• Tenants Fight for Rent Control in LB

    The #RentControlNOW Coalition is hosting a campaign kick-off. Tenants are set to begin collecting signatures for a proposed rent control ballot measure. The proposed ordinance, if approved by the voters, would establish residential rent control and “just cause for eviction” requirements in Long Beach.
    Time: 12 p.m. Feb. 11
    Details: (562) 436-8592.
    Venue: MacArthur Park, 1321 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

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  • Brown Declares Fred Korematsu Day

    • 01/31/2018
    • RL Intern
    • Briefs
    • Comments are off

    SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day.

    Fred Korematsu was born on Jan. 30, 1919 in Oakland, Calif. He was a civil rights leader who refused to relocate under the Japanese-American internment policy during World War II.  He was arrested for his defiance. The case reached the Supreme Court, which ruled against his case arguing that internment was necessary for military operations.

    In 1983, a legal historian discovered documents that government intelligence agencies with held from the Supreme Court. The hidden documents proved that Japanese Americans did not commit acts of treason that would justify mass incarceration. After 40 years, documents on Korematsu’s case resurfaced. His conviction was overturned in federal court.

    Korematsu continued to dedicate this life to activism. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. Korematsu Day is the first day in the United States to be named after an Asian American. He died on March 30, 2005 at the age of 86.

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  • Smoky Doky BBQ Provides Smoke, Spice, Time

    • 01/31/2018
    • Richard Foss
    • Cuisine
    • Comments are off

    By Richard Foss, Food and Cuisine Writer

    People who bake from scratch can get sniffy about those who use shortcuts like packaged recipes or (shudder) frozen dough. I was talking with one such perfectionist who sneered at such practices with the memorable line, “You may be baking something when you use those, but you’re not a baker.” Shortcuts just don’t teach the reflexes of the craft, the understanding of the process that lets you make an extraordinary rather than average product.

    But baking snobs are far eclipsed by barbecue purists, who refuse to even dignify the weekend amateur’s tools with their common names. The metal thing in your backyard that sits on a wheeled tripod? It’s not a barbecue, it’s a grill, because you can’t use indirect heat to smoke the meat. That passel of chicken legs you tossed on a hot fire after dousing them with sauce doesn’t pass muster – you didn’t season them with a dry rub, smoke them for a few hours, and add the sauce at the last minute so it caramelizes but doesn’t burn.

    All this would just be chatter if those who really concentrate on barbecue didn’t make a superior product. Properly made chicken, pork chops, or steaks from that backyard grill can be delicious, but they can’t have the complex mix of flavors that hardwood smoke and dry rubs can impart.

    Daniel Jess is the pitmaster at Smoky Doky BBQ. Photo by Richard Foss

    For a taste of master-level barbecue, you might visit Smoky Doky, a little spot in Wilmington presided over by pitmaster Daniel Jess. (Sure, pitmaster sounds like a title for a minor character in Game of Thrones; maybe the one who handles Daenerys’ dragons while she’s away. It is however the term of art for those who craft traditional barbecue.)

    Like most small barbecue joints, Smoky Doky doesn’t try to make a wide variety of items. They’re specialists, and if you don’t want brisket, tri-tip, chicken, pork ribs, or pulled pork, you’re in the wrong place. They have the classic complementary sides — macaroni and cheese, potato salad, cheese potatoes, beans, and coleslaw, but nothing to set a vegetarian’s heart aflutter.

    The technique here is tried and true: rub the various meats with a mix of salt and pepper and then put them in a smoker for just the right amount of time. In the case of the brisket and ribs, add a crust of herbs dominated by chopped rosemary. Then let that aromatic, slightly sweet hickory smoke do its work for exactly the right amount of time. When the smoke has seeped into the meat and flavored it through and through, giving the exterior a caramelized crust that experts call bark, it’s done. When you cut into it, you’ll see the pink halo around the edge that is nicknamed the smoke ring. Most of the fats and collagen in the meat will have dissolved during the long, slow cooking process, so the meat will be very juicy and tender. The sauce will be offered on the side for those who want it. You should try the meat unsauced before adding it.

