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Obama Farewell: The Demands of Democracy

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

obamatwoshotPresident Barack Obama delivered a powerful parting address Tuesday night in Chicago, calling on Americans to play their vital role — as citizens — to perfect America. Here is the text of the speech as written.

It’s good to be home.  My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well-wishes we’ve received over the past few weeks.  But tonight it’s my turn to say thanks.  Whether we’ve seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people – in living rooms and schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant outposts – are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going.  Every day, I learned from you.  You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.

I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life.  It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills.  It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.

After eight years as your President, I still believe that.  And it’s not just my belief.  It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.

It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

This is the great gift our Founders gave us.  The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good. For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.  It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.  It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize.  It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.

economic-recoveryA look at the record. So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional.  Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.

Yes, our progress has been uneven.  The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.

If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11…if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

But that’s what we did.  That’s what you did.  You were the change.  You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

“The decency of our people.” In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy:  the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next.  I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.  Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.

We have what we need to do so.  After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth.  Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours.

But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works.  Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people.  Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

That’s what I want to focus on tonight – the state of our democracy.

A few Actual Facts. Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened to rupture that solidarity.  The beginning of this century has been one of those times.  A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism – these forces haven’t just tested our security and prosperity, but our democracy as well.  And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future.

Our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.  Today, the economy is growing again; wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are rising again; poverty is falling again.  The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records.  The unemployment rate is near a ten-year low.  The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower.  Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in fifty years.  And if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.

That, after all, is why we serve – to make people’s lives better, not worse.

poverty“A new social compact.” But for all the real progress we’ve made, we know it’s not enough.  Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class.  But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles.  While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind – the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills – convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful – a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

There are no quick fixes to this long-term trend.  I agree that our trade should be fair and not just free.  But the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas.  It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their success possible.  We can argue about how to best achieve these goals.  But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves.  For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

“Hearts must change.” There’s a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself.  After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America.  Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.  For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.  I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

But we’re not where we need to be.  All of us have more work to do.  After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.  If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce.  And our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.  Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system.  That’s what our Constitution and highest ideals require.  But laws alone won’t be enough.  Hearts must change.  If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles.  America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.

So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

Facts“A common baseline of facts.” None of this is easy.  For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.  The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.  And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.

This trend represents a third threat to our democracy.  Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them.  But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.

Isn’t that part of what makes politics so dispiriting?  How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations?  How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?  It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating.  Because as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

“A faith in reason.” Take the challenge of climate change.  In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet.  But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.

Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem.  But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

It’s that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

It’s that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.

That order is now being challenged – first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power.  The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile.  It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

“Vigilant but not afraid.” Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement, and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever.  We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden.  The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory.  ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe.  To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.

But protecting our way of life requires more than our military.  Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.  So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.  That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing.  That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.  That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans.  That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem.  For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression.  If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid.  ISIL will try to kill innocent people.  But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight.  Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.

The threat to democracy. Which brings me to my final point – our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.  All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.  When voting rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote.  When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service.  When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.

And all of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift.  But it’s really just a piece of parchment.  It has no power on its own.  We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make.  Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms.  Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law.  America is no fragile thing.  But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;” that we should preserve it with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent.  We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.  Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title:  Citizen.

“What democracy demands.” Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands.  It needs you.  Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.  If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.  If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing.  If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.  Show up.  Dive in.  Persevere.  Sometimes you’ll win.  Sometimes you’ll lose.  Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you.  But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire.  And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.

Mine sure has been.  Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers.  I’ve mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in Charleston church.  I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch, and our wounded warriors walk again.  I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks.  I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us of our obligations to care for refugees, to work in peace, and above all to look out for each other.

That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change – that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined.  I hope yours has, too.  Some of you here tonight or watching at home were there with us in 2004, in 2008, in 2012 – and maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.

Some words of thanks. You’re not the only ones.  Michelle – for the past twenty-five years, you’ve been not only my wife and mother of my children, but my best friend.  You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humor.  You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody.  And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.  You’ve made me proud.  You’ve made the country proud.

Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion.  You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily.  Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.

To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son:  you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best.  Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother.  We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.

To my remarkable staff:  For eight years – and for some of you, a whole lot more – I’ve drawn from your energy, and tried to reflect back what you displayed every day: heart, and character, and idealism.  I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, and start incredible new journeys of your own.  Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you.  The only thing that makes me prouder than all the good we’ve done is the thought of all the remarkable things you’ll achieve from here.

