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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then There’s Hillary 

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

Here’s what Clinton said in that debate: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait! You Mean We Won Something? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Most Likely to Be Hopeful? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Doing Politics Is Like Surfing 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first thought was to dismiss Election Justice USA. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Read more ...

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

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

Read more ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum 

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

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

 

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

-cw

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

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

Here are a few: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory Arbitration 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Examples 

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Hopes 

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

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

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

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

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EPPERHART ON POLITICS--I, along with about 84 million or so of my fellow Americans, myself Monday evening watching the Democrat and Republican candidates trying to not make fools of themselves. (One of them, anyway.) This will be my 11th presidential campaign as a voter and, like just about everybody, I’ve never seen one like 2016. 

A year ago, few took Donald Trump seriously. His Republican opponents certainly didn’t. Over the following months, what their campaign operatives came to understand was that a rock solid core of G.O.P. voters (about a third) started out for Trump and never wavered. This was all he needed to carry him through the early primaries. As his opponents fell by the wayside, he picked up enough to keep going all the way to Cleveland and the nomination. 

Trump’s strategy, if you can call it that, has been to drive home the same message that America is a dark place, broken and in desperate need of the remedies that only he can provide. It is a pitch that works, but only for those who want the product. Who are these people? 

They are the “disaffected” — folks whose vision of the United States got obscured when all those black and brown and gay people proliferated on their TV screens. They wonder why The Simpsons and South Park are still on and King of the Hill isn’t. They don’t understand why an NFL player, who should be grateful for the opportunity afforded him in this great nation of ours, won’t stand for the National Anthem. 

No matter what Trump says or how he behaves, these folks will stand with him. But they are not enough to get him past the finish line ahead of Hillary Clinton. 

Despite the back-and-forth in national polls, electoral vote prognosticators consistently predict a Clinton win. None have shown Trump at or near the 270 electoral votes he needs to become president. To do that, he will need to persuade the handful of undecideds who could swing the outcome in his favor. 

It’s the deal of his lifetime and he’s blowing it. 

Monday night he tried and failed to make the pivot to “Teleprompter Donald” (as the media have dubbed the more presidential persona.) The split screen showing both candidates provided a stark contrast between the constantly moving Trump and the still, poker-faced Clinton. She looked cool and collected. He looked like he needed to use the restroom. 

Trump’s constant interruptions didn’t rattle Clinton. She is the consummate pro and it showed Monday night. When he tried to distract her, she kept on talking like he wasn’t there. 

His assertion that not paying taxes made him smart (as opposed to us dummies who do) and making money off people who lost property in the recession is good business was a naked display of ego. Telling people you’re bright and they’re dim isn’t a winning strategy. 

Donald Trump has his solid 40 percent of the electorate. They live in his alternate reality and will turn out for him come hell or high water. But, the other 10 percent he needs aren’t buying his sales pitch. With every day that passes, it’s looking more like a done deal.

 

(Doug Epperhart is publisher, a longtime neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NEW GEOGRAPHY--Whether he loses or, more unlikely, wins, Donald Trump creates an existential crisis for the Republican Party. The New York poseur has effectively undermined the party orthodoxy on defense, trade and economics, policies which have been dominant for the last half century within the party but now are falling rapidly out of fashion among the rank and file. 

In this sense, Trump’s nomination could be seen as both an albatross and something of a life preserver. His rallying of a large working-class base, particularly in the Heartland, provides a potential new direction for the party that has lost irretrievably the business elite, the coastal states, minorities and the educated young. Clearly, the party needs to revise its electoral strategy. 

Geography and economics 

Trump’s raw and poorly considered economic nationalism positions the GOP against Hillary Clinton’s crony corporate establishment — anchored by Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the coastal media. This resonates broadly among many Americans, who are increasingly disaffected with the oligarch-dominated, big-bank-driven economy. 

