Fri, Mar

Time For a New Word: "O-bombing"

POLITICS--So just when is it "acceptable" to start criticizing the current President's deeds and ways of doing business without being called a bigot and a traitor?  I know it's rightfully been open season on George W. Bush for years, but when--nearing the end of his term--President Obama comes home and calls for an "improved tone in U.S. politics" isn't it time to just flat out declare him a terrible hypocrite?  And isn't it time to declare a new term in our political lexicon (similar to the "-gate" suffix that occurs with each scandal and which started with Watergate? 

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The New Hampshire Primary: Abbott and Costello Politics

GELFAND’S WORLD--If nothing else, the New Hampshire primary demonstrates that the American people haven't lost their sense of humor. Approaching the week of the election, Marco Rubio was being presented as a candidate of destiny. Instead, he froze up during a debate and gave nearly robotic answers to mundane questions. He then found himself being pursued in public by a strange man wearing a robot costume. Then he finished in fifth place. It was politics done as Abbot and Costello. 

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Israel Should Bomb Syria … with Food and Medicine

ISENBERG: A THEORY ON EVERYTHING-Tuning in to the NBC Nightly News the other night I was confronted by stark images of starving Syrian civilian children and adults. Although starving himself, one of them had managed to upload video through the Internet to an NBC reporter using a solar powered camera. Seeing these and other images taken by Russian drones of decimated Syrian cities and humanity, I could not help but remember nearly identical images that emerged over 70 years ago, when, at the end of World War II, allies liberating concentration camps found equally emaciated surviving Jews. Doesn't our species ever learn? 

As NBC anchor Lester Holt cut to commercial and the next mundane story, I thought about what seems to be a recurring historical theme featuring a pervasive human tribal mentality that results in perceiving “the other” with a lack of empathy...or at least not enough empathy to prompt action.

Maybe it’s due to a misguided self-protective mechanism, but most of us think we will remain safe as long as we stay aloof from the plight and terror of others. Sadly, this indifference is what could assure the next human holocaust. 

It occurred to me that this time there might just be a way of changing what seems to be such detached indifference to human suffering in the world. 

So I called the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. and talked to someone in the press department. I pointed out that the very existence of the State of Israel as a militarily strong and self-sufficient state -- that receives a disproportionate amount of aid from the Americans – depends on the foundational Zionist idea that “never again” would Jews be allowed to be slaughtered in silence while nobody did anything to stop it. 

Was I alone in my outrage or could Israelis in 2016 retain enough historical consciousness to see that present-day Syrians desperately need their own equivalent of Zionism? Or has Israel so "evolved" that they too can now avoid the issue, viewing the Syrians as modern-day untermenschen,    completely unrelated to their own not so distant past? 

I pointed out to the Israeli on the other end of the phone, that, even if he wasn't convinced by my argument, given its 68 year history of living in a constant state of war, Israel might be curious as to how the Arab world would respond if Israeli planes would drop relief supplies of food and medicine to help the innocent civilian populations caught between warring factions in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East. How could such an unequivocal act of caring be explained away? 

If the desire for peace, as expressed by the Arabic salaam or the Hebrew shalom, was to be anything more than empty rhetoric, perhaps Israel could discover a “third way” to take action, one in which all human life is valued. This could give pause to even Israel’s most virulent enemies. 

Given the relatively small cost of implementing such a relief program, it should be tried by Israel and any other parties seeking to end the senseless carnage. But will it work? I don't know, but as my Jewish grandmother used to say, "It couldn't hurt." 

By the way, the number of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. is: (202) 364-5500.


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California Needs to Embrace the Apocalypse

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Is California being governed by apocalyptic French philosophy?

Oui. But it’s not the end of the world.

Indeed, apocalyptic French philosophy may finally provide clarity for those of us long puzzled by that great California mystery: What is the meaning of Jerry Brown?

In recent years, our governor’s statements have taken an end-of-days turn, Jerry channeling Jeremiah. The governor has warned of nuclear holocaust, wildfires consuming the entire state, the demise of Silicon Valley if his water plans aren’t adopted, and the apocalypse if we don’t curb carbon emissions. Last month, the governor went to Palo Alto for the latest of unveiling of the Doomsday Clock, a timekeeper for the annihilation of mankind. (It’s just three minutes to midnight, humans.)

Where is he getting all this angst? Here’s one answer: Brown is a longtime friend of the French techno-philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who practices what is called “enlightened doomsaying” from academic perches at Stanford and Paris’ École Polytechnique.

Dupuy’s long-running conversations with Brown have become more high-profile lately, with Dupuy joining him at events in Paris during December’s climate change talks.

I am neither French nor a philosopher. And I’m no fan of Brown, whose governorship I’ve criticized as too small and cautious, given the size of California’s challenges. But before Christmas, I started reading everything I could find that Dupuy has published in English. And I’m very glad I did.

Dupuy’s work not only provides reassurance that there is a coherent philosophy behind our governor’s ramblings. The work itself is irresistibly thought-provoking, connecting history, science, religion, economics, and art in an open (and sometimes bitterly funny) spirit little seen in scholarship. I’d go so far as to recommend that Californians—as citizens of a global hub for both apocalyptic and utopian thinking—read his most accessible book, The Mark of the Sacred. It should be required for anyone who works in or around state government.

Here is my best attempt to summarize Dupuy’s argument: Humanity is doomed to destroy itself because we have lost our sense of the sacred. We no longer recognize the way our sacred origins—not just faith and religion, but other rituals and traditions that remind us how many things are beyond human control—shape us and all our modes of thought, even reason and science.

This hubris creates two problems. First, we no longer understand our own limits, and recklessly reshape the world without anticipating the consequences of our own inventions. Second, without sufficient respect for the sacred, we can’t convert our knowledge about the threats to our existence—from nuclear weapons to climate change—into the visceral belief necessary to galvanize humanity to save itself.

“It is my profound belief that humanity is on a suicidal course, headed straight for catastrophe,” Dupuy writes. “I speak of catastrophe in the singular, not to designate a single event, but a whole system of disruptions, discontinuities, and basic structural changes that are the consequence of exceeding critical thresholds.”

Dupuy’s solution: a new metaphysics called “enlightened doomsaying.” We must try to imagine ourselves in the unthinkable future, to peer into the black hole of nonexistence so that we might understand our limits and sacred origins. “To believe in fate is to prevent it from happening,” he writes.

That may sound awfully French, but he grounds his philosophy in a classic California story: Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo, a tale of humans falling all over Northern California, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Mission San Juan Bautista. Dupuy calls the film “the womb from which I am issued,” and sees humanity’s rush into Armageddon in the fictions within that movie’s fictions, particularly Jimmy Stewart’s attempts to impose a false reality on Kim Novak’s character.

So now—at the risk of repeating Jimmy Stewart’s mistake—I am compelled to read Dupuy onto Governor Brown.

Brown’s famous skepticism of great plans and new programs makes sense if you believe, as Dupuy argues, that man has become blind to the consequences of his own belief in progress. Brown’s focus on avoiding catastrophes—the strategy linking his budget rainy day fund to his prioritization of climate change—reflects Dupuy’s “prophet-of-doom” calls to focus on postponing the apocalypse.

Brown, like Dupuy, holds deep respect for the sacred—he quotes from various religious traditions and invokes his time in Jesuit seminary, without embracing any particular religion. And just as Dupuy mourns the “loss of difference between levels that characterize hierarchy,” Brown has sought to reestablish hierarchy, removing himself from many daily debates, relying on powerful elder wise men to pursue policies from water to high-speed rail, while keeping an unusually small staff.

Some of Brown’s most puzzling statements—his criticism of “desire” and consumerism—echo Dupuy. The French philosopher argues that as we lose our sense of the sacred, we fill the void with our own desires—and that creates envy that leads to conflict. Here’s Brown, speaking at the Doomsday Clock: “California is so full of low-priority needs. In fact, I have to tell you something about needs, because needs are the whole issue. What I have found is, and I have developed a hierarchy: First we get a desire; and then the desire is transmogrified into a need; and then we get a law; and then we get a right; and then we get a lawsuit.”

Of course, Dupuy, as philosopher, poses questions you’ll never hear on the stump in Stockton: Has Christianity preserved the sacred—or obliterated it by replacing so many traditional religions and rituals? What are the virtues of scapegoating? And which would be worse: the annihilation of the human race, or the eco-totalitarianism that might be instituted to prevent said annihilation?

There are obvious objections to Brown, and to Dupuy. There is a dissonance between the care with which governor and philosopher advise respect for the unknown and the certainty with which they predict Armageddon. I find it unsettling to be governed by someone so focused on the apocalypse. (Of course, my anxiety may be the reaction doomsayers want.) Reading Dupuy, I felt relief that Brown, for all his virtues, will never be president and have access to the nuclear launch codes.

But we also should be comforted that our governor’s aphorisms and warnings lean so heavily on such deep thinking. Dupuy suggests in his writings that we think in the “future perfect” tense—as in, by tomorrow, the apocalypse will have happened. From there, we work backward, as if the end of our existence were already fated, to find the limits that might save us.

To govern is to choose, and to prepare for the future. And while there are certainly happier ways to confront the dangers ahead, there may not be a smarter one.

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It [UC Press, 2010]. This column was posted first at Zocalo Public Square)


Millennials Heed the Siren Call of Socialism

EDITOR’S PICK--The biggest story this election season is not Donald Trump or the fortunes of the two winners in Iowa, the unattractive tag team of Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. For all their attempts to seem current and contemporary, these candidates – and Trump as well – represent older, more established elements in American life, such as evangelicals, nativists and, in Hillary’s case, the ranks of middle-age women, seniors and public-sector unions.

The biggest and most important development has been the massive support among the new generation of voters for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his open embrace of socialism. In Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, which ended with Clinton and Sanders in a virtual tie, young people opted for Sanders at an almost inconceivable rate of 84-14. In 2008, Barack Obama won this segment, claiming only a 57 percent majority.

So we are seeing the embrace of an openly socialist septuagenarian by a generation that, within a decade, will dominate our electorate and outnumber baby boomers as soon as 2020. That should put more conventional politicians, and business, on notice. Whether you are a Republican, a free-marketer or, even a Democratic-leaning crony capitalist, be afraid – be very afraid.

Timing right?

