations. 

Geographic Disparities--The Brexit vote also revealed a chasm between the metropolitan core and the rest of the country. The urban centers of London, Manchester and Liverpool all voted Remain. Central London has benefited from being where the world’s super rich park their money. The devastation of the industrial economy in the periphery has hardly touched the posh precincts of the premier global city. 

In contrast, the more distant, often working class, suburbs of London and other cities voted to Leave. Small towns followed suit. The Brexit vote, suggests analyst Aaron Renn, demonstrated that arrogant urbanites, seeing themselves as the exclusive centers of civilization, ignore those who live outside the “glamour zone” at their own peril. 

Similar voting patterns can be seen in the US. The countryside, except for retirement havens of the rich, has gone way to the right. The suburbs are tilting that way, and could become more rebellious as aggressive “disparate impact” policies force communities to reshape themselves to meet HUD’s social engineering standards -- for example if they are too middle class or too white -- even if there is no proof of actual discrimination. 

Needless to say, such policies could enhance the geographic base of the Great Rebellion, including among middle-class minorities who are now responsible for much of our current suburban growth. Already the small towns and outer suburbs have signed up with Trump; if he can make clear the threat to suburbia from the planners, he could, despite his boorish ugliness, win these areas and the election. 

Nationalism and Cultural Identity--Nationalism gets a bad rap in Europe, for historically sound reasons. Yet these national cultures also have produced much of the world’s great literature and music, and the world’s most beautiful cities. Yet in contemporary Europe, these national cultures are diminishing. Instead the crony capitalist regime gives us Rem Koolhaas’ repetitious generic city, often as stultifying as the most mindless suburban mall. 

Not just buildings, but historic values are also being undermined, as universities and even grade schools seek to replace cherished values with post-modernist, politically correct formulations. English students at Yale protest having to read Chaucer, Shakespeare or Milton, the foundation writers of the world’s common language whose greatest sin, it appears, was to be both English and male. 

Of course, cultural and political nationalism often shows an ugly side. But everyone who shouts for the British national soccer team or chants USA at the Olympics is not a fascist; they are just people who love their country. Yet academia, the shaper of the young and impressionable, now sometimes regard any positive assessment of America as the land of opportunity or even the American flag as “micro-aggressions.” Brits and Americans have much to be ashamed about in their history, but their glorious achievements remain inspirational to many who find attempts to replace them with some tortured global syncretism foolish and counterproductive. 

Governance and Localism--When Brits told pollsters why they had voted to leave the EU, notes James Heartfield, immigration and national identity ranked high but democracy and self-governance was at the top of the list. In contrast, classes who supported remain—the mainstream media, academia, the legal and financial establishments—increasingly see themselves as rightful rulers, the benighted masses be damned. 

This anti-EU rebellion is hardly limited to Britain. Since 2005, French, Danish and Dutch voters have voted against closer EU ties. Hostility to the EU, as recorded by Pew, is actually stronger in many key European countries, including France, than it is in Britain. And after the Brexit vote, there are already moves for similar exit referenda in several European countries. 

But like Washington bureaucrats who can’t be bothered to pay much attention to the views of the underlings of the Heartland, the Eurocrats want to double down. The Germans, the effective rulers of Europe, have reacted to Brexit with talk about ways to “deepen” the EU, creating the basis for what some have argued would be essentially “a super-state.” This policy approach seems about as brilliant as that of Lord North, whose response to American agitation was to further tighten London’s screws. 

This arrogance, in part, stems from what one writer at the Atlantic has called the war on the stupid.  In this formulation, those with elite degrees, including the hegemons on Wall Street and Silicon Valley, dismiss local control as rule by the Yahoos. The progressive ideal of government by experts -- sometimes seen as “the technocracy” -- may sound good in Palo Alto or London, but often promises a dim future for the middle class. Expert regulation, often with green goals in mind, take hard-earned gains like car and home ownership and cheap air travel all but out of reach for the middle class, while keeping them around for the globe-trotting elites. 

Where does this go?--The Great Rebellion is, if nothing else, politically incoherent. 

Some conservatives hail it as a harbinger of the decline of progressivism.  Traditional leftists hope for the return of state socialism, directed from national capitals. Racists see a vindication for their world view. Libertarians hail de-regulation while others, on the nationalist right, embrace the authoritarian nationalism of Vladimir Putin. 

Yet for all its divergent views, the Great Rebellion has accomplished this: the first serious blow to the relentless ascendency of neo-liberal crony capitalism. The revels have put the issue of the super-state and the cause of returning power closer to the people back on the agenda. The Great Rebellion allows localities relief from overweening regulations, cities to be as urban as they want, and the periphery choose how they wish to develop. 

The Rebellion also allows us to move beyond enforced standards of racial “balance” and reparations, replacing the chaos of unenforced borders and enforced “diversity” with something more gradual and organic in nature. Our hope on race and ethnicity lies not in rule-making from above, but in allowing the multiculturalism of the streets to occur, as is rapidly does, in suburban schoolyards, soccer pitches and Main Streets across the Western world. 

National cultures do not need to be annihilated but allowed to evolve. In Texas, California, and across the southwestern, Spanish phraseology, Mexican food and music are already very mainstream. Without lectures from the White House or preening professors, African-American strains will continue to define our national culture, particularly in the south. In Europe, few object to couscous on bistro menus, falafel on the streets and, in Britain, the obligatory curry at the pub. 

The Great Rebellion is much more than the triumph of nativism, stupidity and crudeness widely denounced in the mainstream media. Ethnic integration and even globalization will continue, but shaped by the wishes of democratic peoples, not corporate hegemons or bureaucratic know-it-alls. We can now once again aspire to a better world -- better because it will be one that people, not autocrats, have decided to make.


(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.”) This piece first appeared in NewGeography.com.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Alan Dershowitz: Comey May Have Overstepped His Authority

EDITOR’S PICK--Renowned lawyer and professor Alan Dershowitz penned an op-ed piece for The Hill in which he says James Comey reached the correct conclusion in Hillary Clinton's email scandal, but that the FBI Director might have exceeded his authority getting there. 

"[Comey] was certainly correct in his ultimate recommendation. The evidence in this case, as he described it, would not have justified a criminal prosecution," Dershowitz wrote. "There is simply no precedent for indicting a former secretary of state for carelessness, even extreme carelessness." 

However, Dershowitz identified four curious statements the FBI director made that suggest Comey overstepped his bounds:

  • The FBI is an investigative agency; it does not make prosecutorial decisions like Comey outlined Tuesday.
  • It's rare and highly unusual for an FBI director to articulate opinions — Comey called Clinton "extremely careless" — about the behavior of a subject.
  • Comey was obtuse in his "verbal formulation" of whether emails where classified or not.
  • Comey implied that some Clinton aides might lose their security clearance over this; again, out of the FBI's purview.

So though Dershowitz lauds Comey as honorable and is comfortable with the outcome, he is uncomfortable with the power wielded by someone with the job title of FBI director. (Read the rest.) 


Trump's Racial Firebombs Weaken U.S.

NEW GEOGRAPHY-The issue of race has scarred the entirety of U.S. history. Although sometimes overshadowed by the arguably more deep-seated issue of class, the racial divide is a festering wound that decent Americans, including politicians, genuinely want to heal. 

Decency and politics have a tenuous relationship, but this year, one candidate has exacerbated racial tensions in a way not seen since the days of segregationist George Wallace and Richard Nixon’s polarizing vice president, Spiro Agnew. Donald Trump, through his outbursts and incendiary rhetoric, opened the door to a new period of even greater racial antagonism. 

Trump promises to “make America great again,” but his divisive approach leaves us both weaker and even more afflicted with racial identity politics. Just as neo-Nazis and old-style racists have rallied to his cause, Trump’s intemperance also has energized ethnic nationalists, particularly in Hispanic communities. Among America’s growing Muslim population, perhaps no one has served as a better recruiter for Islamists, who agree with him that their religion and culture is anathema to America. The triumph of Brexit -- in part driven by immigration -- may encourage this further. 

Not all the blame for America’s racial discord falls to Trump, of course. Well before his rise to political prominence, Americans had grown pessimistic about race relations, which constitutes something of a failure by an administration that once promised greater racial unity. The president and Hillary Clinton, who have used racial politics to motivate minorities against the perceived racism of middle and working class whites, share responsibility for the deterioration. And liberal media, academics and elected officials can’t be particularly proud of their records of promoting tolerance and multiculturalism. 

White America Betrayed?

In recent years, large swaths of working whites, like their British counterparts, have seen their jobs disappear and old social orders upended, fueling anger and a general sense of loss, reflected in rapidly rising morbidity and suicide rates. As Pittsburgh psychologist Kenneth Thompson puts it: “Their social habitat is strained, and the strain is showing up in a looming body count.” 

Trump has exploited their anger by turning it on immigrants, characterizing Mexicans as rapists and calling for border walls, immigration bans and tougher trade deals. However cruel and misguided, Trump’s racial divisiveness resonates with these blue-collar whites, as well as among some more affluent middle-class whites. 

In reality, Trump is not a classic racist, but rather an ugly opportunist willing to use ethnic divides for his own benefit. He’s been compared to Adolph Hitler, a monster whose philosophy revolved around race, but Trump has no real theory that extends beyond self-glorification, resentment, and attracting the fetching female; “The Art of the Deal” is not “Mein Kampf.” 

Trump will play the race card as a way to satisfy his narcissistic need for enthusiastic admirers. This does not mean his approach does not echo the racism of the past. His claim of bias by a U.S.-born judge of Mexican descent, as well as his suggestions that Muslim jurists are incapable of ruling independently, recall the worst of the pre-Civil Rights South. His proposals to ban Muslim immigrants in general recall approaches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which targeted Chinese, Japanese and, ultimately eastern and southern Europeans. 