Now the Democrats have become the party of the urban gentry, public employees and the government-dependent poor, an identification that hurts them elsewhere. In contrast, Trump’s strongest support comes from small towns and, to a lesser extent, the suburbs. In these geographic heartlands, low labor participation rates, declining incomes, struggling Main Street businesses and collapsing opportunity incite resentment and a call for radical change. The disconnect with the power centers is further stoked by the celebratory coverage received by the asset/inflation-driven “false economy.” 

Clearly, the traditional Republican path to victory — pandering to the ultrarich — seems misplaced, if not a trifle masochistic. Trump may boast about how he benefited from cronyism, but his critiques resonate more with the owner of a bar on a small town Main Street or a 20-person machine shop who knows that he can’t count on the Treasury Department defending his tax avoidance, as has occurred in the case of big-time Democratic donor Apple. 

Similarly, Trump’s crude assault on undocumented immigration makes more sense to many lower-skilled Americans who compete with them for jobs. Additionally, Trump’s attack on the Democrats’ ever more strident decarbonization drive has brought Appalachia firmly into the GOP realm, and may also deliver some key Midwestern swing states, such as Iowa and Ohio. 

Bill Clinton, who once effectively reached such voters, now denounces the “coal people” like they are a bunch of mindless Bubbas. His wife’s recent attack on Trump supporters as homophobes, racists and xenophobes revealed an unflattering glimpse at the inner thoughts of the “party of the people.” 

Not just the white people’s party 

Trump’s shameless, needlessly provocative antics clearly appeal to those with residual racist and nativist sentiments, which undermine GOP efforts to break into the increasingly racially diverse electorate. But, surprisingly, Trump isn’t doing much worse than more temperate Republicans, such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, among Latinos. It’s shocking how little appeal country club Republicans, despite their nicer manners, wield outside the county club. 

The challenge now is to expand Trump’s class-based appeal in ways that can also win over minorities. Becoming the white people’s party is not the road to long-term success; better to reach across the racial divide and make common cause with the new party core. 

Most Latinos and African Americans, after all, share many economic concerns with the white working class — the loss of blue-collar jobs, lack of affordable housing and diminished prospects for homeownership. They also are most likely to suffer from the efforts to protect poorly performing public schools, which are fervently defended by Clinton’s core supporters in the teachers unions.

And as most Latinos are, themselves, not immigrants, and are becoming ever more native-born, they may prove more amenable to such basic economic appeals than focusing on people crossing the border. 

But perhaps Trump’s signature achievement may prove to be the marginalization of the religious right, exemplified by the embrace at the Cleveland convention of gay billionaire Peter Thiel. Religious conservatives have posed a mortal threat to Republican future prospects, not only among millennials and educated professionals but across a broad swath of an increasingly secular electorate. 

The only way to relevance: Exploit the weaknesses of the other side 

In the post-Trump future, Republicans need to focus on issues that exploit the Democratic disconnect with middle- and working-class voters: absolutist arrogance on environmental issues, the increasing embrace of radical social engineering and issues related to law enforcement. It may help that there does not seem to be any great progressive tide out there, since Congressional Republicans, although burdened with Trump at the top of the ticket, are doing better than expected. 

Ultimately, the GOP strategy needs to incorporate the populist aspects of Trumpism – economic nationalism, respect for blue-collar labor, opposition to political correctness -- while ejecting the New Yorker’s bile. A positive, inclusive message embracing economic growth – now abandoned by the Democrats years ago – could make the GOP attractive enough to avoid being tossed into the dustbin of history.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two ways out of this that I see:

Pollsters 

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

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

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

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

Voters Can Unite 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TRUTHDIG-As I interview blue-collar workers about their jobs, their futures and their struggles with an unequal economy, I’m struck by how compelling their stories are compared to the rhetoric of the presidential campaign. 

I get caught up in the details of their work and lives, their concerns about how automation is changing their jobs, their worries about child care. So interesting—and sometimes moving—are their stories that I almost forget to ask them how they feel about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

That’s what happened this week when I visited Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, a community college centered on vocational education and preparing students for the increasingly technological workplace. Carpentry, plumbing, diesel and electric engine repair, air-conditioning installation and repair, the culinary arts and nursing are among the many trades and professions taught. The student and faculty experiences were more interesting than hearing campaign correspondents and anchors excitedly report on a 1-point shift in the polls. 