For the first time since labor leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs in the early 20th century, Americans are flocking in big numbers to a politician who rejects the efficacy of capitalism and seeks to create a new, notionally fairer, system. Now, as then, the reason to support socialist ideas – some of which were implemented during the New Deal – lies with the palpable failures of capitalism. Polls of millennials show consistently that economic issues, such as jobs and college debt, are their dominant concerns.

The new generation’s lurch toward socialism would have been unimaginable at any previous moment in the past half century. A recent yougov.com poll found some 36 percent of people ages 18-29 favor socialism compared with barely 39 percent support for capitalism. Support for socialism drops precipitously, to 26 percent, among people ages 30-44, tumbles to 24 percent support among those ages 45 to 64 and hits 15 percent among those over 65.

Another poll, this one from Pew, finds that 43 percent of millennials have positive connotations about the word “socialism,” compared with less than half that level among people over 50.

Perhaps one reason for this divergence lies in memory, or lack of it. Few millennials remember the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “evil empire,” which occurred when the oldest of them were barely out of diapers. In contrast to older generations, who reacted against Soviet-style politics, millennials seem to make little distinction between liberal progressivism and socialism.

Conservative academics, a small but sometimes hardy band, place blame on a lack of teaching about the realities of socialism by generally left-leaning instructors at universities or high schools. Certainly from what I see, at least, few students seem to know about Stalinist and Maoist purges, famines and thought control.

Yet it’s not just ignorance at work here. Millennials are coming up in a very tough economy where opportunity is limited, even for college graduates, with diminishing returns accompanying soaring tuition. Millennials are finding everything harder than their parents did – leaving a record number living at home into their late 20s and earlier 30s, or sheltering with their friends in apartments. Record levels of student debt, twice the average two decades ago, are slowing economic progress. Relieving this indebtedness is one element of Sanders’ appeal.

At the same time, relatively few young people are starting businesses. Being in debt and asset-free does not augur well for the prospect of nurturing appreciation for the creative power of capitalism in the next generation.

A party divided

The rise of support for socialism among millennials is having an immediate impact on the Democratic Party. Many left-leaning Democrats rightfully detest the kind of modulated crony capitalism epitomized by Hillary Clinton. This could precipitate a civil war among major Democratic donors – notably in Silicon Valley – who may embrace progressive views on cultural and environmental issues, but have little interest in having their massive wealth threatened by regulations or hypertaxation.

“They don’t like [Bernie] Sanders at all,” notes San Francisco-based researcher Greg Ferenstein, who has been polling Internet company founders for an upcoming book. Sanders’ emphasis on income redistribution and protecting union privileges and pensions violates the favorite notions of the tech elite. “He’s an egalitarian liberal,” Ferenstein explains, “these people are tech liberals. Equality is a nonissue in Silicon Valley.”

Although maybe not an issue among the tech oligarchs, class and inequality are not “nonissues” for many progressives of all ages. In blue bastions like San Francisco, grass-roots progressives regard tech billionaires, and their employees, with about the same regard evangelicals have for abortionists. To many old-line Bay Area liberals, the tech moguls – with their tax breaks, special employee buses and expensive tastes – are transforming their once-diverse city into an unconscionably expensive, class-ridden enclave. In many ways, as the Who sang, “the new boss” turns out to be as remarkably oppressive as the “old boss.”

This division will become clearer as the Clinton machine, and its media apparatus, go after Sanders. The Vermont senator was better treated before he posed a serious threat. Now that he is challenging the gentry liberal consensus, the mainstream media, increasingly under the sway of tech oligarchs, are mounting increasingly strident attacks on Sanders. These attacks have been led by the Washington Post, owned by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, whose fortune and sometimes brutal business practices would fare far better under Clinton than Sanders.

Indeed, the defense of crony capitalism is implicit in the Clinton appeal. After all, she is running with funds collected from financial, technology and other crony industries. Some of these same people have also been quite generous toward the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary’s ethically challenged holding company.

Future of capitalism

Some conservatives – particularly given the chaos of the Republican race – might be tempted to revel in the new Democratic lurch to the left, which conceivably could drive the party too far from the mainstream, at least for older generations. But millennials are the future, and, if the GOP retains its reactionary ideas on key social issues – notably the mass expulsion of undocumented immigrants, legalizing marijuana and gay marriage – its chances of reaching millennial voters may be minimal.

Ultimately, the future of capitalism depends on making the system work for the majority of people, including millennials. The current system, frankly, is producing few benefits for the vast majority of Americans, giving the free market a bad name and turning off millennials. Fully half of them, notes a recent Harvard study, already believe the “American Dream” is dead. More than 10 million millennials are outside the system, neither employed nor in education or training, a population that seems ripe for leftist agitation.

Simply put, to change millennial views, capitalism also needs to change from its current trajectory. The predominant system of crony capitalism, most ensconced in blue states like California, clearly favors the already affluent. At the same time, nonsocialists need to do a better job of explaining the past failures of state control; most millennials, as the Reason Foundation has pointed out, do not even associate socialism with a state-centered economy, which most of them say they would strongly oppose.

And, to be sure, there are elements of millennial attitudes that push back against socialist practices. Millennials, for example, tend to distrust all institutions, including government, according to Pew, and half consider themselves independents, far more than in any other generation. They may be alienated from large financial and corporate institutions but may not remain permanently in the tank for ever more intrusive government.

Ultimately, reality, not knowledge, changes attitudes. Until capitalists focus more on jobs and upward mobility, and less on asset inflation, young people have little reason to change their minds. Unless capitalism or its crony offshoots can create a credible future for the young, there’s little reason to expect that this generation will abandon their determination to change the system that, for all its faults, has created more prosperity over time for more people than any other.

(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of www.newgeography.com … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.)


Don’t Listen to the “We-Must-Not-Try” Brigade … They’ve Lost Faith in the Rest of Us

WHY WE MUST TRY--Instead of “Yes we can,” many Democrats have adopted a new slogan this election year: “We shouldn’t even try.”

We shouldn’t try for single-payer system, they say. We’ll be lucky if we prevent Republicans from repealing Obamacare.

We shouldn’t try for a $15 an hour minimum wage. The best we can do is $12 an hour.

We shouldn’t try to restore the Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment and commercial banking, or bust up the biggest banks. We’ll be lucky to stop Republicans from repealing Dodd-Frank.

We shouldn’t try for free public higher education. As it is, Republicans are out to cut all federal education spending.

We shouldn’t try to tax carbon or speculative trades on Wall Street, or raise taxes on the wealthy. We’ll be fortunate to just maintain the taxes already in place.

Most of all, we shouldn’t even try to get big money out of politics. We’ll be lucky to round up enough wealthy people to back Democratic candidates.  

“We-shouldn’t-even-try” Democrats think it’s foolish to aim for fundamental change – pie-in-the-sky, impractical, silly, naïve, quixotic. Not in the cards. No way we can.

I understand their defeatism. After eight years of Republican intransigence and six years of congressional gridlock, many Democrats are desperate just to hold on to what we have.

And ever since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision opened the political floodgates to big corporations, Wall Street, and right-wing billionaires, many Democrats have concluded that bold ideas are unachievable.

In addition, some establishment Democrats – Washington lobbyists, editorial writers, inside-the-beltway operatives, party leaders, and big contributors – have grown comfortable with the way things are. They’d rather not rock the boat they’re safely in.

I get it, but here’s the problem. There’s no way to reform the system without rocking the boat. There’s no way to get to where America should be without aiming high.

Progressive change has never happened without bold ideas championed by bold idealists.

Some thought it was quixotic to try for civil rights and voting rights. Some viewed it as naïve to think we could end the Vietnam War. Some said it was unrealistic to push for the Environmental Protection Act.

But time and again we’ve learned that important public goals can be achieved – if the public is mobilized behind them. And time and again such mobilization has depended on the energies and enthusiasm of young people combined with the determination and tenacity of the rest. 

If we don’t aim high we have no chance of hitting the target, and no hope of mobilizing that enthusiasm and determination. 

The situation we’re in now demands such mobilization. Wealth and income are more concentrated at the top than in over a century. And that wealth has translated into political power.

The result is an economy rigged in favor of those at the top – which further compounds wealth and power at the top, in a vicious cycle that will only get worse unless reversed.

Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than the citizens of any other advanced nation, for example. We also pay more for Internet service. And far more for health care.

We pay high prices for airline tickets even though fuel costs have tumbled. And high prices for food even though crop prices have declined.

That’s because giant companies have accumulated vast market power. Yet the nation’s antitrust laws are barely enforced.  

Meanwhile, the biggest Wall Street banks have more of the nation’s banking assets than they did in 2008, when they were judged too big to fail.

Hedge-fund partners get tax loopholes, oil companies get tax subsidies, and big agriculture gets paid off.

Bankruptcy laws protect the fortunes of billionaires like Donald Trump but not the homes of underwater homeowners or the savings of graduates burdened with student loans.

A low minimum wage enhances the profits of big-box retailers like Walmart, but requires the rest of us provide its employees and their families with food stamps and Medicaid in order to avoid poverty – an indirect subsidy of Walmart. 

Trade treaties protect the assets and intellectual property of big corporations but not the jobs and wages of ordinary workers.

At the same time, countervailing power is disappearing. Labor union membership has plummeted from a third of all private-sector workers in the 1950s to fewer than 7 percent today. Small banks have been absorbed into global financial behemoths. Small retailers don’t stand a chance against Walmart and Amazon.

And the pay of top corporate executives continues to skyrocket, even as most peoples’ real wages drop and their job security vanishes.

This system is not sustainable.

We must get big money out of our democracy, end crony capitalism, and make our economy and democracy work for the many, not just the few.

But change on this scale requires political mobilization.

It won’t be easy. It has never been easy. As before, it will require the energies and commitments of large numbers of Americans.

Which is why you shouldn’t listen to the “we-must-not-try” brigade. They’ve lost faith in the rest of us.

We must try.  We have no choice.

Bernie’s Kids - In but not of the Party

EDITOR’S PICK--The New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner and rally goes on steroids in presidential years. Invariably scheduled for the weekend before the presidential primary, the dinner is held in a far larger venue than is customary: The national (and global) press corps swarms in, and, above all, the Democratic presidential candidates and their supporters turn out in force. 

On Friday night, February 5, the party repaired to the Verizon Wireless Center in the heart of Manchester. The ice hockey arena featured the standard shell-out-the-bucks tables of ten festooning the floor where the ice normally sits. The presidential partisans and party faithful filled the thousands of low-dollar spectator seats: Hillary supporters on one side of the arena and the Bernie backers on the other. 

