Sun, Jul

What it Really Means to be a Patriot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Patriot’s Pledge of Allegiance 

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

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

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

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


(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

My Mother, Stopped for Driving While Black

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

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

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

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

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

I was stunned. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Why Isn’t The Republican Party Supporting Medical Marijuana?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The New Manchurian Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I allowing my imagination run wild? 

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

Can life imitate art? 

Yes, but with limits. 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


No New Charter Schools – NAACP Draws Line in the Sand

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically, the resolution states: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too many people have seen how they actually violate them


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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Turning Point: The Week That Liberalism Began a Comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Landmark Human Rights Complaint Lodged Against World's Worst Polluters

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is Trump in Putin's Back Pocket?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The Only Convention that Makes Any Sense

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

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

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

Xenophobia is bipartisan these days.

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

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

Comic-Con, in San Diego.

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

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

Perhaps she’s not a natural born citizen.

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

What Hillary Must Do in Philadelphia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That worked out well.

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

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

You know, people like Clinton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh never mind.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. This column was first published by JURIST and is being reprinted with the author’s permission. [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Does Hillary Get It?

EDITOR’S PICK--Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?

I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.  

A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me “now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.”

Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.

"The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy."

In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 – signing legislation on welfare reform, crime, trade, and financial deregulation that enabled him to win reelection in 1996 and declare “the era of big government” over.

In those days a general election was like a competition between two hot-dog vendors on a boardwalk extending from right to left. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. (If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales on rest of the boardwalk.)

But this view is outdated. Nowadays, it’s the boardwalk versus the private jets on their way to the Hamptons. 

The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.

This is a big reason why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. It’s also why Bernie Sanders took 22 states in the Democratic primaries, including a majority of Democratic primary voters under age 45.

There are no longer “moderates.”  There’s no longer a “center.” There’s authoritarian populism (Trump) or democratic populism (which had been Bernie’s “political revolution,” and is now up for grabs). 

And then there’s the Republican establishment (now scattered to the winds), and the Democratic establishment.

If Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party don’t recognize this realignment, they’re in for a rude shock – as, I’m afraid, is the nation. Because Donald Trump does recognize it. His authoritarian (“I’ am your voice”) populism is premised on it.

“In five, ten years from now,” Trump says, “you’re going to have a worker’s party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.”

Speaking at a factory in Pennsylvania in June, he decried politicians and financiers who had betrayed Americans by “taking away from the people their means of making a living and supporting their families.”

Worries about free trade used to be confined to the political left. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, people who say free-trade deals are bad for America are more likely to lean Republican.

The problem isn’t trade itself. It’s a political-economic system that won’t cushion working people against trade’s downsides or share trade’s upsides. In other words, a system that’s rigged.

Most basically, the anti-establishment wants big money out of politics. This was the premise of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. It’s also been central to Donald (“I’m so rich I can’t be bought off”) Trump’s appeal, although he’s now trolling for big money.

A recent YouGov/Economist poll found that 80 percent of GOP primary voters who preferred Donald Trump as the nominee listed money in politics as an important issue, and a Bloomberg Politics poll shows a similar percentage of Republicans opposed to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision.

Getting big money out of politics is of growing importance to voters in both major parties. A June New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 84 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans want to fundamentally change or completely rebuild our campaign finance system.

Last January, a DeMoines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers found 91 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats unsatisfied or “mad as hell” about money in politics. 

Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to move toward the “middle.” In fact, such a move could hurt her if it’s perceived to be compromising the stances she took in the primaries in order to be more acceptable to Democratic movers and shakers.

She needs to move instead toward the anti-establishment – forcefully committing herself to getting big money out of politics, and making the system work for the many rather than a privileged few.

She must make clear Donald Trump’s authoritarian populism is a dangerous gambit, and the best way to end crony capitalism and make America work for the many is to strengthen American democracy.

(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.)


Defeating Islamic Terrorism … Here’s How!

EDITOR’S PICK--As terrorism struck again in Nice and Germany and… Donald Trump outlined his policy against Islamic State: as president, he will seek a full declaration of war from Congress, the first such formal invocation since Pearl Harbor.

Trump was short on specifics but very clear he would take the strategies of the post-9/11 era into a presidency. Clinton, for her part, intends on “intensifying the current air campaign [and] stepping up support for local forces on the ground.” Their French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, declared “We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”

The problem is that none of that will work. While perhaps necessary at times, military force is far from sufficient in defeating Islamic terrorism.