Trade Tech proudly considers itself the college of the second chance—another chance for those who messed up in high school, served time in prison, are looking for a trade after time in the service, or have been laid off because of downsizing or job obsolescence. Some are there because they’ve found themselves stuck in a dead-end job. It’s a cross section of working-class America, and I wondered how people were coping in this time of factory closings, the loss of millions of blue-collar jobs and growing incomes for the rich. 

I saw no posters, tables of volunteers, banners or other signs of the presidential election. It’s hot on cable television, but this campus seems to be in another world, grittier and grimmer than the political news.

The school’s unassuming buildings occupy 25 acres near the gaudy Staples Center —the multipurpose sports arena next to the restaurants, clubs and theaters of L.A. Live—in the increasingly luxurious downtown Los Angeles. The contrast is striking. 

Trade Tech has a student body of 25,000: 56 percent Latino, 27 percent African-American, 6 percent Asian and 6 percent white. Nearly half of the students work more than 30 hours a week. 

Carlos Gonzalez (photo above) was fired from his dead-end job as a supervisor for a chain that sells food to poor people with government food-stamp vouchers. An Army vet, he served in Iraq since the beginning of the war. East Los Angeles College didn’t work out. Neither did his job in the food stores, where, as a supervisor, he made $15 an hour after eight years. So he enrolled at Trade Tech to study plumbing. After a year and a half, he has a 3.8 grade-point average, has won two awards from deans and one from the college president, and is president of the plumbing club. 

“In my family, there are welders and electricians, but we don’t have a plumber,” he said.

The work involves more than fitting pipes together or fixing stopped sinks and toilets. Gonzales studies architecture and how to use the computer to make blueprints, plus a thick book on building codes. “A union job, that’s my goal,” he said. “Jobs are not hard to get for a plumber.” 

Not far away, I sat down in the smoking tent with Angel Carrizosa, 18; Eric Chavez, 21; and Raul DeLeon, all carpentry students. 

“I wanted to learn a trade, get a job,” said Chavez. 

“My dad is a carpenter and I want to follow in his footsteps,” said Carrizosa. 

I asked him what was different about what he was learning at Trade Tech compared to what his father taught him. 

“Blueprints,” he said. “He never learned blueprints. Blueprints tell you where everything goes.”

Math, computers, and complex, quick decision-making are all involved in the process. Jobs await those who make it. 

“It’s a prime time for carpentry,” said DeLeon. 

I asked them about the presidential election. 

“I’m not voting,” said Chavez, who’s not registered and doesn’t intend to register. “I’m not really into it.” 

Carrizosa said he was voting for Clinton.

Then, Chavez ended the conversation. “Sorry, Bill,” he said, “but we have to go to class.” 

Bianca Alvarez, a chef coming back for more education, had made her mind up—to vote against Trump. “I don’t like the racist stuff,” she said. “I know he is not directing it against me personally, but I hate him. I am Hispanic. My own father comes from Mexico and his [Trump’s] words of hate, I don’t like that.” 

What about Clinton? 

“I don’t know much about her,” Alvarez said. “There’s the fraud thing.” 

She and Christian Oso, 23, another culinary student, are more interested in how they will cope with their challenging profession, where, as he said, “people in our industry burn out in two or three years.” 

Federal and state governments can do much to help them on their way. Veteran Carlos Gonzales is attending Trade Tech on the GI Bill. Many advocate that all community college students in the United States should get tuition, books and a living stipend from the government. 

Downsizing or being shipped overseas? Government should pay them a minimum salary whether or not they find a new job. Let the corporations pay from the big profits they earn by eliminating jobs, or from their new clean-energy facilities that are heavily subsidized by government. If coal is obsolete, why should unemployed miners starve? 

As I saw at Trade Tech, jobs are available. But it takes determined students and instructors such as those on the faculty—skilled carpenters, plumbers, designers, nurses and many others with the ability to teach their skills—to make it. 

