HUDDLED MASSES NO LONGER WELCOME--We do not need President Trump to tell us that he can make America great again. America is already great. The problem is that we are squandering our greatness by pursuing foreign and domestic policies that debase our moral authority and the values that made America great in the first place. 

TRUMP WATCH--Now that Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt, I) has introduced his long anticipated single payer Medicare For All Act in the Senate Wednesday, which has 15 co-sponsors in the Senate, a record level of support. 

THE POOR STAY POOR-We all want to live in a country where all it takes is hard work and some talent for anyone to succeed. We tell ourselves that we do. We even see examples of people who “came from nothing” and ended up rich and famous. 

THE COHEN COLUMN--About 40 years ago (are we dating ourselves here?) there was a margarine commercial on TV with the tag line, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

GUEST WORDS--Once again, Hillary Clinton is offering some opinions, and, once again, she is being told to keep quiet. This is a familiar pattern for us, no less for her, so perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising to see it recur. 

But I'd like to push back a bit on this one.

PERSPECTIVE-Equifax suffered one of the most significant data breaches ever, exposing confidential information stored within its network. What’s more, three executives sold a fair slice of their personal shares in the company after the event was discovered and before it was communicated to authorities and the public. Oh, and the sales were not part of a 10b5-1 arrangement through the SEC. The purpose of this arrangement is to minimize the risk of insider training by scheduling sales in advance. 

TRUMP WATCH--Last column, we affirmed our certainty that Donald Trump is going down.  Either Mueller will indict or he won't. And we believe he will. It's not our political problem.

ALT-RIGHT APPROPRIATION-Nazis love Taylor Swift. She is thin, blonde, pale, and rich. She doesn't talk politics much, which might be just a savvy marketing decision, but it also enables wild speculation about her views on Donald Trump, feminism, and whether black lives matter. 

SO, NOW WHAT’S ON THE TABLE?--Calls for restraint and diplomacy emerged on Sunday after North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb capable being placed on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

LABOR WARS--Continuing his war on workers, President Donald Trump on Thursday announced he was slashing the scheduled pay raises for federal workers.

THE COHEN COLUMN--When Trump told America that his tax returns were perpetually under audit as an excuse not to let us see them, unlike every other modern presidential candidate, we easily presumed he was lying about that, just like he lies about everything else.

LIFE OBSERVED--The systematic dumbing down of American public education over the last 40 years – seen in places like the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and their non-functioning equivalents throughout LA County -- is having a profoundly negative effect on the ability of people to act intelligently and understand how to survive as we face an ever-increasing number of ecological disasters. Case in point, Hurricane Harvey. 

As Hurricane Harvey churned toward the Texas Gulf Coast last week, meteorologists, climate scientists and lay weather nerds on Twitter marveled at the crisp, detailed images of the storm sent to earth by a brand-new satellite. The nation’s first Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, (GOES-16), had been launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida 11 days after the November election, and has since transmitted high-resolution pictures of smoke from Canadian wildfires, of the August 21 North American eclipse and of a major fog event that spread out over the Midwest and Eastern U.S. 

LABOR DAY VISIONS--As we approach Labor Day, I'd like you to meet the Neurodiversity Workforce Brigade. The Brigade employs tens of thousands of adults with neurological conditions that often are impediments to mainstream employment, primarily autism, severe ADHD and other serious learning and mental health conditions.

PERSPECTIVE--Republicans: this guy is YOUR fault. You own him. I know, I know: fake news. Russia is fake news. Climate Change is fake news. Charlottesville is fake news… let’s face it: anything Republicans and Trump supporters don’t like is fake news. 

THE COHEN COLUMN--Trump's precipitous pardon of outlaw sheriff Joe Arpaio was such an outrageous blast that it pushed news of one of the biggest hurricanes this decade into a small corner of the cable TV screen.

GUEST WORDS--Editor’s note: A Berkeley, Calif., rally organized by a right-wing group turned violent Sunday after arrival of a group that carried an anarchist banner. 

THE AGE OF TRUMP--Ask not for whom the transgender bell tolls: it tolls for thee. A hideous evil has befallen America -- it is Nazism. A classic Nazi ploy is to take over a nation by singling out a group that is weak and has few, if any, defenders. In Trump’s America of 2017, that is transgender people. 

THE COHEN COLUMN--There is so much wrong with trump's big Afghanistan speech last week, where to begin?

THE MYTH OF SCARCITY-Looking at the most recent examples of our longstanding and endemic confrontations over race, ethnicity, and equal rights, we should examine the ancient and primitive roots of this continuing problem – one that causes the human species to continue underachieving its potential – yet remains intact and unaddressed. 

VOICE FROM THE CENTER--This is a somewhat extreme title. This is also an extreme situation. I've always been an advocate for liberal causes, but have pivoted as of last year. 

THE EPPERHART EXPRESS--The most famous Afghan war veteran is fictional. He is known worldwide through the stories of one of history’s best-selling authors. A former army doctor, John H. Watson was introduced to readers in A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle’s first work featuring detective Sherlock Holmes. 

LAYING ODDS-When I called my Vegas bookie, Vinny Baumstein, this morning to place a bet on whether Trump would finish his term, he laughingly replied, “No one is taking that debt.” The only bets are how he leaves and the date and time that Trump’s outta there. 

PERSPECTIVE--This past Tuesday, well over one hundred and fifty years since the end of the Civil War, a powerful, well-connected, well-to-do Southern white man, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, exercised his law-given authority to stay the execution of Marcellus Williams (booking photo above), a poor black man. The reprieve was issued hours before the scheduled pumping of caustic chemicals by state officials into Williams’s body. 

OTHER WORDS-I hate to say this, but I’m starting to feel sorry for Donald Trump. He’s only been in office for half a year, and already he’s running out of Americans to attack. 

AT RANDOM-Who would have thought that a Civil War statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee would become the violent focus of hatred and the rallying point for white supremacists and neo-Nazis at this point in American history? Didn’t we bury the last of that conflict decades ago, along with the last living veteran of our bloodiest war? Not really. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” 

RACISM REVEALED-Donald Trump is trying hard to put a pretty face on racism. But the racists, openly embracing the label, won’t let him. 

PERSPECTIVE--The American Civil War essentially ended with the retreat by General Lee’s Confederate forces from Richmond, Virginia on April 3, 1865.  Lee’s surrender at Appomattox came six days later.  The intervening week was characterized by a series of battles and skirmishes along the 90-mile route of retreat, but it was evident that effective resistance against Union forces would not be possible for much longer once the defenses of the capitol were abandoned.

GUEST WORDS—Late night’s Jimmy Kimmel makes the case …

REJECTING GROUP RIGHTS-There is a specific reason that Nazis are un-American which goes far beyond their being evil. Other countries have their own reasons for rejecting Nazism, but America has something special. Our foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, states that all men have certain inalienable rights including Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.   

PROPUBLICA REPORT--The white supremacist forces arrayed in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend — the largest gathering of its sort in at least a generation — represented a new incarnation of the white supremacy movement. Old-guard groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and the Nazi skinheads, which had long stood at the center of racist politics in America, were largely absent.

PROFILE OF A RACIST--The act of terrorism that killed one person and injured others in Charlottesville, Virginia was horrific. There will be more days like these.

FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE TO OUR OWN BACKYARDS-To address the latest act of senseless racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, people of good will across the country came together on Sunday, August 13 to show solidarity, trying to formulate positive actions to stop these senseless acts from occurring in the future. 

LEANING RIGHT--And to think I wanted to discuss my favorite topic--transportation and infrastructure!  But even as President Trump made a push the other day for a sweeping infrastructure executive bill, the horrific events at Charlottesville dominated his ongoing war with the press. 

The Unite the Right gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, sputtered out because its attendees were not just racists, but because they were violent racists.  Nevertheless, their cancelled rally, and the reactions to what happened, tells us a great deal about the prospects for fascism in the United States. 

GUEST WORDS--“The bombing was long, leisurely and merciless . . .”

WE OWN THIS MAN-Friends, citizens, educators: we own this man. He is our failure. The politicians who ran on American (read: white) exceptionalism and the people who voted for them ― and his kindergarten teacher, his granny and Mr. Rogers ― all told him he was special. And then failed to tell him he was no more special than the kids on either side of him. 

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT--There are so many uncertain stories, so many unanswered questions, and so many confusing narratives after the nightmarish civil unrest in Charlottesville that it will take weeks or months to figure them all out...but two things are for certain:

One thing this past weekend's horrors in Charlottesville showed us is that that concerns about polarization and divisiveness can sometimes be a dodge from the real problems.

CIVIL RIGHTS--This past week saw some weaknesses in American life. First, our inability to deal with a mentally ill President and second, our inability to deal with the results of Group Rights. Unfortunately, the two collided. 

THE COHEN COLUMN--The Nuts with Nukes has a new member. Now North Korea doesn't feel so alone.

CRIME POLITICS-In January 2016, bemoaning that "the more people talk about improving the use of forensic science in the courtroom, the more things stay the same," I blogged in bold in The Huffington Post

UNION BUSTING-Since Election Day, unions have lived on borrowed time. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has exclusive authority over many key questions of labor law, is still controlled by Democrats   —  thus shielding workers and their unions from attacks that became far likelier the moment Donald Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 election. 

LIES MATTER--Identifying it as part of the "slippery slope to dictatorship," critics are pointing to a new poll as evidence that Trump's base would likely support him even if he were to propose postponing the 2020 elections.

HEALTH CARE POLITICS--I've heard it all, whether it's from the social justice warriors (who don't know a thing about economics and medicine, although they sure think they know it all) to the capitalist overlords of medicine (who think they have all the power, although they're in for some very rude awakenings):  the cost of health care is going up, and the front-line doctors/providers are really not being talked to on this issue. 

GUEST WORDS--Until Nov. 9, 2016, the night of the presidential election, Black Lives Matter (BLM) was a force that not only demonstrated in the streets, disrupted business as usual and organized in black communities.

REDRESSING RACISM-Since the founding of this country there has been what we might accurately call an affirmative action program that has given exclusive advantages to whites, while denying them to minorities. Be it initially de jure or now only de facto, what remains ensconced in this country is our still segregated political, economic, and social system that functions as a white affirmative action and entitlement program. 

THE CLUE: RICHARD NIXON, 1968--Almost a year into his presidency in 1969 Richard Nixon looked like he would not finish his first term. Nothing was working, abroad or at home.

CORPORATE MEDIA CALLED OUT-Last night I spent an unexpectedly insightful evening with filmmaker Oliver Stone who was being interviewed by Truth Dig's own Robert Scheer. The occasion was a fundraising event at Immanuel Presbyterian Church for the progressive and perpetually under financial siege radio station KPFK, to celebrate the station's 58th anniversary. The audience seemed pleasantly surprised by an increasingly rare phenomenon: real journalism, documented with primary sources, as opposed to the all too pervasive spin and general obfuscation of truth practiced by corporate-dominated public commercial media.

THE COHEN PAPERS--And to think, we could have had Lyin' Ted instead.

But according to Donald Trump, "Oh dear, mercy me, Cruz might not have been entirely truthful about something, sometime, can't vote for him."

HEALTH POLITICS--For decades, Democrats and liberal Americans campaigned on universal health coverage ... and after the taking of the Presidency and Congress, they passed it--and lost power in both Congress and the Presidency.  

THE WALL--United States Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing the first segment of President Donald Trump's border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it's already received from Congress.

NEW GEOGRAPHY-Perhaps no economic issue — even trade — is as divisive as the energy industry. Once a standard driver of economic progress, the conventional energy industry has become increasingly vilified by the national media, sued by blue state attorneys general and denounced throughout academia. Some suggest that the industry should be demonized and hounded much as occurred in the case of tobacco. 

GUEST WORDS--We have been living with nuclear weapons for 72 years, so that must make them safe and sustainable, right?

EDUCATION POLITICS--Going to college is a good thing, right? That’s at least what I was told as a kid, and what led me to get a college degree. I was the first one in my family to do so.

CIVIL RIGHTS--Just hours after President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that transgender people would no longer be permitted to serve in the armed forces, the Department of Justice on Wednesday launched what is being characterized as a separate attack on the LGBTQ community, this time by arguing in a legal brief that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect gay workers from discrimination.  

VOICES--On July 25, the highlight of the Senate discussion and vote to study and repeal/replace Obamacare or do something, anything, to form a new healthcare bill (probably building on the punitive Congressional bill) was the brave Senator John McCain. Even while facing a diagnosis of gioblastoma brain cancer, he made a statement directed at how the Senate should behave, recalling a history of cooperation on both sides of the aisle. It was a welcomed theme and there was raucous applause for some of his strongly enunciated comments. His most important statement seemed to stun this august body, yet it was clearly vital – a remark that was the bravest and most truthful of any that have been made during the disaster of the Donald Trump presidency. 

BRANDING THE TRUMPSTER--I don’t blame the Boy Scouts for President Donald Trump’s bizarre speech at the National Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday.

REPLACING SESSIONS--President Donald Trump is considering appointing Rudolph Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), White House officials told Axios.

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-I have heard all the arguments about why the slaying of Justine Damond is not the same as the slaying of Michael Brown and police slayings of countless other unarmed blacks. They all come down to race. 

LABOR WATCH--Working families in the U.S. are facing a new set of threats from right-wing corporate interests that are more harmful than anything we have seen in generations. A key part of this very deliberate strategy is the weakening of unions through the passage of so-called Right to Work laws. These laws limit the ability of unions to fund themselves by making it more difficult to collect union dues from members, which are used to fight for fair working conditions, elect progressive candidates, and push for policies that benefit working people. 

THE COHEN COLUMN--This is a  resource to give you a reliable voice of political truth and hopefully will productive activism.

NEW GEOGRAPHY--When President Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords, embraced coal, and stacked his administration from people from fossil-fuel producing states, the environmental movement reacted with near-apocalyptic fear and fury. They would have been better off beginning to understand precisely why the country has become so indifferent to their cause, as evidenced by the victory not only of Trump but of unsympathetic Republicans at every level of government. (Photo: Leonardo de Caprio.)

GUEST WORDS--Recently, at the Community Church in Woodland Hills, California, a woman sang “Amazing Grace.” She sang slow with sweet, lilting sorrow, letting each dolorous, weighty note saturate the space with sound. She sang right in front of the same pulpit where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once preached, on his birthday, on January 15, 1961.  (Photo above: Ohio Governor John Kasich.) 

I want to be the first to congratulate the Republican Party on passing a health care bill based on conservative principles that will help millions of people. It's called Obamacare. The Democrats passed it for you in 2010.

THE COHEN FILE--A lot of people may not know that Benedict Arnold, the most infamous of colonial traitors, a prominent revolutionary war general who endeavored to sell the surrender of the fort at West Point for a price, had published a series of open letters to the "Inhabitants of the Colonies" justifying himself. Here are some selected excerpts from those letters.

LEANING RIGHT--While it's entirely fair to blame the GOP-led Congress for not having a plan or consensus to replace or improve ObamaCare after years of running for election/re-election against it, it isn't fair to not place the blame that belongs to so many Americans who want their health care for free.  Particularly because so much of the "free" health care that we believe works so preciously well in Europe and Canada is being paid for indirectly by US, the American people. (Graphic above.) 

With the revelation that Donald Trump, Jr. leaped at the opportunity to find some dirt on Hillary Clinton, we have our first clear idea of what his father is hiding concerning the Russia connection.

THE COHEN COLUMN--The person we will support for president in 2020 is the person who will actually introduce a single payer Medicare-For-All bill in the US Senate NOW!

GUEST WORDS--As a lawyer, there's little I've wanted less than to be part of a lawsuit. Contrary to movie and television portrayals, going to court is rarely the best way to fix a problem. There's no Judge Judy to dispense quips and quick resolution. Cases are more likely to drain money and energy without concluding in a way that satisfies anyone. But sometimes going to court is the only way to resolve things. Like when the president of the United States is violating your constitutional rights.

AT LENGTH-Far and wide, we’ve all heard the Republicans’ Obamacare complaints. They have consistently called it a failure and some kind of attack on the freedom to choose our own doctors. 

HUMAN RIGHTS--In some respects, it's easy to claim that LGBTQ rights are thriving in the United States. After all, marriage equality is the law of the land, and, just last year, the country bore witness as the first openly transgender person spoke at a national party convention. Still, too often, apparent progress toward queer equality can obscure an undertow of anti-LGBTQ violence.

EMPLOYEMENT WATCH--What will it take to create the five million apprenticeships in the next five years that President Trump is proposing? Support for the apprenticeship concept is high across the political spectrum, left and right. What have we learned in recent years, though, about the challenges in creating apprenticeships in practice? 

GUEST WORDS--Every real problem this country — and this planet — face is replaced by a fantasy problem, which all the powers of government then pretend to address. Meet Donald Trump, master of the street con, trickster extraordinaire.

ALPERN AT LARGE--If ever there was a reason to respect law enforcement, it is that understanding that if a crazy guy is running around naked and causing havoc, that it's law enforcement we run to in order to deal with him. 

WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?--CEO pay at America’s 500 largest companies averaged $13.1 million in 2016.  That’s 347 timeswhat the average employee makes. 

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--"The White House judges nominees on the merits of their character and not on the clients they once represented as counsel.” This was the terse statement that #45 Trump issued in defense of the instant and loud criticism of his pick, Eric Dreiband to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. 

ACTIVIST JOURNALISM-When I’m not writing for OurFuture, I host a weekly news and opinion program on syndicated radio and cable TV called The Zero Hour.  My team there recently faced a major challenge when we received a secret recording of Donald Trump’s remarks to a closed-door, $35,000-a-head fundraiser. 

INDEPENDENCE DAY THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS--With a long holiday weekend lined up for the 4th of July most people are probably worried about having enough food for the barbeque, or hoping that their get-togethers aren’t too political. Facebook will be littered with messages of freedom, and assorted dissents. I post a link to Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech "What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?" to mark the occasion most years. For many people this year will be different and it is important that we pay attention. The freedoms marked by the day are under attack. The Declaration of Independence declares: 

JULY 4, 2017--We keep hearing that the Fourth of July is more than fireworks, barbecues, and the like--but let's get real.  Our exhausting, pressure-filled lives demand time off ... but seriously, despite the rhetoric of Angelenos and other Californians being free-thinking, are we really "independent"?

CALLING OUT HYPOCRICY-Most media reports have portrayed Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski as aggrieved victims of Donald Trump’s Thursday Twitter tantrum. It can’t be pleasant to be attacked so personally by the president, but Scarborough and Brzezinski are fighting back. On their MSNBC show “Morning Joe” on Friday and in an op-ed column in the Washington Post entitled “President Trump Is Not Well,” they chastised Trump for his vicious and vulgar attacks on her appearance, for referring to her as “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and him as “Psycho Joe.” 

GELFAND’S WORLD--Last week, the international press was aflutter with stories about German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly distancing herself from the Trump administration. This represents a new step in the loss of American prestige in the Trump era. Merkel's statement is not just an escalation. It is a whole new level of attack that represents a shift in the post WWII balance of power. It's been more than 70 years since Germany talked back to the U.S., and Trump has managed to accomplish this feat in less than six months. The New York Times foreshadowed the increasing downslope in American influence in an editorial, Allies start planning a life without America.  

CORRUPTION WATCH-Lies, myths, myopia and character assassination along with evil perfidy rule the discussion of healthcare. If Dante were alive today, he would probably assign the GOP to a lower rung in Hell for deliberately excluding as many people as possible from healthcare. But the GOP might have to share that rung with the Democrats who, deceptively, have not taken responsibility for their role in the nightmare that is now providing a platform for the GOP to kill millions more Americans. 

PROGRESSIVE POLITICS-Moments after rightwing Republican Karen Handel won America’s costliest congressional race ever in Georgia’s sixth district, the de rigueur post-election quarrelling erupted: Why did Democrat Jon Ossoff lose, and what does it mean for the Democrats and American politics? 

CORRUPTION WATCH--Eons ago, I was involved in group health insurance. One day in 1968, I was speaking with an Aetna senior vice president in San Francisco. His desk was most impressive – it had not a single piece of paper on it, only some objets d’art. The views of San Francisco (he had a corner office) were breath taking. Obviously, I was interviewing with an important person. 

POLITICS--On a crisp winter day in early February, a white-haired man with a thick New York accent, ranted to MSNBC decrying the influence of fat-cat political donors and superPACS. He promised the American people that he would be different than the other politicians they had grown tired of, arguing that he was the true voice of the people. 

THE COHEN COLUMN--The good news is that, at least for today (Wednesday, Jun 28th), health care did not get dramatically worse in America. The Republican controlled Senate will not pass, or even vote on, a health care killing bill . . . today.

YES, RUSSIAGATE-I’ve been reading lots of words comparing Trump’s situation to Richard Nixon’s. Some pundits say the most recent iteration of presidential campaign scandal and what happened 45 years ago is more or less identical. And some claim one is very much unlike the other. 

THE DOCTOR IS IN--We live in a nation that has been confronted with "experts" who think they know so much but actually know very little.  So if you think you have all the answers, or are looking for all of the easy answers here, then maybe this piece just is NOT for you.  

TAXATION POLITICS-Republican legislators in Kansas did the unthinkable this month: They voted to raise income taxes, ending a painful five-year experiment with an extreme anti-tax agenda introduced by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The Republican-held Legislature had to override a veto by the governor to pass the emergency tax increase, now crucial to prevent deep budget cuts for schools and other essential public services. 

GUEST PERSPECTIVE--You can almost feel sorry for Reform and Conservative Jews. After all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bamboozled them, led them up the garden path and took them for a ride. He once waxed lyrical about how important they are to him, how critical the relationship between Israel and American Jews is, how he has their best interests at heart and so forth and blah blah. 

PONDERING PREVARICATORS-"The truth shall set you free" comes from verse 8:32 of the Gospel of John and is attributed to Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate had the philosopher's response in verse John 18:38: "What is truth?" 

EASTSIDER-Largely uncovered by our 24/7 news media, Wednesday, June 21 marked a critical date for next year’s health care premiums under the Affordable Health Care Act. The 21st is the revised cut off for health insurers to say whether or not they will participate in the ACA Marketplaces, which are federally subsidized, and what their premium increases will be for 2018. It’s a very big deal, since millions and millions of people are enrolled in these plans. 

THE COHEN COLUMN--Trump has always cultivated the reputation of been excessively vengeful.  Back in New York he would brag about getting even, multiple times over, against anyone he perceived to have slighted him. 

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-On March 29, 2017, the mood at the White House was somber when #45 Trump signed an executive order establishing a commission charged with making recommendations on dealing with the opioid crisis. At the signing, all the talk by Trump and other administration officials was about a big ramp up in treatment, counseling, addiction recovery programs, and health services to alleviate the crisis. They and the media used the term, “epidemic.” This suggested that it’s an illness, a sickness, a condition, but not a criminal offense. There was not one word from Trump or White House officials at the signing about more arrests, tougher sentencing and incarceration for offenders. 

COMMUNICATION POLITICS-Anyone listening to National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) can hear no more insightful, well-produced, or entertaining news programming anywhere...except when it comes to reporting anything that might contradict the perceived financial or political interests of one of NPR's large corporate/foundation donors. 

SPECIAL ELECTION POST-MORTEM-Democrats around the country were hopeful that they could win two special elections Tuesday in what had long been “safe” Republican districts in Georgia and South Carolina. Instead, both Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Archie Parnell (photo above) — narrowly lost. Why did they lose? 

THE COHEN COLUMN-We condemn without equivocation the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise and three others last week.

SEMANTICS, SCHEMANTICS-“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master-that’s all.’”

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll. 

THE COHEN COLUMN-Never mind the man waving his arms behind the curtain, the White House now says. After telling us over and over that Trump's tweets are the most important channel of communication he's got, not sullied by the "filter" of the "lying" news media, now it's pay no attention when he insists on Twitter that his travel ban was always and forever will be a ban…a Muslim ban.

ALPERN AT LARGE--From the bottom of my heart, I would rather write about transportation because it's relatively non-partisan, more meaningful to our daily lives, and speaks to our collective vision and aspirations.  Ditto with Planning, Homelessness and Health Care. 

THE COHEN COLUMN-I was listening to the Senate hearing last week where Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA Director Mike Rogers both refused to admit that Donald Trump had requested they intervene to stop the FBI's Russian collusion investigation.

INSIDER--Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner all repeatedly sought financing for various investments in recent years from leading figures in Qatar, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meetings.

DEATH PENALTY POLITICS-In a blood-thirsty column clamoring for faster executions in the United States, John Steele Gordon, a writer specializing in financial and business history, asserts: “Had Hitler been captured alive, would anyone have suggested life without parole?” 

DYSFUNCTIONAL DEMOCRACY-Whether dealing with the human body or the body politic, comparable rules apply. If a threat of sickness and dysfunction is present in either system, look out. Whether it be the normal T-cell immune response to the invasion of the human body by foreign “infections” that cause disease or death if left unchecked, or if it involves the checks and balances immune response built into our Constitution to limit power, both instances involve the dismantling of normally functioning immune system responses. 

VOICES--If right-wing pundits are to be believed, the recent tragic bombing of the Manchester Arena and this weekend's attack in London represent the latest episodes in a distinct form of violence previously unknown to Europe. The idea that terrorism is new to Europe overlooks a number of facts, not least that the very word was invented in France—terrorisme being associated with the Jacobins coming to power and the French State's subsequent Reign of Terror in the 1790s.

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--Disgraced entertainer Bill Cosby did the predictable when he screamed there was racial bias in the jury selection in his scheduled trial. This wasn’t the first time Cosby screamed racial foul play. He did it when he claimed there was a racial motive behind the dozens of women who claimed he drugged, raped and sexually abused them for years. Then there is the report that Cosby was peeved that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson won’t publicly defend him. This may or may not be true. But Cosby is friends with both the civil rights leaders. 

@THE GUSS REPORT-Kathy Griffin, the embroiled Primetime Emmy- and Grammy-winning comedian learned an important lesson about the 1st Amendment last week.

THE COHEN COLUMN-A week or so ago we threw out the idea that someone should be selling Impeach Trump & Lock Him Up popcorn, all in a classic, bold red striped, scoop style popcorn box, seeing as how we are in for a series of must-watch investigative hearings on the Trump/Russian criminal conspiracy.

BELL VIEW--Did you know that conservative voices are being silenced by the all-powerful PC thought police? Mike Pence is shunned by the Notre Dame Class of 2017; Betsy DeVos is booed at a historic black college in Florida; Ann Coulter is run out of town on a rail in Berkeley. Donald Trump complains about his historic bad press, while across the country his supporters cry that no one understands their pain. 

INSIDER--The Trump administration is considering allowing any company or insurer to refuse to cover birth control, according to a leaked draft regulation obtained by Vox. 

CORRUPTION WATCH-Finally, Trump has provided an answer to his bizarre turn of phrase, “covfefe.” As the world now knows, this is the last word in a midnight tweet by the Twit-in-Chief. It comes at the end of a prepositional phrase, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” 

POLITICS-For the last three quarters of a century, the question, “Who is the leader of the Free World?” inevitably was answered by giving the name of the president of the United States. Since World War II, America’s leader -- Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and so on -- was viewed as the person in charge of the non-communist half of the globe. His counterpart in the bilateral world of yesteryear was the guy who ran the Kremlin. 

HISTORICAL HYPOCRACY-Could somebody explain to me why the senseless unprovoked attack by one person (Salman Abidi) on an audience that included mainly innocent children at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England is designated as terrorism -- while ongoing government-sanctioned senseless unprovoked attacks on innocent children in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere are not considered terrorism, but rather, "collateral damage?” 

GUEST WORDS--In Dryden, New York, a proposed solar farm recently caused a stir. Thousands of solar panels -- enough to power 7,500 homes -- are scheduled to be installed near a rural cemetery in the town. Some opponents complain that it’s disrespectful to the veterans buried there. 

THE COHEN COLUMN-The election results in the Montana special house race are in, and unfortunately the people of Montana did not know what kind of smiley face thug was running on the Republican side until it was too late, after most of them had mailed in their ballots.

THE COHEN COLUMN--Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to run the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, is widely respected by both parties after more than 20 years at the forefront of U.S. law enforcement.

GUEST WORDS--The United States is the most militarized and jingoistic nation on earth. Its foreign policy is guided by imperialist militarism, neoliberal capitalism and racial xenophobia. For more than sixteen years now, three presidential administrations have carried out a so-called “War on Terror” (GWOT), a perpetual state of war that is waged globally, under the depraved reasoning that “the world is a battlefield,” to quote investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. As demonstrated by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the GWOT is conducted through conventional warfare. More often, however, it is executed through covert or “dirty” wars, against groups and individuals in many other nations.

TRUMP WATCH--Sadly, President Trump’s visit to the Middle East only confirmed my skepticism about what might come out of it. Trump went to the region with nothing to offer to mitigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and received no commitment from either Israeli or Palestinian leaders to resume the peace negotiations in earnest, but he received lots of platitudes and empty good-will gestures.

HULLABALOO--Nate Silver makes a helpful observation about Donald Trump's allegedly immovable base: 

A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump’s sizable and enthusiastic base — perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country — won’t abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don’t necessarily care about some of the controversies that the “mainstream media” treats as game-changing developments.

TRUMP’S FAKE SCIENCE--Seven members of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology have submitted a letter to President Donald Trump expressing concern over his use of dubious scientific sources and calling for him to appoint a director to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In the letter, which was signed and submitted on Thursday, the representatives—all Democrats—referenced a Politico story published Monday, "How Trump Gets His Fake News," as the impetus for their statements. The story alleged that Trump's deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, had slipped the president two printouts of Time magazine covers—one, supposedly from the 1970s, predicting a coming ice age, and another, from 2008, about global warming—to convince him of media hypocrisy on the topic of global warming. The 1970s cover, Politico reported, was a fake and an Internet hoax. 

"Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration," the letter states. "You have a tool at your disposal in this regard, should you wish to make use of it, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which, under your administration, has been left largely unstaffed and without a director."

The Office of Science and Technology Policy was originally created informally under President John F. Kennedy Jr. to advise the White House on policies pertaining to science and technology (at the time, that included the NASA Moon Mission). It was later officially established under the 1976 National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act.

The letter's writers urged Trump to appoint a director whose views represent "the broader scientific community." Until the department is adequately staffed, it continued, "we fear that you will continue to be vulnerable to misinformation and fake news."

(Katie Kilkenny is an associate editor at Pacific Standard, where she covers culture both online and in print. This report was posted first at Pacific Standard.

-cw

THE COHEN COLUMN-Did you ever wonder why Trump thinks he can get away with constantly changing his story, at the extreme peril of exposing the untruth of what he said a month or a even just a day before?

I have already predicted that Trump is going down. How quickly that will happen, and all our lives depend on the speed of that, is a critical function of how many of you speak out and demonstrate that
you are speaking out.

OK, it's not just that Trump lies about everything; it's that his lies are constantly shifting, constantly contradicting each other.

Consider this direct recent quote, his response  to a question from a FOX News talking head about what was behind his threatening tweet suggesting there might exist "tapes" to embarrass Comey, so Comey better keep his mouth shut.

"All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be, and I'm sure he will be, I hope." 

Did everyone pick up on what just happened here?

Does Trump hope that Comey will be honest, or is he sure that Comey will be honest? Or is he just hoping? Which is it, actually?

The correct and chillingly accurate answer is: neither.

What Trump is, is an interactive liar. In classic con man style he is constantly calibrating, and recalibrating his lies in the moment to his audience of the moment, based on his calculation of what they are most likely to buy. 

He watches your eyes, gauges your reaction, and adjusts, which is to say he lies over and again. The instant you stop buying it he will say something completely different. Just as he likely always did in his business negotiations. How is having a businessman as President working out, America?

What the quote above demonstrates most clearly is that he dynamically "tests" lies, trying to find the optimum and most effective lie for the particular audience in real time.

It had been observed that there was a lot of improvisation in Trump's campaign speeches, "riffing" some called it. But what he primarily improvises is a false reality.

It has to be true…doesn't it? Didn't we just hear the crowd roar?

This is why his campaign promises were all immediately worthless on the spot, as worthless as a diploma from Trump University. It was never about anything else but making a sale in the moment, assuming there ever was a specific promise you could pin down, even in the moment.

Trump is a performance liar. The memory hole is the next instant away. It is 1984 on speed dial.

I never said what you remember, he constantly claims. Even if he just said it, you heard him wrong, the situation has changed, whatever. All videotape and audio recorded evidence to the contrary he calls "fake news." We believe he actually considers lying a form of entertainment.

is motto should be: “Why tell the truth when a lie would do just as well?”

He will pile on phony and insincere compliments, only to call you the world's worst, most stupid, loser, bad person in the next breath, the instant you don't bend to his will. This is what he did to former FBI Director James Comey in particular, back and forth, back and forth. First, Comey is courageous, then he is a disgrace, then he is courageous again, then a disgrace again, an endless cycle, rinse and repeat, ad nauseam. And in the end he will condemn you for the very thing he praised you for earlier -- as Comey himself has so rudely just discovered.

“If the G.O.P.’s surrender to candidate Trump made exhortations about Republicans’ duty to their country seem like so much pointless verbiage, now President Trump has managed to make exhortation seem unavoidable again.

He has done so, if several days’ worth of entirely credible leaks and revelations are to be believed, by demonstrating in a particularly egregious fashion why the question of “fitness” matters in the first place

The presidency is not just another office. It has become, for good and bad reasons, a seat of semi-monarchical political power, a fixed place on which unimaginable pressures are daily brought to bear. It is the final stopping point for decisions that can lead very swiftly to life or death for people the world over.”

Those who voted against him recognized, or at least suspected, all of this already.

Those who did vote for him must hear these words, and let us pray, for all of our sakes, while there is still time for them to save themselves, that these people are still capable of discerning truth. Or as one former Apprentice contestant said, “…these shows are constructed. They don't happen, nor do they portray actual reality. They are constructed reality." Just like Trump.

“Read the things that these people, members of his inner circle, his personally selected appointees, say daily through anonymous quotations to the press. (And I assure you they say worse off the record.) They have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpitate with contempt for him, and to regard their mission as equivalent to being stewards for a syphilitic emperor.

It is not squishy New York Times conservatives who regard the president as a child, an intellectual void, a hopeless case, a threat to national security; it is people who are self-selected loyalists, who supported him in the campaign, who daily go to work for him. All this, in the fourth month of his administration.”

Forward this message to everyone else you know.
But first, food for thought from some Facebook friends. 

1) “Donald Trump should start every morning with a tweet about what he is doing that day to help working-class Americans,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “Instead, his morning tweets make it clear how much the Russia story is distracting him and his White House.” 

(2) In your opinion, is Trump largely to blame for the matters that have distracted us from the issues, or is it mainly someone else's fault. As I have thought about this, Trump was supposed to be this tough businessman. But his constant whining about how people are saying bad things about him, and blaming others (the fake news media, etc.), isn't the way tough guys should be acting. Whenever a problem arises, you deal with it like a grown up, and not like the younger child who complains that his older siblings are picking on him.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

RAPE AND RACE POLITICS-In a calculated and cynical move, Bill Cosby -- a person who shamed poor black people for not “acting right” in front of white people; who chastised us on behalf of Whiteness; who made fun of our particular customs, our particular situations, and our particular names; who told us to stop using racism as an excuse for our condition — is now claiming that racism is behind all of the rape allegations against him.  And he’s claiming that to solidify the support of the very same black communities he spent a great deal of time berating. 

This is the definition of crafty. He knows our history and the history of the country. He knows that there is a horrific praxis amongst white people to falsely accuse black people of crimes we didn’t in no ways commit. There is a peculiar, sordid, and long-standing practice of white women falsely accusing black men of rape.  

Cosby is hoping to bank on this brutal history and use it as cover to cast doubt on his own crimes. I mourn that decision because of the confusion and chaos it will cause for black people who are actually innocent, who were actually falsely accused, whose innocence will be doubted even further because a clearly guilty person has misused a historical reality for his own benefit --  a historical reality he spent a good chunk of public speeches denying. 

And there is one huge detail that Cosby and others find themselves overlooking: not all of his victims are white women. 

There are a number of black women, including famous black women like Beverly Johnson, who have come forward with stories of being victimized by Cosby. 

Yes. We live in a country where we are innocent until proven guilty. And in a rape culture, rape is one of the hardest crimes to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. We are always looking to somehow blame the victim and absolve the rapist because consent is an abhorrent concept to the imperial mind; and this is, in all ways, an imperial nation. 

Please keep in mind that over 50 women have come forward. 

OVER. 50. 

If there’s more than 50 who came forward, the statistics say that there’s probably more than 100 who didn’t. Now isn’t the time to hold onto myths and symbols. Now isn’t the time to give in to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Now is the time to consider that Cosby’s sole black woman attorney quit, probably because she found her conscience. 

Now is not the time to be a fool. 

Now is the time to be a witness. 

(Son of Baldwin: To the tick-tock and you don’t stop. Writing for my life. And perhaps yours. Disturbing the peace in order to find it. No sleep ’til Crooklyn. Let’s get free. This piece originated in The Medium.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch buy Linda Abrams.

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--One person writing to the website Quora asks, "I love President Trump. Why don't people understand him?" Another questioner on the same site asks, "Why does CNN News lie about Trump?" It's all very strange. Those of us on the other side can't even keep up with the daily scandals, much less figure out why one-third of the country still supports the man. Why do they remain so loyal? 

Here are a few other such questions supplied by readers of the same site: 

Why do people think Donald Trump provides false statements, when they are actually true? 

Are there any news outlets that don't hate Trump? I’m not looking to cause controversy, I’m simply looking for some reliable (preferably non-biased) news outlets. I often find that the “credible” news outlets interpret his actions according to their own liberal bias. I don’t like conservative bias either, but news outlets tend to be mostly liberal. 

You've really got to wonder how Trump followers can hold to their slavish devotion, including the widespread misconception that the mainstream media somehow have a "liberal bias." What's biased about showing excerpts of Trump's latest speech? 

Perhaps there is an explanation, one in which we view Trump worship as akin to a neurotic fixation. How else to explain the continued support in the face of the hundreds of lies, the obvious mental laziness, the insensitivity to the real problems of real Americans? 

Perhaps there is an analogy in terms of mental problems. Think of alcoholics in recovery, who often say that they had to hit bottom before they were ready to attempt sobriety. Their symptom (drinking) is buttressed by all manner of psychological defenses. The condition goes on and on until the drinking causes so much pain in the person's life that withdrawal is seen as the only choice. 

Right now, Trump supporters are faced with an embarrassing situation, because the guy on their bumper stickers hasn't brought back the miners' jobs or negotiated improved trade agreements. Instead, he's committed one faux pas after another, yet they don't seem to be leaving him en masse. Here are some more comments from his supporters: 

Why do some Americans hate Trump when most of the people around the world seem to support him? 

Why is the western media anti-Trump? 

Will Democrats be mature and ask themselves if it's really worth impeaching Trump and hurting the country

Perhaps his biggest overreach as a politician came in his commencement address to the Coast Guard graduates. Graduation speeches can be corny or flattering, but you usually don't expect the invited speaker to wallow in self pity. When it comes to a military academy graduation, the least you can do is to avoid insulting the audience directly. Another fail. 

A hundred years ago, the budding field of psychoanalysis postulated that neurotic symptoms covered up deep conflicts. Since giving up on the symptoms (hysterical paralysis, say) would force the patient to deal with the underlying conflict, the patients would defend their symptoms desperately against therapeutic intervention. 

In the modern day, the old psychoanalytic approach is being modified by increasing knowledge about the brain and its chemistry. But perhaps that Freudian view of the mind, as much as it may no longer describe thought precisely, is a pretty good description for the current state of conservative politics. 

How else can you explain the slavish devotion to Donald Trump that is defended by his supporters against all fact, reason, and public display? Even the smallest level of intellectual honesty would demand a certain amount of disappointment. There must be a lot of emotional attachment to conservative thought among Trump voters. How else to explain the Quora questions listed above? 

Consider that the president just blabbed super secret material to the Russian ambassador (and it probably damaged the war against ISIS), that the president is using his office to make money using his hotel chain, and that presidential appointments are a complete freak show. How do you defend those scandals? 

In fact, we are caught up in a maelstrom where we have so many scandals that we can't keep up with them. In the past week alone, there have been at least three revelations that would have taken over the news for months in any previous administration. Referring to the former FBI chief as a "nutjob" is just one more data point in the Trump record.

It's long since time that liberals defend liberalism and go on the attack against the rants against media bias. We should ask why something is perceived to be biased when it is a simple statement of fact. And here's another one: Political correctness? Hell yes if we are simply responding to overt racism. It's time we all got on that train. 

In the meantime, we should be pointing out that continued defenses of Donald Trump as a leader or as a president are becoming more and more pathetic. How do you defend the indefensible? The explanation is that there must be a great deal of emotional need. Our political culture needs to move towards demanding real truth and real fairness, not the fake "balance" the right wing provides.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

INFORMED COMMENT--Trump’s speech on Islam, written by notorious Islamophobe Stephen Miller, who used to organize Orwellian “Two Minutes Hate” sessions against Muslims at Duke, is just as bizarre as everything else Trump does. 

Miller-Trump imply, as has become common in right wing American discourse, that Muslims have a peculiar problem inasmuch as they produce terrorists. What do they think the Ku Klux Klan is? I estimate that people of European Christian heritage polished off as many as 100 million persons in the 20th century and that Muslims may have killed 2-3 million. 

Trump seems to think that pumping $110 bn in new shiny weapons into a volatile Middle East will lead to peace! If there is any sure correlate of war, it is massive purchases by one regional power of new armaments. You have to use them while you have the advantage or your rivals also acquire them.

Trump managed to insult Islamic civilization by implying that the pre-Islamic civilizations in the region were better:

“Egypt was a thriving center of learning and achievement thousands of years before other parts of the world. The wonders of Giza, Luxor and Alexandria are proud monuments to that ancient heritage. All over the world, people dream of walking through the ruins of Petra in Jordan. Iraq was the cradle of civilization and is a land of natural beauty.”

This is sheer Orientalism, an allegation that Pharaonic Egypt, Nabatean Jordan and Sumerian and Babylonian Iraq were great civilizations but that once Islam came, they went downhill. Miller-Trump do not know about al-Azhar University in Egypt being among the oldest in the world (George Makdisi argued it was *the* oldest). They don’t know about Harun al-Rashid’s House of Wisdom where Greek philosophy was debated in Arabic by the Abbasid caliph and his court sages at a time when Charlemagne was trying to learn to scratch out his name. They don’t know about the Abbasid invention of algebra or of Omar Khayyam’s use of geometry to solve algebraic equations. The only compliment they give Islamic civilization is that Dubai and Riyadh have skyscrapers, which is surely the blind spot of a Realtor.

Miller-Trump sweep up national resistance movements like Hamas and Hezbollah with al-Qaeda! Neither of these would exist if the Israelis hadn’t a) expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and then come after millions of their descendants and militarily occupied them in 1967 and b) if the Israelis had not launched a brutal war of aggression on Lebanon in 1982 and attempted to occupy permanently 10% of Lebanese territory. The Shiites of south Lebanon *liked* the Israelis before 1978. The 1982 invasion killed 10,000-20,000 people and involved indiscriminate artillery barrages and aerial bombing of Beirut, which Usama bin Laden alleged helped inspire him to destroy some American skyscrapers.

Designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization but not doing so to the armed Israeli squatters who routinely attack Palestinians in their own homes is typical of everything that is wrong with US policy in the region. Attacking civilians is always wrong (and is cowardly). But Hezbollah in 1984-2000 mainly attacked other soldiers, who were illegally occupying Lebanese Shiite land.

As for Yemen’s Houthis, they are not a creature of Iran, which has relatively little to do with them. They are rural Zaydi Shiites who resented Saudi attempts to proselytize them, marginalize them, and make them Wahhabis. You’ll never have peace in Yemen as long as you don’t recognize legitimate Zaydi interests.

For Trump to attack Iran, which just had a popular election where the electorate bucked the choice of the Leader, from Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where the populace have no rights, is weird.