And to all of you out there – every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town and kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change – you are the best supporters and organizers anyone could hope for, and I will forever be grateful.  Because yes, you changed the world.

yeswecan“Yes we can.” That’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started.  Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans – especially so many young people out there – to believe you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.  This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.  You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.  You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.  I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain.  For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

Yes We Can.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

 

Streep to Trump: You’re a Dangerous Bully

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

merylstreepBy Dick Polman
Newsworks.org

Bravo, Meryl Streep. Tell it, sister.

I know that people in the arts can sometimes be insufferable, like when they all wear ribbons to signify moral superiority or when they praise each others’ “bravery.” But every great once in awhile, someone with serious creds will articulate truths that need to be said. And here in the winter of ’17, as we gird ourselves for the rocky reign of a repugnant celebrity, it is only fitting that he should be challenged on the world stage, not in anger but in sorrow, by a respected celebrity.

At Sunday night’s Golden Globes, shortly after Streep shrewdly pointed out that “Hollywood” is not an alien planet, that its performers are actually “just a bunch of people from other places” – in her words, “I was born and raised in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola (Davis) was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, and grew up in Central falls, Long Island. Sarah Paulson was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio” – she filleted Trump with a scalpel:

trumpdisabled

Click on Trump for video

A vile performance There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.

It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.

It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a veteran's rally in Des MoinesStreep haters, unleashed Naturally, Twitter was instantly afire. Typists vented their outrage about her “presumptuous” “out of touch” “hubris,” about her “partisan” “arrogant” “elitist” “liberal privilege.” Whatever. I just wonder whether the knee-jerk critics actually listened to what she was saying. I wonder if we’ve reached the point in this country when it’s “liberal” and “out of touch” to worry aloud about the role-modeling of bullying behavior. I wonder if we’ve reached the point when it’s “partisan” and “elitist” to point out that the instinct to humiliate the powerless is just plain wrong.

There are only two choices right now. Either people speak truth to power – using whatever forums afford them the opportunity – or they go silent and, in doing so, normalize what should, by any standard of decency, be deemed unacceptable.

And the best riposte to the Streep-haters was tweeted this morning by Republican pollster Matthew Dowd: “It’s OK for President-elect to daily tweet out bashing people, but not OK for actress to speak at an awards show?”

Speaking of bashing: The man-child with the eggshell ego bestirred himself this morning and, at 6:27, thumbed on his phone that Meryl Streep, the most award-nominated actress in Hollywood, is “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.” (His ire at her exceeds his concerns about the Kremlin.)

It’s safe to assume that Streep cares not a whit about his assessment of her art. And it’s safe to assume that she had no illusions that what she said would sway a single Trumpkin – certainly not in this tribalist climate. But hey, so what. Sometimes there are things that simply need to be said.

donald-trump (1)Compound jerktweets By the way, early Monday morning, Trump’s follow-up tweets insisted: “For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter…Just more very dishonest media!” It therefore behooves us to remember, for the 100th time, that he’s inviting us to deny what we witnessed. Tagging the press as “very dishonest,” for simply recording the truth as seen by the naked eye, foreshadows all the Orwellian outbursts still to come.

And Streep had something to say about that, too:

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting The Committee to Protect Journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

dickpolmanTrue that. Because, last I heard, the First Amendment was still in effect. Because, last I heard, it’s still worth asking ourselves what kind of country we want to be.

Dick Polman, former political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs at  www.newsworks.org, where this column originally appeared.

New Year’s Resolutions for California’s Top Pols

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

hangover-hungover-dog-with-hangover1As every schoolchild knows by now, thanks to the indispensable good work of the California Budget and Policy Center, the federal government underpins about one-third – nearly $100 billion – of California’s current year $267 billion budget.

As a practical matter, this means there is one and only one political story that matters to the citizens of the state for the foreseeable future: how will California’s elected leaders fend off Despicable Donald Trump, America’s 46-percent president, an Ayn Rand Congress and the most destructively reactionary administration ever assembled (excepting the disturbed fantasy life of Jon Fleischman during his Young Republican days).

With that political landscape in mind, here is what we recommend the Golden State’s top political talents adopt as their resolutions for New Year’s 2017.

kamalaharris2Kamala Harris. Stop gazing in the mirror.

