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Tue, Apr

California: Life in the Corporate State

GELFAND’S WORLD--How is the Affordable Care Act doing here in California? One recent newcomer to the system informs us that the state agency known as Covered California is doing just fine. It's only when you have to deal with the insurance company itself that things can get sticky. Perhaps sticky is too polite a word for it. Here is her story. 

The subject of our account spent a little more than a year working in another state. When she came back to California, it was coincidentally at a time that was the beginning of the open enrollment period. She called Covered California and was presented with a list of options. She chose to sign up with Healthnet. She dutifully made her first payment well in advance for a December 1 start date. All was fine, or so she thought. 

But all was not fine. For reasons known only to the insurance deities, Healthnet fumbled this particular ball. Instead of signing her up for the first of December as promised, she was signed up for January of 2016. This would have left her without health insurance for all of December. She discovered this mistake well before the first of December (and well after her payment cleared). Thus began the long and difficult process of trying to resolve the problem. 

Let me give you a hint. Healthnet never got the problem solved. 

Healthnet made lots of promises, but never actually got anything fixed. In looking over her notes, our customer found that she had talked to at least 17 people on at least 2 continents. Pretty much everybody she talked to said that her problem was fixable, but could not be fixed right then. The first several conversations, she was told that it would take 5 to 7 days, and then the mistake would be rectified. 

Several of those 5 to 7 day intervals ensued, but Healthnet never got her signed on for the December 1 start date. It was always listed as pending, or the fully paid premium was somehow still due. 

Here is what she discovered. The company mistakenly took the original payment for the 2015 coverage and applied it to coverage under a different account number that would only have started after the New Year. In further conversations with additional Healthnet representatives and eventually with Covered California, she found out that Healthnet was suffering from an administrative glitch that probably has affected a substantial number of would-be customers. She apparently was not the only person to have her insurance payment credited to the wrong month and the wrong account number. 

Each time she talked to Covered California, she got prompt and courteous service. Each time, she was told by staff that something about her application was still pending. Additional conversations with Healthnet representatives led to promises, including the assertion that her insurance card was in the mail. 

Yep, it was in the mail, as the old joke has it. It was in the mail in the same way that your check from the Euro Lottery scam is in the mail. 

Early in January, she received a card from a Healthnet return address with some kind of discount offer for a drugstore chain. But still no insurance card. 

When it got to be the year 2016, our intrepid consumer called Covered California one more time, and asked them to get her out of Healthnet and into a different company. By then, she had become assertive enough to ask that the change be accomplished that same day. Covered California had to do a supervisory override on some administrative rule, but they accomplished the requested task in that one phone call. 

In summary, the state of California has kept its pledge. Its service organization Covered California picks up the phone when you call, and real live people talk to you. They even do what they can to help. 

Here is a curious question: What advantage accrues to Healthnet in providing such lousy service? We might consider the answer, if there is one, by considering the possibilities. 

The first is the simplest. Maybe Healthnet is just being cheap. Maybe it's just saving a few bucks on customer service. It outsources as much as it can to overseas contractors, and only provides domestic representatives when customers get demanding. There are two effects stemming from this policy. The first is that the first representative the customer deals with can't just walk down the hall and talk to a higher ranking administrator. The representative is half a world away, and can only follow what is essentially a narrowly tailored script. 

The other problem is this: The first level representative does not have the tools or the authority to actually fix the problem. All he can do is pass the buck. Presumably that representative is just  typing the complaint into a computer and pushing the send key. Somebody who is somewhere else will have to solve the problem. 

That's presumably why the promises always involve that 5 to 7 day wait. It's not really a good faith promis. It's just a rote reply to each frustrated customer. 

The other advantage for the insurance company is that the customer doesn't actually get to make use of services during the waiting period. Prescriptions don't get covered, and doctor's appointments won't get made -- not unless the customer is willing to risk having to pay in cash at the front desk. 

It's not obvious which of these reasons is the true one. Maybe it's something else entirely. Maybe Healthnet was saving money on its computer support staff and has been suffering from some giant computer glitch. That could also explain this fiasco. Only if that were the case, wouldn't it be helpful for the company to explain the problem to its anxious customers? That would have been the obvious approach. 

The other possible explanation is that Healthnet is being difficult to new customers coming into the individual (rather than group) health insurance market. That gives Healthnet a slight advantage in ridding itself of people who are a little more statistically likely to have some preexisting condition. 

In any case, the company still has the money they received from this customer. It's money that was paid for coverage that was never actually received. 

Why aren't I surprised?

 

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Nun Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver … or, Why the LAPD Needs to Step up Enforcement

JUST THE FACTS-Once again, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Traffic Division Detectives are asking for the public’s help in providing information that would lead to the identification and arrest of a suspect involved in a hit and run collision that killed an innocent pedestrian. 

According to the LAPD, on December 13, 2015, around 5:20pm, 70-year-old Sister Raquel Diaz (photo) was in the crosswalk at Winter Street and North Evergreen Avenue. A vehicle traveling southbound on North Evergreen Avenue struck Sister Diaz and continued southbound. The driver did not stop to render aid as required by law. Paramedics responded and transported the Catholic Nun to a local hospital in critical condition where she died a week later. The victim of this deadly hit and run was a Sister with the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. She was the Director of Religious Education at the Church of Assumption on Blanchard Street and worked as a Sister helping others for more than fifty years. 

While the Los Angeles City Council recently amended the Los Angeles Administrative Code and created a Hit and Run Reward Program Trust Fund, making a reward of up to $25,000 available to community members who provide information leading to the offender's identification, apprehension, and conviction, the missing component is enforcement by the LAPD. 

In 2012, the LAPD implemented a controversial policy on impoundment of vehicles of unlicensed drivers. The Department created “Special Order 7” which limits circumstances under which officers may impound a vehicle being driven by a person lacking a driver’s license.

The Chief, with full support of the Police Commission, issued the order in 2012, based on a conclusion that a disproportionate number of vehicles being impounded for up to 30 days were driven by undocumented immigrants who needed those vehicles to get to and from work. At the time, state law did not permit persons in the country unlawfully to obtain driver’s licenses.  That state law has changed with the Assembly Bill 60 which now allows everyone, including undocumented immigrants to test and obtain a driver’s license.

This week, California Department of Motor Vehicles officials released Assembly Bill 60 statistics for the month of November, as well as totals since the program was implemented on January 2, 2015. The program has been very successful. In November alone, 26,000 AB 60 driver licenses were issued. And from January 2 to November 30, 574,000 AB 60 driver licenses have been issued. A license is not issued until the applicant proves identity and residency with qualifying documents or through secondary review, passes a written knowledge exam, and completes a behind-the-wheel drive exam.

Current Law

Current law states that if a driver is unable to produce a valid driver’s license on the demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code, “the vehicle shall be impounded regardless of ownership, unless the peace officer is reasonably able, by other means, to verify that the driver is properly licensed.” In addition, the law provides that where a driver is found to be unlicensed, a law enforcement officer may “immediately arrest that person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle.”

Under LAPD’s policy, however, a vehicle may not be impounded. That needs to change now that everyone is able to get a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status. 

Legislative History

I was personally involved in the creation of the impound law when I was an LAPD motorcycle Sergeant in 1994, as a result of taking former Assemblymember Richard Katz on a ride-along.   

In 1994, the California legislature passed two bills allowing vehicle impoundment and forfeiture of vehicles operated by motorists driving while unlicensed or with a suspended license. The first bill, Senate Bill 1758, allowed peace officers to seize and impound for 30 days vehicles driven by a person whose license had been suspended or revoked, or by a person who had never been issued a license. Police could impound the vehicle whether the driver was the registered owner of the vehicle or not.  

The law that created the 30-day impound policy was drafted by Richard Katz who articulated the need for the public safety measure in a Los Angeles Times op-ed

Public Safety

Unlicensed drivers have either not proven they know how to operate a motor vehicle safely, or were previously licensed drivers who had their driving privileges revoked because of moving violations or DUI Violations. Allowing unlicensed drivers to have a vehicle returned to them or not impounding them at all which is currently occurring in the LAPD and only encourages unlicensed drivers to continue driving, increasing the danger for others on our roadways.

The LAPD and the LA City Council have acknowledged that we have a hit and run crisis. Hit and run accidents are four times the national average in Los Angeles. While nationally, 11 percent of all police reported crashes involve a hit-and-run collision, in Los Angeles, nearly 45 percent of all traffic collisions are due to hit-and-runs, according LAPD data that has been analyzed. On average, there are over 21,000 collisions that are hit-and-run in Los Angeles.

An AAA study found that one in five fatal crashes in Los Angeles involve an unlicensed driver. According to the LA Times, unlicensed drivers are a serious threat to public safety and contribute to the spike in hit-and-runs accidents. The AAA study showed that “excluding drivers who were incapacitated or killed and thus could not have fled, an estimated 32.4% of fatal-crash involved drivers who lacked a valid license left the scene of the crash; and an estimated 51.2% of all drivers who left the scene of a fatal crash lacked a valid license.”  

We have ample evidence that unlicensed drivers or people who do not bother to get their vehicles licensed are a threat to public safety.  Now that everyone, regardless of their immigration status can obtain a driver’s license, the City no longer needs a policy barring LAPD officers from impounding vehicles of drivers who never had a valid California license

We may never know if the person who hit and killed Sister Raquel Diaz was licensed or not. However, statistics indicate that the person was likely unlicensed. It is time for the LAPD to reexamine its enforcement policies to reduce crashes, serious injuries, and fatalities. The police are there to protect all of us. They need a policy that permits them to do their job of “Protecting and Serving” all the people of Los Angeles.

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected]) Photo at top: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Here’s How We Responded 50 Years Ago When a Black Militia Occupied a Government Building in California

THEN AND NOW--When armed militants seized a government building in Burns, Oregon, on Saturday, stating their willingness to "kill and be killed" and promising to stay for "years," the official response was cautious and restrained. Many onlookers wondered whether this would still be the case if the militants were people of color instead of white people.

If you're not familiar with the history of protest in the U.S., you might not know that the armed occupation of government buildings hasn't always been just for white guys. In fact, on May 2, 1967, a group of 30 Black Panthers walked into the California state Capitol building, toting rifles and shotguns and quickly garnering national headlines.

Just to be clear, there are a world of differences between the Black Panthers' demonstration and what's happening in Oregon now (although it is noteworthy that you have to go back to 1967 to find an example of something even remotely analogous). The two groups employed different tactics, fought for different causes and -- predictably -- elicited different reactions in vastly different places and times. But the 1967 incident serves as one example of the way Americans tend to respond to black protest -- which some say is always likely to be vastly different from the way Americans react when it's white people doing the protesting.

In October 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense as a small community organization based in Oakland, California. Its members -- including the 30 people who would travel to Sacramento the following May -- believed that black Americans should exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves against an oppressive U.S. government. At the time, California lawmakers were trying to strip them of that right, and the Black Panthers wanted to tell the U.S., and the world, that they found this unacceptable.

Among other things, the Black Panthers' agenda involved taking up arms and patrolling their communities to protect against rampant racism in policing. And that's what they did in the first few months of the party's existence, carrying guns openly in compliance with California law, driving around their neighborhoods, observing arrests and other law enforcement activity -- effectively policing the police. Newton was even known for packing a law book alongside his rifle that he'd recite from when informing an officer that a civilian's rights were being violated.

The patrols weren't meant to encourage violence. The Panthers were committed to using force only if it was used against them, and at first, their mere presence appeared to be working as a check on abusive policing. But the Panthers' willful assertion of their rights -- like the day Newton reportedly stood up to a cop in front of a crowd of black onlookers -- was unacceptable to white authority figures who'd come to expect complete deference from black communities, and who were happy to use fear and force to extract it.

Don Mulford, a GOP assemblyman who represented Oakland, responded to the Black Panther police patrols in 1967 with a bill to strip Californians of the right to openly carry firearms. 

Nobody tried to stop the 30 Black Panthers -- 24 men and six women, carrying rifles, shotguns and revolvers -- as they walked through the doors of the state Capitol building on May 2 of that year. This was decades before Sept. 11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, and the protesters were, after all, legally allowed to have their weapons. They entered with their guns pointed at the ceiling. Behind them followed a horde of journalists they'd called to document the protest.

As the rest of the group waited nearby, six Panthers entered the assembly chamber, where they found lawmakers mid-session. Some legislators reportedly saw the protesters and took cover under desks. It was the last straw: Police finally ordered the protesters to leave the premises. The group maintained they were within their rights to be in the Capitol with their guns, but eventually they exited peacefully.

Outside, Seale delivered the Black Panther executive mandate before a crush of reporters. This section of remarks, reprinted in Hugh Pearson's The Shadow of the Pantherstill resonates today: 

"Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people. All of these efforts have been answered by more repression, deceit and hypocrisy. As the aggression of the racist American government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalate the oppression of black people throughout the ghettoes of America. Vicious police dogs, cattle prods, and increased patrols have become familiar sights in black communities. City Hall turns a deaf ear to the pleas of black people for relief from this increasing terror."

Shortly after Seale finished, police arrested the group on felony charges of conspiracy to disrupt a legislative session. Seale accused them of manufacturing "trumped up charges," but the protesters would later plead guilty to lesser misdemeanors.  

Mulford's legislation, which became known as the "Panthers Bill," passed with the support of the National Rifle Association, which apparently believed that the whole "good guy with a gun" thing didn't apply to black people. California Gov. Ronald Reagan (R), who would later campaign for president as a steadfast defender of the Second Amendment, signed the bill into law.

Although the May 2 demonstration failed to sway lawmakers into voting against the Mulford Act -- and may have even convinced some of them that such a measure was necessary -- it did succeed in making the Black Panthers front-page news. Headlines ran above evocative photos of armed black protesters, many wearing berets, bomber jackets and dark sunglasses, walking the halls of the California Capitol. And the American public's response to that imagery reflected a nation deeply divided on the issue of race.

