Welcome to Becoming a Citizen Activist BlogAfter writing Urban Politics on Seattle politics for over 19 years, I will now also be covering urban issues in other cities that could have importance to metropolitan areas in general. Seattle issues will still be covered in Urban Politics – Seattle, but will not come out as frequently as in the past. In a couple of weeks a searchable archive of all former Urban Politics will be available on a newly redesigned www.becomingacitizenactivist.org. If you do not wish to receive Urban Politics – US reply with “Unsubscribe UP-US” in the Subject Line.

Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image

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Written by Nick Licata


 

     They responded in two ways, first ignoring it and then blaming others.

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A Brazilian government official (r) posing for a photo next to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at Mar-A-Lago who tested positive for the 2019 novel coronavirus.

In the current coronavirus pandemic authoritarian-oriented leaders, whether communist or capitalist, initially portrayed the virus as an insignificant danger. Once they could no longer ignore the mounting number of infections and deaths, they turned to deflect criticism to condemning the behavior of others. Their major concern was not protecting the welfare of their people but protecting their image as a leader whose control was above being challenged by men or nature.

Bad news resulting from natural events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly troublesome to them. The leaders of the two largest authoritarian nations, Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi, both initially downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and then accused others of their nation’s derelict response. And, the leaders of two of the largest democracies, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and our own President Donald Trump followed the same behavior of first ignoring the coronavirus problem and then blaming others.

On January 20, Chinese President Xi Jinping commented publicly for the first time on the virus and ordered “resolute efforts” to control the outbreak. However, a transcript of China’s most powerful decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, revealed that Xi was already aware of the virus on January 7. Two days later, the Chinese health commission said a 61-year-old man, had died of the virus. Xi did not inform his people about the spreading virus for two weeks while, according to his government, it infected close to 300 people.

Even within China’s tightly controlled mainstream and social media, word of a deathly virus was spreading too fast for the censors to shut down. Once Xi had to admit that there was a such a virus, he began to find someone to blame.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, tweeted that “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” Xi blamed local communist officials in Wuhan for not dealing with the virus after they had pointed to China’s top-heavy central government for not giving them the authority to act. Soon afterward, several top Wuhan and Hubei officials were fired for not acting fast enough to contain the virus.

Russia’s President Putin reacted in a similar fashion of initially downplaying the coronavirus. Through his control of the media, very few coronavirus infections were reported. As late as Sunday, March 22, CNN reported that Russia, with a population of 146 million had fewer confirmed cases than Luxembourg, with a population of less than 1 percent of Russia’s. A few days later he was assuring the public that the coronavirus was “under control”.

It was not until Saturday, March 28, Putin decided to close all of its borders and ordered all citizens to stay home for a week unless they provide essential services. His staff probably had gotten to him that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported to the World Health Organization had more than doubled. Although no health experts have suggested a week’s confinement is anywhere close enough time needed to contain the virus from spreading.

Opposition posted on the internet that there were over 20,000 confirmed cases. Like in China, the government was removing any critical postings on social media. Fortunately for the public, Anastasia Vasilyeva, a doctor and leader of the non-government Alliance of Doctors union, was able to get out her claim that the authorities were using pneumonia and acute respiratory infection as a cause of sickness, not the coronavirus. Technically the authorities were correct because people don’t die from the virus, they die from the conditions that it produces, which is pneumonia and acute respiratory failure.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro was elected to office just 2 years ago on a very conservative anti-government platform. In the case of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, he denied its danger. He calls the coronavirus a “little flu” that largely threatens the old and vulnerable. On Sunday, March 22, he told his supporters, “Confront it like a man, not a boy!”

He has found Brazil’s democratic process detrimental to his own political goals. In particular, he ignored his health officials trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by publicly gathering small crowds in neighborhoods within Brazil’s capital.

Bolsonaro, on March 25, blasted as criminals the governors and mayors of Brazil’s largest states and cities for imposing lockdowns to slow the coronavirus outbreak. He explained to the media that “What a few mayors and governors are doing is a crime. They’re destroying Brazil.” He is seemed more concerned with meeting his campaign promise to revitalize their economy than protecting the public’s health. His Minister of Health said recently that if the government is unable to curb transmission, the country’s health system would collapse by the end of April.

President Trump is not an authoritarian, although he has admired the power they have within their own country. He had initially denied the coronavirus as dangerous and expected it to be over soon. On February 26th, Trump said  “we’ve done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum. We’ve had tremendous success —”. At that time, he proudly pointed out there were only 15 infections in the US. “As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people.” Two weeks later on March 12, we had 1,645 people infected with the virus. The next day Trump blamed Barack Obama for his own administration’s inability to adequately test enough Americans for the coronavirus outbreak, claiming “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

Trump first blamed China for our country’s slow response to the pandemic because he said they withheld information for two months about the coronavirus. However, the time-lapse between the first known death from the virus in China on January 9 and when Trump suspended entry into the United States by any foreign nationals traveling from China on January 30th, was less than a month. Without any evidence, Trump has repeatedly made the two months claim.

When some Democrats were critical of how he was implementing restrictions on travelers from China, he accused them of  “working the Impeachment Hoax. They didn’t have a clue! Now they are fear-mongering.” Trump also singled out Democratic Governors for not appreciating his efforts and told Vice President Mike Pence not to call them, “I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan.’” Trump was upset that they were critical of him for not using federal authority and resources to provide emergency medical supplies and assistance to their states.

In all of these countries, including ours, the authoritarian-oriented leader has received a lot of support because they are perceived as strong leaders. Also, they either control the media or have ideological media allies that endorse their policies, so that the public gets to hear directly from the leader what he wants them to believe.

But, as COVED-19 spreads, even an authoritarian approach cannot demand an end to a pandemic in two weeks. Once the infections and deaths reach a certain point, they must introduce policies that acknowledge that they are not in total control. If there is any lasting effect from this health crisis, it may be a more knowledgeable electorate in democratic countries appreciating that an effective government is an institution, not a cult of supporters following a strong leader.

Trump’s State of Denial, Not the Deep State, kept us unprepared for the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Written by Nick Licata


 

I lay out how Trump’s consistent denial of the need to listen to government experts exposes his suspicion of a deep state conspiracy against him and has made this country unprepared to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

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Photo by Evan Vucci AP

 

President Donald Trump prides himself on being optimistic no matter how dire the situation. That is not necessarily a bad trait; it helps to get by in hard times. But deniability of past or repeated behavior when it results in harm to yourself or others is not a positive trait. In fact, as president of the USA, it endangers everyone. Trump’s State of Denial has led us to the current horrendous situation of not being as prepared as we could have been for the coronavirus, i.e. COVID-19.

For instance, South Korea announced its first coronavirus case just one day before the USA. Yet in the 7 weeks that followed, South Korea had tested more than 189,000 people, we had tested less than 2,000. We have a population over 6 times larger than them, to match their extent of coverage we would have tested 1.1 million people. As of March 21, less than a quarter-million in the US have been tested according to the John Hopkins School of Medicine The COVID Tracking Project. The Federal Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of March 23, had not publicly released the number of people who have been tested as of that date. Although at a press conference on that date a White House staff member estimated that 250,000 had been done.

The following are examples of Trump’s State of Denial and its negative impact on controlling the coronavirus pandemic.
TRUMP: “It’s something that nobody expected”
On Saturday, March 14, President Trump said that the coronavirus caught him and the world off guard. About a week later, on March 21, Trump repeated his denial of having any advance reason to expect a probable massive pandemic; “The magnitude is something that no matter who you were, no matter where you come from, nobody ever thought a thing like this could happen.”

Trump Was Given An Explicit Warning Of A Possible Huge Pandemic
In January 2017, as Trump was coming into office, the New York Times reported, “outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.” Trump has never denied this information being provided to him.
The New York Times also reported that in 2019 the Health and Human Services Department performed startling government simulations to show how underprepared the United States was for such a pandemic. Nothing was done in response. Department Secretary Alex Azar has mentioned these simulations at the White House Press Conferences.
TRUMP: “I don’t know anything about it”
At a March 13, 2020 press conference Trump said, “I just think it’s a nasty question,” when asked why he disbanded the Directorate, known as the “Global Health Security and Biodefense” team on the National Security Council, which was responsible for coordinating federal agencies’ response to a pandemic outbreak. “And when you say ‘me,’ I didn’t do it. … I don’t know anything about it.”