That old Beltway bromide – “Every Senator looks in the mirror and sees a President” – needs updating, thanks to Queen Kamala and her busy little circle of sycophants, who started whispering about a 2020 White House run even before she’s been sworn into the job to which she was just elected. Memo to Ms. Fearless for the People: California just lost a quarter century of hard-won Senate experience, so it would be nice if you’d spare us a few minutes for doing something substantive to combat nascent fascism before heading off to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Dianne Feinstein. Live long and prosper. Some more.

Dianne-FeinsteinEvery time we hear some political genius tick off a field of candidates for DiFi’s Senate seat in 2018, we have the same reaction – better check with Dianne. Given her psyche, her private ruminations about retirement would be enough to fill a fat psychology textbook, but the rise of Trump makes the question far more perilous than a mere matter of personality or speculative scenarios; the plain fact is, she’s one of the few major D.C. weapons Democrats have left to battle the no-checks-no-balance new world, which makes Higher Power petitioning for her continued salubriousness a smart idea.

kevinKevin McCarthy. Get a cynicism bypass.

The House Majority Leader is all-in with Republican Speaker Paul Ryan and their right-wing towel boys in vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Week 1 of the FLTOS (Fat Lying Tub of Shit) presidency. But McCarthy also is the representative of the Central Valley’s 23rd Congressional District, where nearly half the residents are on Medi-Cal and a quarter-million people have obtained health insurance since Obamacare took effect; here’s a desperate wish that Smilin’ Kevin miraculously does the right thing for his people instead of his party.

Front Runners In Mayoral Race Campaign One Day Before PrimaryEric Garcetti. Put de Blasio and Emanuel on speed dial.

L.A.’s mayor, presiding over several million people Trump has promised to deport, needs to step up and take a national leadership role in fending off Wheat Top’s vicious promised policies. Many of the 66 million voters who opposed the 46-percent president live in America’s cities, so Garcetti needs to coordinate closely with NYC’s Bill de Blasio, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and other urban executives to form a defensive wall against what’s been dubbed a “bloc of island nations.”

xavierbacerraXavier Becerra. Just win, baby.

Jerry Brown’s astute pick to fill out Kamala’s term as A.G. quite clearly has the political and communications chops to perform superbly in the role of chief foil to Trumpkins. What we don’t know yet, however, is whether he can muster and manifest the large-scale legal smarts and muscle needed to bog down FLTOS in a protracted war of attrition that not only confounds the one-party feds but also drives Dear Leader even crazier than he already is.

jerrygandalf Jerry Brown. Repeal term limits.

A few months after our founding, back in 2009, Calbuzz got the first interview in which then-Attorney General Brown discussed seeking an unprecedented second bite at being governor, and we admit we came away a little dubious about his big idea of governing as “an apostle of common sense.” Today, no one but the rankest partisan could look at his performance over the past six years and judge him anything but an unqualified success; under the circumstances, that’s why California would be well-served by having him stick around for another four or eight years, although Willie Brown’s notion of dispatching Jerry to the Senate if DiFi does step down ain’t a bad second choice.

rendonAnthony Rendon and Kevin de Leon. Watch out for what you wish for.

The (all rise) Speaker and state Senate President came strong right out of the box with tough anti-Trump rhetoric and promises the day after the election, vowing to protect the state’s progressive policies on immigration, environment and health care against the Dark Side.

However, we’re still waiting to hear exactly how they intend to replace those zillions of dollars the FLTOS and his gang of hyped-up hyenas are crazy and cruel enough to stop sending westward.

Tom-SteyerTom Steyer. Run baby run.

Any race in which Gavin Newsom, America’s top model spokesman for adolescent hair products, is the purported front-runner is open for business, so here’s hoping that the zillionaire hedge fundsman turned progressive activist adds interest by joining the throng lining up for the 2018 gubernatorial sweepstakes. Steyer decidedly does not fit the historically failed profile of an outsider business executive seeking a second career that starts at the top of the political ladder; he’s conscientiously paid his dues, investing plenty of time and labor, as well as money, on climate change, voter registration and other crucial issues.

pelosiNancy Pelosi. Spend more time with the grandkids.

Pelosi is an historic figure who not only became the first woman Speaker but also stiffened Obama’s spine and willed universal health coverage into being when her party had a narrow window to do so. That said, she’s also presided over the loss of the House and a steady decline in Democratic numbers so that she’s now her party’s face of failure. At this dangerous time, it would be suicidal for D’s to switch leaders for a greenhorn, but she should commit to grooming a successor this term and then call it quits.