That’s what I learned at the college of the second chance. If the candidates talked about this, about something truly relevant to people’s lives, the students I met and millions of Americans across the country might be interested in this election.

 

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

 

TRADE WINDS--I never stood a chance. Of course Russia would seduce me.

It was the early 1980s and Robert Massie had just published his riveting Peter the Great biography (I devoured it on a family cruise, which surprisingly didn’t impress the teenage girls onboard); Warren Beatty had produced his magisterial (super long) Reds; and the ABC TV network broadcast The Day After, a movie about a Soviet nuclear strike that millions of high schoolers across the land, myself included, were encouraged to come together to watch, and then discuss. Because, you know, that really could happen. And so, the adults wanted to know, how did that make us feel?

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ELECTION 2016--For those of us struggling to pull ourselves from our summer distractions, and who are now confronting this November's elections, it's an easy choice. Some of us looooove Clinton, and some of us looooove Trump. Some of us love neither...and may even hate both of them. So what to do...what to do...hey, I know! We should reach for our Johnson! 

Gary Johnson, that is, the Libertarian candidate who also ran in 2012. Now which Johnson you'll reach for is up to you, presuming that this is a "protest vote.” (For those who genuinely like Gary Johnson and his political platforms, you might want to stop reading right now.) 

Many who claim to support Johnson (but really don't know which Johnson they're actually reaching for) may not be aware that: 

--Johnson not only favors "amnesty" for those here illegally, but strongly opposes the term "illegal immigrant" altogether. 

--Has viewpoints on legalization of drugs that place him further to the left than anyone else running for President. 

--Wants to cut the federal budget by approximately half, which includes education, the military, Social Security, and just about everything else...yet chose William Weld, known as a "Big Government" Republican from Massachusetts, as his running mate. 

But for the rest of us who are STILL enraged and/or disgusted and/or offended and/or put off and/or distrusting of and/or annoyed by and/or oblivious to BOTH Trump and Clinton, there's always the option of grabbing your Johnson. 

Will you grab your anti-Democratic Big Government Johnson, or will you grab your anti-GOP Christian Nation Johnson? 

Hillary Clinton's health got you concerned -- they've got a catchy tune for her coughing. No need to reach for your Advil...reach for your Johnson! 

Donald Trump's verbal antics got you down? They've got a catchy tune for that, too. No need for seizures...seize your Johnson instead! 

Sick of Clinton's endless claims of chauvinism and sexism?  Then take hold of your Johnson -- he's a dude and he won't accuse you of gender discrimination if/when you disagree with him! 

Sick of Trump's endless calls for "the wall?"  No worries, just grapple your Johnson instead -- he favors open borders and empathizes with our neighbors to the south! 

Hillary's laughing off the inquiries and accusations leaving you with the impression she's just too evil for your tastes? Then nab your Johnson! 

Donald's statements got you wondering if Hitler's been reincarnated? Then lay your hands on your Johnson, and never let go! 

Will Mitt Romney, both former Presidents Bush, and John McCain take hold of their collective Johnson and go third party this year?  

Will former Sanders supporters snap up their collective Johnson and vote third party this time around? 

Colin Powell and several other major political figures haven't taken a break on making their living from book-writing and the speaking circuit, and yet they still refuse to endorse either Trump or Clinton at this time. Are Colin Powell and the others each clutching their Johnson because they think the two main candidates are jerks, and they prefer a Johnson to a jerk? 

Certainly the two-party system appears to have devolved from a real choice to an oligarchy of the "same ol’, same ol’," with the base of each party having to figure out which political leadership listens to and cares about the needs and hopes and fears and goals of average Americans. 

Which means that each and every one of us, come Election Day, will have to choose between reaching for the lever to vote for the lesser of two evils...or reach instead for our own personal, private Johnson.

