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Sun, Jul

Stanford Rape Case: Brock Turner and the Culture of Blame

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky is in the hot seat for his light sentencing of former Stanford student Brock Turner (Photo above left). The now 20-year old Turner was found guilty of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated woman with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious woman with a foreign object; two formal rape charges under California law were dropped during preliminary hearings. The judge had the leeway to sentence Turner for up to 14 years but chose the six month sentence because the judge wrote, a longer sentence might “have a severe impact on him.” Judge Persky’s sentence and sentiments have riled the over 370,000 who have signed at least one online recall petition.

On January 17, 2015, two Swedish grad students, Carl-Frederik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, bicycling past the scene, witnessed Turner as he sexually assaulted the partially clothed woman behind a dumpster. When the two men realized the woman wasn’t moving, they stepped in. Turner tried to leave the scene but Arndt and Jonsson tackled him and held him down until the police arrived.

What has shaken me to the core has been the cavalier responses of both Turner and his father, who laments his son won’t be enjoying his favorite ribeye steaks or breaking his swimming records just because of “twenty minutes of action.” Turner himself has focused on the dangers of “intoxication and promiscuity.” In a letter in support of Turner, his friend blamed the conviction on “political correctness,” stealing a page from the Trump playbook.

Turner seems to express no remorse for his actions; he and his father are more concerned about how the sentence impacts his life going forward. I can understand in some part a parent’s instinct to protect their children but we also have an obligation to raise our children to be accountable and empathetic. Turner was 18 at the time of the rape and a drunken stupor is not an excuse to rape an unconscious victim behind a dumpster.

Rape is a pervasive problem on college campuses, despite an overall downturn in rape during the last 20 years. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), “11.2 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students.)” Among graduate and professional students, 8.8 percent of females and 2.2 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault. The statistics are even more grim among undergraduates, with 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experiencing rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

Female students (18-24) are three times as likely as the general population of women to be victims of rape and sexual assault. 18 to 24 year old women who are not students are four times as likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault.

Blaming sexual assaults on “the influence of alcohol and the party culture” is unacceptable but endemic of our societal need to finger point instead of accepting accountability. For many, intoxication muddies the waters. We remind our daughters and students to watch out for each other, avoid being alone with men or accepting a drink; we even warn them not to put down their water bottles. While we want our daughters to be safe, we tend to blame victims who might not have heeded our advice.

As an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt University c. 1980s, we were taught at a dorm meeting how to carry our keys to fend off an attacker and how to use our elbows and knees to temporarily paralyze or knock the wind out of an assailant, who we assumed would lunge at us from the bushes. We called upon campus security to escort us after dark; we carried pepper spray. We never thought we’d be slipped a roofie at a party or that a fellow student might rape us if we had a few too many drinks.

We can advise kids not to binge drink and to avoid becoming so blitzed that you’re not in control but if they don’t regard that advice, that doesn’t leave a rapist free to assault an unconscious or drunk woman or man. If we forget to set the alarm, does that mean a thief should just be able to walk in and take what he wants?

In his letter to the court, Brock Turner references just how much he has lost because of the trial. He blames his actions on alcohol and peer pressure, claiming that college culture is what got him into this “mess.” Never once does he point to the fact that he chose to sexually assault an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. His only crime was being caught.

It’s too easy to blame other people instead of accepting you (or your son) committed rape. When Turner’s childhood friend blames political correctness for the sexual assault charges, she’s buying into the idea that we’re all too thin-skinned and easily offended. Anyone who cares about campus rape of an unconscious woman who cannot give consent is just too “PC.”

Brock Turner will serve his sentence. Hopefully, he will one day acknowledge that he raped an unconscious woman and it wasn’t a case of “promiscuity while under the influence.” Perhaps the victim will create meaning from the tragedy and teach others about her experience.

Turner’s rape of an unconscious woman is a cautionary tale on so many levels. Binge drinking at a frat party is not an admissible defense for rape. We need to be accountable for our actions and to model that accountability for young people. Whether it’s a presidential candidate, a man convicted of felony sexual assault, or his father, blaming someone or something else for his actions is unconditionally unacceptable. That goes double for the uninformed and the ignorant who excuse this kind of redirected blame pointing.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

-cw

The Media is on the Verge of a Murrow Moment … Trump is Today’s McCarthy

HUFF POST--In the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy was on a rampage. Beginning in February 1950, when he said he had a list of “hundreds” of Communists then working in the State Department, he led the Red Scare that destroyed thousands of lives and tore at the basic fabric of democracy. Four years later, in March 1954, legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow pushed back. 

Murrow’s counterattack was followed by Joseph Welch, a lawyer for the U.S. Army, which McCarthy had targeted. Welch’s takedown of McCarthy was a decisive blow, and the senator fell from his perch. 

Over the past week or so, today’s media seems to be having a bit of its own Murrow moment, directly confronting presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and his high-level supporters with charges of racism. Whether Trump meets the same fate as McCarthy remains to be seen, but the worm, at last, appears to be turning. (Watch the video above by HuffPost’s JM Rieger to get a sense of it.)

Strangely, or perhaps not, Trump’s connection to McCarthy is more than metaphorical. (Indeed, the head of the Edward R. Murrow Center said Murrow would skewer Trump were he around today.) Lawyer Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s hatchet man, went on to become a close adviser to none other than Trump himself. 

In the closing remarks to Murrow’s pivotal newscast, one can hear loud echoes today.

“This is no time for men who oppose Sen. McCarthy’s methods to keep silent,” Murrow said, breaking the sound barrier of objectivity. “There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. ... We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world. But we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right, ‘The fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Good night, and good luck.”

(Ryan Grim is Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post  … where this piece was first posted.)

Isn’t Anybody Listening! Here’s Why Bernie’s Revolutionaries Can’t Pack Up and Go Home

NOT ABOUT BERNIE, IT’S ABOUT JUSTICE--Oh brothers and sisters, what an odd time.  I hear great energy going into whether or not Bernie should now concede or how the next few weeks look if he stays in the race as he proclaimed he would late Tuesday night.  Will Bernie delegates or supporters disrupt the DNC convention?  That’s another point to consider for pundits and others.  Bernie or bust is one group’s battle cry, while others call for Party unity.  I think all of these issues are missing the point and the moment at hand.

Bernie repeated the theme during his speech that this campaign, this political revolution, is about changing this country and addressing the issues he has framed so well over the last year. To the extent that we can exert pressure on the Democratic Party or even on the American public to support those changes, staying in the fight is critical for Bernie. 

While the Washington Post and others say that Hillary’s wins yesterday mean that Bernie has less leverage to demand concessions, I do not believe that will be true unless we allow that to be true.  If we give up or give in, this political revolution has really been a cult of personality that will fade even as Bernie sits in the White House chatting with President Obama.  We have to intensify our resolve, not wallow in disappointment.

"It’s not Bernie or bust. His campaign has been about us – all of us.  It’s about justice through revolution."

During Bernie’s Tuesday, he repeatedly referenced achieving justice in the policy areas he has articulated during this campaign.  From climate justice, economic justice, healthcare justice and beyond, that is what Bernie’s campaign and this political revolution is about.  It’s not up to Bernie alone to decide the next steps – it is also up to those of us who support this political revolution as much today as we did yesterday and not nearly as much as we will tomorrow.

It’s not Bernie or bust. His campaign has been about us – all of us.  It’s about justice through revolution.  While Bernie adds the term “political” to his pitch, what we don’t talk about enough is the growing unrest among those with nothing to lose – people like me who have tried to work within and through the political system only to be excluded and discounted – even by the best of "friends."

I watched Hillary’s speech because I wondered how I would feel.  And I can honestly say I felt less equal than I ever have in my life.  I heard the soaring words about history and watched the video packed with heroic women, yet I was not moved.  It felt so staged and so well-timed for prime time viewing that it felt phony to me.  I did not see myself at all. 

It isn’t as though I fall into the "I hate Hillary" camp, because I do not.  I don’t agree with her policies, and I far prefer Bernie’s.  What I was feeling was that old familiar sense of exclusion – Hillary is a very wealthy woman who cares little about people like me.  Her commitment to build an inclusive society fell flat with me because I know how far on the outside people like me are now and always will be unless there are fundamental changes like those envisioned by Bernie.  And I am not foolish.  I know my value or lack thereof within our society is mostly determined by my economic status even within very progressive circles. 

Reality is that most of us are outsiders to any of the campaigns at the presidential level.  Most of us do not have the money or power to be heard, and that’s what has driven millions to Bernie’s campaign and to the huge rallies.  Bernie’s political revolution embraces all of us, and it is not over unless we throw in the towel.  No matter what happens leading up to or during the DNC convention in Philadelphia, the revolution has been ignited, it is growing and the will of the people will not be denied.

Right now, large progressive groups that support Bernie are jockeying for position coming out of this campaign.  Many groups want Bernie’s fundraising list, his database and his direct endorsement of their brand.  And to a large degree, those with access to make their case will be those who have had the most money to invest in Bernie’s campaign or the most fundraising capacity over the past several months.  Even for this Democratic Socialist candidate, money talks.  I like to think Bernie thinks about the broader movement and that he will not play the same money and power games that seem to be the bedrock of our political system, but there is almost no way he can avoid doing so.  Some groups have anointed themselves as the new revolutionary leaders while others have been completely left out.  It is difficult for justice to prevail when money is used as the measure of commitment to this sort of political revolution.

There is a good chance at the People’s Summit in Chicago next weekend we will find among the other thousands of political revolutionaries gathered together a common commitment to advancing this movement toward justice. But that chance will only become reality if enough voices and enough groups attend and participate fully. 

Can we actually achieve a more just America as one of the outcomes of this political revolution? Yes. I believe we can. No other candidate has spoken favorably about improved Medicare for all. For me, that is unacceptable. It would have helped my trust levels immensely if the DNC had accepted my former boss and labor leader, RoseAnn DeMoro as one of Bernie’s choices for the platform committee. DeMoro is a warrior for single-payer and workers’ rights, and if she wasn’t right for the platform committee, then I am gravely concerned about the course ahead. Shame on the DNC. 

And if no candidate other than Bernie and no Party steps up to address the injustice, the people are becoming angry enough and disillusioned enough to make actual revolution – difficult, dangerous, unpredictable and perhaps even violent revolution – more probable in our future. Before anyone accuses me of favoring that path, I am not alone in my view. John F. Kennedy once said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

It seems that the DNC expects that everyone will fall in line behind Hillary without having real assurances that the pain and struggle and injustice of our economic policy will be addressed forcefully. It is not enough for Hillary to give broad, calming "I feel your pain" statements like her husband used so frequently during his presidency.  We are not fooled by that.  

Injustice in the health care system makes me mad.  Really mad.  I may die before improved 'Medicare for All' becomes the law of the land, but I will be damned if I will give up trying to achieve what I know to be a more just system.  I need to hear how healthcare justice will be achieved – and I will fight on.  So far, Hillary has assured me we will "never, ever" have single-payer, and I cannot see how we achieve any real healthcare justice without 'Medicare for All.'  Others who are engaged with other issues feel that same intensity around their causes. 

While no candidate can solve all injustice, any candidate who dismisses the energy, the passion and the resolve that has formed around Bernie’s clear articulation of the major issues risks not only losing an election but also pushing the nation towards unimaginable strife and struggle.  It’s not Bernie or bust – it’s justice or bust.  The Party or candidate that embraces that fact and puts forward real plans to achieve a more just society holds the only real balm for the anger that threatens us all. 

(Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party. This piece was posted most recently at Common Dreams.) 

-cw

Ali will Always be the Greatest—Despite Everything

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--The Greatest is gone. And when I heard that my mind instantly raced back to 1968. Muhammad Ali by then had become America's official and biggest pariah. His conversion to the Nation of Islam, his one-time friendship with Malcolm X, his outspoken black preachments, all capped by his refusal to be inducted and his outspoken stance against the Vietnam War, made him a marked man. A federal grand jury in Houston quickly indicted him, and an all-white jury convicted him. 