Former Sen. Jim Brulte visits the Capitol Bureau. Jim Brulte. Find another line of work.

California’s smartest Republican was smart not to say anything incriminating about Trump during the campaign, but just as the state party chairman’s grassroots effort to rebuild the GOP in the state was generating some green shoots, along came the FLTOS to hand two-third legislative majorities back to the Dems.

In a year when Republicans seized control of every piece of indoor plumbing east of the Mississippi, Californians saw right through Trump’s con act – dealing him a 4.3 million vote defeat in which he racked up a grand total of 31.9 percent of the vote which, to be fair, still exceeded GOP’s pathetic 26 percent of statewide registration. One step forward, two steps back, big fella.

Happy friggin’ New Year to all.

Thanks MSM, for the Very Special Gift of Trump!

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

philjerryhatshameAt first glance, today’s lead photo might suggest that your Calbuzzards are heading out to stick up their neighborhood 7-11. Or perhaps that they’ve just been booked for trying it.

In fact, the double mug shot represents something far more noble: two virtuous journalists fulfilling their professional ethical responsibility to be “accountable and transparent” by publicly acknowledging mistakes, in this case, our inaccurate report that Hillary Clinton had been elected the 45th president of the U.S.

A close reading of that world exclusive, filed 12 hours before Election Day voting kicked into gear, reveals a slight hedge: a promise that if the story was wrong, Calbuzz would publish a photo of Our Founders wearing Dodger hats. So today, Christmas Eve 2016, we hereby hold ourselves accountable for our teeny-tiny error. If you look really closely, you might even see the dog-ass Dodgers’ logo.

wolf-blitzerBut what about the other guys? Having accepted full culpability for our journalistic sin, we eagerly await the actions of the MSM in doing the same for their unspeakably disgraceful performance in 2016.

To be sure, a host of crucial factors contributed to the global existential threat represented by the words “President Donald J. Trump.” Asshat lawman James Comey comes to mind, as does Vladimir Putin and the strategic ineptitude of Clinton handler Robby Mook, who somehow got lost peering deep into his Big Data spreadsheets and forgot to book Hillary a couple union halls in Michigan (devil’s advocate here, but who hires a campaign manager named “Mook” anyway?).

Right at the top of that list, however, also stand the Trump-enabling reprobates and evildoers of the national media.

To the extent that newspapers still matter, it must be said that the Washington Post’s coverage excelled overall, the NYT did first-rate heavy lifting on Trump’s business record and the LA Times offered some bright spots, most notably Cathy Decker’s consistently spot-on analyses (don’t get us started on the stupid Dan Schnur Poll).

Alas, the extent to which newspapers still matter: not much.

So with most of the voting public addicted to their echo chamber Facebook feeds, favorite confirmation bias web sites, white supremacist organs and infotainment shows, responsibility for serving as best-obtainable-version-of-the-truth-tellers fell to the networks and cable “news” outfits.

Christ.

The nets rarely bothered with Actual Reporting on serious issues, which would have interfered with all the clever tweeting and Instagram posts from their armies of 12-year old “embeds,” an unintentionally damning phrase if there ever was one. And, with the exceptions of Steve Schmidt’s sustained virtuosity on MSNBC, Van Jones’s thoughtful insights on CNN and Megyn Kelly’s badass act on Fox, all you need to know about the rest of the monstrous pack of baying cable morons is that “The Most Trusted Name in News” allowed Trump hatchet men Corey Lewandowski and Jeffrey Lord to sit there and pose as earnest commentators.

A brief recap of how TV news ushered in the Age of Trump:

howardbealeAll Trump all the time. Beginning in summer 2015, the money-grubbing TV suits behaved as if Dickhead Donald was a mega-hit carnival act, handing him more than $1 billion in free advertising. CBS honcho Les Moonves said it all: “It may not be good for the country, but it’s good for CBS.” Ha, ha.

False equivalence. Amid Trump’s serial blatant lies and endless racist, sexist, xenophobic, dictatorial, First Amendment-hating, war criminal statements, the MSM pretended that journalistic duty required that the filth flowing from his mouth, all day every day, be “balanced” with bogus on-the-one-hand-on-the-other criticisms of Clinton: But What About the Emails?!?!?