On one hand, such a defiant demonstration of black power served as recruitment fodder for the Black Panther Party, which had previously only been operating in the Bay Area. It grew in size and influence, opening branches in a number of major cities, building a presence on college campuses and ultimately surging to as many as 5,000 members across 49 local chapters in 1969.

The party even attracted a number of radical-leaning white supporters -- many of whom were moved by the Black Panthers' lesser-remembered efforts, like free breakfasts for children in black neighborhoods, drug and alcohol abuse awareness courses, community health and consumer classes and a variety of other programs focused on the health and wellness of their communities.

But it was clear from the moment the Black Panthers stepped inside the California Capitol that the nuances of the protest, and of Seale's message, weren't going to be understood by much of white America. The local media's initial portrayal of the brief occupation as an "invasion" would lay the groundwork for the enduring narrative of the Black Panthers first and foremost as a militant anti-white movement.

In August 1967, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took steps to ensure that public support for the Black Panthers would remain marginal. In a memorandum just months after the armed protest, he deemed the group a "black nationalist, hate-type organization" to be neutralized by COINTELPRO, a controversial initiative that notoriously skirted the law in its attempts to subvert any movement that Hoover saw as a potential source of civil disorder. A 2012 report further uncovered the extent of the agency's activity, revealing that an FBI informant had actually provided the Black Panthers with weapons and training as early as 1967.  

As the Panthers' profile grew in the months and years following the California Capitol protest, so too did their troubles -- something that many of the Panthers themselves regarded as no coincidence. Just two months after Hoover put the Black Panthers in his sights, Newton was arrested and convicted of killing Oakland police officer John Frey, a hotly contested development and the first in a series of major, nationwide controversies that engulfed the movement. (Newton ultimately served two years of his sentence before his conviction was overturned in a set of appeals.)

The strength of the Black Panthers ebbed and flowed in the years leading up to the organization's dissolution in 1982. The party struggled to find a balance between its well-intentioned community efforts and its reliance on firepower and occasional violence to bolster its hardened image. High-profile shootouts with police and arrests of members created further rifts in the group's leadership and helped cement the white establishment's depiction of Black Panthers as extremists.

Many white Americans couldn't get over their first impression of the Black Panthers. Coverage of the 1967 protest introduced them to the party, and the fear of black people exercising their rights in an empowered, intimidating fashion left its mark. To them, the Black Panthers were little more than a group of thugs unified behind militaristic trappings and a leftist political ideology. And to be fair, some members of the party were criminals not just in the minds of frightened white people.

The Black Panther protest in 1967 is not the "black version" of what's happening in Oregon right now. Those demonstrators entered the state Capitol lawfully, lodged their complaints against a piece of racially motivated legislation and then left without incident. But for those who see racial double standards at play in Oregon, the scope and severity of the 1967 response -- the way the Panthers' demonstration brought about panicked headlines, a prolonged FBI sabotage effort and support for gun control from the NRA, of all groups -- will serve as confirmation that race shapes the way the country reacts to protest.   

(Nick Wing is Senior Viral Editor at Huffington Post … where this retrospective was first posted.)

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

At 70, Baby Boomers Face a New Acid Test

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOOMERS--On New Year’s Day, the first baby boomers will turn 70.

From Jan. 1, 1946, through the end of 1964, 76 million babies were born in the U.S., more humans than lived in this country in 1900.

With a little help from LSD and our friends, we’ve won a cultural and technological revolution.

But our earthly survival depends on beating the lethal cancer of corporate domination-and the outcome is in doubt.

The GIs coming back from World War II kicked Rosie the Riveter out of the factories and into the suburbs.

The GI Bill gave them cheap home loans and free college tuition, birthing one of the world’s great university systems and one of its best-educated workforces.

Millions of boomers entered those colleges in the early ’60s. They lit the torch for a cultural revolution. They also invented the personal computer and the Internet.

Pot and psychedelics were essential to both. (Timothy Leary-Photo above)

The cultural revolution began with race and gender. The movements demanding equality for black, Hispanic and female Americans is far from finished. But all have progressed many orders of magnitude since the first boomers were born.

The birth control pill opened the floodgates for sexual freedom. But except for socialist and feminist Emma Goldman in the 1910s, America had hosted virtually zero public dialogue about homosexuality-until the Stonewall riots of 1969. Gay activists were at last openly out, vocal and explicit. An astonishingly powerful, fast-paced movement has transformed the mainstream and media, where gay and interracial couples have become “no big deal” in record time.

In tandem has come the music. Rock ’n’ roll grew organically from the blues, ragtime, gospel, swing, bebop, and rhythm and blues. It rode the 1930s invention of the electric guitar. But it took a quantum leap in the ’60s as pot and LSD morphed the music of Jimi, Janis, Dylan, the Doors and especially the Beatles and their Sgt. Pepper. From Monterey to Woodstock, the Stones to the Dead, something happened to the pop/rock culture and we’re still not sure exactly what it was, but LSD and pot were at the bottom of it.

The media tried to drown it out with a tedious tsunami of endless psychobabble. In 1971, Richard Nixon launched his racist, anti-youth drug war, complete with 41 million arrests, aimed at crushing the civil rights and counterculture movements.

But something else was happening and we didn’t know what that was, either. In Northern California, around Stanford University and some early Silicon Valley startups, a transcendent band of uniquely stoned code warriors blew open the bravest new world of human interconnection. A million stoned rants about how we humans are “all of one mind” suddenly became tangible with the personal computer and the Internet, all miraculously linked.

Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and a host of merry geeksters merged cannabis and psychedelics with music and activism (see John Markoff’s “What the Dormouse Said”) into a magical, digital mystery tour, a transcendent PC/Internet wave that we all now ride. Humankind has never known a more transformative amplification of consciousness and technology.

With it has come a revolution in green power. The silicon chip has yielded the silicon solar cell and the ability to turn the sun’s energy into electric current and amazingly efficient LED lighting. With them have come massive wind turbines with escalating efficiency and the power to envision a solartopian earth freed of the grid-to be totally electrified by cheap, sustainable, job-creating green energy that is owned and managed through a democratized network of small communities and stand-alone rooftops.

To that has been added a new level of mass transit (see the train systems in Europe, China, Japan) and the electric car-zero emission, low maintenance, increasingly affordable-with a conjoined revolution in mass-produced batteries ready to stretch our range and smooth the “intermittency” of renewable generation.

Would this all have been possible if LSD had not mimicked for a new American generation what peyote and other ritual substances did for our indigenous tribal (and matriarchal) ancestors so long before the whites came? Did that ancient prophecy really say a generation of whites would someday come with a Hopi-sounding name (“hippies”) to bring lasting peace?

More critical is to finally pay attention to the wisdom our indigenous forebears had to share about living in harmony with our Mother Earth.

And how to transcend the corporate cancer that’s killing us all.

In medical terms, we’re at a breakthrough moment. A mix of natural cures (like cannabis), balanced with carefully targeted DNA-based chemotherapies, stem cells and genetic therapy, have transformed the fight to survive. Stem cells in particular promise a wide range of treatments we can only barely envision.

My friend Peter Simon, one of our generation’s great photographers, has seen a new “boutique” chemotherapy (taken with cannabis suppositories) reduce his lung cancer by half. Another friend’s lung cancer has been defeated with new stem-cell therapy.

With new ideas being facilitated by the PC and shared on the Internet, saturation chemo and contempt for natural cures are being blown away by a radical new storm of holistic integrated treatments.

But the fight against the most lethal cancer of all seems seriously stuck. We have transformed our culture and our technology. But our politics have been metastasized by the lethal toxins of corporate cash.

Somehow our courts grant corporations human rights with no human responsibilities. Their DNA carries just one imperative—make money. If a corporation can make an extra buck by killing you and your family, it’s legally bound to do so. They can slash maintenance at your local nuclear power plants, melt them down, blow them up, exterminate you and your family with no liability to the corporate entity. Their profoundly anti-human ethos protects them from paying the human and planetary costs because they are immune. Yet they’re programmed to gouge out as much financial excess as possible for their unelected CEOs, no matter what happens to workers or the surrounding population or to the world in which we all live (but that they seem to be just visiting).

A corporation cannot sacrifice short-term profit for long-term environmental benefit. Greed is the absolute master of all the corporation does, with human and ecological consequences of zero concern except for public relations reasons, which fluctuate.

When a corporation does business, it expects to gouge you. When it crashes, it expects you to bail it out, with no penalties to those in charge (see the crash of 2007). When it demands global trade deals, it expects to negate the power of the human community.

If you wanted to design an economic/industrial entity more perfectly suited to eradicating human life and destroying our planet, you could hardly do better than the modern transnational corporation.

Our species at this time seems impotent to control this malignancy. We may have hugely transformed our views on race, feminism, sexuality, sexual preference, music, the arts, the environment, organic food, imperial war and much more; but the global corporation is the twisted, mean-spirited sociopath that turns all it touches to death itself.

By legal charter these malignant parasites cannot stop sucking the life force from all of us. Unopposed, they will persist until every possible ounce of profit can be extracted from our bodies, souls and planet, even as they hire armies of PR bloviators to make us believe that’s how “the system” must work: Fukushima is good for us. Smoking does not cause cancer. Aspartame will make you thin. Slave wages will make you free. Ignorance is strength.

And, above all, war is peace.

In response, a new world of music provides a fabulous soundtrack to accompany our class and culture war. We know how to love each other beyond race, gender, class and preference. We understand that the earth is one and we humans are neither separate nor superior.

What we don’t yet know is how to dethrone greed, how to strip from the corporate genetic code the power and proclivity to kill us all.

The real acid test of the baby boomers is to unite with those who’ve come before and since to rid our body politic of the power of money and the poisons it produces.

Feed your head, the dormouse said. And may the force be with us.

(Harvey Wasserman is an author. His “America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Organic Spiral of US History” is now available for your comments, in early draft, pre-publication form, at www.solartopia.org. He was born on the last day of 1945. Posted earlier at the excellent Truthdig

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Here’s How ‘President’ Trump will Govern

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--There’s no shortage of chatter about GOP Presidential contender Donald Trump campaigning. But almost nothing has been said about how a “President” Trump would actually govern. 

While there’s no consensus that he could be elected in the general election, there is a consensus now that he has a real shot at winning the GOP nomination and making a real run for the White House. 

It’s based on these very real facts. Since he officially declared for the presidency last June except for one brief moment he’s consistently gapped every other GOP contender in poll ratings; no expected implosion has happened.

He has fired up a big swatch of the GOP base, conservatives, and white evangelicals, but more ominously he’s stirred passion and zealotry among millions of disaffected, alienated white blue collar workers. He’s been a rating’s, and thus a cash cow bonanza, for much of the media and a sound bite dream machine for newsrooms. They will continue to play up every Trump quip, dig, and inanity big time. This will further cement his name, reputation, and even appeal to millions.

Despite predictions that his backers will resoundingly shut down on him when they get in the voting booth in the primaries, there’s a good likelihood that many won’t.

The GOP presidential nominee needs 50 percent plus one of the 2,470 delegates to bag the nomination.  Party leaders gloat and nervously plot that Trump will crash and burn long before he gets anywhere close to that number. Maybe, but 11 states have winner take all primaries, ten states assign delegates proportionally, and 17 states use a caucus and convention to hand pick delegates.

With only Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio flirting with double digit poll support, it’s no stretch to see Trump netting hundreds of committed delegates from more than a handful of states.

Though Trump has seemingly warred with the GOP establishment, the fight has been over mostly over his style, personality, and comportment, but not on the key issues from abortion and Planned Parenthood to the economy and foreign policy.

Take Trump’s rough edge off his bluster about these issues, and his stance on them is mostly in line with the party’s on these issues with some curious exceptions.

So the question that once seemed absolutely ludicrous to think, let alone ask, is now a question that can be seriously asked and … even to an extent answered. Just how would Trump govern?

There’s little reason to think Trump is suited to patient give and take negotiation and compromise to get his initiatives through Congress. His style is to bellow, bully, and harangue to get his way.

As for the issues, Trump has been on the political scene long enough to have enough of a paper trail to piece together from his statements in debates and interviews and speeches a fairly accurate picture of what he will say and do on the big ticket issues. Those issues are the budget, government spending, civil rights enforcement, the environment, crime control, the military and foreign policy. He’ll be totally hand’s off Wall Street and the banks on regulatory matters, slash corporate taxes to “0” percent, impose no cap and tax on big oil, and radically slash funding for the EPA and the Department of Education. But he’ll also cut funding for the Defense Department.

On civil rights and civil liberties, he accepts the Supreme Court decision in support of gay marriage, says he’s “fine” with affirmative action, and will enforce the laws on hate crimes. He’s disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement, but did acknowledge that black lives do matter.

He’ll let states decide what they’ll do about medical marijuana, legalizing marijuana, and the drug laws.

On the one hand, he derides climate change as a “hoax” but on the other acknowledges that there may be some need to take some action.

He repeats the GOP party line that the Affordable Care Act is a “disaster.” So, he will try to repeal and replace Obamacare.

He reminds all that he opposed the Iraq War, but will put boots on the ground against ISIS, take a hard line confrontational stance in confronting North Korea and Iran on their nuclear capacity.

On the signature issues that get him raves from millions, he’ll do everything to further erode labor unions, flatly oppose any minimum wage increase, try to wall off the borders, and crack down on Muslims coming and going in the country.

Trump hasn’t as yet laid down a specific blueprint for how he’ll work with Congressional Democrats or even Congressional Republicans, let alone foreign leaders, if elected, but there’s really no need to do that at this point. It would actually ham string his free-wheeling, shoot from the lip approach to campaigning. If anything the absence of such a blueprint adds to his take-no-prisoners, tough talking, rip the establishment, allure.

As for Trump’s hyped up, disgruntled, vengeful backers, they see all of this as the prescription for a new type of White House -- and better still, a change in the substance and style of governance. This would be nothing short of a monumental disaster and turn Washington into a home and away laughingstock. But in a political season of wide voter rage and discontent, too many, how Trump will actually govern is less important than that he will govern.