Technically Trump is right, he didn’t disband the nation’s only Health Security Team, John Bolton did.
Trump appointed Bolton to lead the National Security Council in April 2018. A month later, Bolton eliminated the team for pandemic preparedness. It was created in the aftermath of the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak to avoid seeing again a fragmented U.S. response and preparedness strategy and ended up costing U.S. taxpayers $5.4 billion in emergency supplemental funding.

On May 7th, 2018 Luciana Borio, director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the NSC, spoke at a symposium at Emory University “The threat of pandemic flu is the number one health security concern,” she told the audience. “Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no.”

Bolton said he intended to streamline the NSC, which it may have done, but at the cost of not having anyone around to coordinate a response to a pandemic so the country would not end up where they are now, repeating our Ebola experience. Bolton’s first step was to eliminate the team’s Director position and then disperse the team staff across other parts of the NSC which focused on other priorities; two of them went to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate within NSC.

TRUMP: “I’m a businessperson,” he said in denying the need to fund scientists working on disease control.

During a February 26, 2020 briefing on his coronavirus response, Trump said he cut global health experts from federal staff and tried to slash funding for the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who try to spot and respond to epidemics. “Some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years,” Trump said justifying those efforts. “I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them,” he said. “When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”
Shrinking government budget may be good unless it costs the public a trillion dollars later.

Trump’s logic of eliminating a government professional group to fight a pandemic runs counter to organizational consultants who point out that eliminating positions that are highly skilled do not result in cost savings but result in lager long term costs in finding replacements or teach new ones. On Jan 29, 2018, a coalition of global health of 200 organizations and companies sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking the administration to not cut funding to programs as essential to health and national security, warning there will be ever more costly outbreaks.

Two years later, on February 25, 2020, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, was in the Trump State of Denial, telling CNBC that the government had “contained” the coronavirus and would not seriously harm the economy. “I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.” By March 212020, Kudlow switched to getting the Deep State to start spending more than $2 trillion to save our economy through a stimulus package in the Senate to stop a depression because of the coronavirus pandemic, which had never been “contained.”

TRUMP: He first learned about the coronavirus when he closed the border to China

At the White House, March 21 Press Conference Trump was asked “When did you first learn that this was going to be a problem? (in reference to the spread of the coronavirus). He responded, “When I learned I started doing the closing, so probably around that time. We didn’t know about it until it started coming out publicly, but I wish they could’ve told us earlier about it, because we could’ve come up with a solution. They (referring to the White House Coronavirus Task Force) read about it in the newspapers like everybody else.”
Why wasn’t our State Department functioning to inform Trump?

The reporter who asked that question should have followed up by asking “When did our Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, inform our State Department about a dangerous virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan?” The first death from an illness caused by a new lethal virus occurred there on January 11, 2020, as reported by Chinese state media The Xinhua news agency.

That information would have obviously been available to our ambassador and our foreign service corps. Did they inform Secretary Mike Pompeo? Or, as former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has accused the Trump administration, had our experienced foreign service personnel been dramatically reduced, because of a fear that there is a Deep State conspiracy to undermine Trump’s authority, that they were not functioning properly?

The next major event occurred on January 23 when Chinese authorities cut off Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million, by canceling planes and trains leaving the city. At this point, at least 17 people had died there. Were Trump and Pompeo still uninformed of this development?

It was not until January 31, that Trump said he became aware of the problem and suspended entry into the United States by any foreign nationals who had traveled to China in the past 14 days. That was one day after the W.H.O. declared a global health emergency, where 213 people had died and nearly 9,800 had been infected worldwide. How could he not have been aware for over two weeks that there was a new lethal virus spreading? Was it because he called this developing virus pandemic a “Chinese” virus that he optimistically believed would not affect America? However, since he had disbanded the group of experts two years prior who were trained to track such a threat, so who was around to warn him?

TRUMP: “It may get a little bigger; it may not get bigger at all,”

On February 26 at a White House Press Conference – Trump said regarding those with the coronavirus, “We have a total of 15, they’re in a process of recovering, with some already having fully recovered.” He was not including those on the cruise ship from Japan.

“We’re going to spend whatever is appropriate.  Hopefully, we’re not going to have to spend so much because we really think we’ve done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum.  We’ve had tremendous success — tremendous success — beyond what people would have thought.”

By denying that the coronavirus could manifest into a potential epidemic in the US, Trump decided, along with Fox News and some Republicans, to blame the Democrats and the media for creating panic.

Trump tweeted on February 26 “Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the “Caronavirus” (his spelling) look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible.” The next day Fox News Commentator Laura Ingraham called Democrats the “pandemic party” and trying to undermine Trump’s administration. That same day another Fox News Commentator Sean Hannity said the Democrats “sadly politicizing and weaponizing an infectious disease as their next effort to bludgeon President Trump.”

Trump continued to politicize the coronavirus at his campaign rally in North Charleston, S.C on February 28, by accusing the Democrats of “politicizing” the coronavirus, saying “This is their new hoax. Democrats will always say horrible things,” Trump said. “Democrats want us to fail so badly.”

On February 29 “It may get a little bigger; it may not get bigger at all,” Trump said in a national TV address at the time.

Trump’s antipathy toward the Deep State has reshaped the Republican Party’s character from being small-government advocates to a grievance coalition highly skeptical of government, borrowing Washington Post reporter Robert Costa’s description. That attitude was reflected by a number of Republicans echoing Trump and making light of a possible coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s leading Congressional defender Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), on March 8, dismissed concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and said on Fox News that “it’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.”

It wasn’t until March 13 that Trump declared a national emergency, which would have been six weeks since he said he became aware of the coronavirus as a “problem”. The explosion of infections was so great by the time Trump declared a national emergency that the legendary GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who now chairs a pro-Trump super PAC, said, “The right underestimated this and thought the media was beating up on Trump again.”

Bottomline Of This Exercise

Any national leader must accept responsibility for their past actions and their publicized opinions, especially when it impacts the security of our nation’s health. President Trump’s attitude to the approaching pandemic has not been one of optimism but of denying the probability of its existence and of deflecting responsibility for appropriately responding.

The result may be why our nation now has the third-highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world, going from 1,645 people on March 12 to 43,000 as of March 23, a span of 11 days. And, we are still struggling to contain the outbreak and providing medical supplies to our state governments and hospitals as well as supplying the proper safety gear for our health care workers.

Competency is not determined by party affiliation, but by the performance of our nation’s leadership. The Trump Administration has not had a record of competency in fighting the coronavirus.

Does the Scandinavian Model support Bernie’s Socialist Message?

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Written by Nick Licata


 

map

 Credit: WORLD BOOK map

And does it matter if it is not socialist, but would benefit the average American?

Washington Post Columnist Fareed Zakaria in an op-ed accused Bernie Sanders’s repeated exultation of the Northern European countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway as examples of the kind of economic system he wants to bring to the United States as being an unrealistic fantasy; Sanders either ignores or misunderstands their policies.

When it comes to supporting working people, Zakaria notes that none of these countries has a minimum wage. In addition, they have adopted a “flexicurity” policy that combines flexible labor markets that allow employers to hire and fire workers easily, without excessive regulation or litigation. Although that is balanced with favorable benefits.

Zakaria points out that while Sanders admires these countries’ economic policies, their tax practices do not match his intent that “Billionaires should not exist.” Sweden and Norway both have more billionaires per capita than the United States. Remarkably either they do not have inheritance taxes (Sweden and Norway) or are at 15 percent (Denmark). Meanwhile, the US level is at 40 percent.

Worse yet, Zakaria says that taxes in the Scandinavian countries fall disproportionately on the poor, middle and upper-middle class. For example, Denmark’s highest top income tax rate is 55.9% which is levied on anyone making 1.3 times the average national income, using that same formula in the US anyone making above $65,000 would be taxed at that level. Meanwhile, these states have a national sales tax, referred to as a value-added tax, of 25%, while sales taxes in the US average only 6.5%.

These facts could make for killer TV attack ads by Republicans against Sanders and democratic candidates from conservative areas if the message is to make the US like the Scandinavian countries without mentioning their benefits. John de Graaf, co-author of the best-selling book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemicsays that while he considers Zakaria’s description fairly accurate in many ways, it is deceptive in others.