Other Negative Forces 

Progressives – including the media claque and academic elites -- have shown little sympathy for the white working class and have been dismissive of its embrace of Trump’s candidacy, as characterized by Salon’s recent description: “White America’s sad last stand.” 

Instead of trying to understand the deep frustrations of the white middle class, it’s not unusual for progressives to express solidarity with racial minorities and condemn white privilege. 

Clinton takes it a step further, stoking minority fear-mongers to generate badly need enthusiasm. Accused of using “dog whistles” to attract racists against candidate Obama in 2008, Clinton now courts racial nationalists, including some in the Black Lives Matter movement, race-baiter supremo Al Sharpton, and La Raza. 

Interestingly, the fury against white “racism” is most fully throated and often most violent in white, deep-blue bastions such as Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. It’s in these cities, ironically, where minorities increasingly are victims of gentrification, forced out of their neighborhoods to make way for affluent whites. 

At the same time, liberal cities’ planning, energy and environmental policies do not improve life for the working- and middle-class populations, including many minorities. Yet while more highly paid blue-collar jobs disappear, working-class communities frequently are the ones absorbing large numbers of undocumented immigrants. The affluent, “enlightened” liberals in places like Chicago’s Gold Coast, west Los Angeles and the upper east side of Manhattan may get their servants from these populations, but rarely are they neighbors or competitors in the job market. 

These are fruits of America’s failed immigration system, an issue that even Latinos in this country are eager to resolve. Had Trump not crossed so many lines of decency, he might have seized the day and turned immigration policy into a huge plus, earning the support of the solid majority of Americans who agree that the border needs to be tightened. 

But by painting Latinos as drug dealers and criminals and suggesting that Muslims, per se, represent a security danger, Trump has made himself the issue and squandered the opportunity. 

Trump’s willingness to “tell it like it is” may have won over some segments of the population, but it’s fanciful to believe, as some right-wingers  carry him to the White House. His assaults on issues such as illegal immigration and the need to closely monitor potential terrorists may resonate, but his stridency, and lack of respect for basic decencies, have alienated much of the population. 

Multiculturalism of the Streets 

The good news is that while race seems to have paralyzed politics, society is becoming more integrated. Once lily-white suburbs are increasingly multi-racial, even as some core cities become less diverse. What the Mexican journalist Sergio Munoz once called “the multiculturalism of the streets” is thriving, even as politicians promote division. 

A key indicator is the rising rate of racial intermarriage. Pew surveys show that mixed-race couples account for 15 percent of marriages, including nearly 10 percent of white marriages, 17 percent of black, 26 percent of Hispanic and 28 percent of Asian marriages. This is sure to blur racial distinctions in the decades ahead. If you live in a diverse region like Southern California, you see this mixed-race reality all the time -- at grade school graduations, Angels games, in restaurants and Fourth of July parades. This is the new America. 

This 21st century nation-of-immigrants picture is unlikely to stir the soul of the celebrity billionaire with a taste for 24-karat gold plating on everything from his seat belts to his sinks. Trump is in it only to win, because winning is everything to him. The problem is Trump’s vanity campaign will probably cost Republicans  the White House, leaving America bluer, more regulated and less responsive to the needs of white workers. In this sense, Trumpism represents something akin to Marx’s “opium of the masses,” an emotional balm that only provides temporary relief. 

Clinton’s embrace of racial nationalists, on the other hand, forces her to lead from a position that is fundamentally partisan and mean-spirited. But it is Trump who threatens racial progress more directly, in a more irresponsible and inflammatory fashion. In this case, at least, the despicable is far preferable to the dangerous. 

The best hope here is that, once this awful and dangerous lout is dismissed from the national sne, our racial wounds will be allowed again to heal. The spark for this will not come from the venal political and media class, but through day-to-day interactions in the communities we increasingly share.


(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.”) Trump protest photo by i threw a guitar at him.   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

This Person Exists: Transgender People Can Now Fight and Die For the Empire

GUEST COMMENTARY-The Pentagon's long-awaited decision to end its ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military has been widely praised as a move toward equality, full benefits and their right to serve "without having to lie about who they are." In a speech Thursday at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter referenced the up to 15,000 transgender people now estimated to be serving silently, calling them "talented and trained Americans who are serving their country with honor and distinction (and) who’ve proven themselves.” 

Though many details of the shift remain to be worked out, advocates generally praised the change as "a matter of principle." Capt. Sage Fox, a U.S. Army Reserve officer who transitioned in 2012: "This is about equality, about civil rights, (about) recognizing the decency of human beings (and) that we are all equal." 

So far, all good. Still, the Pentagon announcement was swathed in troubling language and murky on many details, including its plausibly bloody end goal. Chelsea Manning and other activists rightly questioned the laying down of sometimes random conditions for serving. 

More alarmingly, it's hard not to raise a skeptical eye at the Pentagon's bellicose wording given the likely rise to power of Hillary Clinton, the "hawk's hawk" who never met a U.S.- funded, often-recklessly-rationalized war she didn't like. 

In his speech, Carter cited the military's need "to avail ourselves of all talent possible in order to remain what we are now -- the finest fighting force the world has ever known.” He insisted, “We don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier (who) can best accomplish the mission" -- without (no surprise here) expressing any interest in questioning that mission, its underlying lies about American exceptionalism, or its last 15 years of disastrous results. Saving the scariest for last, he intoned, "We have to have access to 100% of America's population." 

For what, [[[ https://www.thenation.com/article/left-ought-worry-about-hillary-clinton-hawk-and-militarist-2016/ ]]] the attentive among us really should ask. When we do, these "milestones" (a person with a vagina may finally oversee our drone assassination program) can kinda pale.


(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.) Photo: Sergeant Shane Ortega, 28, one of the military's first openly trans members.

Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 


This Fourth of July Let’s Choose Patriotism that Stands for Inclusion over Exclusion, Hope Over Fear

GUEST WORDS--We hear a lot about patriotism, especially around the Fourth of July. But in 2016 we’re hearing about two very different types of patriotism. One is an inclusive patriotism that binds us together. The other is an exclusive patriotism that keeps others out. 

Through most of our history we’ve understood patriotism the first way. We’ve celebrated the values and ideals we share in common: democracy, equal opportunity, freedom, tolerance and generosity.

We’ve recognized these as aspirations to which we recommit ourselves on the Fourth of July. 

This inclusive patriotism prides itself on giving hope and refuge to those around the world who are most desperate -- as memorialized in Emma Lazarus’ famous lines engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” 

By contrast, we’re now hearing a strident, exclusive patriotism. It asserts a unique and superior “Americanism” that’s determined to exclude others beyond our borders. 

Donald Trump famously wants to ban all Muslims from coming to America, and to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out Mexicans. 

Exclusive patriotism tells us to fear foreign terrorists in our midst -- even though almost every terrorist attack since 9/11 has been perpetrated by American citizens or holders of green cards living here for a decade or more. 

Exclusive patriotism is not welcoming or generous. Since the war in Syria began in 2011, we’ve allowed in only 3,127 out of the more than 4 million refugees who have fled that nation. 

Republicans in Congress reacted to the Orlando massacre with a proposal to ban all refugees to the United States indefinitely. Rep. Brian Babin of Texas wants to place “an immediate moratorium on all refugee resettlement programs … to keep America safe and defend our national security.”

With El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua convulsed in drug-related violence, thousands of unaccompanied children and nearly as many mothers and children have fled northward. But rather than welcome them, we’ve detained them at the border and told others contemplating the journey to stay home. 

Another difference: Inclusive patriotism instructs us to join together for the common good.

We’ve understood this to require mutual sacrifice -- from frontier settlers who helped build one another’s barns, to neighbors who volunteered for the local fire department, to towns and cities that sent off their boys to fight wars for the good of all. 

Such patriotism requires taking on a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going -- including a willingness to pay taxes. 

But the strident voices of exclusive patriotism tell us that no sacrifice should be required, especially by the well off. 

Exclusive patriotism celebrates the acquisitive individual and lone entrepreneur. It tells us that taxes on the wealthy slow economic growth and deter innovation. 

Trump wants to reduce the highest income tax rate to 25 percent from today’s 39.6 percent. No matter that this would result in higher deficits or cuts in Social Security, Medicare and programs for the poor. They’re supposedly good for growth. 

A third difference: Inclusive patriotism has always sought to protect our democracy -- defending the right to vote and seeking to ensure that more Americans are heard. 

But the new voices of exclusive patriotism seem not to care about democracy. They’re willing to inundate it with big money that buys off politicians, and they don’t seem to mind when politicians create gerrymandered districts that suppress the votes of minorities or erect roadblocks to voting such as stringent voter ID requirements. 

Finally, inclusive patriotism doesn’t pander to divisiveness, as does the alternative patriotism that focuses on who “doesn’t belong” because of racial or religious or ethnic differences. Inclusive patriotism isn’t homophobic or sexist or racist. 

To the contrary, inclusive patriotism confirms and strengthens the “we” in “we the people of the United States.” 

So will it be inclusive or exclusive patriotism? A celebration of “us” or contempt for “them”?

Inclusive patriotism is our national creed. It is born of hope. Mean-spirited, exclusive patriotism is new to our shores. It is born of fear. 

Let us hope that this Fourth of July and in the months and years ahead we choose inclusion over exclusion, hope over fear.


(Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley and the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

United Airlines Doesn't Give a Damn about Its Customers ... But Then, You Knew That Already

ALPERN AT LARGE--I'm hardly the first to get inconvenienced, hurt, and harmed by a United States airline (they've earned quite the reputation, haven't they?), but when it comes to my family, I'm especially incensed. And it's not exactly a shocker that United Airlines is particularly insensitive and downright cruel when it comes to the well-being of their customers ... but you knew that already, didn't you? 

And when it comes to one-stop flights in the Midwest (like Houston), when periodic storms roll in, and customers know they'll have their flights delayed for a few hours (not talking about the major downpours that last half a day or longer), that United Airlines is especially quick to cancel the flights altogether without having the personnel and planes to allow the flights to proceed when it's safe--leaving the travelers without any recourse...but you knew that already, didn't you? 

And when flights are delayed, United Airlines is especially quick to save a few bucks and do the operational and potentially dangerous risk of sending out their pilots and crew just before they're timed out for safety reasons, so it's oopsie, we're timed out, and a reasonable 3-4 hour delay for safety reasons is turned into a cancellation that sends their passengers straight to Hades...but you knew that already, didn't you? 

And when flights are unnecessarily cancelled, United Airlines is particularly unprepared to figure out how to house their stranded passengers in some nearby hotel, or to efficiently transfer luggage and commuters to another flight (even if the customers are willing to pay)...because, well, hey, who the heck else are you going to use on such short notice...but you knew that already, didn't you?

And if you ask if United Airlines can swing over another pilot, plane and crew to accommodate the scheduling/weather snafu, their people will look at you like it's CRAZY TALK!  But you knew that already, didn't you? 

And even when United Airlines unnecessarily cancels their connecting flights, and promises that you should keep your luggage (and Heaven forbid you should transfer to another airline's flight) with them to make it with you on their next flight, they'll--oopsie!--forget your luggage for up to 1-2 days...because that's YOUR problem.  But..you knew that already, didn't you? 

And when you try to contact an airport or United about your precious luggage and property, the only people you'll ever reach are calling center clones from India (who, to be fair, probably shouldn't be expected to know where the heck Knoxville, TN is) who provide catty, evasive, prepared, and confusing non sequiturs for every reasonable question you have...despite the fact that more local operators could be assigned to work with you better to get your luggage promptly.  But you knew that already, didn't you? 

And when the e-mails and texts state that your luggage and property is on their way, and you presume that the local drivers will work 24-7 to get your luggage to you, it shouldn't be that much of a shocker to get some call 24 hours later to learn that a local subcontractor just picked up your luggage and they'll be bringing it to you from the airport (where it's been sitting for about a day, despite what the e-mails and texts stated to the contrary)...yet you knew that already, didn't you? 

Because when United Airlines tell us it's "number one", we really don't have too much of a choice, do we, with respect to certain flight patterns...so we don't pay attention to WHICH FINGER United Airlines gives us when it says we're "number one"! 

...yet you knew THAT already, didn't you? 

But I'll give United Airlines props for being "number one", all right--when it comes to a "civil service mentality", a quasi-criminal disregard for the safety and welfare and consideration of the lives, property and quality of transportation for their paying customers, United Airlines (compared to the other callous and customer-contemptuous United States domestic airlines) is truly "number one". 

But you knew THAT already, didn't you?


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


The House Sit-In was a Victory for California Dems … Here’s Why

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Sure, the sit-in in the House of Representatives didn’t deliver the vote on gun control legislation that was the stated purpose of the demonstration.

But that’s a very narrow way of looking at the results of the sit-in. Indeed, Democrats ought to call the demonstration a victory for one reason alone:

No one broke a hip.

Indeed, as I watched via Facebook and CSPAN late into Wednesday night, I must confess that I felt very worried about the Congressional members I saw. My worry was that someone would get hurt – doing all that standing late into the night, and holding up those posters.

I got especially worried when so many California Congressional members started speaking during prime time in California – and after 11p back on Capitol Hill. They looked awfully old, and that was even with the less than HD cell phone camera broadcasting their talks.

Grace Napolitano, who appeared for a while, is 79. Nancy Pelosi is 76. Maxine Waters is 77.

Even the California Congressional members who we think of as young are pretty old. My Congresswoman, Judy Chu, who looked like she was having a little trouble with one of the signs, is 62. Xavier Becerra is 58.

The good news is that I still recognized them. Congress has been so stalemated—and thus irrelevant—that it took a sit-in to get people really paying attention to Congress. It’s been years since many California Congressional members have tasted the limelight.

Of course, being unrecognizable is bad for a politician. But there are worse options. After all, they could be California Republicans.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square ... where this column originated.)


It’s Finally Official: Limiting Abortion in the Guise of Helping Women is a Sham

EDITOR’S PICK--In a major victory for American women, the US Supreme Court sent a powerful message on Monday in its Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt decision: that laws purporting to protect women’s health while limiting access to abortion are an unconstitutional sham.

In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down a Texas law, called House Bill 2, responsible for shuttering more than half of the state’s clinics. The restrictions mandated that clinics become ambulatory surgical centers, adhering to wholly unnecessary hospital-like standards, and that doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital even though hospitalization is almost never necessary after ending a pregnancy. The goal wasn’t to make abortion safer, of course, just impossible to obtain.

Ending a pregnancy is such a safe procedure that doctors would never be able to admit enough patients to a hospital in order to keep admitting privileges, and because abortions are so safe and common, maintaining the standards for a surgical center simply drained clinics of their resources. And anti-choice legislators know as much.

The court’s decision made clear the justices were not fooled, noting in the majority decision that “when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

And in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concurring opinion, she wrote it was “beyond rational belief that HB 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’” 

Lead plaintiff in the case, Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, released a statement saying that her clinics “treat our patients with compassion, respect and dignity – and today the supreme court did the same.”

She continued, “I want everyone to understand: you don’t mess with Texas, you don’t mess with Whole Woman’s Health and you don’t mess with this beautiful, powerful movement of people dedicated to reproductive health, rights, and justice.”

The ruling represents a significant loss for anti-abortion groups, who have been pushing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (Trap laws) over the last decade: as of this year, 24 states have some sort of law or policy that restricts abortion access through targeting the way providers work.

But the Whole Woman’s Health decision – which laid bare the way that these mandates constitute an undue burden on women seeking abortion – stands to put that years-long strategy in jeopardy. It will be that much harder for anti-choice legislators to shroud their policies in rhetoric about protecting women when the highest court in the country has essentially called the tactic nonsense.

For pro-choicers, the decision isn’t just a win, but a sticking point in the upcoming presidential election. Pro-choice organizations wasted no time releasing statements that tied the decision to how a Donald Trump presidency would be disastrous for women. Ilyse Hogue, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, says that Trump “is committed to appointing justices who will once again make abortion illegal across the country”. Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, noted that “extremist Republicans like Donald Trump should take note... women are paying attention and you’ll be hearing our voices loud and clear come November.”

Before November comes, though, American women can do some much-deserved celebrating in the wake of Monday’s decision. A strategy that aimed to limit our rights while invoking our protection has been proven impotent. A law that put tens of thousands of us in danger has been overturned. It is, finally, a good day.

(Jessica Valenti is the author of three books, including The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women, which was recently made into a documentary. This perspective was posted most recently at Common Dreams.) 



It is Now Trump vs. Clinton, So How Valid are Predictions of American Fascism? (Part 2)

GUEST WORDS--(Note: Both Presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, hold former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in high esteem. Kissinger has also been linked to widespread war crimes, alluded to in Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war film, Dr. Strangelove. In that film, Peter Sellers portrayed Henry Kissinger.) 

I offer this follow-up to comments I received in response to a recent CityWatch article on the prospects of fascism in the United States after the November 2016 Presidential election.  

One critic noted that the article made some important points, especially that fascism involves both racism and militarism, but it ignored two other important features of fascism: 

US Government Support for Fascism Abroad: This critic wrote that I failed to mention that the US government has trained and supported many fascistic regimes throughout the world, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran under the Shah, Philippines under Marcos, and Chile under Pinochet. In light of these precedents, this critic argued that what has been repeatedly pursued by government officials outside the United States could be readily let loose within the United States.

This comment is well taken, and there are many other examples past and present that confirm it. According to historian William Blum, the long, bi-partisan history of US foreign policy over the past 70 years contains dozens of executive actions and Congressionally funded programs to overthrow democratically-elected governments and support regimes that easily qualify as fascist, authoritarian, or totalitarian.

For example, through the School of the America’s, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), the United States government has trained and equipped the police, army, and security agencies of many authoritarian regimes in Latin America. This record is readily available, including the identities of government officials who advocated this approach, such as Jean Kirkpatrick, the first US woman ambassador to the United Nations. 

In fact, some of those actors are currently in high-level government positions, such as Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Others, like Henry Kissinger, are waiting for the phone to ring in order to offer advice on how to continue and implement an openly militaristic US foreign policy, whether the next president is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. According to the late writer, Christopher Hitchens, Kissinger’s long foreign policy record is filled with enough blood and mayhem to justify prosecution at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Nevertheless, both presidential candidates hold Kissinger in high esteem and seek his support. 

Authoritarian Work Places in the United States: I was also told that most Americans are already comfortable with a basic feature of fascism at their work places. In Germany Fuhrer means leader, and the organizing principle of the Third Reich was the primacy of the "leader.” In the United States most work places are no different, although we call the leader “the boss.” The constitutional freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights do not apply at work because the boss rules by fiat. This is the same authoritarian leader principle that characterized the Third Reich, unquestioned and unopposed executive authority.