He was slapped with the maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His passport was revoked. The FBI stepped up its effort to ruin him. In one of its many wiretaps on Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, it noted that Ali had proposed to donate the proceeds from a boxing match to King's organization. But the match could not be held, since every state boxing commission in the country had, by then, revoked Ali's license. 

Still, the FBI was alert for any hint that Ali might try to dodge legal restrictions on him to earn money in the ring. J. Edgar Hoover, the notorious head of the FBI at the time, assigned agents to watch and record everything that Ali said whenever he appeared on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show." FBI agents also distributed "anti-violent statements" to counter what the bureau called "the anti-Vietnam stand of Cassius Clay." The FBI's spy-and-intimidation operation against Ali was finally exposed in legal documents in his draft case in 1970. 

By then Ali had embarked on the speaking circuit talking to anti-war and student groups on various campuses. One of his stops was at California State University ... my alma mater. Ali arrived on campus followed by a small swarm of FBI agents. Wherever Ali went, FBI agents tracked his every move.  This didn’t matter to me. In fact, it added to his allure. 

I, and a small entourage of Black Student Union members, met him in the parking lot to serve as his “official” escorts to the auditorium. Ali was the paragon of cheer and graciousness, and was as always playful. He shook everyone’s hand and engaged in light hearted banter with the students. In his talk, he stuck to his stock themes, leading a chant, “No Vietcong ever called me a nigger,” punctuated by digs at the Johnson administration and his denunciation of racial oppression. During his speech, the FBI took notes and snapped pictures of those in the crowd. 

However, what really brought the house down, was his shout to the standing room only crowd that despite everything the government did to him, he still was the biggest, baddest and prettiest, and yes the greatest. As he departed to loud cheers and shouts of encouragement, I, and a few others, thrust our draft cards in front of him, and he eagerly signed mine and the others. To this day his signature on my draft card is one of my most precious and endearing keepsakes. 

In the next two decades, the unthinkable happened. Ali was no longer America’s fallen and disgraced boxing champion, he was now officially rehabilitated, even exulted, as an American global ambassador of sport and even of political goodwill. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terror attack, a Hollywood group loosely known as Hollywood 9/11 that worked with the Bush administration to support the war on terrorism promoted happy images of American life to film audiences in Africa and the Middle East. And who did they choose to be their star pitchman, you guessed it, Ali. 

During the next decade, the honors continued to flow to him. Presidents, heads of state, and foreign dignitaries, all hailed him as an authentic American hero and icon. But Ali’s struggle with Parkinson’s Disease had clearly taken its toll. Yet the rare times he appeared in public, I noted that he still had that same ingratiating smile he greeted me with those years earlier. And he would snap out an occasional playful jab to swooning and adoring admirers.  

Despite everything, Ali was and would always be mine and the world’s “peoples champ” and yes, the greatest.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more Hutchinson insight.) 

-cw

 

The Media’s Prediction Addiction Is Anti-Democratic

TRADE WINDS--You have to give them credit: many journalists are confessing that they really blew it in the first act of this presidential election season. But most of their mea culpas are off point, apologies for the wrong mistake.

The media is collectively beating itself up for a series of poor predictions—dismissing the Trump candidacy, calling for an early Clinton coronation, anticipating a contested GOP convention—instead of beating itself up for a deeper pathology: its compulsive haste to predict everything in the first place.

Serious people, and even professors of journalism, have long harrumphed about how polls and “the horse race” dominate election coverage, at the expense of eat-your-broccoli-type substantive reporting of candidate policy proposals. Nothing new there. What is new is the extent to which the media’s obsession with predicting electoral outcomes in advance has seeped into, and practically taken over, the candidates’ own discourse on the campaign trail. 

It’s as if sideline analysis has become the game itself. 

Trump is the caricature extreme of this trend, giving campaign speeches that consist largely of spinning poll numbers, critiquing the media coverage of the campaign (which the media can then critique, for Trump to then critique back, in a never-ending to-and-fro Wimbledon rally) [and throwing the occasional verbal Molotov cocktail a minority group’s way.] 

But Trump is not alone. To an extent that would have been unimaginable not long ago, all candidates this election cycle have spent a fair amount of time discussing polls (selectively, of course) as the ultimate qualification for the highest office in the land. Even when candidates may not have wanted to engage in such horse race spinning, they were often forced to do so by poll-centric questions from the media—“Why are you running given such low poll numbers?” 

This was the tenor of the campaign and its coverage even before the first votes were cast in Iowa. Such is the anti-democratic hubris of media elites: Why wait to let people make their choice on election day when we smart media folks can tell you the results in advance, and tell you why you and your neighbors voted the way you did? 

The media, political operatives, and news junkies in this age of perpetual chatter and connectivity via 24/7 cable and social media feel compelled to show they’re in the know not just by explaining what’s transpired—but by being able to forecast with certitude what comes next. And so the media and news consumers who want to seem in the know fetishize certain superstar pollsters and data geeks, and congratulate themselves on the amount of data available to make foolproof predictions. 

To an extent that would have been unimaginable not long ago, all candidates this election cycle have spent a fair amount of time discussing polls (selectively, of course) as the ultimate qualification for the highest office in the land. 

Again, it’s all anti-democratic, we-know-best hubris. The media’s reliance on ever more complex predictive models advance what psychologists call the illusion of control. If there’s anything we can’t seem to tolerate in the 21st century, it’s uncertainty. And also surprises, which is why we’re seeing the outpouring of earnest if overwrought mea culpas from the media. 

These apologies are more disturbing than the mistaken predictions. The apologizers in the media genuinely seem to think their inability to predict this primary season accurately was a blow to the republic—as opposed to their insistence on allowing their prediction addiction to drive, and distort, most election coverage. 

Society’s intolerance of uncertainty (the media are playing to its audience, after all) and our mania for perfecting forecasting expands well beyond political reporting and analysis. Meteorology, the science we first think of when we think of “forecasting,” is a pursuit where less uncertainty is a societal good. You want to warn people to take an umbrella along on their commute, or abandon the coastline if an epic hurricane is heading their way. Blown climate predictions do deserve mea culpas and post-mortems—and there’s no positive interest in waiting to see where the hurricane will land, and withholding judgment. 

The financial world, on the other hand, is an arena long ago perverted by data-driven forecasting. When you invest your savings in a publicly traded company these days, you’re not making a bet on how that company will perform objectively in the long run. You are betting on how its performance in a succession of quarterly short-terms will compare with the forecasts drawn up by Wall Street analysts. It’s not enough to await a company’s results; what matters is how those results conform, or don’t, to the earnings estimates (or “expectations”) imposed on it by outside data crunchers. For instance, in April, Wall Street threw a collective hissy fit when Apple “missed” expectations set by outside forecasters by reporting $50.56 billion instead of $51.97 billion in quarterly revenue. The company’s stock was whacked as a result, taken down 8 percent in a day. 

Having a lot of brainpower attempting to predict what lies around the corner for a company, an industry, or the economy as a whole is not an inherently bad thing. It’s desirable, even, up until the point when forecasting becomes so important that its failures need to be treated like a disaster. For companies trading on the stock market, the tyranny of managing a business to meet the quarterly earnings expectations of outside forecasters end up stifling innovation and risk-taking. It’s the financial equivalent of campaigning on your poll numbers instead of setting your own agenda. 

Perhaps the world of political analysis should look to the world of sports for a healthier model of how to blend forecasting with substantive analysis, without allowing the former to overwhelm the latter. Sports journalists and fans alike love making predictions, and devote a great deal of airtime and print (not to mention fantasy league energy) to picking scores and predicting individual performances. But, maybe because it’s still a game in the end, there is more allowance made for the notion that ironclad certitude is elusive, undesirable even. Studio broadcast analysts keep track of the accuracy of their predictions and good-naturedly compete and tease each other over them. But failed predictions don’t trigger weighty mea culpas about how media let society down. 

The longest shot ever recorded by oddsmakers happened in the world of soccer last month, when tiny, impoverished and perennially struggling FC Leicester won the English Premier League, despite 5,000-to-1 odds. The story was a feel-good global phenomenon. The political media-operative complex should take note. Smart analysis can help explain how Leicester pulled off its championship, without having predicted it in advance. Some uncertainty is inevitable in life, at least until the games are played, and the votes are cast. And that’s OK.

 

(Andrés Martinez writes the Trade Winds column for Zócalo Public Square, where he is editorial director. He is also professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and a fellow at New America.) Photo: Gage Skidmore. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Imagine What President Trump and Attorney General Christie Might Do to Marijuana Laws

EDITOR’S PICK--Legal marijuana is a big deal and it’s only getting bigger. It’s already a billion dollar-plus industry in the medical marijuana and legal states, and with California and a handful of other states poised to go legal in November, it’s only going to get bigger. 

With growing legality comes growing acceptance. Marijuana is insinuating itself deep within popular culture, and more and more people are getting interested. Pot use is on the increase among adults, especially seniors. In fact, it seems to be gaining popularity with just about everybody—except kids.

Some folks have been pot people for decades. They’ve been smoking it, growing it, selling it, agitating for its legalization. They have an intimate understanding of the plant and the issues around it. Still, there are many, many more people who are not cannabis aficionados, but are becoming curious about marijuana or the pot business. 

Will marijuana ease my aches and pains? If I start smoking pot, won’t I get addicted? How do you grow the stuff? Can I make a million bucks growing weed? How do I start a pot business? 

Chris Conrad and Jeremy Daw are well-positioned to provide some answers.  Conrad has been around pot since forever—he’s a certified expert witness on marijuana cultivation, he curated the Amsterdam Hemp Museum back in the 1980s, he formed the Business Alliance for Cannabis Hemp in the 1980s, too, and he’s been politically active in California (and national) pot politics the whole time—and Daw is the up-and-coming publisher of The Leaf Online

With The Newbie’s Guide to Cannabis and the Industry, the pair of pot pros provides a compendium of marijuana-related information sure to be invaluable to interested novices and likely to hold some hidden treasures for even the most grizzled veteran of the weed wars. 

The guide begins with a quick but detailed look at cannabis botany before shifting gears from the natural sciences to the social ones with a thumbnail history of pot prohibition and the last half-century’s increasingly successful efforts to undo it. Conrad and Daw take up through political developments into this year, noting the spread of medical marijuana, with outright legalization now following in its footsteps. 

And they make one critically important point here (and repeatedly in the business sections of the book): Despite how swimmingly legalization may be going in Colorado and Washington and Alaska and Oregon, pot remains illegal under federal law. All it would take is a new administration hostile to marijuana in the White House and a new memo from the Justice Department to bring the entire edifice crashing to the ground. 

That’s certainly something for would be ganjapreneurs to ponder, but it should also behoove the rest of us to remember that the job of freeing the weed remains unfinished business. As long as federal marijuana prohibition remains on the books, the prospect of a reefer rollback remains. Admittedly, the prospect seems unlikely: We are pretty far down the path of acceptance in the early legalizing states, and any return to harsh federal enforcement could have the paradoxical result of criminalizing or at least paralyzing state-level taxation and regulation while leaving pot legal, untaxed, and unregulated at the state level—because while the federal government could try to block the states from acting to tax or regulate pot, it can’t force them to make it illegal again. It could attempt to enforce federal prohibition, but it doesn’t have enough DEA agents to effectively do that. Still, imagine what an Attorney General Christie or Cruz might try to do. 

Conrad and Daw also delve more deeply into the botany of marijuana, addressing questions that will face consumers—edibles or smokables? Indica or sativa? High THC or high CBD?—as well as drilling down into the precise roles played by cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids (oh, my!) in creating marijuana highs, tastes, smells, and colors. 