For instance, these countries do have billionaires, but they have far lower rates of poverty and almost zero homelessness. They do not have official minimum wages, but the prevailing wages are set by union/government/business agreements, apply to almost all workers and are over $20 an hour, with most workers receiving very generous family, sick and vacation leave.

Even with high taxes, Scandinavians have quite high disposable incomes. Subsidies and “social housing” make housing affordable to all, and medical care is mostly free, although some co-pays and deductions do exist. When looking at workplace comparisons, Flexicurity is a popular system with businesses there, but it is coupled with very generous unemployment compensation, job training, workforce development, which companies pay for.
It is true that their corporate taxes appear lower than in the US but they are much better enforced — fewer loopholes. For example, data from 2010 showed while Sweden had an official corporate tax rate of 25% their companies ended up paying 22%. The US had an official rate of 35%, but an actual rate of 9%. Our approach breeds distrust in the honesty of our tax system.

To measure inequality in a country, a common metric is the GINI coefficient, with a lower score indicating greater equality in wealth among the population. The Scandinavian countries are close to 3.0 while the US is at about 4.5. Surveys comparing our citizens to theirs reveal that they are happier than Americans by a fairly wide margin, and much more secure in their lives.

The takeaway from Zakaria’s and de Graaf’s descriptions of the Scandinavian political-economic model is that calling those countries socialist is a stretch if not outright wrong. The Scandinavians and their leaders don’t consider themselves as living in socialist countries.
Socialism has many different faces depending on the angle of your view. From America, those countries may appear to be socialist. That is understandable given that our dominant political culture, which for well over a hundred years, has seen any government regulation of the marketplace and provision of economic assistance to the populace as socialistic.

Such an expansive definition of socialism renders the term useless as a guide for determining public policy. It leads to sloganeering, both pro and con, on any policy that alters the current economic structure of our nation. Ironically both Trump and Sanders, have pitched their main message as overhauling our economic system. But, in radically different ways. Trump’s message emphasizes that maintaining the racial order that benefits white ethnic groups is necessary for our security. Sanders wants greater economic equality to create better-living conditions for everyone. Trump calls his system capitalistic and Sanders calls his socialistic.

The problem that Sanders and the Democratic Party candidates face, is that the percentage of voters 45 and older is twice the number voting under the age of 29, as was shown in the most recent 2018 congressional elections as reported by the census data. The older set of voters have grown up with a negative image of socialism, and reinforced by past and current authoritarian governments that call themselves socialistic. In reality, China, Venezuela, and Cuba are not socialist, just authoritarian anti-democratic governments that provide some level of benefits to their populace that a free marketplace would not.

Sanders has and will continue to condemn all authoritarian governments, but that does not change people’s perception of socialism overnight. He is being forced to spend time informing the public on the difference between authoritarian versus democratic socialism, without being sucked into distinguishing the more than two dozen different kinds of socialism that, for instance, Wikipedia identifies. However, this educational effort is hindered by the fact that no matter how progressive, there is no economically developed, democratic country that calls itself socialist. Sometimes more progressive countries have Socialist Party governments and sometimes they don’t, but their democracies remain functioning with economics that reflects both capitalistic and socialistic elements, regardless of the change in their political leaders.

Sanders has defined his socialism as democratic socialism and points to the practices in the Scandinavian countries of what he is talking about. However, in many interviews he is more general, defining socialism as a democracy that has achieved economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, and racial justice. That describes an ideal state; one that does not exist now and may never exist. By Sanders saying he is a socialist, he is basically saying that he wishes to work toward those goals, much like what he sees the Scandinavian countries pursuing. But those goals do not inherently result in a socialistic country. They rather reflect the will of the voters within a democracy, not thrown out of balance by the influence of money.

Sanders’ political objectives are really reminiscent of those pursued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and before him Theodore Roosevelt, particularly when he ran as a populist candidate for President. This is despite Sanders’ admiring and producing a documentary on the socialist and union leader Eugene V. Debs, who garnered 6% of the vote in the 1912 general Presidential election. That was the highest watermark that any socialist presidential candidate has ever received. If Sanders wants to go much beyond that level, he must unite the Democrats as a presidential candidate. To do that he needs to reevaluate how he is crippling his own message by clinging to terminology that older generation voters have identified as poisonous to our freedoms. Instead, Sanders should echo the statement he made in the now-defunct magazine called Vermont Affairs in 1986, “…all socialism is about is democracy.”

Arguing that many Scandinavian public policies promote higher standards of living and happiness, is a strong rational argument. But, don’t sell those countries as socialist, which they are not. Having proportional electoral systems has resulted in all of them having coalition governments from time to time. Often those other parties are Christian parties and on occasion, those coalitions have even attracted the support of right-wing parties.

The bottom line is that Scandinavian countries maintain robust democracies providing services and policies that work to meet the social and economic needs of all of their citizens. That is the lesson that we can take away from their experience. And, it must be the political message of whoever is the Democratic candidate, if the Democrats are to energize people of all ages to vote in a new president who represents those values.

Could Putin actually prefer Sanders over Trump?

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Written by Nick Licata


 

Sanders presents a more stable and predictable adversary but with a foreign policy similar to Trump’s.

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Bernie Sanders at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., June 2019
Carlos Barria / REUTERS

An aide to Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, briefed the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13 that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Donald Trump re-elected. Separately, the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials have told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest, according to people familiar with the matter.

A number of Democratic Party leaders believe that Sanders may be promoted by the Russians because he is seen as the weakest candidate that Trump could face, and hence could help assure his reelection. That rationale runs counter to polls which show Sanders beating Trump in some of the most important states. Axios reports that a Quinnipiac Poll last week (Feb 16th to 23rd) showed Sanders beating Trump in Michigan and Pennsylvania. A CBS News/YouGov poll had Sanders beating Trump nationally.

There is also a common belief that the Russians support Sanders because they believe it would sow more divisions within the Democratic party than supporting any other candidate. Concerns about such divisions are coming mostly from party leadership and as of now, not reflective of any rumblings from the general membership. However, there are two other reasons that could explain why the Russians could support Sanders.

First, between dealing with a mercurial, spontaneous decision-making adversary or one that is methodical and stable, Sanders would appear to be the safer bet in not pursuing aggressive military moves. Although he would not be as deferential to President Vladimir V. Putin as Trump, he conceivably could be a more reliable steady negotiator.

But there is a more important reason for the Russians to promote Sanders above the other Democrats running for president. And, it has nothing with him being a democratic socialist. It has to do with his approach to a foreign policy being more similar to Trump’s than any other Democrat.

Sander’s past foreign policy positions parallel those of Trump’s. Both were opposed to the US invading Iraq, although Trump’s claim is suspect given that two months before the war, in a Fox News interview with Neil Cavuto, Trump expressed neither support nor opposition to the concept of invading Iraq. Meanwhile, Sanders lead the opposition to the war in Congress.

They both have pushed for pulling our troops out of Afghanistan. Sanders in an op-ed in Foreign Affairs wrote: “Withdrawing from Afghanistan is something we must do,”. Trump ran as the only candidate in 2016, of both Republicans and Democrats, who would remove our troops from that country but in his second year in office, he increased US military presence there. Now, facing reelection, he has resurrected his original promise to pull them out. Is he concerned that if Sanders is his opponent, Sanders will hammer Trump, like he did Hillary in committing our troops overseas fighting an “endless war”? That attack will cut deeper into Trump’s base than all the impeachment coverage that the Democrats generated.

Trump in an address to military members in 2017 complained that Americans were “weary of war without victory” and with a “foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly lives,” on trying to rebuild countries. Because Sanders is not a liberal interventionist, he is the strongest Democratic candidate that can win a fight with Trump on the need to rebuild our nation first before pursuing military ventures. And, he can accuse Trump of having failed in his promise to do just that.

Sanders, like Trump, has argued that the US has wasted billions in taxpayer dollars, allowing competitors such as Russia and China to exploit the “forever wars” and expand their political influence. This approach reflects Trump’s “America First” policy that would end US involvement in pointless wars in the Middle East and elsewhere and instead invest that money in rebuilding America’s economy. Sanders could pull off diplomacy oriented “America First” approach without Trump-like blustering tweets that have generated far more media coverage than foreign policy gains.

