Thu, Feb

How the Fed is Destroying Our Public Pensions

EASTSIDER-Now I don’t pretend to be the savviest guy on the planet about the financial services industry. Heck, all three of the properties that we bought in the mid-2000’s to guarantee our retirement (thanks to smart financial planners) went down the toilet with the Great Recession.

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How Fox News Unwittingly Destroyed the Republican Party

EDITOR’S PICK--The Republican Party is in a pickle.

The Party itself despises its own two leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This is a remarkable oddity just in itself. But there is good reason for it. Both of these candidates are so extreme and disastrous that they will almost certainly never be able to win a national election for the Republican Party.

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$1,400,000,000,000: Oxfam Exposes the Great Offshore Tax Scam of US Companies

YOU’RE PAYING THEIR TAXES--Using an "opaque and secretive network" of subsidiaries in tax havens, top American corporations have stashed $1.4 trillion offshore, a new report from Oxfam shows.

With "a range of tricks, tools, and loopholes," for tax avoidance, the 50 largest U.S. companies, including well-known names like Goldman Sachs, Verizon Communications, Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, and Chevron, raked in $4 trillion in profits globally between 2008 and 2014, are contributing to inequality, the anti-poverty group said.

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There’s No Law That Says Art Museums Have to Be Pretentious

EDITOR’S PICK--Three weeks ago, I was traipsing through London’s Victoria and Albert Museum with a friend of mine who has the attention span of a hummingbird. One minute we were admiring the intense reds in Ottoman-era ceramic tiles from Turkey, the next we were surrounded by the ferocious beasts that had been woven 600 years ago into wool English hunting tapestries. By the time we stumbled on an ornately carved, stunningly out-of-place 16th-century oak staircase from Brittany, I felt not only jet-lagged, but completely lost. At that point, my friend gave me a compassionate, slightly condescending glance and reassured me that that’s what museums are for: getting lost.

She was right of course. Losing one’s self in the colors, textures, and stories of long-gone or faraway worlds is one of the principal joys of wandering through museums.

But I’ve recently also come to appreciate how much museums can give us a chance to go home. Since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed visiting Rembrandt’s tender portrait of his son, Titus, at my favorite museum in Los Angeles, the Norton Simon. Whenever I go to Madrid, I stop into the Prado to visit Velázquez’s slightly ridiculous depiction of Prince Balthasar Carlos riding an oddly plump horse. I learned to love the portraits of these boys when I myself was a boy, and over the years, each time I gaze upon them, I can recall the fascination I felt when we first met.

A few days ago in Chicago I got a chance to see an exhibition at the Art Institute that brought into focus the power of curating art around primary human themes. “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” brought together approximately 36 of the Dutch artist’s drawings, illustrated letters, and paintings, culminating in the side-by-side presentation of the three versions he painted of his bedroom in Southern France. The crowds were large and poorly managed—to the point of tainting the experience. But the exhibition’s success suggests to me that museums could do a lot more to make art speak to people where they live, both literally and figuratively.

Too much of the way we talk about art flows from the pretentious modern cult of the artist as countercultural alchemist or seer. Modern art museums in particular often glorify the marginal—read detached and superior—status of artists in our society. The worst exhibitions can feel like elaborate inside jokes in which socially ambitious visitors try their damnedest to enter the ranks of the cognescenti. In other words, the purpose of their gaze is to boost them up the social ladder rather than to understand how the artists’ work or life might cast light on their own lives.

Van Gogh was one of the first artists to be romanticized way out of proportion, not only for supposedly sacrificing his life for his art but for exhibiting a sensitivity that the world could not or would not understand. Remember the lyrics of Don McLean’s hit single, “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)”? “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

Oh please.

I just finished reading Steve Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s biography of Van Gogh, and let me tell you, the poor Dutchman was no self-righteous bohemian who felt himself above social norms. He desperately longed for the things we all do: family, a sense of belonging, and a place he could call home.

Van Gogh himself was an avid reader of artists’ biographies. He wholeheartedly agreed with Emile Zola’s famous dictum that when looking at art, one must look for the artist behind it. In other words, you shouldn’t appreciate art for beauty or ideas alone, but for the way it helps you connect with the creator, whose pains and pleasures, insights and insecurities, might very well teach you something about your own.

Too much of the way we talk about art flows from the pretentious modern cult of the artist as countercultural alchemist or seer.