It’s worth taking a moment to note the high production values of The Newbie’s Guide. The book has an illustrated cover (not dust jacket) and is filled with hundreds of color photographs of the plant, its users, marijuana production and sales, and more. It’s also printed on glossy, high-quality paper stock. This thing isn’t going to turn yellow in a few years. 

Conrad and Daw devote a large chunk of the book to getting in the pot business or, more accurately, what people need to be thinking about if they’re thinking about getting into the pot business. They accurately lay out the obstacles—legal, political, financial—awaiting anyone hoping to navigate the nascent industry, and they explore the manifold opportunities within the industry. 

As they make clear, there’s more to the pot business than growing and selling weed (although they certainly devote ample material to covering those basics) and there are employment and business opportunities far beyond growing, trimming, or budtending. Marijuana is spinning off all sorts of ancillary businesses, from edibles and cannabis oil manufacture to advertising and public relations to paraphernalia production to business services and beyond. 

The Newbie’s Guide is a most excellent handbook for marijuana consumers and potential consumers. It should also be required reading for anyone who is thinking about making a career in the industry. There is money to be lost as well as money to be made, and Conrad and Daw could well help stop you from throwing good money down a rat hole. 

Perhaps as important, they demand that people wanting to get into the business do a thorough self-examination. Just why, exactly, do you want in? What is it you seek? Honest answers to those questions will help people make the right choices for themselves. If you’re seriously thinking about using marijuana or getting into the business, you should read this book.

 

(Phillip Smith writes for AlterNet. This piece was posted most recently at TruthDig.) 

-cw

 

Bernie, Hillary, Jerry, and a Colorful California Primary

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH--“There’s something happening here…What it is ain’t exactly clear ...” -- Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth” -- Buffalo Springfield, January 1967. 

Bernie Sanders had quite a Memorial Day. First, he addressed a spirited rally of more than 20,000 people in downtown Oakland, then he and actor Danny Glover drove a short distance and attended the second half of the Golden State Warriors’ dramatic Game 7 victory in the NBA Western Conference Finals. As Sanders and much of the local media pointed out, his arrival coincided with the defending world champion Warriors coming from behind and taking command of the game, completing their dramatic comeback from a 3 games to 1 deficit in the series. 

Naturally, Sanders saw a parallel with the California team’s comeback to win the conference title and his own trailing campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. “The Warriors were down 3-1 in the series and they turned it around and I think that’s what we’re going to do, too,” Sanders exulted. “A very good omen for our campaign.” 

Since getting ripped for seeming to rationalize his supporters’ unacceptable behavior in shouting down the very liberal Senator Barbara Boxer — a very fine person and Hillary backer now who served with me as co-chair of the SolarCal legislative task force back during Jerry Brown 1.0 — at the recent Nevada Democratic Convention, Sanders has mostly cooled the anti-Hillary Clinton rhetoric coming from his campaign. Sanders himself has seemed to take up the challenge of competing to be the best candidate in running against Donald Trump. And his campaign has seemed to really take off here in California, with big rallies all over the state. 

Is the force really with Sanders now, such that he can come from behind to win the California primary, then somehow parlay that into overturning Hillary’s 3 million-vote advantage in the popular vote and near lock on the number of delegates needed to win the nomination? 

Well, maybe the first. But you wouldn’t want to bet on the second. 

California public polls are all over the place. One very respected poll has a statistical tie, while a couple of other public polls have double-digit Clinton leads. My read is that both are off, that Hillary is ahead, but Bernie is in striking distance. 

The Clintons evidently see things the same way, as Hillary is scrapping her previous schedule in favor of campaigning on five straight days here, starting Thursday. 

Sanders has been drawing big crowds everywhere, and I mean everywhere, including places no other presidential primary candidate has ever gone, around California. Its ultimate import is not yet clear, but there is clearly, as old Hart for President campaign friend Stephen Stills sang so long ago, “something happening here.” 

If supporter enthusiasm equated to electoral victory, Sanders would have the Democratic presidential nomination in the bag. That it often does not does nothing to negate the fact that Sanders has struck a very powerful chord with his message criticizing the historic levels of income inequality and rigging of the political system by big money and media. 

Governor Jerry Brown cited that in a statement on the race, praising Sanders and noting that he emphasized similar themes in his 1992 presidential campaign, in which he finished as the Democratic runner-up to Bill Clinton in a bruising battle. Sanders, of course, differs from Brown in running as a democratic socialist. 

But Brown went on to endorse Hillary Clinton this time after meeting for 90 minutes earlier this month with former rival Bill Clinton at the Old Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento, which Brown and First Lady/Special Counsel Anne Gust Brown have refurbished as a truly historic residence. 

Brown pointed up Hillary’s big overall lead in the Democratic contest and near lock on the delegates needed to win. He praised her skills, experience, and tenacity, citing a world in crisis and the not at all unrelated threat of Donald Trump. 

“This is no time for Democrats to keep fighting each other,” he declared. “The general election has already begun.” 

As longtime readers know, I’m essentially always for Jerry Brown. His take is always very interesting and usually on target. And, not surprisingly, I don’t disagree with his analysis. 

But as a mere columnist, I have a slightly different conclusion. As I’ve said before, I intend to vote for Bernie Sanders. 

He may not have struck me as a president when we met a few years ago, but he was clearly a powerful advocate. And his advocacy in this campaign merits not only my great respect, but my primary vote. 

While I may differ with this and that particular in his democratic socialist agenda, he and his movement represent a powerful political tendency which can serve as a force for greater justice and less corruption. 

As for Hillary Clinton, longtime readers know that I not infrequently disagree with her on the issues. While I’m hardly a pacifist or really any sort of dove, I’m generally a much more highly selective hawk than the former secretary of state. And the Wall Street coziness really is too much. 

The presence of a powerful Sanders vector in American politics can serve to help move her away from some problematic stances. 

And if Hillary continues on the course probably set when she won three of the four February contest states, I will be happy to support Hillary for the general election. 

She is highly intelligent, capable, hard-working and deeply engaged by substance, a pragmatic progressive and battle-tested veteran of decades of attacks from the right-wing and its compliant de facto media partners. 

The stakes, with a chaotic world and the potential advent of the neo-fascist bully boy Trump, as aggressive a know-nothing ever to come close to the presidency in my lifetime, are simply too high.

In the meantime, godspeed to Bernie Sanders.

 

(William Bradley is a political analyst. He blogs at Huffington Post … where this piece was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Trump Tells Drought-Plagued Californians: ‘There Is No Drought’

VOODOO ENVIRONMENTALISM-Donald Trump told voters in drought-plagued California on Friday that he had a solution to the water crisis: Open up the water for farmers, because “there is no drought.” 

“We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a crowd filled with farmers in Fresno. “It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea.” 

California is now in its fifth year of drought, which has taken a heavy toll on agriculture in particular. Despite an El Niño event that saw an increase last year in snow packs that supply about one-third of California’s water, 86 percent of the state is still considered to be in drought. 

Trump insinuated that state officials are mismanaging water policy, at the cost of farmers and their crops. Farmers have sharply criticized the state’s irrigation policies, after cuts to water allotments forced them to leave more than a million acres of farmland uncultivated last year. 

Water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which flows into the San Francisco Bay and onto the ocean, has been a particularly contentious issue. The delta is a key source of water to cities and farms in California’s fertile Central Valley region. Some farmers there claim politicians are bending to environmental interests and prioritizing the habitat of fish and wetlands over farmland, creating a “man-made drought.” 

California is now in its fifth year of drought, which has taken a heavy toll on agriculture in particular.

Trump aligned with those concerns Friday when he said state officials and environmentalists are trying “to protect a three-inch fish,” presumably referring to the threatened Delta smelt. 

“If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water, so that you can have your farmers survive so that your job market will get better,” the reality TV personality told the cheering crowd.

Trump said he had listened to farmers before the rally and many feel that the real reason they aren’t getting water is because it is being diverted to the sea. Scientists are concerned that the drought and water diversions away from the estuary could push the smelt to extinction, and imperil other wildlife. 

As it has federal protections, officials have tipped more water toward the smelt’s habitat, which eventually runs into the ocean. Former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz suggested when he sided with farmers this month that officials should just play music to increase the smelt’s libido, rather than send it more water. 

The California Delta Smelt has become a symbolic front in the battle over water in the drought-stricken state.

“They don’t understand it,” Trump said. “There is no drought, they turn the water out into the ocean.”

He did not go into detail about how officials would open up the water, nor what science supports the claim that the drought is not real. But he did tout himself as a champion of the environment. 

“I’ve received many, many environmental rewards, really. Rewards and awards,” Trump said. “I have done very well environmentally. I’m all for it.” 

“My environmental standard is very simple, I’ve said it to everybody,” he added. “I want clean water. Clean air, clean water.”  

The businessman was campaigning in California ahead of the state’s June 7 primary. His dubious environmental claims come after he tapped Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a drilling advocate and climate change skeptic, as his energy advisor this month. And he has vowed to renegotiate the Paris climate agreement.  Trump said on Thursday he would throw out a “tremendous number” of federal regulations — “probably 75 percent of which are absolutely terrible.” 

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

 

(Peter Andrew Hart is Front Page Editor of The Huffington Post where this piece was originally posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Times are Finally a-Changin’: Obama in Vietnam

AT LENGTH--While President Barack Obama was in Vietnam the week of May 22, he acknowledged what previous administrations since the 1960s have been loathe to do: that Vietnam is ideologically closer to the United States than it is to China.

“What’s this?” You might say. How is it that we spent more than a decade fighting the communists in Southeast Asia, at a loss of some 58,000 American soldiers and $173 billion (equivalent to $770 billion in 2003 dollars)? These numbers were supplied by the Defense Department. Veteran’s benefits and interest adds $1 trillion in 2003 dollars.

This was a war that, in retrospect, never needed to be fought and never needed to divide our nation. It left a generation of veterans traumatized and disabled.

This visit wasn’t just about Obama pivoting U.S. foreign policy toward Asia. It was also about burying the ghosts of the Vietnam War.

The president has been criticized for including our former adversary and human rights abuser in the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the president deftly delivered a history lesson, noting how Communist Revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, evoked the American Declaration of Independence in Vietnam’s own declaration of independence after World War II, which read:

All people are created equal.  The Creator has endowed them with inviolable rights.  Among these rights are the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness.

The president expanded upon the values of universal human rights as articulated in the constitutions of democratic societies, noting:

The United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam.  The rights I speak of, I believe, are not American values; I think they’re universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  They’re written into the Vietnamese constitution, which states that “citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press and have the right of access to information, the right to assembly, the right to association and the right to demonstrate. That’s in the Vietnamese constitution. So really, this is an issue about all of us, each country, trying to consistently apply these principles, making sure that we—those of us in government—are being true to these ideals.

In recent years, Vietnam has made some progress. Vietnam has committed to bringing its laws in line with its new constitution and with international norms.

With these particular references to core human rights and with their uncanny resemblance to certain “inalienable” rights found in our own founding documents, it was perhaps Obama’s intent to make this a teachable moment while cementing the contentious Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. His speech was probably one of the most cleverly executed criticisms I have ever witnessed.

And yet, all these years after the end of the Vietnam War, even with the vast understanding of how historically wrong it was, the ghosts of this nightmare still haunt both our national psyche and our politics.

I’m sure that there are still some gung-ho conservatives who still want to reargue this war, just as there are conservative academics who attempt to rewrite this history.

In my mind, it was right for Obama to put this war to rest. One can only speculate what would have happened if it hadn’t been fought at all. Would President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty have succeeded without the political opposition to the Vietnam War? Would President Richard Nixon ever have been elected to launch the War on Drugs as a political gambit against the anti-war protestors?

The true cost of the Vietnam War on our civil society and our political history may never be fully calculated. But 43 years after the end of that war, there is only one presidential candidate who is addressing the fallout from that era with an aspirational message: Sen. Bernie Sanders.