Russell Berman of The Atlantic aptly pointed out that “The U.S. has now elected two presidents in a row who were, or claimed to be, against the war. Sanders is hoping voters decide to pick a third.” It worked for Barak Obama, distinguishing himself from Hilary Clinton by his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq from its outset. It worked again for Trump who claimed to be against the war. Now Sanders is in a position to do it again.

It is insightful to note that 11 percent of Sander’s supporters in 2016, said they voted for Trump. Since it is likely that many of these folks were opposed to foreign military incursions, could there be a similar percentage of current Trump supporters moving over to Sanders if he is seen as being able to pull us out of “endless wars”?

Sanders is interested in avoiding military conflicts, but also in reshaping the military budget. He likely would challenge Trump’s massive expansion of our nuclear weapons program. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that Trump’s next biannual expenditure in this area would increase by $92 billion over the previous estimate of $400 made in 2017, which was already 15 percent higher than the previous 2015 estimate.

While much of this money purchases additional tactical nuclear weapons, in reality, they have been practically useless in achieving political objectives in military conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq or Afghanistan. That funding could be diverted to building up our failing national infrastructure of roads and drainage lines, and pursue projects to build high-speed rail, and G5 network to catch up with other nations. These projects would provide jobs that voters of both parties would like to see. Let Trump defend spending billions on nuclear weapons while the country falls apart. Who is the strongest candidate willing and able to challenge Trump’s military budget as more lard than meat?

The Russians may still prefer Trump, but if there is a Democratic President, they may see Sanders as someone they can work within reaching agreements that Trump has been unable to achieve, like securing a lasting Iranian agreement.

More importantly, they need someone to revive their nuclear arms treaty with the US, which President Reagan created but President Trump ditched. Putin does not want to be dragged into another nuclear arms race. It didn’t go well for the Soviet Union; it busted their economy. It will not go well for Putin’s government either. He needs to negotiate with a national leader whose foreign policy is not erratic and tied too closely to that leader’s whims.

Could Putin be willing to see Trump dumped?

Trump’s Acquittal may Flip the Senate

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Written by Nick Licata


 

 

senate

US Senate in session

The Senate’s acquittal of President Donald Trump could flip the Senate to the Democrats.  That is because swing voters could be more negatively influenced by the Republican’s Senate trial than the Democrats’ House impeachment. Why is that?

Compare each party’s main critique of the other party’s performance. Republicans charge the House Democrats for not proving their case that Trump was guilty of abusing his power or obstructing congress. The Democrats charge the Republicans in the Senate for not allowing critical new testimony and previously denied documents to be shown in the trial.

For voters not glued to their TV, the positions come down to this: the Democrats could have done a better job, like pursing the courts to get testimony or documents, while the Republicans barred the Senate from receiving additional relevant information.

The Republicans have the weaker message in addressing the issue of fairness because it boils down to “the Democrats needed to do a better job”. That is a charge that all of us have been blamed for at some point in our lives. It is not unique; it is not a direct accusation of not being fair. The Democrats are accused of rushing the impeachment, but they are also accused of holding the impeachment too near the next presidential election. That’s a confusing attack. It undermines the Republican’s argument because they criticize the Democrats for taking either action, which in itself is not seen as fair.

On the other hand, the charge of not allowing witnesses who have spoken directly to the President is unique. It is simple to understand as a necessary condition for conducting a fair trial. The Republican’s defense of why testimonies were not necessary is fractured. Some like Senator Lamar Alexander, say no more information is needed. They admit that the President did try to get a foreign power to influence his election, but it doesn’t require his removal from office. It’s an explanation that undercuts the President’s position that he did nothing wrong.

Republican Senators will be heading into a quagmire of endless explanations of why they voted for no testimonies as more of John Bolton’s book reveals the President’s involvement. Plus, the courts will likely force the Trump administration to release more damaging documents. As the Republicans’ justifications become longer and more complex, the public will lose interest in the details and just remember what the Senate failed to do. A simple message always overshadows a complex one, particularly if a simple one is repeated and supported by a unified group.

As Chris Wallace of Fox News said, the Democrats “will be able to argue, … from now until November that this was a cover-up and that all the Republican senators who are up for re-election in 2020 were part of that cover-up.” The Democrats just need to remind the public that trials involve “critical” witnesses and the Republican Senators denied their appearance. That decision might have saved the election for Trump, but it might also help the Democrats flip the Senate.

The Democrat House Managers in the Senate Trump trial repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to check the growing power of a president. The Senate failed to do so, and in a caviler manner because they assumed that Trump’s support is critical for winning their primary elections. But his support isn’t a magic potion for winning their general elections.

Admittedly Trump’s rallies are huge. As the Iowa caucuses were about to begin, Trump visited the state. As reported by The Hill, Trump attracted 7,000 people in Des Moines, twice the size that attended Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rally in Cedar Rapids, which his campaign claimed was the largest held by any Democrat during this political cycle in Iowa.

However, Trump’s ability to get his candidates elected is limited. In the 2019 Alabama Senate Race, Trump supported Luther Strange in the Republican primary, he lost to Ray Moore, who Trump then supported. He lost to Democrat Doug Jones, the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in 50 years.

A more telling measurement of Trump’s limited ability to help Republicans is to look at Trump’s endorsements of Republican Governor candidates in 2018 and 2019. Seven of his thirteen endorsed candidates going for an open seat or challenging an incumbent lost in 2018. Last year he endorsed in only four governor races, his candidate lost in three of them.

In the 2018 US Senate races, he did well with incumbents, but horribly with challengers, only four of his 14 endorsed candidates won. In 2019 there were no Senate races.

The Brookings Institute also did a study of how candidates fared in 2018 for House and Senate races where Trump and Democratic politicians endorsed them. Brookings tracked the PVI (partisan voter index) for the states or districts involved. Trump supported candidates in heavy Republican-leaning districts that measured R+7.6 whereas Biden chooses districts that swung districts with roughly divided support between the parties. Trump’s endorsed candidates won 56% of the elections, Biden’s won 76%. This is a pattern that could be repeated in statewide races where the urban higher educated voters, who have been steady conservative voters, are upset with Trump’s imperial behavior.

The takeaway is that since 2018 Trump’s ability to sweep other Republicans into office does not match his power to attract people to his rallies. That’s because Trump is a unique phenomenon to watch, but not a force in persuading swing voters to vote for his candidates. It appears that congressional candidates will be judged more on how well they have served or will serve in public office than whether Trump endorses them.

There is another unintended consequence of acquitting Trump that plays to the Democrats’ advantage. It mutes Trump’s image as a victim, which has energized his base of supporters to come out and save him. Now that he is a victor, there will be some relief among his core support and hence they could be less motivated to mobilize folks to get out and vote.

Meanwhile, Trump’s acquittal should stimulate Democrats to mobilize voters to do what the Senate refused to do. The public is on the same page as the Democrats. According to a January 28, 2020 poll by Quinnipiac University, 75% of voters said to allow witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial and 53% said President Trump was not telling truth about Ukraine. Although this is a national poll for all registered voters, it does show that Democrats have the potential to sweep up swing voters in key states to support Senators who would act as a check on Trump from further expanding his executive powers. If the Democrats run solid candidates to beat incumbent Republican Senators, they can campaign on stopping a Republican Senate from appointing one or two more Trump adherents to the Supreme Court.

The Trump Senate trial has provided the Democrats a platform for carrying a simple message: the public needs a functioning Senate. One that is a real government watchdog – not a guard dog for their party leader.

Senate Republicans have more to lose than the Senate Democrats in the Trump Trial

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Written by Nick Licata


 

 

Realistically the focus for the Democrats should be to sway public opinion, more than persuading the Republicans to convict Trump

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House Managers of the Trump Trial walking to the Senate

Now that President Donald Trump’s Senate Trial has begun there are some critical points to keep in mind in evaluating both the process and the likely outcome. All analysis, up to now, is based on the very low probability that 14 Republicans would break party ranks to convict Trump on the two articles of impeachment (Abuse of Power & Obstruction of Congress).

It is not likely they will abandon Trump, despite two recent developments. The nonpartisan Congressional General Accounting Office concluded Trump violated the law by withholding assistance to Ukraine. And, Lev Parnas, an associate of the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, said that Trump approved and directed public tax dollars to influence the election by asking Ukraine to investigate his potential main rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Republican senators won’t break from him because these “facts” don’t matter in their upcoming primary elections. It doesn’t matter if they lose liberal independents, they never had them, and in most states, they don’t vote in the primaries. As long as they can keep their core Republican primary voters, who are 90% plus behind Trump, they will win the primary.