The American Right is deeply implicated in radicalizing Muslims. Afghan Islam was radicalized by the Reagan jihad against the Soviet Union. Eisenhower and Reagan both attempted to enlist Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism against Communism. Most Palestinians were secular or mainstream until the Israelis cultivated Hamas as an alternative to the PLO.

Trump wants to site a center for combating extremist ideology in Saudi Arabia! The Wahhabi form of Islam practiced in that country encourages extremist ideology! The Saudis took the practice of takfir or excommunicating Sunnis and Shiites to the next level. In the 19th century they even excommunicated the Ottoman Emperor!

If the Saudis want to combat extremism, they have to formally abjure this unfortunate heritage of Wahhabism and roundly condemn the unilateral branding of people as non-Muslim when they maintain that they are Muslims. (In the Sunni and Shiite mainstream, takfir or excommunication of a Muslim is rare and disapproved).

Contemporary radical extremism in the Muslim world is founded on a few basic principles:

  1. takfir or the excommunication of other Muslims for being insufficiently puritanical, anti-democratic, anti-Western, etc.
  2. exalting holy war or “jihad” as they understand the word (it does not mean holy war but merely struggle for the faith in the Qur’an) to a basic pillar of the religion.
  3. Willingness to commit suicide to blow other people up. Suicide is forbidden in mainstream Islam just as it is in Catholicism.

Saudi Arabia has to condemn all three– excommunication, the militarization of jihad, and homicidal self-sacrifice.

So Miller-Trump are barking up entirely the wrong tree here, as you would expect from completely ignorant people sticking their bare hands into about 50 bee hives.

Then they condemn Iranian intervention in Syria but don’t mention that Saudi Arabia backed the radical terrorist group Jaysh al-Islam that had genocide against Syria’s Shiites on their minds.  Nor do they admit that without Hezbollah, Homs would have fallen to al-Qaeda in Syria (which the US has tacitly supported; yes) and could have been used to cut off Damascus to resupply.

Any fair-minded and knowledgeable person in the Middle East would read this speech as a farrago of Orientalist prejudice against Muslims, coddling of Wahhabis, slamming of Shiites, and continued rank unfairness toward the Palestinians in favor of holding the Israelis completely blameless for their massive ethnic cleansing campaigns, which are ongoing.

That terrorism can be addressed by vague words and by failing to address the underlying social causes is a non-starter. That war and violence can be tamped down by unfairly taking one side in a sectarian struggle or by flooding massive new arsenals into the region are the pipedreams of bigots who cannot face their own bigotry.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)

-cw

MIDDLE EAST WATCH-President Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel and Palestine -- during which he hopes to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- will go nowhere unless he fully understands the complexity of the conflict and why previous attempts by successive American administrations to negotiate a peace deal have failed. Recently, he stated that “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- none whatsoever.” Trump’s over-simplification of the conflict suggests he has no clue about what it would take to make peace and why the mere resumption of peace talks is dead on arrival.

There are three major impediments to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that must largely be mitigated before the resumption of any negotiations: a) there is profound distrust of the other; b) both sides have a deep sense of mutual insecurity; and c) illusions are held by powerful extremist constituencies on both sides that seek to deny the other a state of their own and who believe they can have all. This is where the process of reconciliation must begin, and Trump can make a significant contribution to peace if he can persuade both sides to begin such a process to alleviate the three impediments.

Distrust: The pervasive and mutual distrust cannot be assuaged through negotiation, nor dispelled by simply agreeing to begin to trust one another -- it is a process that must be nurtured. Distrust remains one of the most daunting problems that continues to haunt both sides and has become engrained in the minds of nearly every Israeli and Palestinian, as neither has made any effort to mitigate it. On the contrary, they have and continue to engage in hostile public narratives and take demonstrable actions on the ground in ways that only deepen distrust.

Continuing distrust has created a dogmatic attitude of stubbornness and reinforced assumptions about each other’s true intentions. The absence of trust has also led to social paralysis and the loss of hope while evoking fear, a deep sense of uncertainty, and the inability to foster social bonds. Thus, this absence has sunk too deep to be simply rectified at the negotiating table. Both sides have become suspicious of every action, however well-intended, taken by the other as mutual skepticism deepens the sense of futility in making any concession.

For these reasons, Trump should not simply urge both sides to renew the negotiations. Instead, he should beseech them to engage one another by taking mutual conciliatory measures to cultivate trust. Only then will they view one another as partners worthy of being trusted, which is fundamental to the resumption of peace negotiations with the confidence that they would succeed.

To that end, Trump should among other things pressure Netanyahu to halt the expansion and legalization of illegal settlements, release some Palestinian prisoners, provide building permits with minimal restrictions, make it easier for Palestinians to conduct business deals in Israel, allow a greater number of Palestinians to work in Israel, and declare that Israel is prepared to discuss all conflicting issues between the two sides.

Likewise, Trump should pressure the Palestinian Authority to end all incitement, refrain from public acrimony against Israel, condemn all acts of violence, speak openly about the need to make some painful concessions, seek genuine reconciliation with Hamas, and – with the US’ help – induce it to join the Arab fold by embracing the Arab Peace Initiative. Finally, Trump should appeal to the leaders on both sides to engage with one another on a regular basis to foster personal chemistry and personal trust.

In addition, both sides should undertake several people-to-people measures, including: facilitating tourism in both directions, emboldening women activism, supporting student interactions, providing Palestinian youth opportunities to study at Israeli universities, embarking on joint sport activities, and exchanging art exhibitions -- all of which are central to inculcating trusting, neighborly relations.

National security: There is a current state of fear and anxiety for the future experienced by both sides, which is constantly fed by a deep sense of national insecurity. This concern is largely informed by past experiences.

Notwithstanding its formidable military prowess, Israel has and continues to feel vulnerable due to random shellings, acts of terrorism, and other types of extreme violence such as stabbings and car rammings. This sense of insecurity became the state’s mantra, often prompting Israel to take disproportionate measures against the Palestinians.

For the Palestinians, Israel’s formidable military power and the knowledge that they cannot overwhelm it instills a deep sense of insecurity, which is often reinforced by fear of night raids, home demolitions, loss of territory, and administrative detention, among others. The fact that Israel can take these measures at will has further intensified the deep sense of vulnerability among the Palestinians.

To allay this sense of mutual insecurity, Trump should insist that both sides take concrete measures to stop violence, condemn it when it occurs, and work together to demonstrate their commitment and sensitivity toward each other’s national security concerns. Moreover, both should fully coordinate and collaborate on all internal security matters, share intelligence, and work closely to preempt any planned acts of violence by extremists on either side.

Illusions: Both sides have a very powerful and widely influential constituency that still believes they can have it all. In Israel, parties such as Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi), which is led by Naftali Bennett and is part of the coalition government, publicly call for the annexation of much of the West Bank because they believe the Jews have an inherent right to the whole “land of Israel.”

On the Palestinians’ side, Hamas (notwithstanding their occasional declaration that they will accept a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders) insists that all of mandated Palestine, including Israel, is Palestinian territory, and at best they would tolerate the Jews to live under Palestinian rule.

Both sides have been living with these illusions and are imbued with a zero-sum approach. Unfortunately, their leaderships have done little but propagate these beliefs. Israel’s illusions have served to create the logic for the continuing occupation, and Palestinian extremists cling to their illusions just as blindly as the Israelis, which leads to resistance to and fear of change. This has contributed to making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both chronic and intractable.

To disabuse both sides of these illusions that either can have it all, Trump must make it abundantly clear to both sides that the U.S. can help facilitate an agreement at a later date only when both sides accept these three unmitigated facts: a) neither can have it all; b) coexistence is not one of many options, but the only option; and c) the conflict will end only on the basis of a two-state solution.

Trump must understand that the success of future peace talks rest entirely on addressing the above three obstacles through a process of reconciliation, and that the best thing that the U.S. can do at this juncture is initiate a reconciliatory process and play the role of a mediator while monitoring both sides to ensure that they live up to these requirements.

I personally do not believe that Netanyahu will allow the creation of a Palestinian state under his watch, nor would Abbas be able to make the necessary concessions and survive politically, nor would Trump’s “magical negotiating skills” produce any significant breakthrough.

That said, this process of reconciliation remains crucial under any circumstance to pave the way for a future new Israeli government and Palestinian Authority to pursue peace on a solid foundation.

(Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies and is a contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at alon@alonben-meir.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

OTHER WORDS--How can you tell an authoritarian when you see one? We know the 20th century hallmarks — brown shirts, street rallies, and the like. But there’s an autocratic attitude, some historians suggest, that can easily be traced across the centuries.

To put it simply, New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Democracy Now recently, “authoritarians believe that institutions should serve them, and not the other way around.”

Just ask Jim Comey — who, as recently as October, might’ve been Donald Trump’s favorite person.

Less than two weeks before the November vote, the now-former FBI director announced that he was reopening an investigation into one of Trump’s favorite subjects: Hillary Clinton’s emails. For that, Trump praised Comey’s “guts,” while Clinton now blames Comey’s announcement for costing her the election.

Trump seemed happy to accept that help. But in a twist, Comey also found the guts to investigate whether Trump accepted help from the Russians, too. For that, he was fired this month. “This Russia thing” was “a made-up story,” Trump complained by way of explanation.

All that’s explosive enough. Even more so was a subsequent revelation: That Trump had called on Comey to “let go” of an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser who’d been ousted for lying about his own contacts with the Russians. 

That little bombshell is now headline news all over. But buried in the New York Times story about that memo was another, less noticed bomblet: “Alone in the Oval Office,” the paper reported, Trump said “Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.”

That’s right: In addition to asking Comey to stop investigating his friend Flynn, the president called on the FBI director to arrest journalists who published things Trump found unflattering. Perhaps including stories like this one.

Was this an impulsive request? Not likely. In fact, the administration appears to have been laying the groundwork for this for some time.

Take WikiLeaks. Trump once said he “loved” the group for publishing leaked Clinton campaign emails. But then it earned the White House’s enmity by also publishing details about CIA hacking.

Trump’s CIA director has since described WikiLeaks as “a hostile foreign intelligence service” and warned that “America’s First Amendment freedoms” will not “shield them from justice.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now trying to bring a case against the group’s founder, Julian Assange.

While leaking classified information may be a crime, publishing it most certainly isn’t — that’s been protected by the Supreme Court since the early 1970s. In this respect, any charges brought against WikiLeaks could equally be brought against virtually every newspaper and TV station in the country.

Which, by all appearances, is the idea. When CNN asked if the WikiLeaks case could lead to charges against other outlets, Sessions didn’t bother to deny it.

Of course, this is all under the auspices of a candidate who called journalists “lying, disgusting people” and even wondered aloud about whether he’d kill them as president. (He ultimately said no, but seemed reluctant.) And it’s the same White House that wants to sue journalists whose reporting it disputes.

But consider that Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter who broke the Comey memo story, happens to be the very same person who reported on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Has anyone benefited more from that reporting than Trump?

It all depends on the headlines that come next, apparently.

They’ve surely been spotty about it, but in a democracy public institutions — from law enforcement to the free press — are supposed to serve the public, not the president. If Trump can’t accept that, maybe he’s the one who should be fired.

(Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org

 

GUEST WORDS--On be careful about what you you wish for, Henwood warns that while Vice President Mike Pence "might not be able to overcome his party’s internal divisions [he would] probably could do a better job than Trump, and every day would not be a circus as it is now." (Photo: John Sommers II/Reuters)

How much longer can this go on? As I write this, PredictIt gives 71/29 odds that Trump will last the year, but it’s mighty tempting to buy the “no”—especially after the revelation that he asked Comey to shut down the Flynn investigation. (Disclosure alert: I bought 100 shares of “no” at $0.28.)

What is the endgame of the people, mostly Democrats, pounding the drums most heavily? Do they want to impeach Trump, which seems a long shot given Republican control of Congress? Do they want to bruise his weak ego so badly that he resigns? Clearly the job is much harder than he ever imagined—and, by the way, what reasonably sentient person over the age of 8 ever thought the presidency wasn’t grindingly hard? But he also wants adulation, not the relentless volleys of shit he’s gotten. It’s not impossible to imagine him just walking offstage, especially if his legal situation gets seriously dicey.

What then? President Pence? If Pence were president, the entire Republican dream agenda would sail through Congress in like three weeks. Pence spent a dozen years in Congress (Tea Party branch) and four years as governor of Indiana; he’s an appalling figure but he knows how things work. He might not be able to overcome his party’s internal divisions, but he probably could do a better job than Trump, and every day would not be a circus as it is now.

"President Pence? If Pence were president, the entire Republican dream agenda would sail through Congress in like three weeks."

Pence is a horror—fiscal sadist, misogynist, homophobe, lover of the carceral state. He’s repeatedly described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” though given today’s modern GOP, it’s not clear there’s much of a difference among these features. (He should have said he’s a reactionary Christian; there are plenty of other kinds.) He’s a creationist who rejects climate change, thinks stem cell research is “obsolete,” and once actually said that “smoking doesn’t kill.” His anti-abortion law was the most extreme in the country. His cuts to Planned Parenthood led to a rural HIV epidemic. Like Sessions, Pence is a maximalist on drugs, including weed. He’s hot to privatize Social Security. He likened the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare to 9/11.

Should Trump get pushed out, the orchestrated campaign of healing would be painful. It’s not far-fetched to imagine leading Democrats channelling Gerald Ford’s “our long national nightmare is over.” There would be something of what Wall Street calls a “relief rally” on the transition, and it would perversely grease the way for Pence to make the U.S. more like the Indiana he left behind. We should be fighting to keep him in office, as fatally damaged goods.

Several things seem to be driving this campaign to squeeze Trump out, aside from the obvious fact he’s an unstable ignoramus. Dems still can’t get over the fact that they lost to the most unpopular candidate in the history of polling, but instead of blaming their own terrible candidate (the second-most unpopular candidate in the history of polling) and the slavers’ legacy, the Electoral College, they want to blame Russia. (Time was they blamed Comey too—remember when Paul Krugman said that “Comey and Putin installed a crazy, vindictive can’t-handle-the-truth person in the White House”? But he’s since been rehabilitated.)

But that’s not all: a large part of the political class (Hillary prominent among them, along with John McCain), the security establishment, and their contract-hungry patrons in the military–industrial complex all want desperately to make Russia the enemy, and are reviving zombie tropes from the Cold War to promote their cause. Trump may well have friends in the Russian mob, but his resistance to elite hostility towards the country is one of the few non-awful things about him.

It’s been stunning to watch liberals cheering on the security state’s war-by-leak against Trump. He’s odious, but he is the legally elected president—under an absurd electoral system, but that’s the one we’ve got. (Makes you wonder what they would have done to Sanders, if by some unimaginable fluke he’d won.) And yet we’ve seen months of praise for the CIA and the FBI as the magic bullets who could deliver us from the short-fingered vulgarian.

The defenses of the CIA began with Trump’s disparaging remarks about the Agency before taking office, which were taken as near-blasphemous. For an amateur like Trump, such attacks were extremely risky. In early January, Chuck Schumer presciently warned (on the Maddow Show, of course): “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community—they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you.” You’d almost think that he knew what would come next: an endless series of leaks portraying Trump as Putin’s towel boy and, as an extra-special bonus, a pervert (the piss tape)—all applauded by liberals, with little regard for the CIA’s 70-year history of lying, assassination, and coups.

Then came the Comey firing, and suddenly the FBI was a noble organization as well. It’s far from that, and has always been. As Mark Ames reports in his little history of the Bureau, it has no legal charter; Congress didn’t want to authorize a secret police so Teddy Roosevelt created it by executive fiat. Much of the Bureau’s history has been about persecuting communists—and gay people—and smearing its enemies. It spent the 1960s and early 1970s trying to ruin Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers, and and the New Left. In other words, it’s been political from the very first, and all these current worries about “politicizing” the FBI are Grade A bullshit.

Which brings us back to the endgame issue. Democrats look to be extending the strategy of their failed 2016 campaign by being the not-Trump and nothing more—it’s all they’ve got. They are making no visible effort to come up with an appealing agenda as an alternative to the deeply unpopular one the GOP has on offer. In fact, they’re annoyed at Bernie Sanders for trying to get the party to talk about policy, which is somehow seen as an act of narcissism in the Beltway worldview:

But the senator, who’ll be 79 the next time the New Hampshire primary rolls around, is continuing to put himself at the center of the conversation. He’s introduced a Medicare-for-all bill this week that he hopes will force others to sign on.

Imagine that! Pushing a bill to expand health insurance coverage at a moment when Republicans are trying to take it away. The ego of that man.

The party’s strategy can’t be counted a success on conventional measures; Gallup reports that the Dems have lost 5 approval points since November, leaving the two parties with near-identical approval ratings (D: 40%, R: 39%).

During the early days of the Trump administration, it seemed like a serious left opposition might take form. That‘s a hazy memory now that so many liberals and even leftists are taking dictation from the security state and throwing around words like “treason.” We can do better than this, can’t we?

(Doug Henwood edits the  Left Business Observer, a newsletter he founded in 1986, He also hosts Behind the News, a weekly radio show covering economics and politics on KPFA, Berkeley. His book Wall Street is now available for free download here

-cw

THE COHEN COLUMN-The Washington Post is reporting that our blabbermouth-in-chief just spilled some of our tippy top secrets to the Russians, security material so sensitive it is incredibly closely held even among people in our government with the highest classified clearances. 

And Trump did it, in one of his infamous off-script derangements, just so he could brag to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador about all the great intelligence he was getting. Our top intelligence

agencies are apoplectic, with panicked phone calls crisscrossing our nation’s capital, trying to contain the mortal damage. Meanwhile, his apologist McMaster pretends nothing went wrong here. 

Trump MUST be told immediately: "You're fired." 

The Republicans in general, and Trump in particular, were stampeding in hysteria last fall because there were a couple (as in three) emails on Clinton's private server with the lowest possible classified designation. What they were, in fact, were Clinton's own appointment schedules, which automatically declassify the instant the meetings were over. 

But to listen to the Chicken Shit Littles in the Trump surrogate camp, her handling of her emails was the biggest security breach of all time in the history of the Nation and categorically disqualified her as unfit for the highest office of the land. They thought people would die in mass terrorist murders as a consequence if Clinton's server had been hacked -- which NEVER happened because it was well secured with an expert server geek on duty to protect it. 

With the new White House resident, no hacking is required. Trump will just freely blab his brains out with our most sensitive top code word secrets like he's trying to impress a girl. Just like that. 

This gives a new twist to one of his favorite crutch phrases, "That I can tell you." 

The same shameless hypocrisy was also on parade this last week when Trump claimed F.B.I. Director Comey had cleared him (which Comey did not do) after Trump said he solicited information about the state of any investigation of himself personally. 

Oh, but President Bill Clinton, while waiting on the tarmac at the Phoenix Airport last year can't talk grand-kids and golf with then Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in what both sides said was an unplanned encounter, without it being the most sinister obstruction of justice ever. 

The calls for investigation and innuendo on that was so thick you couldn't cut it with a Japanese Katana sword. 

Give us a break. 

Careless? That was the worst accusation against Clinton? 

Then what shall we call Trump’s recklessly criminal negligence with top, top, tippy top secret stuff that actually matters? We call it, Trump, "You're fired." 

f anybody else in the government had done what Trump did they'd be behind bars right now. 

Lock her up, indeed. Lock him up and throw away the damn key, preferably with him attached to it. 

Senator Mitch McConnell said about the latest Trump f&%k up: “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House...” 

The day after firing the F.B.I. Director, Trump shared highly classified U.S. intelligence with a KNOWN RUSSIAN SPY. 

But Mitch McConnell still refuses to investigate Trump. 

What We the People could use is a lot less Republican in the White House, especially when a memo by former F.B.I Director Comey memorializing a meeting with Trump -- a meeting in which it is understood that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who himself had failed to disclose his meetings with Russia's ambassador last year and, even though he is the F.B.I. Director's boss, was not invited to participate -- revealed that Trump talked about the ongoing investigation of a large Trump donor in a manner that may have more than suggested to Comey that he should be nice.
Nate Silver, when asked if Trump's problems have hit a breaking point, said, “I mean…what is there to say? It’s really bad news for Trump that Comey has seemingly created an extensive paper trail of their conversations. This is the sort of thing that would be the basis for impeachment. And at a minimum, the drip-drip-drip of leaks from Comey, and other people in the intelligence community, is going to create a lot of ‘distractions’ for Trump from his ability to pass his agenda." 

But some Republicans who still have the Spirit of ’76 (an aversion to Kings and Tyrants) in their blood are coming around and want an investigation. 

Michigan’s Republican Rep. Justin Amash has openly discussed a Trump impeachment, saying, “...I have more confidence in Director Comey." 

Under Republican command, the integrity of and faith in our government have been sliced into the rough. 

Obstruction of justice is for all Americans an obstruction of our collective gastrointestinal tract. And to flush it out requires nothing more than taking a dump of the trump. 

Lock him up. 

Trump is a man-child, silver spooned, a privileged narcissistic and serial manipulator -- and did I not mention serial liar? -- has in some 120 days done more damage to the soul of the United States of America than any of our enemies could have aspired to. 

In the legal system, when a case is dismissed with prejudice it means it cannot be brought again. 

I say to Trump: “You’re fired! With prejudice.”

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.-cw

SCHMO BIZ--“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” These are the opening words of long-time soap opera “Days of Our Lives”. They could just as well describe the story of President Donald Trump’s first months in office. Imagine what Netflix would make of the show we’ve all come to know as the short-lived (so far), but intense, drama of the Trump administration.

The TV Guide version would look something like this:

Episode 1: Donnie takes the oath of office cheered on by the biggest crowd ever at an inauguration. Or is it?

Episode 2: Donnie issues an executive order banning Muslims and gets into hot water with the men in black robes. Who do they think they are?

Episode 3: The “fake news” bunch pick on Kellyanne for sticking up for Donnie. Sean tries to help but just makes things worse.

Episode 4: People keep asking embarrassing questions about General Flynn and Donnie doesn’t like it.

Episode 5: Donnie tries helping his friend Paul kill Obamacare by repealing and “replacing” it, but the Freedom Caucus bullies spoil the fun.

Episode 6: It’s all in the family as Donnie gives everybody their own office. Stevie and Reince shoved out of the spotlight. Kellyanne disappears!

Episode 7: Donnie makes up with the Freedom Caucus and throws a party to celebrate a big win over Obamacare. Nobody tells him it’s not over yet.

Episode 8: “Out like Flynn” is the order of the day as Donnie is forced to deep six his buddy. Tweets fly as the tide of fake news rolls in.

Episode 9: James “Showboat” Comey makes trouble for Donnie because Flynn likes the Russians too much. Donnie reacts: “You’re fired!”

Episode 10: Sergey drops by and Donnie lets slip some gossip from Bibi. Oops!

Episode 11: Some guy Donnie never heard of hires a lawyer to investigate his campaign’s ties to the Russians (season one).

Will the show be cancelled or renewed? Stay tuned.

And come to think of it, maybe a more appropriate opening would be: 

“Submitted for your approval, one Donald J. Trump, orange-haired mogul recently elected president of the United States. He thinks he’s moved into the White House, but the truth is he’s just crossed over into …” 

Well, you know the rest.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net

-cw

MUELLER WELCOMED .. WITH CAUTION--While many welcome the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia probe as a "first step," observers warn that it is not enough to guarantee an independent, impartial investigation nor to tackle the range of possible misdeeds by President Donald Trump and his team.

Mueller's appointment, announced Wednesday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as special counsel to lead the investigation into possible ties between Russian election meddling and the 2016 Trump campaign was met with bipartisan applause. It comes as popular demand for an independent probe into an increasingly convoluted Russia investigation has reached nearly fever pitch.

Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn called it "a positive, necessary first step" and "proof that our democracy is resilient." American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) executive director Anthony Romero declared it "a critically necessary step given the conflicts of interest present at the Trump administration's highest levels."

(For his part, Trump called "it the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!")

However, those groups—in addition to a number of Democratic lawmakers—say that the appointment must be coupled with an independent commission, similar to the 9/11 commission, "to augment the efforts of the special prosecutor and follow the evidence wherever it leads," as Hobart put it. 

But others are warning that the appointment of the special counsel without such a commission may actually hobble truth-seeking.

As the Atlantic's David Frum wrote earlier this week, "such an appointment could well turn into a shield for wrongdoing."

He explained:

Of all the types of independent investigation that have been suggested, a special prosecutor is the most likely to disappear down rabbit holes—the least likely answer the questions that needed to be answered. A select committee of Congress or an independent commission of nonpartisan experts established by Congress can ask the broad question: What happened? A select committee or an independent commission can organize its inquiry according to priority, leaving the secondary and tertiary issues to the historians. A select committee or an independent commission is not barred from looking at events in earlier years statutes of limitations. A select committee or an independent commission seeks truth.

A special prosecutor, by contrast, seeks crimes. The criminal law is a heavy tool, and for that reason it is thickly encased in protections for accused persons. The most important protection from the point of view of the Trump-Russia matter is the rule of silence. A prosecutor investigating a crime can often discover non-criminal bad actions by the people he is investigating. If those bad actions do not amount to crimes, the prosecutor is supposed to look away.

Josh Marshall, published and editor of Talking Points Memo, similarly wrote Wednesday:

It is critical to understand that the most important details we need to know about the Russian disruption campaign and the Trump campaign's possible collusion with it may not be crimes. Indeed, I would say that the crimes we're likely to discover will likely be incidental or secondary to the broader actions and activities we're trying to uncover. Just hypothetically, what if Russia had a disruption campaign, Trump campaign officials gave winks and nods to nudge it forward but violated no laws? That’s hard to figure but by no means impossible. (Our criminal laws are not really designed for this set of facts.) The simple point is that the most important 'bad acts' may well not be crimes. That means not only is no one punished but far, far more important, we would never know what happened.

Digging into the details of the Department of Justice press statement, investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler cautioned that the scope of Mueller's investigation "is totally inadequate."

Following Wednesday's order, Wheeler wrote at her blog:

As I read this, it covers just the investigation into ties between the Russian government and people associated with Trump's campaign. Presumably, that includes Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page, among others. 

But there are other aspects of the great swamp that is the Trump and Russia orbit that might not be included here. For example, would Manafort's corrupt deals with Ukrainian oligarchs be included? Would Flynn's discussions with Turkish officials, or Rudy Giuliani's attempt to excuse Turkey's violation of Iran sanctions? Would the garden variety money laundering on behalf of non-governmental Russian mobbed up businessmen be included, something that might affect Manafort, Jared Kushner, or Trump himself?

[...] Any one of those investigations might present strings that can be pulled, any one of which might lead to the unraveling of the central question: did Trump's associates coordinate with the Russian government to become President. Unless Mueller can serve to protect those other corners of the investigation from Trump's tampering, it would be easy to shut down any of them as they become productive.

(Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams  … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

VETS VOICE--President Donald Trump supports America's troops. The troops, however, are more on the fence about their president.

That fact might not have been obvious during the presidential campaign, where Trump's unique brand of populism fared quite well with America's military veterans: According to exit polls from CNN, they voted for Trump two-to-one.

Then, on January 27th, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump signed a controversial executive order to enact a temporary travel ban against immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. The order made good on some of Trump's promises issued on the campaign trail. It also meant American troops would have to witness many of the very people who once provided them assistance on their missions in the Middle East—the very people whose lives may be in danger from bombings, death threats, poor medical access, or any number of other injustices—being barred from entering the United States.

Since the beginning of the election, a number of veterans have voiced their concerns with Trump and his "yellow ribbon patriotism." While Trump often claims to support the troops (as all presidents do), such assertions can ring hollow coming from a man who has openly disparaged both living veterans (Senator John McCain) and the families of the deceased (Humayun Khan) —especially when Trump never himself served in the military.

In an op-ed in Time, retired lieutenant colonel of the Marine Corps and presidential leadership scholar Justin Constantine wrote, "In a world of complex diplomatic relationships, nuclear weapons, competing national interests and deadly enemies, his [Trump's] inexperience could have severe consequences for our country."

"The ban is a horrifying betrayal of American ideals, our 'better angels,' to paraphrase President Lincoln."

Though veterans voted overwhelmingly for Trump, the results of a military poll conducted by the Military Times one month prior to the election shows that veterans were already skeptical of his stances. The poll found that, "Nearly 83 percent of those surveyed said they are dissatisfied with Clinton as the Democratic Party's pick to be president, and more than 65 percent said the same of Trump as the Republican nominee." In fact, a month before the election, only 40.5 percent of military veterans stated that they would vote for Trump, which can hardly be described as a landslide victory, or a reflection of strong support by the veteran community.

Now, for many veterans, this travel ban presents a frightening reality of life under the Trump administration—and a trespass against refugees' human rights. Two days after the ban was announced, Arabic translator and military historian Kirk Johnson tweeted about the travel ban and how it targets Iraqis and those who risked their lives to help American soldiers during the Iraq War, recounting how Americans allowed their Iraqi allies to be slaughtered after the war, instead of helping the Iraqi people immigrate to America.

"Those that helped us [in the Iraq War] were Christians, Muslims, Yazidis, atheists, you name it. They were our allies," Johnson wrote. "When they ran through gunfire to save our troops, they didn't think about such labels. These Iraqis believed in America. They loved our country. They lost their country as a result of the choice they made to help us."

Johnson goes on to illustrate how thousands of Iraqis lost their lives, homes, safety, and well-being, and made an enormous sacrifice in order to help American troops. In return, the first travel ban denied entry into the U.S. to those who had given us the most. In so doing, it damaged America's relationship with those seeking residence in the U.S.

Many of the veterans who stand in opposition to the ban have a story to tell.

Take Matthew Gallagher, [photo left] a former army captain who served in the Iraq War from 2005 to 2009. Since then, he has written a memoir and become an activist for the Veterans for American Ideals, a group that protects Muslim and refugee rights. "I think the ban is not only a horrifying betrayal of American ideals, our 'better angels,' to paraphrase President Lincoln; it also fails completely to attain its purpose, which is for better national security," Gallagher says. "We're already receiving reports that special operations units in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have suffered losses of errant relationships to their allies because of how this ban is being received in the Middle East." 

For refugees and Iraqi translators who have risked their lives during the Iraq War, this ban ignores their contributions to this country. During the Iraq War, translators were the No. 1 target for Iraqi insurgents. Without the ability to communicate to local Iraqis, there would have been no way for Americans to gather local support.

Or take Sam Freeman,  an Iraqi refugee and current American citizen who spent seven years in Iraq as a linguist, cultural advisor, and liaison between the U.S. military and Iraqi civilians. "Generally, linguists are not issued weapons, and they look different [from American soldiers] so they stand out. I would be the most important person in our mission, and while the military does take care to make sure that I don't get killed, I was still the target person [for insurgents]," Freeman says. "While I'm lucky to say I made it, I have been pretty close, I've been injured."

Or Supriya Venkatesan, who saw firsthand how Iraqi translators and former refugees risked their lives during the Iraq War. She is a military veteran who served in Iraq for six years, and has gone on to become involved in Muslim and refugee rights by working with Syrian refugee advocacy groups and writing extensive, investigative journalism pieces on the horrific conditions that Syrians are currently experiencing at home, and their struggle to receive entry into the U.S.

What she's discovered since her time back in the states is that refugees like Sam not only feel an increased sense of duty and responsibility to the country that provided them with asylum, but refugees go on to become some of the most hard-working, ardent champions of the American dream.

"Based on my own experiences of working with the Muslims who are translators or linguists or survivors of war, there is something in them that makes them fight, and because of that they become extremely wonderful contributors to society," Venkatesan says. To Venkatesen, citizens from Muslim-majority countries who helped the U.S. in the Iraq War are our strongest allies, and to alienate them and prevent them from entry into our country is the ultimate affront.

Resettlement into the U.S. for refugees and for citizens applying for visas from the Middle East is a long and arduous process. On average, it takes at least a year and a half to two years for citizens of Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan to acquire a visa into the U.S. "Extreme vetting" would add even more time to this process, putting the lives of refugees and citizens of the Middle East in further jeopardy.

Lee Hungerbeeler did two tours in Iraq, where he served as a battery commander. He believes that Iraqi interpreters played a significant role in helping the U.S. military in the Iraq War; however, Hungerbeeler does not feel that the travel ban targets Muslims, Iraqis, or will negatively affect our military's relationship with Iraq or the Middle East.

"I think that [Trump's team is] going about it the right way as long as [the ban is] followed as it's written. But the problem is we're relying on people to take care of it, and it's a fairly ambitious plan with a lot of moving parts."

While not all veterans agree on the problematic nature of the ban, many of those who disagree with it will not remain silenced. Since the ban was introduced, Gallagher wrote an op-ed about his opposition to it for the Boston Globe.  His piece was then read by Senator Elizabeth Warren on the U.S. Senate floor. As op-eds and activism by veterans continues to proliferate, and these soldiers share their stories of working with refugees in the Middle East, a different narrative is coming through: not all military veterans support this ban, or the actions of the president.

(Michelle Threadgould is a journalist who lives in Oakland, California, and covers the intersection between arts and culture and social justice for Pacific Standard magazine … where this report originated.)

-cw

 

 

BELL VIEW--Once, during a jury trial, opposing counsel asked my witness – who was not my client – whether she had spoken to me prior to testifying. “Yes,” she answered. “And what did Mr. Bell tell you to say today?” 

There’s an old adage that an attorney should never ask a question in front of a jury that he doesn’t already know the answer to. We can’t always be that lucky – but I’m not exactly sure what this guy was fishing for with his question. Luckily for me, I wasn’t surprised when my witness smiled and said “He just told me to get up here and tell the truth.” 

Truth. We live in such strange times that we might be forgiven for believing that the concept of truth no longer has any meaning. But truth has a persistence, and any decent trial lawyer can tell you that nothing is scarier than the truth. As an advocate, the truth is the only thing I have to work with. I can spin it, shade it, bend it, and try to bury it in a blizzard of nonsense – but I can’t deny it. 

California has a jury instruction that reads “A witness false in one part of his or her testimony is to be distrusted in others.” That’s good advice. The lies of the president have begun to seep past the physical body of Donald Trump like a drop of ink on a wet napkin. 

Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway have been so stained by Trump’s lies that nothing they say has any meaning any more. HR McMaster, Mike Pence, and Rod Rosenstein have already started to feel the stain creep in around the edges of their reputations. (I’d say the same for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell if they had any reputations worth sullying.) And it looks like a few million Americans might have to delete their Facebook profiles eventually lest their grandchildren find out the extent of their complicity. 

Enter James Comey – a former prosecutor – well aware of the power of the truth, he’s begun using it to build the brick wall against which this train of deception might crash. Trump has publicly called Comey a liar – but Comey appears to have put on his hazmat suit before he ever came within a hundred yards of the president. Comey tiptoed through the torture years of the Bush White House and walked out with a promotion. He’s not about to let a failed gameshow host get his wingtips dirty. 

I’ve predicted all along that this administration won’t last the full term. Lately, I’ve begun to doubt that prediction. We live in a world where which side you’re on determines how you look at reality. 

The truth doesn’t stand a chance in a lesser-of-two-evils world. But Trump has made it personal with Jim Comey, and he doesn’t look like a patsy to me. There’s probably a reason why FBI Directors are not routinely fired. 

James Comey made a few million enemies when he tipped the scales in the election. He did it because he was covering his own ass. Now Trump’s poking the same rattlesnake that took out Hillary Clinton. My money’s on the snake.

(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.)

-cw

RESISTANCE IS AN ACTION--Why do a broad range of factions -- that we commonly label as liberal -- continue ad nauseum to content themselves with only reporting the latest irrational, depressing and demoralizing behavior of our profit-driven corporate-controlled American government? 

At the same time these liberals content themselves with preaching a rational alternative for what is possible to people who already agree with them. They seem to purposefully avoid any action designed to make their progressive ideas become the basis for more rational actions that could be taken by the government. 

But of course, the liberal's exclusively verbal and intellectual take – or, if you will, “game” -- never seems to reach a mainstream American audience that still doesn't have a clue as to what is going on in the programmed dissipation of the American dream of social equity. 

What if the Amy Goodmans, the Robert Reichs, the Noam Chomskys, the Chris Hedges, the Henry Louis Gates, and other insightful liberals took a page from Martin Luther King's playbook? In dealing with a segregated public transit system in Selma, Alabama, instead of merely reporting the ever increasing outrageous assaults on our democracy, Dr. King proactively posited a well-organized plan of action that those in power could no longer ignore with impunity. Ironically, it is my belief that such organized, concerted action would be far easier and would accomplish far more if it were adopted by these current leaders. 

King understood that a public transportation system in Selma that relied on a 70% African American ridership could no longer send these riders to the back of the bus -- unless those riders and their supporters allowed them to continue doing so. The bus boycott that ensued was based on a simple economic premise: either truly integrate this public transportation system or our well-organized boycott will bankrupt it. When push came to shove, the fear of looming bankruptcy of public transit in Selma trumped good old fashion publicly sanctioned racism. 

If we could apply this same principle (based on the fundamental democratic idea that majority rules) to changing the de facto segregated public education system that still exists in Los Angeles sixty-three years after Brown vs. Board of Education established that "separate but equal... is inherently unequal," then we could also stop the now unimpeded move toward corporate privatization of public education for profit and the further dumbing of America. 

Like the Selma bus boycott, a boycott of still segregated and quantifiably inferior public schools might go something like this: 

-Students do not go to school, but rather go to classes that are organized in churches and other public buildings, where they are taught by retired or other qualified teachers -- many of whom were themselves removed from their teaching careers based on fabricated charges. 

- However, the students’ regular teachers would show up at their regular schools and the school district would still be required to pay them. 

- But since the students aren't there and schools receive their money from the state and federal government based on in-seat average daily attendance, now, like in Selma, you've finally created negative financial consequences that the corrupt folks in power in schools, government, and corporations can no longer ignore as they do now. 

Liberals would finally make the news by doing something that can no longer be ignored by corrupt corporate interests and their respective media vassals. In addition, this action would serve to educate what has been, up until now, an unaware and discriminated against majority as to the meaning behind the phrase “majority rules.” 

In order to organize an effective action-oriented anti-oligarchy opposition from the Left, wouldn't it be relevant to wonder just how many degrees of internet separation there are among the still silent majority in this internet age? Would people who receive a solicitation to join a well-organized public school boycott that has a clear shot of succeeding be more likely to get involved if Matt Damon or John Stewart -- whose mothers are teachers – were to reach out and ask them to do so? And wouldn't they reach out to their respective networks to get people onboard? 

Use the list below to create, add to, and share in creating our own 2017 Selma bus-boycott-type organization necessary to bring to an end to the criminality that is destroying our society. 

What we have been experiencing up until now has been the end product of a war started long ago under Reagan to dismantle public education for profit. We have witnessed the further dumbing down of America so that "alternative facts" and irrational policies could then go unchallenged by undereducated Americans who have been subjected to this system for the last 40 years and are no longer capable of understanding what is going on – and what will be its Orwellian conclusion. 

In pursuit of this end, I would argue that the 1st Amendment right to freedom of association -- even virtually -- is the most important civil right we have if we are to bring about measurable change in bad actions and policies. This would make all of our other rights possible to achieve. 

With the Internet, the facilitating association has become more doable. But we must overcome the purposefully nurtured hopeless lethargy that has made the majority think they are the minority. Our truth is nowhere to be found as reported in the mainstream corporate media. 

What follows is, for starters, an initial contact information list of some who have already shown that they know better. If you can think of others or have a better way of reaching out and networking, add to this list and share what you do with all of us in the comments section below. Remember, most of us presently remain unaware of just how powerful we could be in organizing effective opposition to the growing dangerous alternative reality we are forced to live under: 

Reverend Dr. William Barber info@naacpnc.org 919‑682‑4700 

The Black Star Project Address: 3509 S King Dr #2B, Chicago, IL 60653 Phone: (773) 285-9600 www.blackstarproject.org 

Noam Chomsky chomsky@mit.edu 

Stephen Colbert 

Matt Damon 

Ava DuVernay contact Mercedes Cooper mercedes@arraynow.com 

Professor Henry Louis Gates gates@harvard.edu 617.496.5468 

Amy Goodman https://www.democracynow.org/contact (212) 431-9090 

Chris Hedges hedgesscoop@aol.com 

Rachel Maddow Rachel@msnbc.com 

Professor Diane Ravitch gardendr@gmail.com 

Robert Reich reich@commoncause.org 

Michael Rezendes, The Boston Globe
135 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125
Tel: 617-929-3047
Cell: 617-763-1458
Fax: 617-929-2019 

John Stewart 

And ... Lenny Isenberg Leonard.Isenberg@gmail.com 

 

(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 Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

AT LENGTH--It’s starting to become a regular occurrence for me: being stopped by people who preface their remarks with, “You probably won’t agree with me, but…” and then they go on about giving Trump a chance or complaining about the lack of bi-partisanship or that the leftists should chose another word other than “resistance” in opposing #45.

All of this becomes more confusing when #45 fires FBI Director James Comey with no warning. Comey learns of his firing from a news report that flashed on a television screen while he was in Los Angeles speaking to employees at an FBI field office. This happened while the investigation into Russian interference in our national elections was just beginning to pick up traction. It makes one wonder if Trump protests too much?

One older gentleman who recently stopped me said, “I just don’t think that these people who are protesting should be calling it ‘resistance.’”

“And just what would you call it?” I asked. There was a pause.

From what I could tell by his age and the fact he was having drinks in an upscale restaurant on a Monday night, he was likely a retiree living off of Social Security and a pension. He was likely more financially secure than those out protesting.

So I ask him, “What if it was your health care that was being threatened? What if it was your family at risk of being deported?”

The questions could go on because the list of threats keeps growing.

“Resistance,” I conclude, “is the natural response to acts of oppression by a tyrant.”

On another occasion, a different older guy, a political insider and a lobbyist who has worked with all levels of government, complained about how there’s no bipartisan collaboration anymore.

“I just don’t understand it,” he said, “I’ve worked with Republicans my entire career and always found common ground. But now…?”

“Those were different times,” I replied. “We haven’t ever had a real fascist in the White House before. When there is this kind of repression going, on people resisted.”

“Do you remember the opposition to the Richard Nixon presidency and the Vietnam War?” I asked. “How much collaboration would you propose if you were living in pre-WWII Germany?”

“What we have here and now is much more than a disagreement on policy. It’s literally an existential threat to our republic by a man and a caucus within the ruling party who are intent on eroding our rights, denigrating public institutions, destroying long-accepted protections and gutting public benefits. This would be like attempting to find common ground with Hitler,” I concluded.

This country stands divided, much like it was in the 1960s over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Even though those wounds have healed, they left lasting legacies, scarring our country and our democracy. Trump doesn’t even seem to know why the American Civil War was fought. His tweet about Andrew Jackson was the ultimate display of his ignorance.

The last older guy to interrupt my day admitted that he actually voted for Trump, but only because he couldn’t vote for Hillary.

“So you would have been OK with voting for a social democrat like Bernie Sanders?” I asked.

“Oh no. I grew up in Vermont back when it was a conservative state,” he replied.

“So you are all right with Trump firing the FBI director?” I pressed.

“I don’t agree with much that he’s said or done,” the man said.

All of these conversations were in public places and were quite civil and polite in tone — not like much of the acrimony coming out of Washington, D.C. these days where incivility is tweeted, repeated and made news-worthy as the topic du jour.

Comey’s firing from the FBI can be considered a distraction from the investigation into Trump’s Russian connections. Wouldn’t someone with the power to subpoena his tax records think that there might be some relevant details included in those returns?

What seems increasingly evident is that the American public is continually being played and  manipulated through false or misleading accusations and propaganda. This drama rises to the level of a Shakespearean tragedy.

However, out here in La La Land, the city blithely moves forward with its well-intentioned liberalism, while violating the rights of the homeless, curtailing free speech at city hall and pressing for a misguided Measure C charter amendment which has been criticized by the groups who have historically lobbied for police reform.

It is an imperfect solution to the intractable problem of Los Angeles Police Department oversight. It should be voted down. The real solution is to set up civilian review boards in each of the police divisions, with members appointed by the locally elected neighborhood councils who then send their decisions to the police commission for confirmation. It is doubtful whether either the police or the city council would share this kind of power with the neighborhood councils, but the time will come when neighborhood empowerment actually means something more than a few words on a website.