The evening held potential, then, for an ugly clash. In essence, two separate candidate rallies would be held in a venue filled with supporters of both candidates. Clinton partisans plainly feared that the Sanders kids might boo, heckle, and Lord knows what else, when Clinton spoke. Introducing her, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen adjured the crowd, saying, “I hope everyone here will be respectful of whatever choice we make” in this election. 

Then Clinton came out to give her speech and -- everything was fine. No heckling. No booing. The kids were alright. 

More than that, the event demonstrated that the divisions that have appeared in the party this year aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. More precisely, in a year when the Democrats are said to be divided by an ideological chasm, the evening showed that that chasm isn’t nearly as wide as it may appear from afar. 

Indeed, the evening’s program presented a kind of real-time, visual poll that revealed more consensus than discord. It was easy enough to see what the Bernie brigade supported: They came armed with “thundersticks,” orange plastic cylinders that they hoisted and banged together to great noise-making effect. Likewise, on the opposite side of the arena, the Hillary hordes brandished thundersticks of their own, with glowing lights at the tip, like some kind of Jedi lightsaber which they, too, raised and waved around when sufficiently thrilled by a speaker’s comment. 

The response to Sanders’s speech was a revelation. Even as the Bernie kids erupted in a thunderstick-banging cacophony while Sanders emphatically delivered one progressive pledge after another, so, too, did the Hillary backers raise theirs and wave them about as Bernie unveiled his platform. Raise the minimum wage to $15, Sanders said. Up went the lightsabers (though Clinton’s preferred level is $12.) Lift the cap on the payroll tax to increase Social Security benefits, he bellowed. Lightsabers up! Health coverage is a right not a privilege -- lightsabers galore! Voted against the Iraq War resolution: lightsaber madness! 

To be sure, Sanders has modified his stump speech to make clear he’s not the all-or-nothing guy depicted by the Clinton campaign. “The Affordable Care Act has done extraordinarily good things,” he said, before vowing to go beyond the ACA with Medicare for all. Speaking before a crowd that included the entire state Democratic establishment, he was clearly not at his most confrontational. Nonetheless, when he spelled out positions that were at odds with Clinton’s -- not pointing out they were at odds, but before a crowd that knew they were -- the Clinton backers responded rapturously to most of them. 

One prominent former party leader (who asked his name not be used because he’s a sitting judge) explained the enthusiasm to me this way on his way into the arena: “Bernie says all the right things. His program appeals to me very much, appeals to most of us. But I’m voting for Hillary. If Bernie wins [the nomination], he’ll get clobbered in November.” 

The judge’s response is not a surprising, but helps illuminate what the entire evening made clear: While there are real divisions among Democrats this year, they are not chiefly ideological or programmatic. Taken by themselves, Sanders’s positions, even those that are not Hillary’s -- the $15 wage, free tuition, lifting the cap to increase Social Security payments -- are widely popular across Democratic ranks. 

To the extent that there is a division on ideology, it probably comes when Sanders’s proposals are considered in aggregate, which means that the total amount of taxing and spending that his program would entail is indeed a likely point of division. To that extent, some of his Democratic opponents fit the description that political scientists have given the American people more generally: Philosophically conservative (or in this case, centrist), programmatically liberal. 

There was one other kind of division on display in the arena on Friday night: The Sanderistas are not, or not yet, party people. This distinction began at the top: While both candidates opened their remarks by acknowledging their institutional supporters (unions, progressive groups, and so on), Hillary also went on to give shout-outs to various New Hampshire Democratic leaders and party activists. Sanders did none of that. 

That’s partly because the overwhelming majority of New Hampshire party leaders and activists are backing Clinton, and because the Clintons have deep relationships in New Hampshire dating back to 1992. But it’s also because Sanders has not been a party guy at the state level, though he is functionally that in Congress.   

As with the candidates, so with their supporters: Some of the older Bernie backers have certainly been party people, and cheered when notable state party workers and local elected officials were acknowledged (which is a required rite at any state party’s annual do). Most of Bernie’s backers, however, had no idea who those people were, and the kids who’d come from out of state to precinct walk for the final weekend were thoroughly and understandably uninterested. 

(They reminded me of an 18-year-old staffer on Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 insurgent presidential campaign – me -- who sat through such events in several states with an equivalent lack of interest in the roll call of local notables.) 

But in talking with a group of students from Hartwick College, a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, who’d crossed the Adirondacks to walk for Bernie and who’d been among the loudest noise-makers during Sanders’s talk that night (and who sat respectfully, if not enthusiastically through Clinton’s), I got the clear impression that, like the kids who’d once volunteered for McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, and George McGovern, they’d stick around, reshape, and take over the Democratic Party in years to come. 

The three students -- all political science majors -- understood that the Sanders “revolution” was many years in the making, not the product of just of one campaign, and that with or without Bernie in years to come, as one said, “we’ll be inspired to carry on his ideals.” “This is a learning experience,” said another. “We’re learning how the system works.” 

American socialists, as the great sociologist Daniel Bell once observed, failed to understand that with power came the necessity of compromise; they were, in his famous phrase, “in but not of the world.” Bernie’s kids are in but not of the party, in but not of the system -- which, in American politics, means they’re on track to somewhat alter and eventually take over both the party and the system, too. 

(Harold Meyerson is the executive editor of The American Prospect ... where this piece originated.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Stupor Bowl

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Super Bowl sucked. It was 4 hours of mediocrity, two quarterbacks who couldn't get the job done, and offensive lines who wouldn't think of giving offense. Everybody knew that Peyton Manning was at the end of his road. He plays like a guy with multiple long-term injuries, but still knows enough to throw the ball away half the time. The bigger story was the failure of Cam Newton to dominate the game. A team with 15 wins and 1 loss should have some ability to score, even against a good defense. Perhaps there should have been a least valuable player award given to the Carolina offensive line. 

Things have changed. The league and the CBS television network hyped the fact that this was Super Bowl 50. We were shown a few clips of the first such game. At the time (1967), it was actually a football game rather than a multiweek spectacle. Tickets were offered to the public at reasonable rates, that being a time when the NFL was one entertainment medium competing among others. 

But one thing hasn't changed. It's the insatiable NFL greed that causes it to go overboard whether it is the first or the fiftieth. The first interleague championship game now known as the Super Bowl (but called something different at the time) was played at the Coliseum here in Los Angeles. The NFL enforced its television blackout rule, which forbade local television if a game wasn't sold out. In a town that was used to seeing the Rose Bowl and to viewing USC vs. UCLA, this was not only a surprise, it was taken as an insult. 

The result was that lots of Angelenos stayed away. It wasn't quite a formal boycott, but it was a well recognized expression of municipal disgust. There was just a hint of this historical reality allowed to come through on Sunday, when one veteran mentioned the first Super Bowl game being played in a half-empty Coliseum. Records show that the Coliseum was actually one-third empty, at 61,000 attendance. The first Super Bowl game couldn't outdraw USC vs. UCLA. 

This year's game didn't suffer from any lack of greed. On the few occasions in which one team scored (typically a field goal), the network went to commercials. That's commercials in the plural. Then we saw a kickoff. Then the network went to more commercials. It's not all that excessive to point out that scoring in modern American football is one play surrounded by ten commercials. 

There's one more little irritant that the modern television networks have foisted upon us. We used to hear comments and statistics by announcers. Vin Scully has built a whole career on making baseball fascinating by providing interesting stats. We used to get something of the same thing in televised football. But now, every microscopic element has a commercial sponsor. To give you an idea of how excessive this has become, we had statistics presented by Mercedes. We had a half time show presented by Hyundai (I think it was Hyundai -- feel free to set me straight here, because I couldn't keep up with the deluge of corporate names) and Toyota got in there somewhere, maybe for the postgame show. 

And then there were the much-hyped commercials. Last week, CBS went as far as to do a tv special on commercials from previous Super Bowls. There was a countdown to number 1, which was about a man and a horse. Other top-50 commercials included puppies and more horses. 

When it came to Super 2016, the commercials didn't seem to come up to snuff. They were just plentiful, not moving. I would go so far as to say that they weren't even sappy, which is at least some kind of emotion. We had cars, cars, and more cars. 

I watched the pregame show at a local restaurant. Everything seemed to go in slow motion, as we were introduced to 4 dozen previous MVP's, a combined chorus that sang America, and a pop singer (Lady Gaga) who sang the national anthem. By the time we got to home of the brave, a woman at an adjoining table remarked, "I could have had a hysterectomy in less time." 

That remark certainly beat anything said over the next 4 hours by the retired jocks who cover as football announcers. 

I wonder if I'm alone in guessing that professional football has hit its peak. This year's Super Bowl is the best evidence yet. There just isn't anything more to add in terms of pregame hype or biographical sketches of the participants, and adding a lot more commercials would be noticed even by football addicts. 

The CBS television network did everything possible to bring in the viewers, but what actually showed up on our screens was boring. It wasn't even shocking or offensive. The game was just sullenly, dully boring. You might say that it was merely boring. 

Mind you, this boredom wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the network. The television directors used a dizzying series of shots for almost every down. In the old days, there would be a camera which was stationed along the sideline and which showed the play from beginning to end. Television directors also had the use of one or two other camera positions so they could show a replay from a different angle and thereby add a little spice to the mix. But nowadays, from the moment the whistle blows on one play, we are subjected to a rapid series of camera angles and moving shots presented in frantic succession. 

When I see this kind of technical and reportorial overkill, I always suspect that the network executives and directors don't trust the audience to maintain interest in the sport itself. They realize that they need to add a lot of filler and a lot of tricky editing in fear that the modern audience couldn't sit still for a televised showing of the game itself. 

Perhaps the game itself is just too dull to hold the attention of a modern television audience. After all, if the game were fascinating by itself, the extraneous stuff would be an irritation. 

Someone might choose to argue that this is just the condition of the modern generation. But all you have to do is take a look at a couple of counterexamples. NBA Basketball seems to do pretty well without all the extra bells and whistles. Even college basketball manages. At a different level, we have the television show Jeopardy, which has added a few technical gimmicks over its half-century run, but is basically the same show. 

There was one new element that spoke ominously to current football audiences. The announcer explained that one player was staying out because he had failed the concussion examination. The audience members who happen to be parents and future parents might think about this. They might usefully consider that perhaps half of the players they were watching will end up with long-term brain dysfunction. 