I agree with this comment, too. Nearly all work places in the United States have an authoritarian, hierarchical organizational model. Even in unionized work environments, now employing less than 10 percent of the US work force, unions operate under detailed constraints. Their negotiated labor contracts contain a Management Rights provision in which unionized employees and their bargaining agents acknowledge the authority of management to determine and implement a company or agency’s mission. By their own agreement, unions are restricted to grievances and negotiated contracts related to working conditions only. Their activities at work places are clearly limited and closely monitored so they do not encroach on “the leader principle.”

In practice this means that employees have no right or authority to question any practices of management, other than such mundane categories as overtime pay and sick days.

As for the 90 percent of the work force in the United States that does not have the protection of a union contract, they work at the discretion of management. Such rights, as freedom of the press, freedom of association, and freedom of speech, stop at the work place door. This leader principle (i.e. the boss might be an SOB, but he is always right) is heavily socialized into all of us from an early age. 

False Equivalency of Trump and Clinton: A third criticism of my article was that I was mistaken to call out bi-partisan fascist tendencies and to therefore imply that a Clinton administration would also harbor dangerous fascist practices. Instead, I was told I should have focused my article on Donald Trump because he presents, by far, a much greater fascist danger. These critics then make, what strikes me, as a twisted argument. They argue that we first need to urgently support Hillary Clinton to stop a likely fascist, Donald Trump. But once Hillary Clinton is sworn into office, then we need to immediately build mass movements to oppose the assured military interventions she will unleash, as well as her status quo approach to domestic policy already presented by Clinton surrogates at the Democratic Party’s current Platform Committee. 

I realize my bi-partisan analysis took many readers, like this critic, by surprise because they consider fascism to be an extreme right-wing phenomenon, and they therefore attribute it to Donald Trump, including his successful appeals to white supremacists. No doubt about it, Trump’s racism and xenophobia are important features of fascism, but they are hardly the only ones. 

Fascism, as I previously explained, also includes the brute power of the state, especially the ability to use its police powers to spy on, surveil, and disrupt the political process, up to the point of incarceration, torture, and murder. This is hardly the monopoly of conservative Republicans. In fact, my inventory of fascistic precedents in modern US history included the Sabotage and Espionage Acts initiated by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson during WWI, the development of Cointelpro under FDR, another Democrat, the anti-Communist Cold War and domestic witch hunts that began in 1946 under Democratic President Truman, and authoritarian legislation partially authored by arch-liberal Democrat Hubert Humphrey (The Communist Control Act of 1954), portions of which were opposed by the Eisenhower Administration.  

As for mass and detailed personal surveillance of the US population, it is already extremely advanced, including all-embracing electronic snooping of computers, emails, text messages, voice messages, telephone calls, and snail mail. It is also important to note that much or this spying is not legal, but continues anyway with wide Congressional and Presidential support, despite extensive public exposure of illegal domestic surveillance by Edward Snowden.  

The other element of a fascist program, aggressive, preemptive warfare, is only possible through the Federal Government, although major new US invasions and occupations currently face serious political obstacles. Nevertheless, the neocons once associated with Vice President Cheney are hard at work again. They are making their case for more foreign US military interventions in their latest document: Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand U.S. Engagement in a Competitive World Order.  Furthermore, some of the neo-cons linked to the second Bush Jr. Administration, such as Robert Kagan, are now supporting and fund-raising for Hillary Clinton.

While one of the primary military tactics of the Obama Administration is an executive kill list implemented through drone assassinations, it appears that like bombing campaigns, these aerial military tactics do not lead to political victories. While bombs, missiles, and drones have an extraordinary capacity to maim and kill, assassinated leaders are easily replaced. Furthermore, death and injury to non-combatants, such as relatives attending wedding parties, supports the recruitment of military irregulars to groups like Al Quaida and the Islamic State. Meanwhile, in the United States, to swing the pendulum back from drone warfare to ground invasions and occupations, the Pentagon will demand more cannon fodder. The occupations on Afghanistan and Iraq cost the US military dearly in weaponry (much of grabbed by ISIS in Iraq), morale, and soldiers. This barrier must be overcome in order to have new boots on the ground.

The logical solution to this impasse is military conscription, but it would now come at tremendous political costs. As recently amended, the Selective Service System no longer offers deferments to students and women. It is difficult to imagine a successful ideological campaign to renew conscription among older teenagers and 20-something’s after a 44-year lapse. At present these young adults do not have the slightest motivation to involuntarily join US ground forces in the two most likely military theaters: Russia’s western flank and in Syria, either fighting Isis, the Assad regime, or fighting these two archenemies at the same time. While the Obama Administration’s Pivot to Asia has not yet led to major troop deployments or military conflicts with China, this would be the third military theater that the next administration would gear up for, regardless of who is elected.

But, as we have seen in many previous US wars, major pretexts for military escalation, such as Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, and 9-11, steadily appear. Could such incidents appear again, either by luck or by design, to justify the draft and renewed major wars? Absolutely. Could they again be used to institute heightened domestic political repression? Absolutely. 

Could such a regime prevail more than a few years? Not likely. 

This is why the prospects for fascism in the United States should be taken seriously, but why the prospects for counter-movements must also be taken seriously.

(Victor Rothman lives in Los Angeles. He can be reached at [email protected].)


BREXIT Forecasts … Glowing or Dire … are Premature

PERSPECTIVE--Some popular media outlets have hyped the BREXIT as either the end of western civilization or the dawn of the golden age for the UK (United Kingdom).

But that’s how the media operates. The more sensational the spin, the greater the following.

What counts is how it all plays out in the long-run.

No one is disputing the turbulence in the short-run: what happens to trade agreements, ease of travel among the 28 member states, immigration policies. It is no different from a divorce. Life goes on, only differently, with some friendships extinguished and new ones formed. Some will always remain unchanged. And like a divorce, there will be alimony – but flowing in two directions, in various forms. It will be difficult to project who will pay more.

Even with the UK as a member, the European Union (EU) has an Achilles Heel owing to the sovereignty and nationalistic bent of its member nations, combined with a common monetary unit used by the nineteen members who comprise the Eurozone. The propping up of weaker economies in the union by the healthier ones, without the power to effectively influence legislation in the former, is like supporting your ne’re-do-well cousin Eddy.  

Unemployment is pervasive: 8.9% in the EU and 10.3% in the Eurozone.

Overall, the EU is not only an unhappy family, but a somewhat dysfunctional one.

So one cannot blame the UK for wanting to leave, especially since it has been on its own for over a thousand years.

The patriotic lyrics of “There Will Always be an England” come to mind. 

Well, there might only be England. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted heavily against BREXIT and could consider secession. The Jacobites might finally get their wish! Mel Gibson may apply blue paint to his face once more.

But they should be careful what they wish for. Just as the UK is taking a risk by bailing, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be well-advised to consider the health of the EU. In the next few years, other major players may part company with the EU. The remaining members, aside from Germany, will not be powerhouses. The EU could become a German-centric body. Maybe the Fourth Reich? A German hegemony is what some Europeans have suggested is developing, with or without the UK, certainly more likely without the UK and France.

Despite the urge by BREXIT’s most ardent supporters to break as quickly as possible, it will not be that easy. 52% support for the measure is not exactly a mandate. There will be a donnybrook in Parliament that will make our Congressional battles look like spats.

In the end, we need to respect the UK’s process.

Regardless, there will always be a Europe.

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


Here’s What Bernie Wants

ELECTION 2016--As we head toward the Democratic National Convention, I often hear the question, “What does Bernie want?” Wrong question. The right question is what the 12 million Americans who voted for a political revolution want.

And the answer is: They want real change in this country, they want it now and they are prepared to take on the political cowardice and powerful special interests which have prevented that change from happening.

"What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life."

They understand that the United States is the richest country in the history of the world, and that new technology and innovation make us wealthier every day. What they don’t understand is why the middle class c ontinues to decline, 47 million of us live in poverty and many Americans are forced to work two or three jobs just to cobble together the income they need to survive.

What do we want? We want an economy that is not based on uncontrollable greed, monopolistic practices and illegal behavior. We want an economy that protects the human needs and dignity of all people — children, the elderly, the sick, working people and the poor. We want an economic and political system that works for all of us, not one in which almost all new wealth and power rests with a handful of billionaire families.

The current campaign finance system is corrupt. Billionaires and powerful corporations are now, through super PACs, able to spend as much money as they want to buy elections and elect candidates who represent their interests, not the American people. Meanwhile, we have one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any major country on earth, and Republican governors are working overtime to suppress the vote and make it harder for poor people, people of color, seniors and young people to vote. 

What do we want? We want to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move toward public funding of elections. We want universal voter registration, so that anyone 18 years of age or older who is eligible to vote is automatically registered. We want a vibrant democracy and a well-informed electorate that knows that its views can shape the future of the country.

Our criminal justice system is broken. We have 2.2 million people rotting behind bars at an annual expense of $80 billion. Youth unemployment in a number of inner-cities and rural communities is 30 to 50 percent, and millions of young people have limited opportunities to participate in the productive economy. Failing schools all around the country produce more people who end up in jail than graduate college. Millions of Americans have police records as a result of marijuana possession, which should be decriminalized. And too many people are serving unnecessarily long mandatory minimum sentences.

What do we want?  We want a criminal justice system that addresses the causes of incarceration, not one that simply imprisons more people. We want to demilitarize local police departments, see local police departments reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and end private ownership of prisons and detention centers. We want to create the conditions that allow people who are released from prison to stay out. We want the best educated population on earth, not the most incarcerated population.

The debate is over. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity, and it already is causing devastating damage in our country and to the entire planet. If present trends continue, scientists tell us the planet will be 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of the century — which means more droughts, floods, extreme weather disturbances, rising sea levels and acidification of the oceans. This is a planetary crisis of extraordinary magnitude.