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

-cw

TRANSIT WATCH--Blame George W. Bush, Donald J. Trump, and Vladimir V. Putin all you want, the financial problems of the City and County of LA, as well as those of the state of California, are home-grown.  One need look NO further than Downtown LA and Sacramento to figure out the TRUE sources of economic disparity, the flight of the middle class, and the ever-growing pension and budgetary crises that you can't keep blaming on "those guys". 

Because "those guys" are the ones running this city, county and state into the ground. 

So when Denny Zane (a good, honorable and likable man) asks how next to address our rail and bus line ridership, and future plans with the Measure R and M funds that LA County voters bravely said "yes" to, it's to be remembered that not that long ago these same voters said "no" to new funds for subway construction when the Metro Board forgot who they were working for. 

I want to again emphasize that Mr. Zane is a good man, and part of the answer, so when his Move LA organization asks "what next?", here are a few good ideas: 

1) Dance with the one who brought you here--the voters.  There are lobbyists and all sorts of opportunists who want that glob of money the voters allowed and trusted Metro with--so long as its transparent, it should be up to the voters to make the decision on how we spend our money.  OUR money. 

2) Clean buses are great ... but the most important thing voters and commuters want is the knowledge there are ENOUGH buses.  If it takes an extra hour to get to work via a bus, those with the money and self-respect to get access to a car will do just that. 

3) As for the rail lines, keep up the great work, but if the Eastside Metro Rail lines don't link well with Metrolink, ridership of both transit services will suffer (it's the same idea as making sure our freeways link to our surface streets ... duh!). 

4) Why are bus stops so lousy with respect to shelter and protection from the sun and elements?  Make bus riding an experience with dignity and convenience. 

5) Uber and Lyft are "a thing" now.  The private sector can and should have delightful, easy access for public/private partnerships to get people to their final destinations once they get off the train or bus.  Easy-peasy ... and affordable. 

6) Watch out for the development creeps--they own Planning, and they talk a lot but don't do squat about real affordable housing.  Don't worry--they'll make money.  Find the honorable and honest developers, and push the liars and cheaters away with both hands, lest they drag down the concept of affordable housing altogether--and also, we CAN build affordable and middle-class housing south of the I-10, can we not. 

7) Anticipate "what's next".  Like knowing there is NO direct LAX to Union Station rail connection, and knowing that people will scream about it from the Eastside to Downtown LA to South LA to the South Bay if you don't use that publicly-owned Harbor Subdivision Rail Right of Way correctly.  A bikeway for a rail right of way that was once considered by the California High Speed Rail Authority?   Do a Major Investment Study updated for the 2024-2030 timeframe, and make whatever financial preparations NOW. 

It's not that hard to take care of the taxpayers' money:  just treat it as if it were your own ... but remember it's NOT your own.  That money is an investment ... OUR investment.  

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, 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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. 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 Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

THE COHEN COLUMN--A riddle: You're in a dark alley late at night, there is a chill in the air and a fog is rolling in. You hear the echo of heavy footsteps behind you, faint at first, but with every step you take they grow distinctly louder and louder

Who are you, and whose footsteps are behind you?

If you are that person we described (aren't you glad you are not) you are Donald Trump. The increasing footsteps you hear pounding on your heels is the truth catching up to you.

For Trump's entire life he has systematically lied about everything, and gotten away with it, more or less, whether it was about who he was dating or how much money he had. But now he has every
investigative journalist in the country working overtime to ferret out the real truth.

Now Trump's lies are about the vital national security interests and the constitutional honor of the United States, not just fodder for society column gossip. And no matter how many times he tries to smear real reporters with integrity as "fake" news, they will ultimately succeed in reporting reality.

Add to that those major investigative committees in both chambers of Congress. With even Republicans mouthing the words that we need to get to the bottom of Russia's role in all this so that it won't ever happen again.

Let's paint a picture, shall we? Let's suppose that Trump's minions did no more than communicate to Russia and said that if Trump was elected it would be better for Russian interests. We've practically had confessions of that already, for example Michael Flynn talking about sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

What face is appearing in the picture frame? And the answer is the face of treason. That’s Treason with a capital “T”, that’s Treachery with a capital “T” and Betrayal with a capital “B”.

Treason + Treachery + Betrayal = Congressional neck tie party

During Trump's campaign he publically encouraged Russia to interfere on his behalf, remember? 

Why would we be surprised to learn that he did the same thing secretly? We are not.

This is all before we talk about Trump associates taking tons of money from Russian operatives, shady business dealings and everything else.

“FBI Director Comey learned about his firing from a TV screen. Comey was addressing a group of FBI employees in Los Angeles when a television in the background flashed the news that he had been fired. In response, Mr. Comey laughed, saying he thought it was a fairly funny prank.” 

It never would have occurred to him that the guy he massively helped get elected would turn on him so coldly and rudely. But then again Trump is also the Commander of Insults.

But now we are told Trump was thinking of firing Comey the very day he was elected. Only he waited until he learned that Comey was digging deeper into the Russia thing, and then he panicked and acted precipitously.

He directed his own Justice Department appointees to make him a case for firing, and like the patsies they now clearly are, they did. That news has come out too. Jeff Sessions, who himself was supposed to be recused grabbed his hatchet again.

We'll say it again, there was good cause for firing Comey, based solely on his public bias of the Clinton investigation. But the TIMING of this firing is what is so incriminating of Trump.

On the morning of May 12, 2017, President Donald Trump tweeted, "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Already primed to look at the parallels between Trump’s presidency and Richard Nixon’s, observers jumped on the suggestion that Trump could be following Nixon’s lead in secretly taping conversations in the White House.

This is NOT going away. We're not going away.

Still  not sure if Trump’s activities are that serious?

President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is “much more serious” than Watergate and could arguably be enough to see him impeached now, says the historian who predicted the Republican’s shock election win. 

Lastly, we'd like to credit Stephen Colbert for one of the best jokes we're heard recently. He was talking about Trump's tweet that everyone would thank him someday for firing Comey. "Yes," Colbert said, "let's get him something special, like a special prosecutor.”

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD-Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday. There was an attempt to blame the timing on a newly installed Assistant Attorney General. That story broke down. There was an attempt to explain the reasoning for the firing on the way the Hillary Clinton email investigation was covered. People laughed. 

How to start? 

George Smiley relit his pipe and ruminated . . . How had his arch-nemesis Karla gotten his hooks into the American president, and how much critical information would be passed to the descendents of his old enemies in the KGB? 

Maybe not. Still, it's almost believable. 

Jack Ryan lifted a vodka and nodded at Marko Ramius. Ramius broke the silence -- "I've something to tell you that had to wait until now, when we both are safe on American soil. Before I took my sub on her last voyage, I heard rumors of a breach in your security that goes all the way to the top." 

If only we had the facts in book form. 

But when you apply logic to the situation, the most obvious conclusion is that this president has something big to hide. And going down that path, the most reasonable conclusion is that Donald Trump had a long-time, ongoing relationship with the Russians that either resulted in a secret deal or in blackmail. 

By Wednesday, numerous commentators, pundits, and the Late Show's Steven Colbert had carefully nailed the firing and the president himself to the scandal over Russian election influence. Heather Digby Parsons (now writing for Salon.com among others, but famous as a blogger early on as "Digby") summarized.  "It's a frantic effort to sidetrack us -- and it won't work." 

The Republicans, who are so dedicated to electoral purity that they question the legality of hundreds of thousands of voters who are a little too old and a little too poor to have a drivers license -- well, they are now so very OK with Russian interference in a presidential election that they are willing to join the coverup. They are willing to excuse the president's firing of the man who was overseeing the investigation. Not all, but quite a lot right now. 

Without stealing from John Le Carre or The Manchurian Candidate, let's consider as a working hypothesis that the treason is at the top, and has been there for at least the better part of a year: The best explanation for the known data is that Trump was compromised by the Russians, perhaps years ago, and cut a secret deal with them sometime between the day he announced his presidential run and the convention. Considering Trump's personality quirks, we should assume that Trump's secret is financial. 

The evidence, if not overwhelming as of now, is at least getting stronger: 

1) The appointment of people to the Trump campaign who were close to the Russian war machine and Putin (Manafort for example). 

2) Trump's questioning of Nato's existence. Remember that this is the same guy who spoke from the fantail of the battleship Iowa, pledging a defense that is so great that nobody would dare challenge us. 

3) Trump's manipulation of the Republican Platform at the convention. 

4) The series of secret communications between Trump operatives and representatives of the Russian government in the period before the inauguration. 

5) Trump acts out the tough guy image except when it comes to Putin, where Trump reverses a century of American policy. He blusters about North Korea and the Chinese, while mewing that it would be nice to have a friendly relationship with Russia. 

6) The timing of the firing of James Comey: This is the man who handed the presidency to Trump through his Hillary Clinton letter. But Comey asked the Department of Justice for additional funding to continue the investigation of the Russian connection a few days ago, and within a few dozen hours he is gone. 

7) Donald Trump's mention in the firing letter that he (Trump) is not under investigation. It seems like a strange topic to include in a notice of termination, but Trump tends to project his actual motives. The investigation into his Russian ties was driving him crazy, so he had to try to undercut it. He would have been better served separating the lies about Russian influence from the termination notice, but that is not how Trump's mind works. 

Admittedly, this is a working hypothesis, but it arises out of multiple independent lines of evidence. There is the family history of financial ties to the Russian oligarchy, the odd events at the Republican National Convention, the staff interactions with a Russian intelligence operative, and the sudden firing of the one man most likely to put a lance into the pustulent boil of Russian interference in western elections. 

Television news anchors have been attaching the word Watergate to Comey's firing due to its eerie similarity to the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox by president Richard Nixon. It's been amusing in a depressing kind of way to watch White House spokesmen try to deal with the stress. Sean Spicer agreed to speak to the press as long as they turned the cameras off. Kelly Anne Conway pretended that there was nothing particularly interesting about the firing. 

There is one group that is having a hard time these past few hours -- Republicans in congress coming up for reelection. They already were forced to deal with angry constituents who want to keep their Medicaid and their coverage for preexisting conditions. Now, all of a sudden, congressmen have to deal with a situation that begins to look more and more like that T word, treason. 

Perhaps the most amusing gaffe was committed by a congressman who pointed out that things aren't as bad as they were in Germany in the 1930s.  Now that's grasping at straws.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

STUDENT PRESIDENT--Our president says he wants to run the country like a business. But it turns out running the government isn’t like running a business after all.

Trump, for his part, says he’s located the source of the problem: the Constitution. All those checks and balances our founders are cramping his style. “It’s an archaic system,” he complained.

Unfortunately for Trump, unlike on his reality TV show, when he doesn’t like a member of Congress, he can’t simply say, “You’re fired.”

Yes, Trump was elected by… well, not a majority of Americans. Or even a plurality of voters. But he was legally elected, and he has some power. Yet he cannot erase or overrule the power of our representatives in Congress.

How does Trump feel about that? “It’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion.” 

Yes, he actually said that about our system of government — which, admittedly, is less efficient than running a business. That’s the idea.

A publicly traded corporation has one goal: to make money for the shareholders.

A government, on the other hand, has many goals: economic prosperity, reducing poverty and hunger, keeping the public safe, preserving human rights and civil rights, and so forth.

A successful business leader may excel in making money. It doesn’t follow that they can achieve the many other objectives the leader of a nation must work toward.

A business can pick and choose who it deals with. The CEO can hire and fire employees at will and choose which other companies to work with. It can target its products towards a particular customer base, instead of attempting to sell its products to the entire public. And the CEO is the boss.

The government gets no such choices. The voters are the bosses. Our leaders have to deal with all of us, and they can’t pick and choose which segments of the population they want to represent. We’re all Americans.

Furthermore, Trump doesn’t get to choose who’s in Congress. We do.

Whether our members of Congress are Republicans or Democrats, they’re supposed to represent their districts. If Trump wants something that will harm their constituents, and potentially get them voted out of office, they won’t (or shouldn’t) go along with it. The president can’t simply issue orders and have them immediately followed like the head of a company can do.

In a company, it ultimately doesn’t matter if the marketing and the accounting departments disagree with the CEO. They have to do what they’re told to keep their jobs.

In a democracy, it does matter whether the representatives from Montana or Florida agree with the president. If the majority of Congress doesn’t agree with the president, they won’t roll over and do as he likes. And he cannot fire them, because they’re accountable to their voters.

So, welcome to Civics 101, Mr. President. You’re right. Our Constitution is “archaic” and it limits the powers of the presidency. That’s what our founders intended.

Maybe you ought to take some time out of your busy golfing schedule to read it some time.

(OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It and an occasional contributer to CityWatch. Distributed by OtherWords.org.) 

-cw

COHEN TALK-It is a matter of ongoing astonishment to us that anyone, even his most diehard supporters, could believe a single word that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth. That's what's really "sad" -- a word he has singlehandedly beaten to death. Even blind, unthinking partisanship cannot fully explain trying to defend a person who says things such as, speaking about Andrew Jackson, “He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War." The problem is, by this time, Andrew Jackson, a mass slave holder, had been dead for 16 years. Trump
says he does not understand why the Civil War happened.

Not content with merely being ignorant of history, Trump makes up history, just like he makes up everything else. He will say whatever crazy thing that will get a roar out of the rally crowd of the moment – and that includes saying the exact opposite moments later.

It's gotten so bad that Trump accuses the media of being "fake news" when they play previous clips of Trump himself speaking. 

The latest Trump ass over tea kettle bloviate happened on Monday, May 1 when he actually claimed a victory even though Congress appropriated nothing to build his wall. Why this claim? Because Congress appropriated $15 billion more money for the military, although it was still less than the $54 billion he had asked for at the end of February

The only way to explain why anyone would have voted for him (except for total Republican automatons) is to recognize the cataclysmic failure of the Democratic Party to be responsive to its own constituents. Nancy knows best, Hillary knows best, Chuck knows best, including when Schumer actually said before the election, "For every blue collar Democrat we lose in Western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two, three moderate Republicans in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin." 

We heard with our own ears the audio recording of him saying this. Listen yourself on youtube.  Okay, Chuck, so at least you didn't lose Illinois, the home state of President Obama, but you lost Michigan instead, which is just as bad.

Who will save us from these tone deaf political losing geniuses?

The answer is the same as it has always been. We must save ourselves with our activism. People are speaking out to the Republicans in Congress. They are demanding that they not completely gut health care and education -- and it’s working. They are forcing the Republicans to reconsider, repent and reverse themselves.

But what is missing are more people willing to speak out to their own Democratic politicians, demanding better health care -- specifically Medicare for All. When we find all those people, we will find the missing votes and the needed election victories.

Help us find more of those people, our people. Share this message.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TRUMP CORRUPTION WATCH--Just another little data point in the ongoing Trump corruption watch: Investors looking to buy a condo at Trump Tower in the Philippines would have found, until this week, some high-powered video testimonials on the project’s official website. 

There was Donald Trump, in a message filmed several years before he was elected president of the United States, declaring that the skyscraper bearing his name near the Philippine capital would be “something very, very special, like nobody’s seen before.” Then there was his daughter Ivanka Trump, now a senior White House adviser, lavishing praise on the project as a “milestone in Philippine real estate history.”

Four months into President Trump’s tenure, his business relationship with a developer who is one of the Philippines’ richest and most powerful men has emerged as a prime example of the collision between the private interests of a businessman in the White House and his public responsibility to shape U.S. foreign policy.

The potential conflict first came into focus shortly before Trump was elected, when the Philippines’ iron-fisted president, Rodrigo Duterte, named the Trump Organization’s partner in the Manila real estate venture his top trade envoy.

The connection burst back into public view this week, after Trump stunned human rights advocates by extending a White House invitation to Duterte, known for endorsing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of drug users, following what aides described as a “very friendly” phone call. Trump aides have said the outreach to Duterte is part of a broader effort to isolate North Korea.

Although the promotional videos were posted online in 2013, the continued presence of Trump and his daughter in marketing materials for the Manila tower reflects the extent to which they remain key selling points even as they have vowed to distance themselves from their global real estate and branding businesses.

After The Washington Post inquired Monday about the use of the Trumps in promoting the Manila project, the links and videos on the corporate website could no longer be accessed. Nonetheless, their lingering connection to the property’s sales pitch shows how difficult it is to separate the president from Trump-branded projects, particularly in foreign markets where there is less oversight of how his image is used.

Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing for the Trump Organization, said the material was “historical clips” that were not related to ongoing sales and marketing activity. Ivanka Trump was not aware that she was still featured in materials touting the Manila project, according to someone familiar with her views. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s company does not own or invest in the Manila project, a luxurious 57-story tower nearing completion in Makati, a bustling financial center that is part of metropolitan Manila.

In a long-term licensing deal, the project’s development company agreed to pay royalties for use of the Trump brand. Trump reported receiving $1 million to $6 million in payments from the project between 2014 and mid-2016, according to his financial disclosures.

Jose E.B. Antonio, chairman of the development company, has retained his leadership of the firm even as he functions now in his official capacity as a Duterte appointee. Kris Cole, a spokeswoman for the developer, said that Antonio’s envoy role is an unpaid, nongovernmental position promoting Philippine business interests in the United States.

Antonio, who Cole said was traveling and could not comment, told Bloomberg News in November that his role is to “enlarge the relationship between the two countries,” adding of his business relationship with Trump: “I guess it would be an asset.”

+++++++++


Ethics watchdogs have all weighed in on what's wrong with this. Here's one from The Brennan Center that lays it out succinctly: 

The first significant risk Trump’s continued business ties pose is of a direct conflict of interest. The Trump Organization is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that does business through over 400 entities in at least twenty countries, including vital partner nations and antagonistic dictatorships. Meanwhile, President Trump enjoys the tremendous powers of the executive branch — robust authority in matters of foreign affairs and domestic policy alike. So long as Trump continues to track the progress of his business empire, he can surely assess how his actions as president might benefit or harm his company’s fortunes. Even intentions to the contrary aside, research shows that, when faced with a financial conflict of interest, individuals demonstrate unconscious bias toward reaching conclusions that benefit them. As such, a cloud of suspicion will engulf some of President Trump’s most momentous decisions, leaving observers wondering whether his personal business interests influenced his policy choices.

The second concern with Trump keeping tabs on his business is that it creates opportunities for bribery. Far from the anachronisms of Tammany-era bribery — a stuffed envelope traded for a quick favor — bribery in this sophisticated context occurs on an industrial scale. Such “indirect lobbying,” as academics who studied media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy politely termed it, is the practice of providing business to a firm that a politician controls, with the expectation that the given politician will, in return, act favorably for the lobbyer’s interests. With Eric Trump keeping his father abreast of the family business’ progress, there exists a credible risk that President Trump may direct the power of the federal government to reward those who benefit his bottom line and punish those who threaten it.

Some might argue it is premature to project these risks onto Trump’s presidency. But, even if one grants President Trump the fullest benefit of the doubt, his awareness of the Trump Organization’s vital financials is damaging to our democracy. When it comes to corruption, optics are critical. Evidence of an opportunity for President Trump to act in an underhanded manner, even absent bad motives, degrades faith in our democratic institutions.


Everyone will be very relieved to find out that nobody involved ever made a contribution to a charity devoted to helping millions of poor people around the world so this is perfectly fine. And as far as I know the Trumps and the Kushners haven't been using a personal email server as they enrich themselves by selling the presidency to the highest bidder. You can relax.

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for Salon and ourfuture.org

-cw

 

FURTHER--Gone is that loathsome sea of smug, suited, doughy, self-righteous, chortling, older white men in the Rose Garden gleefully celebrating the "moral travesty” of passing a billionaires' tax cut bill uncleverly disguised as a health reform bill that will rob 24 million people, many in the most dire need, of health care.

The House passage of the AHCA will abandon millions to their so-called pre-existing conditions, from AIDS, addiction, asthma and autism through cancer, kidney disease, MS, Parkinson's and yes pregnancy to schizophrenia, sexual assault and ulcers. It will hit a disproportionate number of women and Medicaid recipients particularly hard.

A Washington Post editorial headline cogently sums up the latest cruelty of an already- cruel GOP: "Betrayal, Carelessness, Hypocrisy: The GOP Health Care Bill Has It All." 

Before the obscene "party" "celebrating" a trillion-dollar tax cut to the top 2% of Americans came the spectacle of its accomplices blithely streaming out and down the Capitol's broad majestic steps after the vote to the rising sound of protesters chanting, "Shame!" Critics and other sentient beings swiftly joined in the outrage. Talking Points Memo offered crunched numbers and annotated photos of the "Butcher Block Celebration" to show how many constituents of each leering House member will suffer. Enraged constituents flocked to the Facebook pages of House members who voted for the bill, and caustic sites sprang up allowing you to choose your casket or send your remains to Paul Ryan - mailmetothegop.com - after you die of lack of care.

Among the angry hashtags were #ThingsJesusNeverSaid - "The poor shall receive bread and wine, but first we'll give it to the rich and it'll trickle down to you eventually ... Donald my orange son, go forth, take from the sick, bestow their gold on the wealthy, and destroy the world with hate ... Bless the men w/ pills to make their penis stand at attention, but end the place for women to get cancer protection" - and #IAmAPreExistingCondition, documenting hundreds of accounts of adults and, often, children, suffering from illnesses for which they may no longer be able to afford treatment - and, cue reality check, from which any among us may one day suffer.

Among the grievous stories and photos of kids fighting leukemia, Crohn's Disease, cerebral palsy are many brief, grim lists: "2nd trimester pregnancy loss, childhood cancer survivor...Clinical depression, anxiety, scoliosis..Born with a weakened immune system, mental illness, arthritis, migraine...Survived breast cancer ... Stage 4 colon cancer ... I am a woman. Apparently #IAmAPreExistingCondition.

Perhaps Charlie Pierce, often calm before the indignities visited by "an incompetent and vulgar talking yam," best voiced the pure rage sparked by "a bill constructed to be as cruel as possible to as many people as possible ... an altogether remarkable piece of American political history that should follow the people celebrating it to their graves."

"Goddamn them all," he wrote. "Goddamn the political movement that spawned them ... Goddamn anyone who believes that blind, genetic luck is a demonstration of divine design. Goddamn anyone who believes in a god who hands out disease as punishment. Goddamn anyone who stays behind the walls and dances while the plague comes back again."

Above all, say progressive groups, make them pay. Donations to support Democrats for upcoming open Congressional seats - and take back the House from these cretins - are pouring in. You may want blood. Take power instead.

A list of pre-existing conditions no longer covered under #Trumpcare:


AIDS/HIV, acid reflux, acne, ADD, addiction, Alzheimer's/dementia, anemia, aneurysm, angioplasty, anorexia, anxiety, arrhythmia, arthritis, asthma, atrial fibrillation, autism, bariatric surgery, basal cell carcinoma, ipolar disorder, blood clot, breast cancer, bulimia, bypass surgery, celiac disease, cerebral aneurysm, cerebral embolism, cerebral palsy, cerebral thrombosis, cervical cancer, colon cancer, colon polyps, congestive heart failure, COPD, Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, DMD, depression, diabetes, disabilities, Down syndrome, eating disorder, enlarged prostate, epilepsy, glaucoma, gout, heart disease, heart murmur, heartburn, hemophilia, hepatitis C, herpes, high cholesterol, hypertension, hysterectomy, kidney disease, kidney stones, kidney transplant, leukemia, lung cancer, lupus, lymphoma, mental health issues, migraines, MS, muscular dystrophy, narcolepsy, nasal polyps, obesity, OCD, organ transplant, osteoporosis, pacemaker, panic disorder, paralysis, paraplegia, Parkinson's disease, pregnancy, restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder, seizures, sickle cell disease, skin cancer, sleep apnea, sleep disorders, stent, stroke, thyroid issues, tooth disease, tuberculosis, ulcers.

These creeps are coming up for reelection, are vulnerable, and need to go.

(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--Before I get to what Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders got right and wrong about former President Obama’s big Wall Street speech paydays, here’s a personal note. I have headed a non-profit public advocacy and education foundation for more than a decade, and in that time, every penny that I have received from speaking fees, appearances, and other public activities, has been turned over to the foundation to boost our donor program. Not one penny has been taken for personal use or profit. 

The instant word leaked that Obama would nab a big payday from Cantor-Fitzgerald for a speech in September and another $400,000 for speaking to advertisers at an A&E function, the loud screams were that Obama was shamelessly and even hypocritically profiteering off his name, reputation, and former position to enrich himself. There was little said that he’d put much, if not all, of the heavy-duty cash he received back into the public education and leadership training foundation he has set up. 

Former presidents and other big name public figures and celebrities often do exactly that with foundations they establish. But that’s a detail that’s almost never mentioned in the rush to tag them as greed merchants selling their names for big bucks. 

Now Warren and Sanders didn’t use those words to blast Obama for taking Wall Street and big corporate cash, they took the high road and merely said that it set a terrible example by pandering to Wall Street and big corporate donors. The very people and element that Obama from time to time lambasted and sparred and jostled with in trying to somewhat tighten regulations and toughen oversight over Wall Street. 

They have an arguable case on this point. Obama did often preach about the evils of a financial industry that makes its own rules, skirts, ignores and openly subverts the minimal regulations imposed on it, and rakes in billions in profit with a storehouse of taxpayer backed goodies. Wall Street banks and investment houses are both the symbol and reality of the worst of the worst of financial and corporate abuses. Yet, here is their one time White House antagonist taking their money. It just didn’t look and feel right and the way to make it look and feel right was for Obama to do what other former White House occupants didn’t do, namely the Clintons, and that’s just say no to the hefty corporate dollars dangled in front of him. Obama could have done that, but it would not have registered the slightest tick on Wall Street’s dollar scales. It would not make Wall Street pause for a nano-second in its relentless, never ending war against Dodd-Frank and other financial regulations. 

Obama is now a private citizen and he has absolutely no power to influence any of the doings in Congress, let alone the White House. But Warren and Sanders, as populist senators, are the ones who can parry the assault by the financial industry on the regulations, publicly expose and excoriate Wall Street relentlessly for its financial conniving and manipulation, and rally Democrats to stand tough against Trump and the GOP’s plan to scrap Dodd-Frank regulations. This is where their fight is and will continue to be, not with Obama for being paid a sum that amounts to pocket change for a major Wall Street firm. 

It’s also assumed that a public figure who speaks before a Wall Street or corporate audience just by their appearance puts their stamp of approval on the dealings of the financial industry. But that’s not why a financial group will pay a stiff fee for a noted public figure to speak to them. They are there because they are a media and public draw, enhancing the name and prestige of the company shelling out the fee. It is not expecting scripted and saccharine praise but rather a discussion of the very tough issues and criticisms that businesses have become accustomed to hearing from Warren and Sanders. The likelihood is that Cantor-Fitzgerald will hear those same criticisms from Obama in his speech. 

To their credit, Sanders and Warren did not say that Obama should not accept the $400,000 from Cantor-Fitzgerald, or any other amount of money offered from any other Wall Street outfit. That would be presumptuous at best, and meddling at worst. Obama will be a hot ticket commodity on the speaking circuit for a long time to come. There will undoubtedly be more high fee offerings to speak before a variety of public and even financial groups. And there will also be requests for him to speak before groups that can’t pay him a nickel, but are groups that he believes in their cause. Of course, these freebie Obama speeches won’t be mentioned, since there’s no chance to manufacture a controversy at his expense with them. Obama’s taking money from Wall Street won’t change Wall Street, that’s Warren and Sanders’s fight.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and a CityWatch contributor. He is the author of the new ebook How the Democrats Can Win in The Trump Era (Amazon Kindle).  He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

POLITICAL BRANDING--Donald Trump’s recent statements about his admiration for our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, resulted in a lot of commentary and some good history lessons about “Old Hickory.” So did Trump’s suggestion that Jackson was angry about the causes of the Civil War and that things should have been “worked out” between the North and South. Obviously, Trump never heard the phrase “irrepressible conflict” (coined by another New Yorker and Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Henry Seward).

A few years ago, I visited Andrew Jackson’s plantation, The Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. The front appears to be a classic, white-columned example of Greek revival architecture. Walk around the side and you will see it’s only a façade. The rest of the building is brick. It’s imposing, but not quite what it seems at first glance. Like many politicians, Jackson was aware of the need to (literally) put up a good front.

Like Trump, Jackson was always keenly aware of what the media was saying about him. Among the artifacts that belonged to Jackson will be found bound volumes of newspapers to which he subscribed. Throughout his life, Jackson read press accounts published in papers ranging from New England down through the South and into what was then considered the West.

Many publications excoriated Jackson for what they considered his high-handed attitudes. They called him “King Andy” for his lack of respect for Congress and the courts. Cartoonists were especially merciless. The more harsh accusations leveled at Jackson included adultery and murder. (He fought a number of duels and obviously was undefeated.)

Jackson considered himself the champion of the common man. Despite his backwoods origins, he was an astute politician. People forget that he was a successful lawyer, served on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and in both the U.S. House and Senate. He also made a lot of money, mostly in land speculation. Even now, The Hermitage sits on more than 1,100 acres. At Jackson’s death, it was also home to more than a hundred slaves.

Much is written about Jackson’s negative attitude toward Native Americans. His actions in Florida during the First Seminole War far exceeded his authority as commander of U.S. military forces. While president, he caused the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and other tribes from their native lands in the Southeast. The “Trail of Tears” describes their trek westward to territory not yet wanted by settlers.

In 1832, the Sauk and Fox tribe was pushed from Illinois and Wisconsin across the Mississippi. The ensuing “Blackhawk” War (named for the tribe’s chief) provided the young Abe Lincoln’s only military experience. Jackson never had doubts about making room for the white homesteaders pursuing the American Dream. Or considering that people of color were lesser human beings.

Maybe it’s Jackson’s success in business and politics and disdain for those who tried to get in his way that Trump admires. Maybe it’s Jackson’s identification with the less fortunate. Or maybe it’s just because Jackson’s picture is on the $20 bill.

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net

-cw

Tags:  

NEED TO KNOW--After weeks of arm-twisting reluctant members and backroom negotiations, House Republicans voted Thursday to pass the much-maligned, "astonishingly evil" American Healthcare Act (AHCA), known as Trumpcare. 

"The GOP Trumpcare plan is a disaster. It would take away health care from millions of people, cost thousands more for middle-class and low-income Americans, and strip protections from people with pre-existing conditions, all to give a massive tax break to insurance company CEOs and the wealthiest Americans." —Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org 

"God have mercy on your souls," Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told her GOP colleagues during Thursday's floor debate. The final vote was 217 in favor and 212 voting against. No Democrats voted for the bill.

Indeed, with no Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on how many people would be affected, and with scant time for lawmakers to even read the latest iteration of the bill (that was not ever made available to the public), House Republicans have now officially backed legislation that would do untold damage to countless Americans.

Outside the halls of power, nationwide protests were held demanding that the GOP back down from this "disaster" of a health plan while Democratic lawmakers in Washington, D.C. joined a host of progressive organizations for a rally outside the Capitol Building.

"The GOP Trumpcare plan is a disaster," said Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org Washington director. "It would take away health care from millions of people, cost thousands more for middle-class and low-income Americans, and strip protections from people with pre-existing conditions, all to give a massive tax break to insurance company CEOs and the wealthiest Americans."

Referring to the last-minute fix that drew reticent Republicans on board Wednesday, Wikler continued, "The Upton amendment is a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound that does nothing to solve the problems that Trumpcare would create. By rushing this bill through Congress, Republicans are creating a manufactured crisis that will devastate millions of families."

Here is what we do know:

-Even those covered by employer healthcare are under threat. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported on a newly-inserted loophole that threatens to eliminate the cap on out-of-pocket costs for even those covered by healthcare through their work. This could impact as much as half the U.S. population.

"Under the House bill," WSJ reported, "large employers could choose the benefit requirements from any state—including those that are allowed to lower their benchmarks under a waiver, health analysts said. By choosing a waiver state, employers looking to lower their costs could impose lifetime limits and eliminate the out-of-pocket cost cap from their plans under the GOP legislation."

-Trump lied, premiums for people with pre-existing conditions will skyrocket. A number of so-called moderate Republicans dropped their opposition to the bill late Wednesday after language was inserted to allocate funding to help cover the costs for those with pre-existing conditions who, under Trumpcare, would be placed into "high risk pools." However, a new analysis released on Thursday found that this aid would only cover 110,000 Americans, which amounts just five percent of the 2.2 million current enrollees in the individual insurance market estimated to have some type of pre-existing chronic condition.

Claims by Trump and House leadership that the plan protects people with pre-existing conditions are veritably false, according to observers, who note that while a cancer patient may be able to sign up for an insurance plan, their treatment might not be covered. The far-right Freedom Caucus got behind the plan last month after an amendment was inserted that allowed states to opt-out of a rule that prohibited insurers from charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions.

"The return of discrimination based on medical history could increase insurance costs by tens of thousands of dollars," states an analysis by the Campaign for American Progress (CAP), "rendering it unaffordable for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions." 

-Being a woman "is a liability." Not only does Trumpcare consider things such as domestic violence, sexual assault, having had C-section, and postpartum depression to be pre-existing conditions, lawmakers have also axed the requirement that insurance companies cover maternity care. According to the aforementioned CAP analysis, a pregnancy with no or minor complications would result in a premium hike of $17,060, which amounts to a 425 percent increase.

"Read closely," wrote Slate's Christina Cauterucci on Thursday, Trumpcare "reveals the basic theory that underlies the GOP's entire legislative wishlist on healthcare: the idea that being a woman is a chronic medical condition and a liability."

-It takes an axe to Medicaid, decimating special education funding. "Because Trumpcare 2.0 would cut Medicaid by a quarter of its current budget ($880 billion) over the next decade and create a 'per-capita' funding cap on groups like children, school districts are saying that the cuts would force them to limit how much they can pay healthcare providers who assist students who require special education assistance," Salon's Matthew Rosza reported Thursday.

-It's a tax break for the rich. As Common Dreams has reported, the bill provides $600 billion in tax breaks to insurance companies and the most wealthy Americans who were taxed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In a press statement on Thursday, Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, outlined "the math behind the Republican healthcare repeal plan: Subtract healthcare from 24 million people. Add $600 billion in tax giveaways, mostly for the wealthy and corporations. Multiply out-of-pocket costs for senior citizens by 5. Divide all Americans. This equation didn't work out the last time they tried it, and it still doesn't work today. That's why Republicans in Congress want to exempt themselves and their staffs from their own lousy plan while refusing to wait for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate its costs."

-Lawmakers are exempt. Despite all of their rhetoric about the supposed failings of Obamacare, House Republicans inserted a provision on Tuesday that "exempts members of Congress and their staff from their latest healthcare plan," Vox reported, meaning they will be able to opt out of the new amendment that charges more for people with pre-existing conditions.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a series of infographics on Thursday laying out the myriad problems with the plan:

With so much wrong with it, and with so much popular opposition, many wonder why the GOP would push through a healthcare bill that will likely suffer defeat once it gets to the U.S. Senate.  Addressing that question, Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young wrote Wednesday:

Anyone wondering why Republicans are in such a big rush must remember two things. First, Trump suffered a humiliating loss with the first canceled vote and doesn't like looking foolish, so he'll do whatever he can to get a healthcare win. Second, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) early this year set in motion a procedural course that makes repealing Obamacare a prerequisite for an even bigger GOP priority: permanent tax cuts for rich people and corporations. 

[...] This isn't exactly the "something terrific" Trump promised. This is what getting something done for the sake of getting it done looks like. The goal now seems to pass a bill―any bill―that the House can call "Obamacare repeal" so they can move on to cutting taxes on the rich and dumping this healthcare mess on the Senate's lawn.

"But if Trump and Ryan get their way and anything resembling the American Healthcare Act becomes the law of the land," Young continued, "the American people are going to notice that it doesn't make their lives any better―and for millions, makes them worse. Perhaps next on voters' agenda will be repealing and replacing Republicans."

As representatives head back to their home districts on Friday, the response should be swift.

(Lauren McDauley writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--At a recent meeting of a liberal coalition, one woman talked about a little experiment she had done at a congressman's town hall forum. She started a conversation with a couple of Trump supporters to see if there might be any political common ground. The discussion was cordial, but as she explained, the Trumpers spoke nothing but Fox News points. 

For more than two decades, the right wing, first through talk radio, then through cable television, has accused the mainstream media -- and therefore by implication our society as a whole -- of being biased towards the left. This alt-media loves to pick up rumors and repeat them endlessly, whether it's lies about what Hillary Clinton did during the Benghazi attack or the claim that Barack Obama ordered Donald Trump's phone wiretapped. 

When you look at the right wing approach, it becomes painfully obvious that we are looking at the big lie as practiced by Nazis in the old days and by national communist parties through most of the twentieth century. This technique has been summarized in the Joseph Goebbels description of telling a big lie and sticking to it. Eventually people come to believe the lie. 

Can there be a countervailing approach that will pick off a few voters from the right wing electorate? Here are a few suggestions. 

Don't ever concede any of the fraudulent points. When the NY Times published an op ed by its new columnist Bret Stephens, finding fault with the idea of global warming, that was a concession that should never have been made to the right wing. The piece was unadulterated propaganda that involved a major logical fallacy. If the Times wants to consider the state of scientific knowledge on global warming, then by all means do so. But apply the same level of journalistic integrity to climate science that you would to a story about governmental misconduct. 

We've spent a couple of decades watching the right wing accuse the mainstream press of bias, and then watching the mainstream press respond with chronic cowardice. It's become the norm for newspapers to run right wing columnists as a sop to the Rush Limbaugh fans. It hasn't really helped, because the problem of left wing media bias was never the problem to begin with. The complaint that the press has a left wing bias is just a club to beat the rational thinkers over the head with. You're going to continue getting beaten, no matter how many Jonah Goldberg columns are run on the editorial page. 

Apologizing to the right wing for faults that you don't actually have is not a useful approach for the media, and it does a disservice to our society. Since the mainstream media doesn't fight back, perhaps it's time that the rest of us led the media in responding to the right wing. Let's make clear that we will respond to right wing media bias because unlike the mythical left wing bias, we know that right wing media bias is real. 

We must start by creating a wider societal understanding that Fox News and right wing talk radio are chronically lying to the public. Let the public hear the words right wing media lies every day. 

An acquaintance recently finished a car trip across America's heartland, and mentioned that almost every hotel lobby and restaurant had Fox News running. We need a national movement to explain to the major hotel and motel chains that they are running right wing propaganda all the time, and many of us are tired of it. This approach worked against Rush Limbaugh (notice where he is on the dial around here?) and it could work against others in the alt-media. Use social pressure to encourage diners and hotels to run something besides Fox News on the tv sets in their lobbies. In this way, create the social pressure against the right wing big lie. 

The idea is to make it less comfortable for people to indulge their right wing fantasies. We have a historical context, in that publicly recited racism was the norm well into the 1950s and early 1960s. Even determined racists were forced by evolving societal norms to pretend otherwise. 

The conversion of societal norms away from the more pernicious right wing fantasies is a necessity. That means we have to continue to expose Trump's lies. May I suggest that it's important that many, many people keep repeating that he lies constantly and is not to be taken seriously. 

I suspect that a lot of conservatives have figured out that Trump just makes things up, and are quietly grinding their teeth. But then there's that couple we spoke about in the first paragraph, the people who recite Fox News positions with monotonous regularity. We have to be equally persistent in exposing Fox News misrepresentations. And we have to talk back to people who repeat those misrepresentations. 

Perhaps we are talking about using big truth in the service of public understanding in a way that is analogous to the technique of the big lie. Why not use persistence in telling the truth at a level that is comparable to the way that the right wing tells lies? 

The thing is, you have to use the word lie when you talk about the latest Fox News talking point and somebody has to do it every day. The idea is to create a widespread public discussion about the Fox lack of realism. From that discussion will come widespread doubt about the trustworthiness of Fox News. 

Pick a right wing lie and go after it repeatedly, even after the right wing has dropped it. That kind of repetition is what the Tea Party faction did over Benghazi and the Clinton emails. We could pick the Trump wiretap story as a good example that shows Trump to be a liar and implies how gullible right wingers can be. 

The best approach might be mockery -- persistent mockery. Late night talk show hosts Steven Colbert and Seth Myers are turning this approach into career builders. We can in turn build on that. 

Keep pointing out to people, "The right wing thinks you are gullible." Then tell them, "Don't fall for it." 

Let me point out that we are pretty good (all of a sudden) at taking the argument to Republicans in congress, most notably attacking them when they claim that Obamacare is a terrible thing. 

Thousands of people have shown up at congressional events to point out why they need coverage for their preexisting conditions. By doing so, we have made more possible the turnover of House control in the next election. Republicans from more centrist districts are in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, because they are being arm-twisted by their leadership to vote against guaranteed health insurance. At the end of this week, we should expect that moderate Republicans will be in even more trouble.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

COHEN TALK-Today we update and retell a famous children's fable: "But Mommy," exclaimed the young lass, "the Emperor has nothing on . . . his legislative agenda. The Emperor has no bills." And so, the naked truth has been exposed for all to see.

For in his first 100 days, during which he had expressly promised to pass no less than 10 major legislative initiatives, he had been unable to get Congress to even hold a vote on any of them. That should have surprised nobody, since he had sent them a concrete proposal on none of them at all, though his party controlled both chambers of Congress.

And all the palace courtiers and media echo heads and supplicant voters, who had relentlessly flattered the Emperor about his many wonderful accomplishments in passing so many bills, were finally forced to admit…

No, just kidding about that. They will never, EVER admit the existence of a political reality contrary to the Emperor's tweets of the moment; no matter now different they may be from the moment
before. The tweets are that shamelessly partisan.

But, lo, among the populace not partaking of the Kool Aid, many questioned whether the Emperor ever, at any time, had a plan for "great health care for a fraction of the cost." For when it came time to
introduce that proposal, the paper on which it was to be printed remained as bare as a baby's new bottom, for he had no actual proposal to present.

Even on tax reform, there was nothing but a vague one page outline, transparently intended to greatly advantage and favor the Emperor's richest patrons and fellow royalty, not to mention himself
personally.

But nonetheless, the Emperor headed off to yet another public rally of his most loyal and uncritically thinking supporters, where he bragged anew about having passed more bills in 100 days than anybody before in history. 

Actually he just passed by the White House more than anyone else. 

Fooore!

End of fable…we wish.

The simple point is that none of these charades relieve the Democrats in any way from their obligation to put forward their own concrete agenda. If the Emperor has none, at least none that he can even get his own party who control both chambers of Congress to pass, it is all the more incumbent on the Democrats to bring forward their own, and to campaign on that POLICY agenda, not just opposition to the schizophrenic personality of his Majesty Emperor Tweetness.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

GELFAND’S WORLD--I chanced to have lunch with a commercial airline pilot the other day, and the conversation naturally turned to the United Airlines passenger who was forceably dragged from a Chicago flight. The pilot's answers were by parts conventional and in other parts a bit surprising. He started by reminding me that the airline is in the business of squeezing people into a narrow metal tube. In this case, due to the airline's negligence, a number of other passengers were endangered. That's the summary. The guilty parties include the airline, the police, and most importantly, the passenger himself. 

Remember that he's a criminal who should have been put in jail. That's a bit of a paraphrase, but close enough to the more extended argument I heard. In brief, the law is that passengers are required to obey the lawful orders of the flight crew. If you are a passenger and are told to leave the plane, that is what you are required to do. In the case of the United flight, three out of four passengers who were so instructed followed directions without incident and apparently received some compensation for their misfortune. 

One didn't. We've had some reports that Dr Dao not only didn't get up to leave, he made it clear that he would not do so willingly. This is where the next criticism from the pilot comes. 

The crew should have cleared the area around the resistant passenger. Once it became clear to the police and the flight crew that there would be physical resistance, they should have had the passengers in the surrounding seats get out of the way. They should have been told to leave the plane immediately and wait until it became safe to reboard. As the pilot explained, "Suppose my daughter had been in one of those seats and had gotten kicked by one of the police or the passenger." 

The flight crew and the police had plenty of warning that this passenger intended to resist. They had the time to secure the area and thereby protect the other passengers. They didn't do so. They didn't offer other passengers a chance to move out of the way. Why they didn't is a matter of conjecture (more about that below). 