    What Jess does is mostly traditional, except for the bit about adding rosemary to some rubs. That’s an interesting choice since rosemary crusts are usually used for roasting lamb or prime rib, not barbecue. The rub here is peppery compared to some others, so those who like a big herb and spice flavor will love it while others may max out on the cumulative effect of the seasoning.

    Your best first-visit tactic is to order a combination plate and ask for at least one of the meats that use that rosemary rub. I suggest a three-item with the ribs, brisket and chicken so you can try three critters and two rubs, though if you want to sample everything get a five-item combo which ought to handle two people. I like the beans, which have a nice oniony tang, and the creamy macaroni and cheese. The coleslaw is pretty good too. I haven’t tried the other two sides, because I was saving space for the meats.

    All meals come with Hawaiian sweet rolls and a mildly peppery sauce that has a balance of vinegar and tomato in the base. I prefer Smoky Doky’s meat just as it comes out of the smoker, but it’s worth dipping a few times to enjoy the effect. Plates also come with your choice of soft drink from the usual selections.

    The little storefront has minimal space to dine in, a pair of narrow and not particularly comfortable counters with stools, so most people get theirs to go. My recommendation is to drive a few minutes to Banning Park and find a nice bench under a tree. There’s something primal about eating barbecue outdoors. And while I can’t prove that it tastes better, it just feels right. (Sorry, no pits to throw your bones into at the park like a true cave dweller so please be sure to dispose of your containers properly.)

    Smoky Doky is the only place making traditional barbecue in the area, and they do it well enough to please the most exacting purist. After you try it you’ll still like properly grilled meat, which has its own charm, but you’ll understand the majesty of barbecue as it was meant to be.

    Smoky Doky is at 223 W. Anaheim Street in Wilmington. See the menu online at smokydokybbq.com. It’s open six days a week Tuesday through Sunday.

    Details:  (424) 364-0588.

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  • AltaSea Names McOsker as CEO

    • 01/30/2018
    • RL Intern
    • Briefs
    • Comments are off

    SAN PEDRO — On Jan. 25, AltaSea’s Board of Trustees named Tim McOsker as its chief executive officer. The appointment will be effective Feb. 1.

    McOsker, a life-long San Pedro resident, is chairman of the board of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and a board member of Harbor Interfaith Services. He also has been heavily involved in development efforts for the University of Notre Dame, his alma mater.

    McOsker is a lawyer and civic leader. McOsker has served the Los Angeles and Southern California in a variety of public leadership roles, including as chief of staff for former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and as Hahn’s chief deputy city attorney. He represented AltaSea in critical 2017 lease renegotiations with the Port of Los Angeles.

    McOsker will continue to serve clients as a partner at Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro LLP, where he is co-chairman of the Government and Regulatory Law Department.

    McOsker’s naming is the result of a search initiated by Krusoe for a talented, highly respected executive skilled in the kinds of contracting and growth activities that will dominate the organization’s focus in coming months.

    His responsibilities will include signing additional tenants, finalizing major operating partnerships, taking control of additional parcels, and beginning their development and remediation. As CEO, McOsker will oversee contracts, leases, land deals and partnership negotiations.

    Jenny Krusoe will continue as executive director, focusing on fundraising, grants, external communications, special events and long-term vision. Krusoe will report to McOsker, working closely with him in areas such as budget, board relations and organizational planning. She will also continue to oversee day-to-day operations.

    AltaSea, a nonprofit organization, was created to reshape 35 acres in the oldest part of the Port of Los Angeles into a center for ocean-oriented science research, STEM education and sustainable business creation.

    “AltaSea is a complete game changer for San Pedro and our surrounding community and will usher in our region’s tech-based future,” McOsker said. “Now we need to build the organizational infrastructure for an efficient, sustainable, cost-effective operation that can realize all of AltaSea’s great promise.”

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Rally, March to Ban MHF

    The Torrance Refinery Action Alliance will be hosting a rally and march to ban modified hydrofluoric acid. The call for a ban is a response to the ExxonMobil explosion three years ago.
    Time: 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Feb. 17
    Details: info@TRAASouthBay.com, TRAASouthBay.com
    Venue: Columbia Park, 4045 W. 190th St., Torrance

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  • Art Comes Alive in Representational Acts

    • 01/30/2018
    • Melina Paris
    • Art
    • Comments are off

    By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer

    On Jan. 20, the Cuban-born, New York-based artist, Carlos Martiel, stood unclothed, alone in a dark room. A motion sensor triggered by people walking in,  illuminated a constellation on the artist’s body.