A few weeks ago, I served as the caucus convener for the Sanders’ campaign in the City of Carson. I listened to some of the most moving speeches delivered by delegate contestants. Many young Latino men and women, and many first generation graduates who were just out of college explained why they supported Sanders.

It was an emotionally moving moment. I told them, “I have been waiting for you to be here for over 40 years.” This was odd because most of them were not even that old.

We are witnessing educated young people rising up against authoritarian rule of the elite—not just locally, but across this nation and around the world.  From Hong Kong to Tahrir Square in Egypt; from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York to activists at our own Los Angeles City Hall and police commission meetings, there is push-back. This is a response to the refrain of “enough is enough.”  And, it is beginning to shake the power structure of governments.

Sanders is right. This is not just a campaign to elect him president. It is a revolution to shake the foundations of corporate capitalism.

Even as polls show Sanders gaining ground on Hillary Clinton in California—46 to 48 percent, respectively—there is considerably more to be gained than just delegates or a nomination.  This is reminds me of a 1961 Bob Dylan tune:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

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

-cw

Why Do Cops Lie? Because They Can

EDITOR’S PICK--A federal jury needed little time last week to convict two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies for beating an inmate with mental illness and filing false reports to cover up the assault. Convictions stemming from the scandalous abuse in the jails have become commonplace — 21 current or former LA County Sheriff’s Department members have now been convicted. 

This case stemmed from a 2010 incident in which deputies kicked, punched and pepper sprayed the inmate in a locked hallway, out of sight of surveillance cameras, as punishment for having been disrespectful. The deputies then cooked up a story to justify the beating, claiming the inmate left his cell without permission, ignored orders to return to it and instead walked into the hallway, where he tried to punch a deputy and violently resisted being restrained. The deputies even went so far as to leave certain deputies out of their reports because they had been involved in too many other force incidents.

Now, police lying shouldn’t be news to anyone. A poll last year found that one in three Americans believe police routinely lie. Residents of Los Angeles don’t have to look too far for evidence of police dishonesty. Disgraced former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca (photo above) pled guilty to lying to federal agents investigating civil rights abuses in the jails, and a federal jury convicted Baca’s second-in-command — former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka - of obstruction of justice for interfering with that investigation.

In jail settings we should be particularly wary about the potential for police dishonesty. The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) published reports over several years compiling inmate complaints of brutal violence at the hands of LA County sheriff’s deputies. Baca reflexively responded to these complaints with the refrain that inmates lie and exaggerate — and it unsurprisingly worked.

We as society are told, over and over, that those imprisoned are the worst of the worst and cannot be trusted. As a result, many in the public don’t care what happens to inmates or feel they deserve whatever they get. And for others the jails are simply an instance of out of sight, out of mind. Despite our long-term societal addiction to incarceration, relatively few of us will ever see the inside of a jail, and fewer still will think very long about what happens there.

For these reasons we should be on the lookout for police officials and agencies that whitewash inmate allegations of abuse. A key tell-tale sign is the investigation that relies exclusively on statements made by the officers involved and fails to include available civilian witnesses. In many instances documented by ACLU SoCal, chaplains and volunteers who witnessed inmate abuse made themselves available to investigators, but were never questioned.

The deputies who beat inmates and lied about it acted with impunity because they knew just how cursory the investigation into the beating would be and that no one in the department would ever believe the victim. It’s why officers lie — because they know they can get away with it.

Police know that in a typical swearing match, where it is their word against someone else’s, they will likely win. Notwithstanding the percentage of the people who believe police lie regularly, police still receive high honesty ratings, with 56 percent of Americans giving them a very high or high score. A deputy’s odds of winning a swearing match only improve when he squares off against, say, an inmate in the jails — the deputy knows full well how little weight the inmate’s testimony will carry. What little doubt remains can be practically eliminated when multiple deputies give corroborating testimony.

Who are prosecutors, judges and jurors going to believe? That’s the tempting question that leads down the rabbit hole where officers end up brazenly and coolly beating an inmate and lying about his being the aggressor.

Before anyone concludes that this is just a case of a few bad apples, remember that these were training officers who were trying both to teach an inmate a lesson and educate a young recruit in how things get done in the jails. They were trying to perpetuate a culture that the leadership either encouraged or condoned.

Human nature and history should have taught us by now that if power can be abused, it will be abused. We must put specific checks and balances in place to test the veracity of police — not because they are less trustworthy than others, but because they have been deemed credible and therefore given the power to lie.

(Hector Villagra is the Executive Director of ACLU of Southern California … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

Why National Presidential Polls are Malarkey

CALBUZZ--Why does it make us tear our hair and rend our garments to listen to so-called analysts in the national news media hyperventilate about how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are locked in a dead heat in nationwide surveys? Because national polling in the presidential race, especially at this stage of the game, is bunk.

Why do the blow-dried bloviators get so excited? Because 1) they pathetically need content to fill 24 hours of air time, 2) they’re desperate for a competitive race that keeps viewers tuned in, and 3) sadly, they’re idiots who do not understand how the president is elected.

Also, they made such a fuss for months about how much various Republicans hated Trump, that when the New York narcissist finally locked up the Republican nomination, the big-name TV talkers are now shocked – shocked, we tell you! – that Republican elites are acting like, uh, Republican elites and rallying around their presidential candidate.

Points 1 and 2 need no further explanation, but it is Point 3 that makes this kind of frenzied blather possible, in its failure to understand — or to ignore – the fundamentals of presidential election civics.

Divided We Stand. First of all, finding that the country is divided about 50-50 between a Democrat and a Republican is a classic case of News That Stays News, a simple reflection of the way things have been at least for the past four decades. Since 1976 the average winning percentage of the popular vote for president has been 50.78% — about as close to an even split as you could have and still have someone get more votes than his rival.

But this, of course, has nothing to do with electing presidents. Otherwise, in 2000 we’d have elected Al Gore instead of George Bush as president. In electoral votes, the state-by-state contests with various numbers of votes that determine who actually wins the White House, the average in that same 40-year time period was 374-164 – a winning percentage averaging 69.52%.

In other words, it matters practically nothing that the NBC-Wall Street Journal shows Clinton ahead of Trump 46-43% or that Fox News shows Trump ahead of Clinton 45-42%. Especially when Trump has wrapped up the GOP nomination while Clinton is still battling Bernie Sanders on her left flank.

After the national conventions, when both parties have candidates who have spoken in prime time to the country and begun to make their case for themselves and against their opponent, polling in individual battleground states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and Colorado, for example, will tell us whether Clinton or Trump is heading toward the White House.

Until then, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: he’s a fraud.

Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine … long time journalists … publish the award-winning CalBuzz.com

-cw

The Thing in Trump’s Taxes that will Do Him In

EDITOR’S PICK--The newest media parlor game is wondering what Donald Trump could possibly be hiding in his taxes. Could it be low charitable donations? Could it be financial support for causes conservatives hate? Could it be an evasion of taxes?

It’s highly unlikely that Trump would try too hard to hide any of those things. Thus far, if there’s one thing we know about Donald Trump, it is that on a lot of charges, he’s really good at accepting the hit to defang it. In the first debate, he laughed off charges that he called women “pigs,” and has readily admitted to infidelity.

Perhaps anticipating stories about him not paying his fair share of taxes, he’s already told George Stephanopoulos, “I try very hard to pay as little tax as possible and have said that for the last two years. I fight very hard because this country wastes our money. They take our tax money and throw it down the drain.... So I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.”

But there’s one area that Donald Trump will fight you tooth and nail - his worth. 

It is a subject that he won’t let go of. He leaves no opportunity behind to tell people how “really rich“ he is.

There’s a reason for that, besides his ego.

The image of Trump as the independent guy who isn’t beholden to the establishment system is built on a foundation of him being so rich that he doesn’t owe them anything, and can’t be pulled by their strings.

If, somehow, it was proven that he’s really not rich, the foundation cracks. If it was proven that he’s actually deeply in hock to the moneyed elites, the Trump Tower comes crashing down.

The amazing thing is that the media doesn’t see it, despite all the signs looking them right in the face:

  • Donald Trump hasn’t self-funded his campaign. He’s loaned money to his campaign, and will only say it isn’t “his intention” to pay himself back.
  • His cash seems to be largely accrued off a series of loans from bank after bank after bank, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Trump clumsily admitted as much, when he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he’s “the king of debt.”

So, what would his taxes show, that he doesn’t want shown?

That he’s not “really rich.” In fact, the vast majority of money he “has” isn’t really his. It’s all a bunch of revolving loans that he has to pay back.

And, in fact, it is extremely likely that the money he’s loaned his campaign is cash obtained by leveraging assets in a loan from a bank.

In short, Donald Trump isn’t funding his campaign. Whatever bank (or banks) loaned him money is funding his campaign, and he’s going to have to pay himself back, to pay that bank back.

Trump is like a Presidential real life version of Wimpy from the old Popeye cartoons: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday, for a Presidential campaign, today.”

You can see where this all goes, if or when this is revealed in his taxes. The image of Donald Trump, independent, uncontrolled swashbuckler becomes #BrokeDonald, the cheap fraud who is so deep in debt that he’s wholly owned by the banks, to the point that (for lack of a better term) he’s their bitch.

That’s likely what Trump’s hiding.

(This perspective was posted earlier in Huff Post.) 

People Power Discovered Amid Election Chaos

EDITOR’S PICK-- A year ago, it looked like we were in for a tedious election with yet another Bush pitted against another Clinton. Not so, as it turned out.

Inside the Beltway, they didn’t see it coming, but I wasn’t surprised that millions of voters defied the political establishment and chose to support Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. I spent 18 weeks on a road trip last year visiting communities across the United States, and I found an America that has lost faith in the status quo. There is real disquiet among the American people, with two out of three saying they are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, according to the Pew Research Center.

Economic pain is the most obvious reason so many feel alienated. Many economists tell Americans we should be celebrating the recovery, but I found communities stuck in poverty and debt and lacking affordable health care, decent housing, and even safe water. We are told it is our own fault if we are struggling, even though the structure of the economy has shifted profoundly to the advantage of the superrich.

The crisis isn’t just economic, though: Racism, especially in the criminal justice system, continues to limit the future of many people of color, while climate change is drying up fertile lands and causing wildfires, floods, and extreme weather all over the country.

But in every community I visited, I found people working hard to lay a different foundation for our society.

For many reasons, the people I met distrust big transnational corporations and their ties to the political establishment. Whether because of job exports, reckless treatment of the environment, or the damage done by big box stores to local businesses, I found people everywhere looking for ways to build a different sort of economy, starting with locally rooted businesses and nonprofits, but also cooperatives, land trusts, food hubs, and urban farms.

In communities where more young people get caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline than go to college, I talked to people creating alternatives to mass incarceration by bringing restorative justice into schools and policing.

And as sea ice melts and coastlines flood, and the collateral damage of coal, oil, and gas extraction add up, I met people who are standing up to the fossil-fuel industry, saying “no” to fracking, pipelines, coal strip mines, and tar sands extraction, while saying “yes” to renewables and restorative farming.

The economic pain is the most obvious reason so many feel alienated.

The political establishment in the United States is losing legitimacy as it fails to deliver the basic things people expect from their government: economic opportunity, security, fairness, and a viable future. When a system loses legitimacy—as did the apartheid system in South Africa and slavery in the United States—it is like the rotting of a foundation. You can’t predict when or how the structure will buckle or collapse, but you can be pretty sure that it will.

From Montana ranches to Detroit neighborhoods to Appalachian hamlets, I met people who understand that this system is failing. Donald Trump appeals to some who see the decay, but he offers nothing to build on—just hate, authoritarianism, and more power for a wealthy elite.

Bernie Sanders’ political revolution—regardless of who gets the nomination—has galvanized the yearnings of millions for a society that puts the common good ahead of corporate profits.