Notice, by the way, that the passengers in the surrounding seats were put in an impossible situation. It would be normal for them to assume, "If I try to get off the plane to avoid the scuffle that is likely to happen, then I will presumably give up my right to fly, even though I've paid for my ticket. I might even get in trouble myself." 

What about the fact that Dr Dao had a paid ticket and had already gotten to his seat? The answer is a bit complicated and obviously not to the liking of most readers, but I will take a shot at it myself: There is a difference between getting treated rudely by an airline and threatening physical violence against the crew and the police. The lawful remedy for the passenger would have been in the courts and through social media (he obviously won at this level). He also had the opportunity to protest in writing and ask for compensation. 

He presumably could have rented a car and driven to Louisville in time for the next morning's work. it would have been a long haul (about equivalent to driving from Los Angeles to Gilroy) but it was possible. Being put in jail wouldn't have helped him to get to Louisville on time. There are lots of legal things he could have done, but physically resisting the acts of the police was not one of them. 

It's the airline's fault for the level at which they overbook flights 

I've rearranged the order of this narrative a bit just to get the more interesting points up front. My lunch companion's first comment was that the largest blame goes to United Airlines for the way they overbooked this flight. I would suggest that there is some nuance in the overall situation and therefore in the argument, because sending flights out full is the way that the industry manages to stay above water financially and, at the same time, sell discounted tickets to all of us over Kayak and Priceline. 

The pilot pointed out that airlines such as United are rushing their boarding in order to get the seats full and the doors shut as early as possible because this helps them to achieve a better on-time record. There is a definite downside for an airline if it has a substantial record of late-arriving flights. That's probably why the flight crew didn't insist that the surrounding passengers get off the flight for a few minutes as a safety measure. 

Nevertheless, United was actually obliged to get a reserve crew onto the plane as passengers, even though this led to an equal obligation to get paid passengers off the flight. 

This is where the more complex part of the argument comes in. The federal rules that protect airline passengers include limits on how long a flight crew is allowed to fly without a break. Fliers need to have the opportunity to sleep, and they are limited in the number of hours they can work without a sleep break. The expression for approaching the legal limit is timed out

The problem in the real world of air transportation is that airlines cannot afford to keep large numbers of reserve crew waiting around in every city. Louisville is a fairly modest aviation endpoint. Chicago is a very large hub, which makes it an appropriate place to site reserve crews (akin to Los Angeles, for example). 

Equally to the point, it's not always possible to know very far in advance that the crew that is supposed to fly the morning flight out of Louisville (presumably flying a different plane into Louisville from somewhere else the night before, or traveling from their homes in different places) is going to be timed out and needs to be replaced. The problem can occur due to weather delays, or sometimes there is an equipment malfunction, and once in a while there is illness. 

Whatever happened to precipitate the problem, United needed to get a crew to Louisville. Sending the Chicago based crew by car was not a reasonable alternative due to the requirements that the crew be allowed to sleep before doing the morning flight. Airlines cannot blithely disregard rules regarding flight crew fitness. 

Obviously we are in an era of increasing passenger frustration due to the security system, fully booked flights, and cramped seating. Long ago, some marketing group did a survey and found that people considered the cost of an airplane ticket as wasted money -- we tend to go for the best price we can find using one of the many online tools. Southwest actually provides pricing choices depending on which flight you book over the course of a day. 

There is one other interesting point. It's not clear to me that the airline did anything illegal at the time that the passenger refused to give up his seat. The ordinary course of events would be to ask the police to deal with the situation, which they did. If the police acted in an overly aggressive fashion, the passenger's complaint should have been against them. It's true that the passenger can complain about airline policy, but as numerous commenters have pointed out, the law is not on his side.

Then why did the CEO of United Airlines throw his own airline under the bus, so to speak? He spoke of his embarrassment and remorse, even though his employees were obeying the law and acting properly. We've now seen reports of a settlement with the passenger, although we don't know for how much. 

What we're seeing, I think, is the effect of bad publicity on business leaders. Cowardice wins out over legal principle. We see the same thing among politicians. What seems to be missing here is any leadership by the federal agencies in charge of flight safety, including the FAA and the TSA. 

Addendum 

As we speak, the story is emerging of an interim federal budget that increases the science budget, including an increase of 6% for the NIH. Maybe all those Marches for Science had an effect.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net.)

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COHEN TALK-The latest scuttlebutt from the Trumpster and an important issue for responsible Republicans is that “much of the concern continues to center on gutting Obamacare's protections for those with preexisting conditions,” that is, the rejection of insurance coverage based on preexisting conditions. If they do that, maybe they'll be just as happy to vote en masse to entirely trash our health care system, which is really a just health insurance system.

Taking away the preexisting conditions protection would be a “death panel” equivalent -- both literally and economically -- for many unfortunate Americans excluded by insurance companies. The last thing we can afford is a giant step backwards. Congress needs to hear from you now more than ever on this.

Trump styles himself as a sharp business cookie. What sharp business person ostensibly on our side would not want maximum leverage for us to get the best deal? The answer is the maximum profit insurance company’s business person on the other side of the negotiating table from us.

For those concerned about the solvency of our existing Medicare system, nothing would strengthen it more than letting people under 65 buy into it. Without a doubt this would be less expensive than any of the plans currently offered in the current so-called exchanges. 

The administrative overhead of Medicare is only 3%-5.5% versus the gluttonous nearly 30% for the typical health insurance corporation, with their multi-multi-million dollar salaried CEOs.

Many of the state exchanges now only have one possible provider. This is a single provider system (a corporate monopoly,) the opposite of leverage for us, the American people, and frankly the opposite of the espoused philosophy of Republicans themselves who talk about competition in the market place. 

What could be more self-evident than the fact that the cure is a single payer system, whereby we all pool our buying power so that together we get the best deal?

To review, a single-payer is not socialized medicine, as its misguided or venal critics whine. Single-payer systems are simply able to contract for healthcare services from private organizations, as is the case in Canada where all are covered, and Medicare, which covers only 65 year olds or older. 

Hospitals, doctors, equipment manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, etc., will still be in private hands. Single-payer will just eliminate the middle man, disintermediation, as has happened in many other industries in the 21st Century information age. 

The U.S. gets the least bang for the buck of any industrialized country. Why? Because in every other case the government sets prices for health-care services and products. Insurers in Switzerland don’t negotiate drug prizes with Pfizer. The Swiss government simply sets its drug prices and lets Pfizer decide whether to sell in Switzerland -- or not. 

“The problem is that in the U.S. payers are fragmented while in other countries they are unified even if there are many insurers,” said Gerard Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins University.” 

It works great in every country where it has been tried, and none of them are going back to the old days and high prices of whatever inadequate system they had before. 

But nothing will happen for the better unless lots more people in our own country speak out. If the Corporatists have their way, it will only get worse. 

Tell them off. Set them straight. 

Here’s a last minute update:  

The Republican’s Obamacare replacement proposal has an amendment by Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) that would exempt Congressional staff from key provisions of the replacement that ordinary citizens would not have. 

The amendment by MacArthur would ensure that Congressional staff continue to have access to Obamacare programs, like a ban on discriminating based on preexisting conditions, while other enrollees (you and me) could lose those policies if their state applied for a waiver.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TRUMP WATCH--Dana Boente was just named by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as the acting assistant Attorney General for the national security division, which will give him oversight of the FBI’s investigation into coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

But in January, as he was leaving office, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that specifically took Boente, who is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, out of the line of succession for Attorney General. There was no explanation given for the change, but the order meant that if the Attorney General died, resigned, or became incapacitated, Boente would not be in line to be the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

After acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Donald Trump, after she said his Muslim ban was in violation of the law, Trump put Boente in that top job, which he held until the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as AG. Reversing Yates’ position, Boente said, he would demand that DOJ lawyers “defend the lawful orders of our President.”

Apparently our federal law enforcement professionals don't think foreign meddling in our election campaigns is worth worrying about much. They figure whomever these foreign actors choose for us will be fine, probably better than anyone a bunch of a lily-livered liberals and blacks and browns would pick anyway. Look at the winner they picked this time! He's awesome.

Update: This too 

Marc T. Short, the White House director for Legislative Affairs, is leading the Trump administration’s obstruction of the congressional inquiry into Michael Flynn and Russia. Short is also a major player in Vice President Mike Pence’s political operation, and further connects Pence to the Flynn scandal.

As previously reported, Pence was in charge of the Trump transition team, which ostensibly included vetting Donald Trump’s appointments to his White House. Pence received information detailing Flynn’s status as a lobbyist for a foreign government, but later denied knowledge of the entire affair, claiming Flynn had lied to him. That claim led to Flynn’s removal from the position of national security adviser.

But a recent report from NBC News reveals that Pence did conduct a background check, albeit “very casually,” and was aware of Flynn’s connections to foreign governments, which the Trump team apparently ignored in order to appoint Flynn anyway.

The House Oversight Committee is seeking documents related to this process, but the White House is actively obstructing that investigation. Short authored the April 19 letter to the committee, refusing to turn over the requested documents about what the Trump team knew about Flynn and payments he received from the Russian government for an appearance at an event that was followed by dinner with Vladimir Putin.

In the letter, Short said it was “unclear” how the documents requested “would be relevant” to the inquiry. Both Democrats and Republicans have indicated that they view Flynn’s actions as potentially criminal, as he received guidance from the Department of Defense that taking money from Russia as a former military officer could break the law.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the oversight committee, said if Flynn took the money, “it was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law.” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee, said the payments to Flynn “are extremely troubling.”

 

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for Salon and ourfuture.org

-cw

RETROSPECTIVE--The protests following President Donald Trump’s inauguration and recent protests calling for the president to release his tax returns have this in common: his the-rules-don’t-apply-to-me behavior is a presidential style rejected by both our tyranny-fearing founding fathers and the majority of voters in last November’s election. 

To guard against an autocrat in the White House, our ancestors in 1787 replaced the political power once held by sovereign monarchs in Europe with a popular sovereign, placing the nation’s political power, collectively, in the hands of the people. 

With this power shift, each American now shares responsibility for the manner in which political power is wielded and a civic obligation to challenge abuse of power in Washington. 

Historically, engaged Americans have aimed their anger against major close-to-home issues, not anti-democracy presidents. Tax protests in the late 18th century were followed by abolition, woman’s suffrage and workplace conditions protests in the 19th century. 

Citizen activism took off in the 1800s, so much so, that some observers warned that the spread of popular sovereignty fever was endangering democracy itself.  

By the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous, Democracy in America, wrote, “In America the principle of the sovereignty of the people is neither barren nor concealed, as it is with some other nations….If there is a country in the world where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be fairly appreciated….and where its dangers and its advantages may be judged, that country is assuredly America…[where] the people reign in the American political world as the

Deity does in the universe.” 

But Tocqueville also tempers this glowing account by pointing out some dangers associated with America’s rush toward mass democracy.

“It is a constant fact that at the present day the ablest men in the United States are rarely placed at the head of affairs…I hold it to be sufficiently demonstrated that universal suffrage is by no means a guarantee of the wisdom of the popular choice. Whatever its advantages may be, this is not one of them.” 

Fifty years later, Princeton University professor Woodrow Wilson sized-up the hectic late 19th century period of social and political change by declaring that government by the people was not working, that an elite public workforce was needed to make democracy work. 

“There is,” he wrote, “scarcely a single duty of government which was once simple which is not now complex; government once had but a few masters; it now has scores of masters.” He declared none other than the founding principle of popular sovereignty of the people was standing in the way of a more efficient government.

“The very fact that we have realized popular rule in its fullness has made the task of organizing that rule just so much more difficult…An individual sovereign will adopt a simple plan and carry it out directly…But this other sovereign, the people, will have a score of differing opinions.”

The protests matter because they are a reminder that with the election of Mr. Trump we are once again, as a nation, engaged in a tug-of-war between autocratic efficiency and popular government.

Efficiency has never been the foremost goal of our democratic government. Rather, democracy is designed to be responsive to the values and traditions near and dear to liberty loving citizens. Public officials who do not understand the difference do not understand democracy. 

And, because it is a dangerous step toward tyranny, the office of the president is no place for an autocrat.

 

(Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., is the author of a new book, America, Democracy & YOU: Where have all the Citizens Gone? He can be reached at fraserr@starpower.net.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE COHEN COLUMN--Back in his college days George W. Bush was infamous for denying he'd said what he just said 30 seconds earlier. Lately, Trump has repeatedly claimed he never promised he'd do in 100 days all the things he put in his 100 day "contract" as a candidate.

It is interesting, given his history of breaching contracts, that Donald Trump would call his campaign promises a contract.

This is not the first time that a Republican candidate has offered America a contract, framed just that way. In 1994, the Republicans took back Congress behind such pledging by Newt Gingrich, but at least they actually tried to pass the legislation they promised they would bring to a vote.

BTW: That legislation was their undoing when voters booted them out in the next bout of Congressional elections. After which Newt resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives. If only Trump would act so.

Trump hasn't even bothered to introduce most of what he promised. He did not have idea one about how to draft a "great" health care bill. And even now it is not clear how the Republicans in congress, who also campaigned on a health care repeal promise, are going to get it together to pass anything.

It’s like his campaign promises? What campaign promises?

What will he tell us he never said next?

What's a contract with Donald J. Trump worth? Not much if you ask the guy who sold him pianos for his casino, who Trump then refused to pay, along with innumerable other contractors he stiffed on his way to four bankruptcies. He has even espoused this as a smart business strategy, breach your contracts and force people to sue you.

This brings us to the so-called wall. You remember the wall … the one Mexico was going to pay for? Now Trump wants Congress to pay for it. They won't, even though Trump said he wouldn’t sign a budget unless it was included. Now it's "Mexico will pay us BACK." Sure they will. Maybe we can sue them for the money.

BTW Read how Trump’s lone border visit foreshadowed his flawed vision for a wall and [spoiler alert] how afraid he actually was.

Trump said he would fight for his supporters. Trump is not even willing to go to the wall (so to speak) for his own boondoggle folly of a wall.

He promised them a big, beautiful wall. But at most all they may end up with is a fence, like what we ALREADY have on at least 1/3 of our 2000 mile southern border.

The reason we go on like this is because someone needs to keep truth alive out here.

Somebody needs to keep calling him out on his relentless output of bigger and bigger lies.

Somebody needs to constantly be setting the record straight and asking 'who's the real fake here?'

The news media is starting to seriously editorialize instead of just repeating his lies as if they could be taken at face value,

Be one of those voices calling Trump out for his lies.

Keep truth alive. And somehow we'll all make it through this.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-#45 Trump got one thing right about the media-hyped first 100 days measuring stick of a new president. It’s a silly measure. In fact, presidents from John F. Kennedy to Obama have derided the 100-day fetish and correctly noted that the far better to gauge how effective or bumbling an incoming president is the first 1000 days. A quick look at the presidency of Clinton and Bush is enough to prove that. Clinton bombed badly in pushing Congress for a $16 billion stimulus package; he bungled the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, and got the first flack on his healthcare reform plan. Yet, the Clinton presidency is regarded as one of the most successful, popular and enduring in modern times. 

Then there’s the Bush presidency. He got off to a fast start. At the 100-day mark in April 2001, his approval ratings matched Obama’s. He was widely applauded for his trillion-dollar tax cutting program, his “Faith-Based” and disabled Americans Initiatives, and for talking up education, healthcare reform and slashing the national debt. But aside from the momentary adulation he got after the 9/11 terror attack his presidency is rated as one of the worst in modern times. 

But while Trump, like Kennedy and Obama, got it right in ridiculing the 100-day time span as being way too short to call a new presidential administration a success or failure, it’s not too short a period to call his White House stint the worst 100 days ever. It’s not his consistent bottom wallowing popularity rating that tags his administration the worst first time start ever. It’s not even his record of non-accomplishment which amounts to a slew of inconsequential executive orders that mostly attempt to torpedo some of Obama’s executive orders, and his disastrous, court-derailed Muslim immigrant ban. It’s the utter lack of any hint that things will get any better during his next 100, or even 1000 days in the White House. 

The tip offs of his future cluelessness are everywhere. He’s the least politically equipped winning presidential candidate to ever sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. Now that was the great asset that got him elected since so many Americans were supposedly so fed up with the insular, corrupt, deal making, corporate dominated, politics of Beltway Washington. Trump was supposedly the remedy for that. This delusion should have been shattered with the parade of Goldman Sachs tied, Pentagon connected generals, and Trump corporate cronies that he plopped into his cabinet and top staff positions. This could only mean one thing, the corporate and political regulars that Trump pretended to sneer at would do what they always do and that’s run the government show for him, as they have for other GOP presidents. 

The flop on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the polarizing vote on his Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch did two seemingly impossible things. It turned off legions of hard right GOP House conservatives and moderate Senate Democrats who had made some soundings about trying to work out an accommodation with Trump on some legislative and policy issues. The future here is going to be one of never-ending, time consuming, get nothing done rancor and in-fighting between Trump and Congress. 

The Russia election meddling scandal, Trump’s refusal to disclose his taxes, and his dubious conflict of interest business dealings insure that the screams for congressional investigations will only get louder in the days and months to come. This will continue to keep the tens of millions who want Trump bounced from office revved up. They’ll continue to turn up at GOP and Democratic congresspersons town halls and shout them down on any defense they try to make of Trump’s policies and actions. 

Trump’s weak defense against prolonged and guaranteed failure is to toss a few missiles or drop a bomb every now and then or saber rattle the usual suspect villains, ISIS, Assad, the Taliban, and the North Koreans. The media will run with this for a time, and some commentators who should know better will even call his acts forceful and presidential. This will wipe his political and legislative flops off the front page for a day or so, and give him a point or two bump up in the polls. But even here, he can only go to the well so often with the military tough guy act before this starts to wear thin, and some begin to catch on to his wag the dog game. 

The 1000-day mark that Obama, Kennedy and other presidents cited as the more realistic time frame is not an arbitrary number. That marks the near end of a president’s first White House term. The honeymoon is over, and the president has fought major battles over his policies, initiatives, executive orders, court appointments and programs with Congress, the courts, interest groups and the media. Battles that by then have been won or lost, or fought to a draw, and there’s enough time to gauge their impact and the president’s effectiveness. In Trump’s case, it won’t matter. His first 1000 days will be like his first 100, the worst presidency ever.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and CityWatch contributor. He is the author of the new ebook How the Democrats Can Win in The Trump Era (Amazon Kindle).  He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY FANS … TAKE HEED--Appointed February 13 by ousted “Love Gov” and misdemeanant Robert Bentley, Alabama’s Attorney General (AG) Steven Marshall is new on the job. 

This could, in theory, be one reason AG Marshall is taking to Twitter, Facebook, and Alabama’s news media to drum up support for the so-called “Fair Justice Act.” He promises the proposed law will speed the state’s executions by hacksawing the amount of time already overwhelmed and underfunded death penalty attorneys have to effectively represent their clients. 

Vociferous in his support of the “Fair Justice Act” – a bill there’s nothing fair about  – it’s notable and unacceptable that AG Marshall has yet to make any public statement explaining the horrible circumstances of Alabama’s last execution – the horrendously botched execution of Ronald Bert Smith on December 8, 2016; Mr. Smith endured a thirteen-minute death-rattle as lethal injection chemicals ravaged his insides – when he was supposed to be unconscious – heaving, coughing, clenching his fists, moving his lips, and opening his left eye. 

Smith’s grisly torture followed Alabama’s January 2016 execution of Christopher Brooks, an execution where questions remain whether, like Smith’s patently brutal and violent poisoning, Brooks too was not properly anesthetized and then burned alive from the inside with caustic chemicals. Other than opaque and blanket denials in court filings, AG Marshall has thus far adopted the same officious silence on the possibility Alabama tortured Brooks to death – just as it did Smith. 

Conscientious Alabamians can’t let AG Marshall get away with it. 

Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians who want to ameliorate Alabama’s long, dark history of capital punishment – and its reputation around the world for human and civil rights abuses – must demand AG Marshall investigate and publicly address the circumstances of both Smith and Brooks’ deaths. 

Conscientious, justice-loving Alabamians should harangue AG Marshall and the Fair Justice Act’s legislative sponsor, state senator Cam Ward, to answer: Why are you pushing a poorly drafted, unstudied, confusing new death penalty law to speed up executions? Why are you doing it right now – when all available evidence shows the last two executions in Alabama went horribly wrong? 

Moreover, although the current version of the bill under consideration by the House of Representatives provides a meager 365 days (provided for by current law) instead of the disastrous proposal of chopping it to 180 days for the filing of postconviction motions – the shortened time period the bill would impose is still way too short for even the best, most committed, most hard-working lawyers to effectively investigate and litigate motions for death-sentenced clients in Alabama. 

That’s because of yet another one of the Fair Justice Acts’ proposed time-accelerators for the filing of these complex Last Chance Not to Be Executed (Tortured) Despite Your Constitutional Rights Having Been Violated-type motions – motions advancing claims of juror misconduct or that the defense lawyer was a train wreck – not infrequent occurrences in capital cases in Alabama. 

This additional cockamamie time-accelerator in The Fair Justice Act was deconstructed at the end of last week in a cogent op-ed by Birmingham attorney, Lisa Borden.  Borden writes how the bill “would require persons convicted of capital offenses to pursue post-conviction legal claims at the same time the direct appeals from their convictions are being considered.” 

Mincing no words, Borden waves the red flag of warning at all folks who care about the Constitution and preventing injustice in Alabama, opining that this “proposal is neither fair nor just, and [it] will only increase the already substantial likelihood that Alabama will execute a wrongfully convicted person . . . . [It] take[s] a long time to untangle the convoluted mess that is created by Alabama’s haphazard rush to send poor people to their deaths.”       

Conscientious Alabamians concerned that, like Ray Hinton, freed after a hellacious thirty years on Alabama’s death row proclaiming his innocence, additional innocents might be unjustly thrust towards terrible and inhumane deaths – without an adequate chance to prove their innocence and/or that their constitutional rights were violated – you need to speak up. You need to speak up now! 

Demand that instead of potentially innocent, unfairly convicted poor Alabamians, that it be this unprincipled, unconstitutional, blood-thirsty Fair Justice Act that’s killed. 

And killed fast.

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas including CityWatch. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq)

THE COHEN COLUMN-The 2018 mid-term elections are in full swing, happening right now. Every word you hear coming out of the mouth of every politician is spoken with that in mind. And it's not just about that special election on April 18 in Georgia where a Democrat was the top vote getter, though falling just short of 50% necessary for an outright win. The next highest candidate in that race came in a distant second with about 20% of the vote. A runoff in June will follow with this Republican opponent. (Ossoff pictured above campaigning.)
What we need to know from you is this: What should we be doing right now that we may not be doing to take our government back from the hands of the arrogant, the greedy, the mean spirited, the dishonest, and the incompetent?

Talk to us.

In Great Britain, nearly 1.9 million people have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of Trump's state visit to their country. Maybe they got turned off by his demand to ride in a gold plated carriage. Seriously, that's what he wanted, although he denied it through his press mouthpiece. 

In our wildest dreams could we ever imagine that in our country this many people would speak out about something – anything? And our population is way bigger than Great Britain’s. 

So let Trump eat his own beautiful piece of chocolate cake. But I am still stumped about something: Is there a cure for apathy and disconnectedness?

Trump says again and again that the election is over. But he should not be able to keep the ball and just sit in the White House for the next 8 years doing meaningless photo-op executive order signings.

He can't even be honest about the fact that he's still campaigning, including in the ongoing State of Georgia Congressional contest. In fact, campaigning is about all he's doing in office. He's still spewing the same spelling-challenged tweets attacking everyone else and even doing some of the same rah-rah rallies.

Just today the President was talking about the great healthcare bill he's going to pass real soon, the same campaign "promise" he's made all along. Nobody believes a word of it, let alone the Republicans who have all the votes they need to do this assuming they ever get on the same page – just like the Democrats in 2010.

Jimmy Kimmel did an instructive segment on Wednesday night. He asked Trump supporters on the street outside his studio if they would agree to have Charles Manson visit the White House to advise Trump on murder issues and be given a cabinet post for that purpose. 

It is truly breathtaking how far Republican partisans will go to make excuses and defend the indefensible by using ignorant reflex. No matter what Trump does they will never admit he is doing anything wrong.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

INFORMED COMMENT-The marches for science in the United States and around the world are an expression of alarm about the Trump administration’s budget proposals, which slash public funding for science, medical and technology research and seek to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 billion. 

Federal funding for certain kinds of research is absolutely crucial. There are diseases, for instance, that private companies don’t see as a priority because they strike a small number of people or the cure for which is unlikely to produce big profits because most victims are poor and live in the global south. 

If you live in Florida or other semi-tropical parts of the U.S., and your family is expecting a child, you may be alarmed at the rise of the Zika virus. It is the National Institute of Health that is funding the search for a vaccine. Perhaps you remember the deep public concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Who is working on a vaccine? The U.S. government and Merck.  In the U.S. system, vaccine development is a government-private-public partnership: “Of the $1.4 billion that fund U.S. vaccine research and development annually, 46% comes from vaccine sales, 36% from taxpayers, and 18% from risk capital.” 

As for technology, entrepreneurs most often build on government-funding. Of a ten-mile journey toward innovation, 9 of the miles are often traversed by government-backed research, and the entrepreneurs come in for the last mile. Forbes admits, “the basic technologies that Apple AAPL -0.13% products are built on (and those of all tech firms), from the chips, to the Internet, to GPS, to the software protocols, were all supported or wholly developed by government programs.” 

Trump’s cuts will not only make us sick and retard the technological advances that make our lives more convenient, he will harm us in precisely the area he imagines himself to champion – U.S. competitiveness. 

You don’t compete with the rest of the world by giving an extra $54 billion to the military and deeply cutting research and development (R&D) funding. 

The National Science Foundation observes that China, South Korea and India are putting enormous government money into R&D, as well as investing in science education and the production of skilled science and engineering students. Trump, in contrast, gave away U.S. education to Betsy DeVos, who ruined Michigan K-12 education and wants Americans brought up in fundamentalist charter schools.  

The NSF writes, “Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology. According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent. 

China is already increasing its annual outlay far more than the United States, growing R&D spending nearly 20 percent a year every year from 2003 to 2013. That rate of increase far outstripped that of the U.S. in those years, and now Trump actually wants us to slash spending, while the Chinese go on investing in technological innovation.

The day when China outspends the U.S. on research and development annually is just around the corner, and Trump’s budget would bring it even more quickly. 

In some areas, China is nipping at our heels. The global share of the US in high-tech manufacturing? 29%. 

The global share of China in high-tech manufacturing? 27%! Almost half of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded every year in China are in Science and Engineering. 

In the U.S. it is only one third. 

While China and South Korea massively ramp up government R&D investments, the Tea Party Congress in the U.S. has been deeply cutting ours. 

“In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research”... “Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years… Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually -- ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP -- has not returned.” 

Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP. 

The world will not stand still while Trump walks the nation’s science and technology into mere clay.

In fact, if Trump gets his way on the science budget, my advice to Americans is to start studying Chinese. 

Ooops. Trump is cutting money for that, too.

 

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

RUSSIAN RELATIONS ROULETTE-Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russiagate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November -- until April 4, that is. 

On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack. 

Since Trump took those actions -- in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia -- Russiagate has almost vanished from the news. 

I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived. 

“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is -- and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.

Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russiagate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line. 

If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russiagate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus. 

McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol. 

How Washington Works 

But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket. 

Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.” 

Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.” 

But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain in a way that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term. 

In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia -- even amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years -- required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.

Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russiagate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign. 

Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism. 

For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russiagate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked. 

However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russiagate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russiagate: Mission accomplished! 

Russiagate’s Achievements 

Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russiagate could claim some other notable achievements. For instance, it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.

Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!” 

Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.

Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russiagate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance! 

It didn’t matter that the “scandal” -- the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election -- amounted to a bunch of informational dots  that didn’t connect.

Russiagate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian -- and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.” 

Another Russiagate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage -- and loads of new subscription money -- by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” 

On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; the accused had no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing. 

The Post and the Times also conflated news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department with some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money. 

To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russiagate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe. 

While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russiagate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson. 

If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan. 

Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be -- not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want -- but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia. 

For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russiagate.

 

(Robert Parry is an Investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, “America’s Stolen Narrative,” either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). This piece appeared originally on Consortiumnews and Truthdig.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

INFORMED COMMENT--Bill O’Reilly is off the airwaves, but it doesn’t really matter. The despicable strategy of press lord Rupert Murdoch to orient his Fox Cable “news” toward the nativist far right in the United States will continue. They’ll just find another O’Reilly. Worse, there is more or less an O’Reilly in the White House now, with the nuclear codes. Murdoch and O’Reilly in many ways gave us the Trump presidency, running the republic into a brick wall.

1.  Trump’s ridiculous and very expensive plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico?  That was an O’Reilly idea.  I remember seeing O’Reilly trot it out in an interview with the late thriller writer Tom Clancy after 9/11: 

O’REILLY: Now, I’ve been banging this drum for more than a year, and I did a “Talking Points” tonight on it, is that the borders are so chaotic and they’re not secured, and we’re very vulnerable from both Canada and Mexico for people who want to bring stuff in and come in here, and the INS can’t control it. Am I wrong there?

CLANCY: No, it’s one of the problems of, you know, one of the consequences of living in a free and open society. You know, the Statue of Liberty invites people in. She’s not holding a machine gun to keep people away.

Clancy wasn’t exactly left wing.  But he tried to warn O’Reilly that crackpot plans like the Wall were a long step toward the US becoming a new Soviet Union.  The latter, he said, had failed.  Now we have a president with squirrels running around in his cranium, who saw O’Reilly push this nonsense and wants to charge us billions in taxes to build it.

It all comes out of a wounded white nationalism, buffeted by globalization, where African-Americans and immigrants are allegedly stealing jobs (they aren’t).

2.  O’Reilly beat the drum nightly for George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.  He repeatedly alleged that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was behind al-Qaeda, with the implication that Iraq blew up New York and Washington, D.C.  He repeatedly alleged that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” and that he was training al-Qaeda operatives in chemical weapons use at Salman Pak.  There is no evidence that that was the case.  Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda and was clearly afraid of it.  There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

O’Reilly had said that if there turned out to be no WMD in Iraq, he would become more skeptical of the Bush White House.  But despite the collapse of the case against Iraq, O’Reilly went on cheerleading for Bush/Cheney.

3.  O’Reilly said on “The View” that “Muslims hit us” on 9/11.  Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set when O’Reilly doubled down on his hate speech and gross generalization.  When Trump said last fall “Islam hates us,” he was just echoing O’Reilly.

4.  O’Reilly has repeatedly said racist things, and his current troubles began when he said of senior Congresswoman Maxine Waters that he could not get past her “James Brown wig.”  In a famous incident on his now-defunct radio show, O’Reilly had professed himself shocked, on eating at a restaurant owned by African-Americans, that the patrons seemed perfectly respectable.  He had recently said that Trump won’t be able to help African-Americans because they are “ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads.”

Then there was all the other bigotry, as when he compared gay marriage to Goat Marriage.

5.  O’Reilly’s denial that any practical measures need to be taken to limit CO2 emissions, because they would disadvantage American corporations.  Climate denialism is the original fake news, and O’Reilly & Fox were one major source that Trump scans for news like this.

He’s a mean, mean man.  And a bad historian, which yours truly holds against him, hard.  He managed to cheapen my America and then he made millions writing “fake history.”

The O’Reilly Factor is dead.  But Fox will just go on polluting the airwaves.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)

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PERSPECTIVE--In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s shocking decision to depart from his stated foreign policy objectives and attack the Syrian government, critics of Bashar Al Assad’s regime are clamoring for further Unites States involvement. The costs and merits of regime change are debatable, but the conversations surrounding such policies often fail to address the most critical question in the event of Assad’s removal: What next? Grappling with the full scope, scale, and complexity of the Syrian conflict is vital to ensuring that any transition process maintains the stability of the region.

Yet even before the U.S. government scrambles to look into its crystal ball, there are key groups that ought to be involved in future decision-making: Syrians and Syrian Americans.

On Wednesday, New America welcomed Ammar Kahf and M. Yaser Tabbara, the co-founders of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, to discuss the research that their organization has conducted on the issues that must be addressed on the road to peace. Robert L. McKenzie moderated the event, and he explained that bringing Syrian and Syrian-American voices into the formulation and design of policy is one of his primary goals as the founding director of the Muslim Diaspora Initiative at New America.

The need for these voices goes beyond shallow appeals to diversity and inclusion — rather, they cut to the heart of our most cherished ideals: democracy, representation, and sovereignty. Kahf and Tabbara both offered visions for reform built on strong, democratic principles, but grounded in the realities of the modern Syrian state.

Kahf laid those realities out bluntly by explaining the dysfunctional role of the Syrian state security network. The multiple state security apparatuses, often with overlapping jurisdictions, foster an unstable system, mired in inter-agency conflict and corrupt management. Kahf contended that Syrian state security’s destabilizing policies are rooted in a historical pattern of the Ba’ath regime, and the Assads in particular, sowing discord in order to consolidate power.

The country’s competing factions will need to place the construction of a transitional security and justice mechanism at the forefront of their agenda in order to ensure a stable political process.

Tabbara helped to establish the state of political organization in Syria by focusing on the Omran Center’s research on Local Administration Councils, often democratically elected bodies that provide services and serve political roles. While these councils have their issues with limited resources and fairness, they are also respected for their key roles in service delivery and their relatively stable governance grounded in local issues.

Tabbara argued that, compared to the councils, Assad’s ability to manage the regime’s territory has ceded much of the local administration of services and security to militias and warlords. While many among the foreign policy elite grouse about the potential for Syria to collapse the day after a regime change, Tabbara explained that many Syrians now see Assad as a uniquely harmful force:

One cannot imagine anything worse than hundreds of people being gassed, or tens of thousands of detainees who are being tortured, as we speak, to death in Assad prisons, areas that are under siege for months, if not years…. We have come to this point in time where I can tell you, as a Syrian, the Libyan scenario looks like a very good scenario for me, compared to what we have right now.

That sentiment was countered by a Syrian-American audience member who questioned the speakers on the unstable conditions that nearly always emerge as conflicts come to a head. Tabbara and Kahf explained that their proposals are aimed at reckoning with that instability. Tabbara pointed to some local administrative councils’ success in easing sectarian violence on the borders between different zones of influence.

This dialogue about the political needs and goals of the Syrian people comes as a breath of fresh air after a week of media hand-wringing about the interests of international actors in the conflict, like the U.S., Iran, and Syria. Trump has fired a warning shot, but it is far from clear what his next move will be. In the meantime, everyone from policymakers and state officials to journalists and students should be taking the time to listen to what the people directly affected by this humanitarian crisis have to say. There’s no silver bullet to achieving peace in a conflict as complex as this, but it’s obvious that the people for whom this is a lived reality have a deeper understanding of these issues — and, more importantly, a bigger stake.

Years after the conflict has faded from foreign minds, Syrians will be the ones who have to live with the legacy of this conflict. After decades of numerous failed American interventions and feints at democracy in the region, it’s vital that we learn from what has come before and finally listen to the will of the people.

(Krish Lingala writes for Pacific Standard magazine … where this perspective was first posted.)

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COHEN TALK-Jonathan Karl said it all yesterday when he asked White House press  secretary Sean Spicer to admit, "that the president is NEVER going to release his tax returns." (Emphasis added.) Spicer's stunning response was, "We'll have to get back to you on that," strongly

suggesting the truth had been spoken.   

There have been some rumblings that Congress may have to subpoena Trump's tax returns to fully investigate Russian influence on his administration. I say absolutely. 

Congress must obtain Trump's long insincerely promised tax returns to know what dark agendas are at play now in the White House. Is Trump making decisions that secretly favor his private business interests? Do foreign powers have undue influence on him? American needs to know. 

Seriously, at what point do the American people suddenly wake up and realize they've been played for chumps? Was so-called Trump University not enough of a wildly flapping red flag? He campaigned with exactly the same boiler room pitch, for anyone with ears to hear it. 

Oh, sure you're going to release your tax returns, just like every other modern president, just as soon as the so-called audits are over. Sure you will. 

At one point Trump claimed that there was an audit in progress on his tax returns from the last 2-3 years. But he won't voluntarily release ANY of his tax returns from any year EVER.  What about the latest one? Does he automatically get to claim an audit mulligan on that one too? 

It was easy enough as a campaign ruse to accuse President Obama of not being transparent enough. Once in office, Trump has lurched dramatically in the opposite direction, hiding the White House visitor logs, which even President Obama, allowed to be made public. In fact, Trump has in less than 100 days reversed himself on EVERYTHING he ever said before, and even his most diehard supporters are starting to notice. 

What's the so-called security issue about publishing these visitor logs AFTER the visitors have left, for example? It used to be called history, and we should not have to wait for 5 years after he's left office before we know about it, long after all the damage has been done. 

Nobody's asking for advance notice, if it is a security issue which it is claimed to be. In fact what are we being told that it is impossible to protect visitors to the White House if anyone knows who is coming? 

So, one is led to ask, is it impossible to protect Trump himself if anyone knows that he is in the White House? 

Oh that’s right, that would never happen much, since he spends most of his time at Mar-A-Lago playing golf. Oops, sorry, another security breach there. With that slip all the evil doers can anticipate when and where he'll be playing golf.  

The American people need to know who Trump is meeting with and why, whether it's at the White House or anywhere else. He works for us now, or at least he's supposed to. If he doesn't want that job, he should not have it.

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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POLITICAL HULLABALOO--Ryan Lizza has a blockbuster of a story about California’s Devin Nunes and the Trump administration in the New Yorker. It doesn't seem like anyone cares anymore. But they should: 

Recently, several members and staffers on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s role in the Presidential election, visited the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland. Inside the enormous black glass headquarters of America’s largest spy agency, the congressmen and their aides were shown a binder of two to three dozen pages of highly classified intercepts, mostly transcripts of conversations between foreign government officials that took place during the Presidential transition. These intercepts were not related to the heart of the committee’s Russia investigation. In fact, only one of the documents had anything to do with Russia, according to an official who reviewed them.

What the intercepts all had in common is that the people being spied on made references to Donald Trump or to Trump officials. That wasn’t even clear, though, from reading the transcripts. The names of any Americans were concealed, or “masked,” the intelligence community’s term for redacting references to Americans who are not the legal targets of surveillance when such intelligence reports are distributed to policy makers.

The binder of secret documents is at the center of the bizarre scandal created by what may be the most reckless lie President Trump has ever told. On March 4th,
he tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” The White House made several efforts to justify Trump’s claim, including using Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as a conduit for the documents, which allegedly offered some substantiation. A former Nunes staffer now working for the White House dug up the transcripts and shared them with Nunes. As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.

It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to
report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”

I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.

Nunes is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee because, in talking about the documents, he may have leaked classified information. But this is like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. The bigger scandal is the coördinated effort to use the American intelligence services to manufacture an excuse for Trump’s original tweet.

The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.”

I know we're supposed to be upset that someone in the intelligence community leaked the story of that freakshow Michael Flynn (a man with a top security clearance who went on TV and accused Hillary Clinton of being a pedophile) talking to the Russian ambassador about lifting Russian sanctions because it shows the government using secret information for political purposes. Of course, others would call such a leaker a patriotic whistleblower so ...

This, however, is truly an abuse of intelligence for political purposes. There is no other way to look at it. It's appalling. And the president himself publicly smeared Susan Rice in truly egregious fashion. I've never seen anything like that. He owes her an apology. But she'll have to stand in a very long line and be prepared to wait forever to get it.

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for Salon and ourfuture.org

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REALITY CHECK--During the campaign, President Donald Trump promised to build a wall across the southern border some 1,000 miles long. The number of miles the president currently has money for: seven. 

United States Customs and Border Protection officials delivered the startling news this week at a conference in San Antonio for businesses eager to win contracts for beefing up security along the border. 

Although estimates to build the wall soar past $20 billion, the agency has so far managed to scrape together only about $20 million, according to its top contracting official. The rest of the cash will have to come from Congress, which so far has proven reluctant to foot the bill. 

That amount of cash would not go very far to build a real wall -- existing fence along the border costs roughly $2.8 million per mile. 

Instead, the agency plans to spend the money on eight model walls, planning, engineering, and early-stage land acquisition. 

The two-day conference in a cavernous convention center packed with border security gear like aerial drones and radar-equipped pick-up trucks was an opportunity for CBP officials to detail plans for Trump’s border wall -- and also the hurdles to its construction. 

The contracts for the prototype walls -- some made of concrete, some made of other materials, all to be “aesthetically pleasing” per Trump’s wishes for a beautiful wall --  will be announced later this summer. 

The prototypes will guide construction for more permanent walls that will be built along 14 miles in San Diego and another six miles in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, on land the agency has plans to build on or has already obtained. 

Although Trump directed the Department of Homeland Security to build a “contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier,” border officials made clear that the wall will not stretch the length of the border. Currently, about 650 miles of the 2,000-mile border has some kind of fence. 

Instead, top officials said the agency will build physical barriers in some areas and use technology such as ground and radar sensors elsewhere. 

“It’s not just physical structure,” said Ronald Vitiello, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. “We’re not just buying barrier. That would not be smart.” 

But none of the new wall will be built unless Congress approves Trump’s request for $1.4 billion in the coming fiscal year. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has indicated he will not include the money in a budget bill expected later this month to extend government funding. 

If the money eventually comes through, it will take two years to start construction, said Mark Borkowski, the agency’s chief procurement official. 

Other factors could also throw off the schedule. The cost of obtaining land along the Texas border, which is largely in private hands, and in California, where real estate is expensive, could in some cases cost more than the wall itself. 

Borkowski said he also anticipates the possibility of bid protests filed by competitors who believe they were unfairly denied contracts. And, of course, protesters may attempt to block construction.

Business leaders at the conference, skeptical of the utility of a wall, were primarily focused on technological solutions. 

Michael Pine drove a hulking gray and green camouflage tractor trailer onto the convention hall floor. Designed as a mobile command post, the trailer expanded on each side to hold 20 bunk beds, an office, two armories, 33 lockers, a television screen, and an air purification system. A second tractor trailer provided supplies. 

Pine, the vice president of business development for Florida-based Cinetransformer Group, said the system would allow border patrol agents to move up and down the length of the border for 20 days at a time without refueling. The cost: $1.5 million. 

“To heck with a wall,” he said. “You can drive these guys up and down the border. That would take care of everything.”

 

(T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica.This story originally appeared on ProPublica as “Trump’s Wall: How Much Money Does the Government Have For It Now?” and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE PREVEN REPORT--The publication of the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971 is often cited as the newspaper industry's finest moment.  And the hero of that moment is, by almost every account, Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger, then publisher of the New York Times, who made the decision to print the leaked documents despite the sternest of warnings from the Times' longstanding outside law firm. 

With the press under siege now, Sulzberger’s heroism takes on special significance—especially if you understand the not widely known context of his decision. 

For a year and a half, Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon consultant who leaked the 7000 page document, had been trying to make those papers public; in particular, he had approached several prominent members of Congress, including William Fulbright, George McGovern, Charles Mathias, and Pete McCloskey, pointing out that those men would have immunity from prosecution because of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. By putting the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record, those elected officials would have insured that the papers could not be locked away unseen. 

And yet despite their anticipated immunity, not one of the Congressmen approached by Ellsberg was willing to take the risk.  

Sulzberger’s decision to publish, by contrast, was made with the full knowledge that he would not have any of the immunities just described. And he was told by his outside lawyers in no uncertain terms that he could very well go to prison for choosing to publish. To print the papers, they warned, could be construed as treasonous and would in any case be unpatriotic and irrevocably defaming of the paper. 

All this faced by a man who had assumed the leadership role at the Times unexpectedly and at a point when no one believed he was ready. He was just 36 years old, making him the youngest New York Times publisher in that paper's history.  He had also been under attack in some circles for extending the paper into commercial enterprises such as more casual sections having to do with things like fashion.   

Sulzberger took several days to consider the decision—his editor in chief Abe Rosenthal threatening to resign if the papers weren’t published—but in the end he made his famous choice, and not just to publish but to do so on the front page, where the documents' impact was predictably powerful, leading to demonstrations in the streets against the war.  

