PERSPECTIVE--The death of Justice Antonin Scalia ends, at least for now, the 40-year conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.  That majority began with justices chosen by President Nixon, and his picks ended a liberal majority that also went back four decades to President Roosevelt.  So Scalia’s death has a profound impact on the court, and on several cases that directly affect California.

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EDITOR’S PICK-President Obama designated three new national monuments in the fragile California desert today, Sand to Snow National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument, The move protects 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, desert grasslands, and a wide range of recreational and cultural activities in 1.8 million acres of Mojave and Sonoran Desert landscapes, between Los Angeles and the Nevada border. 

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EDITOR’S PICKS--Martin Luther King Jr. and others march in Washington, DC in August 1963 demanding economic reforms, including full employment and better wages. (Photo: CWA/Local 7076)

Corporate mainstream media have sanitized and distorted the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., putting him in the category of a “civil rights leader” who focused narrowly on racial discrimination; end of story. 

Missing from the story is that Dr. King was also a tough-minded critic of our capitalist economic structure, much like Bernie Sanders is today.

The reality is that King himself supported democratic socialism – and that civil rights activists and socialists have walked arm-in-arm for more than a century.

The same news outlets that omit such facts keep telling us that the mass of African American voters in South Carolina and elsewhere are diehard devotees of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton – implying that blacks are somehow wary of Bernie Sanders and his “democratic socialism.”

Here are some key historical facts and quotes that get almost no attention in mainstream media:

1909:  Many socialists – both blacks and whites – were involved in forming the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), our country’s oldest civil rights group.  Among them was renowned black intellectual W.E.B. Dubois.

1925:  Prominent African American socialist A. Philip Randolph became the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that played a major role in activism for civil and economic rights (including the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”).

1952:  In a fascinating letter to Coretta Scott, the woman he would marry a year later, Martin King wrote: “I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. . . . Today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.” 

1965:  King wrote an essay in Pageant magazine, “The Bravest Man I Ever Knew,” extolling Norman Thomas as “America’s foremost socialist” and favorably quoting a black activist who said of Thomas: “He was for us before any other white folks were.”

1965:  After passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, King became even more vocal about economic rights: “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”

1965-66:  King supported President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” but urged more – calling for a “gigantic Marshall Plan” for our naton’s poor of all races.

1966:  In remarks to staffers at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King said:

“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. . . . It really means that we are saying something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

March 1967:  King commented to SCLC’s board that “the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.”

April 1967:  In his speech denouncing the U.S. war in Vietnam at New York’s Riverside Church, King extended his economic critique abroad, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.”

May 1967:  In a report to SCLC’s staff, King said:

“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power . . . this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together . . . you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others . . . the whole structure of American life must be changed.”

August 1967:  In his final speech to SCLC, King declared:

“One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?’” 

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he and SCLC were mobilizing a multiracial army of the poor to descend nonviolently on Washington D.C. demanding a “Poor Peoples Bill of Rights.” He told a New York Times reporter that “you could say we’re involved in the class struggle.”

A year before he was murdered, King said the following to journalist David Halberstam: “For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the South, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

Unlike what Hillary Clinton professes today, Dr. King came to reject the idea of slow, incremental change.  He thought big.  He proposed solutions that could really solve social problems.

Unlike corporate-dominated U.S. media, King was not at all afraid of democratic socialism.  Other eminent African American leaders have been unafraid. Perhaps it’s historically fitting that former NAACP president Ben Jealous has recently campaigned for Bernie Sanders in South Carolina.

If mainstream journalists did more reporting on the candidates’ actual records, instead of crystal-ball gazing about the alleged hold that the Clintons have over African American voters, news consumers would know about the deplorable record of racially-biased incarceration and economic hardship brought on by Clinton administration policies. (See Michelle Alexander’s “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.”) 

With income inequality even greater now than during Martin Luther King’s final years, is there much doubt that King would be supporting the progressive domestic agenda of Bernie Sanders?

Before Bernie was making these kinds of big economic reform proposals, King was making them – but mainstream media didn’t want to hear them at the time . . . or now.

(Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. Posted most recently at Common Dreams.



GUEST COMMENTARY-Celebrities, by the very nature of the attention they attract, have built-in bully pulpits. They most often use them to shed light on honorable causes encompassing everything from disease and world hunger to animal rights and anti-bullying campaigns. 

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HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-The California Public Utilities Commission has seen better days. Between San Onofre, the San Bruno pipeline explosion and the Aliso Canyon Leak, the commission’s responses are being scrutinized and with good reason. State and federal authorities have been investigating the agency for its alleged friendly relationship with the very same private utilities the agency is charged with overseeing.

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

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

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GUEST WORDS-California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst recently released a report suggesting the Legislature cut the connection requiring cap and trade to be spent strictly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Taking this suggestion would be a mistake on many levels. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Timing right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A party divided

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

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

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

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

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

Future of capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This system is not sustainable.

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

But change on this scale requires political mobilization.

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

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

We must try.  We have no choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Why do people take an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? 

Answer: It saves time. 

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

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

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

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

So what else does the Iowa result tell us? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stand with the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, remember that Hydra analogy. 

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

To conclude, and in short, we need to: 

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

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

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


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


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