 

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 97

Pub: Dec 1, 2015

California Women 2015: On the UP Escalator

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-As we close out 2015, let’s take a look at how the history books (or more likely, Wikipedia) will view the past year for women. On the national stage, 2015 has been a year of rollbacks. State legislatures around the country have passed 57 bills restricting women’s right to choose, with at least a hundred more laws up for consideration in the New Year. (Photo: Anne Gust, California First Lady.)

One of President Obama’s first presidential acts was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, easing the path for women to fight wage discrimination – yet women still make about 78 cents on the dollar (84 cents in California) compared to men with comparable jobs, even when adjusted for experience and education.

Of the remaining GOP candidates, many have an abysmal track record on equal pay, voting against, obstructing, and deriding equal pay legislation in their states. Chris Christie vetoed equal pay legislation in New Jersey numerous times, including a bill that would have required salary transparency for public contractors, referring to the legislation as “senseless bureaucracy.” Rand Paul not only voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act but compared the act to the Soviet Union’s Politboro and has criticized the idea of equal pay for women. Marco Rubio joined Paul in voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act, saying any equal pay legislation is “wasting time.” Ted Cruz joined his colleagues in voting against the act and derided it as a “show vote.” When questioned about the Paycheck Fairness Act, Jeb Bush wasn’t even sure what it was and has referred to the Equal Rights Movement as “kind of a retro subject.”

Despite the seeming downturn for issues impacting women, our state of California seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum, passing numerous pieces of legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on matters ranging from abortion to sexual assault on college campuses.

This year, the Governor signed the Reproductive FACT Act into law, requiring licensed healthcare facilities to post or distribute a notice stating, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” along with contact information for local county social services. Unlicensed facilities must disseminate a notice that the facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the state of California. This law, which goes into effect January 1, ensures clinics provide accurate information and places some restrictions on crisis pregnancy centers that are known to use scare tactics and misinformation to dissuade clients from seeking abortions.

With regard to birth control access, a California law allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills will go into effect in the New Year. Most health plans in the state are required to cover contraception, as well as counseling, follow-up, and voluntary sterilization. 

California also leads on the issue of equal pay. This year, Gov. Brown signed one of the toughest pay equity laws in the U.S. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report just this year, California women employed full time receive a median of 84 cents for every dollar received by our male counterparts. The California Fair Pay Act, supported by the California Chamber of Commerce and most GOP lawmakers, broadens federal and state laws requiring equal pay for the same job to include “substantially similar work,” even if titles differ or employees work at different sites. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who ask for or discuss wages. 

Two new laws will impact pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. State universities can no longer mandate that female grad students take leaves of absence for pregnancy and those who do take leaves must be allowed to return in good standing. Larger airports in California must provide an area apart from restrooms for lactating mothers to express breast milk. 

Sexual assault has been a prominent issue this past year across the U.S. In California, new laws will impose a mandatory 180 days in jail for paroled sex offenders who fail to report for fitting with a GPS tracking device or who make the device inoperable. As of July this year, California college campuses are required to immediately inform law enforcement about sexual assaults reported on campus. The law also provides a chain of command for first response, collection and sharing of evidence, and privacy laws. An additional law requires colleges and universities in the state to adopt affirmative consent by both participants. 

California public schools will be required to publish the number of girls and boys who participate in each sport to demonstrate equal access to programs. 

Overall, California has a much better report card with regard to issues impacting women than most of the other 50 states and the nation as a whole. Although we have a way to go, women in California are ending 2015 on the up escalator.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

 

 

For America’s Veterans, the War Never Ends … Only, Now the Battle is with Their Own Government

ANOTHER YEAR OF SAMEOLD, SAMEOLD--As 2015 comes to a close, veterans are still on the “losing end” when it comes to healthcare, housing and Constitutional rights.

For decades, each new Administration has proclaimed a debt of gratitude to our veterans and promised supportive medical, education and housing assistance upon their return from war yet each administration has further complicated or ignored VA problems and made them even worse for veterans to navigate the continuing corrosion and corruption that never seems to “get fixed.”

When the new Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Robert A. McDonald was confirmed by the US Senate and sworn into office in July 2014, he touted his experience as a CEO for a major company an asset for the VA. McDonald replaced General Eric Shinseki who resigned amid intense fire over allegations that some VA health care facilities across the nation, particularly Phoenix, AZ, were covering up excessive patient wait times for veterans, veterans' deaths and even secret waiting lists at VA hospitals across the country. 

McDonald laid out a 90-day plan to increase efficiency and improve care at the department.

In a press conference at the VA headquarters in D.C. in September 2014, McDonald promised, “to be transparent about the Department, vowing to do away with the hierarchy and make veterans the top priority.” Yet, a year later no one has been “done away with.” The quest to “weed out corruption” has not resulted in the termination of anyone’s employment but rather two demotions. Sharon Hellman, who is believed to have supervised the manipulation of veteran wait times in Phoenix, AZ a year ago, remains on paid leave with a salary of $170,000 per year, “pending investigation.” At that time, the VA Inspector General’s Report found deep problems and a “corrosive culture” throughout the national VA health system that extended far beyond Phoenix to over 69 facilities nationwide. 

The New York Times (NYT) reported just three months ago that veterans seeking health care from the VA often end up on waiting lists of a month or longer has increased over 50%.

At the largest VA care facility in the country, the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration (WLAVA) wait times still remain excessive. Thousands of veterans still wait six months to a year for appointments. Yet Congress is being told that wait times have drastically improved.

Billions of dollars are pumped into the VA yearly, yet nothing improves, and again, the VA faces a budget shortfall of nearly $3 billion dollars.

NYT reported the DVA “is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves to reduce the gap” after McDonald assured Americans in 2014 that “the DVA has added more clinic hours, are recruiting additional staff, deploying mobile medical units, and having high-performing facilities share their best practices to help facilities all over the country rise to a higher level of improvement.” An even better question that deserves an honest answer is, “Where is all the money being spent?” Accountability is buried in bureaucracy.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama stood aside former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, promising to end veteran homelessness in five years and pumped nearly $270 Million into programs aimed at addressing the problem. Millions of dollars were pumped into Housing and Urban Development agencies (HUD) for housing vouchers for veterans yet over six years later, thousands of veterans remain homeless in part, because of 2013 sequestration funding cuts, that in 2016 will purportedly restore only one third of the vouchers in the VASH program. Landlords have stopped taking HUD VASH vouchers because they are not worth enough to cover high rents in many cities- coupled with the presumed safety risks of renting to mentally ill veterans whose illnesses may be exacerbated by drugs and alcohol because they do not seek treatment.

Homeless veterans still remain, largely, at risk. In 2010, the DVA estimated that on any given night there were 76,000 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets. Those statistics were measured using data from the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) administrative database. The database only reflected the number of veterans who used emergency shelters or transitional housing during the 12-month period. Homeless veterans who did not utilize either were not included in the estimates. In warm climates, homeless simply sleep on the streets and rarely go into shelters. 

In 2015, the DVA says that estimation nears 50,000. Critics believe those estimates are extremely low because data used in compiling statistics was incomplete. 

In Los Angeles, estimates of homeless veterans over the past five years have varied greatly from 5000 to 20,000 and sometimes more. In the past year, homelessness rose 6% but no one knows exactly what number it rose from. 

In February 2015, the DVA detailed its plan to end veterans' homelessness in Los Angeles by 2016, pledging to build permanent and temporary housing on the 387-acre property at the West LA VA. For more than 15 years, “chest-bumping” politicians have spewed these same promises to veterans. It took years to renovate building 209 into 55 apartments with a price tag of over $20 M so it’s a good guess that 2016 will come and go before more housing for veterans is built on the West LAVA campus. 

Since former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, released a 2009 report labeling veterans as “extremists” the VA has been actively reporting veteran’s names to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database to prohibit veterans from owning, buying or selling firearms. The VA’s “guilty before proven innocent” scam has denied rights, without interference, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of veterans simply because they were injured during war.

In 2013 Senator Richard Burr attempted to pass legislation that would allow only individuals who were adjudicated by a judge if their illness or disability posed a threat either to themselves or others to be placed on the FBI’s NICS database. No one expected Congress to pass a bill would favor a veteran. 

Senator Chuck Grassley also showed great concern over arbitrary actions by the FBI and the VA. In a 2013 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Grassley wrote, "The VA’s regulation appears to omit important findings and never reaches the question of whether a veteran is a danger to himself, herself, or others. 

“Thus, a VA determination that a veteran is “incompetent” to manage finances is insufficient to conclude that the veteran is “mentally defective” under the ATF’s standard that is codified in federal law," Grassley continued. "Furthermore, when a veteran receives a letter stating that the VA believes he is unable to manage his finances, that veteran now has the burden of proving that he is in fact competent to manage his benefit payments and does not need a fiduciary. 

“However, underlying the hearing is a real possibility that the right to firearms will be infringed. Therefore, in light of the liberty and property interests involved, placing the burden of proof on the veteran is highly suspect. Under similar circumstances, the burden is generally on the government.” 

It is, unequivocally, unsound and irrational thinking that sends our young men and women off to war and EXPECTS them to come home “whole.” Most veterans experience minor depression, minor PTSD, and even minor short-term memory loss when they return home but can still function- competently. 

No court would find them incompetent and strip them of their second amendment rights for such minor diagnoses unless they were proven to be a detriment to society.  

In some of these cases, the VA does not even offer reasons or evidence for such a Determination yet their names are arbitrarily added to the NICS database. Would it surprise you that OVER 99% of the names added by all authorized agencies came from the VA? 

VA determinations are not made by mental health professionals or adjudicated in a Court of law, but rather by a benefit administrator- a policy that is quite different than the rest of the population whose cases must be adjudicated in a Court of law. Veterans are not given a hearing before these determinations are made by the VA but can request a “hearing” after the fact or can file an appeal to dispute the VA’s findings. Guilty before proven innocent? 

The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution is very clear. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

America, we need to demand “better treatment” for the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep this country safe. We owe them a debt of gratitude and they deserve nothing less than the benefits they were promised and equal protection under the law as all else are entitled to.

 

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter and a regular contributor to CityWatch. She can be reached at [email protected].)

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liar, Cheat, Thief Martin Shkreli: My Person of the Year

OTHER WORDS--It’s time — past time, really — to name the person of the year. (TIME Magazine does it. Why not me?)

There were many worthy candidates in 2015: the Pope, the Donald, and Luke Skywalker, to name just a few. But only one symbolized the spirit of the year.

I speak, of course, of Martin Shkreli.

For those of you with short-term memory problems, he’s the weasel/drug honcho who bought the rights to a life-saving drug that had been on the market for years, and immediately raised its $13.50-a-pill price to $750 — a 5,000 percent hike.

He said he’d use the extra money for research to develop a life-saving drug of his own, but nobody believed him. He was just doing what a long line of drug company executives do — gouge desperately sick people.

There’s nothing illegal about this, and it’s not even the worst example. Questcor Pharmaceuticals paid $100,000 for an existing drug that treated breathing problems in newborns and raised its price over a relatively short time from $40 a vial to $23,000. New cancer drugs often cost $10,000 a month or more.

Drug companies are allowed to charge whatever they can get away with, so long as they claim they’re using the profits to develop new drugs. They don’t have to actually do it. All they need to do is say that’s their intent. It’s the American way.

What sets Shkreli apart is that making a fortune by cheating people legally wasn’t enough for him. He fancied himself a financial wizard and set up a hedge fund scheme that allowed him to lie, cheat, and steal his way to another fortune. This one was illegal.

The whole thing finally caught up with the 32-year-old in December. The feds showed up and threw him in jail, from which he’s been released on $5 million bail.

Now I’m asking you: Does that make Shkreli the person of the year or what?

The only real surprise is that he isn’t running for president on the Republican ticket as the leader of the Stick-It-to-Sick-People caucus. I’m sure he’d be right up there with Donald Trump in the polls.

If I hadn’t picked Shkreli for this honor, I suppose I’d have been forced to choose the entire GOP slate of presidential candidates. What a hoot they are.

They’ve been fighting for the better part of a year now over who’s the toughest kid on the block.

No sooner does one of them come up with a mean proposal, like building a fence across the southern boundary of the United States to keep out Mexicans, then another says: “Oh yeah? I’d not only build a fence, I’d round up all the Mexicans here illegally and send them back where they came from.”

To which another will say: “I’d not only do all that, I’d make Mexico pay for the fence. Besides which, I wouldn’t let any Muslims in either.”

Which leads another to add, “I’d make the ones already here register and wear name tags.”

Apparently, all that tough talk wasn’t enough, because the last Republican “debate” sounded like a strategy meeting of Mafia warlords.

One of the candidates wanted to “carpet bomb” the terrorists. Another not only wanted to kill all the terrorists, he wanted to seek out their children and kill them too. Sort of a family plan.

All of them agreed that President Barack Obama wasn’t being tough enough and that any one of them would be tougher. At any moment I expected one of them to jump up and say, “Let’s go to the mattresses.”

For all that toughness, no one thought to say an unkind word about the role that unfettered gun ownership is playing in the serial massacres we keep experiencing. Or a kind word about attempts to slow down global warming before it kills us all.

And just think, we’ve got nearly a year to go before the election.

Happy New Year.

(Donald Kaul writes for OtherWords … where this column originated.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Lifting the Curtain On the Past Half Decade: Much Noise, Little Substance

GELFAND’S WORLD--Any year that ends on the news that George Pataki is dropping out of the presidential race can't be all bad. If nothing else, it provides an easy line for scores of underpaid comedy writers. I don't have to write the Pataki line, because my readers are of superior talent and can write their own. Beyond Pataki, we have lots of other things to look back on with a smile. 

We have much to reminisce about. Not only that -- if you were one of the minority who argued that the new millennium actually started on January 1, 2001 instead of 2000 (remember those people?) – then, this December 31, 2015 represents the end of the first half of the new decade. 

I started writing this column on another site a little more than a decade ago. My original subject was the media, in particular the ways it could manipulate public opinion unfairly or inappropriately. At the time, talk radio was a powerhouse of right wing fury, and everybody to the left and center was rendered confused and seemingly powerless to resist. There has been some change in the balance of power since then, but it wasn't through the normal political channels. 