This was not a time when those decisions were made lightly. The press at that stage was far more trusting and compliant with government, generally deferring to their authority. 

Just hours after the Pentagon Papers were printed on June 13, 1971,  President Nixon, in a telephone call with Henry Kissinger, expressed amazement at the boldness of Sulzberger’s decision.  

''My God,'' the president said, ''can you imagine The New York Times doing a thing like this 10 years ago?” Kissinger couldn’t. Nor could the rest of the free world. Nor perhaps could Sulzberger himself. But he did it. And that’s what counts.

 

(Eric Preven and Joshua Preven are public advocates for better transparency in local government. Eric is a Studio City based writer-producer and Joshua is a teacher.)

-cw

GUEST WORDS--On Saturday, Americans protested in the streets of Washington, D.C. and more than 100 other cities as part of Tax Day. Demonstrators called on President Donald Trump to release his tax returns so the public can see if his global business interests include any conflicts of interest, including financial ties to Russia and other foreign countries. They also be raised their voices about Trump’s tax and other policies that favor the super-rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor.

They know that if Trump were forced to release his tax returns, it could single-handedly undermine his presidency and perhaps even set the stage for his impeachment. 

A broad coalition of activists -- which includes the leaders of the January women’s marches that galvanized five million people in cities across the country, MoveOn.org, the American Federation of Teachers, the Indivisible Project (which has inspired more than 7,000 local groups to organize, including protests at local town halls sponsored by members of Congress,) Americans For Tax Fairness, the Center for Popular Democracy (a network of local community organizing groups,) and Our Revolution (the organization built from Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign) -- sponsored the Tax Day events. In Washington, D.C. they walked from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, passing both Trump’s hotel and the IRS building. 

During and after his campaign, Trump pledged to release his tax returns as soon as the Internal Revenue Service was done auditing him. Then he recanted, claiming that Americans don’t care about the issue. 

In fact, Americans do care. A poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post in January found that 74% of people surveyed and 49% of those who voted for Trump said the president should release his returns. A more recent poll, conducted last week by Global Strategy Group for MoveOn.org, found that 80% of Americans – including 64% of Republicans, want Trump to release his tax returns. 

By the end of February, more than one million people had signed a petition on the White House website, launched on Inauguration Day, to “immediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.” It was by far the largest number of names on a White House petition, surpassing a 2012 petition to recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, with more than 387,000 signatures. 

Voters are also wary that Trump’s tax plan includes provisions that will further enrich him and others like him by reducing taxes for super-wealthy while raising taxes on the middle class and the poor. As the New York Times recently revealed, when one of Trump’s advisors proposed a tax change that would make it harder for real estate developers to use mountains of debt to make deals, Trump killed it. Last month, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return that showed that he paid $31 million as a result of the alternative minimum tax that year. Trump has called for the elimination of that tax rule, which would save him tens of millions of dollars in tax payments a year. 

"I think he just has an obligation to come clean,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Senate minority leader, recently said. “When you clean up the swamp, it's not keeping things secret and it applies to yourself." 

“The American people want to see what this is about,” Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told the New York Times about Trump’s proposals to revise the federal tax code. “Are our interests being protected or are these deals that somehow promote his interests?” 

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has even said that Congress should delay making any changes to the tax code until Trump releases his tax returns so lawmakers can see how revisions might directly benefit him. 

Every major party nominee since Richard Nixon has done so except Gerald Ford, who released a summary.  

Americans want to know: What is Trump hiding? 

First, Trump’s tax returns could reveal the extent of his global business dealings and entanglements, including potential conflicts of interest that violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which forbids presidents from accepting payments from foreign governments. In particular, Trump’s returns could tell us quite a bit about his ties to Russian entities and banks. Trump was required to file financial disclosure forms that revealed that he has a stake in or owns 564 businesses, corporations, limited partnerships, or limited liability companies around the world. Many of his businesses work in or with foreign countries, including Russia. Some of Trump’s business partners might be close to Putin. His tax returns might show that he’s making payments on loans from foreign banks who have invested in his businesses. 

“Until we see his taxes, we don’t know how much money he owes Russia, China, and other countries,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn, one of the groups sponsoring the Tax Day marches. 

Second, Trump’s tax returns might reveal that he isn’t as wealthy as he has claimed. During the campaign, one of Trump’s biggest arguments was that as a successful businessman, he could fix the nation’s economy and stem the exodus of jobs. As evidence of his business acumen, Trump claimed to be worth $10 billion. But Forbes magazine put the figure at $4.1 billion. Trump’s tax returns might show that even that number is a wild exaggeration, that he’s mired in debt, and that the number of his businesses that have gone bankrupt is even more than the six we already know about. (Despite this, on April 18, 2015, Trump tweeted this falsehood: “For all of the haters and losers out there sorry, I never went Bankrupt.”) 

Third, the tax returns might reveal that Trump has paid little -- and in some years, nothing -- in federal income taxes. If there’s one thing that most Americans agree on it is that the super-rich should pay their fair share of taxes. In October, the New York Times obtained and released Trump’s 1995 tax records, which revealed that he claimed a $916 million loss that could have permitted him to avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years. The losses stem from major business failures, including his mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, the financial crash landing that was Trump Airlines, and his bungled purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. 

Last month MSNBC’s Maddow revealed that Trump paid a 25 percent effective tax rate in 2005. Some observers speculated that Trump had himself directly leaked those two pages to Trump critic and investigative reporter David Cay Johnston (who provided them to Maddow) because it was one year that he did, indeed, pay taxes. But we still haven’t seen his tax returns for the past 11 years, which could show something completely different. 

In a debate last September, Hillary Clinton scoffed at Trump’s failure to release his tax returns, suggesting that he may be hiding the fact that he paid nothing in federal taxes. “That makes me smart,” Trump responded. In Trump’s logic, if a wealthy mogul with a good accountant can exploit tax loopholes created to help the super-rich avoid paying taxes, he has a moral obligation to take advantage of them. Trump didn’t mention that while enriching himself by paying little or no federal taxes, he stiffed scores of unpaid contractors and bondholders on his casinos. 

Fourth, the tax returns might reveal that Trump gives little or no money to charity. Trump has long boasted that he’s a generous philanthropist. He often showed up at star-studded charity events to demonstrate his do-gooderism. On the same day that Trump announced he was running for president, he released a 93-page list of his charitable donations. The list included 4,844 individual gifts that totaled $102 million. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold spent months trying to confirm Trump’s claims. He called more than 420 charities on Trump’s list. Only one group, the Police Athletic League of New York City, said that it had received a donation from Trump -- and that one was for less than $10,000. 

Fahrenthold discovered that even the Trump Foundation, supposedly created as a vehicle for Trump’s charitable giving, is mostly a scam. Trump has given only $5.5 million to his own foundation and nothing since 2008. Meanwhile, Trump enticed others to contribute $9.3 million to the foundation. This helps Trump look like a generous donor without spending his own money.

Moreover, Trump has illegally used the Trump Foundation for his own business purposes, a clear violation of federal tax laws against self-dealing. For example, his foundation’s largest gift --$264,631 -- was used to renovate a fountain outside the windows of Trump’s Plaza Hotel, hardly a charitable cause. In 2007, he used the foundation to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself, for $20,000, which wound up hanging on a wall in Trump’s private golf club in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Trump has also used his foundation’s funds to settle legal disputes involving his for-profit companies, another violation of federal tax laws. 

But the full extent of Trump’s stinginess can’t be known without reviewing his tax returns, because donors are required to itemize their tax-exempt charitable donations on their annual IRS forms.

If Trump won’t voluntarily release his taxes, what can be done to allow the American people to see them? 

Congress has the authority to obtain Trump’s taxes under a complex statute in the Internal Revenue Code, Section 6103, which allows three congressional committees to obtain private tax information from the IRS in order to investigate presidential conflicts of interest. The committee can then vote on whether to disclose the information to the public. 

In February, Rep. Bill Pascrell  (D-NJ) sent a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), asking the committee to obtain 10 years’ worth of Trump’s returns. Brady refused.

If the Democrats win a majority in either the House or Senate next year, they could vote to obtain Trump’s returns. They could also pass a law requiring that all presidents release their tax records, though it is unlikely Trump would sign it. 

Trump’s tax records could be made public as a result of a lawsuit filed in New York by a team of constitutional scholars alleging that Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause. The legal team intends to ask for Trump’s returns in order to ascertain what income, loans or other payments he has received from foreign governments. The courts must first rule on whether the group has standing to file the suit. 

The records could also be made public if attorneys general in states where Trump has business dealings were to sue him for violating the emoluments clause, as Fordham University Law School Professor Jed Schugerman recently argued. Such suits could give a state attorney general access to the returns, which could then be provided to a congressional committee under 6103. 

There is also the possibility that a member of the IRS staff or someone within Trump’s own operation would leak his tax returns, either to the media or to Congress, just as Daniel Ellsberg helped to bring down Richard Nixon by releasing the secret Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971. 

Any leaker would need to believe that Trump’s tax returns are so damaging that bringing him down would serve a higher purpose -- would, say, protect our democracy from a president with little respect for the Constitution, the separation of powers and the rule of law. The number of people who share this belief grows every day. 

(Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College. He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, Common Dreams, The Nation, Huffington Post and contributes occasionally to CityWatch. This piece appeared in CommonDreams.org. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

HEALTH POLITICS--Sometimes the positioning of a story is a story in and of itself.  Take, for example, the nightmarish story of a doctor who was just arrested for performing female genital surgery on two young, innocent American girls. 

Why this story didn't receive the media attention and prioritization that the United Airlines passenger beat-down and drag-out just did should concern us all. 

CNN (a liberal news site) and Breitbart (a conservative op-ed site) and all the local media outlets such as Channel 5, NBC, and ABC covered this story, but one had to dig deep to get it on the Huffington Post website. The front web pages of the Yahoo, AOL, and MSN websites didn't have it at all. 

Trust me, I checked.  And even did a check at Snopes to confirm I wasn't paranoid when I saw such an uneven coverage of this issue.  

I'm aware that the media will cover--and not cover--all sorts of issues, such as First Lady Melania Trump's visit to a home for abused girls in Lake Worth, Florida on Good Friday. 

And for good reason, the media itself is under fire after losing the trust of many Americans for decades, with the ultimate result being the election of President Donald Trump.  

Arguably, the reason for Trump's doing business at Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower (and yes, the expense is a big, BIG problematic issue) is to escape the Washington/media insider elites and do business in private. 

But the issue of female genital circumcision, which in this nation (and throughout the civilized world) is described as female genital mutilation, is one that is fraught with politically-correct nonsense. 

So let's make something clear:  there is NO medical benefit for females to have their genitals altered, and this procedure is NOT the same as male circumcision. 

In male circumcision, the foreskin is removed and the penis is left otherwise untouched: while not medically necessary for all males, a host of potential medical benefits ranging from prevention of urinary tract infections to the ability to achieve erection or normal urination later on in life is well-documented. 

An army of dermatologists, urologists, pediatricians and others would argue that, when properly performed by a trained professional, male circumcision (which is NOT the same as removal of the penis) is a valid and beneficial medical procedure ... and is much more easily tolerated and recovered from by infants who will have normal, healthy lives (including sexual lives). 

No such evidence exists for female genital circumcision, where removal of part or all of the functional clitoris is performed.   

The Muslim medical community must come out loud and strong, as should we all, in condemning and not tolerating this practice--and condemn the doctor who (rightfully) was just arrested. 

The potential of performing a small and harmless (and sterile) pinprick of the genital region of a baby girl might be something to be considered--thereby allowing cultural sensitivity of those communities involved while preventing ANY long-term harm to affected girls and women ... but that is an issue for the Islamic communities of this nation and world to decide. 

In the meantime, this arrest of the doctor in the Detroit area should make us all pay attention.  And if this is the first time you've ever heard of this story, and the first time you've learned this is going on in our nation, you should especially be incensed. 

There are a host of medical reasons why male circumcision is defended in Muslim, Jewish, and other communities in this nation and throughout the world ... but female circumcision is NOT. 

And therefore the politically-correct nonsense of covering up, or burying, a legitimate concern to our nation is indefensible and should be opposed by liberals and conservatives alike who defend the rights of girls and women everywhere. 

Sometimes the positioning of a story is a story in and of itself. 

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, 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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. 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 Dr. Alpern.)

-cw 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POLITICS-Sunday on Meet the Press, Senator Lindsey Graham said, "If you're an adversary of the United States, and you don't worry about what Trump may do any given day, then you're crazy."  Well, we already knew that Assad was stone cold nuts crazy, no breaking news there, and Kim Jong Un makes even Assad look like a sensible, sober guy. It's our closest ALLIES who are worried. It's a majority of our own CITIZENS who are worried. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

We remember well the campaign promises of George W. Bush to get America out of the nation building business. And some thought that meant less foreign interventionism. But he quickly dove into nation busting, and the human and social wreckage has been piling up in the Middle East ever since.

But although Bush infamously asserted that he was a "war president” he at least he had the constitutional respect, minimal as it was, to seek the approval of Congress before taking unilateral military action. We call on Congress to assert their authority.

It may be consistent with his tough guy "only I can do it" posture, but the action of Donald Trump to unilaterally bomb another country, without allies, without congressional authorization, can only be characterized as the act of a king.

"Oh, it was just a limited attack," defenders of this act of war are saying. There is no such thing as a limited act of war, no more than someone could be slightly pregnant.

President Obama was elected on the platform of getting us out of the Middle East. Next thing we knew he was busting up Libya with Hillary Clinton leading the policy charge. OK, technically that's Africa, not the Middle East, so no incongruity there we suppose.

Now here comes Donald Trump, who incessantly harangued President Obama on twitter not to intervene in Syria a couple years ago. And less than 100 days in office he has done a complete 180 and now has made it his personal jihad to change the regime in Syria.

Its regime change 3.0. Oh boy, here we go again.

Trump says it's because Assad used chemical weapons that he has done this about face.

Yes, it is criminal and sick that any government would produce chemical weapons let alone use them, on declared enemies let alone their own people, let alone indiscriminately on small children.

But Assad has killed a half a million people mostly with so-called barrel bombs and conventional weapons, and they are just as dead, and died as horribly, as the 80 or so from this last attack.

But the real question is as Tom Brokaw said the U.S. missile strike against a Syrian air base is “the easy part; the real question is what comes next, such as the possibility of ground troops.”

It appears that our emotions are being manipulated by the media, in just the same propaganda way that all wars are promoted to start them. Remember the phony stories from the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington, about babies being dumped out of their incubators (In truth she hadn't been in Kuwait at the time) on to the cold floor that was supposed to justify the first Iraq war? It's always about the babies, isn't it? Nothing arouses the lust for war more in America than dead babies, as long we're not stopping them at the border and accusing them of being secret terrorists.

By the way, we have no doubt that Assad has used chemical weapons. Every time people die from them he trots out the story that he just dropped conventional bombs, that happened to hit a rebel chemical weapons cache, and that's what released the gas. What has he got, laser guided munitions that home in on sarin like a blood hound? How come people only die like this when Assad is bombing?

Such a farfetched scenario as magic bombs finding rebel poison gas can't be true every time. Experts tell us that the fireball from a bomb would be as likely to destroy chemical weapons as to disperse them. Therefore, Assad has essentially admitted that he has and uses chemical weapons.

So the rest of the civilized world has to do something. The one thing that will not work is for Commander Quick Draw to go barging in all by himself, without full congressional endorsement even. The so-called Bush coalition of the willing was a cynical PR ploy. Salon.com columnist Laura McClure, noting the large amounts of foreign aid being offered in exchange for supporting the Iraq War, referred to Bush's coalition as the "Coalition of the billing" While a British activist described it as a "coalition of the shilling"

Trump doesn't even bother with that pretense. The 3 guys from Palau can sit this one out.

Senator Graham crows that there is a new sheriff in town. In the Wild West sense a new sheriff MADE the law. Many committed their own criminal acts in the process, but what is a sheriff to do, round up himself?

So it is with Trump. The constitution does not matter. International law, the only real hope for world peace, does not matter. There is just the new crazy sheriff maximally provoking the crazies on the other side.

Graham said something else. He said for Assad to get planes back in the air from the same base immediately was, he actually said this on national television, an "F" you to Trump.

Make it plain, Graham. This is all just sexual machismo, isn't it? You know, locker room talk, a Trump specialty, bragging on the world stage about his erection in the form of shooting off $100 million dollars’ worth of cruise missiles.

In 1990, Dick Cheney said the reason he did not push on in the first Gulf war to taking Baghdad was that it would destabilize everything. And that's exactly what he proceeded to do in 2003, big time, by doing exactly what he said should not be done.

And history is repeating itself, once again. Trump, Mr. “Don't even think about making war in Syria”, is hot to trot now to do it all by himself, anything to save the failing ratings of his new White House reality TV show.

"I alone can do it" means there is no law but the word of Trump, the new sheriff. He will have to learn the hard way, like every arrogant commander in chief before him, at our own dear expense in lives and treasure, that for all its military hardware America, let alone one man, cannot singlehandedly impose anything on the Middle East, as if we have in the end learned nothing from the last 15 years.

Shouldn’t we demand a congressional vote on the authority of Trump to attack on
Syria? Maybe we can get more people to speak out this time.

Can one of KellyAnne Conway’s “anonymous sources” confirm that a guy named Vladimir P  is none too happy about the way the guy he backed in the election turned out.

 In the meantime, We the People respectfully pause for a moment of silence to mark the death of the Constitution of the United States, may it rest in peace.

Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein are apparently all peachy keen with Trump acting as a total dictator. It was left to Senator Chris Murphy to object that Trump can do any unilateral thing he wants going forward if Congress does not stand up for itself now, and its exclusive prerogative to declare war.

We are told that they, and certain other congressional so-called leaders, were given advance notice of Trump's intent to bomb a Syrian military airbase. Of course they couldn't tell anyone else even if they wanted to, let alone have their constituents weigh in on whether they wanted a military escalation.

Oh, except Trump told the Russians, who are close allies of . . . wait for it . . . Assad, that we're about to launch some Tomahawks at that exact particular airbase. Wow, great big top secret! Had to keep it all hush, hush, NOT. If there was such a thing as a Kabuki farce, this is it.

But if all these members of Congress were OK with bombing Assad, why not have Congress actually vote to authorize the use of military force?

Just speaking of the Republicans, would they not vote en masse the party line to back up their new war president? So what's the big problem with having a vote?

And if there is to be none, everyone who does not object, and we mean EVERYONE, just signed up for being ruled by a totalitarian dictator, by default.

Moreover, we do not delude ourselves that Hillary Clinton, who also voiced her strong approval, had she been elected, would have done anything even slightly different.

Senator Mitch McConnell, that snake in the guise of man, said that of course he would have officially authorized President Obama to do the same thing Trump just did, not that he's interested in a vote even now.

McConnell, Mr. “Block Everything Obama”, would not have approved giving away free ice cream at President Obama's own personal expense, and we all know it.

But in fact President Obama DID ask, the Republican Congress after the August 31, 2013 chemical attack for authorization and they voted  No! 

Mendacious McConnell head of the Senate. No wonder people have lost faith in government.

To the extent this attack is being described euphemistically as a "pinprick," that only shot off about a $100 million dollars in cruise missiles by the way. A pinprick next week would have accomplished the same objective, assuming there was a strategic objective, and would have given time to demonstrate that Congress fully stands behind the commander in chief.

Maybe it's being called a pinprick because it had little real military effectiveness. It's like we're not supposed to see the pictures of intact planes in more or less intact bunkers. The same airbase had those planes in the air again the next day, notwithstanding a couple pock marks in some runways. One newscaster actually commented that he was not seeing a lot of damage, which the military "expert" he was interviewing then tried to explain away by noting these were only 1000 lb. warheads.

In fact, the bombing in Syria accomplished nothing but a dubious photo op in support of the image of our current White House resident as a tough guy, strong man.

 But we now know that this is an all-publicity-no-policy Trump administration coddled by a disingenuous Congress.

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

CIVIL RIGHTS--It was one of the uglier scandals of the Bush administration: Top officials at an agency dedicated to protecting whistle-blowers launched a campaign against their own employees based on suspected sexual orientation, according to an inspector general report. 

PERSPECTIVE--Do you remember this gem of a commercial from the 1980s?

It was one of an entertaining series produced by Alaska Airlines, parodying the gap between promises of superior customer service and actual delivery.

Good news for United – they will not have to pay a dime for advertising for a while. There’s plenty of free video available and, unlike the poor chap in the Alaska commercial who at least had a seat, passenger David Dao couldn’t keep his.

But he did receive priority deboarding.

As a frequent flyer, I have endured my share of shoddy service but, quite often, it has been more than balanced with exemplary acts of kindness by airline personnel, both on and off the plane, from the cockpit to the reservation agents and the skycaps.

I am sure the vast majority of United’s rank and file personnel were appalled by this incident, but they have to zip it up lest they face the wrath of CEO Oscar Muñoz and get dragged down the proverbial aisle of retribution.

The airline industry is as complex as it gets, but that fact is often used as tool to bamboozle the public and obfuscate poor management practices.  United and other airlines have been flying for more than half a century and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about scheduling, matching passenger loads with routes and assigning crews to flights.

When customer service goes awry, airlines’ management just shrug it off as de rigueur of the environment.

If industry CEOs learned from experience and applied fixes, the process of bumping would not be as widespread as it is today.

Airlines bumped 40,000 passengers, not including 434,000 who voluntarily relinquished their seats. Statistics for 2015 show about 895 million passengers were carried on domestic routes. So the number of inconvenienced passengers is a mere fraction of the total.

That’s good, but it is a lottery you do not want to win, especially if you are on a tight schedule.  What’s more, bumping creates delays for all passengers and causes some to miss connections.

The root cause, overbooking, is necessary because of passenger cancellations, according to the industry. Airlines risk losing revenue if they cannot fill seats left vacant by no-shows. But what they fail to admit is the windfall they make off of baggage fees, amounting to $3.8 billion for domestic carriers in 2015.  One study cited by Fortune Magazine estimated close to $11 billion for a la carte fees overall.

The disparity between the two seems inexplicable, but it is a staggering amount no matter what.

Do you think some of this money could be used to offset lost revenue from late cancellations, thereby reducing the need for overbooking? How about some for better comfort?

The public might be more forgiving of mismanagement if they had something in return thrown their way … and not just a bag of peanuts.

We are likely to face pay lavatories and other abuse, as depicted in other vintage Alaska commercials, before the airlines show some respect to the people who allow them to exist – the passengers.

-cw

UNFRIENDLY SKIES--We now have an amazing new and fearsome word in our vernacular:  reaccommodate. This is Orwellian bizarro-speak for "you get the short end of the stick", or "have your civil rights taken away", or "being violently abused".  But hey, this is United Airlines, right?

We all know that United Airlines has a deserved reputation for being so abusive to their passengers that they've forgotten how NOT to treat them with contempt, but who knew that CEO Oscar Munoz, who originally doubled down and defended the way an elderly doctor was manhandled by blaming the doctor, could be so headline-making.

So in the spirit of the absurd--from United Airlines' absurd perspective on how they view their customers as chattel, to the absurd manner in which the CEO and the rest of United's leadership have responded, here are a few fitting fantasy tweets we'd love to see the CEO make.

Heck, nothing can surprise us anymore about Oscar Munoz and the manhandling misfits who have now shown the world how to be "united" against this airline--so here's some make-believe messages that we'd love to read from Mr. Munoz:

10) Fly the Friendly Skies ... if we allow you to stay on until take-off!

9) I just got a call from President Trump … United Airlines has now been hired to reaccommodate Kim Jong Un out of North Korea!

8) OK, OK, OK ... after 2-3 tries, NOW I'll apologize for what happened! Because at United, we really are sincere about what we say and do.

7) To my United Airlines teammates:  we are now changing our name to Seal Team Six!

6) Don't you low-lifes "get it" that some travelers are "higher-priority" than others?  Duh!

5) Is there a doctor on the plane?  We have an injured passenger!  Oh ... oops ... wait ... about that ...

4) Why is China so upset about this incident?  The guy went to medical school in Vietnam.

3) It's not like this incident has racist overtones or anything like that.

2) We're United Airlines!  We can't be beat!  Our passengers can be beat ... but we sure can't!

1) So ... why the hell am I still employed as CEO of United Airlines?

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, 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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. 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 Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY-Time magazine’s 2016 Person of the Year was elected president, as the magazine’s headline writer waggishly put it, of the “divided states of America.” 

Donald Trump did not, of course, cause America’s long-standing divisions of class, culture, education, income, race, and politics, which have been baked into our geography and demography for a long time. But he has certainly brought them into stark relief. As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt remarked, “We have to recognize that we’re in a crisis, and that the left-right divide is probably unbridgeable. … Polarization is here to stay for many decades, and it’s probably going to get worse, and so the question is: How do we adapt our democracy for life under intense polarization?” 

The answer lies not in enforcing uniformity from left or right but in embracing and empowering our diversity of communities. The best way to do that is by shifting power away from our increasingly dysfunctional federal government and down to the local level, where partisan differences are more muted and less visible, and where programs and policies can actually get things done. 

This is hardly the first time the United States has been so divided. Yet with the exception of the Civil War, America has always been able to surmount its differences and change as needed over time. Often the most powerful and lasting innovations -- from both the left and right -- have percolated up to the national level from the grassroots politics of state and local governments, the places Justice Louis Brandeis famously called “the laboratories of democracy.” 

Far from promoting unity, centralizing power at the national level drives us further apart. This is something that the Founders recognized at the very outset of the American experiment when they designed a federalized system, and it is very much in tune with our current national mood. Almost half (49 percent) of Americans view the federal government as “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” according to a 2015 Gallup poll. And nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe that “more progress” is made on critical issues at the local rather than the federal level, according to a separate 2015 Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. 

The issue isn’t just the dysfunction of our national government, but how we can best and most efficiently address our economic needs and challenges. The United States is a geographically varied place. No top-down, one-size-fits-all set of policies can address the very different conditions that prevail among communities. Back when he was governor, Bill Clinton understood that “pragmatic responses” by local governments to key social and economic issues were critical in “a country as complex and diverse as ours.” 

Until recently, local empowerment was mostly a theme of the right, for example when Yuval Levin characterized President Obama’s use of executive orders as intrusions on local rights. Now some progressives, horrified about the orders that might come down from a Donald Trump administration, are also seeing the light. Progressives have not always been hostile to local control, as anyone who’s studied the grassroots radical movements of the 1960s well knows. But now a growing chorus of them, including Benjamin Barber and Bruce Katz, are on board with the idea. Indeed, strange times make for strange bedfellows, and we have come to a pass where conservatives and progressives can work together to reinvigorate our federalist state. 

The United Kingdom, long a highly-centralized country, has been making moves in this direction --even before the Brexit vote showed widespread opposition to meddling from an even more distant government in Brussels. In 2015, a blue-ribbon panel of British business leaders, policymakers, economists, and urbanists outlined four key steps to empower cities, including shifting decision-making authority from the national government to cities and metropolitan areas; giving cities greater tax and fiscal authority; placing city leaders on national representative bodies and giving them a permanent seat on the national cabinet; and creating new mechanisms to coordinate major investments in infrastructure, talent, and economic development across metro areas. We would be wise to follow their cue. 

It is time for American mayors and community leaders -- from small towns, suburbs and midsized ‘burgs to great metropolitan capitals like New York City, LA, and Chicago to press for a similar devolution of power. Such a strategy recognizes both the advantages that come from local innovation and problem solving and the substantial variations in local capabilities and needs. This need for devolution and local empowerment does not just apply to the federal government; it applies to the relationship between the states and municipalities as well. A greater recognition of local differences may be particularly helpful for suburbs, which often have little voice in regional decision-making compared to either big city mayors or the rural and small town interests that dominate many statehouses. 

In the America that emerged after the Second World War, unity of purpose was the watchword. In the more geographically-varied world of today, it makes sense to allow for a greater variation of policy approaches. Rather than pursuing a single vision of “national greatness,” it’s time for us to embrace and empower the country’s wondrous local diversity of cities, suburbs and communities of all kinds. 

Vive la difference!

 

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

 

Richard Florida is author of The New Urban Crisis, University Professor at the University of Toronto, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at NYU, and editor-at-large of The Atlantic’s CityLab.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOICES-Only in America do we have politicians running every two years on a platform of repealing whatever is the current healthcare bill. And Republicans seem hell bent on passing something even worse than what we have now, doing it so fast that it will have a direct negative impact on the pocketbooks of their own voters before the next election.

Every one of the other 33 countries considered "developed" has some form of universal health coverage, most prominently single payer. Only in America, the richest country of them all, do we not have that. Only in America do politicians not have the best interests of the well-being of its people at heart.

In Norway, they have had single payer for a full century. They like it just fine thank you, and they are not at all interested in junking it, precisely because there, as well as in all the other countries that have it, it has proven to be the best way to spend the healthcare dollars available to its society.

Only in America do we have the two major political parties operating as tag teams to see who can come up with the healthcare plan that people hate the most.

Kathleen Sebelius was asked a pertinent question on Meet the Press recently. If the Republicans have their way and their plan fails as well, and the Democrats return to power, would they be able to revive so-called Obamacare? Her answer was no, because the insurance providers will have already fled the system.

We say good riddance to them. Why do we need middleman insurance companies raking off 30% in administrative fees – companies that just jump ship if they don’t get what they want? We say make the existing Medicare system the basic insurance provider for everyone so that everyone has at least basic coverage.

The Republicans are fond of talking about not having the federal government "dictate" to the people in their districts. It's their big talking point, and has been since Reagan. ("I'm from the government
and I'm the boogieman.")

What they really mean is the medical services corporations don't want to have to deal with anyone with actual negotiating leverage, so that they can dictate to us we will pay for our healthcare -- like $600 for an Epipen with less than $1 worth of medicine in it.

The political reality is that one way or another Obamacare is going down, and it's not coming back. So seriously, how many bad health care bills do we have to repeal before we get single payer?

Congress is making a show of asking their constituents what they think of their plan. We say tell them.

Demand Medicare for All NOW.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

FURTHER--It's tough to choose the most egregiously ghastly element of Trump's "presidential" charade of mindless militarism in Syria.

So much offends: The illegal, unauthorized and historically knee-jerk move to armaments, the lewd wag-the-dog distraction motive, the inchoate aka non-existent long-term strategy for entering never mind exiting yet another quagmire in another Muslim country, the mirror image of rich-kid-war-tourism as the flaq-jacketed-over-blazer Jared dropped in on Iraq, the trite, bumbling language of outrage - "Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror” - or the freakish war porn swoon by a fawning media.

What was more surreally obscene: Brian Williams' unironic abuse of Leonard Cohen's "beauty of our weapons" or the New York Times' WTF claim that "Trump's heart came first?" So many crimes against journalism, so little time.

But two things emerge as key. The first, following this weekend when entirely unfazed Syrian war planes undertook at least two new air strikes in the same area as Idlib, is the utter, empty, hollow pointlessness of Trump's $75 million "message."

Bombing an empty airbase and its concrete bunkers had virtually no impact: Strikes both Saturday and Sunday reportedly killed at least 18 including five children, with the number expected to rise; at the same time, Trump took a few moments off from his Florida golf course to frantically explain he didn't take out the runways 'cause they're "easy and inexpensive to quickly fix (fill in and top)!” and anyway how's about those "great military men and women ... representing the United States, and the world, so well in the Syria attack.”

Above all, is the sickening, sanctimonious hypocrisy of the effort by a petty, vindictive, ill-informed, forever lying buffoon worried about his ratings to justify the gaudy pricey spectacle by pretending to care about Syria's "beautiful babies," when up to 60,000 of them have already suffered and died over the last six bloody years in Assad's Russian-backed barrel bombs, air raids, decimated buildings and yes chemical attacks, including the 2013 one in Ghouta that killed close to a thousand people, and let's not forget the atrocity of Aleppo. At the same time, he now seeks to cut millions in UN humanitarian funds, along of course with millions more for this country's schools, meals, clean water, health care, environmental protection and a zillion other worthy causes easily funded by a few Tomahawks.

And still, the beautiful babies remain trapped in a war zone. We need to ban them because they are Muslim and they are dangerous; notes Nikki Haley helpfully, "Syrian children come with Syrian adults" - unless they drown en route - and we can't have that. Better to leave it at our long tradition of faux righteous, utterly pointless military actions seen somehow as reflecting presidential moral resolve never before witnessed while remaining complicit in the atrocities under which kids continue to suffer.

Is this really the best we can do? Hopefully not, writes Ben Mathis-Lilley in Slate. "We can, in theory, ask the politicians who represent us and the media that reflects us to attend instead to the bigger picture - namely, to the millions of urgently needy Syrian refugees who have not yet been able to figure out how to use Tomahawk missiles to clothe or feed themselves. We can say it again: Let them in. Let them in. Let them in."

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for ourfuture.org

-cw

CORRUPTION WATCH--Does history make the man or does the man make history? Sometimes, history needs the man who knows the right time and place to make the correct move. Donald Trump does not need Jack Benny’s timing, to realize that now is the time to act. (Photo above: US Rep. Jim Jordon, a member of the Freedom Caucus.) 

Jarvanka wisely exited stage-left for a ski vacation and left the stage to Bannon and the Alt-Right during their attempt to install “TrumpCare.” The military chose Jared to travel with it to Iraq. Sanity has regained control of the National Security Council with Bannon’s banishment. Most telling, did anyone see Kellyanne Conway, Herr Stephen “Thou shall not question” Miller or Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the Sunday morning pundit shows? 

The Tea Baggers have turned Congress into a Parliament 

The lesson from the tea bagger Freedom Caucus flop is clear. Congress has become a quasi-parliament where the GOP needs the far right in order to stay in power, and that means the Freedom Caucus will have the final word on all vital decisions in the Trump Administration. While they lack the power to enact their far right agenda, they have the power to destroy sensible policies and thereby to destroy the Trump Presidency. The reality is that by acting like a separate political party, the tea baggers in Congress forget there is a far larger centrist group that can and should take its place. It is the number of votes and not who places them that counts in any parliament. 

Extremism in Governance is a Vice 

Now is the time for Trump to realize that the extremist tactics that can get one elected will make governance impossible. The only way to govern with 35% of the vote is to stage a military coup, and the intelligence agencies including those within the military are much closer to getting rid of Trump than vice versa. 

The Freedom Caucus has shown that there are two avenues open to Trump: (1) continue to be their captive, (2) form a governing coalition with the centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans. If Trump foolishly sticks with the GOP and excludes Democrats, thinking that he and Ryan can control the tea baggers, then he and Ryan are delusional. They will stab both Trump and Ryan in the back. That is the nature of true believers. 

Syria Provides the Perfect Time 

Because there is no good option with Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran and the assorted jihadists, whatever action the nation takes has to be backed by a large centrist coalition of centrist GOP and Dems, excluding the Alt-Right and the incipient Alt-Left. 

People cry for bipartisanship, but petty interests try to block every step toward Americans coming together to solve problems on a consensus basis. Fortunately, a foreign crisis deafens the ears of the populace to the claims of politicos demanding “my power first.” While many among the Democrats would rather slit their own wrists than lose the fund raising bonanza of the Midnight Tweeter, the power of an international disaster greatly dampens these voices of internal division. 

Trump, Democrat or GOP? 

Without realizing it, the Politics of Revenge elected a President who not only is more of a Democrat than a member of the GOP, but he also comes with built-in democratic advisers who are gaining ascendency. Say Hello to Jarvanka. Running a nation is not a solo act, but requires an ensemble cast all of whose members know when the first act is over and the second act has begun. The Alt-Right has dominated the opening scenes of the Trump Presidency, but now it is time for the nation to move on. 

Trump Still Has His Demons 

In order to assess Trump’s ability to put together an openly bipartisan governing coalition, we need to bite the bullet and address Trump’s personality disorders. He appears to suffer from both a histrionic and a narcissistic personality disorder with paranoid features. A centrist governing coalition plays to the traits of these disorders – hey – that’s the guy we got and we have to base decisions on what we have and not what we wish we had. If parts of Trump’s personality are simpatico with a coalition, let’s allow those traits to become our strengths. 

In a centrist coalition, Trump can see himself as the center of attention as his history embodies bipartisanship. The coalition shuts down the Alt-Right Freedom Caucus who view Trump as their puppet and the coalition rescues him from the humiliation of his failed courtship with Putin. 

Histrionic people assume that relationships are closer than they are. Despite his disclaimers, Trump always thought that he had an understanding – a shared vision – with Putin. Wrong! Putin, however, is a power player. As long as Trump is weak with no effective control over events and lacks the approval of the tea baggers, he cannot forge a working relationship with Russia. 

As Trump said in The Art of the Deal, one cannot bargain from a position of weakness, so his sole hope to gain power is to break the hold the Freedom Caucus has over him and the GOP Congress. That requires forging a centrist governing coalition that can lock out the Freedom Caucus. 

The time has arrived to realize that the tea baggers are passé. The weight of the Administration is moving toward bipartisanship, and the best time for a President to do the unorthodox is when the country perceives a threat from the outside.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

MEDIA WATCH--Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill on Sunday offered scathing criticism of corporate media's coverage of the cruise missile strike President Donald Trump ordered last week on Syria. 

Speaking on CNN's "Reliable Sources" to host Brian Stelter, The Intercept co-founder and Dirty Wars author took particular aim at that network's Fareed Zakaria and MSNBC's Brian Williams.

"The media coverage has been atrocious, particularly—and this is across the board on every network—particularly when the strike is happening. It's like they're in awe of the cruise missiles," Scahill said.

Indeed, media critics pounced on the comments by Zakaria—who called it Trump's "big moment"—and Williams—who called the strikes "beautiful" —as examples of the "classic pundit attitude toward presidential violence."

Referring to Zakaria, Scahill said "if that guy could have sex with this cruise missile attack, I think he would do it." And Brian Williams, he said, "seemed to be in true love with the cruise missile strike, in a despicable way invoking Leonard Cohen's name." Pressed by Stelter if Zakaria's comments were taken out of context, Scahill said, "Fareed Zakaria was also a major cheerleader for the Iraq War."

Scahill also criticized corporate media for elevating the voices of retired military who may now be personally profiting from continued U.S. warfare.

"CNN needs to needs to immediate withdraw all retired generals and colonels from its airways," Scahill said.

"I think that the American people deserve to know what was the private sector record of these individuals when it came to the weapons industry or profiting in the private sector off of the proliferation of U.S. wars that happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere. There is not the kind of transparency that is required of a truly democratic press when you're not revealing the extent to which these people have benefited in the private sector from these wars," he said.

He also noted that "the United States has been engaged militarily in Syria for several years now, both in the form of Special Operations forces and, increasingly, conventional 'boots on the ground,' but also just scorched-earth bombing, particularly since Trump took office."

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather also weighed in the issue of media coverage of the strikes, writing on his personal Facebook page: "The role of the press is to ask hard questions."

"The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as 'presidential' is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike," he wrote.

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

HULLABALOO--A week or so ago I noted that Jared Kushner, the son Donald Trump never had, seemed to be taking on a lot of new projects. Since then there has been a flurry of reporting on his burgeoning portfolio, including the news that Kushner is the administration’s new point man on China in anticipation of the important visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week. But just as he weirdly decided to take a ski vacation during the administration’s most important legislative battle a couple of weeks ago, Kushner inexplicably decided to take a trip to Iraq this week with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Keith Schiller.

Wait, who’s Keith Schiller? I can tell you:

Meanwhile, President Trump has installed his daughter Ivanka in an official government position that allows her to participate in all the meetings with foreign leaders — the ones in which she had already been participating since the transition. According to reports from the meetings, unlike her father, Ivanka even does some advance preparation. Foreign delegations are grateful to learn that someone in the president’s confidence can skim a briefing paper.

On Wednesday the White House announced that Steve Bannon, the president’s other right-hand man, would be stepping down from his outrageously inappropriate membership as a principal on the National Security Council. Bannon tried to spin it as a normal event, cleverly evoking the right’s designated distraction goblin of the moment, Susan Rice. 

From the New York Times: “Susan Rice operationalized the N.S.C. during the last administration,” Mr. Bannon said in a statement, referring to President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. “I was put on the N.S.C. with General [Michael] Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General [H.R.] McMaster has returned the N.S.C. to its proper function.”  

Mr. Bannon did not explain what he meant by “operationalized” or how his presence on the committee had ensured it would not be.  

His allies put out a different story: He had actually been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and now that the latter has left his position it was no longer necessary. There was no explanation as to why this took so long: Flynn has been gone for nearly two months. In any case, the Times also reported that Bannon had threatened to quit over the demotion, so all these self-serving explanations ring more than a little bit hollow.

Bannon had been running a shadow National Security Council called the Strategic Initiatives Group, described as an internal White House “think tank” and put together as an alternative to the traditional structures within the executive branch. It was seen as a terrible management idea, with its giving a back channel to a president who has no idea what he is doing and exacerbating his already chaotic decision- making. Evidently, that project has also been tabled, supplanted by Kushner’s shiny new “Office of American Innovation.” 

That Bannon stepped away from a national security role is undoubtedly a big relief to the rest of the planet, since he is an apocalyptic fruitcake who believes in a theory called “Fourth Turning,” whereby history happens in four-stage cycles of awakening and crisis. He claims that previous cycles in America were the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II, and he believes we’re now in another one that started with the bank bailout in 2008. 

As the Huffington Post reported: In Bannon’s view, we are in the midst of an existential war, and everything is a part of that conflict. Treaties must be torn up, enemies named, culture changed. Global conflagration, should it occur, would only prove the theory correct. For Bannon, the Fourth Turning has arrived. The Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, may have already emerged.
The apocalypse is now.  

“What we are witnessing,” Bannon told The Washington Post … “is the birth of a new political order.”

It’s unknown how much Donald Trump bought into this daft worldview, or if he even understood it. We do know that he considered Bannon one of his most important advisers. This is a recent relationship born of the excitement of the campaign and the thrill of winning, however, so it’s not surprising that Trump might turn on Bannon when the going got tough. Now that the administration is suffering one humiliating defeat and embarrassment after another — and blaming the previous president or Hillary Clinton or even the GOP Congress isn’t working — Trump’s circle is narrowing to the only people he’s ever truly trusted: his family.

This turn of events was foretold by the people who know Trump better than anyone: his biographers. The late journalist Wayne Barrett, who wrote “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth,” predicted that Bannon wouldn’t last. 

As Barrett told the New Republic: A guy like Steve Bannon … I don’t know much about the guy, so I could be completely misunderstanding him, but I think that’s a guy Trump uses up quickly. That’ll be a body he steps over Timothy O’Brien, who wrote “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” pointed out that Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani both lost favor for having high profiles. In that light, Bannon’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine may have sealed his fate. 

O’Brien told CNN’s Anderson Cooper: Trump likes advocates and loyalists and people who advocate his viewpoint, but not people who get more air time and attention than he does. That’s been the kiss of death for anybody who is an adviser to him who’s not a family member. 

O’Brien also had the Kushner rise pegged in January, when he participated in a Politico roundtable of Trump biographers:

O’Brien: At the end of the day, the two most powerful people in his White House, other than him, are going to be Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and they’re going to have the final say on everything. And whatever Gary Cohn or Rex Tillerson or Gen. Mattis or Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon has to say, it will all end up getting filtered through Javanka.  

Michael Kruse: Did you just say “Javanka”?  

O’Brien: Yeah. Other than those two, he won’t listen to anyone in a meaningful way, and he never has listened to anyone outside of his core group and family at the Trump Organization for decades, and that’s not going to change.

All the palace intrigue around this White House is so thick you never really know what’s happening or who has Trump’s ear. But all signs point to Javanka ordering the hit. The question now is: Who’s next?

(Heather Parton blogs under the pseudonym Digby at the blog site she created: Hullabaloo and also writes for ourfuture.org

-cw

GUEST COMMENTARY-I came to this country as an immigrant from India to go to college. My parents used all their savings to send me here because they knew what we all know and what we all tell our kids: if you want a good job, you’ll need more than a high school education. Whether it’s a two-year, a four-year or a vocational institute, the reality is that in today’s world, you must get more than a high school diploma. 