    Carlos Martiel, Expulsion, 2015. 4th Thessaloniki Performance Festival, 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece. Photo: Dimitris Mermigas

    Stars from the flags of countries in the Western Hemisphere were fixed with string to his body. The artist stood completely still. Various- sized stars on his body and four more on the floor in front and behind him were lit in iridescent blue.

    The constellation represented a conceptual map in which no state is superior to another. Instead, they come together within a unified field. The visual of Martiel’s nakedness cloaked in galactic darkness combined with the unprejudiced constellation that was sewn on to him was striking in its beauty; it also implied peace and fixed nature. The performance was called América.

    Another perspective is that the performance asserted the legacy and history of the Western Hemisphere as if it’s written into the skin, indeed, into the very DNA of those of us rooted in the New World.

    Martiel was one of three artists, including Andil Gosine from Trinidad and Jimmy Robert from Guadeloupe (an island in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean), to stage a performance at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach entitled, Representational Acts, on Jan. 20.

    Representational Acts is thematically linked to the Pacific Standard Time exhibition at MOLAA, Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago, which runs through March 4.

    Our Holy Waters and Mine

    Gosine’s work draws from his background as a queer Indo-Trinidadian man. In Our Holy Waters, and Mine, Gosine looks to the experience of South Asian migration to the Caribbean by referencing indentured servitude and Kala Pani (“black waters”), the Hindu taboo against crossing the sea, and how that relates to his own history.

    Kala Pani belief implies that crossing the seas causes the loss of social respectability and corruption of cultural character and posterity. When slavery was abolished in British colonies, authorities went to India to find indentured labor to replace the emancipated slaves. To attract these laborers to Caribbean countries requiring cheap labor, the countries were presented as promised lands. The British strategy to dispel the doubts raised by Kana Pani was to place containers of Ganges River water on the ships, to ensure the continuity of reincarnation beyond the Kala Pani.

    To represent this, Gosnine entered by pouring water from a bucket into glass jars marked with names of 12 bodies of water. Six glasses referenced the ancestral journey from India to Trinidad and six marked his own ancestors’ travels to bodies of water in the United States, where they settled. The artist also utilized long-stemmed white hydrangeas to represent giving and the tension of social history and individual desires in the Indian diaspora. Passing flowers out to audience members he chanted, “Our Holy Waters are not the Ganges.” He also repeated like a mantra, “I’m tired of…,” adding nearly two dozen physically and mentally arduous actions to end the phrase including, seeking, proving, arriving, thirst, pleading, labor and demonstrating.

    The performance was sweet and poignant. As water and life can often represent hope, the repeated phrase “I’m tired of,” presented a sense of weariness.

    He eventually laid bunches of flowers on the ground, faced out forming a rectangle. As he laid in the center in a resting pose, people to whom he gave the flowers silently walked up and placed them atop his body.

    Abolibibelo

    The performer, Jerome, appeared in a costume made of white rolls of paper resembling carnival attire. His deliberate movements against a droning audio track contrasted with the simultaneously syncopated rhythms of Caribbean music and dance. The avant-garde performance merged with traditional festival arts and blurred boundaries between the modern and the ancient.

    As Jerome moved and posed within a zigzag pattern and a rectangle of yellow floor tape, he recited Jimmy Robert’s 78-line poem. Abolibibelo. It began with staccato utterances, then filled with contrary phrases combined with thought-provoking expression. Movement embodied his words and vice-versa.

    Abolibibelo was imaginative and matchless; the performance called on viewers to interrogate their surroundings and to cast a critical eye on representation.

    Details: www.molaa.org

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  • “Shakespeare in Love” is Not Quite the Film, But It Works

    That Shakespeare in Love takes place in the world of Elizabethan theater would seem to make a theatrical adaptation that much more apt.