When Van Gogh painted “The Bedroom” in October 1888, he had just finished fixing up the one-half of a dilapidated yellow house he had rented in a seedy neighborhood in Arles. Paul Gauguin had just agreed to come live with him, and Van Gogh was anticipating the joys of having a home of his own where he could “live and breathe and think and paint.”

The painting was instantly one of his favorites. He felt it captured the feeling of “overall rest or sleep.” Simple, intense, and painted in saturated colors, “The Bedroom”’s oversized furniture, elongated floorboards, and walls that seem to lean inward gently pull the viewer forward. Van Gogh was proud of its ability to monumentalize something so ordinary.

The painting’s restful beauty stands on its own. But what the Art Institute’s “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” exhibition does for the original painting as well as for the subsequent two—which were painted in an asylum after Vincent’s dream of a happy home had collapsed—is to contextualize them within the life of the artist.

The exhibition invites guests not merely to revere Van Gogh as a painter, but to empathize with him as a man whose desires and longings were not unlike our own. The entry hall to the exhibition details Van Gogh’s peripatetic life. In his 37 years on earth, he lived under 37 roofs across 24 cities. The first line of the first sign of the exhibition states simply that Van Gogh’s life “was marked by a persistent search for a home and a place of belonging.” The rest of the exhibition flows directly from that one sentence.

You wouldn’t know it from the lines outside the Art Institute of Chicago these days, but museum administrators across the Western World are scrambling to keep their institutions relevant in the face of rapidly changing demographics.

And yet for all the concern about the future viability of museums, few people are talking about the need for museum curators to change the way they frame and present exhibitions, to move beyond the insider art history mumbo jumbo curators use to narrate exhibitions. Labels emphasizing shifting techniques of craft, highfalutin intellectual concepts, or the minutiae of artistic movements seem to be written by Ph.D.s for Ph.D.s. The curators evidently assume that visitors should come to learn about art rather than to experience it.

But surely one can do both. To do that most effectively, it helps to frame and present works of art in terms that the broadest possible cross section of the public can understand.

It’s become a truism in the era of data overload that the curator is king. How we frame and present knowledge have become as important as the knowledge itself. Swiss-born curator Hans Ulrich Obrist has written that curating at its most basic should be about making connections between cultures and humans. You might describe it, he explains, “as a form of mapmaking that opens new routes through a city, a people or a world.”

Those routes should be drawn to arrive where people live, to appeal to their most fundamental memories, hopes, fears, and desires. Because neither the cult of the artist nor an undue focus on style or technique come close to shedding light on what it means to be human. And this, it seems to me, is the truest purpose of art.

(Gregory Rodriguez is the founder and publisher of excellent Zócalo Public Square … where this perspective originated.)



(Phone) Banking for Bernie: the Myths and the Media

FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT-I found myself doing something today that I have never done before. I went online to: (www.berniesanders.com/phonebank) to call voters in the State of New York and elsewhere to try and encourage them to vote for Bernie Sanders in the April 19 primary. Despite having been told incessantly by the mainstream media from the beginning of the primary season that, "Bernie Sanders is not a serious candidate and he doesn't have a chance of winning," I nonetheless tried to point out to the people I talked with today why Bernie continues to rack up victory after victory with his latest on April 9 in Wyoming.

My goal was to do my own small part to conquer the public's artificial media-nurtured apathy that has attempted to marginalize Sanders from the beginning of the primary season. I found myself pointing out to the folks that the millions of dollars the Sanders campaign has raised (with an average donation of $37 per person) continues to give Hillary Clinton a run for her seemingly endless supply of corporate money derived from endless $350,000 speaking engagements, dinners with bankers, Wall Street, and other corporate interests sanctioned by Citizens United. Was it really part of our Founding Fathers’ original intent to include corporations in "We the people"?

Does anybody really believe that these corporate interests fund-bundling for Clinton and all other presidential candidates except Sanders are doing so to further the democratic process? Or is it clearly to ensure continued corporate control of our government and those that continue to run it for them as their well-compensated vassals. Does anyone really think that political candidates like Clinton, who are clearly beholden to the corporate financers of their campaigns, could ever stand against those interests and for the interests of the people when they get into office?

It seems implicit, if not explicit, in Clinton's attacks on Sanders as his not being a "political realist." Clearly, political realism in Clinton's lexicon puts corporate sovereignty right up there with government sovereignty.