 

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

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URBAN PERSPECTIVE-There’s been a fierce debate about presidential debates. The debate is whether they really do make or break a presidential candidate. This starts it all over again in the run-up to the three scheduled debates between GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The hard political reality is that unless a candidate makes a whopper of a misstatement, looks blurry and bleary on stage, or is simply flat-footed, and grossly unprepared with his or her answers, they don’t mean much in deciding who ultimately bags the White House. 

Most voters cling to their party affiliations, political beliefs, and personal likes and dislikes of candidates no matter what the candidates say on the issues. The mass of voters just aren’t swayed by a candidate’s verbosity, good looks, or seeming erudition on the issues. 

However, this go around, the debates do have real significance because Trump and Clinton have a lot to prove to a lot of voters who don’t like either one of them, and are deeply uneasy about the prospect of either one of them in the White House. 

Trump’s high mountain to scale starts with Trump. He’s loathed by millions as little short of a stupendously unqualified carnival barker pitchman who parlayed wild and deliberately inflammatory “birtherism” and racist- immigrant- Muslim- and Obama- bashing into the top GOP spot. 

The added knock is that he got where he did in great part because of a slavish media that at times has acted as his unofficial PR team in shoving him down the public’s throats. His job is to try to undo, soften, or instill collective amnesia about his dubious history and ploys to get attention. His management team has already given a big hint at how he’ll try to pull off this Houdini trick. 

He palavered with the Mexican President. He went to two black churches. He went to Flint, Michigan. He talked about jobs and police abuse both places. He pithily back-pedaled from birtherism vis-à-vis Obama. He laid out a detailed policy position on child care, promised to lay out even more detailed positions on tax reform, foreign policy, health care and social security. He’s trying mightily to take off the table that he’s little more than a Klansman in a suit, has a zero policy program, less than zero ability to govern, and is totally incapable of being anything other than an arrogant, know-it-all blowhard. 

The charm image he’ll try to project is Trump the reasoned, thoughtful, stick to the script, disciplined, play by the established political rules candidate with the right temperament to work with Democrats, make sound political decisions, and show cool judgment on the thorny and at times crisis issues that confront all presidents. 

It’s a tall order. But in the debates and everything surrounding them, Trump must convince the independent conservatives and moderates in the handful of swing states that will decide the White House -- who don’t think much of Clinton, but just can’t bring themselves to pull the lever for a guy who they see as an overt racist and an egomaniacal political neophyte -- that he is neither one. 

Clinton has a high mountain to scale too. It also starts with Clinton. In the early going, the election seemed almost a forgone conclusion for an easy Clinton win given the trainload of baggage Trump dumped on the political platform. But the continued pulverizing of her over the emails, the Clinton Foundation doings, and now health questions all of sudden have turned a seeming rout into a real dogfight. 

Clinton’s bigger problem is the nagging perception that is shown in the polls, and that is that millions see her as everything from a congenital liar to a crook. The most charitable in all of this negative voter perception of Clinton is that she’s untrustworthy. 

Clinton must undo, offset, or instill collective amnesia about these negatives. She must play hard on her strengths, dependability, experience, and her cast iron grasp of the big ticket policy issues from the economy to foreign policy. 

She must tie herself to the Obama positives where needed and project a people friendly-no academic think tank policy wonk-plain English speaking demeanor when answering debate questions. When the inevitable questions come up about the emails and the foundation and her health, she’ll have to act and show physical vigor, look directly into the cameras, admit that she made mistakes with the emails, learned from the mistakes, and it will never happen again. 

And, while the foundation has done phenomenal work and improved conditions for legions globally, say that she’ll be completely out of the Clinton Foundation business, and that includes Bill and Chelsea too. 

There’s little margin of error for Trump and Clinton in the debates. Both have a lot of hard work to do to try to turn their mountain high pile of negatives into some semblance of positives. Millions will be watching to see if they can do that. This time the debates really do mean something.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Let’s Stop Denying Made in America Terrorism, (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.

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Here in the United States September is Hispanic Heritage month, and I like to talk about what it means to be Hispanic or Latino in America. This subject is something that growing up in Mexico City I never really thought much about. 