    But when a film wins seven Oscars — including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Screenplay — how good does the play have to be not to suffer by comparison? The answer is impossibly good. So, although adapter Lee Hall both stays faithful to his source while tastefully tailoring and embroidering the material, even in the capable hands of South Coast Repertory, Shakespeare in Love the play makes you remember the film, not forget it.

    It’s 1593, and 29-year-old Will Shakespeare (Paul David Story) is far from the legend we know he will become. Although his The Two Gentlemen of Verona is known to Queen Elizabeth (Elyse Mitro), his pal Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Corey Brill) is big man on campus in London theater. Right now Will can’t even get a sonnet out without Kit’s help, and so it’s a mystery how he’s ever going to come up with Romeo & Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, never mind how he’s going to navigate his having promised it to two separate theater companies.

    Ah, but there’s nothing like love for inspiration. Viola de Lesseps (Amelia White) so loves Will’s writing that, despite the Elizabethan prohibition against women appearing on the stage, she gets herself cast as the male lead in Romeo & Ethel. At the same time, in her woman’s weeds she inspires Will to begin producing the work that will transform him into “the Bard.”

    Much of Shakespeare in Love’s effect comes from our being able to see into its future. We know that Romeo & Ethel will be Romeo & Juliet.  We know there will be claims that Marlowe authored some of Shakespeare’s plays.  We know Will will become Queen Elizabeth’s favorite playwright. We recognize that certain conversational exchanges (e.g., “Tomorrow,” “And tomorrow?”) will pop up in Shakespeare’s later work. This is one of the cleverer aspects of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay, and Hall leaves all of this intact.

    In some sense, though, this is also a relatively easy conceit once you’ve come up with the idea. What puts Shakespeare in Love on a higher plane is that it’s simply funny. Hall keeps most of his intact, too, the play is slightly more slapstick than the film. Not really different in tone, just a bit less sophisticated (not that the screenplay rises to the level of sophistication of Stoppard’s best plays, which is some of the smartest in the history of theater).

    For the most part, director Marc Masterson and his cast do justice to all of it, but something doesn’t quite click with his leads. Too often both Story and White don’t fully inhabit the emotional moment. Perhaps I am unfairly judging them against the pitch-perfect work that Joseph Finnes and Gwyneth Paltrow did onscreen. Then again, Mitro’s Queen Elizabeth stands up well enough to Judy Dench’s. It’s a less nuanced role than Will or Viola, but Mitro steals every scene she’s in. She also got the biggest ovation of the night when she regally dealt with some idiot in the audience who left his cell phone on after intermission.

    Masterson really shows his stuff with the ensemble scenes, some of which employ a dizzying number of moving parts doing their thing on a beautiful wooden set (kudos, Ralph Funicello and company) with two tiers and numerous nooks. Jaymi Lee Smith’s lighting design is effective in its elegant simplicity, and Susan Tsu’s costumes — especially Queen Elizabeth’s, which is probably even better than what Dench sports as part of yet another Oscar win — are marvelous.

    The film Shakespeare in Love came out in 1998, so even if you’ve seen it, it may be long enough ago that you retain only the broad strokes. Although you may not like what that says about your memory, it’s ideal for enjoying South Coast Repertory’s production. You can rent the film later, but right now there probably isn’t anything going in the world of theater with such universal appeal.

    Shakespeare in Love is playing at 7the the South 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Feb. 10 at South Coast Repertory’s Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

    Cost: $10 to $88
    Details: (714) 708-5555; https://scr.org

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  • Brothers Face 10 Years in Prison for Tax Filing Scheme

    • 01/29/2018
    • RL Intern
    • Briefs
    • Comments are off

    LONG BEACH — On Jan. 26, two Long Beach  brothers guilty of  filing more than 200 false tax returns and for aggravated identity theft of the deceased, are facing almost 10 years in federal prison.

    Adam Amadeo Battani, who also goes by Ayman Ahmed El-Assadi, 42, and his brother, Sam Amadeo Battani, who also goes by Wissam Ahmed El-Assadi, 41, were sentenced to 119 months in federal prison tax fraud and money laundering scheme in which they defrauded the Internal Revenue Service by filing fraudulent tax returns in the names of dead taxpayers.