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


Action in India: Hugh Win for Net Neutrality No Matter What Mark Zuckerberg Says

EDITOR’S PICK--Today, Indian telecom regulator TRAI reaffirmed the principles of net neutrality by banning discriminatory pricing on the basis of content, including so called “Zero Rating” schemes like Facebook’s controversial Free Basics program. The decision marks a major victory for grassroots activists in India and around the world who have been calling for such a ban, and a setback for companies like T-Mobile and Verizon, who have been pushing similar practices in the U.S., claiming that they do not violate net neutrality.

Fight for the Future, a U.S. based digital rights group that played an instrumental role in last year’s net neutrality victory at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and who have vocally opposed Zero Rating programs/offerings including Facebook’s Free Basics program, issued the following statement, which can be attributed to campaign director, Evan Greer:

“Today’s decision is a major victory for free speech and for Internet users everywhere, no matter what Mark Zuckerberg’s well-paid public relations team might tell you. It’s worth noting that if T-Mobile were operating in India, these new rules would ban their BingeOn throttling scam.

The basic principles of net neutrality are what have made the Web into what it is today. Zero rating schemes and discriminatory pricing are just another tool to favor some applications over others. They allow ISPs to pick winners and losers, and create the same harms as fast lanes and slow lanes. They give Internet Service Providers too much power to shape Internet users’ online experience, and open the floodgates for potential censorship and abuse.

The same arguments of course apply here in the U.S.. The FCC should move quickly to explicitly ban similar practices by Internet providers in the United States who have been misleading customers and breaking net neutrality principles with Zero rating schemes.”

Fight for the Future has been active in defending net neutrality in the U.S. through a series of high profile campaigns including the Internet Slowdown protest, which drove three quarters of a million comments to the FCC in a single day. Previously they worked with Popular Resistance to organize an “Occupy the FCC” encampment outside FCC headquarters, making national headlines.

This year, Fight for the Future has focused on exposing and opposing T-Mobile’s BingeOn scheme, which violates net neutrality by throttling all video streaming by default. They also signed on to an Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg, demanding Facebook stop using their platform to mislead Indian users about the Free Basics program. In the coming weeks, Fight for the Future and other groups plan to continue pressuring the FCC to enforce net neutrality rules in the U.S. by stopping these Zero rating practices.

(Fight for the Future is dedicated to protecting and expanding the Internet's transformative power in our lives by creating civic campaigns that are engaging for millions of people.)


How Enormous is the Porter Ranch Methane Blowout? … Take a Look!!

EDITOR’S PICK--The “invisible tsunami” of natural gas that has been spewing from a broken well in the backyard of an affluent Los Angeles suburb has caused illness and losses to businesses, and driven thousands from their homes. With their lives turned upside down for more than three months, residents continue to wait for the gas company to stop the leak once and for all.

The rotten-smelling air in and around the Porter Ranch community will begin to clear when the well is permanently sealed. And Southern California Gas Company, which operates the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility where the leak originated, says it expects to have the leak stopped this month. But the effect that the natural gas’s main component -- methane -- has had on the atmosphere doesn’t simply vanish when the well ceases operation.

The well has released more than 91,000 metric tons of methane gas into the air, according to Environmental Defense Fund, but the exact toll it has taken on the environment isn’t immediately clear. In part, that’s because the gas can only be seen with a special infrared camera, making this an invisible catastrophe in California -- there are no oil slicks in the clouds above Los Angeles, no wildlife covered in crude. But make no mistake: The volume of methane that has been ejected into the air is massive, and its effect on global warming is real. (Now, click here. We’ll help you visualize it.) 


The Enigma of the Week: Ted Cruz

GELFAND’S WORLD--As a Californian and presumably a normal sort of person, I find it strange that Ted Cruz finished first in the Iowa Caucuses. The political experts tell us that his fellow Senators hate him and that the Republican Party fears him. And he looks like Grandpa Munster. Why would so many supposedly loyal Republican voters support him? 

A good question with several answers. It turns out that one of those answers is negative for Cruz's hopes of winning the Republican nomination. 

For all of their phony pretentions to legitimacy, the Iowa Caucuses destroyed last week's political foundations and created a new world. It reminds you a little of the world wars. Donald Trump, last week's Mussolini, got knocked off the winner's stand and had to settle for second place. Ted Cruz took first place by 4 points. 

You have to admit that it's strange. There's just something about the guy that infuriates people. Let's start with a joke making the rounds. 

Why do people take an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? 

Answer: It saves time. 

But the Ted Cruz enigma remains. He managed to win a Senate seat in a major state and has now knocked off the one person who was picked to finish first and who gets more press coverage than any two or three of his opponents combined. 

Here is an article by Caroline Bankoff in New York magazine that takes a swing at the question. In essence, he is for himself even when this violates party loyalty, and he doesn't know how to be a team member. This has put some of his fellow Republican senators on the spot as Cruz has played games about shutting down the government once again. There is also an inkling of a more far reaching explanation from one of his college classmates. Cruz seems to have come to college politically formed. The beliefs he expresses today haven't changed from when he was a teenager. 

But that doesn't seem to be quite enough to explain why so many of his fellow Republicans are actively trying to undermine him. After all, the rule in politics is to go with the winner if he's on your side. Republicans and Democrats alike have put up with sleaze and downright corruption when it provides the winning edge, both in D.C. and in Sacramento. Republicans understand that Cruz as president would provide a solid conservative brand of leadership, yet they still dislike him. 

Like I said, Cruz is an enigma to the rest of the normal people around the country. 

So what else does the Iowa result tell us? 

First of all, it probably means that Ted Cruz won't get the Republican nomination, much less win the presidency. This is simply a matter of recent history. Iowa Republicans seem to vote for the most right wing sorts. They also seem to limit their choices to those who wrap their campaigns around evangelical fervor. The fact that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are recent winners tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Winners in Iowa are too far right to win nationally. 

There's one other lesson from Iowa that I call wolfpack ethics. In a series of debates leading up to Iowa, a series of Republican wannabes took shots at Donald Trump. They were swatted down by Trump, much as the pack leader swats down rambunctious cubs. The sorriest cub was Jeb Bush, who took such a beating that Saturday Night Live made him into an ongoing political joke. That's the way of the wolfpack. The alpha wolf defines the leadership role. 

But the alpha wolf is always a potential target to be replaced. It's not a matter of if, but of when and by whom. It wasn't last month and it wasn't Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz was careful to avoid a definitive tangle with Trump in the early going.  

By Wednesday of this week, everything had changed. We've all heard by now about Trump's polite concession speech on Monday night, followed by his attack on Cruz as cheater and stealer of the election the very next day. At the risk of mixing metaphors, we have Trump going through the stages of grief, this stage being denial, while Cruz gets to try out his new role as alpha wolf. You could tell that Cruz had decided that this is his moment when he pulled out the new term Trumpertantrum

There is an old rule that applies to attacking alpha wolves. If you are going to try to replace the alpha, the one thing you must not do is lose. Cruz is taking a chance in coming back at Trump just a few days before the New Hampshire primary election. If Trump should win, then he will be in a position to retake the alpha position. 

Trump has deftly set this situation up by claiming that the Cruz victory in Iowa was fraudulent. We can expect that come Tuesday night in New Hampshire, a victorious Trump will remind television viewers that this time, justice has triumphed. If Cruz should manage to pull off a miracle and beat Trump on Tuesday, then we can expect Cruz to give us an even louder wolf howl. 

And then there were the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. It's hard to call this anything but a dead draw. That might be enough for Hillary to call it a victory. It might also be enough for Bernie to call it the beginning of a political revolution. Whatever happened in Iowa is probably of little consequence in New Hampshire this time around. That's because New Hampshire voters have a strong propensity to vote for governors and senators from their neighboring states. Vermont is right next to New Hampshire, for those who didn't know. If Hillary runs close, that would signify a near-defeat for Bernie. If Bernie wins big, it's still a race.


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



Solar Decision Will Burn Low-Income Californians

SUBSIDIZING WALL STREET-Reversing climate change and addressing income inequality are the twin challenges of our time. Solving them both means a safer, more stable future for generations to come. 

If we don’t stop and reverse climate change, our environment and our economy could collapse. If we don’t address the growing gap between rich and poor, our political structures and our economy will continue to fray, robbing us of both the funds and the political will to address climate change. 

These challenges are irreversibly linked — and we can’t solve one without solving them both. 

That’s why progressives, labor leaders and everyone who cares about addressing these twin threats should oppose the California Public Utilities Commission’s recently proposed decision to require poor utility customers to subsidize richer customers and the new Wall Street-funded quasi-utilities serving these wealthy customers. 

The CPUC’s decision is on a technical issue called Net Energy Metering: the system that provides subsidies for the installation of residential solar systems by forcing utilities to buy surplus energy generated on rooftops at an artificially high price. For a long time it made sense to provide these very generous subsidies — we all benefit from a robust solar industry. Some of us closest to the economics of solar thought it made more sense to subsidize larger solar installations, which are up to three times more cost-effective than residential solar systems. But broad adoption of solar and renewable power is a goal we must all support. 

But what is happening now is that Wall Street has figured out how to game the system. And what usually happens when Wall Street financiers and speculators get involved is happening now in solar — the rich are being subsidized by the poor. 

Net Energy Metering allows wealthier solar customers to sell the power they produce back to power providers at retail rates. Solar customers might think they are “off the grid,” but their lights still go on at night or when the sun isn’t shining because they are using the electric grid as a giant free battery.

But they don’t pay for it, others do. And “others” are renters and homeowners without the funds to install solar. 

Solar customers are by every measure wealthier and whiter than traditional power customers. That’s because it’s expensive to install rooftop solar (between $12,000 and $40,000, even with the generous tax credits), and because you generally have to own your home in order to install the panels. What’s more, the panels are typically leased to the homeowner by a company like SolarCity. Those companies then bundle the leases and sell them to investors (sound familiar?), and it is not the customer but the investors who receive both the tax credit and the benefit of the Net Energy Metering subsidy associated with the panel. 

Traditional power customers also include CARE customers — low-income families who earn less than 200 percent of the poverty level — who are particularly impacted by this decision. There are nearly 1.5 million CARE families across California, taking home an average of $40,180 a year — and they receive a 30-35 percent discount on their electric and natural gas bills. By comparison, there are only 200,000 solar customers, and they earn more than double that amount — about $92,210 each year. 