But afterward, winning their general election could be severely jeopardized if the public perceives the trial as phony or not taken seriously by the Republicans. More importantly, the conservative independents, who are more Republican than Trumpites, could be swayed to vote for a Democrat who believes in the rule of law. That doesn’t mean those voters would necessarily go for liberal candidates, they could just sit on their hands and not vote. This is what makes the senate Republicans vulnerable, much more than their Democratic challengers.

For instance, there are 22 Republican senators up for reelection in 2020, while there are only 12 Democrats. Ballotpedia did an analysis of these races using the 2016 presidential election and race ratings from three of the top organizations analyzing the races (Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales) they identified 12 Republican incumbents and 5 Democratic incumbents as being potentially vulnerable. The Republicans have greater exposure.

The Democrats do not need to win the Senate trial by convicting Trump, no matter how much evidence that he should be. If the Republicans refuse testimony or admittance of documents, polls indicate that would alienate more voters than anything else. A poll taken ABC News and The Washington Post on December 10th, before the House voted for impeachment, showed 70% of

Americans believe that administration officials should be able to testify. That attitude crossed party lines; 79% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans and 72% of independents agree that Trump should allow them to appear in a Senate trial.

The struggle to control the trial’s image will not be a high drama TV event. The senators do not speak! Their questions or motions are submitted on paper to the presiding officer, i.e. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. He decides whether to bring them forward. If he refuses, he can be overruled by a simple majority of 51 senators. Almost all of the TV political pundits have made much of the 51 vote rule, which allows the Senate to create their own procedural rules for the trial. It gives control of the trial to the Republican since there are 53 of them.

There is a slight wrinkle in that description because the Standing Rules of the Senate details the rules of order of the United States Senate. Normally it takes a two-thirds vote to alter any of the 43 standing rules that were last adopted in 2000. These rules could serve as a possible hurdle for the Republicans, and they may seek to alter them to protect Trump.

In the past, both Democrat and Republican Senate majority leaders had employed a “nuclear” option, by using just a majority vote to permanently alter the standing rules. Both actions had to do with eliminating the 60-vote rule for approving federal judicial appointments, including Supreme Court nominations.

This means that the Republicans probably could exercise that authority; with 51 votes they could do anything. But if they use this nuclear option, it would appear to the public as an excessive force in manipulating the senate trial to Trump’s advantage. That could be the straw that breaks the public’s back in seeing the Republican-run senate trial as a fair one.

Most dangerous to the Republican senators seeking reelection this November, is that this move could dampen the support of their traditional conservative constituents to get out and vote for their reelection. Interestingly, one of the few mentions of the two-third rule being needed to change the senate’s standing rules was brought up by Fred Lucas, a reporter from the conservative The Daily Signal, which is funded entirely by The Heritage Foundation.

The conservative tradition is to respect the law and procedures. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejecting the request by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to have four White House officials testify during the impeachment trial is going to hurt the Republicans more than the Democrats. When the Republicans realize that problem, they will offer to repeat the process that was used in President Bill Clinton’s trial; having off-site testimony videotaped and then selected portions shared with the full senate.

Having live testimony with cross-examining, would make for a huge TV audience, but given the character of those testifying, the spectacle would likely confuse rather than educate the public on Trump’s guilt. Plus, there is no telling what they will say. In the Clinton senate trial, all of those testifying had done so before, so it was known what they were going to say.

The Democrats should propose having Chief Justice Roberts make the final decision on what portions of the videotaped testimony should be shared. Although the Republicans could overrule his decision, that action will be remembered by the public long after what was said in the testimony.

The bottom line for the Democrats, and the Republicans as well, is that their behavior will be judged as much as President Trump’s. Since he will not be present, the actions of the House Prosecution Managers and the President’s Defense Team will receive the immediate attention of the public watching and the media personalities commentating afterward.

The Minimum Wage Could be Raised in the Majority of States – This Year

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Written by Nick Licata

rallycityhall
The 2020 new year marks a historic landmark for dramatically improving many people’s living standards by increasing the minimum hourly wage. According to David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute, nearly 7 million workers will start the new year with higher wages. This is not due to Trump’s tax cut which reduced the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to as low as 20 percent. That change resulted in doubling the number of companies paying zero in taxes, according to research from the Center for Public Integrity.
Instead, guaranteed higher wages was a result of citizens working in their communities to make local governments accountable to them. This year half of the states will have raised the minimum hourly wage, an effort that was led by 22 city and county governments, with states now trying to catch up.
The movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 first caught the nation’s attention when in 2013 the Washington State city of SeaTac, with a population of less than thirty-thousand, passed a citizen’s initiative establishing it. A coalition of unions, faith groups, immigrant and community groups came together, inspired by one-day walkout strikes by non-union fast-food workers in New York City in the late fall of 2012. They demanded better working conditions and a $15 minimum wage. Walkouts by fast-food workers occurred early the next year in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee demanding a higher minimum wage.
SeaTac’s victory encouraged workers and citizens to mobilize in neighboring Seattle, with a population of over 600,000.  Astonishingly, within six months of Sea-Tac’s victory, Seattle became the first major city in the US to adopt a $15 minimum hourly wage for all employees, working part and full time, including those receiving tips.
Several books have described how this victory came about. My book, Becoming a Citizen Activist, begins with a glimpse of how the city council came to pass the legislation. More detailed descriptions of how the effort began in Sea-Tac and spread to Seattle are covered in David Rolf’s The Fight For $15 and Jonathan Rosenblum’s Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement.
The desire to raise minimum wages is not confined to large liberal cities. It crosses regional and political boundaries, uniting Grassroot efforts to challenge entrenched political parties who control the state governments. For example, look at how voters in both New Jersey and Missouri increased the minimum wage, overturning their governor’s and state legislator’s actions.
In November 2013, New Jersey voters effectively overrode Governor Chris Christie’s veto of the minimum wage bill the legislature had passed. The voters approved an increase through a ballot measure. These were not hard-core democrats since republican Christie and his lieutenant governor were re-elected with over 60% of the vote. In Missouri, voters passed a higher state minimum wage at the ballot box after state lawmakers nullified city minimum wage ordinances that had been enacted by local governments in Kansas City and St. Louis. Missouri is a trifecta state, where the republicans simultaneously hold the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers and since 2000, has voted 100% for a Republican presidential candidate. Raising the minimum wage once again was critical to voters who also voted republican.
These local and state actions have become necessary because congress, under the control of either the democrats or the republicans, has up to now, been unwilling or unable to increase the minimum wage. And it is about time that they act. The federal government last raised the minimum wage to $7.25 in July 2009, and since then its purchasing power has declined by 17 percent. This past July, the democratic controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Raise the Wage Act of 2019”, a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025.
It has been sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he has denied it an opportunity to be voted on, along with a hundred other bills from the House of Representatives that have been referred to the Senate.
However, no matter what occurs in D.C. this November, organizing must continue at the local and state level. Below are some strategies to consider for doing so.
Five Critical Strategic Steps For Passing
Higher Minimum Wage Legislation at the Local Level.
First, Have dedicated staff –  there must be full-time staff working with community groups to provide them outreach services. Unions, like SEIU and HERE Unite, that have been in the forefront and others who are involved, may have paid staff to fill that role. Unions provided the organizational strength that allowed both SeaTac and Seattle to ultimately succeed. Meanwhile, the faith community’s organizations are more likely to provide a pool of volunteers to work with paid staff and reach out regularly to their membership.
Second, Do good research – it is critical to provide reliable data to the public. The executive director, John Burbank, and the policy director, Marilyn Watkins, of the local and nationally recognized think tank, the Economic Opportunity Institute, provided data to convince both politicians and the public that raising the minimum wage was good for the economy. On a national level, Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper continues to track efforts to increase the minimum wage throughout the nation. That research does not end after legislation is passed, because those opposed to this type of government regulation will continue to site studies that could eliminate or hamper such legislation. Watkins’ article Poor research leads to poor findings on minimum wageprovides a perfect example of why such attention is needed, as she systematically dissects a study critical of increasing the minimum wage.
Third, Work with politicians – community groups need to identify and work with elected officials who are willing to champion, support or even discuss the need for increasing the minimum wage. Timing is important. If there is an election, use it to promote increasing the minimum wage. As a city council candidate, socialist Kshama Sawant built a grassroots $15 Now campaign and made increasing the minimum wage an issue that both Mayoral candidates adopted in the general election.
Even without introducing legislation, a local councilmember can hold public forums to get information out to the public and to other politicians. Ady Barkan, the founding director of the national network of one thousand elected municipal officials, Local Progress, writes in his book Eyes to the Wind, how Local Progress worked with me to bring national experts and councilmembers from other cities to a Seattle symposium to discuss how minimum wage legislation could help employees avoid poverty while expanding the economy. Three months later the Seattle City Council passed the legislation.
Fourth, Involve national groups – without the support of groups like Local Progress and SEIU, Seattle’s effort would have had to rely just on local resources. National groups are not going to win a campaign, but they can bring in resources, like speakers, national media, and critical strategic advice. If they can send a representative to your city, make it a media event by inviting the public to hear them. Also, line up interviews for them with reporters, bloggers, politicians and opinion leaders.
Fifth, Feed all types of media – use social media to broadcast events, solicit volunteers and educate the public. Use the radio to appear on talk show programs, all of them. It doesn’t matter if the host is a conservative, as long as you can get your message out, you will pick up some support. Meet regularly with bloggers to give them an inside look at what is happening on this issue and do the same with newspaper columnists and reporters. Don’t forget to reach out to the community, church, and any group that has an electronic newsletter.
To borrow from Eric Lou’s book title, You’re More Powerful than You Think. Now you just have to work with others to exercise that power to get your local government to raise the minimum wage.