The unfairness of it, though, is that getting that advanced degree has become completely unaffordable. Today, our young people are making untenable choices: going to college and taking on mountains of debt, or foregoing the college degree to work part-time or minimum-wage jobs that simply won’t allow them to build a future. Or, if they go to college and come out with an average of $30,000 per person in debt, they live in perpetual fear. That choice hurts not only our young people, it hurts our families, our communities and our economy. 

It wasn’t always that way. Getting a college degree used to be free, or low cost, because as a society, we saw providing higher education to young people as an investment -- in them and in the future of our own country. More people with good educations meant more trained workers. More trained workers meant more jobs filled. More jobs meant more money back into our economy. And of course, better jobs ultimately meant people could have a better future, raise a family, and live with economic security. 

We were investing in a cycle of prosperity. That’s why places like the City University of New York and the University of California’s system used to be free. That’s why we invested in the GI Bill to cover college costs for millions of veterans. That’s why we invested in Pell Grants to help cover more than half the cost of tuition at public colleges, helping our lowest income students and millions more to be first in their families to attend college and have the promise of a brighter future. 

And because of that investment, we led the world in terms of the percentage of young people with college degrees. Today, we’re 11th and the trend is continuing downward. In-state tuition at four-year public colleges has almost quadrupled, and state spending on public colleges is at its lowest rate since 1980. 

If current trends continue, spending on public colleges could drop to zero in some states by 2022. Pell Grants today only cover about 30 percent of the cost of attending a public institution --and a full 83 percent of all students attending public universities graduate with student debt. 

Too many people stay in debt their entire lives -- a recent study found that there are 3 million older adults still with student loan debt, seeing their Social Security earnings garnished. And students of color and low-income people are hit especially hard. It is absolutely unacceptable that student debt in America today totals a staggering $1.3 trillion dollars -- even more than credit card debt. 

In my home state of Washington, tuition at the University of Washington grew five times the rate of inflation over ten years before it was frozen in 2013. While I was in the state senate, we worked together to boost state spending enough to lower tuition by 5 percent, and the state is continuing to do this, but we need more. We need to incentivize states across our country to spend on higher education, and ensure that we go back to allowing people to go to college tuition-free. 

That’s what our bill does. The College for All Act takes the agreement we built into the 2016 Democratic Party Platform and codifies it into legislation. 

It’s not rocket science. 

The bill creates a federal-state partnership where the federal government provides 2/3 of the cost of free tuition for all students and the state provides 1/3. We do this for families earning up to $125,000/year -- which covers about 80 percent of students. 

By the way, our plan also recognizes the unaffordability of non-tuition costs -- fees, books, housing -- and allows for those who receive maximum Pell Grant awards to use those awards to cover those expenses. We include tribal and historically black colleges and minority serving institutions because we know how important these institutions are to educational equity. And all students, regardless of income, who want to attend a two-year community college would do so completely tuition and fee-free. 

Another thing that’s not rocket science -- we cut student loan interest rates in half for new borrowers and we allow existing borrowers to re-finance student loans at those same rates. Profiting from student loans is usury, and we just can’t continue to allow it. 

Our bill also triples our current investment in the Work Study and GEAR UP programs, because we know that we have to particularly target help to our low-income and first generation students and these programs have been enormously successful. 

This bill creates a new normal. 

You see, there’s nothing normal about graduating with massive student debt, where you live in fear of predatory debt collectors and wage garnishers even as you are starting to live your life. 

There’s nothing normal about not being able to have a family or buy a house because you have spent years trying to pay off your loan and you just can’t take care of anything else. 

There’s nothing normal about not being able to refinance a student loan for a lower rate, when your own federal government profits off your student loans to the tune of $127 billion in profit, according to the Congressional Budget Office! 

The stories I have heard from my constituents are horrifying. 

  • Lillian, who made every payment on time until she ended up in the hospital with heart failure and had to choose between paying her health care bills or paying her student loans so went into default. 
  • Theresa, who is 57 years old and said, “Either I manage to work another 20 years and somehow manage to pay the damn thing off, or I die or become disabled, and it gets discharged.” 
  • Susan, who is a public school teacher and has over $80,000 in student loan debt and is dealing with the sale of her loans to predatory lenders and lives in fear of being homeless. 
  • Sydney, first to go to college, a National Merit Scholar with a physical disability, can’t make her payments or fulfill her dream of going on to law school to be a civil rights lawyer. 
  • Hanna, who was first in family to go to college, wanted to be a teacher but gave up that dream and dropped out because she realized she would forever be in debt. 

This is simply not right. The College for All Act renews our compact with our young people -- and really, with our futures. We’re going to piece back together the broken promises of a broken American Dream, and give back hope and opportunity to the middle class and working families across this country. 

I’m proud to be the sponsor of this legislation in the House and I look forward to building a strong bipartisan coalition of people who commit to taking on this horrendous and unfair crisis.

 

(Pramila Jayapal is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives where she represents Washington state's 7th District. Follow her on Twitter: @RepJayapal. This piece appeared most recently in Common Dreams.) 

-cw

GOP REALITY CHECK-Recently, the Republicans got whacked by reality. The “Trumpcare” or “Ryancare” replacement of Obamacare failed when the G.O.P. couldn’t garner enough votes to pass a bill in the House of Representatives. 

Despite threats from the White House, the so-called “Freedom” Caucus of far-right Republicans dug in their heels and refused to support the legislation. Speaker Paul Ryan’s offer to gut the essential health benefits requirements and remove protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions appealed to the group, but lost less conservative Republicans representing swing districts in states like New Jersey. 

Republicans in Congress are trying to resurrect some kind of Obamacare replacement, but the odds are against them. Trump talks about working with Democrats to get enough votes to overcome the Freedom Caucus opposition, but Ryan says, “No way.” 

Will the Republicans be able to get their act together on health care? A look at the history of Congress suggests the answer is no. 

Throughout much of the nearly 23 decades of Congressional activity, the House of Representatives, in particular, has functioned not so much as a two-party system, but rather as a collection of three (and sometimes more) factions. Looking at the numbers of “Democrats” and “Republicans” who have been elected to successive Congresses doesn’t give the real picture of how things have worked. 

Prior to the Civil War, it wasn’t just Democrats and Whigs. More likely, it was free state versus slave state. To complicate things, there were also Northerners, Southerners and Westerners. In this case, Western was considered anywhere beyond the Appalachians (especially Kentucky and Tennessee.)

Votes on issues moved more according to geographic and not party lines. In 1824, there were four major candidates for president. The House of Representatives eventually chose John Quincy Adams. As a result, Andrew Jackson (who beat Adams by 10 percent of the popular vote) created the modern political party to avoid a repeat. 

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, America split mostly east and west. The Democrats battled back and forth between their eastern “Wall Street” faction and western populist faction. Unhappy with the dominance of rich easterners in the Gilded Age, the agricultural west elected populist and progressive candidates to Congress. For a while, this handful of representatives influenced and, in some cases, controlled the outcome of legislation. Their strength in places like Minnesota still resonates. 

The Great Depression and the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt scrambled Congressional factions as never before. A coalition of northern blue collar Democrats and southern “Dixiecrat” populists created the WPA, Social Security, fought World War II, and finally enacted Medicare. In essence, Congress consisted of three parties: northern Democrats, southern Democrats, and Republicans. 

What that coalition of Democrats could not do was pass civil rights legislation. That happened only because Lyndon Johnson strong-armed the Republicans (as the party of Lincoln) to support bills like the Voting Rights Act. The resulting breakup of the New Deal coalition was exploited by Richard Nixon in 1968. His “Southern strategy” set the G.O.P. firmly on the road of “law and order” and anti-minority “dog whistle” politics. 

Which brings us to where we are now. Congress again has three parties: Democrats, Republicans, and the Freedom Caucus. The three dozen or so ultra-right Republicans who make up the Freedom Caucus are the tail that wags the House of Representatives dog. As Ryan and Trump are discovering, party loyalty is a one-way street for a lot of legislators. “R” doesn’t always stand for “Republican.” Sometimes it means “renegade.”

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--Ben Montgomery and a team from the Tampa Bay Times asked 400 law enforcement agencies across Florida for records of when an officer fired a gun and injured or killed someone between Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri prompted questions about how often such shootings happen. The result of the inquiry is an extensive report titled "Why Cops Shoot." 

"It was very difficult to get agencies to cough up records," Montgomery says in a video accompanying the story. Collecting the information took two years. Their mission was to answer a basic question: "Are there ways to do this where people don't have to die?"

The Tampa Bay Times report arrives even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a March 31 memo that his office would call a 90-day pause in its consideration of police reform efforts begun under the Obama administration. 

In Baltimore last night, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar issued an order rejecting the attempt by Sessions and the Trump administration to delay public consideration today of the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the Baltimore police department. Bednar's writes in the order, "To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public." The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT.

The Sessions memo recommends that the "misdeeds of individual bad actors" not "impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work" of law enforcement. Yet the Tampa Bay Times report uncovers yet again patterns of policing that result in unnecessary deaths of citizens — many unarmed — and community mistrust of police services. Too many police shootings are “lawful, but awful” according to Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

This is one such example from "Why Cops Shoot": 

In January 2010, Orange County sheriff's deputies moved in on Torey Breedlove, a suspected car thief in an SUV. Breedlove tried to drive away but was surrounded by deputies with guns drawn. A witness said Breedlove raised his hands, but deputies said they heard an engine revving, so they fired 137 rounds, killing Breedlove. A grand jury cleared the deputies, but Breedlove's sister sued on behalf of the man’s four children. Evidence presented in the civil case showed the revving engine was a deputy's SUV, not Breedlove’s. His sister got $450,000.

“The conduct at issue here,” wrote U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell, “is more akin to an execution than an attempt to arrest an unarmed suspect.” 

Montgomery is circumspect. "There are not any incidents that we looked at in these 770 cases, in which 830 people were shot," Montgomery says, "which clearly spell out that this officer intended to murder someone. That's not the case at all as far as we could find. What is the case are, in some cases, lack of training, just the rush to judgment."

And simply bad practice. 

In 2014, for the first time ever, police took more from American citizens than burglars did, according to economist Martin Armstrong, who used statistics from the FBI and Institute for Justice. Police departments use the money, cars and homes seized through civil asset forfeiture to support their budgets.

“The answer to the riddle of why officers who are assigned to drug and gun and other contraband-oriented assignments, who are armed to the teeth, often in military fashion, take the time and trouble to make traffic stops for mundane offenses like ‘tag light out’ or ‘no seat-belt’ can be answered by the multi-million dollar forfeiture trade that supplements police incomes,” Cook said. 

Mike Chitwood, now sheriff of Volusia County, was police chief in Daytona when Montgomery interviewed him. Chitwood believes the key to the use of force is proportionality. He has been engaged for years in Wexler's group and brought training in deescalation and active listening to Daytona:  

“We’re proficient in (shooting), but we’re not proficient in the No. 1 thing: dealing with people,” he said. “I think the No. 1 complaint in America against police officers is rudeness.”

He also began to try to keep crooked cops out of his department by hiring people with solid, deep background investigations. He established an alert system to try to identify rogue cops. He started randomly drug testing officers.

[...]

What’s particularly interesting about Chitwood is the stricture of his policies, especially when it comes to police chases and use of force. He’s blunt. Don’t shoot into a vehicle. If you do shoot, he said, you’d better have tire tracks on your chest.

“I think most shootings that we see are because we the police put ourselves in a position that we don’t need to be in,” he said. “Today, for some reason, we’ve switched out of the guardian mentality and we’ve become warriors. And that’s not what American policing was founded on.”

We've looked at the "warrior cop" here before

One might not blame an incoming administration for stopping to review the policies of its predecessor. Then again, people are dying. "Why Cops Shoot" gives an indication of why and what might be done about it in addition to creating a national police violence database for studying it.

Montgomery concludes we need one. The question this morning is whether Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are more interested in American policing being tough or just. Wait, don't answer that.

"We're the only country in the world that polices like this," Chitwood says.

(Tom Sullivan is a North Carolina-based writer who posts at Hullabaloo and Scrutiny Hooligans. A former columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, his posts have appeared at Crooks and Liars, Campaign for America's Future, Truthout.org, AlterNet, and TomPaine.org.) Photo by Kate Sheets via Creative Commons

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MAKING OURSELVES HEARD--It’s easy to read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, winner of the 1940 Pulitzer Prize, and as Stephen King describes in his best-selling book On Writing, to have “feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy—[thoughts like] I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand.” 

Like King’s wise counsel about how to be a writer, John Steinbeck’s masterwork is a “spur” that “goad[s] the writer to work harder and aim higher.” During President Donald Trump’s regime of diminished-to-defunct arts funding, new writers—in addition to emerging musicians, painters, sculptors, photographers, and all creative people committed to contributing to civilization through art—can take inspiration from the inauspicious circumstances surrounding the publication of Steinbeck’s difficult second novel. 

In the introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of To a God Unknown—originally published in 1933, four years after Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup Of Gold, and six years before The Grapes of Wrath—the poet-scholar Robert DeMott writes that “Steinbeck labored longer on [it] than on any other book.” As DeMott notes, it took Steinbeck many, many revisions, crises in confidence, and almost five years to complete his second novel. (The Pastures of Heaven, published in 1932, is a sequence of stories—not a traditional novel—about the bad luck a new family brings to a happy valley.) 

Flush with cryptic and crystalline allusions to paganism, Christianity, and the Greek epics, To a God Unknown is at base a pioneering tale. It tells the story of Joseph Wayne and his family leaving Vermont to homestead initially fertile but increasingly—and eventually, climactically and cataclysmically—drought-ravaged farmland in California’s southern Salinas Valley. Putting aside California’s recent rainy spell, and considering President Trump’s already abysmal record on global warming and the environment, one might say the book portends critical warnings for America’s future. In a journal entry, Steinbeck wrote, “[t]he story is a parable . . . the story of a race, growth and death. Each figure is a population, and the stones, the trees, the muscled mountains are the world – but not the world apart from man – the world and man – the one indescribable unit man plus his environment.” 

Critical reviews of To a God Unknown were as savage as the feral wilderness it depicts. Virginia Barney opined in The New York Times that the novel was “a curious hodgepodge of vague moods and irrelevant meanings.” A book critic from The Nation characterized it as  “pitifully thin and shadowy.” As Robert DeMott notes in Steinbeck’s Typewriter: Essays on His Art, “not [even] enough copies [of the book] sold [for the publisher] to recoup the small advance” Steinbeck received. 

And yet it is precisely through this example of Steinbeck’s early literary stumbles that I submit all brave new artists can find the courage, the resoluteness, and the abiding faith in the value of their art to persevere t hrough rough spots, honing their craft through lean times as Steinbeck did—at risk to wallet, ego, and at times, to relationships. 

Imagine the gaping, un-fillable hole in American literature if, after the unfavorable reviews of To a God Unknown and The Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck had decided to up and quit. What if, disheartened and disconsolate by the failure of To a God Unknown—which foreshadows elements and devices brought to masterful fruition in The Grapes of Wrath—Steinbeck had packed up his pen, paper, and typewriter, period, end of story—and I hasten to add, end of all his stories? 

In 2014 the novelist David Gordon described the business of writing in The New York Times as “a risky and humiliating endeavor.” Softened by self-deprecation, Gordon’s column firmly gut-kicks prospective authors with an honest peek at the lonely, ascetic, self-possessed lives that most writers by necessity lead. “Let’s face it [Gordon observed]: just writing something, anything and showing it to the world, is to risk ridicule and shame. What if it is bad? What if no one wants to read it, publish it? What if I can’t even finish the thing?” Both during and after the writing of To a God Unknown and the book's blisteringly bad reception, Steinbeck could have succumbed to any of these common writer’s ailments, never to be heard from again. 

But he didn’t. He kept on writing instead. 

To paraphrase Don Chiasson’s recent New Yorker magazine review of the biography of the poet Robert Lowell by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Perhaps [he had no choice, because as Gordon observed] being a writer is a bit like having Tourette’s, a neurological disorder. Or what psychologists call ‘intrusive thoughts’: unwanted and disturbing ideas and images that suddenly attack us unbidden. A need to speak the unspeakable thing.” Adds Chiasson, “mood disorders occur with staggering frequency in creative people, and writers seem to suffer the most.” 

Perhaps. But unquestionably To a God Unknown—written when Steinbeck was a published-but-still-struggling 30-year-old grinding away in obscurity and insecurity—provides evidence of a sturdy self-belief, the kind of grit I submit all successful or striving artists must possess. This tough and necessary tenacity is embodied in Steinbeck’s advice to his friend and fellow novelist, George Albee: “Fine artistic things seem always to be done in the face of difficulties, and the rocky soil, which seems to give the finest flower, is contempt. Don’t fool yourself, appreciation doesn’t make artists. It ruins them. A man’s best work is done when he is fighting to make himself heard, not when swooning audiences wait for his paragraphs.”

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas including CityWatch. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq)

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OUR OWN ‘BERLIN’ WALL--So much for Mexico paying for it. According to a recent CNBC article, “Trump will request more than $4 billion in defense spending to build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first federal dollars that would be allocated for one of his most divisive campaign promises.”  

The same article stated that Trump’s “great, beautiful wall” will be significantly more expensive than the president’s original estimate of 12-15 billion dollars.”The U.S. border with Mexico is roughly 2,000 miles long and underlines four states, from California to Texas, more than half of it along the Colorado River and Rio Grande. It is a massive stretch of land — the Berlin Wall spanned just 96 miles comparatively, and it cost about $25 million to build in 1961, or around $200 million with inflation.” 

We can all do the math. 

Make no mistake. Trump’s wall is going to cost the American tax payers at least 25 billion. If Mexico won’t fork over a single penny then someone must pay for the wall. It will not be the president and his modest fortune. So the American people will pay for it at their own detriment. It is going to be a shark frenzy. It is going to be one of the largest pay to play rackets in the history of crony capitalism. It is going to be an unsurpassed fiasco that will have far reaching consequences for decades to come. In due course Ronald Reagan’s most historic words will be summoned to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds. Reagan’s words will instruct Republicans and conservatives that tearing down walls that separate and barricade humanity is fundamentally right. Until then it is going to be a disaster. 

Referring back to the Berlin Wall, that is exactly what this Mexican-American division line will become in the eyes of the world. Like the Berlin Wall, as long as it stands, it will be used as a urine fence, art mural, protest site, commercial zone, terrorist magnet, money pit, and giant FU to internationalism and human rights. It will be climbed over and dug under. It will be burned through and broken apart. It will be a stupendous waste of time, energy, and all other precious resources needed to maintain it. It will be one of the stupidest things America has ever done. For every dollar used to build this wall, Trump will take one from the mouths of the elderly, the classrooms of the young, the hospitals of the newborn, and the lakes and rivers of our communities. 

Allow me to get granular. The proposed budget eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and ceases payments to the U.N. climate change programs. The budget reduces funding to the U.N. and affiliated agencies and limits contributions to 25% for U.N. peacekeeping costs. The budget eliminates the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account; reduces funding for educational and cultural exchange programs, and calls for a nearly 18% cut next year at Health and Human Services. 

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Trump will take away $4.2 billion in grants, including the decades-old Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans with heating bills. It eliminates $403 million in training programs for nursing and other health profession; reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending by $5.8 billion, including administrative costs and federal contributions to research funding; eliminates the Fogarty International Center, which coordinates global health research; and increases fees for Food and Drug Administration pre-market review of medical products. 

The president will eliminate funding for Community Development Block Grants, cutting $3 billion; eliminate funding for community development groups that create affordable housing; eliminate HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, cutting more than $1.1 billion. 

Trump’s wall will be built at the expense of the land in which it is staked and the natural materials from which it is constructed. The Los Angeles Times reports that Trump’s budget “reduces National Forest System land-acquisition programs; eliminates the water and wastewater loan and grant program; reduces staffing in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Service Center Agencies; cuts funding for the Clean Power Plan and international climate change programs; diminishes the role of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which uses civil and criminal litigation to target the most serious water, air and chemical hazards; and decreases federal support for employment services programs for unemployed seniors and disadvantaged youth, shifting the responsibility to state and local agencies.” 

Sadly, I can go on. Trump’s budget cuts $60 million from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs; eliminates training grants from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; eliminates or reduces more than 20 education based programs, including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership and International Education; and eliminates $1.2 billion for before- and after-school programs as well as summer programs. 

But who needs clean water, safe food and after-school programs when you have a “big, beautiful wall?”

 

(George Cassidy Payne is a SUNY Adjunct Humanities Instructor and founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. This piece was posted first at Creative Commons.) 

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FEAR, HONOR AND INTEREST-Over the past quarter century, the information technology revolution has transformed relations between people and between states, including in the conduct of warfare. For the U.S. military, the manifestations of this revolution have covered the full spectrum from the dramatic to the prosaic. Unmanned aerial vehicles, ships, and ground systems now carry increasingly sophisticated surveillance capabilities and precision guided weapons. (General Petraeus with President Obama-photo above.) 

Less visible, but also hugely important, has been development of the ability to integrate and analyze vast quantities of intelligence from all sources and determine precise locations of friendly and enemy elements. Finally, we cannot overlook growth of the seemingly matter-of-fact but nonetheless essential reliance on email, video teleconferences, and applications like PowerPoint to communicate, share information, plan, and perform the tasks of command and control. 

Information technologies that did not exist at the time of the first Gulf War are now so fundamental to the conduct of military operations that it is difficult to imagine functioning without them. And the growth of the internet, social media, and now the “Internet of Things” represents a further stage in the information technology revolution whose full consequences are still unfolding. Nonetheless, some preliminary implications of such cyber capabilities for warfare are already clear. 

First, cyberspace is itself now an entire new battlefield domain, adding to the existing domains of land, sea, air, subsea, and space. This reality has enormous ramifications for military doctrine, operations, organizational structures, training, materiel, leadership development, personnel requirements, and military facilities. Most significantly, it adds a powerful new element to the challenges of the simultaneous “multi-domain warfare” in which we are now already engaged and for which we need to do more to prepare in the future. 

Second, cyber technology is adding another element to the already ongoing dispersion and fragmentation of global power. While no nation has contributed more to the growth of the internet and the digitized world than the United States (and no nation has developed more sophisticated cyber military capabilities), the nature of these technologies ultimately presents one more disruptive challenge to the preeminence that the U.S. has enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, as others exploit the potential of offensive cyber capabilities in new and increasingly sophisticated and diabolical ways. 

Examples of this include the use of cyberspace by extremist networks like ISIS and Al-Qaeda to inspire far-flung terrorist strikes; by Russia to wage ideological and political warfare that seeks to undermine the cohesion and self-confidence of the Western democracies; and by China to collect the technological know-how that is speeding its already rapid rise and undercutting America’s conventional military edge and industrial advantages. 

Security in the century ahead will depend more on our moral imagination -- and with it, the ability to develop concepts of restraint -- than it will on amazing technological breakthroughs. 

Third, cyber capabilities are further blurring the boundaries between wartime and peacetime, and between civilian and military spaces. These are distinctions that have, for various reasons, been eroding in recent decades and which technological developments are now accelerating. At present, it is likewise clear that offensive capabilities are outstripping defensive and retaliatory options. And as long as difficulties in identifying and attributing responsibility for cyberattacks persist, that reality is likely to undercut deterrence and encourage aggression in cyberspace. 

Yet even as technological changes inspire us to speculate on the future of warfare, perhaps the most important insights about the implications of the cyber age can be gleaned from the past.

While technology promises to disrupt the conduct of war, it is equally important to recognize what it will not alter -- namely, the causes of war, which continue to lie in the character of humanity. As Thucydides documented more than two millennia ago, it is the elemental forces of fear, honor, and interest that are the wellsprings of conflict, and it is often the choices of individual leaders that determine how conflicts develop. 

It was for this reason, in fact, that, when I was in uniform, I argued against the concept of “network-centric warfare” -- put forward in the late 1990s -- and instead contended that a better formulation would be “network-enabled, leadership-centric warfare.” It is, after all, still leaders who determine strategies and make the key decisions. And even as development of autonomous weapons systems and other such capabilities proceeds, parameters for actions by such systems will continue to be established by human beings. 

Furthermore, history suggests that humanity’s capacity for technical innovation often outpaces our strategic thinking and development of ethical norms. Indeed, the methodical development of doctrine around nuclear weapons by the “Wizards of Armageddon” in the 1950s and 1960s, which did much to help prevent a nuclear apocalypse, appears to have been the exception rather than the norm. More typical is the experience of the European powers of the early 20th century, which failed to recognize that the mass industrialized armies they were constructing were the components of a doomsday machine that would unleash a civilizational slaughter that none of the combatants had previously considered possible. 

As we and other major powers race to develop cutting-edge cyber capabilities -- expanding swiftly into realms such as robotics, bioengineering, and artificial intelligence -- we would be wise to devote equal energy and attention to considering the full implications of our ingenuity. Security in the century ahead will depend more on our moral imagination -- and with it, the ability to develop concepts of restraint -- than it will on amazing technological breakthroughs. 

This in turn suggests a final reality about warfare in the age of cyber. Regardless of the innovations that lie ahead, technology by itself will neither doom nor rescue the world. Responsibility for our fate, for better or worse, will remain stubbornly human.

 

(General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Retired) is Chairman of the KKR Global Institute, a Judge Widney Professor at the University of Southern California, and a member of the board of Optiv, a global cybersecurity services firm. He culminated his military career with six consecutive commands, five of which were in combat, and then served as Director of the CIA. This essay was posted first at Zocalo Public Square produced by the Berggruen Institute and Zócalo Public Square, on what war looks like in the cyber age.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

AT LENGTH--We are just over the 60-day mark of Trump’s first 100 days in office and he has yet to do anything that would make the nation or the galaxy think, “Hey, he’s making America great.”

As for his legendary deal-making prowess, his repeal-and-replace health care legislation that went down in flames speaks for itself.

There are those, however, who continue to shout the refrain, “Give him a chance.”  Clearly that’s not an option for the nearly 66 million who voted against Trump. As we’ve seen from the day of his inauguration, there are just a whole lot of Americans who are not going to just sit back and take what #45 is dishing out — at least, not without a fight.

The Democrats are finally starting to look like they have some fight left in them — from sanctuary cities to the state house, to Gov. Jerry Brown saying that Trump “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about” on health care. OK, so now that the Dems have finally got their nerve back up, who’s actually got the lead on the resistance?

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) on the Senate Judiciary Committee tore into Republicans for their contradictory positions on blocking President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, saying their arguments reminded him of his past life as a comedian on Saturday Night Live.

“I used to make a living identifying absurdity,” Franken said at the top of fiery remarks in the committee hearing. “I’m hearing a lot of it today.”

But even satire can’t slap some folks into governing with common sense. It will take more political craft — something that is in short supply as the Republican majority in Congress splinters between fiscal conservatives, Freedom Caucus right-wingers and GOP moderates. All the Democrats had to do was hold tight and stay loyal to core liberal values, while the Republican infighting imploded party unity. Trump is still looking for someone to blame.

The universe, it is said, abhors a vacuum, including the somewhat curious part of it known as Washington D.C. where the vacuous arguments about government seem to be spiraling dangerously out of control.

At this point, the idea that healthcare is a right and not a privilege (an idea  proposed back in 1944, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Second Bill of Rights), now seems to have passed its latest test of survival.

Roosevelt’s argument was that the “political rights” guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

His remedy was to declare an “economic bill of rights” to guarantee these specific rights:

  • Employment, food, clothing, and leisure with enough income to support them
  • Farmers’ rights to a fair income
  • Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
  • Housing, medical care, Social Security and education

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that these are the core issues opposed by the Tea Party Freedom Caucus and the antithesis of which the Republican Party stands.  It is curious that one of the few Democrats who has clearly taken the lead on these issues is former presidential candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who continues to be the sole Independent in Congress to huddle with the Dems.

In the wake of the Republican failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leading figures in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — Sanders among them — are rallying behind a single-payer health insurance. These lawmakers and grassroots leaders have long believed that the problems plaguing the ACA are rooted in the original health care law’s attempt to accommodate, rather than gradually replace, the private, for-profit health insurance system.

“We have got to have the guts to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and move forward toward a ‘Medicare For All,’ single-payer program,” said Sen. Sanders  on MSNBC’s  All In with Chris Hayes on Friday night after the vote failed. “And I’ll be introducing legislation shortly to do that.”

Sanders’ call “to have the guts … for a single-payer program” is the clarion call to action to progressive Democrats as well as old New Deal Democrats to act while the confusion in the Republican Party reigns.

For the Senate to pass this bill, they would only have to convince five moderate GOP senators to switch sides, but in the House of Representatives they’d have to find 44 — a daunting challenge. The success of this strategy comes down to whether the Dems are better at the “craft” of governance (and deal-making) to overcome the current political warfare that has ruled Washington for the past six years.

The advantage in this situation goes to the ones who have the guts, courage and a plan to lead rather than just oppose.

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

JUST SAYIN’--First there was a so-called war on Christmas. Now Trump says there's been a war on coal. We're so tired of the Republicans declaring policy war on things that we're ready for a war on coal in Christmas stockings. For that one Americans should take up arms.

From pronouncing his blessing on Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline, to his most recent move to prop up coal mining, Trump has declared a full out war on the environment. By his executive orders he's trying to make America a 19th century energy user again.

The fact is that coal mining was and is a dying industry. Just among fossil fuels it has been losing the battle to cheaper natural gas. And as foul as the fracking is to produce the gas, calling coal "clean" is a1984 perversion … a black is white, P.R. fraud that flies ash in the face of reality.

At a time when fossil fuels are blowing up global warming, what Trump is doing is the exact opposite of wise policy.

Even his fellow Republicans having talked to Trump one on one on issue are appalled at how little he knows, and is even less interested in learning.

But as fast as his Russian collusion scandal is blowing up, with nearly his entire team lying about their Russian ties, even as they are caught red-handed (so to speak) we may well soon be rid of him.

That can't be a bad thing, with him doing as much damage by executive order as fast as he can. Policy-wise Pence would be just as bad, but without Trump the narcissistic promoter he can at least be slowed down.

As a candidate it started as chronic lying day one and has continued to worsen.

The coal miners don't realize it yet, but what Trump will actually deliver in their Christmas stockings is their very own coal, in the form of more mountain top destruction, more stream pollution, and inexorable for all humanity, increasing global warming and destruction of our environment.

Trump claimed during his campaign that America was like a third world country. His actions will actually help make that lie reality.

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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Most Americans don't want Elmo to get fired

They also don't want enormous funding cuts to medical research, after-school and summer programs, new road and transit projects, climate change research, and a program to help low income people heat their homes.

Those cuts—and many more—comprise the "morally obscene" budget put together by the Trump administration, and a new Quinnipiac poll published Friday demonstrates that those proposals are deeply unpopular with most Americans.

The numbers showing widespread disapproval of President Donald Trump's budget are out just as public figures call for a "total shutdown" of government over the president's alleged ties to Russia, and as Trump grapples with the collapse of his attempt to pass a cruel and unpopular healthcare bill.

This latest poll also comes on the heels of other recent surveys that show tanking public support for the president and his policies.

Trump's proposed severe funding cuts face disapproval by huge margins. The budget's slashing of public funding for medical research, for example, faces a whopping 87 percent disapproval, with only ten percent of respondents voicing approval.

"By wide margins," Quinnipiac notes, "American voters say other proposed cuts are a 'bad idea:'"

  • 84 - 13 percent against cutting funding for new road and transit projects;
  • 67 - 31 percent against cuts to scientific research on the environment and climate change;
  • 83 - 14 percent against cutting funding for after-school and summer school programs;
  • 66 - 27 percent against eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities;
  • 79 - 17 percent against eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

President Donald Trump's oft-repeated campaign promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is also a "bad idea," 64 percent of respondents said. Only 35 percent approved of the wall.

"[W]hen it comes to cutting public TV, the arts, after-school programs, and scientific research to improve the environment, it's a stern 'hands off' from voters," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. "And that wall? Forget it."

Respondents supported just two aspects of the budget: increased funding for health programs provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (85 - 13 percent), and increased military funding (58 - 39 percent).

Most Americans also don't agree with significantly increasing funding for charter schools and school voucher programs, as the budget proposes. In addition, they believe that tax cuts to the wealthy are a bad idea (74 - 22 percent), an opinion even shared by most Republicans (50-43 percent).

When it comes to the budget, it seems that quite a lot of voters agree with progressive critics such as the Institute for Policy Studies, which argues that "[i]n cut after cut, the proposal pours salt in the wounds of the very working people Trump pledged to help."

Moreover, an overwhelming majority—73 percent—are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about the climate crisis, and 59 percent want the U.S. to do more to address it. The Trump administration, meanwhile, is committed to denying climate science and obliterating environmental regulations. (The poll also found that most voters don't want Trump to repeal those regulations.)

In answers to questions about other controversies swirling around the Trump administration—namely, the allegations that Trump's campaign was linked to Russia and the ongoing court defeats of his immigration policies—it's clear that voters are not on Trump's side, either.

The majority of respondents oppose the Muslim ban, and support the court decisions blocking it. They also oppose his now-rescinded ban on all refugees entering the U.S.

Sixty-three percent of respondents are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about Trump's relationship with Russia, and 65 percent believe that alleged Russian interference in the November election is a "very important" or "somewhat important" issue.

A wide majority also supports an independent investigation into the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

The poll was conducted from March 16 to 21, and Quinnipiac surveyed 1,056 voters nationwide in phone calls to landlines and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

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

-cw

THE DOCTOR IS IN--One of the nice things about "keeping up" on Facebook is that we bump into those bright minds that helped shape us in our developing years and, to our delight, we discover they really made something of themselves.  Hence, when my old Jewish religious school classmate, Dr. Lori Lander Goodman, came up with the idea of "Repair and Improve" now that "Repeal and Replace" failed, I felt the need to continue with the theme of my last articles about the need to create a replacement for the ACA. 

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) appears to have failed (for now), which might cause some gloating, anger, joy, and scorn (depending on where you are politically), but for those of us able to compartmentalize the political and the policy-making, and for those of us able to compartmentalize the ideology from the need to develop a coherent and sustainable health care policy... 

... it's not over.  It's really not.  No need for joy, or anger ... just a willingness to accept a few hard truths, not the least of which there is a need to not make this problem (health care affordability and access) fixed in a manner that doesn't alienate large hunks of the general population. 

Like it or not, it was a BIG, if not fatal, mistake for the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama to create an Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was so partisan.  It's easy to say that the GOP was the party of "no", but for those of us who remember through nonpartisan eyes it did appear that the Democrats were pretty quick to say "no" to any GOP ideas or additions. 

So get over yourselves that the Democratic Party was great in establishing the ACA--look what happened to the makeup of Congress and state legislatures. 

But ditto for those in the GOP--including and especially House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump, who darned well should have known better--than to create an AHCA that was as partisan as the ACA it was supposed to replace. 

And why oh why was there such a rush?  Just to say this was placed on the President's desk for signing by Easter?  Did the public even understand it, let alone the House?   

For example, only today did I get this summary, which probably would have made it easier to figure out what the heck the AHCA was. 

Remember, Speaker Ryan, what happened when former Speaker Pelosi told the nation we had to pass something to know what was in it? 

To Democratic partisans, they're relieved and overjoyed ... but the ACA is still spiraling down because of a lack of affordability and sustainability. 

To conservative Republican/libertarian partisans, they're similarly relieved and overjoyed...but the nation is NOT going back to pre-ACA realities, and they've just threatened their own political dominance of the House in 2018. 

And for those of us in the middle--whether it is Dr. Goodman (specializing in child abuse prevention and intervention) and myself (a dermatologist)--there's probably more confusion and concern as to how to get past this as a nation. 

The overriding historical legacy of President Barack H. Obama should be, and probably will be, that the era of "doing nothing and letting market forces rule health care" is over. 

It will be up to President Donald J. Trump to determine how to ensure how, or even if, market forces and government mandates can find an economically viable, and sustainable, medium. 

The House Freedom Caucus and President Trump are not on good speaking terms right now, and it will be up to moderates, both Republican and Democrat, who value "deal-making" to step up and find common ground

Meanwhile, President Trump will move on to tax reform, which is arguably what he should have focused on first.  And no, I don't think that businesses, Wall Street, and individual taxpayers want to wait until August to find out which way our taxes will be going.  

But as the door is opened by President Trump and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to the Democrats to discuss health care reform it should be emphasized that there are a lot of Americans--mainly Democrat, but certainly many Republican, who do NOT want our federal deficit and debt repaired on the backs of the poor and in ill health. 

Our economy is not where it should be, thanks to not just one but two past Presidents, and 2017 is the wrong year to tell everyone to "buck up" and "tighten their belts". 

So where can a divided Republican party go to get past the health care issue to become the new "majority" instead of a "perpetual minority”? 

Certainly, the GOP leadership and President Trump need to find some common ground, particularly on the one true safety net that has both saved many a patient's medical and financial life (to say nothing of their family's lives):   

Medicaid. 

When Medicaid provides a safety net and provides health for those with disastrous medical conditions, it's a wonderful thing.  When Medicaid (called Medi-Cal) is abused by ne'er-do-wells and dished out to those not supposed to be on that form of government relief, it's a horrible thing. 

More money to the sick?  Certainly. 

More money to the healthy?  Certainly not. 

And government oversight and mandates is NOT the same as creating a monstrous, expensive bureaucracy that should only be overseeing how state and local governments are operating the Medicaid program--and, more importantly, what those state and local governments are doing to get healthy Medicaid recipients OFF of that program. 

Are the healthy and able-bodied required to work ten (or some other number) hours a week for their health care, paid for by the taxpayers?  There are jobs they can and should be assigned to do, and they should either do those jobs or be sent to the county clinic for their free health care. 

Are the Medicaid programs funded and operated well?  Certainly, there's a growth industry in Medicaid who opposed the AHCA, but while they offer a host of excellent reforms for Medicaid, the state and local governments should incentivize healthy individuals to both get a job in order to KEEP their health care, and/or incentivize businesses to hire workers and offer benefits. 

That's "incentivize" folks, not "beat down" businesses to offer benefits. 

Which means goodbye business mandates, and hello business tax credits, to get more workers hired WITH benefits. 

And which also means goodbye individual mandates, but offer incentives to have individuals get their own insurance...and offer more variety of plans between states as well as bare-boned plans that don't require couples in their 50's to purchase insurance that covers pediatric psychiatry. 

The AHCA just went down ... for now ... but the ACA is also going down.  They're going down. 

But WE don't have to go down.  Common ground is hard, but common ground provides incentives for us as a nation to help those who've been laid low for the mere "crime" of being sick ... and for giving a boot in the rear to those who are able to take care of themselves, and should have been taking care of themselves for many years now. 

Whether it's "Repeal and Replace" or "Repair and Improve", the option of doing nothing cannot, and should not, ever be an option for the American people.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, 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 CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. 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 Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--The senate Democrats are right to filibuster Trump's Supreme Court appointment. There are plenty of reasons, including the appointee's judicial philosophy. But there is one overriding reason, the one that Democrats haven't been explaining very well. Let's give it a try. 

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate made it clear from the moment of Barack Obama's inauguration that they intended to obstruct everything that the new president tried to do. They would do everything in their power to make Obama into a failure, and in so doing, cause him to fail to be reelected. Senator Mitch McConnell made this explicit. The Republicans failed in preventing Obama's reelection, but the policy of obstruction continued. 

In 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died. Under the Constitution, the president is empowered to appoint Supreme Court justices, and the appointees take office provided that they receive the consent of the Senate. McConnell and his colleagues said that they would not consent to any Obama appointee. They were willing to stall until a new president took office. 

In effect, the senate Republicans established an 8 member Supreme Court as national policy. That policy was intended to continue until the United States got a president that the senate Republicans liked. They made various unimpressive arguments to explain the new line, but in actuality it was a raw power grab. 

As reprehensible as this tactic was, it wasn't all that surprising. More than a decade ago, economist and political analyst Paul Krugman had been warning the American people that the Republican Party had become something different from a classical conservative party. It was, he pointed out, a revolutionary force that was willing to break any rule and violate any precedent. 

The refusal by senate Republicans even to hold hearings on Obama's nomination was more than just a routine parliamentary maneuver. It is what historians and political analysts would refer to as a provocation. In the world of diplomacy, a provocation is something that the opposition must respond to or, in failing to do so, lose face and influence. A provocation is intended to reduce one's opponent's power and simultaneously to inflict humiliation. That's the course of conduct that the senate Republicans followed throughout Obama's presidency. 

A policy that blocks the right of a president to nominate a justice to an open court seat certainly is a provocation. Notice that there have been fights over Supreme Court appointments in the past, the most notable being that of Robert Bork. But the Bork nomination was handled according to the normal procedures of the Senate. Bork did not gain a seat on the court, but another controversial appointee, Clarence Thomas, was confirmed. 

The Republican response to Obama's nomination took obstruction to a new level. It was a provocation that must be answered if the Democrats are to maintain any semblance of credibility. 

The proper approach is for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate to make clear that once the Republicans established the 8-justice doctrine, even for just the last year of Obama's second term, the Democrats have had no choice but to respond in kind. The Democrats should make clear that there will be no Trump appointees to the Supreme Court confirmed during this four year term. That would not be a revolutionary act on the part of the Democrats, but merely a reflection of the precedent established by the Republicans in 2016. To use the old phrase, turnabout is fair play. 

This does not mean that the eight justice system needs to continue indefinitely. It might be possible for some sort of deal to be cut, but it would involve a good faith negotiation. 

Alternatively, the Republicans can try to abolish the right to filibuster Supreme Court nominations, but this "nuclear option," as it has been called, might be hard to execute. If any three Republican senators vote No, then the nuclear option won't succeed. 

In one way, this story is analogous to an interaction with a school yard bully. You either fight back or he owns you. It's time for the senate Democrats to fight back. Eight will suffice. 

Addenda 

During the preparation of this column, I became aware of a piece by Bill Humphrey titled Eight is enough for now: Unpacking the Supreme Court.  It first appeared in The Globalist and was picked up by Salon.com. It provides a detailed historical and legal analysis of the current situation and, as its title indicates, comes to much the same conclusion as what is stated here -- that there is no compelling reason to confirm a ninth justice at this particular moment. Bill Humphrey's piece is definitely worth a read. 

Meanwhile, it's somewhat amusing to listen to the bleating and whining of Trump administration spokesmen. The latest complaint, in response to the failure of the Republicans' healthcare bill, is that the administration is learning that everything is more broken than they first realized. Let's try to translate that into English: They have suddenly discovered what the term checks and balances actually means, and they think it is a bad thing. To quote the old adage, that is a feature, not a bug. The irony is that the most conservative wing in the House of Representatives was threatened by Trump for having the nerve to make use of this feature, and they laughed in his face. 

It's also of interest that Donald Trump is talking about dropping repeal of Obamacare and moving on towards other issues. One possible interpretation is that Trump was never all that interested in the subject, and when he discovered (seemingly for the first time) that health care is ‘complicated’, he lost interest in seeing things through.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

-cw

CORRUPTION WATCH--America has four political parties in Congress, and thus, Congress has become a de facto parliament in which the President can govern if and only if he puts together a ruling coalition. The four American parties are: 

  1. The Tea Baggers: They have renamed themselves the Freedom Caucus and are the right wing True Believers; everything is their way or the highway. By their nature, they cannot play nicely with others. In fact, they cannot play at all with the other kids in the political sandbox. 
  1. The Alt-Left Democrats: This faction includes Punch a Nazi in the Face people who favor violence in public gatherings. During the campaign, the Trump supporters perpetrated the violence, but since the election, it seems to be the Alt-Left that starts the violence -- as happened in Huntington Beach (Orange County) California last Saturday. These trolls push others out of the sand box altogether. 
  1. The non-tea bagger GOP: This part of the GOP is motivated by one thing: power. Lust for power is often a bad thing. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton in 1887. Our Constitution is based on the need to constrain one power block with another power block.   
  1. The run-of-the mill Democrats: These politicos are like most in the GOP as they also only want power. They look to the Politics of Identity as their demographic savior. This is not the place to disabuse them of that self-deception. 