From the phony outrage about her private server to the breathless reporting on the quotidian revelations in John Podesta’s message stash, Trump’s media pimps refused to focus on two basic facts: the email “scandal” was first and last a vicious partisan congressional leak attack and the Podesta hack was just, you know, the no-big-deal matter of Putin hijacking the election.

Policy, what policy? While wallowing in weighty subjects like Podesta’s risotto recipe, the ‘nets were sooo bored reporting on what the candidates proposed to do about the economy. There’s no denying that Clinton was a weak courier for her middle class message – if she said “go to my website HillaryClinton.com” one more time during the debates, we would have started mainlining Metaxa through our chemo ports — but she actually had serious, substantive detailed proposals that went unreported.

And Trump had…what? So we’re only learning now that he’s an Ayn Rand fanboy whose plan all along was to destroy the government in 100 days, going back to undo, not just FDR, but likely the most fundamental pro-consumer, pro-worker health and safety regulations of rough riding cousin Teddy.

Who knew, the MSM now cries, meekly.

rosenHere’s the thing: Underlying such criticisms, of course, is the meta-problem that Trump poses to journalists: he has “crashed the system” that made political reporting possible, as NYU professor Jay Rosen has argued trenchantly:

Everything that happens in election coverage is premised on a kind of opinion: that our votes should be based on reliable information about what the candidates intend to do if elected. Remove that assumption and the edifice crashes. But this is exactly what the candidacy of Donald Trump does. It upends the assumptions required for the traditional forms of campaign journalism even to make sense…

One of the newer parts of that system is fact checking, but this is also a practice with a premise. The premise is that fact checking will have some shaming effect on the kind of behavior it calls out…

Trump shatters this premise. As FactCheck.org put it: “He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong.” Said Glenn Kessler, The Post’s Fact Checker columnist: “What’s unusual about Trump is he’s a leading candidate and he seems to have no interest in getting important things factually correct.”

One of the assumptions of campaign coverage was that candidates would never use their huge platforms to spread malicious rumors and unreliable information for which they have no proof: Too risky, too ugly. Trump has crashed that premise too.

crazy trumpBottom line. Rosen, along with our old friend Tom Rosenstiel and Jack Shafer, leads the way in trying to think through the very scary existential problem of how the media can adapt and matter in covering Trump in a serious way.

Consider, for example, Trump’s tweet the other day: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” If Trump understood anything about the cautious, discrete closely-parsed language of nuclear diplomacy, he would have said “modernize and upgrade” instead of “strengthen and expand.” That would have been in keeping with decades of U.S. policy, under Republican and Democratic administrations.

But Trump doesn’t know toxic waste from Shinola about nuclear arms policy, so he just tweeted whatever popped into his lame brain. Immediately, his repulsive spokespeople tried to walk it back, saying he didn’t really mean the U.S. needs more nukes. But Trump, afflicted with clinical narcissism, can never admit a mistake; so he doubled down and the next day told MSNBC TV host Mika Brzezinski, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Why? Because he has no godforsaken clue what he’s talking about, its impact throughout the world and the implications for U.S. strategic nuclear policy. Rather than just saying so directly, however, the MSM courtiers leaped into spasms of “analysis” about what Trump was trying to imply. Does he intend to change U.S. policy? Is he looking to grow the U.S. nuclear arsenal after decades of trying to reduce it? In the process, they normalize his unhinged ranting, as if Trump had had a serious idea in his alleged mind when his pygmy fingers did the talking.

Angry-SantaThe principled, responsible and smart way to react to this would have been for news organizations to state — as a fundamental matter of fact — that Trump obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.* But that would require news organizations to actually perform as a check on the president-elect’s idiocy. Instead they fail as the only remaining balance to his power, in a world where Trump’s election represents a perfect storm of right-wing ascendance in Washington that has blotted out the quaint notion of political checks and balances.

Once again, the Fourth Estate had its pockets picked clean, just as in the campaign, and now stands quivering and scared to death of this authoritarian thug.

Merry fuckin’ Christmas. Beat L.A.

———-

* The closest thing to calling out Trump’s abject ignorance that we saw was a piece by Max Fisher of the New York Times that deconstructed all the possible ways in which Trump’s outrageous Tweet on nuclear weapons might be interpreted.

Done Deal: Crazy Person To Control the Nukes

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

trumpsmirkingThe political hacks that cast the ballots in the Electoral College on Monday made it official: a mentally ill and corrupt authoritarian demagogue will soon become the most powerful person in the world.