The rise of right wing talk radio was the result of the abolition of something called the Fairness Doctrine, which had required balance in the way controversial subjects were presented by the broadcast media. Without the Fairness Doctrine in force, it became possible for Rush Limbaugh to communicate conservative doctrine for 15 hours a week, each and every week. There was no legal recourse, as there would have been previously. 

The year 2015 is notable for the fact that Rush Limbaugh (photo above) has lost power and prestige. KFI dumped Limbaugh, as did other big city stations. That doesn't mean that talk radio ceased to exist or that it became more balanced. It's still dominated by right wingers, and it still has millions of listeners. 

But something else was going on over the past decade that has made my columns of 2004 and 2005 seem archaic. People got the ability to talk back. They don't talk back to KFI or KABC directly, but they talk to each other. There are millions of people who text back and forth about every conceivable subject. 

In this, the second half of the first decade of the new millennium, communication has become 2-way. Maybe that's an understatement. Instead of 2-way, let's call it multi-way, or million-way. 

Whatever we name it, this open access network of networks that we so inadequately call social media has gone beyond being a subject to write about, much less a story for end-of-the-year columns. It is the basis of our new reality. If we are the fish, then it is now the water we exist in without even noticing or remembering. 

With millions of people reconnecting after decades of being unconnected, and with the birth of millions of online interest groups, how could our society remain the same? Here's one example of what I mean: Back in the first half of the 2000s, liberals recognized the power of talk radio to do them damage, and they debated what to do about it. I can remember long discussions in which the advice was to try to trick the radio station so that you could get on and say something contrary to the usual conservative views. In brief, you were supposed to make up some story to try to sell to the screener (that's the person who answers the phone), and then you could explain why we shouldn't reelect George W Bush. It didn't work very well. 

What's interesting about this reminiscence is that nobody would even think about this tactic nowadays. If you have a disagreement with Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, there is the internet and there is your smart phone. People invented websites and they learned to communicate by Facebook and Twitter. 

The usual response of the curmudgeonly intellectual to the existence of Twitter is to be curmudgeonly intellectual, that is to say, snooty and above it all. But beyond the Twitter followers of Justin Bieber, there is a whole societal revolution that has provided us the counterforce that we were looking for so much in 2005. 

And that's my windup to this half decade. We have much to be thankful for. We have information sources that right the wrongs and correct the lies, and do a better job of it than most newspapers ever did. 

We ought to thank Kevin Drum of MotherJones.com. We ought to thank Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. We even should thank Salon.com, which was one of the first liberal internet sites. It sort of fell by the wayside for a while, but has come back with new talent and dynamic thrust. There is a blog with the unlikely title of Lawyers Guns & Money which does some of the best work in terms of describing how workers are routinely abused not only overseas, but right here at home. We have a collection of blogs that provide scientific rationality in an era of nonsensical gossip about things health related. 

And perhaps you the readers and my writing colleagues, along with me, should tip the hat and lift a cup to Mark Siegel and Ken Draper for CityWatch LA.

 

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

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

Alpern Reads the Tea Leaves for Politics 2016: A Heap of Anger Topped with a Dash of Hope

FEARLESS FORCAST--While crises are nothing to cheer about (except for those bottomfeeders who choose to exploit them for personal vendettas or even economic betterment), it appears that 2016 will finally bring about the culmination of bottled-up tensions that have been worsening for approximately 15 years.  And yes, that matches the timeline that began with the crises of the Bush/Gore election and 9/11, and extends to our present day. 

Whether it has roots in the crises brought to our shores and communities (foreign or domestic terrorism) or the red/blue divide furthered either by the Karl Rove gang or the "let no crisis go to waste" gang, our nation is more divided than ever, with income inequality and political/economic empowerment disenfranchising increasing majorities of American subcultures--and inflaming groups of Americans against Americans. 

I frankly wonder (but am oh-so-grateful) that there hasn't been violence in the streets. Perhaps there IS something good about reality TV and Internet distractions, in that they have numbed and distracted us from the decreasing quality of life that is part of our modern American era. 

But the Trump/Sanders Phenomena is NOT borne out of a mere coincidence--and neither are the Tea Party and Occupy Movements.  Even if they're not talking to each other, the peaceful-but-still-angry Americans behind those phenomena and movements still have the rough elements of "I've had it and I won't take it anymore" in common: 

1) Trump has moved forward with embracing the anger of Americans, while Sanders arguably hurt himself by taking the high road.  The GOP is jettisoning its Bush elite family past--despite the Republican establishment's frenzied and cash-soaked attempts to retain Jeb Bush as the annointed Republican frontrunner, but the Democratic Party establishment's embracement of the Clinton elite family might hurt that party in 2016. 

Trump's poll numbers go up, while Sanders, who has been a gentleman in the debates and in his campaigning, have gone down.  Perhaps Sanders is getting savvy with attacking the DNC who is shoving him aside with respect to voter data access but if he doesn't take off the boxing gloves soon, he might just realize that nice guys sometimes finish last. 

Why the need to embrace the anger of ordinary Americans?  Well, it's what we all learn with respect to Customer Service 101:  when a customer is angry (in this case, the average Joe or Jane American), it's kind, empathetic and smart to acknowledge, verify and support that customer's feelings. 

Both Trump and Sanders are getting virtually all their campaign money from small, average Americans, while the opposite is true for both the Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton campaigns.  Wall Street and the 1% are without a doubt supplying most of the funding of Mr. Bush and Ms. Clinton. 

And as former Democratic candidate Jim Webb starts getting his own ire up, and weighs a run as an Independent, it's probably not hard to conclude that there are more than a few pro-woman Democrats who wished Elizabeth Warren had thrown her hat into the ring.  

And perhaps Bernie Sanders will reconsider how nice he should be to his opponent...presuming, of course, he truly wants to win the Democratic nomination for the 2016 Presidential Election. 

Laugh as we might at the large field of Republican presidential candidates, and laugh as we might at the cumbersome Republican debate arrangements, but there might be more than a little sentiment of wishing we had more choices than another Bush or another Clinton.   

At least voters have been appeased by seeing Bush being thrown out of the frontrunner status into the "waiting to step down status"...but there is no appeasement with respect to seeing Hillary Clinton "get hers" the way Bush "got his". 

2) Many--arguably MOST--Americans truly have a "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" frame of mind.  Wages are stagnant if not falling, law-abiding and honorable Americans too often appear to lose out to the inscrupulous elites, and our nation's fabric is as tattered as ever.   

Whether it's Howard Beale from the movie Network, of Howard Jarvis, author of California's famous Proposition 13 taxpayer revolt, we're having a "Howard" moment. 

And if there are those of you who wish we'd heard more of Sanders, and less of Trump, it might give you pause and relief to know that when Bernie Sanders weighed in on wages being too low, Donald Trump did something we rarely see:  he backtracked and clarified that wages and middle-class job opportunities are too low. 

In other words, we do need to hear more from Bernie Sanders (whether you agree with his socialist conclusions, he does have a few solid on-point proclamations we need to hear), and it's interesting to know that he has The Donald's ear.  It's also interesting to know that Trump and Sanders share a few key perspectives, and that they both feel that average hard-working Americans are being rewarded increasingly less for their toils. 

3) Then there's another target for Americans anger:  The Press, who have obfuscated and distracted and confused and spun the news to the point that the average American has a hard time knowing who to trust.  And don't worry about "Fox News" (or "Faux News", as some call it), because Donald Trump and Fox News hate each other as well. 

The revolving door of the largest media institutions (often referred to as the "Mainstream Media") and the White House is slowly dawning on the American public, or at least their mutual and horrible love affair, and it's why Trump's poll numbers go up after each media attack (deserved or not), because while Americans might be leery of Donald Trump, they absolutely HATE the Press. 

And when CNN's Don Lemon got frustrated and angry that his guest didn't decry Donald Trump's recent remarks about Hillary Clinton, because the guest was more focused and disgusted about the Clinton family's history of abusing and belittling women who were mistreated and exploited, it's almost certain that when Don Lemon cut his segment short that it was NOT the guest who "lost" the battle...it was Don Lemon. 

To be sure, there are those who wonder about all this anger, but they're probably the ones who ignore the harsh, hideous reality that the Great Recession of 2007-09 did NOT end, but rather morphed into the Second Great Depression that we are still miserably slogging through.  Maybe the ones who think things are "juuuust fine" and "juuuuust great" are economically or politically favored right now, but they're in the minority. 

Because it's only the Press, and those who still trust it, who think things are actually getting much better. 

4) Even if they don't realize it, the ones still throwing themselves as human shields in front of the current President are appearing as irrelevant as those who--to the end--threw themselves as human shields in front the last President. 

Because when the general election cycle starts after primary season ends, there will be no shortage of ordinary, otherwise tolerant Americans, including Democrats--many of them pro-union--who realize that private sector jobs and opportunities are being smashed while the public sector appears too coddled...and at the expense of the overwhelming majority of taxpayers. 

Because when the general election cycle starts after primary season ends, there will be no shortage of ordinary, otherwise tolerant Americans who won't tolerate the "blame Bush"  message anymore, and will want answers to the complicated relationship Americans have with domestic and foreign Muslims In 2016, there will be many, perhaps most, Americans who hate BOTH Bush And Obama. 

Because when the general election cycle starts after primary season ends, there will be no shortage of ordinary, otherwise tolerant Americans who will raise the cry of exactly when the rights of foreign refugees end, and when the rights of American citizens who will pay for them begin Even the Obama. Administration is starting to expel migrants (who we used to call "illegal" because they were not entering this country legally, and were breaking the law). 

Because when the general election cycle starts after primary season ends, there will be no shortage of ordinary, otherwise tolerant Americans who will wonder why--particularly for those who remember former President Richard Nixon's lawbreaking and wiretapping tendencies with outrage and disgust--our President and his NSA are so prone to spying on our friends, and now even on Congress. 

To conclude: 

1) If there's a silver lining in the cloud hanging over the heads of those who fear a President Trump being elected in 2016, perhaps it's that Donald Trump's political past is NOT with the GOP and NOT with the Democratic Party. It's with the Reform Party of Ross Perot, and the idea of voting "none of the above" appears to actually have a chance of occurring this election cycle (for good or for ill). 

2) But doubt not that anger exists aplenty in our nation, and that it will boil over politically next year.  Whether that anger leads to a new, decades-overdue call for reform that actually happens...is a question that will be answered only in 2017. 

But in 2016, it's all about the anger.

 

 (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 does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and 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

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

If Top General Gets His Way, America's ‘Longest War’ May Never End

WAR LORDS--If the highest ranking U.S. and NATO military commander in Afghanistan gets his way, America's longest official war could become even more protracted.

Army General John Campbell said in a USA Today article published on Tuesday that he wants to keep the 9,800 American troops currently in Afghanistan there for as long as possible—and is considering asking for even more boots on the ground.  

"My intent would be to keep as much as I could for as long as I could," Campbell told the paper from Kabul.

"Every time I've gone to the president and said, 'I need X,' I've been very, very fortunate that he’s provided that." —Army General John Campbell

The general's comments follow President Barack Obama's October announcement that he plans to reverse his prior pledge to remove all but 1,000 U.S. troops from the country by the conclusion of 2016. Instead, Obama proclaimed that the 9,800 troops will be maintained through most of 2016 and then cut to 5,500 by the beginning of 2017.

Even then, Obama's statement came despite the official declaration a year ago that the war was "over."

But now Campbell plans to ask the president to put off troop withdrawals even further by delaying the reduction to 5,500 troops.

"If I don't believe that we can accomplish the train, advise and assist... the (counter-terrorism) missions, then I owe it to the senior leadership to come back and say, 'Here's what I need,'" Campbell said. "If that's more people, it's more people."

The general expressed confidence that he will get his way. "My job as commander on the ground is to continually make assessments," Campbell said. "Every time I've gone to the president and said, 'I need X,' I've been very, very fortunate that he’s provided that. So he’s been very flexible."

Campbell's comments come as the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan stretches well into its 15th year—and appears certain to extend into the next presidency. While many argue that the Afghanistan intervention is not, in reality, the longest war in U.S. history, it is widely recognized as the most protracted according to the official record.  

What's more, the Bilateral Security Agreement signed in 2014 by the U.S. and Afghanistan locks in another decade of heavy American involvement in the country, including the training, funding, and arming of the Afghan military. The pact also secures immunity for U.S. service members under Afghan law—a highly controversial measure in a country that has suffered civilian massacres by U.S. troops.

The U.S. is planning a military role long into Afghanistan's future despite indications that its long-term intervention and occupation so far has worsened conflict and violence, with the Taliban now showing signs of increased strength.

Meanwhile, Afghan civilians continue to pay the greatest price. In the first half of 2015 alone, United Nations agencies documented 4,921 civilian casualties (1,592 deaths and 3,329 injured).

(Sarah Lazare writes for Common Dreams …where this piece was first posted.)

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Hey Californians: Let’s Side With the Refugees, Not the Terrorists

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-On a Saturday night after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, a plastic replica hand grenade was left in the driveway of Baitus Salaam Mosque in Hawthorne, a municipality near the Los Angeles airport. Someone also spray-painted “Jesus” on the mosque’s front gate and crosses on the windows.

It would have been understandable if the Ahmadiyya mosque community had responded by erecting new walls or adding security. Instead, its members decided that the vandalism was an opportunity to connect with neighbors. So the mosque held an open house. “Extremism,” the community president Jalaluddin Ahmad said in an invitation to the event, “will not scare us into locking our mosques. Rather we will open the doors wider to educate all.”

If only the rest of California were responding to this moment in the same spirit as that mosque.

So far, we Californians—from everyday citizens to our top leaders—have demonstrated an abundance of ignorance and cowardice. But if we reversed course and thought of San Bernardino as an opportunity to reach out to others, we could emerge from these terrorist attacks as a better, safer, and even richer place.