And as I spent hours on the phone talking to people in New York and elsewhere, I found myself addressing in turn each one of the incessantly repeated lies being promoted by the corporate media to discredit Bernie Sanders candidacy:

Bernie is a socialist and that is dangerous: The democratic socialism that Sanders advocates has already existed in the United States since the beginning of this country. A program like Social Security from FDR's New Deal recognized that a "single payer" retirement system like Social Security run by the government is the most efficient way to ensure all working Americans and their families are protected throughout their lives with a government guaranteed social safety net.

In an example of his platform, in stark contradiction to the corporate media's assertion that Sanders ideas are unrealistic, Sanders points out that Social Security's shortfall was caused by the government’s invasion of the Social Security trust fund, coupled with an aging population with a smaller worker to retired ratio. Easily, this could have been solved, as Sanders proposes, by simply raising the present $118,000 cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax. Is it really so unreasonable to ask people making more than that to have a little more deducted from their paychecks?

As for a free college education at public schools, supported by our taxes or a tax on Wall Street: This is not a new idea. In fact, it was already instituted when I went through UCLA in the 1960s. When I graduated in 1969, my tuition for my last quarter was $80.50. What then Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown (present Governor Jerry Brown's dad) understood was that the subsidizing of the cost of my education was more than paid back to California in the taxes the state would collect from a better educated and well-compensated college graduate. Furthermore, our better educated workforce gave California an advantage when it came to attracting high-tech industries to the state. Is it really preferable now to have college graduates come out of school with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and few prospects for gainful employment?

Rebuilding America's infrastructure and using some of corporate America's record profits to finance it: Again, this is not a new idea. The engine that drove the New Deal in the 1930s was a series of public works projects that built critical infrastructure to help the economy come out of the Depression. It also gave workers the salaries that in turn stimulated the buying of goods and services. This is because FDR was willing to "prime the pump." Now that Sanders wants to do the same, it has somehow called “naïve.”

Single-payer healthcare: The United States remains the only industrialized country without a (socialist) single-payer healthcare system run by the government. Whether those completely against such a plan, like the Republicans, or against it like Clinton who says it is not politically possible, the end result remains the same. The United States continues to pay 34% of every dollar spent on healthcare to an insurance company. The folks who remain adamantly against a government run program seem to have no problem with a healthcare system run for corporate profit, which has lead to the United States paying twice as much for healthcare as a country like France. We receive healthcare that is objectively inferior by every measure of quality assessment, e.g. infant mortality, longevity and timely quality of care.

Endless war and terrorism: Is there not a clear correlation between regime change, supporting dictatorships, and endless war and the rise of terrorism in the Middle East where only corporations like Haliburton continue to profit? If we had not overthrown the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953, while supporting the Shah and his secret police, would we now be dealing with fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere? At the time, Iran was the best-educated and most progressive country in the Middle East.

The same is true in Egypt, with our longstanding support of an oppressive military dictatorship, in open contradiction of the democratic values we continue to tout but do nothing to support. It seems we will do anything -- including the subversion of democracy in Egypt -- to maintain Western control of the Suez Canal. One must wonder just how much American-inspired terrorism would exist today, if rather than spending more than $2 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting a war, the United States had used the money to build infrastructure in those countries. And yet, when it comes to justifying our continued support for the repressive undemocratic family-controlled government of Saudi Arabia, our government remains silent.

The greatest hurtle Bernie Sanders faces is not being called unrealistic, but rather the fact that human beings are creatures of habit. We've been engaged in a variation of violence and intimidation of each other for as long as our species has been around. What has radically changed for the better in recent years is a technological ability that now has the objective possibility of literally dealing with and resolving every problem we face. Gross disparities in human well-being no longer need to remain the hallmark of our self-destructive species. What Sanders proposes in no small part is a first step toward implementing this different approach that with the power of the United States behind it, just might allow us to survive our baser nature.


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

Let Me Tell You Why This Latina Mom Supports CA’s Proposed Soda Tax

GOOD HEALTH POLITICS--Let’s be real here. Soda isn’t harmless. It’s liquid sugar that too often is consumed by kids like water. It’s the third source of calories in kids’ diets after cake and pizza. It contributes to a child’s chances of getting diabetes, cavities and tooth decay. Aside from the health implications, these are costs that families don’t need!

I don’t buy soda at home, and treat it at restaurants like dessert. My kids can have an edible treat or soda, but not both. I’ve actively campaigned against the industry’s aggressive marketing tactics from vending machines in schools to commercials during kids’ shows thanks to MomsRising’s food justice team.  I phone-banked and voted for Measure D, a soda tax in my city that easily passed with over 72% of the vote. (Here is an inspirational video on how we were able to fight off the soda industry in that local race.)