In Mexico when it comes to identifying yourself in official government forms like the passport they don’t ask you whether you are Hispanic or not, they just ask what kind of skin shade or tone do you have. So it was either tez blanca or tez morena meaning white tone or brown tone or shade, none of these Hispanic, or white non- Hispanic classifications. 

Unlike America, Mexico is a very homogeneous country, and they don’t collect census data on ethnicity. But according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook Mexico is composed of mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) 62%, predominantly Amerindian 21%, Amerindian 7%, other 10% (mostly European). You will never see forms asking you whether you are Latino or Hispanic, in Mexico that is irrelevant. 

However, here in the United States it is important being that our country is very diverse. So which is it? Hispanic or Latino? What are we? What does it mean to be Latino? Or, Hispanic in America? – The answer to this question depends on who you ask. The two words are most of the time used interchangeably. So which word to use? Ever since I started college at USC I have been asking myself this question, and here we are many years later still trying to figure this out. 

I did a little research online and I think I finally found a definition that I can settle with, and of all places I found it in The Tennessean, this paper is part of the USA Today Network and their Education reporter Jason Gonzales explained it very well when he said that “for those of For those of Spanish or Latin American origin, the terms describe a shared experience in the United States and by their definition includes a broad category of people with different cultures and heritage. Both words are to be celebrated because they represent our many differences.” 

He added “Latino means those from Latin America and includes Brazil, while Hispanic means those of Spanish-speaking origin and includes Spain.  The term Hispanic was first used by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1970 to describe the numerous Spanish speakers in the United States. And Latino was adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 2000 count. Neither word specifies a certain ethnicity, but speaks more to a broader group of people.” 

A broader group of people who share the same experience of being Americans of Latin decent. The word Latin and Hispanic unites us in a common bond that in many ways is, ironically uniquely American. 

Let’s celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by remembering that we are Hispanics, we’re Latinos, and we are Americans. Whichever word you use to describe yourself be proud of it, and always keep in mind that no matter where we came from, or what’s our cultural heritage Latinos, Hispanics have made, and continue to make America great. Happy Hispanic Heritage month to all.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader and was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected])

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EASTSIDER-Full disclosure: I’ve always been a news junkie. Until lately, when I stopped watching for a week because it was all the same stuff and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had been channel surfing, and trying to figure out why all 200 news media outlets have the same 10 stories every day, like synchronized swimming. It used to be that local stations actually did local news, newspapers did investigative journalism, and it was only the one or two big national news items that got any system-wide attention. 

That’s all changed in the last decade. There are no real reporters anymore, because they all got fired to save money. Heck, even the old wire services like the AP, UPI & Reuters are going down fast. For those of you who don’t recognize any of these names, they are havens for journalists to sell their news stories to whomever is willing to buy them. They are great for avoiding the cost of having to pay employees to cover overseas events, with all that payroll overhead. You can read more about them here.  

One way to look at wire services is that they were the harbinger of the new cost cutting measures to provide no news at all. If you think about it, those brave wire service men and women were the first wave of our new “gig”, or “sharing” economy, where there are really no employers as such, hence no nasty overhead costs or liability for the big corporations who pipe out the news. 

Kinda’ like the Los Angeles Times of Chicago we have now, with under 400,000 subscribers and one centralized source of non-content. Leavened by a few casual help. Or the local television stations and cable networks, where all the money goes to the few talking heads, who have to fix their teeth and regularly visit the plastic surgeon to look just like their employers want, and spend hours just getting through makeup so we can adore them on air. 

So what happened to the news? Now we have the same formula across the 200 or so media outlets. Ninety percent of this “news” is the same identical regurgitation of every single shooting, mass protest, car chase or international terrorism event in the universe, plus a couple of the same national political events. This pablum is then bookended by stories about Tech and Social Media. 

The only way we can tell the difference between a national and a “local” show, is that the local news has traffic and weather. 

So what’s the new source of news? 