Seattle’s Urban Light Rail Needed Transparency to Get Built

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Written by: Nick Licata


 

Back-on-track

 

I often read the inspiring tale of The Little Train That Could to my two-year-old granddaughter.  When she gets older, I should read her Bob Wodnik’s book, Back on Track – Sound Transit’s Fight to Save Light Rail, because like that children’s book it is inspiring.

Wodnik served as the senior communications specialist from 1999 to 2017, for the Seattle region’s bus-rail agency, Sound Transit. He tells the inside story of how transit advocates fought against an array of formidable critics to build the multi-billion dollar Link Light rail train network, now running from north Seattle to the SeaTac Airport far south of the city for a total of 22 miles.

The book is not an analysis of how this system compares to other options that could have been pursued. Seattle would have been the only city in the country with a major monorail system but after passing four ballot votes, it was defeated on the fifth, and construction never began. There have also been proponents for building an alternative Rapid Bus System, using dedicated lanes. But it never came close to a city-wide vote, despite the critics providing details and statistics on how such a system could work. And finally, some relied on just paving more roads instead of laying down rail – a solution attempted in other cities without lasting traffic congestion relief,  the roads just fill as soon as they are built.

But getting broad public approval for building an urban rail system is not an easy sell to the public. Approving a fixed-rail rapid transit for a city is one of the most contentious decisions that an urban populace can make. It is often rejected through popular votes, as has happened in Austin, Tampa, San Antonio, Nashville, and in Seattle, where it was defeated at the election polls in 1968,1970, and 1995.

Wodnik clearly reveals the internal problems that plagued Sound Transit’s initial debut. It struggled to gain creditability, after its massive budget gap was revealed, with some of the most influential regional players, like the Chamber of Commerce and the daily newspapers suggesting that the project was a loser. Public officials, both Democrats, and Republicans, including two former governors, Booth Gardner and John Spellman, two County Council members, Maggie Fimia and Rob McKenna, and two city councilmembers, Peter and I, severely criticized its management for lack of transparency.

The turning points for Seattle came in 1988 when a countywide advisory ballot to build light rail passed with 70% approval but with no costs attached, and in 1996, when the proposal, with costs, identified, passed in the three contiguous counties, King, Snohomish, and Pierce. Their county councils would have representatives on the newly created Sound Transit board, which had the authority to build light rail, commuter train and rapid ride bus lines for the region. The bus lines became the workhorses, out of the limelight but delivering early results. The commuter rail, although struggling for ridership, did not create opposition like the light rail system.

In a suspenseful tale, Wodnik details how it took 13 years to open Light Link rail, fighting off opposition from eight different organized citizen groups, seven lawsuits and often the two daily newspapers. They were accused of ignoring the poorest neighborhood in Seattle, the Rainier Valley when the light rail was to be on the surface and not buried in a tunnel.

On the other hand, they were also accused of mission creep as various interest groups argued for different rail alignments that best suited a business and residential community’s needs.  Such competing objectives, which is typical in other urban rail projects, it is a wonder how they succeeded? Wodnik attributes it to hard work, luck and a focused leader.
Sound Transit’s main challenge was getting out solid and consistent information to the public. People often support the idea of rapid transit, it’s in accepting the details and cost that dilutes that support; focus groups strongly favored Seattle having a light rail system, but not so much when the details were revealed.

The biggest revelation occurred at the end of 2000 when the newly hired and highly competent  Joni Earl was hired. The former city manager for Mill Creek, and a trained accountant, took only two months to discover that Sound Transit’s Link Rail cost estimates were a billion off and would take 3 years longer to finish the project than what was promised to the voters.

Multiple newspapers, including the Daily Journal of Commerce, skewered the agency for its arrogance. The Federal Transit Administration’s Inspector General undertook a two-year investigation to out any fraud that may have occurred, holding up a half a billion-dollar grant that Sound Transit desperately needed. No fraud was found, but public trust in the agency was not shored up until the agency opened up its first stage of light link rail, running from downtown Seattle to the airport in 2009.

Wodnik presents both light rail critics and advocates fairly. The core supporters, however, were not the often skeptical business leaders. Instead, all but one of the eighteen major players he lists at the front of the book, were Sound Transit employees and board members who believed that a public rapid transit system was desperately needed to meet Seattle’s tremendous growth. Between 1960 and 1990 the number of jobs in Central Puget Sound more than doubled, the population grew 82%, and the number of registered vehicles was increasing faster than the population.

Although Sound Transit’s Link Rail teetered on failure, it did get built. Although some critics might claim that was because big money backed the project, there was no evidence presented that building a light rail system was conjured up in some backroom deal. Instead, the increased traffic congestion in Seattle brought about a large public recognition that something had to be done to move people around in a better way. It’s a condition that other cities have also struggled with.

In the end, Seattle’s Light Link rail’s success came down to the critical need for competent management of a multi-billion dollar project. Wodnik strongly credits its CEO Joni Earl, for leading that agency through its rocky years to get Sound Transit back on track. Such leadership, and continuous public oversight,  is needed to bring an urban rail system into any city and to keep it accountable to the public.

Fired Prosecutor Is Trump’s Savior from Impeachment

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By Nick Licata


 

The Republican Defense of Trump Relies on a Ukrainian Prosecutor Removed from Office for Tolerating Corruption 

ViktorShokin

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor Shokin – Wikipedia photo

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have repeatedly asked Ukraine to open an investigation into their country’s corruption. Rather than work with, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, Ukraine’s current General Prosecutor, a position that is similar to our Attorney General, they have sought out a former prosecutor who was removed for refusing to pursue charges against individuals and corporations that had been identified by his own office as corrupt. Is there a gap in logic here?

That prosecutor is Viktor Shokin. He was appointed by the oligarch Petro Poroshenko who won the election for president as a reformist after the Euromaidan 2014/15 populist revolt against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Shokin was not a holdover from that corrupt government, so the expectation was that he would diligently pursue those who had bilked the Ukrainian people out of billions of dollars.

Although Shokin only served from Feb 11, 2015, until March 29, 2016, his term in office became controversial. He had come under repeated criticism within Ukraine for not prosecuting officials, businessmen and members of parliament for their roles in corrupt schemes under the former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

That mounting dissatisfaction with Shokin was reflected in December of 2015 when the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, said there were no vigorous efforts to combat the kind of self-dealing that had occurred in the past. Meanwhile, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, which props up Ukraine financially, said fighting corruption was so weak that “it’s hard to see how I.M.F. support can continue.”

Shokin was also implicated in tolerating corruption within his own department after troves of diamonds, cash, and other valuables were found in the homes of two of Mr. Shokin’s subordinates, suggesting that they had been taking bribes. When prosecutors in Shokin’s office tried to bring the subordinates to trial, they were fired or resigned, and there was no further inquiry. Shokin’s own deputy, Vitaliy Kasko, resigned in February 2016, alleging that Shokin’s office was itself corrupt.