My road trip left me convinced, though, that the most powerful work for change is happening one community at a time. The local level is where people are creating ways of life that work for themselves, their communities, and the ecological systems that support all life. It’s at the local level where people feel their power. This work is rarely covered in the media, and even the best local efforts can be defeated by powerful corporate interests and the political insiders who support them. The hate and division represented by the Trump candidacy could still be in our future, especially when frustration turns into despair and nihilism. But this unusual election season is opening up opportunities for local changemakers, in partnership with enlightened national leaders, to set a direction for our country that will benefit everyone—including Trump’s supporters. The stakes have never been higher.

(Sarah van Gelder is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. connect with Sarah on Twitter @sarahvangelder. This piece was posted most recently at Common Dreams.) 

-cw

Why So Many Say ‘Thank You’ to a Cosby Prosecution

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--Disgraced actor-comedian Bill Cosby had two words to say to Pennsylvania District Judge Elizabeth McHugh when she ruled that he must stand trial for sexual assault. The words were “thank you.” The two words were more than simply a case of Cosby being polite. The words were vindication for dozens of women. These are the women who came forth to say that Cosby drugged, fondled, molested, abused, intimidated, and of course, raped them over the course of many years. They suffered mightily for coming forth. They were lambasted from pillar to post as liars, cheats, sluts, publicity seekers, and every critic’s favorite, gold diggers. 

Thousands of others never bought Cosby’s long, loud and bitter denials that he was the innocent victim of a giant con game, or the serial denier’s favorite, the victim of a sinister plot by take your pick: the “white man,” “white media,” “white establishment” or simply some unnamed, nebulous white conspirators to bring down a fabulously popular, rich, supremely successful black man. They also said “thank you.” 

There were also more than a few legal experts who did not buy the virtual article of faith that there were no legal grounds to prosecute him because the statute of limitations had long since run out on most of the claims. There were just too many alleged victims. That meant that there had to be a case somewhere that fit the bill for a legal prosecution. 

Meanwhile, Cosby fed into the conspiracy paranoia and the public trashing of the women by filing motion after motion to duck a prosecution, and defamation of character counter suit after countersuit against his various women accusers. His holding action sufficiently muddied the stream to cast doubt while delaying what was almost certain to be the inevitable. That was his painfully long delayed plop into a court docket. 

In the much cited unsealed affidavit Cosby swore to in 2005, he confessed to giving drugs to one woman and getting drugs for other women he wanted to have sex with. This was tantamount to a smoking gun confirmation of what many of his alleged victims claimed, and that was that he plied them with drink and drugs before he sexually waylaid them. 

Even without the affidavit, it was not true that a sexual abuser could get away with their crime simply by waiting out the calendar. More than two dozen states have no statute of limitation depending on circumstances in the nature and type of sexual assault. If the evidence was compelling, a Cosby could indeed be prosecuted even decades after the assault in those states. 

This gross misconception about prosecuting sexual crimes implanted the dangerous public notion that rape or sexual abuse could be minimalized, marginalized or even mocked because the clock had wound down on when the crime could or even should be prosecuted. A Cosby prosecution rightly tosses the ugly glare back on the wrong public perceptions about rape and sexual abuse and how easily the crime can still be blown off. And it is. 

The Iowa Law Review, in March, 2014, found that rape is routinely underreported in dozens of cities. The rape claims were dismissed out of hand with little or no investigation. The result was there were no reports, no statistical counts, and no records of an attack.

The study zeroed in on the prime reason for this, namely disbelief. It’s that disbelief that assures men such as Cosby are reflexively believed when they scream foul at their accuser. They lambaste their character and motives. If things get too hot, they toss out a few dollars in hush money settlements and the screams are even louder that it was all a shakedown operation in the first place and the victim is further demonized. 

This wasn’t the only reason it took so long to prosecute Cosby. He wasn’t just another rich, mediagenic celebrity whose wealth, fame and celebrity status routinely shielded him from criminal charges. Cosby and men like him have deep enough pockets to hire a small army of the best PR flacks around to spin, point fingers, and hector the media that their guy’s pristine reputation is being drug through the mud precisely because of their fame, wealth, talent and, of course, goodwill. 

Cosby was a special case even by the standards of the rich and famed celebrity world. For a decade he reigned as America’s father figure, not black father figure, but father figure. He embodied the myths, fantasies, and encrusted beliefs about the role that a caring, loving, engaged dad is supposed to have with his family. This rendered him almost untouchable when it came to casting any dirt on his character. That’s all past now, Cosby is now just Cosby, the accused rapist, and that’s reason enough to say “thank you.” 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more Hutchinson insight.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Trump's Not-So-Secret Strategy: Violent Anti-Trump Protesters

POLITICS-Many political analysts have concluded that President Obama's campaign strategies in 2008 and 2012 stem from his use of, and relationship with, the media.  It's not too hard to conclude that Donald J. Trump is similarly attuned to the media and what Americans want to see and hear...so whether you love, hate, respect, despise, or otherwise tolerate Trump, you have to hand it to those violent anti-Trump protestors:  they will assure his electoral victory! 

The intensity, ambivalence, and angst of this 2016 election make this election one for the record books, and one for the history books.  Everyone has their own wistful and/or useless idea as to why this is, but my own silly $.02 is that we've had not one but two Presidents who appeared to come across as representing the Everyman but ended up enriching the powerful while threatening the economic future of Joe/Jane American. 

Couple that with far-reaching decisions that stem as far back as Reagan and Clinton, and throw in some blatant shenanigans of the Democratic and Republican political leaderships ("Establishments", I believe they're called?), and you've got a LOT of Americans who feel left out of a safe, secure, and appropriate future because of a Washington/Wall Street elite that has left Americans hanging by their fingernails for years to decades. 

So enter Trump, Clinton, and Sanders. Trump's most erstwhile supporters acknowledge his need to "put a sock in it" but recognize he's ALWAYS in the news, and saying things that others have been thinking (and with the potential to end "political correctness").   

Clinton's most erstwhile supporters acknowledge her shady dealings and corporate ties but recognize she's got the most political experience of all the candidates (and she embodies the dreams of many American girls and women).   

Sanders' most erstwhile supporters acknowledge his need to better explain how he's going to explain how he'll pay for his lofty plans to improve the lives of Americans with respect to education and health care but recognize his sincerity and pointing out the problems of our economic and political power structure. 

Yet what does Trump have going for him that Clinton and Sanders don't?  After all, neither he nor the other two Democratic frontrunners are spring chickens, or are all that gifted in the eloquence or charm departments.  But he does have a "not so secret" weapon that is in plain sight. 

And it doesn't cost Trump a penny (except, perhaps, in security costs). 

Trump has those violent protestors, jumping on and attacking policemen and their police cars, and creating chaos at all his rallies from Chicago to Albuquerque to Costa Mesa. 

Inasmuch as many have decried "racist overtones" of those supporting Trump--or from Trump himself--there have just have NOT been any violent, police-assaulting protestors at the Sanders or Clinton rallies. 

Many have wondered and hypothesized as to the origin of these violent protestors--and even former GOP competitor and opponent Marco Rubio has decried these protestors.  Rubio has in part blamed Trump for stirring up the pot, and promoting violence, but he's pointed out that the protestors pose a problem.

But they also will probably get enough independent, fed-up-with-all-the-candidates-and-political-shenanigans Americans to vote for Trump.  After all, if these violent lovelies attack Trump and his followers (including those who are doing nothing more than wearing a T-shirt or holding a sign), then there will be plenty who conclude, "They're jerks, they're protesting Trump, so it seems that I should therefore vote for the one they're protesting." 

The origins and background and stories behind these protestors, who appear to be organized, funded, and backed by any number of sordid, shady entities and who have also created some of the more violent protests of the Black Lives Matter Movement, is anyone's guess. 

George Soros?  The American Communist Party?  Hillary Clinton?  The Tooth Fairy's evil twin?

Perhaps it's a reminder that inasmuch as we all have been trained to fear the Radical Right, it's possible that the Radical Left is by far the greatest threat to us at this time in our history.  After all, the hideously-failed dream of Venezuela has really thrown the dangers of socialism into the spotlight. 

And, of course, while most Americans have rightfully learned to despise Wall Street, it's either the European or American excesses of socialism that have--under all sorts of guises of compassion, diversity, and inclusion--denied ordinary, hard-working, and honest citizens the opportunity to succeed while further empowering the already-empowered. 

But regardless of who is protesting, and regardless of why most Americans are so angry, there are two points that it's hoped we can all agree upon: 

1) We're all angry, we're rightfully angry, and if you're not angry you're not paying attention to the misery of your neighbors...and it will try our souls to debate and organize without descending into violence. 

2) If you DO give in to your lesser natures and descend into violence, you've just handed your opponent the ultimate weapon to use against you. 

And, at this time, perhaps not of his creation but certainly with his media-savvy knowledge and awareness, Trump's opponents who choose the path of violence will certainly put him over the top to victory come this November.  

 

(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.)

-cw

The Desperate Plight of Petro-States … Oil Economies Head for the Unknown 

EDITOR’S PICK--Pity the poor petro-states. Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some of them are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels. Unlike other countries, which largely finance their governments through taxation, petro-states rely on their oil and natural gas revenues. Russia, for example, obtains about 50% of government income that way; Nigeria, 60%; and Saudi Arabia, a whopping 90%. When oil was selling at $100 per barrel or above, as was the case until 2014, these countries could finance lavish government projects and social welfare operations, ensuring widespread popular support.  Now, with oil below $50 and likely to persist at that level, they find themselves curbing public spending and fending off rising domestic discontent or even incipient revolt.

At the peak of their glory, the petro-states played an outsized role in world affairs.  The members of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, earned an estimated $821 billion from oil exports in 2013 alone. Flush with cash, they were able to exert influence over other countries through a wide variety of aid and patronage operations. Venezuela, for example, sought to counter U.S. influence in Latin America via its Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a cooperative network of mostly leftist governments. Saudi Arabia spread its influence throughout the Islamic world in part by financing the efforts of its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy to establish madrassas (religious academies) throughout the Islamic world. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, used its prodigious oil wealth torebuild and refurbish its military, which had largely disintegrated following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lesser members of the petro-state club like Angola, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan became accustomed to regular fawning visits from the presidents and prime ministers of major oil-importing countries.

That, of course, was then, and this is now. While these countries still matter, what worries these presidents and prime ministers now is the growing likelihood of civil violence or even state collapse. Take, for example, Venezuela, long an ardent foe of U.S. policy in Latin America, but today the potential site of a future bloody civil war between supporters and opponents of the current government. Similar kinds of internal strife and civil disorder are likely in oil-producing states like Algeria and Nigeria, where the potential for the further growth of terrorist violence amid chaos is always high.

Some petro-states like Venezuela and Iraq already appear to be edging up to the brink of collapse. Others like Russia and Saudi Arabia will be forced to reorient their economies if they hope to avoid such future outcomes. Whatever their degree of risk, all of them are already experiencing economic hardship, leaving their leaders under growing pressure to somehow alter course in the bleakest of circumstances -- or face the consequences.

A Busted Business Model

Petro-states are different from other countries because the fates of their governing institutions are so deeply woven into the boom-and-bust cycles of the international petroleum economy. The challenges they face are only compounded by the unnaturally close ties between their political leaderships and senior officials of their state-owned or state-controlled oil and natural gas industries. Historically, their rulers have placed close allies or even family members in key industry positions, ensuring continuing government control and in many cases personal enrichment as well. In Russia, for example, the management of Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas company, and Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, is almost indistinguishable from the senior leadership in the Kremlin, with both groups answering to President Putin. A similar pattern holds for Venezuela, where the government keeps the state-owned company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), on a tight leash, and in Saudi Arabia, where the royal family oversees the operations of the state-owned Saudi Aramco.