After a week away from the news, I tried again, and Eureka! I suddenly understood what’s replaced reporting. We now have TWEETS! It finally occurred to me that over time, all the faces we see on television have been paying more and more attention to their iPhones and tablets and laptops. They have shifted to tweets for their news to share with the masses who tune in with bated breath, albeit in fewer numbers. 

Tweets are perfect for the new news. They are cheap (free), mindless (at 140 characters or less, they can’t really convey much detail,) and by concentrating on what’s “trending,” you can leverage the burned out attention span of the masses to the folks who have zillions of followers. Yes sir, what’s trending now is the new mantra of the people who don’t want us actually thinking about the decline of our country by the corrupt politicians, their political parties, and the billionaires who own it all. 

In short, it’s the absolutely perfect environment for Donald Trump. Think about it. He’s all flamboyancy, tweets instead of talks, he has tons of followers, gets off on controversy and creates all kinds of groovy stuff that the mindless talking heads can riff off of everyday. Wow, in our 24-hour endless news cycle, he is the perfect tool to increase audience share. Heck, sometimes he even tweets a bunch and then we get updated news flash tweets. 

What a brilliant news concept. No cost here -- tweets are free. Even better, the personalities who inhabit the 200 news outlets don’t have to do any research, much less think. Just report the tweet, pump up the controversy and wait for the outrage. 

Perfect. The twits who give us the news can handle tweets. No danger of substance there. No nasty facts. Revenues up. The owners of the outlets are happy. More advertisers. 

Hillary Clinton doesn’t stand a chance. Character defects aside, the shortest sentence she knows is a paragraph. Face it, she’s a policy wonk at heart. She knows that this President stuff is complicated, darn it, and she is determined to share her expertise with us whether we want it or not. 

So even as they go say “oh my goodness, see what Donald has done now,” the media love him – he’s the absolute paragon of tweets for twits like them. Hillary is boring. Unless, of course, she gets sick or has the two hundredth “new” report come out about her email server. Then it’s hot news, at least as a soundbite. 

After all, the captains of industry who own the news media don’t really want to spend too much time talking about how she’s a member of the billionaire club. Not on air. After all, club members don’t rat each other out when it comes to money. 

Now I am not saying that all news media personalities are twits. Some are probably smart – smart enough to swap millions of dollars a year in their personal services contracts in exchange for being a professional twit. And increasingly, they have their own twitter handles, so that people can follow them as they follow .... 

Partly as a result of all of this pablum, and the shift away from print media, more people use smartphones than desktop computers these days. Recent studies would indicate that all this is simply increasing the gap between the haves and have nots when it comes to news.

­

These information shifts create all kinds of problems in terms of learning about what is really going on in the world that affects our lives and our money. People with crummy internet access, or none at all – something that is particularly prevalent in rural and low socioeconomic areas -- aren’t getting much real news at all. And the news that the rest of us get on our smartphones tends to be soundbite news -- most folks aren’t reading long articles on their phone. 

So, how do we get informed? 

The most important way to get informed is to have a population that has learned to learn and think for itself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a big goal of the current educational system, which focuses on career choices and specific occupations, even though most of the jobs that this produces won’t be around in a decade. 

On the other hand, most people I know are pretty pragmatic and have at least developed a solid BS meter as they grow up. So let me share with you how I find the news. 

Reading CityWatch is a great beginning. You will get more truth here about the machinations of our local political elite and their lords and masters than you will ever find in commercial media outlets. At least until Ken Draper makes a bundle of money and sells the website to MSNBC or Fox News. 

More generally, given that we’re all time challenged, I use a news aggregator called Feedly.com, although there are lots of other web based sites that do the same thing. You take all the online information sources that you want to know about and these web apps deliver the summary content of each. That way I can look through the headers to choose which full articles to read. I also subscribe to the electronic editions of the LA Times (sigh) and the Sacramento Bee. Told you I’m a news junkie. 

This system allows me to skim the posts for issues I’m interested in to get different points of view. Instantly. It’s a handy way to sort the crud from solid information. Otherwise, the temptation for us is to only get information that simply reinforces our existing beliefs. I believe the growth of this kind of niche media marketing is how we got to the place where people are challenged to have a civil conversation about matters political. Everyone reinforces his or her own belief system. 