Because Shokin was not investigating other serious signs of corruption,  foreign donors suspected their contributions were being stolen without restraint Americans provided them support. Vice President Joe Biden visited Ukraine in 2015 and 2016 to complain about the ongoing stalled efforts to fight corruption by the prosecutor’s office.

In his last visit, March 2016, Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees if Ukraine failed to address corruption by employing a new more aggressive general prosecutor. The Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Shokin by a comfortable margin that same month.

Given the breadth of Shokin critics, stemming from street demonstrations to the head IMF official, and in the end even his own deputy, it is puzzling why our President Trump, would go out of his way to describe him as a “very good” former prosecutor to the new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25, 2019 call.

Also, why would Congressman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, in December 2018, meet with Shokin in Vienna, 2 years after Shokin left the office. Nunes has denied that the meeting took place. Public records do show that Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018, with three of his aides. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s very short four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000.

Shokin told President Trump’s personal attorney Rudi Giuliani associate Lev Parnas that he had met Nunes. Parnas is willing to testify under oath before congress of what he knows, but unless there was a third person present, who is willing to appear before Congress, it will be Parnas’s word against Nunes’s. Shokin has worked closely with the Russian government and they would not look kindly on him if he were to confirm anything that endangered Trump’s presidency.

Giuliani had previously met Shokin because he had started investigating Burisma as the former prosecutor-general. Nunes was probably encouraged by Giuliani to visit Shokin to gather some incriminating information about Hunter Biden. However, Shokin’s investigations were either dropped or dormant by the time he was fired.

His lack of pursuing an investigation of Burisma was noted by the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC). Daria Kaleniuk a leader of AntAC told the NYT, “Shokin was not investigating. He didn’t want to investigate Burisma. And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation.” Just before he was fired, Shokin’s office raided the AntAC headquarters, claiming that it had misappropriated aid money.

While there is no smoking gun or a tape recording of the Nunes meeting with Shokin, the likelihood of such a meeting makes sense. Parnas had worked with Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort as a lobbyist for Ukraine at a time when Ukraine’s government was aligned with Russian interests under the former president Yanukovych. Parnas was also working with Giulani to push Ukraine to open an investigation on Hunter Biden since he was on the Burisma company board. Although Shokin has claimed that if he was still in office, he would have investigated Biden, he did not while he was the prosecutor.

It is reasonable to believe that Shokin would have told Parnas that he had met with Nunes since all three were trying to discover if Biden had participated in corruption. They were all on the same team.  Additionally, Nunes was about to relinquish his committee chairmanship to a democrat since they would be in control of the House of Representatives the next month. Interviewing Shokin may have given Nunes an opportunity to make one last media splash if Shokin had something valuable and newsworthy to share.

Republicans would surely have released any item that Shokin could produce that would incriminate Biden. They haven’t. But Trump and the Republicans still insist that he was fired because Vice President Biden demanded it. Trump accuses Biden of fearing that his son Hunter Biden could be drawn into some corruption scandal. He may have feared that but none of the three last general prosecutors have investigated Hunter Biden and all have said that they have had no reason to.

The bottom line is that Trump and the Republicans suspect that Hunter and papa Joe are somehow connected to corruption in Ukraine. However, the only prosecutor they trust for information is the only one that the Russians trust – Shokin, who was kicked out of office by a duly elected parliament – for being corrupt.

The 20th Anniversary of the WTO Battle in Seattle

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Originally posted at the Medium. Written by Nick Licata.


 

The freedom to dissent was tested as the US closed out the twentieth century with a demonstration that grabbed the world’s attention. Forty thousand citizens marched through Seattle’s downtown on November 30, 1999, to protest a meeting of the World Trade Organization Ministerial (WTO.)

Having decided to hold its third biannual meeting in the US, over forty cities competed to host it. Seattle beat out the others by promising to spend over $9 million, almost twice as much as the nearest bid from Honolulu. The City Council wasn’t asked to approve the offer because the Seattle Host Organization, consisting of members from the region’s major corporations and chaired by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, promised to pick up the tab, although they ended contributing far less.

This was to be the most important trade conference ever held in the US; the newly formed WTO was assuming powers that far outstripped its predecessors. In particular, it would not only continue to regulate manufactured goods, but services, intellectual property, and agriculture would be added.

More importantly, it would have the authority to require the elimination of local labor standards and environmental protections if they violated trade agreements. It was a wet dream for corporate leaders bent on expanding trade opportunities, and a nightmare for those defending worker rights and the environment.

Without firing a shot, the world was seeing the formation of a new international power. The context for Seattle’s WTO meeting was set, it would not happen without vocal and visible dissent from those affected.

To publicize our city council’s concerns with the WTO, I sponsored, and the council unanimously passed, resolution number 29926 in April, expressing the Council’s ability to regulate and pass laws regarding environmental protection and fair labor practices within its jurisdiction and that it opposed international agreements that could restrict that ability. It was a small attempt to support those opposing WTO’s growing power.

Just as delegates from the 130 countries and the several thousand media correspondents were preparing to attend, so were citizen activists. I met with Mike Dolan from Public Citizen; a Ralph Nader initiated organization, in the spring of 1999 to discuss how to create an open environment in which citizens could be heard. Dolan was building community support by acquiring venues to accommodate a huge number of open educational meetings.

Meanwhile, another organization from San Francisco, the International Forum on Globalization, organized two-day teach-in the pristine downtown Benaroya Symphony Hall. Each day more than 2,500 attendees packed the hall to listen to an analysis of how WTO was reshaping the world around profits, not human needs.

Opposition to the WTO came from three groupings distinguished by their tactics and objectives. By far the largest one was a precedent-setting alliance between organized labor and environmental groups, referred to as the “Teamsters and turtles” coalition, due to hundreds of protestors appearing in sea turtle costumes to protest WTO’s rules harming sea life. Labor leaders, for their part, wanted any new WTO trade agreement to set minimum labor standards in factories around the world, so as not to drag down labor agreements in the US.

Although they tussled over whether saving jobs or the environment was more important, they recognized that they faced a common fate of being sacrificed on the alter-of-trade if they didn’t ultimately shrink WTO’s authority. Their tactic was to organize and lead tens of thousands of demonstrators in a permitted march into downtown. I participated, walking alongside AFL-CIO President Sweeny and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and a number of other labor and Congressional leaders who were present.

The second group, numbering perhaps a thousand, came together under an umbrella group, the Direct Action Network (DAN) whose publicized objective was to use non-violent civil disobedience (calling for no property destruction) to stop the WTO from the meeting. Their long-term goal was to create a mass movement to challenge global capital, “making a radical change and social revolution.” Their actions evolved from independent affinity groups that had been training for months on their tactics.

They arrived downtown hours before the mass march was to arrive. By forming large circles of protestors with arms interlocked with duct tape or bicycle locks, they successfully blocked major intersections. Delegates were unable to enter the Washington State Convention & Trade Center while buses and cars were suddenly diverted around the downtown retail core to avoid the protestors.

The third and smallest group, numbering a hundred at most, consisted of militant anarchists, referred to the black block. They systematically blockaded streets with newspaper boxes and smashed the windows of retail outlets owned by exploitive corporations. They also reached the downtown core before the mass march.

The media showered this group with attention while ignoring the anti-WTO forums. Throwing a garbage can through a store window certainly is more eye-catching than a snapshot of a room full of people listening to a lecture. But I couldn’t help but ask, which is better suited for building a lasting informed social movement for change?

As November 30, 1999 approached, public officials had recognized there would be thousands of protestors. Even President Bill Clinton told the workers at a Harley Davidson factory before heading to Seattle, “Every group in the world with an ax to grind is going to Seattle. I told them all, I wanted them to come… I want everybody to get this all out of their system…”

Mayor Paul Schell, a former war protestor himself, said Seattle would welcome all who came to protest peacefully against WTO. And I got the City Council, through a resolution, to request that the Mayor help accommodate all visitors arriving for the Ministerial, by encouraging “…organizations who are serving demonstrators coming to our community to explore opportunities to ensure adequate lodgings and homestays.” It was going to be needed; Mike Dolan informed me that there were 750 Accredited Non-Governmental Organizations actively recruiting people to attend the WTO ministerial.