What do we want? We want the United States to lead the world in pushing our energy system away from fossil fuel and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy. We want a tax on carbon, the end of fracking and massive investment in wind, solar, geothermal and other sustainable technologies. We want to leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for future generations.

What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life. As Lincoln put it at Gettysburg, we want a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That is what we want, and that is what we will continue fighting for.

(Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), currently a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. This piece was posted most recently at Common Dreams.) 




Hahn: We have a Long Way to Go to End Gun Violence … but You Have to Start Somewhere

GUEST WORDS--Fourteen county workers in San Bernardino, nine parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church, 12 military employees in Navy Yard, 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and now 49 members of the LGBT community in Orlando, Fla. The attack last weekend in a gay nightclub has shocked the nation. It is the deadliest in a long and growing list of mass shootings that have become a disturbing trademark of the United States, setting us apart from every other developed nation in the worst way. (Photo above: Congresswoman Hahn with Congressman John Lewis.)

The American people are scared and angry — and they should be. After every attack, a number of my colleagues in Congress have stood in the way of enacting even the most obvious reforms to prevent the next one and protect human life.

There are effective and common-sense solutions that the American people want implemented. We need to reinstate the assault-weapons ban to get mass shooters’ weapon of choice out of our neighborhoods, and implement universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.

Would these reforms have saved lives in Orlando? I am not sure, but doing nothing is not the answer. The American people are demanding action, and we must try anything we can to prevent further attacks.

We have a long way to go toward ending gun violence, but we have to start somewhere with something I believe we can all agree on: keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have gone to great lengths to stop terrorist attacks. Travelers must go through a full-body scanner before boarding a plane. Passengers cannot even bring a bottle of shampoo in their carry-on luggage. Federal authorities compile lists of suspected terrorists, and none of those individuals are allowed on a plane.

And yet, the suspected terrorists who have been deemed too dangerous to fly have nothing standing in the way of them buying an AR-15 at their nearest superstore and committing the same atrocity that we saw most recently in Orlando.

Gun violence has terrorized communities in this country for years, but it is time to also address it as a threat to our national security. Our lax gun laws are not a secret. Terrorist leaders know that the military style assault weapons readily available at stores can do as much — if not more — damage than bombs. ISIS and Al Qaeda recruiters know this is our weakness and have been urging lone-wolf attackers to take advantage of it for years.

Yet, many of my colleagues in Congress who have claimed to be tough on terrorism have stood in the way of efforts to close the terror loophole. My message to them: You are not tough enough.

Last year, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., introduced legislation that would ban individuals on the no-fly list from buying firearms and explosives and empower federal authorities to stop individuals they suspect of having terrorist ties from purchasing guns that may be used for terrorist activities.

The American people are resoundingly behind this proposal. Members of Congress doing the bidding of the gun lobby are the only people standing in the way of its passage. After a 15-hour filibuster by my Senate colleagues, Senate Republicans have agreed to consider holding a vote on gun reform. This is an encouraging step.

I implore you to call your representative and your senators. Urge them to support “No Fly, No Buy.” This is common-sense legislation that can save lives.

(Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, represents California’s 44th District in the U.S. Congress. This perspective appeared earlier at Congresswoman Hahn’s website and at presstelegram.com.)



A Welcome Democratic Stand on Guns, But Are These the Bills We're Looking For?

STANDING FOR SOMETHING--It was almost midnight when I found myself glued to the live video of scores of Democratic congressmembers then about twelve hours into their historic sit-in. They were occupying the House chamber, jerry-rigging a social media-based broadcast when the Republican leadership shut-down the C-Span cameras, rising one after another to speak with passion, reminding the nation that business as usual is no longer okay. They are proud of themselves and each other, as they should be. They are grateful to civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis who has been leading them in speaking truth to power.   By late morning Thursday they were continuing to occupy the House.  Despite the Republican leadership announcing that the House is not in session, they are insisting that there be no congressional recess without voting on the proposed bills, and they are demanding that the public, filling the galleries, be allowed to stay.

They are reminding the world that since 1968 more Americans have been killed in gun violence than in all the wars in US history. They are demanding a vote on gun safety laws. It’s a moving, empowering thing to see.  It’s rare, powerful, and should be applauded.

"It’s a moving, empowering thing to see... And yet. There’s a huge problem."

And yet. There’s a huge problem. The two proposals the Democrats are demanding a vote on are very problematic.  One bill proposes only a small, completely insufficient expansion of background checks.  The second would not only be ineffective in preventing gun violence, but would cause a dangerous increase in racial profiling and Islamophobia.  That second bill is the basis for the slogan “no fly, no buy” – which refers to making sure that no one on law enforcement’s so-called “no-fly” lists is ever allowed to buy a weapon. 

If we were talking about actually preventing real terrorists from buying weapons, that would be a no-brainer.  But the “no-fly” lists are not lists of terrorists; they are lists of people –  American citizens, green-card holders, visitors, citizens of other countries – who end up on the FBI’s or other law enforcement agencies’ lists for reasons we and they never know. Maybe they share a name with someone once suspected of knowing someone whose second cousin once skyped with someone thought to be a would-be terrorist. Maybe their college roommate ended up trying to go to Syria. For some few of them, maybe they really do have dangerous intentions. But there are thousands of people on these lists. Most of them can’t even find out why they’re not allowed to fly, let alone succeed at challenging the prohibition.  We should not forget that President Nelson Mandela remained on the US “terrorist” watch-list until 2008. What the American Civil Liberties Union calls our “error-prone and unfair watch-listing system” doesn’t produce a list of terrorists at all. 

If it was up to me, I’d prohibit anyone – anyone, on or off those lists – from buying or possessing these lethal weapons.  But it’s not up to me.  And unfortunately the “no fly, no buy” rule being proposed in the newly militant House tonight is not going to prevent gun violence either.  What it is going to do, unfortunately, is further legitimize these watch lists, now as the basis for a politically more popular version of gun control.  But as the ACLU noted, “Our nation’s watch-listing system is error-prone and unreliable because it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names.” 

And we know that those “vague and overbroad criteria” end up being applied disproportionately to Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and others wrongly assumed to be linked to terrorism.  It is terribly sad that some of our most principled, consistent members of Congress – members of the Black Caucus, the conscience of the Congress, and the Progressive Caucus, whose members work against racism, against racial profiling, against Islamophobia and hatred, against war and beyond – are among those accepting and urging even greater reliance on this “error-prone and unreliable” system in the name of preventing gun violence.

The Democratic leadership is refusing to allow their now-insurgent party to officially endorse the most sensible (however insufficient) versions of gun control laws:  outlawing assault weapons, removing the prohibition on federal research on the public health consequences of gun violence, and universal background checks.  Those things, lethally opposed by the NRA, would not stop the epidemic of gun violence in this country but unlike the no-fly lists they would certainly help.  Some in the sit-in rejected those restrictions. At 12:35 in the morning, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, one of those who had set up the live-streaming of the debate after the Republican leadership turned off the cameras, rose to call for all three of those goals.

The congressional sit-in is bringing moral power and renewed urgency to the cause of gun control. Watching the Democrats shout down Republican leaders desperately trying to reclaim control of the House might challenge the partisan bickering that has paralyzed Congress for years. It may mark the beginning of a turn towards the re-legitimation of Congress, long demonized as the least effective, least useful, least popular institution around. That renewed legitimacy, though, would be far more likely achieved if these members of Congress, as they consolidate their new moral credibility, would finally reject the current iteration of “no fly” lists as the basis for gun control – or indeed, as a valid method of counter-terrorism.

The Congressional sit-in protesters should be congratulated for standing up for their principles. And they should be pressured to make sure their plans to act on those principles don’t undermine other principles of civil rights and equality.

(Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.  Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror.  This perspective was posted first at Common Dreams


Ya Wanna Be a ‘True American’?  Don't Let the Orlando Shooting Divide Us!

POLITICS--As the summer and fall of this election cycle get ever closer, it will be very easy to let ourselves choose sides and be divided--but if we're smart, and if we're truly liberal (open-minded) and if we're truly conservative (common sense) this need not happen.  Furthermore, we MUST NOT let this happen. 

There's a lot of commonality between the many infuriated, disenfranchised and frustrated groups in our nation.  We're in shock and horror about the Orlando shooting, and we're in shock and horror over the incident a toddler being drowned by an alligator, and we're in shock and horror over how the Stanford rapist got such a lenient sentence. 

In other words, if we hate liberals/Democrats, or if we hate conservatives/Republicans, more than we love this nation, then that's a choice.  Some of you may make that choice, but it's still YOUR choice...and one that need not be adhered to. 

And if there is any take-home message from the GOP and Democratic primaries, if you're not angry and fed up about how our leaders have run our nation, then arguably you're one of the "privileged and protected" or you're just not paying attention to how ALL empowered sides have sold the majority of this nation (particularly the rule-abiding middle-class) out. 

So while the majority of Americans polled did not approve of Donald J. Trump's response to the Orlando shooting, the majority of Americans weren't supportive of Hillary R. Clinton's response, either.   

But Clinton's lead over Trump has slipped since Orlando...because virtually all Americans do NOT want these types of shootings to be "the new normal", and they are divided over how to address these shootings. 

But we appear to be united in that most of us do not like either Trump or Clinton.  We are concerned if immigrants (particularly Muslims) are assimilating into American/Western culture, but we refuse to lower ourselves to racist rhetoric. 

We're also concerned about BOTH Bush's AND Obama's screwups that have turned Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria into dangerous and empowered cesspools and terrorist violence.  Clinton's past actions as Secretary of State are part of this problem, but is Trump likely to be any better? 