Since the attack, California has seen a surge in vandalism and threats against mosques. And we’ve seen public authorities spread fear by overreacting to threats. Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District committed the cardinal sin of responding to terror with terror by closing all of its 900-plus schools, serving 640,000 students, because of an implausible threat that other cities were quick to dismiss. Even more shamefully, local officials, instead of acknowledging their obvious error, are still defending the closing, which is sure to undermine public confidence in official statements during real emergencies.

We’re also seeing political opportunists of both parties use the attacks to advance law enforcement agendas. Take U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s attempts to capitalize on the attacks on two fronts. First, she and others in Congress seek to force Silicon Valley to weaken the encryption that protects all of us from hacking so that law enforcement might more easily track terrorists, criminals, and missing persons. Second, she is demanding onerous new fingerprinting and visa requirements for visitors to California that will discourage foreign tourists—and hurt the millions of Californians who make their living in tourism-related businesses. In both cases, Feinstein, who has aged into a tool of the security state, effectively argues that millions of innocent people should be punished for the sins of a few terrorists.

Feinstein’s response is also a symptom of what might be diagnosed as the double fear complex: Politicians fear they might lose politically if they don’t cater to the wildest public fears of Muslims and terrorism. So we see some California Congressional Democrats joining Republicans in linking the attacks to concerns about Muslim refugees—an especially cruel and thoughtless response during the largest worldwide refugee crisis in decades.

Our state needs a hard and immediate U-turn, which starts with recognizing how the attacks connect California to the rest of the world.

Watching all of this is to observe Californians, in just a few short weeks, put the lie to all the values that used to define us as a state—our embrace of diversity, our welcoming stance towards outsiders of all kinds, our pride in our global connectedness, and our faith in decisions made on data and science instead of superstition and prejudice.

Stop the madness, California. Our state needs a hard and immediate U-turn, which starts with recognizing how the attacks connect California to the rest of the world. While we have always been connected by who we are—27 percent of us are foreign-born, twice the national percentage—and by our globally oriented economy, San Bernardino now connects us to people around the world as fellow victims of terrorism. We all saw the fear and horror and disruption of just one attack in one building in one small city of a state of 39 million. Imagine such scenes repeated far more often in places like Syria. How can we not respond by seeking to help our fellow victims—especially the refugees fleeing the same terror we’ve experienced?

California, more than any other place in this country, has been defined by its readiness to integrate people fleeing wars and other horrors. Most tellingly, California communities have often welcomed refugees even in the face of opposition from our leaders. Back in the 1970s, Gov. Jerry Brown was as wrong to oppose the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees here as President Reagan was a decade later to oppose the taking-in of refugees from Central American wars. Both Vietnamese and Central American arrivals have enriched California immensely. In more recent times, our state and its communities have responded to callous inaction in Washington, D.C., by giving what public services and legal status they can to undocumented immigrants and to child refugees coming over our border.

So why do we allow ourselves to be limited by the United States’ decision to accept indefensibly low numbers of refugees from Syria (just 10,000) and other theaters of American warfare? California, as a global power in its own right, would do well to set the goal of leading the world in accepting refugees.

Sweden, with fewer than 10 million citizens, has accepted 200,000 refugees in the current crisis. Germany, with 80 million citizens, has taken in approximately 800,000 this year. California leaders and citizens, as a start, should express our willingness to accommodate a number that would put us in that class—say 500,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. And our demand for more refugees should also include the request that the laborious and bureaucratic process of screening refugees—it lasts two years—be expedited. We need to save as many lives as we can, as fast as we can.

Of course, Washington, not the state, makes refugee policy, as a federal matter. But a push by California to fulfill its historical role as America’s America would change the conversation nationally. And if we were to get such a number of refugees, there would be huge challenges—but also huge payoffs. Our welcoming stance would distinguish us internationally—and offer a competitive advantage over the lily-livered cowboys in Texas and 29 other states who are so consumed by fear that they’re seeking to block the arrival of even tiny numbers of refugees. It’d be much easier for California, as a generous and welcoming place, to make connections of trade and commerce to the many Muslim countries that are, despite tremendous challenges, on the path to greater wealth and democracy.

We’d also win at home, since refugees would be assets in a state that needs more people. Immigration is flat here, the birth rate is down, and our increasingly homegrown population is aging, with fewer children to support it. Refugees would provide a shot in the arm to our culture and our economy—and the human capital to make up big deficits the state faces in its number of skilled workers.

The fact that such a movement in California sounds unrealistic—I can already hear the fear-mongers accusing me of wanting to give California its own Islamic state—shows just how far down the road of unreasoning fear we’ve already gone. Let’s turn around, and send the vital and very Californian message that, in this great place, the doors are always open—and that we don’t punish the many for the heinous crimes of the few.

(Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.) *Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, via AP.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

The Uncivil War Over the California Water Fix

MUSING WITH MIRISCH--It must be something in the water.

Propagandistic special interest groups such as Restore the Delta are on a single-minded mission to stop the twin-tunnel plan that would ensure a steady supply of water to Southern California.

Notwithstanding the guise of false environmentalism, it is self-interest, opportunism and something else entirely that are at play here.

What is being portrayed as an environmental battle is really something very different, indeed.

Time to tell it like it is, and, even though the discussion finally gives us a chance to use such neglected adjectives as "riparian," it's pretty darn simple. This is about North vs. South. This is about Northern California not wanting Southern California to "steal" what they consider to be "their" water, as characterized on the group's website as "the fight against the L.A. invasion on our water" (by a commenter who in a homophobic aside describes former California Assembly Speaker Angeleno John Perez as "a fat lesbian in drag as a man.")  

In Southern California, we are not brought up to hate San Francisco and Northern California. Sure, some of us Dodgers faithful aren't big fans of Halloween because of the black and orange, but we respect the rivalry and generally have a positive attitude when we think of Northern California - if we think of Northern California.

Not so, it seems with some Northerners in this state. While we Southerners tend to be laid back about nonbaseball intrastate rivalries, Northerners seem to have been bred to hate all things Southern Californian, including the Dodgers and especially the fact that some of our water comes from Northern California. This inborn resentment of Southern California is a bit befuddling to us down here.

Restore the Delta, by the way, has a disingenuous if not downright misleading name. Most of the board members are Northern California farmers and it is the farming over the past hundred-plus years that is largely responsible for such ecological problems as massive subsidence, along with the environmental unsustainability it creates. The farming has caused delta islands to sink to 30 feet or more below sea level. If the members of Restore the Delta were really looking to restore the delta, then they would try to create the ecosystem that existed before farming caused the natural landscape to lose its kilter.

Northern opposition to allowing the conveyance of water in a reliable fashion to Southern California is nothing new. In fact, Restore the Delta board members pride themselves on having successfully opposed the proposed Peripheral Canal in the '70s - all so that the "old ways" of delta farming could continue unabated while the farmland's sea level plays catch up with Death Valley. Ironically, the tunnels would actually do a better job of restoring the delta area than the current levee patch-and-fixes approach.

For all this dumping on Southern California, it is interesting to note that not one member or executive of Restore the Delta seems to have a problem when state resources flow from the South northwards. As protective as they seem to be about "their" water, they don't have any problem taking, for example, our Southern California tax dollars and spending them on delta levee maintenance. Southern Californian ratepayers would finance the tunnels, while the maintenance of private levees is paid for by the state's taxpayers. This is an absurd and unfair situation and the the state's legislators should take immediate action to stop the public financing of private levee maintenance.

Some common-sense proposals for water conservation embraced by the anti-tunnel groups should be (and in many cases already are being) adopted on a statewide basis; but this is a tactical distraction. Water conservation and other efficiencies do not mean that the need for upgraded infrastructure should be dismissed and that Southern California should not be allowed through reliable conveyance to access water to which it has a right.

Perhaps most hypocritical of all, while these groups continue spouting off about "water theft," "death tunnels" and the "vampire plan," we haven't heard a peep out of any of them about the single biggest instance of statewide water-related theft of all. Of course, that would be the damming and damning of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy valley a hundred years ago, which deprived all Americans of an integral part of our greatest national park forever. All so that San Francisco could be assured of ... a steady supply of water.

Let's continue going about our business, keeping the faith that our Dodgers will finally bring us a long-awaited world championship and working towards the Bay Delta Conservation Plan's infrastructure upgrades. Let's ignore the bogus arguments, false eco-concern, provincial selfishness and regional resentment that are the true causes of Northern Californian opposition toward the tunnels.

What else can you do? Haters gonna hate. ...

(John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. This piece was posted earlier at Los Angeles Business Journal and Huffington Post)

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

Biology Doesn’t Write Laws: Hillary Clinton's Bathroom Break - Not as Trivial as You Think

SEXISM AND THE SYSTEM-As a lot of the world now knows, last Saturday night, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was late returning to the stage at the Democratic Debate after a five-minute break. Almost immediately media reported that she was delayed because of a line at the women's bathroom. As the break came to a close, with Clinton nowhere in sight, the moderators of the debate started without her. Within minutes, Clinton walked back onto the stage, smiling, and said, "Sorry," to knowing laughter. Women, the laughter acknowledged, live in the interstitial spaces of a world shaped by and for men. 

Clinton's wry smile and later explanation, "You know, it does take me a little longer. That's all I can say," sent tetchy sexist commentators, and more egalitarian commentators, aflutter.

Rand Paul wrote a popular tweet, going straight for the tried and true conservative "women cat fighting" narrative, that read, "@CarlyFiorina has ZERO trouble making it back from commercial breaks @HillaryClinton." Because everyone knows women pee competitively.

Mike Huckabee opined that Clinton's "best moment in the entire night was when she was in the restroom."

Donald Trump, it goes without saying, made the biggest splash. He took the opportunity, once again, to put his bottomless reservoir of shame and misogyny on public display. "I know where she went, it's disgusting, I don't want to talk about it," Trump said, talking about it. "No, it's too disgusting. Don't say it, it's disgusting, let's not talk." Bodily fluids freak Trump out, but women's in particular. This summer, Trump told a lawyer who needed a breast pump that she was disgusting and after Megyn Kelly challenged him on his sexist record during the first GOP presidential debate, he jumped to, "you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."

Bernie Sanders joined the fray, saying that Trump "must have a very unusual relationship with women," if he doesn't realize they pee. "I guess I'm a man, men are allowed to go to the bathroom."  Bless him for pointing out the double standard.

Today, writing in the New York Times, Frank Bruni began his column simply, "Everybody pees."

One of the only women commenting on the debate situation was Jennifer Weiner who included the episode in a recap simply titled, "The Year of the Toilet," following up on a November piece by Emily Bazelon on the broader need to make public spaces more welcoming and egalitarian to diverse populations. Weiner was in a small minority however.

When Clinton said, "That's all I can say," she knows what she's talking about. Pointing out subtle, implicit and structural sexism doesn't make you any friends. After Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his history of derogatory and demeaning comments towards women, references to her as a "cunt," "whore," "bitch," and "slut," skyrocketed in social media.

I write and talk about controversial subjects all the time - violence, rape, race - but I have never received as vitriolic a response as last summer, when I wrote about the disparity in public facilities for men and women, The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Bathroom Lines; it was a piece about norms and knowledge.  Angry people, mostly men, by the hundreds, wrote to tell me I was vulgar, stupid, and ignorant and should learn to stand in order to pee, because it's superior. It continued for weeks, until I wrote a follow-up piece on the ten most sexist responses.

People may think that women no longer face sexism in media or politics when they speak, but that ignores the very obvious fact that even before women say anything they have already, in split seconds, jumped through hundreds of "what if I said something about sexism" hoops. Can you imagine the backlash and media frenzy if Clinton had actually, in some detail, pointed out that the women's room was farther away or that there is often, especially at large public events like this debate, a line that women patiently wait in while men flit in and out and make jokes about women's vanity? That the micro aggressive hostility evident, structurally, in so many of our legacy public spaces is relevant to women every day. "Bathroom codes enforce archaic and institutionalized gender norms," wrote Princeton students Monica Shi & Amanda Shi about their school's systemic sexism this year.

Fiorina, the only other woman candidate, hasn't uttered a word about the subject of Clinton's delay. She's fighting her own battle against people in her own camp. Steve Deace, a radio host and Ted Cruz supporter, tweeted during the GOP debate that Fiorina had gone "full vagina" when she made an allusion to sexism, saying she'd been "called every b-word in the book." Fiorina, apparently failing to understand that her own choice of expression buttresses the very problem she faces, shot back with, "I've now been called the V-word as well by the Cruz campaign, yes V, and I won't say that word either." It's too bad, really, we could have had a more meaningful #Vaginagate redux.

Many people, like Trump, believe it would be so much better if we just kept pretending women were simply a messier version of men who should continue to deal, in quiet, small and private spaces, with their needs, discomfort and difference. That they should speak when spoken to, look pretty. Always.  And not curse. Many men can go through their entire lives having no idea what women's needs are.  No one, particularly, it routinely seems, conservative men, really wants to know about what makes women women or human. Women, too, as subject to the culture's misogyny often likewise cringe when faced with words like "vagina," "rape," "menstruation."

But, it goes further than just not knowing or wanting to know.

Trump specifically used the word "disgust," which, politically expedient, has a particular resonance in conservative circles. Disgust is having a moment. Studies show that the word is a particularly powerful one for conservatives who tend, far more than liberals, to respond viscerally to descriptions that illicit shame, fear and horror.

Second, Trump was talking not just to Clinton, but about women. Disgust, and the stereotypes it both relies on and perpetuates, distances women from men, the dominant societal and political group that he is so proudly part of. Disgust is step one of othering people, step one of justifying injustice. While it can be applied to distance oneself from virtually any other group, "the locus classicus of group-directed projective," wrote Philosopher Martha Nussbaum in her book, Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law, "is misogynistic disgust."