Honestly, to find out real information has never been easier. Even though we are all stressed with the realities of our everyday life -- making rent/mortgage/bills, trying to get/keep a job or series of gigs, kids and all that entails, figuring out health insurance, and a pension or anything that will allow us to retire – it’s important to take time to figure out the who, what and why of how we got into this mess. So that we don’t get surprised by the next financial meltdown, or at least get some notice to do our best to survive. 

We all know that politicians won’t suddenly take the pledge and get honest, and that the icons of the financial services industry and corporate CEOs who control the entire global economy aren’t going to suddenly get religion and start paying the taxes on what they’ve been hiding overseas. We need to get smart and learn how to see who’s doing what to whom for ourselves. 

Otherwise, it’s tweets, twits, and mindless mainstream media.

 

(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.)

INFORMED COMMENT--A Brown University political scientist estimates that as of 2016, The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have cost the American taxpayers $5 trillion. That number isn’t important when we consider the human cost: Some 7,000 US troops dead, 52,000 wounded in action; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead who wouldn’t otherwise be, 4 million displaced and made homeless, etc.

Just to put that $5 trillion in perspective. Let’s say you chose five individuals.  Each of the five will spend $10 million a day.  That’s the cost of Heidi Klum’s mansion.  They’d be buying the equivalent of five of those each day.

They’ll do that every day of their lives.  All five of them.  And then each of them will be succeeded by one their children, who will spend $10 million dollars a day, and one of their grandchildren, and one of their great-grandchildren, until 270 years have passed and it is the year 2286.  That’s the equivalent of a stardate for Captain Picard of the Enterprise. 

Neta Crawford, a professor of Political Science at Brown University published the study for Brown University’s Watson Institute. 

Professor Crawford writes:

“As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $ 3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and o n Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $6 5 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $3 2 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion.”

The US has spent $1.7 billion for combat and reconstruction.  I have a sinking feeling that first they spent half of it on destroying things and then they spent the other half on rebuilding them.

Through 2053, the US government owes the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans $1 trillion in medical and disability payments along with the money to administer all that.

Crawford adds:

“Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the US changes the way it pays for the wars.”

Of 2.7 million military personnel who served in those two theaters, 2 million have now left the military and have entered the Veterans Administration system.  Some 52,000 of them were wounded in action and many need care.

Because the Bush administration borrowed money to pay for the wars, we’ve paid half a trillion dollars in interest alone.

At least al-Qaeda had been based in Afghanistan.  Iraq had had nothing to do with September 11.  It was Bush’s invasion that brought al-Qaeda there, which later morphed into ISIL.

We were lied into that war, and it has weakened our economy.  If anyone can tell me what benefits that war brought the average American, I’d like to hear it.

The Iraq War was a government-led Ponzi scheme and as usual the little people are the ones who took a bath.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia.  He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years and speaks Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)  

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--Donald Trump has a zero percent chance of winning California in November, according to the reigning expert in presidential polling interpretation, Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com. He has the same chance to carry Los Angeles.   

But if he wins the presidency, something that Silver rates at a 30 percent chance of happening and rising, he would set himself up as the first Dictator in America. And a favored target of his hubris would be to attack California and its Democratic despots with all the force the federal government has at its disposal.

Clearly, as a man who blackened the eye of his fourth grade teacher who tried to stop him from bullying his fellow students and has gone on to establish himself as one of America’s most famous bully-cowards, Trump intends to act just like the autocrats he says inspire him: Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong Un and, of course, Muammar Gaddafi.

If he beats Hillary Clinton, he will be in a position to do just that.

He will pack the Supreme Court with a rabid pit bull like Rudy Giuliani, put the servile and corrupt Chris Christie in charge of the Justice Department and Joe Arpaio or someone like him as FBI chief. He has made it clear he will fire generals and anyone else who gets in his way of making America Great Again. (Read the rest.)

-cw

 

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