In 2016, one thing is finally clear, however: the business model for these corporatized states is busted. The most basic assumption behind their operation -- that global oil demand will continue to outpace world petroleum supplies and ensure high prices into the foreseeable future -- no longer holds.  Instead, in what for any petro-state is a nightmarish, upside-down version of that model, supply, not demand, is forging ahead, leaving the market flooded with fossil fuels.

Most analysts, including those at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), now believe that increases in energy efficiency, the spread of affordable alternative energy sources (especially wind and solar), slowing worldwide economic growth, and concern over climate change will continue to put a damper on fossil fuel demand in the years ahead.  Meanwhile, the oil industry -- now equipped with fracking technology and other advanced extractive techniques -- will continue to boost supplies. It’s a formula for keeping prices low. In fact, a growing number of analysts are convinced that world oil demand will in the not-so-distant future reach a peak and begin a long-termdecline, ensuring that large reserves of petroleum will be left in the ground. For the petro-states, all of this means persistent pain unless they can find a new business model that is somehow predicated on a permanent low-oil-price environment.

These states vary in both their willingness and ability to respond to this new reality effectively. Some are too deeply committed to their existing business model (and its associated leadership system) to consider significant changes; others, increasingly aware of the need to do something, find almost insuperable structural roadblocks in the way; and a third group, recognizing the desperate need for change, is attempting a total economic overhaul of its oil economies. In recent weeks, examples of all three types – Venezuela for the first, Nigeria the second, and Saudi Arabia the third -- have surfaced in the news.

Venezuela: A Nation on the Brink

Venezuela claims the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum, an estimated 298 billion barrels of oil. In past decades, the exploitation of this vast fossil fuel patrimony has ensured incredible wealth for foreign companies and Venezuelan elites alike. After assuming the presidency in 1999, however, Hugo Chávez sought to channel the bulk of this wealth to Venezuela’s poor and working classes by forcing foreign firms to partner with the state-owned oil firm PdVSA and redirecting that company’s profits to government spending programs. Billions of dollars were funneled into state-directed “missions” to the poor, lifting millions of Venezuelans out of poverty. In 2002, when the company’s long-serving managers rebelledagainst these moves, Chávez simply replaced them with his own party loyalists and the diversion of funds continued.

In the wake of the ousting of that original management team, the country’s oil production began to decline.  With prices running at or above $100 per barrel, this initially seemed to make little difference as money continued to pour into government coffers and those missions to the poor kept right on going. What Chavez didn’t do, however, was create the national equivalent of a rainy-day fund.  Little of the oil money was channeled into a sovereign wealth fund for more problematic moments, nor was any invested in other kinds of industries that might in time have generated streams of non-fossil-fuel income for the government.

As a result, when prices began to drop in the fall of 2014, Chavez’s presidential successor, Nicolás Maduro, faced a triple calamity: diminished revenues for social services, scant savings to draw upon, and no alternative sources of income. Not surprisingly, as a new impoverishment spread, many former Chavistas lost faith in the regime and, in last December’s parliamentary elections, voted for emboldened opposition candidates.

Today, Venezuela is a nation living under an officially declared “state of emergency,” politically riven, experiencing food riots and other violence, and possibly on the brink of collapse. According to the IMF, the economycontracted by 5.7% in 2015 and is expected to diminish by another 8% this year -- more, that is, than any other country on the planet. Inflation is out of control, unemployment and crime are soaring, and what little money Venezuela had in its rainy-day account has largely been spent. Only China has been willing to lend it money to pay off its debts. If Beijingchooses to hold back when the next payments come due this fall, the country could face default. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly seek to oustMaduro and move ahead with various reforms, but the government is using its control of the courts to block such efforts, and the nation remains in a state of paralysis.

Nigeria: Continuing Disorder

Nigeria possesses the largest oil and natural gas reserves in sub-Saharan Africa. The exploitation of those reserves has long proved immensely profitable for foreign companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron and also for well-connected Nigerian elites.  Very little of this wealth, however, has trickled down to those living in the Niger Delta region in the south of the country where most of the oil and gas is produced. Opposition to the central government in Abuja, the capital, to which the oil income flows, has long been strong in the Delta, leading to periodic outbursts of violence. Successive federal administrations have promised a more equitable allocation of oil revenues, but a promise this has remained.

From 2006 to 2009, Nigeria was wracked by an insurgency spearheaded by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a militant groupseeking to redirect oil revenues to the country’s impoverished southern states.  In 2009, when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua offered the militants an amnesty and monthly cash payments, the insurgency died down.  His successor, Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, promised to respect the amnesty and channel more funds to the region.

For a while, high oil prices enabled Jonathan to make good on some of his promises, even as entrenched elites in Abuja continued to pocket a substantial percentage of the country’s petroleum income. When prices began to plummet, however, he was confronted with mounting challenges.  Pervasivecorruption turned people against the government, feeding recruits into Boko Haram, the terror movement then growing in the country’s northern reaches; money intended for soldiers in the Nigerian army disappeared into the pockets of military elites, subverting efforts to fight the insurgents. In national elections held a year ago, Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who vowed to crack down on corruption, rescue the economy, and defeat Boko Haram, took the presidency from Jonathan.

Since assuming office, Buhari has demonstrated a grasp of Nigeria’s structural weaknesses, especially its overwhelming dependency on oil monies, along with a determination to overcome them. As promised, he has launched a serious crackdown on the sort of corruption that is a commonplace feature of petro-states, firing officials accused of blatant thievery.  At the same time, he has stepped up military pressure on Boko Haram, for the first time putting a crimp in that group’s brutal activities. Crucially, he has announced plans to diversify the economy, placing more emphasis on agriculture and non-fossil-fuel-related industries, which might, if pursued seriously, help diminish Nigeria’s increasingly disastrous reliance on oil.

In the cold light of day, however, the country still needs those oil revenues for the lion’s share of its income, which means that in the current low-price environment it has ever less money to fight Boko Haram, pay for social services, or pursue alternative investment schemes. In addition, Buhari has been accused of disproportionately targeting southerners in his fight against corruption, sparking not just fresh discontent in the Delta region but the rise of a new militant group -- the Niger Delta Avengers -- that poses a threat to oil production. On May 4th, the Avengers attacked an offshore oil platform operated by Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, forcing the companies to shut down production of about 90,000 barrels per day. Add that to other insurgent attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure and the Nigerian government is expected to lose $1 billion in May alone.  If repairs are not completed on time, it may lose an equal amount in June.  It remains a nation on edge, in danger of devastating impoverishment, and with few genuine alternatives available.

Saudi Arabia: Seeking a New Vision

With the world’s second largest reserves of oil, Saudi Arabia is also the planet’s leading producer, pumping out a staggering 10.2 million barrels daily. Originally, those massive energy reserves were owned by a consortium of American companies operating under the umbrella of the Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco). In the 1970s, however, Aramco was nationalized and is now owned by the Saudi state -- which is to say, the Saudi monarchy. Today, it is the world’s most valuable company, worth by some estimates as much as $10 trillion (10 times more than Apple), and so a source of almost unimaginable wealth for the Saudi royal family.

For decades, the country’s leadership pursued a consistent political-economic business plan: sell as much oil as possible and use the proceeds to enrich the numerous princes and princesses of the realm; provide lavish social benefits to the rest of the population, thereby averting popular unrest of the “Arab Spring” variety; finance the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy so as to ensure its loyalty to the regime; finance like-minded states in the region; andput aside money for those rainy-day periods of low oil prices.

Saudi leaders have recently come to recognize that this plan is no longer sustainable. In 2016, the Saudi budget has, for the first time in recent memory, moved into deficit territory and the monarchy has had to cut backon both its usual subsidies to and social programs for its people. Unlike the Venezuelans or the Nigerians, the Saudi royals socked away enough money in the country’s sovereign wealth fund to cover deficit spending for at least a couple of years. It is now, however, burning through those funds at a prodigious rate, in part to finance a brutal and futile war in Yemen. At some point, it will have to sharply curtail government spending. Given the youthfulness of the Saudi population -- 70% of its citizens are under 30 -- and its long dependence on government handouts, such moves could, in the view of many analysts, lead to widespread civil unrest.

Historically, Saudi leaders have been slow to initiate change. But recently, the royal family has defied expectations, taking radical steps to prepare the country for a transition to what’s being termed a post-petroleum economy. On April 25th, the powerful Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman,unveiled “Saudi Vision 2030,” a somewhat hazy blueprint for the kingdom’s economic diversification and modernization. Prince Mohammed also indicated that the country will soon begin to offer public shares in Saudi Aramco, with the intention of raising massive funds to invest in and create non-oil-related Saudi industries and revenue streams. On May 7th, the monarchy also abruptly dismissed its long-serving oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, and replaced him with the head of Saudi Aramco, Khalid al-Falih, a figuredeemed more subservient to Prince Mohammed. Falih’s job title was also changed to minister of energy, industry, and mineral resources, which was (so the experts speculated) a signal from the monarchy of its determination to move beyond exclusive reliance on oil as a source of income.

This is all so unprecedented that there is no way of predicting whether the Saudi royals are actually capable of bringing anything like Saudi Vision 2030 to fruition, no less moving away in a serious fashion from its reliance on oil. Many obstacles remain, including the possibility that jealous royals will push Prince Mohammed (and his vision) aside when his father, King Salman, now 80, passes from the scene. (There are regular rumors that some members of the royal family resent the meteoric rise of the 31-year-old prince.) Nevertheless, his dramatic statements about the need to diversify the kingdom’s economy do show that even Saudi Arabia -- the petro-state par excellence -- now recognizes that some kind of new identity is now a necessity.

The Stakes for Us All

You may not live in a petro-state, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a stake in the evolution of this unique political life form. From at least the “oil shock” of 1973, when the Arab OPEC members announced an “oil boycott” against the U.S. for its involvement in the Yom Kippur War, such countries have played an outsized role on the world stage, distorting international relations, and -- in the Greater Middle East -- involving themselves (and their financial resources) in one conflict after another from the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 to the wars in Yemen and Syria today.

Their fervent support for and financing of favored causes -- whether it be Wahhabism and associated jihadist groups (Saudi Arabia), anti-Westernism (Russia), or the survival of the Assad regime in Syria (Iran) -- has provoked widespread disorder and misery. It will hardly be a tragedy if a lack of funds forces such states to pull back from efforts of this sort. But given the centrality of fossil fuels to our world for the last century or more, the chaos that could ensue in the oil heartlands of the planet from low oil prices and high supply is likely to create unpredictable new nightmares of its own.

And the greatest nightmares of all lurk not in any of this but in the inability of these states and those they supply to liberate themselves from reliance onfossil fuels fast enough.  Looking into the future, the demise of petro-states as we’ve known them could have a profound impact on the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change. Although these states are not primarily responsible for the actual combustion of fossil fuels -- that’s something we in the oil-importing countries must take responsibility for -- their pivotal role in fueling the global petroleum economy has made them largely resistant to international efforts to curb emissions of carbon dioxide. As they try to repair their busted business model or collapse under the weight of its failures, we can only hope that the path they follow will entail significantly less dependence on oil exports as well as a determination to speed up the conclusion of the fossil fuel era and so diminish its legacy of climate disaster.

(Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education FoundationFollow him on Twitter at @mklare1.)

-cw

Tax Dodgin’ Silicon Valley and What It Means to You and Me

EASTSIDER-When we think of the giant Tech companies that own Silicon Valley (and most of San Francisco as well), we usually think about our cool iPhones and tablets, apps and computers, and how wonderful all these electronic goodies have made our lives. 

What we don’t think about (because we don’t know) is the fact that these Silicon Valley giants are among the biggest tax evaders in the United States. And what’s really a shame is that all this money isn’t even being hidden in foreign countries. 