And now I want to say loud and clear: this mamá supports California’s proposed soda tax.

AB 2782, which was proposed in the state legislature last month, would tax sweetened soda distributors 2 cents per ounce - or 24 cents on 12-ounce cans of soda. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “The more than $2 billion expected to be raised each year under the tax would be given to counties, cities, community-based organizations and licensed clinics to create and maintain obesity and diabetes prevention programs. The money would also go toward providing safe drinking water and creating oral health programs.”

Sounds good to me. Right now, California has the highest rate of diabetes in the country, and it costs $24 billion each year to treat. 71% of children in California experience tooth decay by the time they are in third grade. $2 billion a year will go in an instant, but it’s something. If anything, it would put the soda industry on notice, letting them know that moms and dads are watching and will not tolerate predatory marketing of their products to our youth.

Not surprisingly, industry lobbyists misleadingly named “Californians for Food and Beverage Choice” have said they would rally against the bill. I am already awaiting them to hem and haw about how “regressive” the tax is, government over reach, freedom of choice. Really, how much of a choice do we have when their products are being sold in schools and behind parents’ backs? They are extra aggressive in marketing to low-income and communities of color. That’s a fact.

But, ultimately, they are wrong because no one needs soda to live. And no, it is not good for children. Water is.

I look forward to the Assembly’s full vote on this bill.

Note from the author: MomsRising.org / MamásConPoder.org and the Ecology Center, which helped successfully pass a soda tax in a U.S. city, are co-hosting a twitter chat on the health impact of soda taxes at #FoodFri on Friday, April 22, at 10am. Please do join us if this is an issue you are passionate about - as I am. -Elisa

(Elisa Batista is a campaign director at MomsRising.org, a million-member organization advocating for policies related to family economic security, child health and ending discrimination against mothers. This piece was posted most recently at Huffington Post)


Judge Rules for Kids: Unprecedented Climate Case, Youth vs. Government

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE-A federal judge in Oregon on Friday ruled that the lawsuit brought against the U.S. government by a group of youths (photo above) last August can go to trial -- a huge victory for the case climate activists are calling "the most important lawsuit on the planet right now."

The lawsuit, filed by 21 plaintiffs ages 8-19, and climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, states that the federal government is violating their right to life, liberty, and property, as well as their right to public trust resources, by enabling continued fossil fuel extraction and use.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene, who called the case "unprecedented," rejected motions by federal lawyers and representatives of fossil fuel groups to dismiss the lawsuit. He stated in his decision that the plaintiffs "give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society."

There is a need for a court to assess the "constitutional parameters of the actions or inactions taken by the government," Coffin said.

Philip Gregory, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement that the decision is "one of the most significant in our nation's history."

"The court upheld our claims that the federal government intensified the danger to our plaintiffs' lives, liberty, and property.... The next step is for the court to order our government to cease jeopardizing the climate system for present and future generations," Gregory said. "The court gave America's youth a fair opportunity to be heard."

Lawyers for the fossil fuel groups said the lawsuit posed a "direct, substantial threat" to their businesses, an argument Coffin rejected. The defendants have 14 days to file objections to the ruling.

One plaintiff, Kelsey Juliana, said the decision "marks a tipping point on the scales of justice.... This will be the trial of the century that will determine if we have a right to a livable future, or if corporate power will continue to deny our rights for the sake of their own wealth."

The decision was lauded by environmental activists.

"This is as important a court case as the planet has yet seen," said Bill McKibben, co-founder of climate group 350.org. "To watch the next generation stand up for every generation that will follow is as moving as it is significant."


(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams where this report was posted earlier.) Photo: Our Children's Trust. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California Leaders Double Down On Dry

NEW GEOGRAPHY--“What do we do with this worthless area, the region of savages and wild beasts, of shifting sands and whirlwinds of dust, of cactus and prairie dogs? To what use could we ever hope to put these great deserts and these endless mountain ranges?”– U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster, on the American West, 1852

The drought, if somewhat ameliorated by a passably wet winter in Northern California, reminds us that aridity defines the West. Our vulnerability is particularly marked here in Southern California, where the local rivers and springs could barely support a few hundred thousand residents, as opposed to the 20 million or so who live here. Bay Area, we’re talking about you, too, since about two-thirds of your drinking water is imported.