The CPUC’s proposed ruling would force CARE customers to pick up the tab for the high cost of Net Metering, eating into the discount those families need. That would very plainly divert money intended for low-income customers to Wall Street and wealthier Californians. That’s not right, and the proposed decision has been roundly criticized by ratepayer advocates and others across the state. 

California is moving towards a green energy future, and that’s a positive thing. But we need to be cognizant of how we get there. Forcing low-income people to subsidize Wall Street will only exacerbate the growing income inequality that is gnawing at our communities. 

We need to fight climate change. We need to fight income inequality. We don’t need a subsidy for the wealthiest and Wall Street that makes income inequality in our state worse.


(Tom Dalzell is the business manager and financial secretary of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245. This piece was posted earlier at Huffington Post and Capital and Main.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Why I Support Bernie’s Revolution – ‘Incremental Progress’ is not Good Enough

JUST SAYIN’--In her speech at the end of the Iowa Caucus, Hillary Clinton said, "I am a progressive who gets things done for people. I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our minds that the status quo is not good enough, that standing still is not an option."

That same night Sanders, who rarely uses the word "I" in his speeches, proclaimed, "It is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics. The American people are saying 'no' to a rigged economy. They no longer want to see an economy in which the average American works longer hours for lower wages, while almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1%." 

While disappointed by the disingenuous Chelsea Clinton proxy attack that claimed a Sanders presidency would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, I've moved quickly past the distractions and histrionics of the political hardball being played against Clinton, as well as Sanders, to draw some conclusions at this stage of the Democratic Presidential Primary.

Small steps to the left by Clinton on key issues like the Trans Pacific Partnership seemingly in response to Sanders' long held positions on this and other issues, is not enough. I am not willing to settle for promises of incremental progress that largely maintain the status quo while the working poor and middle class are locked in the iron grip of economic and environmental inequality, typically carried out by legislators whose campaigns are largely funded by Wall Street. 

Bernie Sanders is running a campaign funded with $75 million coming from small donors; people who are donating $27 on average, under the banner of revolution. This provides a distinct contrast to every other competitive presidential candidate, all of whom are receiving millions of dollars from some combination of super PACs, Corporate America and America's richest 1%.

Income is not equal in the United States, but our voices should and can be a powerful force as the people of Iowa proved in showing that this revolution is real. Not because Sanders is promising that he will do this alone, but because he is calling upon the providence of the American people to stand up for what benefits our country as a whole:

"No president, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody else, will be able to bring about the changes that the working families and the middle class of this country, that our children, that the seniors, our seniors deserve.” Sanders continued, “No one president can do it because the powers that be, Wall Street with their endless supply of money, corporate America, the large campaign donors are so powerful that no president can do what has to be done alone. And that is why -- and that is why what Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution."

This is not a commitment by Sanders to seek incremental progress. It is a promise to fight for fairness as the sword and shield of the American people in the war against inequality.

As Americans, revolution is in our blood going back to our Country's origins. Today we are witnessing a political revolution of the people, by the people and for the people versus establishment money and politics. 

I stand with the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.


(Jason Gardea-Stinnett is the Former Executive Vice President AFSCME District Council 36.)   Photo: CNN. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Sick of Spiraling Drug Costs and No Cure in Sight

DRUG POLITICS--For anyone not living in a bubble, or perhaps just so lucky and healthy to have super-duper insurance and/or no health problems, it's pretty obvious that pharmaceutical prices are going up to unsustainable levels.  And if "unsustainable" is the the wrong word, perhaps "infuriating" or "predatory" or "criminal" is a more appropriate description. 

There's a reason or three why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have so many followers--they're angry at former President Bush, they're angry at President Obama, and they're angry at how the average American--in particular, the middle class who are trying to play by the rules and who are both stymied and exhausted at how they're being stiff-armed and shoved into decreased economic mobility. 

Part of this is the increasing cost of pharmaceutical medications, including those that are generic and have been around for decades.  We need them for our health and survival, and their astronomical elevations in cost are both unnecessary and infuriating.  And both dangerous and deadly. 

Yet as with the rising cost of health care, it's easy to blame one part of the problem as the solitary monster to be slain...when what we REALLY are fighting is more akin to a Hydra--that mythological creature with multiple heads, and which, if we cut off one head, two will grow in its place. 

In other words, if address only one part of the problem then we risk not fixing the problem at the least, or making the problem greater as the worst result of our efforts.  

If you want to hate on Republicans, Democrats, bureaucrats, health plans, pharmaceutical companies, or anyone else that's fine--but naivete won't fix the problem: 

Rrecognizing that health care is (as with our nation) a combination of pragmatic capitalism and socialism is certainly more helpful in confronting our issues. 

1) Part of our pharmaceutical cost-conundrum is caused by capitalism at its worst, but yet not capitalism at its best.  Somehow pharmaceutical companies have manipulated their way into being virtual monopolies, when they should have so much competition that the price for medications--particularly generics--should be plummeting.  

2) Part of our pharmaceutical cost-conundrum is caused by socialism at its worst, but yet not socialism at its best.  Somehow pharmaceutical companies have been granted too much exclusivity in creating medications--including generics--while not being demanded to keep their prices lower each year as their profits are met and their production prices presumably go down. 

Do you get the picture?  When socialists demand price controls, and when capitalists demand more competition, they're both right, and merit a seat at any table where resolution of this problem will occur. 

And if you're only going to demand on one approach, while ignoring the other approach, you're invariably going to make the problem worse. 

Is the FDA too demanding and cost-driving on pharmaceutical companies to make new products, or are they a necessary quality control agency...or both? 

Arguably, the "fix" should start on generic companies that really do little to nothing to create new products, and are raising their prices simply because they can. 

Martin Shkreli is both a repugnant individual (he doesn't merit the title "human being") who will be heard from in Congress, but he's also done us a service by highlighting this crisis with his outrageous price-gouging: 

1) Shkreli is only the worst of the worst, with Turing and Valeant and Mylan Pharmaceuticals being only slightly less predatory than this contemptible individual in what they have done to the pocketbooks, lives, and health of Americans everywhere. 

2) And where the devil was Congress while doctors were screaming about this over the last few years?  They got dragged to the table in addressing this, and either laziness, fear, or lobbyist contributions are probably to blame.  Unfortunately, THIS current President and Congress will likely do very little until after the fall elections to address this, because the "Affordable Care Act" (cute name, huh?) was politically- and not economically-driven. 

The more money gets thrown into health care, the more we'll see pharmaceutical companies--particularly companies who've either manipulated or been granted governmental exclusivity on certain medications--wanting a piece of that money flow...whether they've earned it or not: 

1) Is the government to blame for not enforcing price controls?  Probably--after all, why should the United States pay thrice the cost that Canadians and Europeans pay for the same medications? 

2) Are health plans to blame for not enforcing price controls?  Probably, although their negotiating power and step-therapy plans are their best weapons in demanding lower medication costs.  In other words, perhaps your health plan is just doing its job when you're denied the medication that you and your doctor want.  Unless you LIKE rising deductibles and premiums. 

And premiums and deductibles ARE going up...for everyone. 

1) I doubt that the Vermont plan of taxing physicians for paying for Medicaid will work (LINK: ), because even if you just think doctors are all mega-rich and getting kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies (I am still waiting for mind after almost 25 years in practice) there's the aforementioned Hydra analogy: 

If we smack around doctors, they will invariably stop seeing all patients, and might just leave to another state. Then we'll see how cheap and easy it is to see doctors who still remain. 

And WHY are we so embracing of Medicaid as the new normal?  Some need that, and they're not getting enough, but if YOU don't have a job that helps cover your health plan YOU have a lousy job.  Deal with that.  

And if you're not getting a second or third job to ensure you can pay for appropriate insurance for you and your family, you're either in an environment where you have no ability to achieve economic independence or you're not doing YOUR job.  Deal with that, too.  (I'm a physician, and I have three jobs, by the way) 

2) I also have major concerns about the November initiative that will require drug companies to allow the same low prices to non-veterans as they do with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.   

I don't doubt for a moment the sincerity, good intentions and righteous anger of those promoting this initiative, but while pharmaceutical companies need a good smackdown this is the wrong one.  If they can't afford this low cost for so many, then these companies will jack up their costs for veterans, too...and that helps us all...how? 

Again, remember that Hydra analogy. 

We want innovation from pharmaceutical companies to create new cancer treatments and new antibiotics, but the $1 billion "moonshot" of President Obama is a joke when considering the $2.6 billion needed to create a single drug. 

To conclude, and in short, we need to: 

1) Demand, require, enable, and encourage generic pharmaceutical companies to keep older medications dirt-cheap.  As in $5-15 per refill for older medications, and perhaps $25 for a few per refill. 

2) Support, encourage, and enable brand-name pharmaceutical companies to create and profit from the development and distribution of new and innovative medications. 

Both government and the private sector will need to do its share.  Any other approach is just self-delusion and a prescription for both higher prices and reduced health for the majority of exhausted, hard-working Americans.


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


Beyond Sean Penn’s Fiasco: Mexico’s Alleged War on Drugs is Not a Movie

EDITOR’S PICK--There is a reason why most popular gangster movies tell stories of legendary godfathers in the old times, convicted felons serving their sentences in prison, or fictionalized characters. Sean Penn missed that part when publishing his interview with the notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.

Penn and Mexican soap-opera star Kate del Castillo didn’t figure it out, but the organized crime in Mexico is not a movie. You don’t interview a fugitive serial killer right when he is planning his next kidnapping and slaughtering, before he goes to jail, without becoming his accomplice . . . unless you are as untouchable as a Hollywood star.

More than 50,000 people have been murdered during the current administration (plus countless non-reported by states completely controlled from the top by the cartels, like Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa or Chihuahua), and more than 120,000 people were killed during the so-called “war on drugs” ordered by former President Felipe Calderon. These people are not extras in a Scorcese’s film.

On November 23, 2011, twelve partially calcined people were found in the trunk of a burning van in the Rosales Neighborhood of Culiacán City, the capital of Sinaloa State. That same day, another burning van in Desarrollo Urbano Tres Ríos was found with four bodies, with the head of one of them thrown to the sidewalk. On that day, “El Chapo” freely conducted his business throughout the country and the entire world. It was a business as usual day for the Sinaloa Cartel. It looked like any other day on another year, like May 2nd, 2012, when twenty-two people were found murdered within less than twelve hours, or June 21st, 2013, when two teenagers were killed, allegedly, because they made fun of the son of a gangster at school.