    In addition to the prison terms, the men to pay $841,423 in restitution and to serve three years of supervised release after their release from prison. The judge imposed a statutory maximum two-year prison term for their violations of supervised release, which is part of the 119-month sentences imposed today.

    The Battanis each pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to defraud the United States, theft of government property, fraudulent use of a Social Security number, two counts of aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

    According to court documents, over the course of approximately three years, the Battanis filed more than 200 false tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of deceased people. As a result of the scheme, the IRS issued a total of $841,423 in fraudulently obtained tax refunds.

    The tax refunds were deposited into dozens of bogus bank accounts set up with the identities of the deceased individuals at Bank of America, Chase Bank, Union Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, and HSBC Bank. The brothers transferred and withdrew the fraudulently received funds by making cash withdrawals from ATMs. They also wrote checks to themselves and to family members. The Battanis used the fraudulently obtained funds to purchase postal money orders, silver bars and coins. They also wired money to associates in Lebanon, Jordan and Denmark.

    The Battanis started the tax fraud scheme while they were on supervised release after being released from federal prison in another fraud and money laundering case.

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  • Women’s Rights, Trump are at Historic Crossroads

    By Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter

    On Jan.  20, 2017, Donald Trump became president, Republicans dominated Con- gress and the outlook on any progress for women looked bleak.

    Republicans had been waging political war on women’s rights for more than a quarter of a century. Now they appeared able to pass and enforce any anti-women legislation they pleased, at least until the 2018 elections.

    Women wasted no time mounting opposition. On Jan. 21, millions of women — and others — took to the streets to peacefully and legally demand women’s rights. A protest that started as a social media post by some disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters morphed into a global action. Mobs of protestors thronged to great American metropolitan areas including Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as red-state capitals like Little Rock, Ark., and small towns like Chelan, Wash.

    Some criticized the marches as having no practical effect, but organizing and networking continued. One of the outgrowths of the women’s march was a women’s convention, hosted Oct. 27-28 in Detroit. It attracted about 4,000 women, many of whom wanted to learn more about political campaigning.

    The website for Emily’s List, a fundraising group for pro-choice Democratic women, currently reports that about 22,000 women have signed up to run for office in 2018, many thousands more than in previous years. Many of those Democratic women are planning to challenge Republicans for red-state seats.

    In the Republican-controlled Congress, women figured prominently in a months-long battle over Obamacare, as Republicans repeatedly attacked it and Democrats defended it. Many ordinary women lobbied to keep it, especially because it covers birth control. Republicans were even criticized for not including any of their women senators in a working group to draft a new healthcare bill — compared to only scattered criticism for excluding Democrats or ethnic minorities.

    At an Obamacare show down on the Senate floor in July, when both parties mustered every vote they could, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii joined her fellow Democrats despite suffering from cancer. If three Republicans broke from their party, Obamacare would survive. Two GOP women senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins, Maine, did, along with John McCain of Arizona.

    The fate of Obamacare remains unsettled because Republicans, who never seem to understand what “no” means nullified the individual mandate in their tax bill at the end of 2017.

    The strength of women’s political empowerment was abundantly demonstrated in several states’ off-year elections in November:  Democrats turned Virginia, New Jersey, Washington and even Oklahoma a little bluer. In December, Alabama joined the list.

    “The nation’s leading voter turnout experts said the [November races were] marked by women voting in historically high numbers and overall voter turnout exceeding expectations in non-presidential years,” said Steven Rosenfeld on Alter-net.

    On Keith Olbermann’s video-blog The Resistance, he noted about half of November’s election results could be seen as morality plays. In Oklahoma a young lesbian Democrat won in a district chock full of Trump supporters. In Virginia a Democrat, who identified as transgender, defeated a Republican who campaigned on keeping public restrooms safe from transgender intruders. A man whose fiancee was shot and killed beat a pro-NRA Republican.

    As 2017 concluded, Time magazine chose some women it labelled “silence breakers” for its Dec. 10 Person of the Year cover. Some were famous (singer Taylor Swift, actress Ashley Judd), others less known (engineer Susan Fowler, farmworker Isabel Pascual, lobbyist Adama Iwu, and an anonymous woman only partly seen). Together they represented what Time characterized as the  #metoo movement, from a Twitter hashtag where thousands of women (and men) had recently begun sharing experiences of sexual harassment.