A profoundly conservative disgust and ignorance about women is why women like Purvi Patel are jailed for decades. It's why a woman in Tennessee just used a coat hanger for an abortion and is being charged with murder. It's why thousands of women in Texas have had to figure out how to give themselves abortions. It's why millions of already impoverished women face even more dire economic circumstances if their access to safe and affordable medical care specific to women's complicated, repugnant and disgusting bodies. It's why maternal mortality in the country has risen by 136% in the past 25 years, while the rest of the world's has declined, with black women experiencing four times the risk. It's why three UN investigators recently reported that they found the degraded status of women's rights in the United States "shocking" and "myth-shattering."

Disgust about women's bodies, hardly limited to Trump, is inseparable from a cultivated and politically useful ignorance. The GOP's party platform is shaped around the idea that women are not competent adults, capable of moral reasoning and autonomous decision making, but, rather, are stuck somewhere between children and men, in need of eternal male intervention. It is filled with men passing oppressive anti-women laws who admit to never having thought about women's lives or bodies. The party's paternalism, its fundamental reliance on notions of complementary and binary gender roles, relies on maintaining ignorance, sometimes referred to as "mystery," about the "opposite sex."

Keeping people ignorant of women's bodies and bodily habits is the polite thing to do. But, we aren't talking about people. Women already know. We're talking about keeping men ignorant. Men run the world, and, for women, it's an unsafe and uncomfortable one. But, insisting that the way men do things is inadequate for meeting our human needs is so whiny, a word mainly associated with the high-pitched plaintiff keening of dogs.

In some countries a lack of facilities for girls and women means girls can't go to school, women can't move freely and safety in their own neighborhoods, their ability to get food, water and work all compromised by the dangers of seeking out safe sanitation. In militarized zones and refugee camps, a trip to the bathroom for a child or woman carries with it the almost certain risk of sexual assault and possibly death. Girls and women, in an effort to stop having to use toilets, stop drinking, making themselves sick with dehydration and other ailments. In wealthy nations, the effects on women aren't nearly so blunt or harsh, but they are meaningful none-the-less.

The argument, "it's biology, get over it" is a silly one. Biology, as one reader put it, "doesn't design restrooms." Biology also doesn't write laws. That, too, is relevant.

As scholar Judith Plaskow wrote in a paper on sanitation, toilets and social justice, "Not only does the absence of women's bathrooms signify the exclusion of women from certain professions and halls of power, but it also has functioned as an explicit argument against hiring women or admitting them into previously all-male organizations."

On Saturday, Clinton and other women also had to travel farther than their male peers, whose restroom was conveniently located much closer to the stage. Her career as a senator came to an end in 2009, two years before the 76 women who were then serving in the House finally got a bathroom even remotely close to the Speaker's Lobby. As Representative Donna M. Christensen, a Democrat from the Virgin Islands, tweeted two days after, "The first woman came to Congress in 1917. We are finally getting a ladies restroom near the floor of the House."

Male members, if you'll forgive the expression, could take for granted the fact that if and when they needed a bathroom it was close and would not impede their ability to listen to or participate in debates or vote on legislation. The men's room was not only near but, had a fireplace, a shoeshine stand, and televised floor proceedings. There was also an attendant who warned men if session breaks were coming to an end.

The male-centeredness of our opinion making and public space continues to reflect the male-centeredness of our understanding of the world.

(Soraya Chemaly writes about gender, sexual violence, free speech and the role that gender plays in media, politics, religion and education. Her work appears in TIME, The Guardian, Salon and Role Reboot among other media. She is the Director of the Women's Media Center Speech Project. This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

Policy: The Top 10 Marijuana Victories of 2015

POT PROGRESS--In 2015, state legislators considered bills to legalize marijuana in 21 states, decriminalize marijuana possession in 17 states, and legalize medical marijuana in 19 states.

Most of the action in 2015 was aimed at achieving substantial victories in 2016, which is slated to be the most successful year in the history of the movement to end marijuana prohibition.

With this in mind, the Marijuana Policy Project is hereby releasing its top 10 list for 2015. I'm excluding international and scientific developments, instead focusing on policy developments in the United States.

10. Local Decriminalization Measures: In Florida, seven local governments (including Miami-Dade County) opted to allow officers to cite, rather than arrest, adults found in possession of marijuana. And in Michigan, an average of 55% of voters in East Lansing, Portage, and Keego Harbor decriminalized marijuana possession.

9. Everything In Texas: The Texas Legislature and governor's office -- all controlled by Republicans -- enacted a bill to allow specially licensed businesses to sell low-THC marijuana to patients with intractable epilepsy, thereby setting the stage for a broader medical marijuana bill to pass in 2017, which is now more possible since a principal opponent of medical marijuana in the state House announced her retirement. Just as significantly, the key House committee passed a pair of bills to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession and to legalize marijuana like jalapeños; there were enough votes to pass the former bill on the House floor, but the legislature ran out of time.

8. Medical Marijuana Expansion In Four States, D.C., and Puerto Rico: Numerous states expanded their existing medical marijuana laws to cover a larger list of medical conditions. Delaware added certain types of autism; Arizona added post-traumatic stress disorder; Minnesota added intractable pain; and the District of Columbia now allows physicians to recommend cannabis for any condition. In Hawaii, the list of medical conditions remained static, but the legislature and Gov. David Ige (D) enacted legislation to expand the existing grow-your-own law to allow for the sale of medical marijuana by 16 dispensaries. And in Puerto Rico, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (D) signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana.

7. Medical Marijuana In Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Utah: The Pennsylvania Senate passed a medical marijuana bill, Republicans in the state House recently removed the obstacles that were preventing the bill's passage, and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is ready to sign it as soon as the legislature passes a final bill. In Nebraska, the only unicameral legislature in the country passed a medical marijuana bill, which the legislature will need to do two more times before the bill can be sent to the governor. And in Utah, the state Senate defeated a medical marijuana bill by only one vote.

6. Marijuana Decriminalization in Illinois: The Illinois Legislature passed a bill to remove the threat of arrest and jail for marijuana possession, but Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) issued an amendatory veto requesting relatively minor changes, so a compromise bill has been introduced and will almost surely pass in the fifth-most-populous state in early 2016. Also, the state House in New Hampshire and Senate in New Mexico passed similar decriminalization measures, but the two states' other legislative bodies didn't take action.

5. Decriminalization in Delaware: In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell (D) signed into law a measure that removed the threat of arrest and jail for marijuana possession, making Delaware the 20th state to decriminalize or legalize marijuana possession. (And while Louisiana didn't decriminalize marijuana, the state government significantly reduced the penalties for marijuana possession.)

4. Legalization Ballot Initiatives in Five States: Many people were worried that competing legalization initiatives might appear on a few states' ballots in November 2016, but this won't be the case. In Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, it's highly likely that there will be only one legalization initiative on each statewide ballot, which means four or five of these states will legalize marijuana on the same day in less than 11 months.

3. U.S. House of Representatives: An amendment by Congressmen Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) came within nine votes of temporarily ending marijuana prohibition on the federal level; specifically, their amendment would have prevented the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) from interfering with the legalization laws in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the medical marijuana laws in 23 states. The U.S. House also inched closer to fixing the banking and tax laws that are plaguing the canna-business industry.

2. U.S. Senate: Bernie Sanders (D-VT) grabbed some headlines when he introduced the first-ever bill to legalize marijuana in the U.S. Senate. Just as significantly, Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced in the Senate the first-ever, comprehensive medical marijuana bill, which now has 16 co-sponsors. In the meantime, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to prohibit DOJ from spending taxpayer money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, as well as a second amendment to allow physicians in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to vets.

1. Presidential Candidates: All three of the major Democratic candidates for president said they support allowing states to regulate marijuana as they see fit. This was impressive, but it was even more impressive when nine of the 17 Republican candidates said the same thing, and even six of the remaining eight "bad" Republicans said something good about medical marijuana or decriminalization.

In 2015, the table was set in other ways that will lead to a healthy serving of marijuana policy reform in 2016. For example, Alaska and Colorado appear poised to allow some form of on-site consumption of marijuana in private establishments (similar to alcohol bars), which would give these two jurisdictions the two best marijuana laws in the world.

(Rob Kampia is the Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. This piece was posted earlier at Huffington Post.) 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

2015:  The Year We Finally Started to Care about Working Parents

THE BUSINESS OF FAMILY LEAVE-Kirsten Calkins was about five months pregnant with her first child, working as an executive coordinator at a small nonprofit in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Like many working parents in the U.S., she worried about how she’d manage having less money coming in while she cared for a new infant.

Her employer, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, offered four weeks fully paid leave, then five weeks at 60 percent pay and then, if you could swing it, an additional three weeks unpaid.

But Calkins was lucky to become pregnant in 2015: the year companies, particularly in tech, woke up and realized that you can’t strand workers facing huge personal challenges.

In January, IAPP -- which counts many tech companies as members -- started giving all its workers 12 weeks fully paid leave after the arrival of a new child.

“The level of excitement is hard to put into words,” Calkins told The Huffington Post. “Not having to juggle a life altering experience like having a baby with budgeting for a new expense with less income. It was like a weight was lifted.”

The U.S. is one of a handful of countries that offers mothers no paid maternity leave. It is the only developed country without a paid leave policy. The lack of support causes a significant percentage of working parents to fall into poverty. It puts the health of parents and infants at risk.

Finally, in 2015, policymakers and companies started to pay attention -- we may someday look back and see this past year as a tipping point in the movement toward paid leave for all. 

A significant number of businesses -- from Adobe to Netflix to Microsoft to Goldman Sachs -- announced they would expand paid benefits for their employees. Twenty-one percent of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management were offering paid maternity leave in 2015, up from 16 percent in 2011.

And, for the first time a U.S. President got serious about paid parental leave and sick leave. “Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said in January’s State of the Union address. “And that forces too many parents to make [a] gut-wrenching choice.” 

The Department of Labor started offering grants to states looking to study how paid family leave would work. Three states currently have paid family leave policies in place: California, Rhode Island and New Jersey -- where the policy is so popular that Republican governor Chris Christie never followed through on his promise to get rid of it when he was voted into office. Eighteen other states are considering paid leave initiatives.

Political candidates, on both sides of the aisle, now find they can no longer ignore the issue. Hillary Clinton called for paid leave in her first major economic speech as a presidential candidate this year. She’d never pushed for it as a senator. One Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, is calling for a company tax credit for offering paid leave.

Candidates who support paid leave, were eight percent more likely to win, according to projections from The National Partnership for Women & Families, cited in a New Republic piece earlier this year. In Connecticut, Dan Malloy is believed to have won the race for governor on the back of his support for paid sick leave.

“It’s kind of a new thing. We’ve always pushed to increase quality of life for our members, but the spotlight has fallen on leave,” Robert Daraio, a local representative of the News Guild of New York, told HuffPost. Daraio helped negotiate four months' paid parental leave for employees at the liberal magazine The Nation in December. “We’re pushing for this in all contracts going forward,” he said.

It seems almost daily a company issues a press release announcing more time for parents and caretakers.

“It was a good year,” said Ellen Bravo, the director of Family Values @ Work, a nonprofit coalition of groups pushing for paid parental and sick leave in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the most outspoken proponents of paid leave, Bravo said that family leave came to prominence thanks to a spiral of factors -- most notably the Obama administration, as well as the many states and municipalities taking action on this. She credits “millennials,” -- young adults -- who are demanding employers give them paid time off to care for children and family members.

Some companies have always had this benefit, Bravo said. “The interest in making announcements public is what’s new. Part of that comes from their desire to say to millennials come here, we’re paying attention to this.”

In the business sector, tech companies fell over themselves in 2015 offering more generous benefits. When Netflix this summer announced it would offer 12 months of leave to new parents, regardless of gender, the news was widely picked up and a flurry of other companies raced to improve their offerings -- including Microsoft and Amazon.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is right now taking a highly publicized paternity leave that Bravo said set a great example for fathers, who are seen as a crucial part of the paid leave movement.

Banks got in on the trend, too. Private equity shop KKR and Credit Suisse both beefed up their offerings for parents this year.

“We knew it started in tech, but then we started seeing businesses in financial services and banking, which are typically conservative, saying we need to do this, too,” said Melinda Figely, who consults on human resource issues as a vice-president at NFP, an insurance brokerage with clients in banking. "As employers adopt it what they see is people actually come back to work in higher numbers and they're happier and less stressed."

One thing critical about the new momentum on leave: It's not just for birth mothers, but for adoptive parents, for fathers, and for those who need time off to take care of loved ones. Paid parental leave -- not "maternity" leave -- is the hot new thing for companies, Figely said.

The change stems from the country's opening up to gay couples in recent years and people of various gender identities, Figely said. "The barriers are coming down and people aren't so narrow in their thinking that there's one kind of family or only one way to do maternity leave."

Yet for all the positive momentum on leave, the data still looks bleak. An overwhelming majority of employers don’t offer paid leave. Most states don’t offer paid leave. The U.S. unpaid leave law -- the Family and Medical Leave Act  -- only covers 60 percent of workers.

About nine percent of workers who take time off to care for a family member end up on public assistance, according to Labor Department data cited by The New Republic. The Family Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.) that would pay for federally mandated leave by taking a few cents out of employee paychecks, is stalled out.

“We haven’t yet reached a polio moment or a moonshot moment where the country comes together and says we can’t let this go on anymore,” Bravo said. “The good news is we don’t need a vaccine. We know the solution. It’s a social insurance fund that can make this possible.”

Bravo hopes that by 2020, the U.S. will make this happen. “We need to do it.”

(Emily Peck is Executive Business & Technology Editor of The Huffington Post where this piece was originally posted.)  CSA Images via Getty Images.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

America’s Addiction to Violence

WHO WE ARE--On December 2 2015, 14 people were killed and more than 20 wounded in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that both lives by violence and uses it as tool to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. 

Violence runs through American society like an electric current offering instant pleasure from all sources of the culture, whether it be the nightly news and Hollywood fanfare or television series that glorify serial killers. At a policy level, violence drives an arms industry, a militaristic foreign policy, and is increasingly the punishing state’s major tool to enforce its hyped-up brand of domestic terrorism, especially against Black youth. 