That’s life and death in a period of time that Sean Penn qualifies as “strictly business”: “’El Chapo’ is a businessman first, and only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests,” he says

The drug lord said so, and he believed it. Sean Penn is “disappointed” of current journalists, but didn’t care to apply their basic rule of fact checking. Had he done so, he would have probably learned that while “El Chapo” was operating freely as a “business man” between 2009 and 2012 there were 330 femicides in Sinaloa, 80% of which remain unsolved. While certainly all these women were not killed personally by “El Chapo” with his bare hands, the rate of femicides in any state where there is organized crime is higher than it is elsewhere.

Drug trafficking is not just about cartels fighting against each other for a better and larger turf. Drug trafficking is an anti-democratic culture of death, extortion, sexism, prostitution, nepotism, tyranny and humiliation permeating the social, political and private life at all levels, everywhere it goes. The obvious territory is that of the military forces, police corps and bribed politicians. Little we know or care about the organized crime inside education, universities and scientific research, for instance, even though the University of Sinaloa often obtains more false credentials, for obvious reasons, and therefore receives more government funding than others where corruption is not the law.

Just because the Mexican Government has become the organized crime at a local, state and federal levels, it doesn’t mean apolitical drug lords should take over the entire country as an alternative to the corruption. Ms. Kate del Castillo doesn’t see it that way though. She referred to the drug lord as a savior, saying that she trusts “more” in him than corrupt politicians. Then she added the advice to start “trafficking with love,” which apparently the drug lord understood as a greenlight to contact her. Two years after her famous Tweeter request, it turned out she was trying to make a Narcos-style Hollywood movie about the drug lord, as confirmed by her own friend, human rights advocate and journalist Lydia Cacho.

Mrs. Lydia Cacho, who has been herself persecuted by corrupt politicians involved in the organized crime, confesses, “Kate told me she was making a movie about ‘El Chapo’.” It is unclear whether Mrs. Lydia Cacho knew about the actor’s alleged money laundering business with the criminal (which is now under investigation), but she is now in contact with Del Castillo and became her spokeswoman. In a recent interview with Univisión’s anchor Jorge Ramos (the Mexican equivalent of Charlie Rose), Lydia Cacho blames the Mexican Secretary of State and Sean Penn for betraying Del Castillo’s “true” and pure intentions, which were no less than the making of a gangster’s movie.

I spoke to one close friend of Mrs. Lydia Cacho, author of “The Eden’s Demons” about pederasty and organized crime in Puebla State. I asked her why this human rights advocate and activist would be willing to risk her longtime earned credibility by unapologetically portraying the soap-opera’s star as a victim. The answer I received is typical of the drug-trafficking world culture, “Because, they are friends, and she was probably going to participate in the movie as an ‘advisor’ or screenwriter.”

Same thing happens to Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who was Sean Penn’s protégé when he started working in Hollywood. They are friends. So González Iñárritu supports Penn’s side. He quotes a famous Mexican journalist, Julio Scherer García, who once said he would “go to hell” in order to obtain the opportunity to interview someone, and actually interviewed another drug lord from Sinaloa.

However, Scherer was a journalist. He used to provide a context to the conversation, and never perceived drug lords as his “saviors” like Del Castillo does, or “simple business men.” He was the Founder. Editor of “Proceso,” the prestigious investigative magazine in Mexico. Two of his reporters, longtime journalist Regina Martínez and talented photo-reporter Rubén Espinosa, were murdered by the Veracruz government involved with another powerful Cartel, the “Zetas.”

The state of Veracruz is one of the 10 most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders. Quoting the director of a publication that has lost two of its best reporters precisely because they denounced the organized crime is a disservice to journalism.

This is not the first time that González Iñárritu quotes without reading someone though. When he first won a Spirit Award for his movie “21 Grams,” took the stage along with actor Sean Penn, and he spoke in favor of peace, only quoting Peruvian novelist and Nobel Price Mario Vargas Llosa. He simply didn’t know that Vargas Llosa had just been in Irak as an “embedded” reporter for the Spanish newspaper “El País,” supporting Spanish pro-Bush President Aznar portraying the US Marines as the most polite, nicest soldiers — until the Abu Ghraib prisoners’ torture and abuse scandal took place and Vargas Llosa got silent.

As Counterpunch’s article “Hollywood and the CIA” by Ed Rampell notes, cinema can be a very powerful propaganda tool. However, in this case, there is no mastermind twisting the information to support drug cartels, but just plain ignorance – Hollywood and Mexican soap-operas’ greed finally meeting.

In the meantime, real journalists in Mexico continue risking and losing their lives, literally.

The flirtatious text messages Kate del Castillo exchanged with the drug lord arranging a secret meeting and inviting Sean Penn were immediately released by the Mexican Government. However, in the case of the 43 Ayotzinapa kidnapped and disappeared students, their parents have been demanding for more than one year the disclosure of the Mexican Army and the Iguala City Police’s phone exchanges and text messages. There are still no answers for them. They are not so glamorous.

In New York City, Mr. Antonio Tizapa, father of one of the Ayotzinapa students, demands the immediate disclosure and release of any information regarding those phone calls and text messages. “Each one of these students have a cell phone, and the soldiers had cell phones. How come none of their text messages and calls are public?” he asked on a public statement during a rally in front of the Mexican Consulate, on January 26. Some of this information would probably explain what really happened in the Ayotzinapa’s case.

(Malú Huacuja del Toro is a feminist Mexican novelist, playwright and screenwriter with eight fiction published books in Spanish. She wrote the first “anti-soap opera” in Mexico, produced in 1988. She is also an activist for Ayotzinapa and the Zapatista movement. She lives in New York. This piece was posted originally at CounterPunch



The Scariest Cable Merger Nobody in Washington Is Talking About

EDITOR’S PICK--When Comcast tried to merge with Time Warner Cable last year, reaction was swift and negative. Not many people liked the idea of America’s largest and least loved cable company getting any bigger; the deal collapsed after hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke out and federal regulators signaled that they would not let it go forward. 

Big Cable should have gotten the message. But here we are just a year later with a new cable mega-merger in the works. This time, Charter Communications wants to snatch up Time Warner Cable along with Bright House Networks. 

Unfortunately, this deal hasn’t received nearly as much public attention as the Comcast-Time Warner Cable proposal. The harms it presents are just as serious, however — serious enough for lawmakers and regulators to give this outrageous proposal the attention it merits. 

Let’s start with some basics. The three merging companies would create a new Mega Cable company, controlling about one-third of the nation’s cable and cable-broadband markets. In addition, the new colossus would own programming, including regional sports networks all across the country, and would completely dominate some of America’s largest media markets, including New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte, Tampa Bay, Orlando and St. Louis. Finally, the combined companies would have an anti-competitive incentive to preference their streaming-video offering over that of competitors. 

When you add it up, the new company would look a lot like, well, Comcast. Yes, this merger would create a new Comcast — a national cable giant with the ability and the incentive to thwart competition, diversity, and consumer choice. 

And it gets worse. Because they don’t compete in any markets, Comcast and the new Mega Cable company would stand shoulder to shoulder in control of more than 70 percent of the high-speed broadband market. The two companies would have no incentive to compete against each other, but every incentive to coordinate against their shared marketplace competitors. 

Thanks to services like Netflix, Hulu and Sling, television is in the midst of a creative renaissance. These emerging services are finally breaking the decades-long stranglehold of the cable bundle on American consumers who have been forced to collectively fork over billions of dollars in monthly cable bills, largely to pay for channels they never watch. The services’ growth has been fabulous for consumers, content creators and workers in the entertainment industry. Now, just when competition is finally gaining traction, the Comcast-Mega Cable duopoly could squash it. 

Then there is the issue of independent programming. Already, too much of the cable dial is filled with content produced by a handful of media conglomerates. When the vast majority of cable homes are served by just two companies, it will become even harder for independent and diverse voices to gain a foothold. That is especially problematic because Comcast and the new Mega Cable will own content that directly competes with independent programmers. 

That kind of dominance leads to homogenization of content and the marginalization of independent voices, cutting right to the heart of the public interest in diverse cable offerings that give voters a broad range of perspectives on the issues of the day. 

Finally, there is the issue of price and customer service. To finance this deal, Charter will be taking on $27 billion in new debt — about $1,142 for each subscriber. To keep its lenders and creditors happy, the merged company will have every incentive to raise prices and slash service. And because it will face very little competition, the company will run little risk in doing so. How much more beneficial it would be if Charter invested those billions in building cable competition in presently uncompetitive markets! 

The bottom line is that this merger is no less threatening to consumers than the Comcast-Time Warner Cable tie-up would have been. It points a dagger directly at competition, diversity in programming and consumer rights. Before it’s too late, the public should send a message telling regulators to once again stand up to the cable giants and stop this harmful merger. 

More than 200,000 people have already spoken out, but there’s still time to speak out if you have not already. Take action today to stop this affront to the public interest.


(Michael Copps is a former commissioner and acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, where he served from 2001–2011. He serves on the board of Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund and is a special adviser to Common Cause. This piece originally appeared on Medium.  Original photo by Flickr user Sean MacEntee.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

This Is Not the Way the Democratic Campaign Should Be Conducted

EDITOR’S PICK--Chris Matthews had an interview with Hillary Rodham Clinton on the MSNBC channel of the electric teevee machine Tuesday afternoon that was flatly astounding. This is especially true if you remember Matthews' sorry history with the Clinton family, especially concerning HRC, against whom he was so hostile in 2008 that kindly Doc Maddow called him out on it on the air. Now, though, apparently, Matthews sees HRC as the only thing keeping the Battleship Potemkin from sailing up his driveway. 

“I'm going to say this bluntly,” he said. “The only person standing between a confirmed socialist who is calling for political revolution in this country winning the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, which has always been more moderate than that, is you. So, when you saw that rally last night, the young people all around Senator Sanders, when he yelled "revolution" out there, and they all applauded like mad, do you think that's going to help in the general election or is it what we used to call in the Sixties an NDC candidacy—"November Doesn't Count"—we just want to win the party, we don't care about the general. You seem to be focused on the general. How do you beat a person who comes along in the primaries who says, ‘I'm going to give you everything you want: free tuition, more Social Security benefits, no increase in your taxes, free health-care from birth, all of it government-paid.’ How do you compete with a revolution? A revolution of promises, really.” 