That’s right, the actual “offshore” money is being used to buy up our own country! As in treasuries, bonds and stocks. As Wolf Richter writes in his NakedCapitalism article, here’s how they do it:

“It is registered in accounts overseas, for example in Ireland, but is then invested in whatever assets the company chooses to invest it in, including in US Treasuries, US corporate bonds, US stocks, and other US-based investments. This was revealed to the public during the Senate subcommittee investigation and hearings in March 2013 that exposed where Apple’s profits that were officially parked “overseas” actually end up.” 

This is a fix, pure and simple. A legal fiction. First, the financial services industry buys the politicians and the regulatory staff at places like the Federal Reserve, the SEC and the Justice Department, to achieve their loopholes. Then they use these newly created “legal” rules to hide money in “foreign countries.” The technical term is “inversions,” a particularly disingenuous way to avoid it what it really is: A scam. 

So when you hear about nice, new, cool, wonderful techie firms like Apple, Google, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, be aware that they are all in the top tier of corporations beating us out of tax revenues – so much so, that the rest of us wind up having to pay more. Not cool. 

And just to add fuel to the fire, a lot of these companies, including Seagate, pay no taxes at all!  

How This Impacts You and Me

These underhanded shenanigans have two direct impacts on the rest of here in California, not to mention other states and the federal government. First, we’re talking about gazillions of dollars in California and Federal tax revenues that are being sucked out of the system so that the rest of us get hit harder. In last week’s “Woah! Enough With the Tax Increases” article, I pointed out that you and I keep getting taxed more and more and more. Well, if these corporate giants were paying their fair share of taxes like we’re forced to do, there would not be such a big need for regular people to pony up extra bucks just to cover the share of these companies. Of course, unlike big companies, you and I can’t buy the politicians to get access to the underhanded deals. 

The second direct impact on us has to do with how the uber rich employees of these tech companies spend their very high incomes. If you think about it, it’s the Tech industry companies who are driving housing prices and rents through the roof in the Bay area, as well as in parts of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Playa del Rey, and others. NOT NICE! 

The death of affordable housing is happening at the hands of a different nouveau riche class -- shades of a new Gilded Age.

And on Top of This, You and I Are Not Doing So Hot 

As Deidre Fulton noted recently in CityWatch, 6 in 10 Americans are living on the financial edge

Even more revealing, in the AP story  she links to her piece. Two-thirds of us couldn’t come up with a thousand bucks cash if we had to -- as in paying for an emergency. This is sad, not to mention frightening. 

And if that’s not enough, a recent report by the Federal Government’s own GAO  (Government Accounting Office) demonstrated that if you happen to be black, your pensions tanked on the order of 47% between 2007 and 2013. What’s even more telling is that this didn’t happen for white workers. Holy moly! 

Just to finish the thought, it has started to occur even to the brain trust at the New York Federal Reserve that we are all in deep you-know-what. 

In case you think these are the demented ramblings of a gonzo journalist, check this out: The Federal Reserve Bank -- you know, the folks we see on TV that are giving the big banks 0% interest rates while the rest of us can’t even get a loan, period -- has entered into a contract with the crooks at JP Morgan Chase to be the financial custodian for all the toxic mortgage backed securities that they bought up in our name. 

The Takeaway 

So in a nutshell, the Investment houses like JP Morgan crash our economy in 2008 with fraudulent mortgage backed securities (or CDO’s), then they get the Fed to declare them banks so that we, the taxpayers, are on the hook for their deeds, then the Federal Reserve buys up all this toxic waste under their “Quantitative Easing” policy, and finally, to add insult to injury, they hire the crooks that created the mess to guard our “taxpayer assets”! 

With no shame at all, our Silicon Valley tech giants and other major corporations engage in ‘legal fiction’ tax evasion, as they buy up the politicians to make it so. First they exported the jobs, now they’re exporting their money, even as they turn around and buy up the US economy with the laundered proceeds. 

If you are feeling stressed, can’t hardly make ends meet, and think you are being sold out by your government, guess what? You are. And just to add insult to injury, it turns out that in California, our much ballyhooed wonderful Silicon Valley tech giants are right in the pig trough selling us out! Arrgh! Pick a party -- no joy.

 

                       ...if the honest voter cared no more for his party than

                        the politician and the grafter, then the honest vote would

                        govern, and that would be bad -- for graft. It is idiotic,

                        this devotion to a machine that is used to take our

                        sovereignty from us.”

 

                                                            -- Lincoln Steffens (1903)

 

(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.

A Commencement Address for the Most Indebted Class Ever

EDITOR’S PICK--Congratulations, college graduates! As you enter the next phase of life, you and your parents should be proud of your achievements.

But, I’m sorry to say, they’ve come at a price: The system is trying to squeeze you harder than any previous generation.

Many baby boomers, perhaps including your parents, benefited from a time when higher education was seen as a shared social responsibility. Between 1945 and 1975, tens of millions of them graduated from college with little or no debt.

But now, tens of millions of you are graduating with astounding levels of debt.

This year, seven in 10 graduating seniors borrowed for their educations. Their average debt is now over $37,000 — the highest figure for any class ever.

Already, some 43 percent of borrowers — together owing $200 billion — have either stopped making payments or are behind on their student loans. Millions are in default.

This debt casts a long shadow on the finances of graduates. During the last quarter of 2015 alone, the Education Department moved to garnish $176 million in wages.

There’s no economic benefit to this system whatsoever. Indebted students delay starting families and buying houses, experience compounding economic distress, and are less inclined to take entrepreneurial risks.

One driver of the change from your parents’ generation has been tax cuts for the wealthy, which have led to cuts in higher education budgets. Forty-seven states now spend less per student on higher education than they did before the 2008 economic recession.

In effect, we’re shifting tax obligations away from multi-millionaires and onto states and middle-income taxpayers. And that’s led colleges to rely on higher tuition costs and fees.

In 2005, for instance, Congress stopped sharing revenue from the estate tax — a levy on inherited wealth exclusively paid by multi-million dollar estates — with the states. Most state legislatures failed to replace it at the state level, costing them billions in revenue over the last decade.

In fact, the 32 states that let their estate taxes expire are foregoing between $3 to $6 billion a year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. The resulting tax benefits have gone entirely to multi-millionaires and billionaires — and contributed to tuition increases.

For example, California used to raise almost $1 billion a year in revenue from its state-level estate tax. Now that figure is down to zero. And since 2008, average tuition has increased over $3,500 at four-year public colleges and universities in the state.

Florida, meanwhile, lost $700 million a year — and raised tuition nearly $2,500. Michigan lost $155 million a year and hiked average tuition $2,200.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington State went the opposite route.

Washington taxes wealthy estates and dedicates the $150 million it raises each year to an education legacy trust account, which supports K-12 education and the state’s community college system. Other states should follow this model, and students and parents should take the lead in demanding it.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said at a Philadelphia town hall that there’s one thing he’s 100 percent certain about.

If millions of young people stood up and said they’re “sick and tired of leaving college $30,000, $50,000, $70,000 in debt, that they want public colleges and universities tuition-free,” he predicted, “that is exactly what would happen.”

Sanders is right: Imagine a political movement made up of the 40 million households that currently hold $1.2 trillion in debt.

If we stood up and pressed for policies to eliminate millionaire tax breaks and dedicate the revenue to debt-free education, it would change the face of America.

Graduates, let’s get to work.

(Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. Provided CityWatch by OtherWords.org.

-cw

The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education: Student Protests vs. the Corporate University 

EDITOR’S PICK--During the past academic year, an upsurge of student activism, a movement of millennials, has swept campuses across the country and attracted the attention of the media. From coast to coast, from the Ivy League to state universities to small liberal arts colleges, a wave of student activism has focused on stopping climate change, promoting a living wage, fighting mass incarceration practices, supporting immigrant rights, and of course campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

Both the media and the schools that have been the targets of some of these protests have seized upon certain aspects of the upsurge for criticism or praise, while ignoring others. Commentators, pundits, and reporters have frequently trivialized and mocked the passion of the students and the ways in which it has been directed, even as universities have tried to appropriate it by promoting what some have called “neoliberal multiculturalism.” Think of this as a way, in particular, of taming the power of the present demands for racial justice and absorbing them into an increasingly market-oriented system of higher education.

In some of their most dramatic actions, students of color, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, have challenged the racial climate at their schools. In the process, they have launched a wave of campus activism, including sit-ins, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and petitions, as well as emotional, in-your-face demands of various sorts. One national coalition of student organizations, the Black Liberation Collective, has called for the percentage of black students and faculty on campus to approximate that of blacks in the society. It has also called for free tuition for black and Native American students, and demanded that schools divest from private prison corporations. Other student demands for racial justice have included promoting a living wage for college employees, reducing administrative salaries, lowering tuitions and fees, increasing financial aid, and reforming the practices of campus police. These are not, however, the issues that have generally attracted the attention either of media commentators or the colleges themselves.

Instead, the spotlight has been on student demands for cultural changes at their institutions that focus on deep-seated assumptions about whiteness, sexuality, and ability. At some universities, students have personalized these demands, insisting on the removal of specific faculty members and administrators. Emphasizing a politics of what they call “recognition,” they have also demanded that significant on-campus figures issue public apologies or acknowledge that “black lives matter.” Some want universities to implement in-class “trigger warnings” when difficult material is being presented and to create “safe spaces” for marginalized students as a sanctuary from the daily struggle with the mainstream culture. By seizing upon and responding to these (and only these) student demands, university administrators around the country are attempting to domesticate and appropriate this new wave of activism.

In the meantime, right-wing commentators have depicted students as coddled, entitled, and enemies of free speech. The libertarian right has launched a broad media critique of the current wave of student activism. Commentators have been quick to dismiss student protesters as over-sensitive and entitled purveyors of “academic victimology.” They lament the “coddling of the American mind.” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has termed students “misguided” in their protests against racist language, ideas, and assumptions, their targeting of “microaggression” (that is, unconscious offensive comments) and insensitivity, and their sometimes highly personal attacksagainst those they accuse. One of the most vocal critics of the new campus politics, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argues that such rampant “liberalism” and “political correctness” violate academic freedom and freedom of speech. (In this, they are in accord with the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. Free speech advocates Daphne Patai and the ACLU’s Harvey Silvergate, for example, bemoan a new diversity requirement at the University of Massachusetts for its “politicization of education.”)

In a response that, under the circumstances, might at first seem surprising, college administrators have been been remarkably open to some of these student demands -- often the very ones derided by the right. In this way, the commentators and the administrators have tended to shine a bright light on what is both personal and symbolic in the new politics of the student protesters, while ignoring or downplaying their more structural and economically challenging desires and demands.

The Neoliberal University

University administrators have been particularly amenable to student demands that fit with current trends in higher education. Today’s neoliberal university is increasingly facing market pressures like loss of state funding, privatization, rising tuition, and student debt, while promoting a business model that emphasizes the managerial control of faculty through constant “assessment,” emphasis on “accountability,” and rewards for “efficiency.” Meanwhile, in a society in which labor unions are constantly being weakened, the higher education labor force is similarly being -- in the term of the moment -- “flexibilized” through the weakening of tenure, that once ironclad guarantee of professorial lifetime employment, and the increased use of temporary adjunct faculty.

In this context, universities are scrambling to accommodate student activism for racial justice by incorporating the more individualized and personal side of it into increasingly depoliticized cultural studies programs and business-friendly, market-oriented academic ways of thinking. Not surprisingly, how today’s students frame their demands often reflects the environment in which they are being raised and educated. Postmodern theory, an approach which still reigns in so many liberal arts programs, encourages textual analysis that reveals hidden assumptions encoded in words; psychology has popularized the importance of individual trauma; and the neoliberal ideologythat has come to permeate so many schools emphasizes individual behavior as the most important agent for social change. Add together these three strands of thought, now deeply embedded in a college education, and injustice becomes a matter of the wrongs individuals inflict on others at a deeply personal level. Deemphasized are the policies and structures that are built into how society (and the university) works.