Post-Germany, Post-Nice, post-Brussels, post-Turkey, post-Paris… it is clear the last 15 years of the war on terror in general, and the last two against Islamic State in particular, have not worked. No society can defend itself fully when any truck can be turned into a weapon. No amount of curating social media will prevent disenfranchised people from becoming radicalized. Ramadi fell, Fallujah fell, Mosul will likely fall, and Nice still happened.

“The effect that’s going to happen now is like stepping on a ball of mercury,” stated one American intelligence analyst. “You step on a ball of mercury, all the pieces break up and spread around the world.”

A new way of thinking is needed.

The west must be willing to understand Islamic terror beyond scary search engine terms and decide if we wish to tackle the problem at its core, or simply choose to live with a new normal where incidents like Nice will just happen. Here is what might be considered. It will be hard, and will be unpopular.

— Admit the current strategy has not worked. Agree, in the U.S. and abroad, that something new is needed. Statements such as those from Trump and Clinton block anything beyond more of the same.

— Understand that the roots of Islamic terror rest in part in the Sunni-Shia divide, which the west helped fuel in arming jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and whose fuse the west lit in 2003 when it invaded once-stable Iraq. A significant amount of terror takes place insider the Muslim world, and sectarianism is a steady fuel for recruitment.

At the same time, both sides of the divide recruit well off of horror stories of CIA torture, the continued existence of Guantanamo, the fits of Islamophobia played out in western refugee policy, French and American militarization of Islamic Africa, and a core belief that the actual goal of the western powers is not to “defeat Islamic State,” but to create a permanent state of war against Muslims while garrisoning the Middle East (it used to be more about taking Arab oil, but the point is the same.) More war, more troops, and more draconian security measures are just gas on those fires.

— Another driver of Islamic terror is the unhappiness of many Muslim youth with the autocratic, secular governments in most of their Arab nations. The west must pull back its support for such governments and lessen its fear of non-secular governments. What Washington sees, for example as expedient, realpolitik decisions to support the repressive Saudi government, Bahrain where the United States turns a blind eye to human rights in return for an important naval base, or allowing the Arab Spring to be crushed in Egypt as a military coup unseated the only democratically elected president in the nation’s history, have not worked well in even the medium term. Same for supporting the corrupt government in Baghdad.

The west must find rapprochement with Muslim leadership (Iran, with a robust participatory component inside a fundamentalist theocracy, is an interesting example.) Much of radical jihadism is less about destroying the west than it is about changing the Middle East; even 9/11, the worst of the terror attacks, had as its extended purpose pulling the United States into Afghanistan in hopes of triggering a broader Muslim uprising across the region.

— Immigration out of the Middle East is toothpaste out of the tube. It can’t be snaked back in by tough policies against refugees or stopping Muslims from entering the United States. Western nations must assimilate their Islamic immigrants.

Islamophobia, law enforcement discriminatory targeting of Muslims, hot-headed rhetoric and the rise of right wing governments pleasing citizens enamored anxious to trade their freedom for security, fuel the anger and sense of displacement of so-called lone wolves, and send them to the solutions offered by groups such as Islamic State. It is not about cleaning up Twitter. It is about chipping away at the mindset that makes those 140 character messages so attractive.

This is, in the end, a long war of ideas. Success must include difficult decisions to acknowledge the tides of history moving across the Middle East. Because you can’t stop the next truck. You do have a chance at making it so a man won’t choose to get behind the wheel.

(Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well.  His new book is We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People [The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books] This piece was posted originally at WeMeantWell.com and most recently at Common Dreams.) 



Americans have been Fed Up with the Presidential Nomination Process for More than 200 years

ELECTION PENDULUM--Americans love to argue about the rules of picking major party presidential nominees. But no matter the method, these contests are essentially the same: They pit party elites against the voters. 

There is a clear pattern, a back and forth, that my co-authors and I identified in researching for our book, The Party Decides. While rule changes may give the upper hand to voters for a few presidential cycles, elites will always try to find ways to stage this voting process in their favor. 

At this summer’s conventions, both parties are reconsidering the rules of the presidential selection process, after Donald Trump’s divisive triumph on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders’ strong Democratic challenge raised questions about the fairness of procedures. But no matter what reforms to the selection process that parties may pursue, the back-and-forth struggle between elites and the voters will likely continue. 