Say what you will about HRC, but she knows a cue when she hears one. She threw out some compliments to her own youthful adherents, which is a decent thing to do, and then she got down to serious business. 

“I do think we have an obligation to keep people focused on what's at stake,” said Clinton. “We can't let the Republicans rip away the progress we have made. We can't let them go back to trickle-down economics, repeal the Affordable Care Act. We can't let them stack the Supreme Court for another generation. We've got to get back to the middle. We've got to get back to the big center and solving problems. That's how we make progress in America. I'm proud to be in a line of Democratic presidents who just got in there and fought it out…I know how hard it is, and I totally appreciate how exciting it can be to be involved in a campaign that really just puts out these great big ideas. But I want folks to just stop and think, no matter what age you are, OK, we agree on getting the economy going. We agree on raising income. We agree on combatting climate change. We agree on universal health-care. Who has the track record? Who's got things done? Who can actually produce the results you want for you and your family, and for our country?” 

But Matthews wasn't finished. Condescension, it appears, is not just a river in Egypt. 

“Look, the history of the Democratic party -- your party, not Bernie Sanders,” said Matthews. “He's not a Democrat—your party has produced the New Deal, the progressive income tax came from the Democrats, Social Security, the greatest anti-poverty program, came from Roosevelt, health-care and civil rights, and all these good things, and in every case, you had to battle Republicans against it to the last person. It's always been a tough fight. You need 60 votes in the Senate, and you need 218 in the House. And if you don't have them nothing gets done. Can the Bernie people be taught—not him, he can't be taught—can the kids behind him be told that this is how it works in our system? You can call for a revolution but it ain't gonna happen. There isn't going to be a revolution. There's gonna be an election and an inauguration and then there's going to be a Congress sitting next to you that you have to deal with. Revolution sounds like a pass. You don't have to have logic any more. We're going to have a revolution and pay for anything.” 

Non sequitur. Your facts are uncoordinated. 

First of all, what Sanders is calling for is a democratically determined change in how we govern ourselves. He's not f-cking Robespierre. The tumbrels are all in your head, dude. Among other things, Sanders is advocating for the restoration of a financial-reform system that was a pure product of the New Deal and that prevailed for 60-odd years. That's his "revolution." Just chill. Once again, though, HRC hit all her marks. 

“Our system is set up to make it difficult,” she continued. “Checks and balances. Separation of powers. Our Founders knew, if we were going to survive as the great democracy that they were creating, we had to have a system that kept the passions at bay. (ED. NOTE: And then most of them divided up into political parties and spent the early 1800's slandering the hell out of each other. We continue.) We had to have people who were willing to roll up their sleeves and compromise. We couldn't have ideologues who were just hurling their rhetoric back and forth. We had to actually produce results…. 

“That hasn't changed since George Washington,” said Clinton. “We have to produce results now because a democracy is a fragile organism. People have to believe they have a stake in it, that their voices count, but then they gotta see results from their investment in our democracy. Our democracy has to work better. Our politics have to work better. That's what I know how to do, and that's what I want to get done.” 

This doesn't have to be the way it goes. HRC is perfectly within her rights to campaign against Sanders on the ground that he is not electable or that his proposals are fanciful. But this is edging dangerously close to marginalizing him and his campaign as somehow extremist and/or vaguely un-American. For example, Matthews really went to town after the interview was over, talking pragmatism and evincing a curious view of 20th century history. He lumped the New Deal and, most spectacularly, the Civil Rights Movement as examples of the kind of incremental centrist change that characterizes American political history. 

This is something of my bollocks. Good god, the New Deal was so centrist that the plutocrats of the time tried to organize a goddamn military coup against it. And the reason that the Democrats became the party of the Civil Rights Movement is that thousands of people in the streets, and more than a few martyrs, forced a series of presidents to move, however deliberately, and forced the party to change an identity to which it had clung since Stephen A. Douglas was the party's nominee. This is not the way the Democratic campaign should be conducted. Bernie Sanders is running a campaign completely within what can reasonably be called the mainstream of his party and of our politics. 

Discreet red-baiting and disingenuous scaremongering helps nobody.


(Charles P. Pierce is a writer-at-large for Esquire and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and The Chicago Tribune, among others. This piece was posted at Esquire.com and CommonDreams.org.  Screenshot: MSNBC. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


I'm an Angry Old White Guy, Here’s Why

GUEST WORDS--I keep reading that people like me -- older white guys -- are angry about what is happening to their country. In recent years, their grievances have been voiced by Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. Then they found an outlet in the Tea Party. Now they are filling the seats at Donald Trump rallies and perhaps propelling him toward what seemed unthinkable, the Republican presidential nomination. 

Trump explained his own anger this way in the last Republican debate he took part in: “I'm very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our health care is a horror show. Obamacare, we're going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people.” 

Hey, Donald! I'm angry, too. But the sources of my anger are quite different than yours. Let me explain. 

I was born in 1954, just a few months after the Supreme Court, handed down its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, dealing the biggest blow to white supremacy since the beginning of the republic – back when a bunch of property-owning white men -- to whom the franchise was restricted at the time -- drafted a constitution in which Black slaves were considered three-fifths of a human being. 

When I was in grade school, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminist Manifesto, and the pill liberated women to begin the long and still-incomplete march to full participation in the workplace and in political life. A vibrant and courageous civil rights movement brought about the landmark civil rights acts of the mid-1960s, which also saw the establishment of Medicare and the end of racist immigration quotas. 

When I was in high school, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, and the Stonewall uprising marked the dawn of the modern gay rights movement whose arc, yet unfinished, led to last year's glorious Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land.

When I was in college, the Roe v. Wade decision ended back-alley abortions and affirmed the right of women to control their own bodies and therefore their full personhood. 

I'm angry not because all these things happened. I'm angry because they are in jeopardy from the likes of Donald Trump and his fellow Republican presidential candidates. They rail about "political correctness" to justify bigotry and cruelty, when in fact the most vigorous enforcer of political correctness is the far right "base" of the Republican Party and its amen corner in the media. 

Thanks to them, no candidate may dare buck the NRA's absolutist -- and murderous -- stance against any sensible gun regulation. No candidate may acknowledge the reality of climate change and what is needed to save the planet, or the humanity of immigrants and refugees who deserve a medal for enduring untold hardships to make it to this country -- where they are a vital part of its economy and its very fabric -- not the scorn and abuse that has been heaped upon them. 

I'm angry because I'm sick and tired of the lies we have been told. That raiding the Treasury for huge tax cuts for the rich will trickle down to working people, when in fact the gulf between the super-rich and everyone else has grown to unsustainable dimensions which threaten the very social compact. 

That waging a war of choice in Iraq would usher in a democratic resurgence and make us safe, when it has left the Middle East in lethal turmoil, cost the lives of many thousands of young soldiers, maimed many multiples more, and sapped the country's capacity to attend to the urgent needs here at home, like roads and bridges and schools. 

When my grandson's pre-K teacher tells us that she has to spend hundreds of dollars from her own pocket for school supplies, it makes my blood boil. 

I'm angry because the first African American president, elected to do something about the wretched mess he inherited, with a financial system on the brink of collapse and a soaring unemployment rate -- and who has done something about it -- has been opposed and vilified at every turn, from a right-wing which questions his very legitimacy (down to the facts of his biography) and whose most passionate cause is to strip away health security from millions who now have it, thanks to this President, for the first time in their lives. 

I'm angry because Black Lives Matter is so necessary, given the epidemic of police murders of Black and Brown people trying to go about their lives. The law, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, may not be able to make a man love me, but it can stop him from killing me. But when it is the law that is killing you, we have come very far from King's hopeful promise.

I understand that many white men -- and women and people of color as well -- who have been left out of this economy, who can't make ends meet, who feel that the American dream is not working for them, are very angry about this, and justifiably so. But I cannot countenance the misdirection of their anger, and the ugly bigotry that has been stoked by opportunistic politicians like Donald Trump. Their anger should be focused on the greedy and the lawless and their enablers in politics, not on those who, like themselves, are casualties of a political and economic system that operates for the benefit of a privileged few, not for all of us.

My grandson will grow up in a country in which most people don't look like him, in which people of color and women will be the overwhelming majority. If he works hard to restore the momentum toward a just and inclusive society -- an idea that filled my younger years with optimism and hope about the future -- this new majority will take its rightful place in the leadership of our key institutions, from boardrooms to capitols. There will be room for him, too, if we turn this country's priorities around. But he will make his way without benefit of the rigged rules that men of my generation grew up with, where women and minorities were largely excluded from the game. 

When everyone is included, everyone benefits. That's why I'm channeling my anger into pushing for policies and the candidates who will back them, that make our democracy and our economy work for all people. 

(Gara LaMarche is President of The Democracy Alliance. This piece was originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com] Follow Gara LaMarche on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@garalog. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Mermaid Avenue

EDITOR’S PICK--Over the weekend, while waiting for a friend and listening to Spotify, the album Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco came on.

Seeing the words of the album based on Woody Guthrie's lyrics scrolling across the screen took me back to a summer visit to Coney Island. But this wasn't a recent visit. This trip was long before the hipsters had discovered that there was a lot more New York beyond the East River. The songs transported me to a Brooklyn that is largely gone; a gritty, dangerous place with more gaps in the streetscape than a Skid Row junkie's mouth.

Mermaid Avenue then was poor and black and Puerto Rican and I was, and am, white and privileged and didn't belong there. Sure, I could fit in outside of Nathan's on the Boardwalk, or at the New York Aquarium, but this was Mermaid Avenue, blocks from the relative safety of the beach or Brighton 5th.

New York was different then. The whole city for me was a Coney Island of the Mind.

It could be rough but I never had too much trouble. On the whole, it was a place I could walk around visible but unknown because it was so far from my home in the leafy suburbs where I was raised. I never ran into anyone I knew when I was slumming it in Coney Island or Bedford Stuyvesant or Crown Heights, decades before the Wall Street bankers, app developers and trust fund babies discovered those areas.

Fast forward to 2016. To Los Angeles which, like New York, I will never leave metaphorically. Each weekend, as I did when I lived in New York, in San Francisco, in Paris and in Boston, I explore on foot a different corner of the endless city.

Saturday it was beautiful Silver Lake, a lifetime or more away from ragged, sweltering Mermaid Avenue with its bodegas, dope dealers and shaved ice sellers in the summer.