    The decade-old movement burst into the media spotlight on Oct. 5, when the New York Times broke the story that powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had a history of sexual harassment. Judd, Rosanna Arquette, Lupita Nyong’o, Daryl Hannah, Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow were among the dozens of actresses and other working women who reported incidents with Weinstein. In the backlash he was run out of Hollywood.

    The fallout turned into a mighty stream that’s still cascading, as public accusations which a short time ago might have been scorned, mocked, or simply pushed aside are suddenly being taken seriously. The lasting effect on America’s political landscape is uncertain as the 2018 election season looms.

    So far, the outrage has only resulted in the downfall of two major politicians—both Democrats. Sen. Al Franken resigned after several women accused him of kissing them without their consent years ago. Rep. John Conyers, a civil-rights icon who presided over Nixon’s downfall, resigned after his history of settling sexual harassment complaints was revealed. Both men were dependable votes for women’s rights, but their party told them they had to go.

    At the same time Republicans — the party and its voters — appeared to care little about credible allegations of outright sexual abuse, including complaints about Trump, Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones, party because of women’s votes. Moore’s defeat may or may not be an indication of a new need for both parties to take sexual harassment and other women’s issues seriously. Election season 2018 will tell whether voters will continue to allow Republicans to make war on women. The Trump presidency has put women at a historic crossroads.

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  • What Really Caused the Shutdown?

    • 01/26/2018
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
    • Comments are off

    Lies, racial resentment and mainstream media duplicity are the culprits

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    At midnight on Jan. 20, the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, the federal government shut down. This was the first time this had happened while one party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.

    Trump blamed Democrats and GOP congressional leaders echoed him. But conservative anti-Trump columnist Jennifer Rubin cried foul.

    “The notion [that] Rs are entitled to D votes to break 60 without negotiating with them is bizarre,” Rubin tweeted. “If you say take it or leave it, you have to be prepared for leave it.”

    “The [Senate] leader [Mitch McConnell] crafts a partisan approach without consulting us, and then tries to blame us for not going along,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Senate speech the next day. “That kind of behavior would not pass in any part of civil society. It would be called ‘bullying.’”

    Such bullying, however, has become an integral part of GOP politics over the past several decades, as the party has moved sharply to the right, while Democrats have moved only modestly to the left

    The GOP’s increased extremism has caused it to lose the popular vote in six of seven presidential elections since 1988, but it maintains exceptional power by aggressively exploiting the weaknesses of American democracy, like the Electoral College, which gave them victories in 2000 and 2016.

    Budget-related processes have other weaknesses — shutdowns, shutdown threats and threats to block raising the debt ceiling — that Republicans have repeatedly used to try to pass unpopular partisan measures. This marks the first time in history that Democrats have turned the tables and tried to use the budget process to pass an overwhelmingly popular bipartisan measure: legalizing the status of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents as young children, who are working, in school, or in the military, and have no criminal record. A CBS News poll just before the shutdown found 87 percent of the people polled support for legalizing Dreamers, so called due to a failed “Dream Act” first introduced in 2001.

    The shutdown can be understood as a product of four factors: First, Trump’s far-reaching pattern of lying; second, the GOP’s rightward trajectory, which made Trump’s presidency possible; third, coverage by the so-called “liberal media,” which, in the guise of “balance” provides enormous political cover for GOP extremism and bad faith;  and fourth, a constellation of demographic forces (all connected to inequality), which have characterized periods of state breakdown, civil war and revolution for thousands of years.

    Before examining those factors, we need clarity about just where we are and how we got here.

    This is the first shutdown ever when one party controls both Congress and the White House. Republicans had two simple ways to avoid this. They could have negotiated with Democrats to get broad bipartisan support in both Houses, which is how appropriation bills have been handled throughout most of our history. Or, they could have pushed through a partisan budget with only their own votes.

    But Senate rules only give them one chance to do this.

    “Senate Republicans had the option to pass a budget bill with a simple majority,” Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell explained, responding to Trump on Twitter, “It would have been through the budget reconciliation process. Instead, they decided to waste the reconciliation process on tax cuts.”