Donald John Trump, a big loser in the popular vote who captured one of the lamest wins ever in the pro-slave-state Electoral College system, in January will command the mightiest military force in the history of man. He is now assembling an astonishingly reactionary government composed of fellow plutocrats and science-denying right-wing ideologues whose highest political purpose is to cut taxes on the rich and transfer wealth to oil companies and the most moneyed 1% of Americans. And the Trump family itself.

God bless the United States of America.

Metamorphosis_of_NarcissusEven Shrinks Are Scared. We await with great trepidation but undeniable excitement, the inevitable, vicious four-year war the treacherous, Russian-backed 46% 45th president intends to wage against the progressive programs and values of California, which stands as a singular obstacle to his terrifying ignorance of the U.S. Constitution, let alone political norms that have governed the nation since its founding.

For today, however, we focus on the most menacing aspect of the venal barbarian: the genuine mental disorder that shapes his every action.

It’s a sad commentary that it was not until the very day he formally won power that a high-profile national news organization took the trouble to assert what has been obvious to those who bothered to research the tools of psychological diagnosis: Trump’s erratic behavior proceeds from the diagnostically distinct derangement syndrome known as narcissistic personality disorder.

In the Huffington Post, communications strategist Richard Greene reported receiving a copy of a letter sent to President Obama by three recognized professors of psychiatry who ”strongly recommend that, in preparation for assuming these responsibilities, he (Trump) receives a full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation by an impartial team of investigators” to determine if he is mentally competent to rule over America’s nuclear arsenal.

“If someone does have “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” they can, indeed, wake up, see a Tweet or a news report from a foreign leader criticizing him, mocking him, calling him “weak” or threatening his ego in any way and order some kind of impulsive, vindictive, punishing, immediate response that could include an unhinged order to attack that foreign leader or foreign country with military force, even including the authorization of nuclear weapons,” the mental health professionals wrote.

dsm-5Toldja! This comes as no surprise, of course, to our loyal readers.

By dint of Actual Reporting, Calbuzz was the first media organization to sound the alarm about Trump’s psychological disease back in August 2015. At the time, we consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, and aligned his behavior with the list of symptoms used by professional mental health workers to diagnosis the disorder.

DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:

–Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance

–Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it

–Exaggerating your achievements and talents

–Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate

–Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people

–Requiring constant admiration

–Having a sense of entitlement

–Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations.

–Taking advantage of others to get what you want

–Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs or feelings of others

–Being envious of others and believing others envy you

–Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.

So there’s that.

 

Donald-Trump-as-Julius-CaesarThe Triumph of Tyranny.  As Paul Krugman pointed out, the only guarantee that our republic will persevere is the consensus of political norms that has governed us since 1776, the shared standard of belief that the president should put country ahead of party, let alone the financial self-interest of himself and his grasping family.

Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.

“Famously, on paper the transformation of Rome from republic to empire never happened. Officially, imperial Rome was still ruled by a Senate that just happened to defer to the emperor, whose title originally just meant “commander,” on everything that mattered. We may not go down exactly the same route — although are we even sure of that? — but the process of destroying democratic substance while preserving forms is already underway.

Here’s the thing: The Mainstream Media bears a heavy and disgraceful responsibility for setting the stage for fascism in America. Mark our words, all it will take is a major terrorist attack – or riots in California – for this thug real estate developer and the Star Wars cantina throng of goons that surrounds him to declare martial law.

Or maybe just another bad restaurant review from Vanity Fair.

The MSM helpfully ushered Trump on to the White House throughout 2016 by persisting in framing the election with a false narrative built on a false equivalency: that his craziness was commensurate with the non-scandal of Hillary Clinton’s email use.

maralagomediaThen, piling on, they endlessly reported on the minor and quite ordinary revelations contained in hacked emails of her campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee, with barely a nod to the meta-fact that these were stolen in attacks by a hostile foreign government and released by a white-haired megalomaniac who’s been closeted in a foreign embassy for years in a cowardly effort to avoid rape charges.

And all the while they acted as if Trump was merely a normal presidential candidate, instead of reporting on the madness that was hiding in plain sight.

Now, with few exceptions, that same MSM is shamefully engaged in normalizing his behavior, once again performing like courtiers instead of journalists. (For some world-class orange ass-kissing, check this out.)

Memo to Beltway geniuses: maybe you should check out Calbuzz more often.