The United States is utterly wedded to a neoliberal culture in which cruelty is viewed as virtue, mass incarceration the default welfare program and chief mechanism to “institutionalize obedience.” At the same time, a shark-like mode of competition replaces any viable notion of solidarity, and a sabotaging notion self-interest pushes society into the false lure of mass consumerism. All of these forces point to modes authoritarianism and registers of state violence and an increasing number of mass shootings that are symptomatic of a society engulfed in racism, fear, militarism, bigotry, and massive inequities in wealth and power.

Moderate calls for reining in the gun culture and its political advocates amount to band aid solutions that do not address the roots of the violence causing so much carnage in the United States, especially among children and teens. For example, Hilary Clinton’s much publicized call for controlling the gun lobby and background checks, however well intentioned, have nothing to say about a culture of lawlessness and violence reproduced by the government, the financial elites, the defense industries, or a casino capitalism that is built on corruption and produces massive amounts of human misery and suffering. Moreover, none of the calls to eliminate gun violence in the United States link such violence to the broader war on youth, especially poor minorities in the United States.

In spite of ample reporting of gun violence, what has flown under the radar is that in the last three years 1 child under 12 years-old has been killed every other day by a firearm, which amounts to 555 children killed by guns in three years. An even more frightening statistic and example of a shocking moral and political perversity was noted in data provided by the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), which stated that “2,525 children and teens died by gunfire in [the United States] in 2014; one child or teen death every 3 hours and 28 minutes, nearly 7 a day, 48 a week.” In addition, 58 people are lost to firearms every day.

Such figures indicate that too many youth in America occupy what might be called war zones in which guns and violence proliferate. In this scenario, guns and its insane culture of violence and hyper-masculinity are given more support than young people and life itself.

The predominance of a relatively unchecked gun culture and a morally perverse and politically obscene culture of violence is particularly evident in the power of the gun lobby and its gun rights political advocates to pass legislation in eight states that allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons “into classrooms, dormitories and other buildings” on campuses. Texas lawmakers, for instance, passed one such “campus carry bill,” which will take effect in August of 2016. Such laws not only reflect “the seemingly limitless legislative clout of gun interests,” but also a rather deranged return to the violence-laden culture of the “wild west.” As in the past, individuals will be allowed to walk the streets openly carrying guns and packing heat as a measure of their love of guns and their reliance upon violence as the best way to address any perceived threat to their security.

This return to the deadly practices of the “wild west” is neither a matter of individual choice nor some far-fetched yet allegedly legitimate appeal to the second amendment. On the contrary, mass violence in America has to be placed within a broader historical, economic, and political context in order to address the totality of forces that produce it. Focusing merely on the mass shootings, or the passing of potentially dangerous gun legislation does not get to the root of the systemic forces that produce America’s love affair with violence and the ideologies and criminogenic institutions that produce it.

Imperial policies that promote aggression all across the globe are now matched by increasing levels of lawlessness and state repression, which mutually feed each other. On the home front, civil society is degenerating into a military organization, a space of lawlessness and war-like practices, organized primarily for the production of violence. For instance, as Steve Martinot observes, the police now use their discourse of command and power to criminalize behavior; in addition, they use military weapons and surveillance tools as if they are preparing for war, and create a culture of fear in which militaristic principles replace legal principles. He writes:

This suggests that there is an institutional insecurity that seeks to cover itself through social control, for which individual interactions with the police are the means. Indeed, with their command position over people, the cops act out this insecurity by criminalizing individuals in advance. No legal principle need be involved. There is only the militarist principle. When the pregnant woman steps away from the cop, she is breaking no law. To force her to ground and handcuff her is far from anything intended by the principle of due process in the Constitution.

The Constitution provided for law enforcement, but not for police impunity. When police shoot a fleeing subject and claim they are acting in self-defense (i.e. threatened), it is not their person but the command and control principle that is threatened. To defend that control through assault or murderous action against a disobedient person implies that the cop’s own identity is wholly immersed in its paradigm. There is nothing psychological about this. Self-worth or insecurity is not the issue. There is only the military ethic of power, imposed on civil society through an assumption of impunity. It is the ethos of democracy, of human self-respect, that is the threat.

Violence feeds on corporate controlled disimagination machines that celebrate it as a sport while upping the pleasure quotient for the public. Americans do not merely engage in violence, they are also entertained by it. This kind of toxic irrationality and lure of violence is mimicked in America’s aggressive foreign policy, in the sanctioning of state torture, and in the gruesome killings of civilians by drones. As my colleague David L. Clark pointed out to me in a private email correspondence, “bombing make-believe countries is not a symptom of muddled confusion but, quite to the contrary, a sign of unerring precision. It describes the desire to militarize nothing less than the imagination and to target the minutiae of our dreams.”

War-like values no longer suggest a flirtation with a kind of mad irrationality or danger. On the contrary, they have become normalized.  For instance, the United States government is willing to lock down a major city such as Boston in order to catch a terrorist or prevent a terrorist attack, but refuses to pass gun control bills that would significantly lower the number of Americans who die each year as a result of gun violence.

As Michael Cohen observes, it is truly a symptom of irrationality when politicians can lose their heads over the threat of terrorism, even sacrificing civil liberties, but ignore the fact that “30,000 Americans die in gun violence every year (compared to the 17 who died [in 2012) in terrorist attacks.” It gets worse. As the threat of terrorism is used by the American government to construct a surveillance state, suspend civil liberties, and accelerate the forces of authoritarianism, the fear of personal and collective violence has no rational bearing on addressing the morbid acceleration of gun and other forms of unnecessary violence in the United States. In fact, the fear of terrorism appears to feed, recuperate, and expand a toxic culture of violence produced, in part, by the wide and unchecked availability of guns.

America’s fascination with guns and violence functions as a form of sport and entertainment, while offering the false promise of security, which even trumps a more general fear of violence on the part of terrorists. In this logic one not only kills terrorists with drones, but also makes sure that patriotic Americans are individually armed so they can use force to protect themselves against the dangers whipped up in a culture of fear and hysteria promoted by right-wing politicians, pundits, and the corporate controlled media.

Rather than bring violence into a political debate that would limit its production, various states increase its possibilities by taking a plunge into insanity with the passing of laws that allow “guns at places from bars to houses of worship.”

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, based on the notion that one should shoot first and ask questions later is a morbid reflection of America’s national psychosis regarding the adulation of gun culture and the paranoiac fears that fuel it. This fascination with guns and violence has produced a pathology that reaches the highest levels of government and serves to further anti-democratic and authoritarian forces.

The U. S. government’s warfare state is propelled by a military-industrial complex that cannot spend enough on weapons of death and destruction. Super modern planes such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter cost up to $228 million each and are plagued by mechanical problems and yet are supported by a military and defense establishment.

As Gabriel Kolko observes such war-like investments “reflect a pathology and culture that is expressed in spending more money regardless” of how it contributes to running up the debt or for that matter thrives on “the energies of the dead.” Militarism provides ideological support for policies that protect gun owners and sellers rather than children.

The Children’s Defense Fund is right in stating “Where is our anti-war movement here at home? Why does a nation with the largest military budget in the world refuse to protect its children from relentless gun violence and terrorism at home? No external enemy ever killed thousands of children in their neighborhoods, streets and schools year in and year out.”

There is a not so hidden structure of politics at work in this type of sanctioned irrationality. Advocating for gun rights provides a convenient discourse for ignoring a “harsh neoliberal corporate-state order that routinely generates pervasive material suffering, social dislocation, and psychological despair—worsening conditions that ensure violence in its many expressions.”

It says nothing about the corrupt bankers and hedge fund managers who invest in the industries of death and trade in profits at the expense of human life, all the while contributing to the United States being the largest arms exporter in the world. More specifically, the call for gun rights also conveniently side steps and ignores criticizing a popular culture and corporate controlled media which uses violence to attract viewers, increase television ratings, produce Hollywood blockbusters, and sell video games that celebrate first person shooters.

While it would be wrong to suggest that the violence that saturates popular culture directly causes violence in the larger society, it is arguable that such violence serves not only to produce an insensitivity to real life violence but also functions to normalize violence as both a source of pleasure and as a practice for addressing social issues. When young people and others begin to believe that a world of extreme violence, vengeance, lawlessness, and revenge is the only world they inhabit, the culture and practice of real-life violence is more difficult to scrutinize, resist, and transform.

Many critics have argued that a popular culture that endlessly trades in violence runs the risk of blurring the lines between the world of fantasies and the world we live in. What they often miss is that when violence is celebrated in its myriad registers and platforms in a society, even though it lacks any sense of rationality, a formative culture is put in place that is amenable to the pathology of totalitarianism.

That is, a culture that thrives on violence runs the risk of losing its capacity to separate politics from violence: A. O. Scott recognizes such a connection between gun violence and popular culture, but he fails to register the deeper significance of the relationship. He writes:

…it is absurd to pretend that gun culture is unrelated to popular culture, or that make-believe violence has nothing to do with its real-world correlative. Guns have symbolic as well as actual power, and the practical business of hunting, law enforcement and self-defense has less purchase in our civic life than fantasies of righteous vengeance or brave resistance….[Violent] fantasies have proliferated and intensified even as our daily existence has become more regulated and standardized — and also less dangerous. Perhaps they offer an escape from the boredom and regimentation of work and consumption.

Popular culture not only trades in violence as entertainment, it also delivers violence to a society addicted to an endless barrage of sensations, the lure of instant gratification, and a pleasure principle steeped in graphic and extreme images of human suffering, mayhem, and torture. Violence is now represented without the need for either subtlety or critical examination.

Relieved of the pedagogical necessity to instruct, violence is split from its moral significance, just as it becomes more plentiful and lurid in order to provide infuse the pleasure quotient with more shocks. Americans now live in “a culture of the immediate” which functions “as an escape from the past” and a view of the future as one of menace, insecurity, and potential violence. In an age of cruel precarity and uncertainty, the present becomes the only register of hope, politics, and survival.

Americans now “look to the future with worry and suspicion and cling to the present with the anguish of those who are afraid of losing what they have,” all the while considering those deemed “other” as a threat to their security.

Under such circumstances, trust and mutual respect disappear, democratic public spheres wither, and democracy becomes a cover for false promises and the swindle of fulfillment. Another consequence is the merging of pleasure and cruelty in the most barbarous spectacles of violence. One telling example of this can be found in those films in which the use of waterboarding has become a prime stable of torture.

While the Obama administration banned waterboarding as an interrogation method in January 2009, it appears to be thriving as a legitimate procedure in a number of recent Hollywood films including, GI Jane, Safe House, Zero Dark Thirty, and Taken 3. In a world in which nothing matters but a survival-of-the-fittest ethos, pleasure and gratification slide into boredom, shielding a pornography of violence from any sense of moral and public accountability.

Guns are certainly a major problem in the United States, but they are symptomatic of a much larger crisis, one that suggests not only that democracy is broken in the United States but that the country has tipped over into forms of domestic and foreign terrorism characteristic of a new and deadly form of authoritarianism. We have become one of the most violent cultures on the planet and regulating guns does not get to the root of the problem. Zhiwa Woodbury touches on this issue when he writes:

In truth, the gun issue is an easy chimera that allows us to avoid looking in the mirror. It is much easier for us to imagine that this is an unfortunate political or regulatory issue than it is to ask what our own complicity in this ongoing, slow motion slaughter of innocents might be. Think about this. We are a country of approximately 300 million people with approximately 300 million firearms – a third of which are concealable handguns.

Each one of these guns is made for one purpose only – to kill as quickly and effectively as possible. The idea that some magical regulatory scheme, short of confiscation, will somehow prevent guns from being used to kill people is laughable, regardless of what you think of the NRA. Similarly, mentally ill individuals are responsible for less than 5% of the 30,000+ gunned down in the U.S. every year.

In the current historical conjuncture, war, bigotry, and the call to violence is embraced by many including Donald Trump, the leading Republican Party presidential candidate making it clear as John Pilger has argued that in America “an insidious modern fascism is now an accelerating danger.” It is difficult to watch both Trump and the corporate coverage of his fascistic assaults and actions.

What is truly crucial to recognize is that there are ideological, economic, social, political, and cultural forces at work in the United States that have created the formative culture in which this kind of authoritarian populism and its embrace of symbolic and material violence thrives. Surely, two of the major crises of our times are the crisis of agency and civic literacy, on the one hand, and the withering of public values, trust, and democratic public spheres on the other.

The drumbeat of fascism and its embrace of violence does not rely only on mimicking the infamous brownshirts of Nazi Germany but also on the collapse of democratic politics, the concentration of power in the hands of the few, the myth that only individuals are responsible for the systemic assaults they have to weather, and that self-interest is the only value that matters. Consumerism becomes a form of soma, memory no longer serves as a moral witness, and politics is in the hands of the 1 per cent, utterly corrupted by money and power.

Traces of a totalitarianism now appear, stripped of memory and the horrors they produced. In their new forms, the threats they pose go unrecognizable and are tolerated as politics as usual, only with less civility. Under such conditions, the social withers, solidarity is replaced by shark like competition, and state violence and the spectacle of violence become normalized. We live in a time of monsters and Trump is simply symptomatic of the financial class he represents and the history we refuse to learn from.

As I have said elsewhere, violence has arisen from the breakdown of public space, the erasure of public goods, the embrace of a deadly war psychology, and a growing disdain for the common good. Gratuitous violence has become central to a society that trades on fear and fetishizes hyper-violent and punitive practices and social relations. Brutal masculine authority now rules American society and wages a war against women’s reproductive rights, civil liberties, poor black and brown youth, and Mexican immigrants.

Americans inhabit society run by a financial elite that refuses to recognize that war is a descent into madness and the scope and breadth of the violence it produces infects our language, values, social relations, and democracy itself. War has become an all-embracing ideal that feeds the most totalitarian practices and shores up an authoritarian state. As an organizing principle of society, the politics and culture of violence unravels the fabric of democracy suggesting that America is at war with itself, its children, and its future. The political stooges who have become lapdogs of corporate and financial must be held accountable for the deaths taking place in a toxic culture of gun violence.