    Rampell is right. By choosing tax cuts without Democratic support, Republicans chose to depend on Democrats for the budget — and then chose to ignore.

    Trump’s Constellation of Lies

    Trump’s first lies contributing to this shutdown revolved around his pledge to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it. This was based on his claim that Mexico was sending “rapists” and “murderers,” who were driving crime through the roof.  But both violent crime and property crime are down 50 percent from their early 1990s peak, and most of that decline happened before 2007, when undocumented immigration peaked.

    Since then, about one million undocumented immigrants have left the country.  There is no rising crime, no flood of undocumented immigrants and no connection between the two in the first place. Immigrants — documented or not — have significantly lower crime rates in comparison to native-born Americans. Trump’s whole immigrant-scare narrative was nothing but a paranoid racist fantasy, with two added layers on top: the claim that Mexico was intentionally flooding America with criminals and that it would pay for the wall.

    Trump’s campaign also revolved around another set of contributing lies: those about him being a super deal-maker, an outsider who could do what a broken Washington couldn’t, who would make so many great deals that people would cry, “Stop! We can’t stand any more winning!”

    But making Washington work for Americans again—and keeping the government working is certainly a part of a “great deal.” So, Trump lied about that, too.

    “Nobody knows the system better than me,” he said. “Which is why I alone can fix it.”

    Then, in September 2017, when his administration acted to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, he told a strikingly different lie. He said that he loved the DACA recipients, and was actually ending DACA to help them.

    “It is now time for Congress to act!” Trump said, as if Congress couldn’t act without him threatening to deport 800,000 people. “We will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion…. I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”

    Then, nothing much happened until  Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury came out, portraying Trump as a hopeless incompetent. On Jan. 9, Trump staged a televised hour-long meeting to discuss fixing DACA with congressional leaders, doing his best to act presidential.

    “You folks are going to have to come up with a solution and if you do, I’m going to sign that solution,” Trump told the 25 lawmakers, even “If they come to me with things that I’m not in love with.”

    Two days later, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin came to see Trump in the White House, with the deal they’d struck, only to be blindsided by hardliners who Trump agreed with, while referring to African and Latin American countries as “shitholes,”

    “Trump is a self-proclaimed dealmaker who struggles to close deals, an unreliable negotiator who seems to promise one thing only to renege days, or even hours, later,” Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker tweeted, as the shutdown began. “And on Friday night, he watched as yet another deal slipped away.”

    Trump’s and the GOP’s  Reliance on Racial Resentment

    But Trump doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For decades, Republicans followed an evolving “Southern Strategy,” as explained by one-time party chairman Lee Atwater explained in a 1981 interview:

    You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

    This “evolution” reflected a common assumption: that implicit (“coded”) racist messages were much more effective than explicit ones, because people rejected messages they perceived to be racist.  That’s changed for a combination of reasons, including the election of Barack Obama.

    A recent study headed by Nicholas Valentino, a University of Michigan political scientist, found that:

    “Whereas explicit racial rhetoric once seemed aversive to large swaths of American society, such messages are no longer as widely rejected. Racial conservatives recognize the hostile and conflictual content in explicit messages, but are not angered or disgusted by it.”

    Trump’s success in the GOP primary reflects the fact that he alone grasped this amongst the 2016 GOP hopefuls. His general election success reflects a related finding by political scientists Adam Enders and Jamil Scott, explained in a recent entry in the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post:

    “White racial resentment has remained remarkably stable over time. But that racial resentment has become much more highly correlated with particular political attitudes, behaviors and orientations.”

    Trump also broke with past GOP practice by rhetorically rejecting the courting of Wall Street and playing the part of an economic populist.

    “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me,” Trump tweeted on May 7, 2015.

    He’s also repeatedly claimed that his tax cuts were aimed at the middle class. His actual record is quite the opposite. There were deep Medicaid cuts in the GOP’s failed Obamacare repeal, the tax cuts were everything Paul Ryan wanted and further deep Medicaid cuts are already planned.