Today, the nominating process is itself the product of reforms that didn’t alter this dynamic. Presidential elections now consist of both primaries—where residents simply cast their ballots in the area designated to them based off their address—and caucuses—where voters gather openly to decide which candidate to support. 

This mix of primaries and caucuses is relatively new to American politics. 

In the early decades of the Republic, members of Congress got together to decide presidential nominations. The rest of the nation was totally frozen out of the process. In the early 19th century, reforms designed to make the process more representative led to national party conventions. These gatherings enabled leaders from across the country to take part in the momentous decision of nominating a potential president. The convention system lasted for more than a century until there was a reform movement put in place to increase participation even further. 

The modern presidential nominating process wasn’t born until 1968. The Democratic Party—like the rest of the country—was deeply and sharply divided over the war in Vietnam, when party leaders meeting at the convention in Chicago decided to select the sitting vice president, Hubert Humphrey, to take on Richard Nixon in November. There was rioting in the streets and shouting in the convention hall. The problem was not just that Humphrey was intimately associated with the Johnson administration’s hawkish military policies in Southeast Asia. What drew the ire of many was that Humphrey had failed to compete in any of the primaries and caucuses that nominating season. He was plucked from the wings and foisted upon the party in a very undemocratic fashion. 

In 1968, this type of political movement could occur because primaries and caucuses were not binding. In the aftermath of that bitter convention, Democrats created the McGovern-Fraser Commission to democratize the nominating process. They decided that, starting in 1972, candidates who won the most votes in each contest would receive the most delegates from that state, conferring significantly more importance on the primaries and caucuses. Additionally, the candidate who amassed a majority of delegates—2,383 for Democrats and 1,237 for Republicans—would automatically become the party’s nominee. While McGovern-Fraser was a Democratic Party committee, Republicans followed suit and the two parties had in place extremely similar procedures by 1976. 

… if your preferred candidate is ultimately victorious, the complaints tend to be muted. But supporters of the losing candidates are often quite vocal in their disparagement of the system—and 2016 was no different … 

The goal was to wrest the power to nominate away from the party bosses and give it to the people—and that is exactly what the McGovern-Fraser reforms succeeded in doing. Candidates for president were now essentially required to submit themselves to the voters in order to be crowned their party’s nominee. Democratic Party elites, seeing things slipping away, in 1982 convened the Hunt Commission to reform the process yet again. This time they sought to regain some of their influence by mandating that 20 percent of the delegates would not be bound by voter preferences and therefore would be able to choose whomever they wanted to support come convention time. These superdelegates only exist on one side of the party divide however, as the Republicans did not choose to emulate the Democrats this time.

One irony of this back and forth is that America’s presidential nominating process is among the most open and democratic in the world. Most other political parties worldwide do not have any sort of primaries, and many that do limit rank-and-file participation in a variety of ways. Also, some parties screen candidates and, without elite support, one cannot even run for the nomination. 

But still, the litany of complaints about our system is long: The primary process goes on forever. It is too expensive for non-elite candidates. Iowa and New Hampshire, two relatively unrepresentative states that lead off the proceedings, have disproportionate influence on the final outcome. The votes of many citizens essentially don’t count because in most instances the contest has been wrapped up before their states’ scheduled primaries and caucuses. 

Of course, if your preferred candidate is ultimately victorious, the complaints tend to be muted. But supporters of the losing candidates are often quite vocal in their disparagement of the system—and 2016 was no different in this regard. 

If you look at the Democratic race, it was clearly a case of the party deciding for Hillary Clinton before the voting began. Clinton quickly locked in virtually all of the elite endorsements, making her the strongest frontrunner the modern system has ever witnessed. Clinton also benefited from the overwhelming support of those infamous superdelegates. And finally, the Democratic National Committee initially scheduled a relatively small number of debates and broadcasted most of them on Saturday nights, minimizing the potential damage to a Clinton campaign that had huge systematic advantages. 

Despite running under a legal and ethical cloud for most of her campaign, and facing a powerful insurgency led by a surprisingly charismatic challenger, Clinton prevailed in the end and became the first woman ever to be nominated by a major political party for president. 