The condemnation of violence cannot be limited to police brutality. Violence does not just come from the police. In the United States there are other dangers emanating from state power that punishes whistle blowers, intelligence agencies that encourage the arrests of those who protest against the abuse of corporate and state power, and a corporate controlled media that that trades in ignorance, lies, and falsehoods, all the while demanding and generally “receiving unwavering support from their citizens.”

Yet, the only reforms we hear about are for safer gun policies, mandatory body cameras worn by the police, and more background checks. These may be well-intentioned reforms but they do not get to the root of the problem, which is a social and economic system that trades in death in order to accumulate profits. What we don’t hear about are the people who trade their conscience for supporting the gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association.

These are the politicians in congress who create the conditions for mass shootings and gun violence because they have been bought and sold by the apostles of the death industry. These are the same politicians who support the militarization of everyday life, who trade in torture, who bow down slavishly to the arms industries, and who wallow in the handouts provided by the military-industrial-academic complex.

These utterly corrupted politicians are killers in suits whose test of courage and toughness was captured in one of the recent Republican Party presidential debates, when Ben Carson, was asked by Hugh Hewett, a reactionary right-wing talk show host, if he would be willing to kill thousands of children in the name of exercising tough leadership. As if killing innocent children is a legitimate test for leadership. This is what the war-mongering politics of hysterical fear with its unbridled focus on terrorism has come to–a future that will be defined by moral and political zombies who represent the real face of terrorism, domestic and otherwise.

Clearly the cause of violence in America will not stop by merely holding the politicians responsible. America has become a society in which the illegitimacy of violence is matched by the illegitimacy and lawlessness of politics. What is needed is a mass political movement willing to challenge and replace a broken system that gives corrupt and war mongering politicians excessive and corrupting political and economic power.

Democracy and justice are on life support and the challenge is to bring them back to life not by reforming the system but by replacing it. This will only take place with the development of politics in which the obligation to justice is matched by an endless responsibility to collective struggle, one with a politics and social formation that speaks to the highest ideals of a democratic socialism.

(Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013) and Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014). His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.  [[hotlink]] This piece was originated at CounterPunch)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

Sayonara Welcome Mat: Okinawa Sues to Block U.S. Base in Japan

TIME TO COME HOME?-Okinawa officials on Friday filed a lawsuit against the central Japanese government in a new bid to block the slated construction of a U.S. military base in the prefecture's Henoko region.

"We will do whatever it takes to stop the new Henoko base," Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said during a press conference Friday. "Okinawa's argument is legitimate, and I believe that it will be certainly understood."

Residents and officials charge that the Japanese government's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism illegally intervened in Onaga's order earlier this year that halted preliminary work on the base. The prefecture said that the ministry acted unlawfully when it suspended Onaga's permit cancellation for work needed to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma to its slated spot in Henoko.

The legal challenge is the latest effort to block the continued militarization of the southern Japanese island, which has long served as home base for more than half of the 50,000 American military service members in Japan, as well as over two-thirds of U.S. bases in the country. In late October, hundreds of Okinawa residents, largely elders, linked arms and physically blocked vehicles transporting building materials to the base.

"Don't the people of Okinawa have sovereignty?" one protester, 70-year-old Katsuhiro Yoshida, told Japanese paper  The Asahi Shimbun at the time. "This reminds me of the scenes of rioting against the U.S. military before Okinawa was returned to Japan (in 1972). Now we are facing off against our own government. It is so contemptible."

Residents have long expressed anger and frustration over the crime and pollution they say comes along with the presence of foreign troops.

"Democracy and local self-determination in Japan are in severe condition," Onaga, who was elected on an anti-base platform, said Friday. "We want the rest of the world to know how the Japan-U.S. security treaty is affecting us."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams where this report was posted earlier.) Photo: AFP Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

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Seeing the West as Worse

NEW GEOGRAPHY--In the aftermath of San Bernardino and Paris massacres, our cognitive leaders – from President Obama on down – have warned Americans not to engage in what Hillary Clinton has described as “a clash of civilizations.” But you can’t have a real clash when one side – ours – seems compelled to demean its traditions and values.

Leaders in America and Europe don’t want to confront Islamic fundamentalism, or other nasty manifestations of post-Western thinking, because they increasingly no longer believe in our own core values. At the same time, devoted to the climate issue, they are squandering our new energy revolution by attempting to “decarbonize,” essentially leaving the field and the financial windfall to our friends in Riyadh, Moscow, Tehran and Raqqa.

Western ethos deconstructed

As the great 15th century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun observed, societies that get rich also tend to get soft, both in the physical sense and in the head. Over the past two centuries, Western societies, propelled by the twin forces of technology and capitalist “animal spirits,” have created a diffusion of wealth unprecedented in world history. A massive middle class emerged, and the working class received valuable protections, not only in Europe and America, but throughout parts of the world, notably East Asia, which adopted at least some of the Western ethos.

The current massive movement of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to Western countries suggests the enduring appeal of this model. After all, people from developing countries aren’t risking their lives to move to North Korea, Russia or China. The West remains a powerful beacon in the “clash of civilizations.”

Yet a portion of these newcomers ultimately reject our culture and, in some cases, seek to liquidate it. They do this in countries where multiculturalism urges immigrants to register as “victims,” and not indulge in Western culture, as did most previous immigrant waves. After all, why assimilate into a culture that much of the cultural elite believes to be evil?

Perhaps the biggest disconnect may involve young immigrants and their offspring, particularly students. Rather than be integrated in some ways into society, they are able, and even encouraged, not to learn about “Western civilization,” which is all but gone from campuses, with barely 2 percent retaining this requirement.

The dominant ideology on college campus – “cultural relativism” – leaves little room for anything other than a nasty take on Western history and culture. Many students, whether of immigrant parentage or descendants of the Mayflower, have only vague appreciation or knowledge of Western civilization, making them highly vulnerable to such pleading. They often go through college now with only the vaguest notion of our history, the writings of the American founders, the philosophy of the Enlightenment, our vast cultural heritage or the fundamental principles of Christianity or, if you will, Judeo-Christianity.

This extends beyond religion to the very basics – like respect for the First Amendment – that underpin our social order. Two in five millennials, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, believe the government “should be able to prevent people from saying ... statements that are offensive to minority groups.” A third of millennials opined that government should prevent speech “offensive to your religion or beliefs.”

The media and much of the nonprofit world share this perspective. For all the talk about Rupert Murdoch – the aging last remnant of contrarian journalism – and the Koch brothers, the cultural wars have been entirely won by the far larger, better-funded and protected progressive media and nonprofit establishment. In virtually every part of the West, more traditional values, from the primacy of the family to religion and belief in the efficacy of market capitalism, are being undermined, with increasingly disastrous results.

Psychological deindustrialization

Over a decade ago, the British historian Martin Weiner proffered his theory of “psychological deindustrialization” to explain the decline of the British capitalist class. In Weiner’s estimation, the great 19th century industrial expansion of that remarkable island nation lost its momentum as the scions of the capitalist class lost their taste for manufacturing, preferring the comforts of country estates, the clubby world of London and high-minded charity.

In the West today, the children of the rich, and often the rich themselves, embrace causes, notably climate change alarmism, that work against the whole ethos of progress and mass affluence. Now many of these people – notably in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood and other centers of absurd wealth – are determined to “save” the planet by regulating and taxing the middle class back to the 19th century. That this effort is led by groups like the Rockefeller brothers, who owe their fortunes to black gold, is ironic, to say the least.

In this intellectual climate, it is no shock that at the recent Paris climate conference, Western capitalism was blamed entirely for climate change. This has sparked the demand for “climate reparations” without a thought that, over the past two decades, this same capitalism has helped a billion people out of poverty, mostly in the developing world.

The blame-the-West-first trend extends well beyond environmental concerns. Disbelief in the system of democratic give and take to address climate change reflects views on a whole set of issues, from feminism and gender to race. No surprise that draconian proposals to address the climate “crisis” often see little need to deal with Congress, legal due process, even free speech.

So, rather than address how to improve the environment without eviscerating our own middle class, we expend enormous energy on peripheral issues like transgender rights, often exaggerated claims surrounding “a war on women,” and whether the lives of African Americans matter more. A writer in a recent article in the New York Times, cogitating on racial privilege, opined, “For me, whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem.”

Such attitudes have been around a long time. It’s been almost a half century since the late Susan Sontag opined that the “white race is the cancer of human history,” for everything from eradicating “autonomous civilizations” and upsetting “the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.” But in 1966, when these views were first expressed, they were in a minority, even on campuses. Today, they have evolved into holy writ.

As such views have become mainstream, it’s not surprising that there is little interest, at least in the culture’s higher circles, in protecting the Western heritage, even when under direct assault. One painful example is the pathetic nonresponse to the gradual genocide being carried out in the Middle East against Christians. Threatened with the abolition of the West’s dominant religion does not seem to motivate mainstream Christians often more worried about the evils of Islamophobia and climate change than mass killings of their own co-religionists.

Long-term implications

A society that no longer believes in its core beliefs cannot prevail against rivals who, although less wealthy and far less technologically advanced, embrace their core ideals. A West that rejects (and sometimes is unaware of) its own heritage cannot overcome those who, for religious or national reasons, have a powerful belief in theirs.

Some people in Western countries are reacting to this abandonment of culture and heritage. Unfortunately, many of them are attracted to demagogues like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front whose anti-immigrant xenophobia now has potent analogues in countries from the eastern frontier of Poland, Slovakia and Hungry to seeming secure reaches of Scandinavia. Given the cultural dominance of the relativist Left and the post-Christian nature of the culture, none of these movements will likely do more than make noise and inspire “tut-tuts” among the intelligentsia

Ultimately, we can only confront the challenge from authoritarian forces – whether in the Middle East, China or Russia – when we once again embrace our cultural values as important and worthy of protection. Our opponents – and that’s what they are – may be fundamentally weaker than us, but can count on the advantage of belief in their destiny. To save ours, Western culture needs to stay, not be put away.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

The Meaning of Christmas 2015 … According to Dickens

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--When Starbucks introduced this year’s minimalist holiday cup, Arizona evangelist Josh Feuerstein charged Starbucks with “removing Christmas from the cups because they hate Jesus.” His criticisms created some buzz on social media and Donald Trump even suggested a boycott. 

Can the meaning of Christmas be found in the icons represented on Starbucks cups of the past? Since Starbucks introduced the holiday tradition, images have included cartoon carolers and skaters, reindeer-like animals, pine trees, and ornaments, none of which have a particularly religious theme. 

Religious leaders and authors have been discussing the meaning of Christmas for centuries. Charles Dickens, described by London’s Sunday Telegraph (December 18, 1988) as “The Man Who Invented Christmas” certainly had his own ideas about the holiday. 

Certainly, A Christmas Carol has become a mainstay of the holiday. At the time Dickens was writing the novella, the British were examining traditions of the past along with new traditions like Christmas cards, trees, and the newfound popularity of caroling. 

Dickens’ idea to write the holiday classic had more to do with his dismay about the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the plight of poor children than on holiday traditions, per se. When Dickens was just 12, his father had been imprisoned, forcing the young Dickens to move to nearby lodgings. He sold his books and stopped attending school so he could work in a factory. 

As a reporter, Dickens visited Cornish tin mines that were employing child labor around the same time the Parliament had prepared a report on the effects of the Industrial Revolution on impoverished children. Dickens tossed aside his idea of writing a political pamphlet in favor of penning a Christmas novella that had the potential to reach a much wider readership to address the concerns of poverty and social injustice. 

Dickens’ estimation was on target. Long past his death, he continues to touch readers with his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The ghosts all point out to Scrooge that the meaning of Christmas can be found in “goodwill and cheer.” 

To Dickens, Christmas was a time for families “bound together all our home…enjoyments, affections, and hopes.” In the broader sense, he was warning about the love of money over family and people. Scrooge, through his ways, was left lonely and unhappy until he was brought into the family of Tiny Tim, his employee’s son, where he learned that helping others was a path to improve his own life. 

What is the meaning of Christmas?  Most of us, whether we celebrate in the religious sense or not, have some memories and traditions, whether that means listening to Christmas music, watching “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” baking special cookies, or exchanging gifts with colleagues and friends. 

Yes, Christmas does celebrate the birth of Jesus for those who practice Christianity. A red cup, with or without iconic Christmas images, can be interpreted however you would like. As a Jew, I have always cherished that Christmas seems to bring out a sense of community and a chance to reflect at the year’s end. 

No matter what Christmas means to us individually, we can hopefully take a cue from Dickens to remember the true gift is of ourselves, not in scoring a Hoverboard scooter or iPhone 6S. Perhaps Christmas can bring the chance to decide how we will help others, whether in our personal lives or a more global sense.

 

-CW 

 

This Year’s Hottest Toy: Iraq-Syria LEGO Playset

NO BABES IN TOYLAND-Every Christmas sees one toy emerge as the most-wanted, gotta have gift — remember Tickle Me Elmo, and Beanie Babies from years past? Well, 2015’s big hit has emerged: The Iraq-Syria LEGO Playset. (Quick note: The set retails for $3 trillion. Weapons of mass destruction not included.)

The set retails for three trillion dollars, though the price may have doubled by the time this is published. Included in the standard set are enough LEGOS to build replicas of Mosul and Fallujah, allowing a child to refight those battles over and over. Figures include Sunni militias, Islamic State fighters, Shia militias, one figure representing the actual Iraqi Army, American special forces with and without boots, Iranians, Kurds, Turks, Russians, Syrians (moderate and radical, though they cannot be told apart), British, French and Italian troops, shady Saudi financiers and Hezbollah soldiers.

The basic set also includes a starter pack of refugee figures, though most people will want to opt for the bonus pack, if only to get access to the limited edition dead children refugee figures.

Not included: any weapons of mass destruction.

While the Iraq-Syria LEGO Playset will provide any child with decades of fun, even more adventures can be played out by buying the Turkish Expansion Pack.

And parents, please note: Even after careful construction with the best of intention, the playset tends to simply fall apart.

(Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well.  His new book is We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

(The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).  Image: Screenshot/Youtube. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

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