    Finally, Trump’s chaotic disruption of normal governance is also part of a long-term trend. It’s visible in events like the 1995-96 and 2013 shutdowns, the 2011 near-miss on refusing to raise the debt limit, and Mitch McConnell’s refusal to have hearings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016.

    Disinformation From the Mainstream Media

    The third factor, which Republicans were counting on, was anti-Democratic spin in the so-called “liberal media.”

    “Over twelve hours into a government shutdown, a look at the headlines and polls shows Democrats have so far borne the brunt of the blame,” the GOP’s website noted, citing the following examples:

    • Bloomberg: “Shutdown Starts As Senate Democrats Block GOP Funding Plan”
    • CNN: “Why Democrats May Be Making The Wrong Bet On The Shutdown”
    • The New York Times: “Senate Democrats Block Bill to Keep Government Open Past Midnight; Shutdown Looms”
    • The Associated Press: “Senate Democrats Derail Bill To Avert Shutdown”

    Coverage was strikingly different in 2013, when the New York Times headline read, Government Shuts Down in Budget Impasse. There was no hint of responsibility or blame in how the story began:

    “The federal government will shut down for the first time in nearly two decades after last-minute moves in both chambers of Congress failed to break a bitter budget standoff over the president’s health care law.”

    The 2013 coverage echoed a broader media adaptation to the sharply increased use of the filibuster since the 1960s: the need for 60 votes in the Senate is normalized and neither side is blamed. But this time the GOP highlighted the Democrats’ role in gridlocking the national government.  Obligingly, the press coverage sharply shifted gears.

    Demographic Forces Characterizing State Breakdown

    Underlying all three of these factors is a deeper one: a constellation of demographic forces characterizing periods of state breakdown, first identified by historian Jack Goldstone. In his 1991 book, Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World, he identified the phenomena  known as “structural demographic theory.”

    The idea was later refined by evolutionary anthropologist Peter Turchin in Secular Cycles (2009) and applied to American history in Ages of Discord (2016). The key factors involved are:

    1. Mass economic impoverishment resulting from labor over-supply
    2. Elite overproduction, as elite incomes and numbers rise, resulting in intensified competition, fragmentation and conflict
    3. Fiscal distress of the state, as elites grow increasingly selfish, competitive, anti-social, and unwilling to pay taxes for the national well-being.

    In a blog post, Government Shuts Down: It’s Not Just Schumer against Trump, Turchin presented two graphs from his book tracking proxies of elite fragmentation—one showing the fluctuation of polarization in Congress from the 1790s to 2000, the other showing the increase in Senate filibuster threats and votes since 1960.

    “Keep in mind that what is at stake now is only an extension of government spending for another 30 days,” he wrote. “Given the degree of intra-elite conflict we currently have in the U.S., I wouldn’t be surprised if we are soon in a permanent state of government shutdown.”

    While Goldstone and Turchin stress factors that far transcend the specific ideological divides of our time, they are not totally unrelated. The Republican obsession with tax cuts for the rich only intensifies elite overproduction and the political dysfunction to which it contributes. Pairing this with cuts to programs for the poor and middle classes only intensifies the problem.

    While both sides have contributed to political dysfunction, it’s primarily Republicans who have driven this process. Democrats created the basic framework of the modern American state from the New Deal to the Great Society and Republicans have been trying to dismantle it ever since, using increasingly aggressive methods, eroding the norms of cooperative government in the process.

    Democrats, in contrast, are torn between trying to maintain a cooperative process and fighting fire with fire reluctantly. This shutdown was a case in point. They had agreed to two previous continuing resolutions without any DACA fix, before finally pressing the matter. Democrats are ambivalent not necessarily because they lack spine, but because they have  substantive and procedural motivations. These were aligned decades ago, but now are increasingly at odds.

    Republican policy positions like building the wall, cutting healthcare and taxes for the rich, are consistently unpopular with the public at large. Their success depends on exploiting the Democrat’s ambivalence, which is precisely what we’ve been seeing them try to do during this shutdown drama. We can expect to see similar dramas play out again and again in the days, weeks and years ahead. But for now — with shutdown resolved for almost another three weeks — there may actually be a chance to focus on solving a problem that almost nine out of 10 Americans agree on.

     

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