The prospect of continued water shortfalls – perhaps made worse by climate change – poses something of an existential question for this state. In the past, California met the challenge of persistent dryness much as the Romans did in their heyday, by constructing massive waterworks that connected mountain runoff with the thirsty urban masses. Everything that made California the harbinger of the future, from rich farmland to semiconductors and our great cities, was predicated on water transfer.

Now there is a sense that California’s expansion, its ability to create new communities and industries – outside of a few fields, like media and software – faces insurmountable constraints on water and other resources. This perspective has been favored by greens, anti-development NIMBYs and those who seek to corral all California growth into ever-denser, family-unfriendly environments.

This mindset has been predominant over the past decade, as the state has invested little in new water storage or delivery systems, essentially doing nothing since the late 1970s, when the population was 16 million less. Like the Roman Empire in its dotage, we seem to have decided to live off the blessings of the past, a sure way, it seems, to guarantee a diminished future.

Politics of aridity

This drought has been described as the most severe in centuries, but aridity has been a fundamental fact many times in the area’s history. One particularly nasty bout in the 1860s virtually ruined the old Californio livestock-based economy. Los Angeles, in particular, was devastated to the point that some saw a threat to its very existence.

Scientists suggest that the 20th century was a relatively wet period – perhaps the wettest in 1,000 years. So maybe that phase is over and things may get worse. Some climate scientists predict a future with smaller snowpacks, although more rain.

It is suggested that climate change, if not responsible for the drought, has made it worse by as much as one-third. There is talk of “climate wars” in the future, with some people alleging the Syrian conflict, for example, has its roots not in the Assad government’s tyranny or Islamic jihadism but in climate change.

Of course, some climate activists’ predictions – such as the imminent disappearance of polar ice or an increase in hurricanes – have proved somewhat exaggerated, so some skepticism about the more extreme prognostications may be in order.

Still, the relevant question remains: how to deal with the possibility of increasing aridity. We can’t launch an invasion of the Pacific Northwest’s rain forest and take its water. We are in a very different situation from the days when a big economic crisis meant selling off surplus cattle at low prices, or driving horses into the ocean to drown. We now possess an enormous agricultural sector and cities stretching for 100 miles, both in the Bay Area and the Southland. Perhaps we are ready to admit that California needs to be downsized, even if this occurs largely on the backs of its middle and working class residents.

Neither the green movement nor the Jerry Brown administration seems to have an answer that accommodates either human or economic necessity. Instead, they have largely adopted positions that have made the current water shortfalls worse. Brown for decades has fought new investment in water infrastructure, which marked his father’s years as governor. The severity of this drought represents, at least in part, the younger Brown’s legacy.

Even during the most severe cutbacks for farmers and urban residents, Brown and his clerisy have acquiesced to massive dumping of water into San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento Delta in order to revive a long-lost salmon run. This policy has a cost, particularly in a severe drought, assuring the loss of upward of a million acres of farmland. Although building more infrastructure and cutting flows to the sea might not have reversed the drought – environmental concerns absorb roughly half of all state water supplies in normal years – they would have made things much better for the humans dependent on reasonable water supplies.

Reluctance to find ways to better cope with the drought reflects perhaps the most glaring weakness in the increasingly dominant green agenda, which seems to see more cutbacks as the best way to address shortfalls. If you believe climate change will dramatically impact water supplies – or any vital resource – it might make sense to mitigate its effects through a sustained conservation program, including steps to reduce highly consumptive crops such as cotton and alfalfa, as some greens have rightfully suggested. But it also argues for investment in storage facilities, including upgrades to existing dams and groundwater banks, which many environmentalists oppose but could shield us from ever-increasing volatility and painful cutbacks.

Sustaining California

Ultimately, our choice lies in having water constrain our growth, or finding ways to develop enough water to expand our economy. Not everyone wants more growth in California, particularly those who live in the cooler coastal areas and already have tidy nest eggs. But entire industries that employ many in the middle class and working class – manufacturing, homebuilding, agriculture – could see their prospects greatly constrained.

Fortunately, there are shards of reason crashing the ecoconsensus that now dominates the state. Even Jerry Brown advocates twin tunnels under the Delta to provide a more consistent water supply southward. Southern California does not have a captive water supply, like the Hetch Hetchy reservoir serving San Francisco, which, by the way, pumps water from iconic Yosemite National Park. Brown, in this case, seems to have recognized that the state cannot afford to go more dry without enormous social and economic ramifications.