On the Republican side, the lead-up to the primaries and caucuses as well as the ultimate outcome could not have been more different. Party elites clearly would not or could not decide on a preferred candidate during the invisible primary period, splitting their support among several broadly acceptable aspirants including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. This opened the door for Donald Trump to capitalize on a populist anger simmering among the Republican primary electorate. Trump won his party’s nomination without any elite support going into the primaries and caucuses and prevailed despite most party elites preferring anybody but him. 

One can already see countervailing pressures on the two major parties resulting from the drama of 2016. Sanders supporters are calling to abolish superdelegates and change states’ primary processes to make them more accessible. And Republican leaders will seek to gain a firmer grip on their nominating process to avoid the debacle that has been Donald Trump’s unlikely candidacy. In fact, we saw this play out earlier this week as anti-Trump forces in Cleveland tried to force various procedural roll call votes as a way of, if not stopping Trump, embarrassing him and his supporters.

No matter the reforms, the struggle between elites and voters will go on. 

(Dr. Martin Cohen is an associate professor of political science at James Madison University. He is co-author of the “The Party Decides: Party Nominations Before and After Reform” and author of the forthcoming “Moral Victories,” which will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Primary Editor: Jessica Suerth. Secondary Editor: Callie Enlow. This piece was posted originally at zocalopublicsquare.org.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Time for Progressives to Take a Stand Against Politics of Hate

TRUTHDIG--Post-Bernie Sanders progressives should focus unrelenting attention on the racism infecting American society, illustrated by the killings of black men by police and the deaths of officers at the hands of armed African-Americans.

I consider this issue and income inequality the greatest problems facing America. Unfortunately, the Bernie Revolution is frittering away its energy by embracing too many good causes, rather than concentrating on these.

But before I discuss that, I’ve been digging into what Sanders’ followers are thinking of doing after the election this fall, and they’ve got interesting things to say.

“I think the [Bernie] movement is as strong today as it ever has been,” filmmaker Montgomery Markland told me. He’s planning to campaign and raise money for the state and local candidates Sanders hopes to mobilize after the Democratic National Convention next week.

Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America, mirrored the pride and disappointment many followers are feeling after Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. He wrote about it in In These Times

“While the platform is likely the most progressive ever, with enormous thanks to Bernie and his supporters, it will likely stop short of satisfying the tens of thousands who campaigned for him and the 12 million who voted for him. There is no proposal to end fracking; Medicare for all was voted down; and the platform does not support an end to new Israeli settlements in Gaza or the West Bank.”

I received a long and thoughtful response from Carson Malbrough, a young African-American man who is a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a leader in Students for Sanders. We exchanged emails when I was writing about Sanders volunteers

“We [younger voters] are the future of this country, and what we saw in Bernie Sanders’ candidacy was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, yet it was everything we could want,” Malbrough wrote.

“He advocated for economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, drastic changes to higher education, etc., in ways we didn’t know were possible because most politicians don’t have the conviction to do it. … You’ll see many Sanders supporters joining or creating new issue-oriented organizations, educating and registering more of our peers to come out and vote, peacefully protesting for justice and even running for office with the same progressive platform Sanders called for. … I don’t believe any other candidate could have catalyzed this many people like this, especially considering how new most of us are to politics.”

I asked if he was disillusioned by his candidate’s endorsement of Clinton.

“I am far from disillusioned at this point,” he said. “I was disappointed at how the primary ended, but despite that, I still hold my head high. The anger and passion we all felt will not go away, and that’s because this is bigger than just Bernie Sanders. Our system that is corrupted by money and power is something we didn’t know could be changed. We never expected to see our voices amplified on a national level. We never expected for all of the issues and values we care about to be vouched for so passionately.

“To be honest, many of us never expected to even care about politics. But now that we’ve witnessed our potential, there’s no turning back. We will turn this anger into action in order to make our country better moving forward. Even when all the cards are stacked against us, we will lead, and we will achieve the unthinkable.”

As for himself, “I personally plan on casting my first vote for Jill Stein, and the reasons why are simple. My predecessors marched and died for my right to vote, and I value that right. I value it so much that I refuse to waste it on the two major parties’ nominees because I don’t align with them on a moral level. I do not align as Democrat or Republican, so this fall I will be voting with my conscience.”

All these folks have good ideas, and they believe in them. That’s why the Sanders movement was great to cover. It was something I myself hadn’t experienced for some time—politics with a purpose.