And has President Obama allowed these types of shootings to be "the new normal"?  

But THIS is the big divide:  while liberals/progressives have focused on gun control over the role of Islamism as the major cause/problem that led to Orlando (and, before that, San Bernardino), it's the other way around for conservatives/pragmatists. 

Yet what if BOTH sides are correct? 

That's right...BOTH.  It would have been best to have better screened the Orlando shooter before allowing him purchase to certain weapons, and SOMETHING has to be done to best screen potential purchasers of weapons not available when the Second Amendment of the Constitution was written.

Yet there are a few caveats here--because very few believe that law-abiding Americans should be denied access to self-protection.  That said, very few of those advocating modified gun control really know what the heck they're talking about when it comes to the guns they want restricted. 

Yet while the NRA opposes some of the gun control restrictions of the Left, they also quickly opposed Trump's statements of the benefits of the rights and ease of a "conceal/carry" permit to any customer going into a nightclub, where alcohol is being consumed. 

Even in the Old West, there were bars, dance halls, and other public venues where guns and other weapons were to be checked in for purposes of public safety. 

And inasmuch as some of us may hate the gun-control advocates or the NRA, their more moderate proposals (better screening, gun show controls, more armed security guards at schools and nightclubs) are probably to be ignored at our collective peril. 

And inasmuch as we don't want to devolve into racism, SOME common sense profiling of potential gun purchasers is in order to prevent more tragedies such as Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and Orlando...so let's not kid ourselves: 

The "gun nuts" will need to be more carefully screened, but there will probably be a lot of potential Muslim gun buyers who will be screened, as well. 

Because while President Obama might be trying to make the Orlando tragedy into a "gun control thing" it would be better received if he also pleaded for American Muslims to "step up". 

After all, it's not unrealistic to be terrified of BOTH crazies that were responsible for the Sandy Hook, Gaby Gifford and Aurora, Colorado shootings (all Democrats, by the way, and unrelated to Sarah Palin) AS WELL AS Islamist extremists (who apparently had friends, neighbors, and families who could have, and SHOULD HAVE, turned them in before the tragedies occurred). 

The truth will set us all free--because we will ALL need to step up and do the right thing to prevent future tragedies from occurring.  Attorney General Lynch's censoring certain parts of the Orlando shooter's phone calls to remove references to his Islamist extremism won't help anyone, and won't prevent any future tragedies. 

So if you, the reader, just HATE Republican and conservatives more than you love this nation, or if you just HATE Democrats and liberals more than you love this nation, then that is your choice.

But it's a choice that you need not make.  Listen to all sides, and don't dismiss them as being devoid of excellent and moderate and smart compromises. 

Let's let these tragedies unite us, not divide us--we owe it to the memories of the slain and maimed to do the right thing in their name, and in the name of future American generations.


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



Veterans Talk about Hate and Violence after Orlando Nightclub Tragedy

EDITOR’S PICK--In the days following the horrific attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history, which claimed the lives of 49 people (50 counting the shooter) and left over 50 wounded – evidence began to mount that the gunman likely possessed multiple motives. This evidence is not surprising in light of what research has revealed about the origins of violence, which includes the knowledge that most people who commit violent acts are driven by a complex, multifaceted and intertwined set of factors. The underlying root causes of violence, then, cannot be reduced to one or two sources. To invoke a cliché, the world is not black and white. The nature of violence is no exception, and our individual and collective understanding of it must not be either if we are to effectively address and prevent all forms of it. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the shooter’s perceived justifications for perpetrating the murderous rampage may have been intense psychological and emotional pain over his sexual orientation – a catastrophic blend of deep shame, humiliation and bitterness over his possible queerness. 

Besides his apparent queer inclinations, there were several noteworthy details about the shooter’s life that were omitted during many discussions about motives: his history of domestic violence, both as a victimizer and a witness to it in childhood; his employment with G4S, one of the largest private security firms in the world, for which he rendered services that included the imprisonment and mistreatment of juvenile offenders; and, his fascination with the NYPD, which he apparently idolized as a would-be police officer. 

In addition, based on testimony from eye witnesses and acquaintances, racism could also have influenced his choice of target. What is more, we know from reports that both the ideologies behind and atrocities of the so-called U.S-led “war on terror” and terror groups operating across the world could have contributed to the gunman’s unspeakable act. 

All these factors, plus additional ones that may surface in the days and weeks ahead, may have played a role in the shooter’s toxic thinking and derangement, and ultimately led to the massacre which unfolded that awful night. 

For these reasons, as well as others, the attack in Orlando cannot be explained away by the tired and parochial refrain, “they hate us because of our freedoms,” regardless of the lengths to which some might go to convince people of its validity. 

Yet, almost immediately after news of the nightclub tragedy broke, various political leaders and members of the corporate media, among others, began engaging in selective hate and bigotry against Muslims. They did not ask questions. They did not want answers. They conveniently ignored or discounted credible information regarding the gunman’s background and automatically defaulted in their dogmatic thinking to blaming so-called “radical” Islam. 

Those who spew hate, especially in the wake of a national tragedy, only reveal their bigotry, cowardice and bad character, and, whether they intend to or not, incite further hostility against vulnerable minority groups. Practitioners of such reactionary thinking tend to use the red herring of immigration and foreign “terrorism” to advance their own xenophobic and jingoistic agendas. This careless and irresponsible behavior only fuels Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims. 

Demagoguery and fear-mongering about terrorism and the “Other” is extremely lucrative for the multi-trillion dollar war industry. The tragic incident in Orlando could prove to be another opportunity for war profiteers to grow even richer. Islamophobia and racism sells war. A national conversation about homophobia, domestic violence, the security-surveillance state and prison-industrial complex does not. 

We will never stop mass shootings if we continue to fault Islam. Sadly, however, the religion will probably continue to be targeted and exploited by small-minded people to communicate and spread anti-Muslim, ultra-nationalist propaganda. Horrendous violence is sometimes committed in the name of Islam, as it is in the name of other religions. However, this in no way makes religion culpable for it, yet Islam is deliberately and repeatedly scapegoated. 

It is utter nonsense to attribute mass shootings to Islam, particularly when an honest analysis of these incidents provides some concrete albeit complicated answers regarding the pathologies of violence. If it were about blaming or banning a particular demographic to eliminate mass shootings, the statistical data show that religion should not be a candidate. 

The Albany Times Union’s Chris Churchill articulates this point well in a recent column: “…if you look at the long list of recent mass shootings, you can't help but realize that it is entirely dishonest to call this a Muslim or immigrant problem…It would be far more accurate to call it an angry and isolated young man problem. In fact, if the goal is ending mass shootings, it would make much more sense to ban all men under the age of 35 than it would to bar Muslims.” 

Not only is the problem of mass shootings far from being rooted in religion, the policy of sound gun control offers some solid evidence about preventive approaches: In his latest column, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, calls attention to the fact that, “Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20…. Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.” To insist, therefore, that Islam is the problem would be to expose either profound ignorance or explicit and virulent racism regarding the religion. 

The good news is that there is a significant number of antiwar and peace and justice groups working diligently to identify and eliminate the multiple and interconnected forms of violence that could have influenced the mass shooting at Pulse. The #VetsVsHate movement is one example of this work.  

#VetsVsHate was inspired by efforts including the Veterans Challenge Islamophobia campaign, an national initiative of Veterans For Peace launched earlier this year in collaboration with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). The campaign seeks to confront and stop the verbal and physical targeting of Muslims. Along with on-the-ground nonviolent protest/civil disobedience actions against the vitriol being directed at Muslims, social media has been a vehicle through which veterans and allies have expressed their defense of and solidarity with the Muslim community. 

As an organization dedicated to abolishing war as well as ending violence in all its forms in order to help build a more just and peaceful future, VFP believed it had a responsibility to release a statement on the mass shooting in Orlando. The statement reads, in part: “Tragedies like this often lead people to look for someone or something to blame. Veterans For Peace rejects attempts to perpetuate hatred against the LGBTQ and Muslim communities. We ask all to resist this temptation. We call on all people to challenge the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against all forms of hate; and at this time particularly against homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Let us instead recommit ourselves to working toward a world without hatred and prejudice.” 

IVAW also released a statement about the attack on Pulse which touches on many of the same points that were conveyed in the VFP statement. 

Veterans have a unique perspective on the various ways in which enmity and violence develops and destroys lives, as many of them were thrust into situations where it was inescapable and on full display. Veterans can speak with authority on how and why demonization and persecution of the “Other” can and does produce violence. Frequently, they are eager to share their insights with anyone willing to listen and learn. The aftermath of the Pulse massacre has proven to be one such time when veterans are speaking out. 