By advocating some water investment, Brown, of course, is now opposed by his longtime allies in the ever more strident green lobby. Unlike the governor, who occasionally has flashes of reasonableness, most environmentalists refuse to abandon any of their anti-development orthodoxy. Instead, they remain fixated on the silly and hyperexpensive bullet train, forced densification and investments in underperforming solar electric plants; they are not concerned with augmenting a basic resource required by the vast majority of Californians. Theirs increasingly is a Pyrrhic California – creating a desert and calling it a victory for the planet.

But this drying out of the Golden State is not inevitable. Even if we face increasingly common, and more severe, droughts, much can be accomplished through greater conservation, which greens also support and, for the most part, most Californians have achieved. But adaptation also requires more water storage and, ultimately, desalination of ocean water.

Desalination, an energy-intensive process, raises the hackles of greens but has proven successful in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Israel. At least one new plant has become operational in Southern California, and more are on the drawing board, including in Huntington Beach. These facilities would help meet demand in coastal communities, allowing more water to stay in the rural interior.

California, as anyone familiar with its history knows, is not a naturally occurring urban area. Its greatness and creativity always have rested on human ingenuity and adaptation to our environment. Such resiliency, not purposely worsening water scarcity, is key to a brighter future for our state.

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


Would Someone Wake Loretta?

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-Did someone cancel the U.S. Senate campaign without making an official announcement? It’s a fair question. The first race in 24 years for an open U.S. Senate seat from California was supposed to provide a rare moment of competition, entertainment and political engagement for the state. Instead, it’s barely being covered. 

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Hillary, a Word of Advice

GELFAND’S WORLD--Hillary and Bernie are sniping at each other seriously. Bernie's campaign is sending out emails quoting CNN, worrying that the Clinton campaign is out to discredit him. 

"The Clinton campaign has been watching these Wisconsin results come in, and the delegate race of course is tight there, but the reality is they're running out of patience. So they're going to begin deploying a new strategy, it’s going to be called disqualify him, defeat him and then they can unify the party later." 

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Here’s the Problem with the ‘Panama Papers’

THE WORLD’S WORST CRIMINALS--The worst criminals on earth are not the poor who sit behind bars in jails and prisons. The biggest thieves are found among the rich. The 1% can buy legislation, politicians and the media to carry out and hide their dirty work. If they can’t change the laws to benefit themselves in their homelands they simply send their money elsewhere through shell holding companies. This transfer of wealth, much of it diverted from what ought to be tax payments, is an open secret. Panama, the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Luxembourg and Switzerland are known for securing the money and secrets of the rich and the well connected. 

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Beyond Panama: What the World Really Needs is the ‘Delaware Papers’

 HOME GROWN TAX HAVENS--Panama saw populist protests on Wednesday in response to Panama Papers revelations that the nation's lax tax laws are providing a haven for the world's wealthiest to stash their cash. But in the United States, where observers note that corporate greed is surely not lacking, the leak has yet to produce such a grassroots display of outrage. 

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All Health Care, Like All Politics, Is Local

HEALTH POLITICS--At first glance, America’s fragmented, private health care delivery system and Britain’s state-run National Health Service have little in common. But both nations’ contrasting approaches to caring for their populations originated in the immediate post-World War II years, thanks to a preoccupation with stabilizing societies that had been massively dislocated by wartime necessities.

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Welcome to America’s New ‘Gilded Age’: Where Lies, Misinformation and Devalued Dollars are the Norm

ECONOMIC GOBBLDY GOOK-File these under "for the greater good": worker rights, immigrant rights, and rights of "the little guy.” And then file these under "selfish, regressive, and mean": taxpayer rights, citizens’ rights, and homeowner rights. 

Because what's yours is really mine. And because what you thought you earned really isn’t. Because the Government really is on your side, right...particularly in "progressive states" like California? 

It's safe to say that just about everyone is working harder, and most everyone seems to be getting increasingly less for what is worked for...with the exception of a connected few. For those who still give a damn about that thing called "American History”, there was once an era between 1860-1890 called "The Gilded Age" where the labor force grew but income inequality exploded...and the common American's lot was miserable. 

We are now in a Second Gilded Age, but with a potential twist. Income inequality is again a huge problem, but while grassroots and governmental involvement is up (as it was during the First Gilded Age), it is almost impossible to know if those claiming to defend the average worker and American citizen is truly on the worker/citizen's side. 

1) It's no secret that the highest paid are rapidly outstripping the ability of the average worker to get ahead, too, but governmental interference to "help the little guy" may not help that "little guy" at all. 