But the crisis over racism calls for something bolder and more single-minded than the laundry list of good ideas being tossed about by the Bernie Revolution. It demands support of Black Lives Matter and its police reform agenda.

There are good reasons for this, such as the special racism directed toward African-Americans since slavery, particularly by police and the rest of the so-called criminal justice system. Then there are the numbers. As The Guardian reported in its project titled “The Counted,” on American deaths, of the 598 people killed by police this year, 147 were black, 94 Hispanic, 13 Native American and 297 white, which figures, since whites are 77 percent of the population. African-Americans, being only 13 percent of the population, died in disproportionate numbers. So did Latinos, with 18 percent of the population, but not in the numbers inflicted on black people. 

Moving the country closer to open racial conflict is the fact that eight police officers—five in Dallas, three in Baton Rouge, La.—have been shot and killed by African-Americans recently. One of the Baton Rouge police officers, Montrell Jackson, was African-American. He had been on duty in the tense city during the days of protest that followed the killing of an African-American by white Baton Rouge officers, a period of time also marked by rumors of a foiled murder plot against police.

Jackson’s presence reflected a little-noticed aspect of urban policing: Police departments, particularly urban ones, tend to be racially mixed. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department is 40 percent Latino, 38 percent white, 12 percent African-American and 7 percent Asian, statistics that are generally similar to those of other urban police departments.

While on duty during the protests, Jackson posted a powerful message on Facebook. “I’ve experienced so much in my short life and the past 3 days have tested me to the core,” he wrote. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.” He also wrote, “Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer I got you.”

He got a bullet, instead.

If Baton Rouge police had not killed a black man, there probably would have been no protests, and Jackson and the others, protecting peaceful demonstrators, would not have died.

Black Lives Matter is working to elevate the situation to the top of the national agenda.

Many people, liberals among them, will argue that all lives matter. That’s true, except that all deaths are not treated the same. Nor are all confrontations with police. Studies, and just as important, decades—even centuries—of anecdotes offer irrefutable proof that when stopped by police, African-Americans get a harder time and face a greater chance of being killed.

Black Lives Matter is being smeared at the Republican National Convention, which has given the GOP presidential nomination to Donald Trump. From the beginning, the party has framed the convention as a law-and-order event. As violence has increased in recent weeks, Trump took on the mantle of the law-and-order candidate. And the Republicans’ special target is Black Lives Matter.

Trump’s inflammatory campaign is designed to weaken liberals, just as Republican law-and-order campaigns did in the 1960s and 1970s. The well-intentioned Bernie Revolution will be eclipsed by race hatred.

It’s time for progressives, for all the people who rallied behind Sanders, to take a stand against this. Black lives do matter.

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.)


The Donald’s Convention Show Collapses on a Banana Peel: The Spin Doctors' Commit Malpractice

GELFAND’S WORLD--The major take-home lesson from this week's events is that Donald Trump isn't really all that smart after all. This becomes evident (and even obvious) when you look at this week's convention. It's also becoming increasingly obvious that Trump's spin doctors are either stupid themselves or so much under Trump's control that they aren't allowed to do necessary things like, for example, owning up to errors. In the face of obvious plagiarism in a major convention speech, the best tactic would have been to say "Oops" and throw some relatively unknown speech writer under the bus. Instead, the campaign went with "see no plagiarism, hear no plagiarism." 

The Verge summed up the Republican response to the plagiarism story deftly. Kevin Drum provides an equally fine summary. File this week's events under "you couldn't make this stuff up." 

Let's also consider what the news media missed in reporting on Melania Trump's speech. I think it's evident that Melania didn't entirely understand the sentences she was having so much trouble reading. I invite you to look and listen carefully to the alternate performances (all over YouTube), one the 2008 original and the other the 2016 counterfeit. Listen to Melania's reading of the plagiarized paragraphs, which was, as best I can tell, without a real feel for what she was saying. You can see it in her hesitations as she searches for the next words on the teleprompter, and then as she gives a wooden reading of what had originally been spoken with infectious enthusiasm by Michelle Obama. 

But Melania Trump had earlier told a reporter, "I read it once over, and that's all because I wrote it with as little help as possible." Melania's English is slightly broken even in this short comment (didn't she really mean, I read it over once?), so it's obvious that she needed a lot of help just to put grammatical sentences on paper. What she was reading is obviously not her own style of speaking, and it showed. I don't think we expect future First Ladies to be great rhetorical stylists, but the easy arrogance with which Melania lied about writing the speech is telling. It's part and parcel with the campaign and with her husband's easy use of falsity. 