For this reason, while schools have downplayed or ignored student demands for changes in admissions, tuition, union rights, pay scales, and management prerogatives, they have jumped into the heated debate the student movement has launched over “microaggressions” -- pervasive, stereotypical remarks that assume whiteness as a norm and exoticize people of color, while taking for granted the white nature of institutions of higher learning. As part of the present wave of protest, students of color have, for instance, highlighted their daily experiences of casual and everyday racism -- statements or questions like “where are you from?” (when the answer is: the same place you’re from) or “as a [fill in the blank], how do you feel about...” Student protests against such comments, especially when they are made by professors or school administrators, and the mindsets that go with them are precisely what the right is apt to dismiss as political correctness run wild and university administrations are embracing as the essence of the present on-campus movement.

At Yale, the Intercultural Affairs Committee advised students to avoid racially offensive Halloween costumes. When a faculty member and resident house adviser circulated an email critiquing the paternalism of such an administrative mandate, student protests erupted calling for her removal. While Yale declined to remove her from her post as a house adviser, she stepped down from her teaching position. At Emory, students protested the “pain” they experienced at seeing “Trump 2016” graffiti on campus, and the university president assured them that he “heard [their] message... about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” Administrators are scrambling to implement new diversity initiatives and on-campus training programs -- and hiring expensive private consulting firms to help them do so.

At the University of Missouri, the president and chancellor both resigned in the face of student protests including a hunger strike and a football team game boycott in the wake of racial incidents on campus including public racist slurs and symbols. So did the dean of students at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), when protest erupted over her reference to students (implicitly of color) who “don’t fit our CMC mold.”

Historian and activist Robin Kelley suggests that today’s protests, even as they “push for measures that would make campuses more hospitable to students of color: greater diversity, inclusion, safety, and affordability,” operate under a contradictory logic that is seldom articulated. To what extent, he wonders, does the student goal of “leaning in” and creating more spaces for people of color at the top of an unequal and unjust social order clash with the urge of the same protesters to challenge that unjust social order?

Kelley argues that the language of “trauma” and mental health that has come to dominate campuses also works to individualize and depoliticize the very idea of racial oppression. The words “trauma, PTSD, micro-aggression, and triggers,” he points out, “have virtually replaced oppression, repression, and subjugation.” He explains that, “while trauma can be an entrance into activism, it is not in itself a destination and may even trick activists into adopting the language of the neoliberal institutions they are at pains to reject.” This is why, he adds, for university administrators, diversity and cultural competency initiatives have become go-to solutions that “shift race from the public sphere into the psyche” and strip the present round of demonstrations of some of their power.

Cultural Politics and Inequality

In recent years, cultural, or identity, politics has certainly challenged the ways that Marxist and other old and new left organizations of the past managed to ignore, or even help reproduce, racial and gender inequalities. It has questioned the value of class-only or class-first analysis on subjects as wide-ranging as the Cuban Revolution -- did it successfully address racial inequality as it redistributed resources to the poor, or did it repress black identity by privileging class analysis? -- and the Bernie Sanders campaign -- will his social programs aimed at reducing economic inequality alleviate racial inequality by helping the poor, or will his class-based project leave the issue of racial inequality in the lurch? In other words, the question of whether a political project aimed at attacking the structures of economic inequality can also advance racial and gender equality is crucial to today’s campus politics.

Put another way, the question is: How political is the personal? Political scientist Adolph Reed argues that if class is left out, race politics on campus becomes “the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism.” As he puts it, race-first politics of the sort being pushed today by university administrators promotes a “moral economy... in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people.”

The student movement that has swept across the nation has challenged colleges and universities on the basics of their way of (quite literally) doing business. The question for these institutions now is: Can student demands largely be tamed and embedded inside an administration-sanctioned agenda that in no way undermines how schools now operate in the world?

Feminist theorist Nancy Fraser has shown how feminist ideas of a previous generation were successfully “recuperated by neoliberalism” -- that is, how they were repurposed as rationales for greater inequality. “Feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview,” she argues, are now “increasingly expressed in individualist terms.” Feminist demands for workplace access and equal pay have, for example, been used to undermine worker gains for a “family wage,” while a feminist emphasis on gender equality has similarly been used on campus to divert attention from growing class inequality.

Student demands for racial justice risk being absorbed into a comparable framework. University administrators have found many ways to use student demands for racial justice to strengthen their business model and so the micro-management of faculty. In one case seized upon by free-speech libertarians, the Brandeis administration placed an assistant provost in a classroom to monitor a professor after students accused him of using the word “wetback” in a Latin American politics class. More commonly, universities employ a plethora of consulting firms and create new administrative positions to manage “diversity” and “inclusion.” Workshops and training sessions proliferate, as do “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” Such a vision of “diversity” is then promoted as a means to prepare students to compete in the “global marketplace.”

There are even deeper ways in which a diversity agenda aligns with neoliberal politics. Literary theorist Walter Benn Michaels argues, for example, that diversity can give a veneer of social justice to ideas about market competition and meritocracy that in reality promote inequality. “The rule in neoliberal economies is that the difference between the rich and the poor gets wider rather than shrinks -- but that no culture should be treated invidiously,” he explains. “It’s basically OK if economic differences widen as long as the increasingly successful elites come to look like the increasingly unsuccessful non-elites. So the model of social justice is not that the rich don’t make as much and the poor make more, the model of social justice is that the rich make whatever they make, but an appropriate percentage of them are minorities or women.” Or as Forbes Magazine put it, “Businesses need to vastly increase their ability to sense new opportunities, develop creative solutions, and move on them with much greater speed. The only way to accomplish these changes is through a revamped workplace culture that embraces diversity so that sensing, creativity, and speed are all vastly improved.”

Clearly, university administrators prefer student demands that can be coopted or absorbed into their current business model. Allowing the prevailing culture to define the parameters of their protest has left the burgeoning Millennial Movement in a precarious position. The more that students -- with the support of college and university administrations -- accept the individualized cultural path to social change while forgoing the possibility of anything greater than cosmetic changes to prevailing hierarchies, on campus and beyond, the more they face ridicule from those on the right who present them as fragile, coddled, privileged whiners.

Still, this young, vibrant movement has momentum and will continue to evolve. In this time of great social and political flux, it’s possible that its many constituencies -- fighting for racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice -- will use their growing clout to build on recent victories, no matter how limited.

Keep an eye on college campuses. The battle for the soul of American higher education being fought there today is going to matter for the wider world tomorrow. Whether that future will be defined by a culture of trigger warnings and safe spaces or by democratized education and radical efforts to fight inequality may be won or lost in the shadow of the Ivory Tower. The Millennial Movement matters. Our future is in their hands.

(Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a TomDispatchregular. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal. 

 

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Donald Trump: The Real Cost of Ignorance

JUST SAYIN’--To what extent is the popularity of Donald Trump linked to generations of Americans being purposefully undereducated in what remains a de facto segregated and inherently inferior public school system. Has this public non-education system been designed to assure that the vast majority of this country's population never reaches their intellectual potential, where they might actually have the ability to challenge those in power? Does the candidacy of a Donald Trump count on the fact that those in power will continue to delude themselves with the notion that two plus two must equal four, even if it is clearly no longer the case for the now uneducated majority of our population that chooses to deny it and support Trump. 

Unfettered by logic or the rational processes that a first-rate public education might have given them, all this majority of Americans know or sense is that they have been systematically screwed by corporate agendized government policies that remain the same irrespective of whether they are carried out by the Democrat or Republican elites. 

So now these folks surrogate in the person of Donald Trump comes along with clearly irrational and simplistic ideas purposefully tailored to appeal to the uneducated now majority that has been so long systematically degraded by what remains the unaccountable and self-dealing power elite. For anybody who bothered to look, Trump's power derives from his putting into words the rage that those who support him feel, but don't have the education to understand. 

Trump's carefully constructed candidacy is not an accident, but rather the melding of the fantasy world of The Apprentice- where this exploited majority has sought refuge from their objectively intolerable daily existent- and the present reality of Donald Trump as presumptive Republican presidential candidate with a good shot at winning, if those in power keep attacking him without offering any viable alternative. 

Like the Greek mythology story of Antaeus, who only got stronger when Hercules fought and slammed him into his mother the earth goddess Gaia, Trump will only get stronger in the eyes of his long marginalized supporters if those in opposition just keep attacking him without offering any substantive redress of their grievances. 

And yet, all the terrified and corrupt supposedly rational masters of the American political system continue to do is unleash a never ending and exaggerated corporate media attack on Trump without having the insight to understand that such an attack will not only be discounted by the masses supporting Trump, but will actually be seen by them as Trump's vindication in getting a response and engagement from those in power who never paid them any attention. 

Add to this Trump's understanding that his politically incorrect positions on race, gender, and other hot button issues are actually more in tune with the reality of the real world that the majority of men and women live in. This unfair daily reality that people are at least tacitly forced to accept gives Trump a more realistic appearance than some idealized equitable reality cited by a Hillary Clinton, which remains somehow inexplicably unattained after all these years- except in an election year. The making of a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King rings hollow, when we take notice of just how divided our country still remains. 

People who support Trump might be ignorant, but they are not stupid when it comes to knowing that by every indicator of well-being women, minorities, the working class, the middle class, and the elderly are worse off today with no chance of improvement as long as the Republicrats stay in power without any accountability. All Trump does is express and exploit the disparities of opportunity and wealth between his supporters and those in power. One might say he is the only rich guy that is listening to them. 

Clearly the candidacy and some of the proposals of Bernie Sanders to create an equitable public education system, a single-payer healthcare system, and an FDR-like New Deal to revitalize the crumbling infrastructure of this country would go a long way to meaningfully undermining Trump's exasperated base. But Bernie Sanders has never been a serious candidate...or at least that's what the corporate controlled mainstream media keeps telling us.

 

(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])

-cw

 

The Age of Precarious: 6 in 10 Americans Living on the Financial Edge

EDITOR’S PICK-- An unexpected medical bill or a dip in the stock market would be all it took to send two-thirds of Americans into financial distress, according to a new poll that finds lingering lack of confidence in the U.S. economy. 

Despite reports of falling unemployment, growing wages, and rising consumer confidence, a full 57 percent of respondents to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey describe the national economy as poor. Only 22 percent of people say the economy has mostly or completely recovered from the Great Recession.

And while 66 percent of Americans describe their current financial situation as "good"—suggesting they are able to pay their regular bills, go out to eat more, and think about buying a new car or house—the picture is decidedly "precarious," as the Associated Press puts it.

"Even though there are signs that the economy has improved in recent years, a lot of people are not feeling that the recovery has reached them,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "There is evidence of optimism among the more affluent, but two-thirds of Americans would have trouble immediately paying an unanticipated bill of $1,000."

Indeed, according to the AP, "these financial difficulties span all income levels":

Seventy-five percent of people in households making less than $50,000 a year would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill. But when income rose to between $50,000 and $100,000, the difficulty decreased only modestly to 67 percent.

Even for the country's wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.

"The more we learn about the balance sheets of Americans, it becomes quite alarming," Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute focusing on poverty and emergency savings issues, told the AP.

What's more, most employed Americans have not seen a salary increase in recent years; less than a third have confidence they would be able to find equal or better employment if they left their current position; and few workers expect to have enough savings to retire on their own timetable.

"It's just real shaky right now," said Dorothy Mszanski, 60, a former steelworker who had to retire on disability, to the AP. "It's like nobody can figure out what to do."

The People's Budget, released earlier this year by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), spoke directly to this unease, aiming to fix "an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead."

"Despite their skills and work ethic," the CPC said in a statement at the time, "most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities."

In its analysis of the proposal, the Economic Policy Institute declared: "The People’s Budget aims to improve the economic well-being of low- and middle-income families by finally closing the persistent jobs gap that has plagued the U.S. economy since the Great Recession began."

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

-cw

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