I had attended a number of meetings between our police leadership and leaders of the mainstream protestor groups, to see if they could agree on how to proceed with the demonstrations. Representatives from both sides were cautious and the meetings were inconclusive. The reality was that dissent would be taking many forms and no amount of volunteer parade marshals could keep folks walking in a straight line down the road.

There was anger in the air that the City did not take into account. Our police showed pictures to the councilmembers of what happened sixteen months earlier at the WTO’s second ministerial conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Five thousand protestors gathered there, firebombing three autos and damaging other cars and stores. The Seattle police were scared but the mainstream protest leaders assured them they would lead a peaceful march.

As I walked down First Avenue with thousands of other protestors from the huge AFL-CIO rally held about a mile north of downtown, I felt that we would show the world how much opposition there was to WTO’s plans. At the front of the march were labor leaders and Congressmen.

When we reached the retail core, we were to proceed to a gathering spot and not continue to the Convention Center; however, some protestors emerged from the march and encouraged us to veer towards it. Confusion reigned and the march splintered into smaller streams of protestors.

Meanwhile, the DAN group blocked the main intersections and the black block faction attacked Starbuck and Nike stores, spraying graffiti on their windows that had not been smashed.

Perhaps stunned by the violence and not prepared for a strategic response the police initially failed to intervene with those smashing windows. The parades’ monitors took up protective positions outside some of the retail stores, fearing that the plate glass windows being shattered by handkerchief-masked anarchists would overshadow their own orderly protesting.

Even as the police began using tear gas to break up DAN’s circles to allow the WTO delegates to enter the Convention Center, a couple of blocks away from other protestors, many in costumes, chanted, waved signs and even danced in the streets. David Solnit, one of DAN’s organizers, described the scene as a festival of resistance, from which the labor leaders and congressional representatives quietly slipped away.

With the situation deemed dangerous for the upcoming visit of President Clinton, Mayor Schell declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew on most of downtown starting at 7:00 p.m. The police moved into the crowds in late afternoon using pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets to end the demonstrations and property damage.

Several hundred protestors were pushed up into the dense residential Capitol Hill neighborhood abutting the Convention Center. Not confident of securing downtown for the next day, Mayor Schell issued another emergency order establishing a “no protest zone” — in 25 blocks of downtown.

Governor Locke called in the National Guard, so that by daylight on Wednesday, troops lined its perimeter.   Police then used tear gas to disperse any crowds. More than 500 people, including downtown residents and employees leaving work, were jailed that day for not clearing out from the heart of downtown Seattle. In the evening, a smaller contingency of protestors returned to shout and throw debris at the police, who responded with concussion grenades and large quantities of tear gas, fearing they would be overrun. The firefighters’ union refused a request to turn their fire hoses on the protestors.

Although accusations were repeated in the media that firebombs and bags of urine were thrown at the officers, later investigations revealed that to be false. Wednesday evening, the protestors and the police were once again in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, infuriating residents, as their main retail street became a battleground.

Having lived on Capitol Hill for twenty-five years I walked the familiar streets talking to both police officers and protestors, in a vain attempt to lower the level of hostility. There was no room for any rationale dialogue in an atmosphere filled with fear and pepper gas. On Thursday, the President left and both the police and the protestors ratcheting down their confrontations while the WTO meeting petered out.

Did the massive and confrontational expression of citizen dissent achieve its objective? The massive outpouring of protesters did play the most visible role in stopping the WTO from reaching a new trade agreement.  However, it was also widely acknowledged that intense divisions among its delegates also contributed to that failure.

It remains as the only one of nine WTO meetings held up to 2013 that did not issue a Ministerial Declaration, perhaps because it was the only one that experienced massive citizen opposition. Other WTO Ministerial were held in places that did not allow or severely restricted demonstrations, like Dubai and Singapore, or were in difficult places to reach with few accommodations like Cancun. And, those that were held in Geneva never saw as many protestors as appeared in Seattle.

Supporters of WTO and those critical of the protestors, accused political leaders of inviting trouble when they encouraged citizens to Seattle to demonstrate their opposition. They ignored the basic principle of our American democracy, a strong faith in the right to assemble and protest.

Seattle, known as a tolerant city, was portrayed as naïve in expecting things to go peacefully. Perhaps, but more importantly, the City was not prepared for massive demonstrations. Review reports issued from the ACLU, the Police Department and the City Council all concluded that our police force was not properly trained for crowd control or for moving in quickly to isolate those destroying property.

While both DAN members and the police agreed in advance that their members would be arrested peacefully, the police relied on teargas and pepper spray to accomplish that task, which needlessly affected all those nearby. Perhaps the worse example of the police response was their pursuit of protestors up to Capitol Hill where uninvolved residents, business owners, and shoppers found themselves breathing in teargas or even arrested for being in the wrong spot while the police rounded up protestors. Those actions and the Mayor’s enactment of a no protest zone treated many citizens as criminals.

Eight years later in January 2007, a federal jury found that the city had violated protesters’ Fourth Amendment constitutional rights by arresting them without probable cause or hard evidence. Although the Council passed the Mayor’s emergency declarations, I and Councilmembers Peter Steinbrueck, and Richard Conlin voted against it.

After the WTO meeting ended, the city council held two public hearings to allow citizens to air their grievances. The first evening went from 4 pm to 1 am and the second one took almost as long, with over three hundred people testifying. Their complaints were similar to the emails I received; a few blamed the protestors for all the trouble but most were critical of the police response.

“Mr. Licata, they are smashing up downtown, you’re personally responsible since you supported them.”

“You welcomed the protestors, in Seattle 52 years, it’s become a sewer, why aren’t you in Westlake to quite these people down. Why wasn’t City prepared for anarchists? You expect taxpayers to pay for all this? I’d fine them, make them clean it up, and then cut their nuts off.”

“Yesterday Police let hooligans get away with too much. Today people with legitimate protests are being mistreated. Disgusted with the situation.”

 “I’m upset about Police actions downtown, throwing tear gas canisters at peaceful protestors all day; I’m a resident and taxpayer, and got a mouthful of it. I’m outraged that Police we pay to protect us would do this.”

“I was impartial about events before, but seeing what Mayor and SPD have done is wrong and illegal, going way too far, I hope there are repercussions for Mayor and the Police Department.”

“The Police action on Capitol Hill last night was like military action, it was indiscriminate, no reason for it. Whoever authorized it should be fired.”

Police Chief Norm Stamper resigned soon after the protestors and the WTO delegates had left town. Latter he said using tear gas was wrong and that there was a need to move away from paramilitary tactics in policing. Mayor Paul Schell lost his next election, failing to get past the primary, in part due to the WTO events.

The City Council formed a special WTO Accountability Review Committee, which convened three independent citizen panels and had staff review more than 14,000 documents accompanied by interviews with key individuals.

The Council then passed three separate pieces of legislation. The first (Ordinance 120096) required every SPD peace officer to wear a nametag on the outermost layer of the peace officer’s uniform since many accusations of police abuse could not be traced to any specific officer. The second (Resolution 30340) implemented a new process notifying the Council of any solicitation of major events and allowed them to formally review any requests made of the city. This would allow the City Council an opportunity to have a public process, if necessary, for evaluating the impact of a controversial gathering.  Lastly, the procedures used to declare and/or terminate a civil emergency were modified to allow greater Council control over how long one would remain in force.

The WTO meeting came to be known at the Battle in Seattle. Were the protests a legitimate expression of concern for our citizens wanting to protect their jobs and quality of life? Or as critics charged, were the protestors just hooligans and anarchists’ intent on destroying our civil society?

Observations from both the police and the media noted that the latter group made up less than a half percent of all who protested. Despite the critics who charged that Seattle’s reputation had been irreversibly damaged, overall holiday sales rose 6 percent in 1999 and Seattle has gone on to become one of the most economically prosperous cities in the country, while still promoting strong labor protection laws and environmental regulations.

All parties agreed that the public suddenly became aware of the WTO and its growing international power.  Despite the media’s attention on the vandalizing of property, a month later, in January 2000, a Business Week opinion poll found that 52 percent of Americans sympathized with the WTO protestors in Seattle.

What had been had been buried in the back pages of the business section had now emerged as an important topic of debate within our democracy. The massive turn out by thousands of protestors in Seattle, proved the effectiveness of citizens exercising their right to publically and forcefully dissent to alter the course of their democracy when it threatens their livelihood and quality of life.