All of this is, paradoxically, a modest defense of Melania Trump. I don't think she would have figured out to steal Obama's wording, because it is way above her English language ability. What's strange is that she didn't notice the inserted paragraphs. This failure to recognize the copied words would be even stranger had she taken a serious role in crafting the speech. 

The important point about this story is how the Trump campaign handled it. They could have taken a lot of the heat off by telling a bit of near-truth, as long as they did it immediately. "We goofed. Our writers let Melania down. She wanted to make a particular point, and as part of the writing process, they stuck in some filler, parts of an old speech, and worse yet someone else's speech, and forgot to replace them with fresh words that accurately reflect Melania's heritage." 

See how easy that is? Even I can write it. And it didn't take me all that long, although I'm not creative enough to have thought of comparing Michelle Obama's words with the My Little Pony story. That took a lot of Googling on somebody's part at the RNC headquarters. That this line of defense was tossed up by an RNC Communications Director shows just how walled off from reality this campaign is. Perhaps Donald should be campaigning on building a wall against reality instead of a wall against Mexicans. It would be a lot more believable. 

When the campaign spokesman told that magic pony story, I was reminded of a classic Jane Curtain - Dan Ackroyd skit on Saturday Night Live, the one where Ackroyd plays a sleazy businessman trying to defend his practice of selling bags of broken glass to children as toys. The logic of Bag O' Glass was equally as compelling as what we heard coming out of the mouths of serial Republican apologists. 

Following in the "you can't make this up" category, there was Ted Cruz doing a little getting even with The Donald by avoiding an actual endorsement. As of this writing, Sen. Ted Cruz is being castigated by the party faithful for inviting people to vote their consciences. The party faithful have a point. Kicking the party's nominee in the groin, at least figuratively speaking, isn't something a featured speaker is supposed to do at his party's national convention. During the speech, Cruz was booed, and after the speech, his wife was almost physically attacked. 

Some pundits have claimed that both Cruz and Trump got what they wanted -- Cruz got to embarrass Donald on the big stage and jump start his 2020 campaign, and Donald got to watch Cruz being booed off the stage. If either or both of these inferences are true, then it reveals a deep lack of political professionalism on both sides. 

The 2016 Republican National Convention is on track to set a Guinness Book of Records entry for most traditions violated, starting with Donald Trump's public intrusion in nearly every public festivity. Melania's goof, which could have been repaired by a little bit of timely near-honesty, has ballooned into a continuing point of discussion, even if the people inside the convention hall are doing their best to pretend that they've never heard of the word plagiarism

There are a few take-home lessons from the first three days of the convention. 

The first is that Donald Trump isn't all that good at administering things. As they say in the law, res ipsa loquitur -- the thing speaks for itself. Presidential nominating conventions have become all too predictably controlled, but that's for a reason. Since organizational control is something that we want in a president, loss of control is considered to be a negative. The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago was the worst, what with street riots outside and turmoil inside, but for petty ineptitude that isn't linked to a major Asian war, this one wins the gold. 

The second take-home lesson is that Melania Trump is a liar. Not a very accomplished liar, and not convincingly intelligent as a liar, but a liar. 

The third take-home lesson is that we shouldn't trust anything that the Trump campaign tells us. Ever. The one time they really needed to say something truthful, it didn't seem to enter their minds. They seem to be so embedded in Donald Trump's easy way with falsehood that it took close to 48 hours to develop the scapegoat approach. 

The result, to our amusement and their chagrin, is that the Melania plagiarism story controlled the news for two straight days, and continues to show up on sites such as CNN.com even on the last day of the convention. 

Television is good at some things. On Monday night, tv stations were already showing the side-by-side footage of Melania Trump and Michelle Obama separated by eight years. Two speakers, two conventions, two different years, but it could have been choir practice for all the difference in the wording. About the best you can say for Melania Trump's stolen passages is that she mixed up a phrase in the middle of one of them. 

Late night comedians must be busting a gut laughing. They have easy punch lines for years to come: 

As believable as a Melania Trump speech. 

As believable as a Trump campaign spokesman. 

They blamed it on the Magic Pony.


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


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