Below are the voices of four veterans who offer their perspectives on the Pulse nightclub attack and the hate rhetoric and blame game that followed: 

“Anytime a shooting or bombing occurs around the world, the collective hearts of 1.7 billion Muslims is shattered and the anxious prayer "please don't let them claim to be Islamic" is uttered. This is because all Muslims know that the tenets of Islam proclaim that the unjust taking of one life is equivalent of killing all of humanity in the sight of God, particularly during this time of Ramadan -- when it is forbidden to even engage in an argument with another person much less commit a mass shooting. This is precisely how every single Muslim in the world knows that the Orlando shooter was a fraud, whose only belief system was violence and hatred. But, true to form, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the world is witnessing the charity and goodness of Muslims, who are donating blood (even though they are fasting from food and water), bringing sustenance to those in need, or, like me, standing shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ+ community through tears in solemn vigils of remembrance for the beautiful souls we lost. We know that our bonds of kinship as minority communities cannot and will not be torn asunder by violence because our bonds are made of love and unity and they are everlasting.” –Nate Terani (Navy veteran, VFP member, and Phoenix-based VCI field organizer) 

“Hijab. Allah. These are terms we think of when we come upon the word “Muslim.” People also think “terrorist,” which is a destructive way of thinking. Both the events of 9/11 and the Orlando massacre caused tremendous suffering for many. But we must not forget these tragedies hurt the Muslim community as well. When 9/11 occurred, I like many Americans said we needed to go over there and do something about it. However, I didn’t understand Islam. I ended up meeting a man wanting to explain the beliefs of Islam to people who didn’t know, to strike down the belief that all Muslims are evil. Since that time, I’ve never looked back and even in the Marine Corps (while I never deployed) I stood up for our brothers and sisters, some of whom were Muslim. Two quotes come to mind for me: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (Santayana) and “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” (Gandhi). Knowledge is power and if we do not understand Islam we need to educate ourselves in order to dispel Islamophobia.” –Renee Whitfield (Marine Corps veteran, #VetsVsHate supporter) 

“As a Latinx. A Muslim. A Veteran. A serious conversation is necessary to discuss the ways Toxic Masculinity, Militarism, Homophobia, and Islamophobia contributed to the shooting in Orlando, as well as helping shape the narrative told by US media outlets and posturing of U.S. politicians. We live in a society that is homophobic, heterosexist, and is discriminatory towards marginalized people. In communities across the U.S., both children and adults are learning to perpetuate oppressive behavior towards the LGBT+ community. Homophobia like Islamophobia can be fear-driven, but it is also contempt-driven.” –Ramon Mejia (Marine Corps veteran, IVAW member, Texas-based VCI field organizer) 

“A long time ago, I made it a point not to watch the news, listen to the radio or read a newspaper regularly. It felt like ingesting poison. Existing in our society – at times – feels the same way to me; an onslaught of verbal insults or the stare of the unspoken judgement. It has been a long journey of realising my existence is not an embarrassment, the colour of my skin is not some mistake, who I love is not “a sin and I am going to hell” or that my last name does not warrant that I be singled out and labelled. When I step outside my home, I must emotionally and spiritually prepare myself to deal with “the world”. I know I will encounter individuals who believe what mainstream mass media has been feeding them: ready-made summaries consisting of lies and fear and pre-packaged judgements of hate. When I am directly (or indirectly) confronted with someone who unleashes their poison upon me, I must work times over to not mirror their behavior, lest I prove true to that person what the media machine has fed them. I believe we are all truly connected. Admittedly, I struggle with this belief when I encounter another’s fear and hate. Whether in that moment or thereafter, there is a deep realisaton that their anger and hate is a symptom of the insecurity and dis-empowerment syphoning upon the spirit of the many in our country. My responsibility, is to ensure my journey and activism remain genuine and fluid, rooted in from a spiritual connection.” –Monique Salhab (Air Force and Army veteran, VFP board member) 

If more people in the U.S., especially our lawmakers, truly listened to and took voices like the ones shared above seriously, we might be able to make meaningful strides in curbing the sort of violence that took so many innocent lives and devastated so many families last week in Orlando. Hate rhetoric and anti-Muslim sentiments will fail to bring us closer to stopping violence. It will, however, continue to breed hostility and erode the Constitution. This is unacceptable and must be countered by individual and collective efforts to grow diversity, inclusivity and equality and secure civil and human rights for all people, both at home and abroad.


(Brian Trautman is an Army veteran and currently sits on the national board of directors of Veterans For Peace (VFP). He teaches peace studies and economics at Berkshire Community College in western Massachusetts and resides near Albany, NY.)


Gay Bars: Another Word for Safe

PERSPECTIVE--Sunday, I woke up to the news “that someone had shot up a gay club in Orlando and there were many injured and killed.” I then went about my morning getting ready to go to a gay family picnic celebration. There would be a jumping castle and lots of games and fun stations set-up for kids to play. The news hadn’t sunk in yet, and I didn’t look for details.

There was some talk at the event and a couple folks said they were glad this celebration was taking place at a (and this is my description) “gated” park and that reservations were required to attend.

I like to think the reservations were so those organizing the event would know how many to plan for … but now I wonder. Here in New Orleans we still have closed family Facebook groups and operate by rules some of y’all might think are from the days in which social tolerance was much lower.

My initial thought regarding the shooting at Pulse in Orlando was that this was a hate crime planned for Pride. The social psychologist in me guessed some perceived threat had likely led to this event and, indeed, the detail about Omar Mateen’s fury over seeing two men kissing was reported early. It was only after I had returned home that I started to learn the details and that the death toll was rising.

There are so many angles and lessons to learn from this event, but I felt compelled to share my opinions on the symbolic importance of the gay bar to myself and the gay community, spurred by these two tweets from Jeramey Kraatz: 



Growing up a sexual minority means you were most likely raised by the majority script. This means you likely weren’t taught the skills or coping mechanisms to deal with your sexuality and most definitely homophobia. You live in fear that those you love the most may not understand. Moreover, you go from one day being what you thought of as “typical” and having unrecognized privileges to coming out. In the next moments, many of those privileges are wiped away and you have to re-frame expectations for yourself and what you can do and what is possible … just because of a few words you said out loud.

For many non-heterosexual people, gay bars help us find our way. They are often the most accessible safe spaces available. So much so that they have academically been compared to churches for the LGBT community, complete with rituals, a sense of community, and a routine. Religious scholar Marie Cartier wrote a history of life at gay bars before the Stonewall riots. “The only place that you could be a known homosexual — even though you could get arrested there and it was not safe,” she wrote, “was a gay bar.” Even today, just knowing that they are there is powerful. 

I have gone years not really celebrating Pride, but during a week like this you realize why it is there and why we do it and why it is important.

(Lisa Wade is an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, currently on leave and living in New Orleans. Her newest book, American Hookup, is about the emergence and character of the culture of sex that now dominates college campuses all across the country. This piece was posted first at Pacific Standard Magazine.)




Exposed! Orlando Terrorist Employed by G4S Security: Are Feds Paying Big Bucks for PC?

SECURITY WATCH--When I learned that Omar Mateen, the Islamic terrorist who killed 49 Americans at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida and wounded 53 others was a security officer working for a company called G4S I decided to do some research on this company. What I have found is not only disturbing, but downright terrifying. Now, understand that I am not someone who readily subscribes to conspiracy theories, but I am a trained military intelligence officer and I know how to analyze information and draw conclusions based on that information. 

I have found that G4S is a British security firm operating in over 100 countries with over 600,000 employees. It has a checkered past to say the least. It had to pay millions of dollars to the British Government for its failure to provide security to the 2012 Olympics in London. This failure caused the British government to deploy thousands of troops to provide adequate security. There have also been other scandals involving the company. 

G4S acquired a U.S. Security firm named Wackenhut Corp., also with a questionable history, and made it a subsidiary company named G4S Security Solutions USA Inc. This is the company that actually employed Mateen in 2007. The U.S. affiliate initially claimed to know nothing about any FBI questioning of Mateen. However, it finally admitted that it was aware of the first FBI investigation of Mateen, but not the second. 

G4S also claims to know nothing about the terrorist threats Mateen made that had been reported by one of his fellow employees. FOX News interviewed this former employee, Daniel Gilroy, who confirmed these allegations. G4S then refused Fox News’ requests for a response. However, the firm relieved him of duties as a security guard at a Florida courthouse because people complained about Mateen’s negative comments about women and his Jews and his expressions of admiration for the radical Muslim that killed 13 American soldiers and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas. 

So this where it gets scary: G4S has contracts with numerous federal agencies including the State Department, Departments of Interior, Labor, Justice, Energy as well as the IRS, DEA, Homeland Security. It has also been hired by the U.S. Army, Air Force, and NASA. As a result, G4S has worked on projects at Guantanamo Bay, and provides security services for over 50 American embassies around the world, 90 percent of the nuclear facilities in the United States, as well as numerous prisons and juvenile detention facilities around the country. 

In the case of the contract with DHS, the G4S has a rather unique job. It is to provide secure transport for people who have entered the United States illegally and are OTMs, (from countries other than Mexico) to sanctuary cities in the United States. In other words, people who have already violated U.S. laws by entering our country illegally and who are from Central American countries or from the Middle East and could be gang members, drug dealers, or even terrorists are being provided with a free pass into our cities with no questions asked.

This means that G4S is an active participant in the Obama administration and DHS efforts to violate U.S. immigration laws, the U.S. Constitution, and a federal court order. This is placing Americans around the country in danger of being subjected to criminal activity, and more possible terrorism like what just occurred in Orlando. 

When it comes to providing security for U.S. embassies, G4S had an epic failure in 2011 at the embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan when their underpaid local security guards hired went on strike. They were immediately replaced by new local guards who were not subjected to any background checks. The embassy was severally at risk until the company finally agreed to increase the pay of the strikers.

Now we have an employee of G4S that has committed a major atrocity against Americans by killing and injuring almost 100 innocent people, yet he continued to be employed by this company despite the fact that there had been two FBI investigations of him, a complaint by a fellow employee that he made statements indicating he was a dangerous individual, and there was documentation of his involvement with an American jihadist who ultimately became a suicide bomber in Syria. 

If G4S allowed an obvious security risk like Omar Mateen to continue as an employee it makes you wonder how many others like him are out there guarding prisons, nuclear sites, embassies, and other sensitive government facilities. Why are federal agencies continuing to employ this company and pay it millions of tax dollars, seemingly oblivious to the problem?

This also raises another, more insidious question. Are the actions of G4S just the failure of a private company employed by our government -- or is it the result of political correctness run amok? Was Mateen allowed to continue working for the company and have a license to carry firearms because G4S was prohibited by our government from firing him because he was a Muslim, despite the clear danger he represented?   