It's safe to say that the average worker deserves a raise, but it's also safe to say that it’s uncertain to what extent the $15/hour figure will give some folks raises and other folks pink slips. Even left-leaning economists claim that such a dramatic leap upwards, as seen in California and New York, has significant uncertainty and risks associated with it. 

Do we have some horribly Scrooge-like-employers who need to cough up more for their employees? Certainly! But is it accurate to label all small businesses "Scrooge-like"?  And what about those workers who have worked harder than others already, and will watch these others get a raise without that extra effort? 

Furthermore, are the businesses that we rely on for our economic survival getting their own taxes and governmental fees reduced so that they afford these hikes without jacking up their retail costs...and inflation, to boot? 

And are both the businesses and workers in California and other major "progressive" states getting their utility and local/state taxes reduced (or at least stabilized) so that those getting a raise can keep and/or spend their increased wages on what they want? 

So increased wages are overdue...but a formula of tying employer/higher-income-earner wages to the wages of the lowest workers -- as "socialist" as that might sound...is just as overdue with respect to ensuring that a rising tide truly will lift all sails. 

2) The issues surrounding workers' rights might not be a problem if states like California and others actually enforced its immigration laws, thereby empowering workers' wage hikes through supply/demand ratios. 

You remember that whole "supply/demand" thing, right?  It's basic economics -- the smaller the supply, the greater the demand...and vice versa. 

So by rewarding the low-wage workers born here by keeping their numbers stable, employers seeking workers would be forced to pay their workers more. In contrast, by flooding the market with low-income labor from outside countries or regions, California and the federal government trashes and thrashes the average low-income worker's ability to get better pay (or even respect) from their employers -- particularly African-American and Latino workers, based on the relative statistics. 

Whether you call them "illegal immigrants", "undocumented immigrants", or even "folks who magically showed up here", the ability of any employer or lobby to flood the market with cheap labor -- even and especially with governmental oversight (or lack thereof) -- shreds the ability of the average worker (who, unlike their bosses, are trying to play by the rules) to keep up and get ahead. 

But that minimum wage hike erases the ability of employers to undermine the workers anymore, right? 

Wanna bet? 

Wanna bet that there won't be a new rush of "undocumented immigrants" paid under-the-table, or even a new rush of native-born workers paid under-the-table, in order to "help out the workers" or to "protect immigrants' dignity"? 

And whether it's Disney or Silicon Valley, wanna bet that reptilian and compassionless employers and governmental enablers won't find ways to flood the market with skilled workers from other nations and other regions to undermine those workers' salaries and benefits, as well? 

And wanna bet that -- somehow, some way -- all this will be sold as wonderful, kind methods of balancing our budgets while only two groups of people (the very wealthy and those with guaranteed government pensions) will have an ensured future? 

3) The proof is in the pudding: Do states like California protect their residents, or do they force the law-abiding and hard-working ones to just...leave? 

Immigration, even illegal immigration, in absorbable numbers was and is and will not ever be the problem. Ditto with workers' rights. What is the problem is the willingness (or lack thereof) of businesses and resident families to absorb the costs of new additions to our pool of residents. It's no secret that -- throughout the state -- large and powerful developers want you and me to pay for the economic and environmental burdens of their projects. 

Well, ditto for unscrupulous employers and for families who turn a deaf ear to their hard-working, exhausted, and tapped out neighbors. They also want you and me to pay for their businesses and families. Are these businesses and families sponsoring and paying for the employment, tax, health, education, and social services of their workers and "immigrant" friends and relatives, native-born or not, legal or not? Forget that! Let someone else pay for your imposed burden. That used to be the law...but no longer. 

And what happens when the state conveniently forgets that California taxpayers pay for, and expect their children to benefit from, the University of California and California State University systems? We get more out-of-state students, ignoring the screams of California families whose hard-working honors students can't get in. 

And when the nerds, the eggheads, the boring folks raise up that California "pension liability" thing that's now risen to $140 billion and counting, with retired state workers costing more than current state workers…then they are diminished, marginalized and otherwise demonized as anti-police, anti-teacher, anti-firefighter, and downright evil people! 

So what are Californians to do? Particularly those who (along with their parents) built the California infrastructure and educational system of the 1950's, 60’s and 70’s? Leave and go to states like Texas, to be more specific. 

So to summarize: Our cities, our counties, and our state really want to help the little guy, right? Maybe some of them do...but probably most of them don't. However, their lies and misinformation get the job done, right? 

So if the little guy is being helped so much...then why is he screaming so loudly in pain?