Bannon – The True Threat to the Trump Presidency 

None of these four parties pose as lethal a threat to Trump as does Steve Bannon with his agenda to destroy government. 

Nothing in Trump’s history ties him to Bannon’s destructionist philosophy. While Trump himself is devoid of any coherent political philosophy, he should be astute enough to recognize true disloyalty to him. Let’s be clear – Trump’s demand for loyalty involves personal loyalty to him. Bannon’s goal of destroying government requires the destruction of the Trump Presidency. If Trump is too mentally dense to figure out he’s being stabbed in the back, tripped in the dark and shoved down the stairs backwards by Steve Bannon -- then he’s beyond all hope. 

How the American Parliamentary System Works 

This year, 2017, is the first time America has had four political parties in Congress, and thus, it’s the first time it could operate as a type of “parliament” in which the President can succeed only by putting together a ruling coalition. 

There is only one ruling coalition: center GOP and center Dems. These two groups form the only combination able to give Trump a governing majority. As the tea bagger Freedom Caucus has shown, they will work with no one. But they have only thirty-six members; alone, they can accomplish nothing. Trump tried to put together a governing coalition of the Freedom Caucus members and the rest of the GOP. However, the tea baggers proved that such a coalition is impossible. Consequently, Trump has only one option. 

The general GOP has been held hostage by the tea naggers since 2010. The sole reason for this is that they feared losing power if they did not toe the right-wing line. On Friday, March 24, 2017, the GOP escaped the clutches of the Freedom Caucus – maybe they are smart enough now to see the open door and walk out of captivity. 

Power is the Glue that Holds Government Together 

Without the power to accomplish things, there can be no governing. The only functional combination will be between Trump (who used to be a Democrat) and a coalition of the moderate GOP (who want to be rid of their domestic Talibanese) and the Schumer Democrats.   

Will Sen. Chuck Schumer allow the left-wing talibanese in his a party to intimidate him into remaining powerless, risking that the tea baggers will gain more members in November 2018? As the tea baggers scream and holler and get bank-rolled for 2018, the Alt-Left will be their natural counterbalance. But unfortunately, Americans will be further polarized. Schumer knows that in politics, access to power heals all wounds. 

What Item to Tackle First 

Here the situation becomes complicated. Forging this new parliamentary alliance is child’s play compared to deciding which items to address and how to address them. It’s certainly not tackling the freaking Wall or the approval of Neil Gorsuch. The Wall was simply Trump’s replacement for the idiotic claim that Obama is a Muslim. Approval of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court would be a win for the tea baggers. The Wall plan needs to go to the back burner and the Dems have to make sure Gorsuch does not get 60 votes. 

Then, the Trump Parliamentary Alliance can move ahead to what both the vast majority of the GOP and the Dem electorate want: a sound economy

The Looming Disaster of Mercantilism 

Trump has to set aside his so-called tax reform as well as his Mercantilism from 1550. He is so wedded to 16th Century Mercantilism that getting him to understand its dangers will be difficult. This Mercantilist philosophy only serves Bannon’s agenda to wreck the government. Like almost all businessmen, Trump’s comprehension of macro-economics is worse than non-existent. 

The repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 and other economic policy decisions around the year 2000 led us into a new economic system known as “Corruptionism.” This crashed the economy in 2008 and now we are gearing up for another Crash. Obama-Geithner blew a chance to jettison Corruptionism and get back to Keynesian economics. Instead, they decided to give trillions of dollars to Wall Street, send Middle America to bankruptcy court and pave the way for Trump’s Politics of Revenge. 

My nomination to head Trump’s economic policy is former Senator Byron Dorgan, who is currently with Washington D.C. law firm Arent Fox, LLP. Whether Dorgan becomes Secretary of the Treasury in the place of Mnuchin (who could be moved to be head of international trade,) or if Dorgan becomes head of the Council of Economic Advisors, a deal maker like Trump should create a place for the #1 person in the nation who correctly called the shots on the economy since 1994. 

A Formula for a Functioning Government 

  1. Get rid of Bannon and his cronies since their objective is to destroy government which entails destroying the Trump Presidency. 
  1. Make an alliance with the two center parties in Congress-parliament. 
  1. Address the macro-economic disaster which is just around the corner. The crash of 2008 hit at the end of Bush’s tenure, but the crash of 2018 will hit at the beginning of Trump’s tenure (which may be truncated by treasonous activity with Russia, which is a separate matter.)

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOICES--While intra-party disagreement among Republicans and a nationwide grassroots effort to stop the cruel and unpopular healthcare reform bill known as Trumpcare undoubtedly fueled its collapse on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday morning made it quite clear that Democrats not cooperating with Donald Trump and the GOP's regressive agenda is not the problem that needs addressing on Capitol Hill.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa," Sanders told CNN's Dana Bash during an interview when she asked if he would reach across the aisle to Republicans and tell Democrats to "stop being intransigent" with Trump and the Republicans on healthcare.

Cutting off Bash with a smile, Sanders said, "Look, what rational people would say is, 'What are the problems? And how do we fix it?' Are deductibles too high? Of course they are. Are there some parts of the country where people don't have a choice? Yes, that's true. Let us do, among other things, a public option. Let us give people in every state of this country a public option from which they can choose. Let's talk about lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55. Let's deal with the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. Those are areas that we can work together on."

On Friday night, after the spectacular collapse of Trumpcare (officially the American Health Care Act of AHCA) in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Sanders discussed the implications of the defeat and announced that he would soon introduce new Medicare for All legislation.

And on Sunday, speaking with CNN's Bash, Sanders again drew the connections between the downfall of the GOP plan and the need for a Medicare-for-All solution:

As Common Dreams reported Friday, the collapse of the AHCA has now opened the door for Democrats to go on the offensive when it comes to solving the real shortcomings of the nation's healthcare system and a growing number of progressive organizations and labor unions are now actively calling for, and organizing around, a demand for Medicare for All.

(Jon Queally writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--There is a tradition on the internet that the use of analogies to Hitler and the Nazis are disqualifying. This unofficial rule was originally stated by Mike Godwin back in 1990 and is known colloquially as Godwin's Law. That tradition may now be obsolete, having been surpassed by current events. In a talk this week, distinguished historian and author Timothy Snyder rejected our hesitancy to discuss the Nazis and the holocaust, particularly with respect to the way that Hitler's rise parallels much of what we are seeing in the American political landscape. He paints a grim picture of the methods that turn democracies into tyrannies, but offers lessons by which to resist the process and to survive if possible. 

His book On Tyranny is subtitled Twenty lessons from the twentieth century. It's a mere 126 pages from cover to cover and physically small enough to fit in your jacket pocket. Snyder points out that what has just happened in America parallels what happened in Ukraine just a few years earlier. A giant campaign of disinformation originating in a foreign power was used to attempt to affect a national election. As Snyder explains, the foreign power is Russia, and the plan was effective in America. The Ukrainians were better able to resist the Russian propaganda campaign. 

Snyder spoke to a packed crowd at Writers Bloc on Tuesday night. If the audience reaction suggests anything, it is that On Tyranny is going to be read by lots of people and will become, alongside the Indivisible guide, the manual for how to deal with the Trump years. Snyder's book is darker and more ominous, making the Indivisible guide seem optimistic by comparison. His analysis and the accompanying corollaries are chilling. 

As Snyder explains both in person and through his book, the situation in the United States under the new presidency goes beyond mere electoral misfortune. It is regime change. What Snyder means by that term is developed more fully in the book, but comes down to the idea that our idea of American democracy is not inevitably destined to survive. The process is not automatic. Other western democracies failed, turning into dictatorships during the 1930s and '40s. We've taken a dangerous first step. 

I'll mention just a few of the twenty lessons. 

Lesson one says, "Do not obey in advance." It seems obvious, but it isn't. As Snyder points out, people tend to follow along and even anticipate what will be expected of them. I'll quote the lesson in its entirety: 

"Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do." 

Snyder expands and explains the lesson through the history of how Nazi rule arose out of a free election, bit by bit gobbling up the institutions that might have withstood Hitler but ultimately failed. 

Lesson Ten says, "Believe in truth." Here is the expanded description: "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights." 

The idea isn't new; it's something that most ethical journalists treat as an implicit assumption. But putting Believe in Truth right up there as an explicit principle is something that we need. If nothing else, it is a statement to the opposition who have accepted Trump's big lie campaign as, if nothing else, amusing. It's time that we remind Trump followers that truth is something that matters. 

Some of the lessons are more appropriate to people who live in already-fascist countries. "Make eye contact and small talk." 

Snyder summarizes a point that has occurred to many of us. When Donald Trump attempted to blame any future terrorist attack on federal judges who uphold the Constitution and civil rights, it was a first step towards preparing the American people to turn against their fellow citizens and to accept significant loss of freedom. Snyder says, "Be calm when the unthinkable arrives . . . When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power." Snyder develops the argument by referring to the 1933 fire that burned the German Reichstag (the parliament building). Hitler used the fire to blame his enemies, tear down the authority of legitimate institutions, and consolidate power in himself. 

Notice that there is a tendency for the reviewer (either the person who interviewed Snyder at Writers Bloc or yours truly) to take up one's favorite lessons from the book and quote them. I suspect that a lot of people will be doing this in the near future. I happen to like "Be kind to our language" and "Stand out." The former was explored by George Orwell. The latter is the warning that because there are some philosophies and movements that you should not follow, there are times when you should not be a follower. 

One thread in these arguments is a little jarring, so there is an argument that has to be made explicitly. As mentioned above, Snyder brought it up and discussed it at Writers Bloc. The issue is using the history of the holocaust in present day discussions about present day politics. 

The counterargument has some merit. The Nazi holocaust was such supreme evil that it stands out against most other human history. Snyder points out that treating the holocaust as unique and not to be spoken of lightly has a certain validity. But he then argues that if we treat the holocaust as a sort of sacred subject that is out of bounds for use in comparisons, then how can we use it to extract lessons for the present day? Timothy Snyder is ready and willing to compare the onset of the Trump presidency to the rise of Adolph Hitler. 

It turns out that Snyder is not alone in rejecting the underlying tenets of Godwin's Law, at least for one tongue in cheek statement in the Urban Dictionary

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

-cw

PERSPECTIVE--A recent poll showed Donald Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent. This compares unfavorably with every president since pollsters started tracking these attitudes. Those on the left are gleefully pointing to these numbers as proof that many who voted for Trump are experiencing buyer’s remorse. Those on the right are dismissing the poll results as fake news. 

That 37 percent is meaningful for another reason. It represents, more or less, the hardcore Trump supporters. Probably about a third of Americans will believe, buy and blindly endorse anything and everything they are told by Fox News, alt-right websites, and anyone working for the White House propaganda machine. 

Last year, at the time of the Republican national convention, I read a lengthy Q & A with operatives from the campaigns of three of Trump’s primary season opponents -- Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. The major takeaway was that Trump started his campaign with a solid base of about one-quarter of the Republican electorate. 

One of those interviewed talked about daily polling done by his campaign organization which showed that this base never wavered. It didn’t matter what Trump said or did, these voters were with him. The campaign managers all said they expected Trump would finally step over the line and his support would fade. That never happened. 

In January 2016, Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, O.K.? It’s, like, incredible.” He was talking about the loyalty of his supporters. He wasn’t kidding. Thanks to that loyalty, Trump always had a head start on his rivals for the Republican nomination. It was an advantage he understood and exploited to maximum advantage. 

It’s an advantage he’s still exploiting. That’s why he’s out on the campaign trail again, giving speeches in places such as Florida and Kentucky, where he can turn out a friendly crowd. Don’t expect to see him in Los Angeles anytime soon. 

Who are these people, the 37 percent? Typically, they are more rural than urban. They are less educated. They tend to be less well off in economic terms. A large number of them are socially conservative and, considering Trump’s life story, surprisingly religious. More than anything else, they are white. 

Much is made of Trump’s popularity in small towns. Most everywhere in America, small town means white. Congressman Steve King of Iowa recently praised Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders, tweeting, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” 

A lot of commentators condemned King’s statement. King didn’t think it was a big deal and said many of his Congressional colleagues congratulated him on his words. His district in Iowa is 97 percent white. Trump took about 61 percent of the vote there. 

For all the talk about economics and making America great again, it’s hard not to conclude that a large chunk of Trump’s believers are motivated by racism. Go to places like northwestern Iowa and ask people if they are racist. Almost all will say no. Ask them if that means they would accept their child marrying a person of another color and you will be met with stony silence. Or maybe you’ll be run out of town. 

Democrats talk about needing to develop a message about jobs and revitalizing the manufacturing economy as a tool to reach voters in small towns in the heart of America. What these politicos really need to understand is that it will never work. For too many outside the big cities, Democrat is a dirty word. Whether it’s one of three or one of four, there will always be a hard core of the electorate for whom skin color beats all other considerations. 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NO JOKE-There is one area where President Trump is already delivering on his campaign promise to create jobs … on the comic circuit.

Yes, there is now actually a shortage of comedians in America. Never have there been so many jokes waiting, even begging, to be told about a new administration, and such a severe shortage of people clever enough to tell them.

The major TV networks are struggling to meet the demand, with no end in sight. Comedy schools are running classes around the clock to keep up with it. Small blogs are being hit the hardest, being forced to repost clips from late night standup routines in an effort to stay in the game.

Trump says these new jobs will all be red-blooded American jobs. He’s even imposed an outright ban on importing jokes from predominantly Muslim countries, at least those that have a sense of humor and don't declare a fatwa on you if you poke fun at them.

Supporters of Trump are even stepping into the breach themselves, saying as many laughable things as they can think of. In fact, a guy to do ‘rim shots’ has been elevated to a cabinet position.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

@THE GUSS REPORT-The axiomatic history of white men hashing out shady political deals in smoke-filled backrooms has come a long way, baby. On Friday, Donna Brazile, the former CNN commentator and interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, finally confessed to that which most already knew and that she spent the past half-year denying: rigging a March 2016 Democratic primary debate on CNN by funneling to the Hillary Clinton campaign at least one pre-screened audience question that she did not also provide to the Bernie Sanders campaign, which she had planned to do again in subsequent debates. 

In a defensive, just-published essay she wrote for Time Magazine, Brazile said she would regret that decision for the rest of her life. But while she deserves credit for finally coming clean, she continues to blame the Russians for her own actions, and fell short of apologizing to Sanders and every registered voter who deserved the opportunity to hear him make his case for the presidency on a level playing field.

But the situation is actually worse than that. 

On the literal eve of the DNC convention last July, Brazile was suddenly appointed to the interim DNC job when President Obama persuaded her predecessor, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, to step down from the role because Wikileaks had just released scores of internal DNC emails showing significant bias for Clinton and against Sanders -- including snarky comments about whether and how they should use Sanders’ Judaism, or perceived atheism, to sow distrust of him among Southern Baptists who, DNC officials figured, would trust Sanders if they felt he was Jewish, but not if they could be persuaded he was atheist. 

Immediately upon her appointment, Brazile published an apology on behalf of the DNC (that was not signed by Wasserman-Schultz) which read, “On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email…. These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not — and will not — tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates.”  

But at the same time Brazile was apologizing for DNC misconduct under Wasserman-Schultz, promising neutrality going forward, she knew that just a few months earlier, she committed similarly egregious acts prior to the March 6 CNN debate. The public didn’t find out about it until just a few days before the general election, when in late October Wikileaks dumped proof of it. 

Right up until Election Day on November 8, Brazile refused to verify that the October Wikileaks emails were hers, even playing the victim card in a riveting live interview with then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly, with Brazile claiming that she is a persecuted Christian woman. 

The DNC and Clinton campaign were perplexed and frightened throughout the election cycle by the organic enthusiasm that imbued Sanders’ entire run. It was completely unanticipated by them for a man from the state with the second lowest population, and who was portrayed by Larry David on Saturday Night Live as a lovable, impossibly honest, curmudgeon.

Clinton, for her part, also has yet to apologize for the misconduct of those on her campaign staff. Wasn’t the buck supposed to stop with her? What heroes they would all have been if they made it known to the public prior to the debates that they were given an unfair advantage!

About the same time as Brazile’s confession this past Friday, Clinton delivered a speech in Pennsylvania, hinting about returning to public life, jokingly saying, “it’s time to come out of the woods,” a reference to the numerous selfies taken by people encountering her on trail walks near her home in Chappaqua, N.Y. With the 2018 mid-terms not looking too rosy for the DNC, it will need all the help it can get gearing up for 2020. Clinton, Wasserman-Schultz and Brazile, women who didn’t just occupy, but owned, the smoke-filled backroom in 2016, would be wise to each offer a clear, concise and unequivocal two words to Sanders and every registered 2016 voter across all party lines: I apologize.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TRUMP WATCH--Responses were varied as to what made Trump's presidency seem illegitimate. Some said it was his nationalist rhetoric and policies; others said they doubted whether he was fairly elected. (Most young Americans see President Donald Trump as illegitimate, according to a new poll out Friday.

The survey by GenForward, conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 57 percent of adults between 18-30 years old—including three-quarters of black Americans and a large portion of Latinos and Asians—see Trump's presidency as illegitimate.

A slim majority of white young adults, 53 percent, consider him a legitimate president, but even among that group, 55 percent disapprove of the job he's doing.

Responses were varied as to what made Trump's presidency seem illegitimate. Some said it was his nationalist rhetoric and policies; others said they doubted whether he was fairly elected.

One respondent said he keeps remembering Trump giving a speech in which he referred to Mexicans as criminals and rapists. "You can't be saying that [if] you're the president," said the respondent, 21-year-old Jermaine Anderson, a student from Florida.

"I'm thinking, he's saying that most of the people in the world who are raping and killing people are the immigrants. That's not true," Anderson said.

Megan Desrochers, a 21-year-old student from Michigan, said, "I just think it was kind of a situation where he was voted in based on his celebrity status verses his ethics."

The poll of 1,833 adults age 18-30 was conducted February 16 through March 6. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams ... where this report was most recently posted.)

-cw

CONSERVATIVES AGREE--While it seems that the American public holds a dim view of most of its elected officials these days, a recent Fox News poll highlighted one lawmaker who has seemingly won over the majority of voters: Sen. Bernie Sanders

The survey, published Wednesday, found that 61 percent of respondents said they view the Independent senator from Vermont, an avowed Democratic socialist, favorably.

At the same time, only 32 percent of respondents said they approve of the the job that Democrats are doing in Congress (60 percent disapprove), and even less (29 percent) agree with the work of the GOP.

Notably, the polling comes as Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats and lost in a competitive presidential primary bid to Hillary Clinton, has faced antipathy from the party establishment. 

Pointing to the Fox News poll as well as a Huffington Post chart that tracks Sanders' favorability over time, the Guardian's Trevor Timm wrote Friday: "One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Donald Trump right now."

"Yet," Timm continued, "instead of embracing his message, the establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don't have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swaths of the country."

But, as the conservative news survey seems to suggest, Sanders' message of economic justice may be one of the few points of popular resonance in the U.S. Case in point, earlier this week the progressive senator traveled to West Virginia to connect with supporters of President Donald Trump over the growing interest in a single-payer healthcare system.

Another interesting statistic from the Fox News poll: Planned Parenthood, the embattled women's healthcare provider widely scorned by Republican lawmakers, also boasts strong favorability among U.S. voters. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they are either 'strongly' or 'somewhat' in favor of Planned Parenthood, compared to only 32 percent who view the organization unfavorably.

Sanders' rating is the highest yet for the poll, which has also taken samples in September 2015, as well as in March, June, and August 2016. Planned Parenthood's popularity has also jumped 7 percent since August 2015.

Notably, Sanders is the only individual among those on the survey who broke 50 percent favorability. Some of the others include: Vice President Mike Pence (47 percent); President Donald Trump (44 percent); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), with 39 percent; House Speaker Paul Ryan (37 percent); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (33 percent); Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (26 percent); and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (20 percent).

(Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--Some of us here may be old enough to remember looking at black and white television as President John F. Kennedy spoke to the nation about offensive missiles that the Soviet Union was installing in Cuba. It was October, 1962. This recollection is stimulated by the reshowing on late night TV of the 1974 dramatization, The Missiles of October. Those with a critical eye will notice a much younger William Devane as the president and an equally younger Martin Sheen as Robert Kennedy. Even more curious, celebrated actor Ralph Bellamy played then ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson. Bellamy had previously starred in Sunrise at Campobello, a Broadway play about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a role he reprised on a local stage in Los Angeles. 

Why is this forty year old made-for-television movie of interest all of a sudden? Obviously there is the contrast between JFK and the current occupant of the office. But it is the nature of this contrast that is concerning, and therefore worth dissecting. 

The year 1962 found the western world and the Russian empire locked in an ideological struggle that had been escalating on the nuclear front for a decade. The development of the hydrogen bomb had made the world an unsafe place. The competition to be able to deliver thermonuclear explosives over long distances was an active area for technical research and military development. The placement of intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba would have made the United States more vulnerable at the time. One day, a U.S. spy plane brought back aerial photos from Cuba showing the construction of a missile site. 

The plot of the movie bounces back and forth between the Kennedys and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev. Each leader is involved in intense debates which include their top military commanders and their foremost political analysts. Krushchev, as portrayed in this dramatization, first rationalizes the risk he is about to take and later begins to understand that the risk of a disastrous war is the result. And it is growing. 

JFK is faced with the task of getting the Russians to back down and to remove the missile emplacements. A ray of hope begins to develop as each side begins to understand that it is necessary to give the other a chance to compromise without losing face. 

The movie portrays Kennedy's inner circle as a group of influential men who bring enormous experience and education to the task. What begins to dawn on the present day viewer is that we are expected to view the characters as people with intelligence, honesty, and honor. It's not surprising that generals and admirals try to push the president in the direction of air strikes and invasion. JFK and his broth Bobby do their best to keep the war talk under control. But each of the participants shows respect towards all of the others. JFK knows how to give orders and the others understand how much they can push back. 

As the crisis continues, we realize that even a leader of the caliber of JFK is driven by real world events. Depending on how the Russians act, he may be forced to order the invasion. He understands the grave danger this would bring. 

That was real life in 1962. Over the past couple of election cycles, we have endured irritating political ads in which a telephone call to the White House at 3 AM about some developing world crisis is used to represent the immediacy of presidential responsibilities. 

In the year of 1974 when this televised movie appeared, viewers were entitled to consider the president and his advisors as people who took their responsibilities seriously, who brought depth and broad intelligence to the table, and who didn't lie to each other. There is a lot of back and forth in the movie about how to withhold information from the press and when exactly to reveal it. But there is no inkling of a president or a presidential press secretary telling lies just for the sake of trivial expediency. 

There is no doubt that The Missiles of October glorifies its participants and avoids their all too human blemishes both as human beings and as politicians. But all of the characters in the story manage to maintain their dignity in public as they did in real life. Then again, they didn't have Twitter in 1962. 

These are characters who would take care to avoid being caught in a public lie. They would avoid becoming the public buffoon. The real life versions of these men didn't always live up to the public perception, but they at least paid lip service to the expectation and the ideal. 

It's hard to imagine the American people of 1960, in the face of thermonuclear risk, supporting a buffoon for the Oval Office. Even Richard Nixon, the 1968 winner, had the ability to carry on fairly learned discourse about international affairs without looking like a complete idiot. 

Perhaps the lesson of 2016 is that Americans simply don't worry very much about mass destruction on the scale that 1960s era Americans faced on a daily basis. Nowadays we are entitled to think about terrorism, but that is at a different level than the prospect of tens of millions of dead in a nuclear exchange. 

Jack Kennedy was aware of the danger, and at least in this dramatized portrayal, does his absolute best to avoid doing anything that would humiliate his opponents. Let this be a reminder. 

As I was watching this old rerun, there was the increasing sense of dismay that at one time, we had the right to expect our top elected officials to act at least in their official capacities with some sense of honor and in the performance of their duties with a considerable amount of intelligence. 

Addendum 

The Congressional Budget Office, as expected, came up with an estimate that the current House bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of insured by 14 million people, and over a decade, by nearly twice that many. Then the White House mentioned that their estimate was even a little worse. It remains to be seen how House Republicans will deal with wide scale public fears about the potential loss of Medicaid benefits. We can expect that Democrats will start to talk about Paul Ryan's stated intention of cutting back on Medicare. I'd like to think of some other descriptive term besides perfect storm, but that's what fits.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

TAX LEAK RAISES QUESTIONS-- President Donald Trump paid $36.6 million in federal income tax on more than $150 million in income in 2005, according to leaked documents obtained Tuesday night by Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston.

"The 1040 shows how Trump obtained money—salary, business profits, dividends, and the like," Johnston wrote at the DC Report after the White House confirmed the documents' authenticity. "But there is still far more that it doesn't say."

Indeed, the release, which comprised just two pages of returns, in some ways raised as many questions as it answered:

  1. Where did his income actually come from?

As Johnston reported Tuesday night, the 1040 form shows that Trump made money through "salary, business profits, dividends, and the like," but does not name the sources of his income—"whether rich golfers playing on his various courses or Russian oligarchs visiting his various hotels," Johnston wrote at DC Report. "Nor does the 1040 distinguish between Trump's business and personal expenses—money spent traveling in his personal jet between homes and offices in New York and Florida or between hotels and golf courses around the world."

What he did get out of, Johnston noted, was "repaying nearly $1 billion he borrowed for his failed casino business" by making use of a tax shelter that Congress shut down soon after. "Ten years later, on his 2005 return, Trump was still saving tax dollars thanks to that tax shelter."

  1. What's this AMT all about?

Trump has called for the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), the mechanism through which he paid the bulk of his 2005 taxes—about $31 million. The AMT is a federal rule that requires individuals pay the higher of two taxes—either their standard income tax or their AMT, which is imposed at a much higher threshold. The rule was implemented to keep a lid on tax-dodging by the wealthy. During his 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to abolish the mechanism, claiming it put a burden on middle-class families.

"But for AMT, which Trump wants to scrap, he'd have paid a lower tax rate than the poorest ½ of Americans—under 3.5 [percent] on $152.7 million," Johnston tweeted.

  1. Who leaked Trump's tax returns?

The answer is thus far unclear, but many—including Johnston—speculated that it could be someone acting on the president's behalf, or the president himself.

"It's entirely possible that Donald sent this to me," Johnston told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

"It's a possibility, and it could have been leaked by someone in his direction."

On CNN Wednesday, Johnston also noted that Trump has "a long history of leaking things about himself." However, he continued, the White House "behaved pretty unethically" in its response, which included refusing to comment on Johnston's story and instead disseminating the documents to friendly, conservative outlets—which ultimately hints that Trump wasn't behind the disclosure, he said.

Still, many saw the leak's favorable reflection on Trump as too coincidental to be discounted.

As New York Times labor reporter Noam Scheiber wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, the returns showed "basically nothing incriminating." He continued, "If this was someone trying to bust Trump, why wouldn't they leak more than summary page? If this is all they had, why leak it at all?"

Many noted that the forms were marked "Client Copy," indicating that the documents came from someone close to Trump, rather than the IRS, as the Washington Post pointed out.

  1. Was it okay to expose these documents?

The White House said in a statement that it was "totally illegal to steal and publish" Trump's tax returns. But as Johnston and Maddow clarified, they didn't seek out the documents, and Maddow said the First Amendment gives them the right to put them on air.

  1. Where are the rest of the tax returns?

Theories aside, many observers—particularly those in the conservative media, which pounced on Maddow's reporting as a "fake news bonanza," per the rightwing blog Breitbart—said the returns reflected positively on Trump, showing that he paid an effective tax rate of 25 percent.

But that outcome only bolstered the argument that the president's team leaked the documents on purpose, and fueled a separate call to release all the pages in his returns, not just the two-page summary.

As Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted, "If [Trump] has nothing to hide, why not release complete #TrumpTaxReturns? Not enough to just show 2 pages."

And Slate's Adam Chodorow wrote on Wednesday, "Tax Day is fast upon us. In a normal world, our president would release his tax returns for all to see. This ritual both reinforces the idea that we are all subject to the law and allows the American people to know that their president is not a crook. It also lets us know where the president's financial interests lie so that we can be sure he has our interests at heart when he sets policy."

"Perhaps Trump will surprise us all by releasing his taxes in the next few weeks," he continued. "I'm not counting on it. While we cannot force him to behave as his predecessors have, we can at the very least refuse to let his nondisclosure pass unremarked upon. This still isn't normal. And no one, whether Democrat or Republican, should let it become so."

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

-cw

ALPERN AT LARGE--The issue of healthcare, sadly enough, has become highly contentious and viciously partisan, but the need to compartmentalize politics and healthcare policy is critical.   

My previous article was kindly responded to by fellow CityWatch writer Bob Gelfand, who set the right tone:  we've got to TALK and COMPROMISE. 

Particularly if we're not so much on different sides of a given issue.  Part of the reason why health care appears so troubling politically is that we're not always "hearing" what the other side is saying. 

But there ARE differences, and they must be addressed...yet in a manner we've not seen to date.

Example #1: President Obama made it clear that doing nothing is NOT an option, and President Trump, interestingly enough, agrees. 

Example #2: Too many individuals, and families, and businesses were hurting because of the rising cost of health care, so President Obama took action.  Again, interestingly enough, President Trump agrees ... yet uses the "Obamacare" model as the unsustainable and unaffordable option that was hurting the same individuals and families and businesses that President Obama was trying to help. 

So once you/me/we get past the "Obama's coming to getcha!" or "Trump is Hitler!" and focus on fixing the problems, we'll disagree on a few things...but, like Mr. Gelfand and myself, we'll probably agree more than we disagree.   

It's all about the quality, affordability, and access to health care, right? 

1) What we can do, and MUST do, is emphasize transparency and flexibility for negotiations and improvements.   

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (who's as responsible as anyone for no longer being the Speaker of the House and for Democrats losing the House) wants transparency now

Well, ain't THAT rich?  OK, I agree, but perhaps the Democrats would do well with different leadership, because it was Ms. Pelosi who rammed the ACA down our throats, and the results have been less than stellar. 

Costs are UP, Enrollment is DOWN and one need not be a right-wing partisan to suggest that the "Affordable Care Act" hasn't been so appropriately named. 

President Trump has made it clear that the ACA repeal/replace is a work in progress, and will speak to ANYONE willing to talk to him. Some Republicans are fighting Trump's and House Speaker Paul Ryan's plan, and many Democrats are vigorously concerned about it (as they should be). So, let's talk.  And no one party should be relegated to "the back of the bus". 

2) There's the inevitable, and potentially beneficial, divide of universal health COVERAGE vs. ACCESS. 

The ACA or "Obamacare" did NOT get to its goal of universal coverage, and even ended a host of health plans that were used and cherished by tens of millions of Americans. 

Paul Ryan is NOT trying to achieve universal health insurance and without getting too reflexively angry at that, let's catch our breath and remind ourselves of competing realities: 

a) A 43 year-old woman with sudden-onset breast cancer should not lose her insurance, and her family should not be destroyed financially because of her terrible misfortune.  Period. 

b) A 43 year-old man in good health who has not worked in 5-10 years and who wants ongoing health insurance is someone who should be offered the ability to work for his healthcare benefits, or should be relegated to the free public health care system that counties are legally obligated to provided.

The first situation requires much attention and fiscal support from all parts of government, and the second situation shouldn't get us too concerned about "how will he be covered?" 

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are emphasizing opportunity over mandate and affordability over forced full-coverage for all Americans. 

(And even though it's tough for some of us to talk about, the issue of how much we're spending on those not here in the country legally isn't a trivial one, or an issue that's going to go away.) 

The rest of the issues relate to the need to balance capitalism and socialism, between the benefits of the free market and the need to have government protect us all from predatory behavior, and Gelfand, in his CityWatch column, addresses many of them: 

1) Drug costs are three or more times more expensive in the U.S. than the rest of the world, and we're indirectly subsidizing Europe and Canada.  That must end. 

2) We need more residencies, and government-subsidized health educational costs of physicians and nurses to pay for health care in underserved areas.  Lots of health care professionals would give up a few years of their lives to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. 

3) Opportunities for individuals and their families to work for their health care should be promoted so long as they are able-bodied, and a host of public works projects can be addressed by those opportunities...you know, that "win-win" situation Trump has always talked about? 

4) There will be arguments over the federal and state roles in funding and overseeing health care, but the first step is always the hardest step...particularly since this will be a neverending argument. Just pass something, and so long as it’s financially sustainable we can deal with fine-tuning the inevitable glitches in ANY system that is passed in Washington, D.C. 

On a final note, it should be emphasized that Republicans and Democrats both have major problems with Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan ... which can and should be used to the advantage of all of us. 

Because debate and compromise is a form of arguments and policymaking that is ... well ... healthy.

And healthy is what our nation needs to become, more than ever.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, 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 CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. 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 Dr. Alpern.)

-cw 

 

 

 

 

 

EASTSIDER-Having negotiated and mediated a good number of healthcare agreements all over the State of California for a lot of years, I have a reasonable understanding of the fundamentals of how these systems work. And after being inundated with all the highly politicized nonsense from both political parties lately, I say, enough! 

As long as we have a healthcare system which is underwritten by insurance companies, the mathematics of healthcare is simple. Hat tip to Dave Winer, a NYC (Queens) software developer and author of the Scripting News blog, who hit the real issue right on: ”The insurance industry, left to a completely free market, will only insure young, healthy people, and will cancel their policies as soon as they get sick.” 

In the current “debate” in Washington D.C., I don’t think it matters too much whether the politicians are Democrats or Republicans. They all take in gobs of personal money from the health insurance industry and big pharma so that they can stay in office -- even as they tell you and me how much they care while they count their take. 

Be it Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, or President Trump and Representative Tom Price (now Secretary of Health and Human Services,) they all take money from the trough. I will, however, admit that Tom Price personally investing in a joint replacement company and then introducing legislation to benefit them, was over the top, even for D.C. On the other hand, what he did is legal for legislators (who make their own rules,) and Zimmer Bionet Tom, as we can now call him, didn’t do anything that a whole bunch of other legislators in both houses of Congress haven’t done in the past. 

The reality of medical care is that none of us really know when or how much of it we will need. So there has to be some kind of a cushion against life-threatening medical events, or long term illnesses that require expensive treatments, such as dialysis, organ transplants, etc. Otherwise, to put it bluntly, we can get sicker and even die. 

Insurance companies have no economic interest in covering any of this stuff. At the same time, rich people have lobbied Congress so that they don’t have to pay for dialysis, organ transplants, or special needs care. The fact that you and I also benefited from these changes was incidental. Congress, of course goes with the bucks and passes such legislation. It is not a coincidence that it was Ronald Reagan who passed the ADA; his donor base wanted it. 

The Math 

The healthcare equation is that insurance companies don’t want to lose any money on their insurance, and you and I don’t want to get an expensive medical condition, and then get real sick or die because we can’t pay for the medical care. This affects all of us, every person in the United States. Absent some resolution to this conflict, we are all one major medical event away from bankruptcy, or worse. 

Think about it. One major event -- be it long term unemployment, divorce, or major medical emergency -- away from bankruptcy. I’m not making this up. Look at The Two Income Trap, by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, written way back in 2003. It’s an impressive (and depressing) read about bankruptcy, a long time before the financial crisis that beggared all of us (except for the banks that caused it.) 

There is really only one entity that has the resources to cover that inherent conflict -- and, you got it, it’s the Government. Because we are really talking about how much risk the insurance industry is prepared to cover (not much) at what cost (a lot), and who’s going to pay for the rest your and my unmet healthcare costs. Realistically, the only entities that can do this are government agencies. And since they govern (and tax) all 360 million of us in the United States, the Feds have the deepest pockets. 

How much the Feds could cover vs. how much state and local entities could cover is pretty much a redistribution of costs issue, since the tax base is progressively smaller as you go down the food chain. Yet the statistical risks for all of us are roughly the same no matter where we happen to reside. A very small state, county or city is simply not going to be able to provide the cushion that the Federal government can. 

That’s the math. 

All the stuff you and I see on TV, hear about on the radio, or that is pushed out to us via social media and our mailboxes, is mostly just noise. Most of it is smoke and mirrors, designed to get you and me to vote for brand X or brand Y, like that will really fix our fundamental healthcare problems. 

Truth is Bernie Sanders was right in his analysis of healthcare, and he paid for it by having both the establishment DNC and RNC try to bury him. Whether or not the government can afford to go to his model, or should, is a public policy discussion that needs to occur and never really has. Instead we get this silliness. 

Budget Cycles and the Cliff 

The timing of all of the proposed changes to our healthcare system is not propitious, either. Most public agencies and corporations operate on one of two budget cycles: July 1 - June 30, or January 1 - December 31. Add in to this the fact that open enrollment for most healthcare providers is October/November for January 1 implementation. In order for them to do the necessary premium calculations, the data and coverage changes need to be in place well before summer. 

So here we are in March with the President and the Republicans playing around with what they call the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare. After braying the same mantra for about seven years, it is clear that they didn’t have a clue what that slogan really meant. And for their part, the Dems have refused to play and are saying, “You break it, you own it.” Wonderful. 

If you are an insurer, if you are a small business person, if you are a public agency with a July 1 budget deadline, or if you are just a consumer at the mercy of all of these parties, this is incredibly anxiety producing. 

All that “striking while the iron is hot” rhetoric over healthcare is going to do is to make every insurer nuts as they try to figure out what premiums they will have to charge for next year. And they will have to take into account the impact for the rest of this year as hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers have to make mid-year adjustments. 

The Insurers

It’s a prescription for chaos, even if all the insurers were playing fair. And let us not be deceived -- they are not all playing fair. I keep referring to Aetna as being a poster child for cheating, so let’s take a look at the details. First, they are one of the two largest insurance companies in the “health services industry” space. Whatever they do is therefore a big deal. 

Second, their mega-merger with Humana, another large player in the Medicaid and Medicare space, was a fix. They got caught by a federal judge lying about their decision to drop out of some 17 state exchanges on the grounds that they were losing money. Turns out that they threatened the Feds to do this if the Feds tried to block their merger with Humana. You can read about the skullduggery here.  

While Aetna called off the merger after being nailed by a federal judge, the moves to lessen, rather than encourage, competition in the Obamacare world have been marching on. The other 800 pound gorilla in the Obamacare game is Anthem Blue Cross, and they too are engaging in mergers to limit choice. You can read all about the insurance carriers shrinking our choices for Obamacare here, notwithstanding the blah blah blah of most news media

Whatever people’s ideology or political identification, let’s agree on one thing: insurance companies are in the business of making a profit, period. They are going to budget and set rates based on very conservative assumptions that will keep their CEOs employed. 

Most of the media reports over the Republican healthcare bill concern saving money, and how ok it is to charge folks from 60-65 more money because they “use” medical care more than younger people. Egad! You think? 

Here’s a modest proposal that will save a lot of money. Stop paying for organ transplants, stop paying for dialysis, and stop paying for long term care for the elderly. It would be really cost effective and save a ton of money! Insurance companies would love it. Heck, repeal the Special Ed statute. And make Congress have the same healthcare that you and I have. 

Anyone think they will do it? 

The Takeaway 

Here’s the practical problem: while the Republicans have elected to embrace Speaker Ryan’s plan without any substantive conversations with the Democrats, their math simply doesn’t work. A bill which pushes some 14 million poor and older Americans out of medical insurance while the relatively affluent get significant tax breaks is something that I cannot believe our political system will countenance. 

At the same time, the Establishment, limousine liberal Democratic leadership of Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House seems incapable of doing much more than ignoring the fact that they lost the election and are still trying to punish the Republicans for their choice of a deeply flawed candidate -- even as they themselves repudiated Bernie Sanders in every way possible. 

Well, we are all Americans. We all deserve affordable healthcare no matter who we are. What is missing here and deeply troubling, is that if the Republican effort fails, there is no Plan B being worked on by the few adults left in our political system, be they Republican or Democrat – at least that I’m aware of. This is not good and somebody needs to get crackin’ now

Remember, the ACA (Obamacare) is not sustainable in its current form after all that has happened in the last year, and while the big health insurance carriers are good at evading antitrust and gaming the system, I haven’t seen them or big pharma come up with anything sustainable either. 

We need to start electing politicians at every level who are reasonably honest and interested in actually representing you and me instead of the deep pocketed political parties and their owners. As long as election turnouts are in the under 20% range (heck, in LA that would be a big increase,) we’re going to keep getting what we got. 

Get involved, pay attention…and vote!

 

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

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--#45 Trump made news again when he abruptly switched gears and said that he wouldn’t keep hands off Medicaid as he kind of, sort of, promised to do during the campaign. Now, says Trump, it’s fair game for a quick assault, namely, the part of the program that some governors, including GOP governors, used to expand coverage in their states. This was made possible under a provision of the Affordable Care Act. Trump ignored the warning that by attacking Medicaid it could screw up the time table for the GOP congressional assault on Obamacare. 

This is incidental to the real reason Trump broke his promise and why the GOP has a manic obsession with savaging Medicaid. The GOP’s stock arguments that reining in Medicaid is about cutting costs, federal intrusion in health care, and restoring health care to the states is hogwash. It’s all about the program itself -- who it benefits from it and what it means politically to the GOP. 

The root of the GOP attack and loathing of Medicaid starts with who created it and what it was created to do. It was a Lyndon Johnson era, Democratic Great Society, War on Poverty Program that was unabashedly aimed at covering welfare recipients and the poorest of the poor. Despite the outrageous and very serviceable myth that is still happily fanned by conservatives as well as many in the media that Medicaid is a gigantic taxpayer health care give-away to the black poor, the majority of Medicaid recipients have always been whites. 

Over time, Medicaid was tweaked, reconfigured, and expanded to provide health care for millions more who had absolutely no access to affordable -- if indeed any kind -- of health care coverage. The greatest beneficiaries, though, have remained the poor, and especially their children. Medicaid covers the cost of prenatal care and hospitalization. 

Medicaid has been wildly successful in controlling health care costs, providing poor and working families with coverage unobtainable in the private insurance market, and acting as a brake on run-away medical care cost coverage in the states. Conservatives have seen deep political peril in this. And they saw even deeper peril when Obamacare expanded coverage more, bumping the number of those now receiving health care coverage under the program to nearly 20 million persons. 

When conservative GOP governors such Ohio’s John Kasich publicly took the expanded coverage deal with Medicaid, saying it could be a boon to the state, the die was cast. Medicaid had to be assailed. The political horror for the GOP is that as long as Medicaid is seen as a Democratic measure (more specifically an Obama measure to aid the needy) there’s a real possibility that many of those millions of voters in crucial swing states such as Ohio will begin to connect the dots. The dots being that Medicaid is a health care program that helps families in need, the Democrats support it and fight for it, while GOP conservatives bitterly oppose it. Therefore, come election time, those families might, just might, cast a vote for the friends, not the enemies, of Medicaid. 

This is an especially fragile political proposition for the GOP given that Trump won by only the barest margin in a handful of states, nearly all of Congress is up for re-election in 2018, and GOP governors and legislatures have only tenuous control in several states. Medicaid, and the lies and stereotypes told about it, appear to be a tailor-made issue to rally conservatives, and hopefully keep the GOP political ducks in contested states in line. That’s only the start since Medicaid -- because of those lies and stereotypes -- is regarded as the easiest of pickings to go after. If successful, this would open the gate wide for the next two perennial right-wing targets: Social Security and Medicare. 

As with Medicaid, Trump claimed during the campaign that he wouldn’t touch Social Security and Medicare, but that almost certainly will go the way of his Medicaid hands-off promise. The two programs are and have always been seen as Democratic inspired and backed. And that has made them conservative whipping boys with the usual storehouse of lies about run-away costs, waste and heavy handed federal intrusion. 

Medicaid then is the proving ground to convince the millions that benefit from these foundational federal programs that they aren’t really in their best interests. The GOP will try to pound home that there are better alternatives and the GOP, not the Democrats, is the party that can provide those alternatives. Trump got that message and will try to deliver this point to those voters who have grave doubts about hacking away programs that have been life-savers to them. For tens of millions, Medicaid has been at the top of the list of life-saving programs. This is what makes it the enduring political target it is -- or putting it bluntly, why the GOP hates it.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of In Scalia’s Shadow: The Trump Supreme Court (Amazon Kindle). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

HISTORICAL MODELS-Why Does Andrew Jackson’s 250th birthday this week matter? What does his history of accomplishment tell us about the voids of our current president who admires him so much? It’s a good time to remember what an important political figure our seventh President was, and how far the 45th President needs to go to equal his idol. 