Together with my friend, we started our walk at Tropical on Sunset Boulevard which makes what may be the city's best cafe con leche. Fortified by the caffeinated rocket fuel, we made our way north along Silver Lake Boulevard and eventually up some long staircases and winding streets to the perfect spot for watching the sunset over a line of graceful palms shimmering in the distance.

Silver Lake, like countless other parts of Los Angeles was once well-served by the long gone Red Car Line, the region's extensive streetcar system.

I am decades older now than I was on that visit to Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island but fundamentally I am the same. I am still the hopeful romantic about my city, albeit now a warmer one with different flora, mountains, tastes and accents. Los Angeles and cities all over fascinate me because their density and clash of dreams and cultures create built environments that are greater than the sum of their parts. They are places where industry, vision, art, architecture and necessity collide to forge solutions to the challenges the landscapes and people demand.

Saturday's sunset was made all the more beautiful by the foresight of someone who planted that row of palms off in the distance maybe a half century ago. And the bougainvillea, lemons and oranges around us and those Bauhaus inspired and Neutra, Schindler, and Lautner designed homes on the Red Hills were also planted or built by someone with the wise notion of enhancing the beauty of the area.

Like New York's D train to Coney Island, Los Angeles will soon be blessed by its own train to the sea when the Metro Expo Line opens in May. Most of all, this rail line will serve the thousands of daily commuters moving between downtown LA, Culver City, the Westside and Santa Monica. The new line will free riders from the shackles of a steering wheel, car insurance and traffic.

On those trains will also be men and women and children just out exploring the wonder that is this massive city we call home. Riding the trains and buses and walking the streets, we encounter one another in unexpected and mostly welcome ways. In embracing transit and thoughtful density and making Los Angeles more pedestrian oriented we are enriching our lives and creating opportunities for the most imaginative among us to forge new ideas about work, life, art and community.

I don't love every street and neighborhood in LA equally. Some of our areas are beautiful while others compete for last place. But all of them hold secrets and treasures that one is sure to miss if one barrels by at or above the speed limit. It is why I walk and bike and ride the bus around this great city as often as possible. The Expo Line to Santa Monica will be a game changer for those of us who choose to Go Metro. But as the pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks will tell you, there is no need to wait to discover the wonders that Los Angeles has to offer. And taking it in on foot doesn't cost a thing.

Yours in transit.

(Joel Epstein is a senior advisor to companies, law firms, foundations and public initiatives on communications strategy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), recruiting and outreach. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be contacted at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 


Republicans and Democrats: Enough Cynical Manipulation to Go Around

GELFAND’S WORLD--As this is written, we are awaiting the results of the Iowa Republican Caucuses, an exercise in manipulation of public sentiment by cynical operatives. Within a day or two, we should start to see a few dropouts, but the hard core manipulators of truth, Trump and Cruz, will continue. The liberal side of the internet community has concentrated on the mistruths characteristic of the Republican side, but the Democratic Party establishment does not come to the game with entirely clean hands either. 

Not so curiously, I have an example of a similar level of cynical manipulation by the other side, even if it's not on so widespread a scale. It's in the form of a two-page mailer with the heading OFFICIAL 2016 DEMOCRATIC PARTY SURVEY. As the colleague who gave it to me pointed out, we're apparently supposed to believe that the party is interested in what we think. 

The Survey starts out portentously with SURVEY INSTRUCTIONS. Like the magician who gestures broadly with the right hand to conceal what the left hand is doing, it begins with instructions to check that your name and address are correct. It even states, "To ensure statistical accuracy, please do not skip any questions in the survey." I think you will understand as we discuss some of the questions that statistical accuracy is the least of the authors' concerns. 

You are also asked to complete the form in black or blue ink, as if your answers will be evaluated by this generation's version of the Univac computer. It's only in the small print at instruction number 4 that you begin to get the deeper message. "Be sure to complete your DNC contribution form." Instruction number 5 finishes quietly with, "Please return your completed survey, along with your contribution, in the envelope provided." 

OK, it might be worth putting a couple of bucks into the envelope to have the chance to talk back. There are a lot of things I'd like to tell the Democratic Party. (There are even more things I would like to tell the Republican Party, but they don't seem to write to me or my close friends.) 

But given the chance to talk to Democratic Party leaders, here goes. I would like the Democrats to support full public financing of local, statewide, and national elections. As an acquaintance once pointed out, it's the reform that makes all other reforms possible. For some reason, the Democratic National Committee seems to have let this one go. And I'd like them to support universal health coverage, maybe something like Medicare for all.

Most of all, I'd like to advise the DNC to do something that they actually have the authority to do. That's to take away the power held by Iowa and New Hampshire to go first in the presidential selection process. Those two states have enjoyed it long enough. Every Iowa or New Hampshire resident who wanted to have a personal conversation with Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz has long since had the chance. Not so for me and you. And this is something that the DNC could have challenged long ago. After all, the topic has been around for decades. 

It's time for a change, but the DNC lacks the guts to do so. 

But enough on that issue. Let's consider the survey questions, particularly the way in which they are phrased. For purposes of clarity, I will put the wording from the SURVEY in italics and continue my own comments in plain text. 

Here's one: "Please rank the following Democratic economic priorities in order of importance (1 = most important)." 

Now I can imagine a lot of possible answers. Mine would be something along the lines of doing another economic stimulus package without any nonsense about it being limited to "shovel ready" projects. Anybody who has taken the second semester of economics has heard about Keynesian stimulus, and anybody old enough to have lived through successive recessions from the 1950s onward should be aware that these stimuli work. They worked for President Eisenhower and President Reagan, just as they have worked for later presidents. 

But here is the limited selection of economic priorities that the Democratic Party offers: 

Make it possible for more American workers to earn sick days and family leave. 

End gender discrimination in pay and ensure women receive equal pay. 

Close tax loopholes and simplify the tax code so corporations and the ultrawealthy will pay their fair shares. 

Now I think its obvious that many of us don't have strong objections to any of the above. It's just that they don't really have much to do with economic policy. When comedians like Bill Maher recognize the idiocy of trickle down and supply side as economic policies, you would imagine that the Democratic Party would too. But what we get is a chance to pick among our favorite social policies. 

I might add that the last of the three choices is weirdly Republican in its "simplify the tax code" and only nominally liberal in requiring that the ultrawealthy pay their fair shares. We might also point out that the part about closing tax loopholes is the oldest and least believable of political promises. It's used by candidates of both parties, and it's recognizable as the wishiest of wishful thinking. Does the Democratic Party want to suggest that we abolish the home mortgage tax deduction? I think not. 

Another question gives us 7 possible answers to check. It's really a list of Republican priorities that are almost universally opposed by most Democrats and in several cases, by most voters. Here's the question: "Which potential actions by congressional Republicans most concern you? (please choose up to three)." 

The possible answers include "dismantling the Affordable Care Act, restricting women's reproductive rights, rolling back marriage rights, forcing a government shutdown, blocking President Obama's judicial appointments, opposing a minimum wage increase, and obstructing immigration reform." 

I'd have trouble limiting myself to three. The SURVEY is playing mind games on us. 

It doesn't take very long to recognize that this whole exercise is a push poll. That is, it is an attempt to inform you, the voter, of all the negative aspects of the opponent, in the guise of asking you for an opinion. We get these as telephone calls from time to time. What is your opinion, after being told that the opponent wants to cut Social Security benefits, abolish Medicare, and close half of our nation's military bases? Either you say that you oppose any such horrible person for election to public office, or you start laughing and hang up the phone. 

This OFFICIAL 2016 DEMOCRATIC PARTY SURVEY is much the same. Here is another question that the Democratic Party claims to want your opinion about: 

"Which group of GOP backers do you think will have the biggest impact on the 2016 elections? (please choose one)

Let me interject. I suspect that the answer to this question is better answered by Republican Party activists and the group of political scientists who study this sort of thing. But here are the possible answers that you, the Democratic voter, are asked to select among: 

Right-wing billionaires, such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson 

Ruthless political operatives, such as Karl Rove 

Extreme far-right organizations, such the the Tea Party Nation and the Club for Growth 

Conservative media outlets 

Well, that's quite the list, isn't it? You will notice that the voters don't seem to be mentioned on this list, in particular the voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, and the deep south. You might also notice that the candidates themselves were not mentioned. Or how about the major television networks and their coverage of debates and the day to day campaigning? The question treats the entire Republican Party, from top to bottom, as equivalent to the undead. It might or might not be a fair appraisal, but even us dyed in the wool liberals recognize that the question is manipulative. 

We could go on, but you get the idea. There is a corollary here that bears mentioning: Political parties, unlike the more independent minded, have a powerful taboo against admitting that the other side has any decency at all. I can remember one local club that fined you fifty cents if you mentioned the name of its opposition. You had to engage in some subterfuge such as "the other party" if you wanted to avoid feeding the kitty. 

It seems to me that this attitude goes counter to the ideal communicated by President Obama at the start of his presidency. Things may have changed, even in the oval office, but the snide dehumanization of your opponent is not what the American polity ought to be striving after. 

Luckily, when we get to the end, we discover that this whole survey is really just a fund raising gimmick. DNC meet Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee meet DNC. Curiously, the allowable donations begin at $18 and go up from there. The online fundraising requests I get every week usually ask if I can contribute $3 or more. I guess that the DNC expects more because it is using a stamped envelope. 

I've treated the DNC, or whoever is actually running this fundraiser, a little harshly. Obviously I don't intend this to be in support of anything the Republicans are doing. You don't even have to look at their internal fundraisers to see just how contemptuously they view the American people. But there is one other fundraising group on the Democratic side that is worthy of our attention. 

There is an email group that goes by the name of The House Majority Pac. They send me emails that put scare wording in the address field, so I get an email that looks like it's coming from URGENT or from SHUTDOWN ALERT. One came from ACTIVATION NOTICE. 

You may notice that the hmpac likes to use techniques that were originally pioneered by spam artists. Some of the most recent use the subject line, "this is bad..." 

There is a difference between the DNC mailer, that appears to come from a reputable source in spite of its frantic wording, and the hmpac, which does not make clear whether it has any official connection to the Democratic Party. 

In either case, it looks like some organizers on the Democratic side have decided to adopt practices that have been used by snake oil peddlers and political charlatans for decades. 

The alternative can be found in organizations such as Daily Kos, the website that serves millions of Democratic leaning readers. The Kos site makes clear what and who it represents, asks you straight up for your three dollars, and explains why you should be concerned. 

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



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