(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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Exposed: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Ignoring Members, Creating Policy Behind Closed Doors

INSIDER REPORT-Did you know that a high percentage of powerful business executives represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or its more local affiliates actually support an increased minimum wage, paid sick days for employees, extended maternity and paternity leave, and other progressive policies that benefit workers and families?

If you didn't, there's a reason for that.

Newly leaked materials—including results from internal polling of members and a webinar explaining how the results should be spun publicly—reveal just how far the business lobby group goes in order to hide that fact that many of the people and businesses it claims to represent don't actually agree with the regressive policies the Chamber pushes on local, state, and national governments. 

"It think it is outrageous how the public and the press have been misled that businesses oppose these policies, by chamber lobbyists trotting out some business leader aligned with their anti-worker agenda even though most people—including most of their business members—support these policies, like increasing the minimum wage and paid sick leave." —Lisa Graves, Center for Media and DemocracyObtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and released publicly on Monday, the results of the poll—conducted by LuntzGlobal, the prominent firm run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz—were accompanied by a revealing online presentation which explained to state Chamber of Commerce lobbyists how to "manipulate the public debate over those policies rather than implement the views of the business executives who were polled."

The poll, commissioned by Council of State Chambers (COSC), targeted 1,000 C-level executives (CEOs, CFOs, or COOs) who were members of their local chamber (46%), state chamber (28%), or the U.S. Chamber (16%).  According to the results, there was lop-sided support for various pro-worker positions. Of those asked, 80% supported raising the state minimum wage, compared to only 8% who didn't. Meanwhile, paid sick time was supported by a margin of 73% to 16%. And asked about "more time off to take care of sick children or relatives," the executives supported it 83% to 5%.

However, as CMD notes, there is no force in America in recent years that has "spent more time and effort to keep wages low than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the state chambers that aggressively lobby against increasing the minimum wage."

During the webinar, Luntz himself explained to the participants the reasoning behind the results and how they could potentially be combated. "So what do these results all have in common?" he asks. "Well quite frankly they are all empathetic. If you ask about them in isolation, of course we want to give folks more benefits, or more leave, or more income..." But then, exposing the real purpose of the presentation, he adds, "So what we'll try and do is actually give you a few helpful hints on how to actually combat these in your states."

In other words, how to suppress the "empathy" of your members or distract them with other issues.

"With their internal polls showing that business owners and executives support raising the minimum wage by an overwhelming 80-to-8 percent, it's unconscionable that the U.S. Chamber and state chambers continue to fight the wage increases that America's workers and our economy need," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

Here's a clip from the actual online presentation:

The Washington Post, which received an advanced look at the leaked documents, notes how the "materials shed light on how some business trade associations operate, and why they’ve continued to oppose minimum wage increases even as the rest of the public thaws towards them."

CMD executive director Lisa Graves says that this kind of behavior is exactly what people should expect from the Chamber of Commerce and its various affiliates. "They are pushing a national agenda that ignores the concerns of the overwhelming majority of Americans and of their own business members in the states," Graves told Common Dreams in an email. "The state business lobby has aggressively fought crucial workplace improvements that ordinary people and CEOs strongly support, and they are being taught by GOP pollsters how to spin words to try to overcome support for these popular policies."

"It think it is outrageous," she continued, "how the public and the press have been misled that businesses oppose these policies, by chamber lobbyists trotting out some business leader aligned with their anti-worker agenda even though most people—including most of their business members--support these policies, like increasing the minimum wage and paid sick leave."


(jon Queally writes for Common Dreams … where this Insider Report was first posted.)


New Veteran-led Campaign Challenges Islamophobia

EDITOR’S PICK--Violence against American Muslims is growing faster than at any time since 9/11, with assaults on Muslim individuals and their places of worship having tripled since the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks. A NY Times article published last December cites several examples, which include shootings and vandalism. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), last year set a record for the highest number of incidents targeting U.S. Mosques. As a result of this violence, Muslims across the country, including women and children, have conveyed to the public that they genuinely fear for their safety and security. 

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Los Angeles … Like Other Blue-Green Cities … Rethinking It’s Water Infrastructure

LA MATTERS--Water is our most precious resource — and, as the 2016 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report makes clear, water crises, failure of climate adaptation and loss of ecosystem services are major concerns to our global society. To take advantage of water’s benefits while minimizing its risks, city governments need to recreate a naturally-oriented water cycle while contributing to the amenity of the city by bringing water management and green infrastructure together – an idea known as Blue-Green Cities

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