Instead of launching an all-out assault on law-abiding American gun owners, Obama and Congress should be investigating why someone like the Orlando shooter was granted a security clearance by G4S that ultimately allowed him to go forward with his radical Islamic terrorist agenda.

Unfortunately, it will not happen. Just today I have learned that a radical female Muslim has recently been granted U.S. citizenship. Her name is Laila Alawa, a Syrian who was appointed last year to the Homeland Security Department’s subcommittee on Countering Violent Extremism. 

She has an active Twitter account and I have read some of her posts. She clearly seems to believe that the free speech of anyone opposing radical Islam should be severely restricted; that the real danger to the security of the United States is the “white race.” In addition, she praises the terrorist attacks on 9/11 as a good thing. She is clearly a racist, radical jihadist, and a supporter of radical Islamic terrorism – yet she is now an employee of our very own Federal government. 

See her posts in the article that appeared on ClashDaily. 

Why isn’t Laila Alawa being investigated by Congress?


(Michael Connelly is a US Army veteran, a retired attorney, published author, freelance writer, and instructor of Constitutional law. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. Reach him at: [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California Now the World’s Sixth-Largest Economy … Because of Tax Hikes on the Rich?

TRUTHDIG-California’s economy has recently surpassed France’s to become the sixth-largest in the world. The populous state grew 4.1 percent in the last year and had a gross state product of $2.46 trillion. The state also outpaced the rest of the U.S. in job growth. 

Although there are numerous reasons for the Golden State’s economic growth, The Washington Post points to a 2012 increase in taxes on millionaires. The newspaper contrasts the economic development of California to that of Kansas, which reduced taxes on income and sales the same year. 

The Post reports:

In 2012, voters in California approved a measure to raise taxes on millionaires, bringing their top state income tax rate to 13.3 percent, the highest in the nation. Conservative economists predicted calamity, or at least a big slowdown in growth. Also that year, the governor of Kansas signed a series of changes to the state’s tax code, including reducing income and sales tax rates. Conservative economists predicted a boom.  

California’s economy grew by 4.1 percent in 2015, according to new numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, tying it with Oregon for the fastest state growth of the year. That was up from 3.1 percent growth for the Golden State in 2014, which was near the top of the national pack. 

The Kansas economy, on the other hand, grew 0.2 percent in 2015. That’s down from 1.2 percent in 2014, and below neighboring states such as Nebraska (2.1 percent) and Missouri (1.2 percent). Kansas ended the year with two consecutive quarters of negative growth—a shrinking economy. By a common definition of the term, the state entered 2016 in recession. 

Other effects of the Kansas tax cuts, which were meant to spur entrepreneurship, are well-documented.

While state officials anticipated that the reductions would create a shortfall in the state budget, tax revenues have been consistently below even those expectations. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service have signaled that they could reduce Kansas’s credit rating, indicating there is a chance the state cannot pay its bills. 

The shortfalls have forced Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and lawmakers to make additional adjustments. The state canceled the initial reduction in sales taxes, then increased them again, while delaying additional scheduled reductions in the income tax. 

On the whole, Brownback’s policies modestly increased taxes for the poor and working class, who pay more in sales taxes than income taxes, while reducing taxes drastically for the rich.

The poorest 20 percent of households—those making less than $23,000 a year—are paying about $200 more, on average, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington. For the middle class, the changes have been a wash, with less-affluent households paying somewhat more and more-affluent households giving up a little less. 

Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent of households, those making at least $493,000 a year, are saving an average of $25,000. 

Read more here


(Donald Kaufman is an L.A.-based producer, composer and mix engineer. He is also the songwriter and frontman of the band Visceral Design. He writes for TruthDig where this was originally posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 


The Democrats Need Reform … Let Me Help with That

GELFAND’S WORLD--Bernie Sanders wants the Democratic Party to reform.  I don't think he goes far enough. Think of the following as a wish list. 

The party should show respect for intellectual freedom. Here's one story. I was once the president of a Democratic club in the LA area. We had a new congressman who represented the district. In conversation, he told me he'd like to meet with my club. I said, "Sure, why not." It turns out that there is a "why not" among Democratic Party activists. This congressman was a Republican. 

So even though congressman Steve Horn had a lot of clout that could affect our residents -- congressional offices get involved in everything from helping you find job training to helping you get a new passport in a timely manner -- apparently Democrats aren't supposed to be allowed to get within speaking distance of an actual Republican. I guess I have too much of an academic background for this type of thinking, because it never would have occurred to me that residents of Lakewood shouldn't be allowed to meet and talk with their own elected representatives. 

We went ahead with the public forum, but not without difficulty. There was Hell to pay, to put it mildly. One local Democratic club passed a resolution asking the L.A. County Democratic Party to take away our club's charter. A local activist explained to me that allowing Democrats to hear from a Republican might convince them to vote for the other side. (This didn't show a lot of faith in the power of Democratic values, I must say. And what about the idea that conversation with Republicans such as Horn might bring a little political movement on their part?) 

Here is another example of a constricted intellectual philosophy that ran over into a deranged moral philosophy: Everyone was supposed to support all Democrats, even those who were out and out crooks like Paul Carpenter. Another: Democratic organizations have endorsed judicial candidates who are demonstrably inferior to other candidates, just because the opponent is registered as a Republican. 

This policy strikes me as the sort of attitude that pushes a lot of people away. Intellectual freedom should be one element in Democratic Party philosophy. If we expect honorable Republicans to repudiate the candidacy of Donald Trump, then we have a right to expect the Democratic Party to support integrity within its own ranks. 

There are legitimate reasons that lots of liberal people choose to register as independents. They support the Democratic Party's principles and vote for non-criminal Democrats in elections, but refuse to give up their sense of political autonomy. They should be embraced by the party. Perhaps Bernie Sanders is just being opportunistic when he calls for the primary system to be universally opened to independent voters, but there are people who have legitimate reasons of their own. Opening primary elections to independent voters isn't a deep philosophical question. People who don't state a party preference are a significant fraction of the electorate, and they have a right to participate in the selection of the president. 

Bernie's idea of getting rid of superdelegates makes some sense. Reserving one vote out of each five at the convention for unelected delegates is ridiculous. Even using the term superdelegates to describe these voters makes little sense. The party should rid itself of the problem by taking away superdelegates' votes or requiring them to vote in accord with their states' primary election totals, turning them in effect into pledged delegates. 

By the way, it makes sense to allow elected members of congress and state governors to attend the convention. That's the idea behind the superdelegate system. They just shouldn't be given convention votes automatically. 

One reform Sanders seems to have failed to think about is the order the states go in the primary system. As I've written previously, New Hampshire and Iowa were not awarded primacy in the system through any virtue of their own, and certainly not as a result of a decision by the rest of the country. They just took it. And they enforce their power by rejecting candidates who don't kiss up to them. This is why we don't hear much about water rights out west, or big city issues for the first year or two of the presidential election cycle. The candidates are too busy promising Iowans that they really do believe in ethanol subsidies and promising New Hampshire voters that they get to have first pick in the primaries forever. 

There are a lot of possibilities for reforming the primary system, ranging from a lottery system to a simple reversal of the current order for the next couple of elections. Let California go first and Iowa go last. This is a reform suggestion I'd like to hear coming from Bernie Sanders. Let him show that he is as honest and independent as his supporters think he is. 

Here's another big idea that will be hard to accomplish, but belongs as a central element of any future Democratic Party that is worth its salt. Make unionization a top priority, not only for the trades but for part time workers and for the tens of millions of white collar workers. Make it a long term Democratic Party priority to make it easy for workers to create unions, and make it a serious crime to interfere with this process. Perhaps the state of California could potentiate the process of creating white collar associations and protecting workers who choose to participate. The rest of the country could follow. 

Bernie Sanders wants reform and restructuring of the Democratic National Committee. It's actually a useful goal, even if most voters don't have the least idea what the DNC does. Most party activists have never been near a DNC meeting. The DNC organizes the national convention. Since the convention has ultimate power over accepting or rejecting delegates, the DNC has a lot to say about what happens in primary elections. Anybody remember the credentials fight over the Michigan delegation in 2008?  There are lots of other DNC powers such as raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Most of all, the DNC members are superdelegates. This doesn't make a lot of sense. At least the congressmen and senators who are superdelegates had to win elections and might therefore be said to represent the reality of the party at some level. As far as the DNC is concerned, not so much. The DNC has a lot of power, and there ought to be checks and balances. 

Finally, the biggest idea of all. The Democratic Party ought to wean itself away from the big corporate money that funds campaigns. The idea isn't as farfetched as it sounds, because the Democrats used to accept union money and spurn management money. The Democrats held control over the congress for most of half a century under this system. But somewhere along the line, they figured that since they had control of the congress and business lobbyists had to come to them anyway, they might as well start taking the money. 

When the system broke down under Newt Gingrich, the Democrats were left trying to represent Democratic Party values but having become beholden to big money contributors. The current situation for the Democrats is sort of Catch 22, since they want to take back control of congress, and this takes money. 

One possible solution is to bring back the idea of public financing of elections. Los Angeles is partway there, as are other places. If it weren't for a particularly annoying Supreme Court decision from a few years ago, we might be moving down that road. A more honest Supreme Court may be more accepting of public financing. 

Another approach that may build by itself is the movement into internet mediated political contributions. I get email requests for money several times a week from DailyKos and several party organizations. When politicians in strongly Democratic districts win congressional seats by relying on cleaner money, we will be making progress. This is something that goes to the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. It's a long overdue reform.


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


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