What can Donald Trump learn from Andrew Jackson, who was born 250 years ago on March 15, 1767? It will be a steep learning curve for Trump, who hung Jackson’s portrait on the Oval Office wall the day he took over and uses it as a photo-op backdrop as often as possible. 

Attempting to become Jackson-like, Donald Trump styles himself as the leader of a “populist” movement he energized with his “America First!” and “Make America Great Again!” slogans as he played on nativist sentiments. Such leanings are an identifying hallmark of Andrew Jackson, who shifted political power from the established elites to the ordinary voters, and played a leading role in granting all white males the right to vote, not just white male property owners. This was part of Jackson’s program of “Jacksonian Democracy” that morphed into the creation of the Democratic Party that, in turn, replaced Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian-based Democratic-Republican Party, changing American political history forever. 

This political advance led to greater democracy for the common man and better representation of poor citizens in the United States. With it, Jackson achieved inclusion. So far, Trump has practiced exclusion and his separatism and division are splitting the country. His campaign call to arms emasculated the Republican establishment and terminated the Bush and Clinton political dynasties. 

Jackson started out against the odds. Trump may also want to try to run the table and see what he can create. It will be worth watching. Jackson, like Trump, was not an Establishment political figure – “Old Hickory” was hardly a name the Boston Brahmins and Philadelphia lawyers, one generation removed from the Founding Fathers, would use to address a peer. Like Jackson, Trump is not an Establishment insider. 

Trump was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Not so Jackson who, by adolescence, was an orphan on the Indian-dominated frontier: his father died before he was born, and his mother when he was twelve. He inherited no legacy or fortune. His apprenticeship was “life,” and he was able to parlay that into becoming a frontier lawyer, judge, congressman, senator, heroic general (famously known as “the Hero of New Orleans” in the War of 1812,) and twice a presidential candidate – winning on his second try in 1828, then serving two terms. 

Trump came to the White House partially from a background as a television reality show host where, for fourteen years, he presided weekly over a low-brow, unscripted entertainment program that specialized in humiliating contestants. As President, he continues to be executive producer of that show. Daily Variety reported that for the first time ever “a sitting president will be on the payroll of a current TV show.” Trump also spent years building up and branding himself and the property development business he inherited from his father. More recently, he has been creating his Trump-branded chain of country clubs and golf courses. 

Getting elected was a challenge for both presidents as each was up against the Establishment. Jackson’s opponent in the 1824 election was John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president, who won the election and became the sixth President of the United States. Thus began the concept of political dynasties in America that would come to include the families of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton, dynasties that have occupied center-stage in modern Presidential history. Trump had his own equally worthy Establishment adversary in the Clinton-Obama coalition. 

One trait that Trump and Jackson share is a doubt about their fitness for office. Jackson biographer Jon Meacham recounts some of the concerns his contemporaries had, concerns that “a man of Jackson’s temperament might turn the Republic into a dictatorship...unqualified for the difficult and complicated business...a wild-eyed backwoodsman brandishing a whip and a pistol.” However, Jackson turned out to be a man of real accomplishment. Trump’s immediate predecessor, who held the job for eight years, has referred to Trump as “unfit to serve as president...he keeps on proving it." 

Jackson overcame many doubts about him, drawing on his substantial experience as a military officer, a jurist, and a legislator. Trump’s experience coming into office is much more limited. If he’s the student of history he claims to be, and admires Andrew Jackson the way he demonstrates, he may be able to learn on how to be the president on the job. 

Jackson held two terms of office. His likeness was engraved onto the twenty-dollar bill in 1928 -- the 100th anniversary of his election as President. 

Generations from now, will a future President think that Trump’s picture is worth hanging on the Oval Office wall or being engraved onto currency? Will Trump, the student of history, make the kind of history that is worth commemorating?

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The United States is witnessing a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic acts, which are sweeping over the country in wave after wave. In St. Louis, more than a hundred tombstones were tipped over; similar hate crimes have taken place in Philadelphia and New York. Attacks are taking place not only in cities across the country, but also in small towns. In Scottsburg, Indiana (a community with less than ten thousand residents), the gravestones of a Jewish couple were defaced with spray paint. To date, there have been reports of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in thirty-three states, and across college campuses.

The rise in hate crimes has risen sharply since Trump’s election. As early as four days following President Trump’s electoral win, an Episcopal Church in a small town in southern Indiana was vandalized with “Heil Trump”. Last weekend, in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo, New York, residents and local law officials discovered spray-painted swastikas and vulgar graffiti on overpasses, a dozen vehicles, and on an elementary school playground. Ten Jewish community centers have been targeted with bomb threats for the fourth time in five weeks. And the list goes on.

While it is not only Jewish individuals and groups who have been increasingly subjected to bigotry and xenophobic outbursts, these latest acts are the escalation of overt anti-Semitism which re-appeared during the 2016 election. What began with tweeting and Internet trolling, is now manifesting itself in more brazen and threatening ways. Unless the underlying conditions are answered, there is every reason to expect that these attacks will persist and become more violent.

As reported by CBSLA, the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles was one of the Jewish facilities across the country that received a bomb threat, authorities said Tuesday.

Officers searched the facility on Olympic Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue Monday afternoon, but found no explosives, Los Angeles police said.

“There was no evidence that it was a credible threat,” LAPD spokesman Officer Tony Im said.

The growing anti-Semitism in the United States has been fed by a social-political atmosphere that is conducive to groups that thrive on racist ideology. White nationalist groups have been encouraged by the current administration's willingness to lend an ear and more to those on the far right.

The president of the United States does not have to be explicitly, or even implicitly, anti-Semitic in either words or deeds to create conditions in which anti-Semitic groups feel emboldened. By being ever ready to entertain conspiracy theories, by showing little regard whatsoever for facts when they are not to his liking, by "remembering" the Holocaust without any mention of the destruction of European Jewry, by failing to condemn these acts in a more timely manner, by empowering figures such as Steve Bannon, and by lending credence to the agenda of the alt-right, the president has helped to make these waves of anti-Semitism and bigotry possible.

Over the past year, the space of public discourse has deteriorated; what was once political spin has been replaced by palpable and shameless lying. It is clear that Trumpism – with its contempt for inconvenient truths, and glorification of authoritarian strongmen – is in part responsible for what is taking place. Racist ideology feeds off of illusions, beliefs which are held because they satisfy deep-seated wishes, without regard for evidence, justification, or warrant. Trumpism has provided the soil in which such illusions are free to grow unhampered by a sense of epistemic and moral responsibility.

The current rise of antisemitism was able to take root more easily when common manners and basic decency were shoved aside during an increasingly ugly election. Courtesy and manners are not insignificant things, but essential to ethical life (in the Hegelian sense), to our shared social substance, the ethical medium in which we dwell with others. The loss of the simple decency that we generally take for granted has wide ramifications and ultimately it creates a social environment where inhibitions against overtly racist acts are weakened, and hate crimes are more likely to occur.

Trump has shown himself ready to make brazen accusations without citing any evidentiary support; he has shown contempt for the rule of law and the freedom of the press, turning away the New York Times and CNN and referring to the media as "the Enemy of the American people" – language which is itself fraught with fascist undertones. Trumpism insists that we cannot be held morally responsible for the claims we make and the statements we endorse.

Indeed, what Trumpism represents is, to put it simply, the suicide of thought (to borrow a phrase from G. K. Chesterton). We are being reminded every day that the human intellect is free to destroy itself precisely by abdicating the responsibility and authority we have to think – we are becoming a society increasingly at war with reason and ‘the tower already reels.’ Trumpism is one of the great-thought destroying forces of our time in its contempt for things like objective knowledge and the disinterested pursuit of truth. The assault on epistemic values has moral consequences – to entertain ‘alternative facts’ and endorse theories on the basis of rumor or heresy is a moral failing, not only because it can lead to actual harm, but because in time it corrupts the mind itself.

To stem the rise of anti-Semitism, we need to restore the integrity of our public discourse, our commitment to intellectual honesty and self-scrutiny. Anti-Semitism has been allowed to grow because we as a country have created an environment that is conducive to race-minded reactionaries. Our country has grown meaner and more cynical. In the span of only a decade, comments that it would have been inconceivable to say in public are now becoming increasingly commonplace.

To properly address the deterioration of our nation’s ethical substance, we cannot underestimate the importance of trust. As the philosopher Jay Bernstein observed, “…trust relations provide the ethical substance of everyday living… Trust relations are relations of mutual recognition in which we acknowledge our mutual standing and vulnerability with respect to one another.” Trust is the “invisible substance of our moral lives” – we only notice it when it has been shattered.

These anti-Semitic and racist acts are attacks precisely on that trust which, under normal conditions, we take for granted. Restoring social trust is a long and difficult process. In this case it will involve, among other things, undoing the moral and epistemic harm caused by Trumpism, and Trump himself must begin this undertaking.

(Sam Ben-Meir, PhD is an adjunct professor at Mercy College. His current research focuses on environmental ethics and animal studies. He can be reached at sam@alonben-meir.com.)

-cw    

The Dark Side of Globalization-When I was a gloomy 16-year-old grasping to find some meaning in the world, my father gave me a tattered copy of social philosopher Michael Novak’s The Experience of Nothingness. Seriously. 

There have been times over the past few decades when I’ve considered this “gift” a few yards short of insensitive and maybe even borderline teenager abuse. But I’m quite certain Dad’s intentions were no more malicious then than when he took me to see Annie Hall when I was 11. 

The essence of Novak’s argument -- and to some extent Woody Allen’s classic 1977 rom com -- is that individuals can achieve some semblance of wisdom if they stop believing in culturally sanctioned sentimental pablum about life (and love) and embrace the essentially tragic nature of human existence. 

In my dad’s defense, Novak’s 1970 book was in no way a prescription for fatalism. Rather, it was an exhortation to find enlightenment on the other side of disillusionment. Accepting life’s despair and emptiness, Novak argued, was a prerequisite for becoming a liberated and fully conscious human being. 

Novak knew that what he was prescribing was no easy task. “Because it lies so near to madness,” he wrote, “the experience of nothingness is a dangerous, possibly destructive experience.” Having no recourse to the comfort of broadly embraced cultural symbols and benchmarks requires inordinate doses of honesty, courage, and ethical self-reflection. 

Novak’s brand of transcendent nihilism was itself a response to a cultural breakdown caused by the rapid social change of the late 1960s. Neither nostalgic for tradition nor putting full stock in the coming of the Age of Aquarius, Novak’s push to accept the void was more a do-it-yourself guide to living in the void than it was a viable call to collective action. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about nihilism lately, both because Novak passed away in February and also because I just finished reading Indian writer Pankaj Mishra’s brilliant new book, The Age of Anger: The History of the Present. Mishra offers a sweeping, textured, unified theory of our dysfunctional age and explains what angry Trumpites, Brexiters, and radical Islamists all have in common: an utter fear of the void. 

Eschewing facile political or religious explanations for the rise of nihilistic social movements around the world, Mishra points to a crisis of meaning wrought by globalization. He sees the destruction of local, intimate, long-rooted systems of meaning as the opening of a spiritual Pandora’s box within which lies infinite doubt and disillusion. Mishra sees these negative solidarity movements as the psychically disenfranchised targeting what they see as “venal, callous and mendacious elites.” 

Brexiters railed against liberal cosmopolitan technocrats, as did Trump’s white nationalists. Radical Islamists loathe the hedonism and rootlessness of wealthy Muslims who’ve surrendered to Western consumer society. Rather than advocate for an agenda that would provide them tangible returns, they all cling to nostalgia for simpler times and rally around their hatred for those they see as the winners in a new world order. 

In Mishra’s view, this new world order isn’t simply neoliberal capitalism allowing money, goods, and services to flow unimpeded across the globe. It’s also the attendant ideal of liberal cosmopolitanism first advocated in the 18th century by Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Voltaire, and Kant. It’s the belief in a universal commercial society made up of self-interested, rational individuals who seek fulfillment. 

Theoretically, modern global capitalism liberates individuals from the constraints of tradition, and encourages them to move about freely, deploy their skills, and fulfill their dreams. But the burdens of individualism and mobility can be as difficult to carry for those who’ve succeeded in fulfilling that modern vision as for those who cannot. A decade ago, one study found that a disproportionate number of Muslim militants have engineering degrees, a prestigious vocation in the developing world. So, while accepting the conventions of traditional society may leave a person feeling as if he or she were less than an individual, rejecting those conventions, in Mishra’s words, “is to assume an intolerable burden of freedom in often fundamentally discouraging conditions.” 

What concerns Mishra most is that when personal freedom and free enterprise are conflated, the ambitions released by the spread of individualism overwhelm the capacity of existing institutions to satisfy them. There are simply not enough opportunities to absorb the myriad desires of billions of single-minded young people. As Mishra sees it, today’s nihilistic politics are themselves a product of the sense of nothingness felt by growing numbers of uprooted outsiders who’ve failed to find their place in the commercial metropolis. “A moral and spiritual vacuum,” he writes, “is yet again filled up with anarchic expressions of individuality, and mad quests for substitute religions and modes of transcendence.” 

Despite his call to harness the experience of nothingness, Michael Novak duly warned of its dangers and potential for destructiveness. Unfortunately, his exhortation to lean in and embrace the void strikes me as about as helpful to frustrated millennials as it was to me when I was an angst-ridden teenager. The answer to today’s nihilistic political movements clearly isn’t more hyper individualism. Nor is a violent return to a traditional past realistic. No one knows how to escape from our current global age of anger. But I suspect that whatever answer there might be will first require us Western liberals to admit that we have finally reached the limits of the Enlightenment’s cult of secular individualism.

 

(Gregory Rodriguez is publisher of Zócalo Public Square … where this column was first posted … and editorial director at the Berggruen Institute. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

In the coming days or weeks or months, a police officer will kill an American, and a controversy will erupt. Maybe the person will be shot while walking away or holding a toy gun, or strapped to a chair and hit by a Taser, or the person’s spine will be severed in a police wagon.

There will be questions about who the victim was and what role she played in her own death, and whether the department is being upfront with the public about what really took place. Protests will bring out hundreds — perhaps thousands — of citizens demanding police transparency and accountability. The media will dig into the officers’ history, looking for allegations of racism or a record of excessive force complaints.

Under the national spotlight, the focus will shift to how the department interacts with the citizens they’ve sworn to protect and serve. It’ll become clear that the protests are about more than this one tragic incident. Perhaps the police department turned into a revenue-collection agency, with officers targeting black citizens for minor offenses while top city officials traded racist emails. Maybe officers were abusing the constitutional rights of civilians through routine stops, frisks and arrests that targeted black residents.

“We know that we have Americans with cell phones. We know that some tragedy is going to be captured on video. And we know that hashtag activism will bring it forward to public consciousness,” says NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.

What we don’t know, Brooks says, is what will happen next. How will the Justice Department respond? How will the attorney general respond? How will the president respond? 

Just a few months ago, the answer to those questions were relatively straightforward. Under Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s attorneys general, the Justice Department made a habit of launching broad investigations of police departments following controversial shootings.

It’s rare for the Justice Department to bring charges against an individual officer in connection with a shooting. The standard for bringing federal civil rights charges against an individual officer is high. Under federal civil rights law, prosecutors must prove an officer used excessive force willfully, and in all but the most egregious cases, it is extremely difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer intentionally violated an individual’s civil rights. And even successful excessive-force prosecutions don’t always expose underlying problems and often fail to improve the climate within a police department or prevent abuses. 

That’s where the Justice Department’s broad probes, also known as pattern-or-practice investigations, or 14141 probes, come in. Under a provision of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed in 1994 in the wake of the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, the Justice Department can investigate systemic problems within law enforcement agencies to identify “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers” that “deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

These sorts of independent federal investigations allowed the healing process to begin in cities that were “in real pain because of a gulf in trust between the police and certain segments of that community,” says Jonathan Smith, a former DOJ Civil Rights Division official.

But under the Trump administration, the future of broad investigations into police departments is in doubt. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently pledged to back law enforcement. The Trump administration has vowed to eliminate America’s “anti-police atmosphere.” And the nation’s new top cop, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has long been a skeptic of broad civil rights investigations of police departments. 

Sessions is leery of consent decrees, in which police departments agree to change their practices, and believes “bad apples,” as opposed to systemic failings, are the cause of police violence. He went further in prepared remarks for a recent speech to the nation’s attorneys general, arguing that police felt the political leadership of the country had abandoned them. The federal government should not be in the business of “dictating to local police how to do their jobs” or spending “scarce federal resources” to sue cities in court, he argued. And Sessions said the DOJ would “pull back” on investigations that he believed had diminish the effectiveness of police departments.

Police stand guard as demonstrators mark the first anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 10, 2015. More than 100 people were arrested in Ferguson and St. Louis.

“We’re going to try to pull back on this, and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights,” Sessions said. Speaking with reporters the day before his speech, Sessions said he believed the DOJ reports released during Obama’s presidency — which he hadn’t read — were “anecdotal” and not based in science. 

Conservative news outlets got the message. “Jeff Sessions Signals That Obama’s War on Cops Is at an End,” declared RedState. Another conservative website said Sessions would “End Federal Harassment of Local Police.”

There’s no evidence that the Obama administration waged a “war” on cops. Only a couple dozen of the more than 18,000 police departments in America came under DOJ scrutiny during the Obama administration. And supporters of the Obama administration’s approach to police reform say the investigations benefit police officers as well, because effective policing requires the trust of the community.

“Fundamentally, you can’t fix the public safety problem in Chicago until you fix the police department. Those things have to go hand and hand,” says Smith, the former Civil Rights Division official. “I’m worried that without this tool available that you will see increasing frustration and growing mistrust.”

When a Huffington Post reporter asked Sessions how he thinks the Justice Department should respond after the next policing controversy, the attorney general focused on DOJ’s role in investigating individual incidents. But federal criminal investigations in excessive force don’t look at the whole department and miss broader issues inside law enforcement agencies that need to be addressed, argues Christy Lopez, a former deputy chief in the Special Litigation Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “That officer, even if he did willfully do this thing, why was he hired in the first place? Why was he allowed to stay on? How many other officers have done that and escaped accountability at this department?”

Protecting the reputation and effectiveness of police departments, said Lopez, requires making sure they are abiding by the rule of law. Backing off of police department investigations, she said, “is not friendly to the police any more than it’s friendly to your children to let them run amok in the streets.”

“Obviously I get it, there are a lot of people in the FOP and line officers who feel under attack by the fact that these decrees exist,” Lopez added. “But it’s a narrative I wouldn’t buy into because there are a lot of people in law enforcement who recognize that this is a legitimate part of law enforcement, to make sure that law enforcement officers are abiding by the law just like everybody else.”

All the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police organization, wants from the Trump administration is “fairness and due process,” says Jim Pasco, the senior adviser to the FOP president. “Police officers deserve and are entitled to the same due process that anyone is ― and they should receive it…. Police are not perfect, but neither is anybody else, and we’re hopeful that all American citizens will benefit from evenhanded justice in a Trump administration.”

But most activists and experts who favor broad investigations of police departments concede they’re unlikely under Trump.

“There’s not going to be an Attorney General Holder, who’s flying down to Ferguson to shake hands with people at a coffee shop,” says Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “There’s not going to be an Attorney General Lynch to go to Baltimore and sit with community leaders around the table in the midst of the unrest.”

Lopez is even blunter: “I think we’re more likely to see the National Guard go in than the Civil Rights Division.”

(Ryan J. Reilly is senior justice report at Huff Post and Julia Craven reports for Huff Post … where his piece originated.) Photo credit: Ryan j. Reilly.

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY--Numerous commentaries from both the political left and right have expounded the parlous state of the Democratic Party. And, to be sure, the Democrats have been working on extinguishing themselves in vast parts of the country, and have even managed to make themselves less popular than the Republicans in recent polls.

Yet, in the longer term, the demographic prospects of a Democratic resurgence remain excellent. Virtually all of the growing parts of the electorate — millennials, Latinos, Asians, single women — are tilting to the left. It is likely just a matter of time, particularly as more conservative whites from the silent and boomer generations begin to die off.

But, in politics, like life, time can make a decisive difference. It’s been almost a decade since the Atlantic proclaimed the end of “white America,” but Anglos will continue to dominate the electorate for at least the next few electoral cycles, and they have been trending to the right. In 1992, white voters split evenly between the parties, but last year went 54 percent to 39 percent for the GOP.

Identity politics vs. social democracy

To win consistently in the near term, and compete in red states, Democrats need to adjust the cultural and racial agenda dominating the “resistance” to one that addresses directly the challenges faced by working- and middle-class families of all races. This notion of identity politics, as opposed to those of social class, is embraced by the progressives’ allies in the media, academia, urban speculators, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, since environmentalism, gender and race issues do not directly threaten their wealth or privileged status.

The rise of identity politics, born in the 1960s, has weakened the party’s appeal to the broader population, as Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla argued in a November New York Times column. But most progressives, like pundit Matthew Yglesias, suggest that “there is no other way to do politics.” To even suggest abandoning identity politics, one progressive academic suggested, is an expression of “white supremacy,” and she compared the impeccably progressive Lilla with KKK leader David Duke.

This hurts the Democrats as they seek to counter President Donald Trump. Americans may not be enthusiastic about mass deportations, but the Democratic embrace of open borders and sanctuary cities also is not popular — not even in California. And while most Americans might embrace choice as a basic principle, many, even millennials, are queasy about late-term abortions.

Democrats also need to distance themselves from the anti-police rhetoric of Black Lives Matter. Among millennials, law enforcement and the military are the most trusted of all public institutions. Rabid racial politics among Democrats, notes Lee Trepanier, political science professor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan and editor of the VoegelinView website, is steadily turning white voters into something of a conscious racial “tribe.”

Finally, Democrats have now embraced a form of climate change orthodoxy that, if implemented, all but guarantees that America will not have a strong, broad-based economic expansion. The economic pillars of today’s Democratic Party may thrive in a globalist, open-border society, but not many in the more decidedly blue-collar industrial, agricultural or homebuilding industries.

Toward a transracial populism

To appeal to the middle and working classes, the Democrats need to transcend cultural avant-gardism and embrace a more solid social democratic platform. Inequality and downward mobility have grown inexorably under both parties, which is why Bernie Sanders, and his eventual “mini-me,” Hillary Clinton, essentially ran against the Obama administration’s economic record.

On immigration, they don’t have to embrace Trump’s misguided views, but they should seek policies that don’t displace American workers. High-tech oligarchs may love H1-B visas that allow them access to indentured foreign geeks, but replacing middle-class IT workers with these foreign workers seems certain to alienate many, including the majority of white, college-educated people who voted for Trump. In contrast to oligarch-friendly Clinton, Bernie Sanders questioned both open borders and H1-B visas.

Sanders’ key plank — a single-payer, Canadian-like health care system — also could appeal to many small businesses, consultants and the expanding precariat of contract workers dependent on the now imperiled Obamacare. Critically, both health care and economic mobility priorities cross the color line, which is crucial to spreading social democracy here.

The key remains embracing growth and expanding opportunity. A pragmatic and work-oriented form of social democracy, as seen in Scandinavia, could be combined with a growth agenda. The Nordics may preen about their environmental righteousness, but their economies depend largely on exploiting natural resources — wood, iron ore, oil — as well as manufactured exports.

Opposing Trump’s plan to expand opportunity and bring jobs back to the country just to spite the president may not play so well in the long run. Most Americans may disapprove of Trump, the person, but they seem far more open to his policies, and are more optimistic than under the far more popular Obama. Trump’s defense of popular entitlements and infrastructure spending should garner some Democratic approval.

Rather than resist and posture in megadollar glitter, Democrats would be better served by developing their own middle-class-oriented growth program. This would be nothing unique for Democrats, and was central to the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and, most recently, Bill Clinton. If Donald Trump gets sole credit for a massive infrastructure expansion and a robust economy in the face of hyperpolarizing “resistance” histrionics, then the timeline for a Democratic resurgence could be put off for a decade or more.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of New Geography … where this analysis was first posted. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

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RESISTANCE WATCH--Black Lives Matter. Occupy Wall Street. The Tea Party. Even before the nationwide protests in response to Donald Trump’s election, civil unrest was roiling American politics. Citizens who a generation ago might never have considered speaking out are taking to the streets, shouting down officials at town halls, and deluging your social feeds with diatribes.

And it’s not just the United States: Good data is rare, but one survey of news coverage found that protest actions around the globe annually doubled from 2006 to 2012. It’s hard not to feel like you should be out protesting something these days. So, what’s the best way for the novice agitator to affect change?

Commit to Non-Violence

From 1900 to 2015, about half of all non-violent campaigns for regime change succeeded, compared to about one-quarter of violent insurgencies. That’s one much-discussed finding from the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes catalogue of nearly 500 uprisings since 1900, compiled by the political scientist Erica Chenoweth of the University of Denver.

Non-violence works slightly more often than not; violence rarely works. This data only accounts for national movements to secede, or to remove heads of state or military occupations — sweeping fights — so they may not be instructive for narrower protests against, say, excessive use of force by law enforcement in minority communities.

On the other hand, there is some disputed evidence that, in limited circumstances, violent protests can help achieve small, temporary gains in the form of expanded financial assistance for low-income families or higher wages for workers.

… Even When the Other Side Gets Violent

Easier said than done, unless you believe your cause is worth life and limb. Chenoweth and her colleagues Marie Stephan and Jonathan Pinckney have found that violent state crackdowns in response to protests can shake even well-organized, well-trained movements’ commitment to their non-violent principles, and that violent repression is one of the most common points at which such movements fail. Strong, vocal support for non-violence from protest leaders, and extensive training for participants, might be key.

One of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers of activism, Richard Gregg, recognized this when he suggested that protestors should be as well-trained as soldiers, to tame their instinct to respond to violence with violence.

Be Welcoming to Less Ideological Newcomers

The pro-life movement has made striking gains in state legislatures since the 1990s, with new laws limiting abortion access sprouting nationwide every month. At the core of that movement is a legion of activists, many of whom who were initially invited to events despite holding pro-choice views, as Ziad Munson explored in his 2008 book The Making of Pro-Life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works

One effective strategy of the movement: Once someone with a “thin” connection to the movement gets sucked in, they are encouraged to specialize in one protest tactic, whether it’s outreach to potential recruits, calling congresspersons, or picketing outside Planned Parenthood facilities. Pro-life organizations have gained a lot of very loosely affiliated members with this approach, helping them seem more influential and legitimate.

As much research suggests, the bigger the movement, the more likely it is to secure favorable outcomes.

Timing Is Key

In early 1933, Dr. Francis Townsend published an open letter calling for every person over the age of 60 to receive $200 per month from the federal government, paid for by a 2 percent national sales tax. Millions of people quickly passed the letter along to their friends, who signed up for the doctor’s newsletter.

Their plan rallied the elderly and set the agenda nationally, but elections loomed and competing, less-generous policies developed in the Senate. The Townsend army’s hardline advocacy distracted from bills with more votes in the Senate, so Franklin Roosevelt — who hated the Townsend Plan — passed the even less generous Social Security Act.

Townsend and his followers were bitterly disappointed, despite having helped create what would become one of the most popular government programs in history. The sociologist Edwin Amenta concluded in his 2010 review of dozens of protest studies, including his own on the Townsend effort, that “movements are less influential in later parts of the policy process” and “a national challenger with far-reaching goals is likely to need its issue already on the agenda.”

In the case of the Townsend Plan, their continued insistence on a perfect solution, along with their opponents’ maneuvering, hampered their ability to secure a more favorable compromise.

Understand That Strategy Matters

Protesters of all ideological stripes look to the early civil-rights movement, leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, for strategic guidance. In a thorough study published earlier this year, the Princeton University politics professor Omar Wasow measured the effect of non-violent protests on Democratic vote share in the 1964 election.

Protests like the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins helped pro-civil rights Democrats.

The Watts riots hurt: Counties near violent protests saw decreased Democratic vote share, which Wasow suggests helped spark the law-and-order backlash that swung the 1968 election to Richard Nixon, and gave us mass incarceration that reformers are still trying to undo: “In public-opinion polls between 1950 and 1980, a majority of subjects identified ‘civil rights’ as the most important problem facing America at the same time that non-violent black protest activity peaked and, likewise, responded with ‘law and order’ when black-led violent protests were most active.”

(Michael R. Fitzgerald is Senior Editor, Pacific Standard  … where this guide was first posted.)

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GUEST WORDS--"What should a United States senator, or any citizen, do if the president is a liar?" asks Bernie Sanders.

We face a very serious political problem in this country, and that problem is manifested in a post written yesterday by Amber Phillips of The Washington Post. In her piece, Phillips criticizes me for lowering the state of our political discourse, because I accused the president of being a “liar.”

What should a United States senator, or any citizen, do if the president is a liar? Does ignoring this reality benefit the American people? Do we make a bad situation worse by disrespecting the president of the United States? Or do we have an obligation to say that he is a liar to protect America’s standing in the world and people’s trust in our institutions?

I happen to strongly believe in civil political discourse. The vast majority of people in Congress who hold views different than mine are not liars. It is critical we have strong, fact-based debates on the important issues facing our country and that we respect people who come to different conclusions. In a democracy people will always have honestly held different points of view.

But how does one respond to a president who has complete disregard for reality and who makes assertions heard by billions of people around the world that have no basis in fact?

In her post, Phillips reprints five tweets that I sent out yesterday as examples of “the sorry state of political discourse right now.”

Here they are:

One of my great concerns is that there undoubtedly will be major crises facing the United States and the global community during Trump’s tenure as president. If Trump lies over and over again what kind of credibility will he, or the United States, have when we need to bring countries around the world together to respond to those crises? How many people in our country and other countries will think that Trump is just lying one more time?

Trump said three to five million people voted illegally in the last election. This is a preposterous and dangerous allegation which intentionally opens the floodgates for an increase in voter suppression efforts. Amber Phillips herself previously wrote, “There is just no evidence of voter fraud. Why launch an investigation into something that nearly everyone in U.S. politics — save one notable exception — doesn’t believe warrants an investigation?”

Trump claimed that his victory “was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.” Anyone with access to Google could see that this is factually incorrect. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all had bigger electoral margins of victory than Trump.

And then there are the trivial lies. Trump stated “it looked like a million and a half people” at his inauguration. Who cares? But none of the people who are trained to estimate crowd size believe that one and a half million people attended his inauguration.

More importantly, Trump helped lead a baseless and dangerous attack against the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency by suggesting over and over again that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore not eligible to become president. This was not a disagreement with Obama over policy. It was a deliberate and dishonest effort to appeal to racist sentiment in this country and deny the right of our first African-American president to serve.

Lastly, my tweet which states that the United States will not be respected or taken seriously around the world if Trump continues to shamelessly lie is self-evident. We are the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. If we have a president who is not taken seriously by people throughout the world because of his continuous lies, our international standing will clearly suffer.

I find it interesting that Ms. Phillips did not take issue with my facts. Her complaint appears to be that it is improper for a United States senator to state the obvious. And that is that we have a president who either lies intentionally or, even more frighteningly, does not know the difference between lies and truth.

What do you think?

It is easy to know how we respond to a president with whom we disagree on many, many issues. I disagree with Trump’s support for repealing the Affordable Care Act. I disagree with Trump’s plan to give huge tax breaks to billionaires. I disagree with Trump’s appointment of an anti-environmental EPA administrator. I disagree with Trump’s appointments of major Wall Street executives to key economic positions and his plans to loosen regulations on Wall Street designed to protect consumers. And on and on and on! These strong policy disagreements are a normal part of the political process. He has his views. I have mine.

But how do we deal with a president who makes statements that reverberate around our country and the world that are not based on fact or evidence? What is the appropriate way to respond to that? And if the media and political leaders fail to call lies what they are, are they then guilty of misleading the public?

What are your views on this extremely important issue? I look forward to your comments.

(Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website.  Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders or @BernieSanders. This perspective provided CityWatch by Common Dreams.

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ALT-RIGHT HISTORY-Donald Trump’s assertion that he will “Make America Great Again” suggests that at some point America became “not great.” Let’s put on our alt-right thinking caps (is that a non sequitur?) and see if we can figure out when that happened. 

If we start with the assumption that America was great when our bewigged forefathers wrote the Constitution, we only have about 220 or so years to examine. When did it all go wrong? 

Bad stuff happening, like the British burning the White House in 1814, doesn’t count. We bounced back from that one fairly quickly. The same goes for the occasional economic depression, rebellion against taxes on whiskey, and cholera epidemics. 

And thanks to shrewd bargains and an ability to win wars with Mexico, the United States grew bigger. Nobody worried about immigration because there were millions of acres to fill with farmers and, later, coal to mine, railroads to build, and factories to fill with cheap labor. 

For some of the alt-right, pro-Trump crowd (think brown shirts and white hoods), the first big “not great” moment occurred at the end of the Civil War when slavery was abolished. Literally, millions of black slaves were freed so they could begin exploiting the poor taxpayers who were forced by the federal government to pay for the 40 acres and a mule promised by General Sherman. 

It took a few years, but America was made great again by successive administrations whose priorities were keeping Wall Street happy, eliminating Native Americans, and doing everything possible to prevent workers from organizing unions. 

Disaster struck at the turn of the century when Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of William McKinley. The progressive Republican (a traitor to his class and party) broke up financial trusts and regulated business. Imagine how people felt when they could no longer walk into a drug store and buy patent medicines whose main ingredients might be wood alcohol and cocaine. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Roosevelt’s run as a third-party candidate resulted in the election of Woodrow Wilson. After promising continued American isolation from world affairs, he took the U.S. into World War I and then consorted with Europeans to ensure peace. Fortunately, the Senate put a stop to that. 

Making America great again, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover napped their way through the 1920s until the stock market ran off the cliff. Following a financial prescription now touted by Trump, the United States went from “really, really great” to “not great” almost overnight. 

During the next two decades, Roosevelt and Truman pulled us out of the Great Depression, fought World War II, and established government programs and policies that have, for the most part, endured because they make the lives of Americans better.

For the alt-right and, apparently, the vast majority of Republicans, this is when it all went wrong. Since the advent of Ronald Reagan, it’s all about demolishing everything in government, at all levels that might involve helping people who do not deserve “entitlements.” Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are targets even though individuals pay for much of the cost of these programs. 

What “Make America Great Again” really means is “Every man (and woman and child) for themselves.” 

The scorched earth policy of much of the alt-right is about erasing the history of the New Deal and Trump and the Republicans are their willing tools to achieve that goal.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

RESISTANCE--I have been on picket lines defending abortion clinics since the 1980s. I remember well the wintry morning in December 1983 when I got a call to come up from Seattle immediately to help support the Feminist Women's Health Center in Everett, Washington, which had been firebombed during the night. The clinic put out the call and dozens of supporters from around the area arrived to stand with the staff in an early morning daze that was dispelled by our anger and concern. That was the first of three bombings the clinic experienced before the cost of rebuilding and escalating insurance premiums finally closed their doors. 

Over decades, I and my Radical Women sisters conducted similar clinic defense work in Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Australia, and other cities. Our Bay Area chapter for many years took the lead in mounting the counter-protest of the annual “Walk for Life” in San Francisco. We built and worked in reproductive justice coalitions and participated in actions, marches, forums, lobbying, conferences and speak-outs. Our work continues today as Planned Parenthood and other providers come under an intensified onslaught. 

Little has changed over the years as far as the stakes involved. Access to abortion is still a lifeline for women who for any number of reasons are unwilling to have a child at a particular time in their lives.
 
Our opponents are just as vicious, moralistic and dangerous today – whether they're launching their attacks through legislative means or outright terrorism.
 
But one thing that has changed is the attitude of some clinic owners and non-profit officers. Where clinic managers used to regularly walk the lines with us and thank us for our efforts, many are now so isolated from the movement that won abortion rights that they deplore the mobilization of community support outside their offices. They want to view reproductive services as a business, a professional apolitical enterprise, like dentistry. In another world this would be true, but it is certainly not the case in today's USA. Wishful thinking can't take the politics out of the struggle for accessible abortion – it is a key bulwark in the larger fights for women's rights, racial justice, economic parity, and the separation of church and state.
 
I was disturbed to see some clinic operators call on their supporters to not show up on February 11 outside Planned Parenthood, where anti-choicers had announced protests. Some clinic managers claimed it would cause stress and fear for staff and clients to encounter a face-off between the two sides. In my opinion, it causes much more stress and fear for clinic users to arrive at a site where only opponents are present. This also intimidates community members who assume they are alone in supporting women's reproductive rights if it appears that misogynists have won the disputed territory.
 
Counter to what some providers claim, reproductive rights defenders are frequently thanked for our presence by community members, staff, and people seeking clinic services. They know we are an important buffer between those who are ready to use any means to undermine their rights. 

Clinic defenders are not the problem. We can keep the volume down when staff let us know procedures are being performed. We are controlled in our face-offs with the fetus fetishizers, because our goal is not to change their cement-hard beliefs but to keep them from trampling on ours. Like clinic managers, we have the needs of clinic users paramount in our minds – not just on a particular day but for years to come.
 
The days for clinic defense are not over. In fact, our presence may be more urgent than ever given the heightening war against women.             

                                                    
(Helen Gilbert is a longtime activist with Radical Women and is Managing Editor of Red Letter Press in Seattle, Washington.)

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TRAVEL BAN WATCH--President Donald Trump on Monday rolled out "Muslim ban 2.0"—a new executive order blocking entry to the United States to people from six majority-Muslim countries, a directive one civil liberties group says amounts to doubling down on religious discrimination.

Politico noted earlier Monday that in the roughly five weeks since his first now-blocked travel ban was issued, Trump has been "promising the public that the revised version would be substantially the same as the original—while telling courts just the opposite." Also during that time, two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documents obtained by the press debunked the administration's rationale for any such travel ban.

The new ban will be effective March 16; the previous order went into effect immediately.

It blocks for 90 days people from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Iraq has been left off the new list, as the country "has taken steps to increase their cooperation with the United States in the vetting of Iraqi nationals," a fact sheet (pdf) from the White House says. It also states that "the significant presence of U.S. forces in Iraq," contributes to its different treatment.

The executive order affects those who did not have already a valid visa by January 27, 2017. The first travel ban originally blocked even those with green cards and current visas from re-entry.

In addition, the new order blocks all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days. Unlike the previous version, Syrian refugees are subject to this same pause, not blocked indefinitely.

Following the signing of the order, DHS Secretary John Kelly declared at a press conference that "unvetted and unregulated travel is not a universal privilege."

According to David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU and a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, "The new order will be less catastrophic in its roll-out than the first, both because it exempts those who already have visas and because it will not go into effect until March 16. But it's still religious discrimination in the pre-textual guise of national security. And it's still unconstitutional."

And in response to the order's impacts on refugees in particular, David Miliband, president and CEO of humanitarian aid group International Rescue Committee, said it's "a ban that heartlessly targets the most vetted and most vulnerable population to enter the United States. This ban doesn't target those who are the greatest security risk, but those least able to advocate for themselves. Instead of making us safer, it serves as a gift for extremists who seek to undermine America."

The original ban sparked protests across the nation and beyond—as well as multiple lawsuits—and immigrant and civil rights groups have already vowed to return to the courts to take on the new order.

Omar Jadwat, head of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, added: "The Trump administration has conceded that its original Muslim ban was indefensible. Unfortunately, it has replaced it with a scaled-back version that shares the same fatal flaws. The only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban. Instead, President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people."

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams … where this report originated.) Photo credit: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc

DECODING BAD BEHAVIOR-Forces from the Right and Left don’t want the public to ask the obvious question: Is Trump insane? The American Psychiatric Association has its Goldwater Rule stating, “it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined in person, and obtained consent from, to discuss their mental health in public statements.” The American Psychological Association does not have a Goldwater Rule, but it has a wordy statement against diagnosing public figures.   

Perhaps the first time Western Civilization needed to the address the question of whether someone was crazy was when Cain slew Abel. After all, the killing arose from sibling rivalry when God said He liked Abel’s freshly slaughtered meat better than Cain’s veggies. 

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” 

So, I guess the first crazy person was God who set brother against brother. Only a crazy person would do that. Should vegans everywhere take heed that God does not like vegetables? 

The point is that since the beginning, mankind has been trying to figure out why people (and divine beings) do bad things, and we are not going to stop now because some stuffed shirts in professional associations want to ride herd on us. 

The Bible continued to discuss kings who went mad as did the Greeks and the Romans and every other society on the face of the earth. Very recently, our own society has been trying to classify troublesome behaviors. It is through an on-going work called the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM-5 came out in 2013. But psychiatrists and psychologists do not want us mere mortals to read the DSM for the same reason that many priests conceal sacred texts from the masses. Only the initiated may have access to the Truth. Hmm, kind of sounds like a rule Donald Trump would promulgate. 

What is the benefit in comparing Trump to definitions in the DSM-5? 

We could continue to use the Bible and decide to burn him at the stake or we could strictly apply criminal law and arrest him for criminal fraud. Neither the Bible nor the legal code will be of much benefit in understanding why The Donald behaves as he does. There is no sane reason for us to just sit here waiting for The Donald to deport us to Mexico before we look around for some common language to describe his bizarre behavior. 

How would the DSM-5 classify The Donald? 

Right now the category de jour is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (DSM-5, 301.81), but I think we need to pay attention to Histrionic Personality Disorder (DSM-5, 301.50). According to the DSM, a person may suffer from more than one Personality Disorder. I think I see aspect of Antisocial Personality Disorder (DSM-5, 301.7 - the old “psychopath”). The overlap is normal since all three are part of what the DSM calls Cluster B.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

KEEP ON MARCHING--Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) (photo above) implored congressional Republicans to change tack on an Obamacare repeal by cutting out conservatives and working with Democrats to preserve coverage for millions of Americans ― and he admitted that the raucous town halls across the country are influencing the debate.

“There’s going to be a problem in the House of getting anything out of there that still provides coverage to people,” Kasich told “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson. “That’s why the Republicans have to reach out to some of the Democrats.”

Kasich mentioned that there were some conservatives in the House who were trying to get rid of the entirety of Obamacare.

“And that’s not acceptable when you have 20 million people, or 700,000 people in my state [using Obamacare], because where do the mentally ill go?” Kasich asked. “Where do the drug addicted go?”

Kasich is a proponent of the Medicaid expansion, which allowed states like Ohio to offer Medicaid to a broader range of people (including individuals making roughly $16,000 a year). Conservatives have already indicated they won’t vote for an Obamacare repeal that preserves the Medicaid expansion, while some Senate Republicans have indicated they won’t support a repeal that removes the expansion. That has left the GOP in a bind, and Kasich thinks the answer is to turn to Democrats.

Kasich also said he thought protests were affecting Republicans.

“Look, I don’t understand everything that’s going on with these town halls, but ... I think it’s having an impact from the standpoint of ‘Hey, people are watching,’” Kasich said. “I don’t think they mind reform, but don’t take everything away.”

On Saturday, governors were briefed about the GOP replacement plan, with the expectation that millions could lose coverage.

Kasich reiterated that he didn’t want to kick 20 million people off of health care, and that this debate was bigger than a political argument.

“At the end of the day I’m going to stand up for the people that wouldn’t have the coverage if they don’t get this thing right,” Kasich said. “And I happen to believe that the best way to get this right over time is for actually both parties to work together.”

(Matt Fuller is congressional reporter for Huff Post … where this report was first posted.)

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URBAN PERSPECTIVE-(Editor’s Note: President Trump deliver’s his first State of the Union address Tuesday, Feb 28.) #45 Trump is not calling his State of the Union Address a State of the Union Address. There’s a few good reasons why. Apart from what Trump calls it, a newly elected President’s first address before Congress and the nation is technically not a State of the Union address. It’s “an address to a joint session.” A President must be in office one year before he gives a State of the Union Address. 

This makes sense since it would take that long for a new President to have done anything that he merits discoursing on. Semantics aside, Trump has done everything he can to give the appearance that his presidency will be the most unorthodox, unconventional and precedent shattering of any adm