Thursday, September 21, 2017

Obama Follows Clinton, Boards the Millionaire Speech Train to Wall Street


Democratic Party loyalists didn't decide the last election, and they won't decide the next.

by Gaius Publius

“I never had any money until I got out of the White House, you know, but I’ve done reasonably well since then.” 

Like Bill Clinton before him, ex-President Barack Obama has gotten on the Wall Street-financed train to millionaire riches. Clinton:
On December 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. This law ensured that derivatives could not be regulated, setting the stage for the financial crisis. Just two months later, on February 5, 2001, Clinton received $125,000 from Morgan Stanley, in the form of a payment for a speech Clinton gave for the company in New York City.  A few weeks later, Credit Suisse also hired Clinton for a speech, at a $125,000 speaking fee, also in New York. It turns out, Bill Clinton could make a lot of money, for not very much work. [emphasis mine]
Times change, prices go up, but the song remains the same. Obama:
Last month, just before [Hillary Clinton's] book “What Happened” was published, Barack Obama spoke in New York to clients of Northern Trust Corp. for about $400,000, a person familiar with his appearance said. Last week, he reminisced about the White House for Carlyle Group LP, one of the world’s biggest private equity firms, according to two people who were there. Next week, he’ll give a keynote speech at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s health-care conference.

Obama is coming to Wall Street less than a year after leaving the White House, following a path that’s well trod and well paid. [emphasis mine]
If the first figure is his fee, as it reportedly is for the Cantor Fitzgerald speech as well, he'll pocket $1.2 million from three Wall Street speeches in about a month's time. 

The issue is not just the cashing in on career-long, eager service to mega-wealthy Wall Street bankers — and especially his failure to prosecute any of them for massive systemic fraud, let's remember. That's the smallest of the problems with this story. A larger issue is its effect on the desperate attempt by the Democratic Party to distance its present self-presentation, The Party That Speaks For The People, from its most recent self, The Party Of The Top Ten Percent. Or at least, its attempt to appear to create that distance. 

This move by Obama won't help those attempts at new-minted appearances. As the article points out, "While he can’t run for president, he continues to be an influential voice in a party torn between celebrating and vilifying corporate power. His new work with banks might suggest which side of the debate he’ll be on". No one in the bottom 90% — most of us, in other words, is "torn between celebrating and vilifying corporate power."

It's a come-to-Jesus moment for the Democratic Party, and Obama brought an poisoned apple to the discussion.

A Pre-Revolutionary Nation

The nation is at a crossroads, in a pre-revolutionary condition, and so is the Democratic Party. The revolution in the nation is proceeding. Ever since Obama's betrayal of his mandate in 2009, discontent with Establishment rule, by supporters of both parties, has grown almost geometrically, starting with the disaster in 2010. In 2016 that revolt kept Republicans in charge, despite a winnable Senate by the Democrats, and helped put Trump and Pence in the White House for the next four years.

That revolt against Establishment rule would have put Sanders in the White House if Democratic leadership had allowed it. Consider:

The argument from Democratic leaders is that people who fill football stadiums to see Sanders aren't Democrats. Neither are most voters, however. Think that through.

A Price for Democratic Party Dithering

And now the debt for Democratic Party misdeeds comes due. In 2018 and 2020 the nation will get its last real chance, before our twin tsunamis hit, at putting leaders in place to actually deal with them. Those twin tsunamis — bankruptcy, death and anger-fueled revolt against rule by the rich; and fossil-fueled destruction of climate friendly enough to sustain seven billion humans. Both crises are reaching social and political tipping points. Neither will wait while Democrats dither and the Party's current leadership tries to stretch its corrupt profit-taking practices into an indefinite future.

Will Party leadership convince enough voters that they hold a better answer than the next faux-populist demon from the right, our nation's own monster from the id? Or will apathy to Democratic Party corruption suppress turnout enough to put and keep Republicans in power in 2018, as it's done since 2010, and elevate the next monster to the White House in 2020?

It's not like Obama is an outlier among Democrats. The Party is shot through with that kind of corruption. It's put up or shut up for the nation, and put up or shut up for Democratic leaders.

Needless to say, Obama's new Wall Street wealth, and Democratic Party defense of it, isn't going to help.

Quid Pro Quo for Carlyle Group?

One final point. In the case of his paid speech to mega-wealthy equity firm Carlyle Group, there do seem to be quids and quos. From the International Business Times (emphasis mine):
Several years after private equity firm Carlyle Group LP successfully pushed the White House to relax Environmental Protection Agency rules to the benefit of two Carlyle-owned oil refineries in Pennsylvania, former President Barack Obama, as part of a series of paid speeches, made a stop at its conference last week.

Bloomberg first reported the former president’s recent paid speech rounds Monday, citing “two people who were there” at a Carlyle event in Washington, D.C., last week, where he “discussed his life and the decisions he made in the White House.” It’s unclear whether and how much he was paid by Carlyle, which declined to comment to International Business Times, but Bloomberg reported that he received $400,000 for a Northern Trust Corp. engagement in August, and earlier this year won the same amount from the investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, for which he was slated to speak again next week.
After listing Carlyle Group executives who also held positions with the Obama administration, IBT writes this:
Back in 2013, Carlyle — working in tandem with Delta Air Lines, which also owned a refinery — met with Obama’s economic adviser Ronald Minsk and an EPA official, and signed a letter to the EPA with Delta and a refinery union leader as part of an effort to lobby the agency to relax its steadily rising requirements for mixing biofuels in petroleum-based fuels as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, Reuters reported in 2014.

While a boon for makers of corn-based ethanol, the requirement that U.S. petroleum output include 13.8 billion gallons of “conventional biofuel” each year would prove expensive for oil producers, as they’d have to either purchase the alternative fuel or buy a limited supply of compliance credits rapidly escalating in price. The following year would bring with it a 14.4-billion-gallon mandate. Following another letter to the EPA from then Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and his Delaware counterpart Jack Markell, the EPA announced in November 2013 that it would lower the next year’s requirement to 13 billion gallons instead of 14.4 billion, causing politicians from big corn-industry states, such as Rep. Steve King (R-Ia.), a denier of climate change, to balk. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), citing the Reuters investigation, sued the EPA “for failing to provide documents regarding oil industry efforts to influence the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard,” according to a CREW press release.

“It certainly seems as if the administration has backtracked on its commitment to renewable fuels. The question is why. Was there a back room deal orchestrated by big oil and high ranking officials in the Obama administration?” Melanie Sloan, then the group’s executive director, said in the 2014 release. “Even though it is nearly 2015, the renewable fuel standards for 2014 still haven’t been released. Is this to avoid potential political fallout in the mid-terms for siding with the oil industry over the biofuel industry?

In 2015, Delta and Carlyle, along with oil giant Valero Energy Corp. and Minsk, by then no longer Obama’s economic adviser, renewed their efforts to change the EPA RFS rules, this time by pushing the agency to relegate the burden of compliance with required biofuel levels to fuel blenders, rather than refiners.

Before the campaign to influence the EPA’s fuel-composition requirements began, Obama’s administration played a helpful role in Carlyle’s acquisition of the refinery as well.
There's more in the IBT piece. This isn't a smoking gun, of course. But there is a corpse (the biofuel standard) and a clear beneficiary, or several. One of those beneficiaries, the Carlyle Group, seems to have just said thanks.

Obama's future is quite secure, and getting more secure by the day. I'm not sure the same can be said for the Democratic Party; quite the opposite in fact. And I strongly suspect, if true, the two outcomes will prove connected.


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Trumpanzee And His GOP Enablers Would Rather Deport Latinos Than Get Serious About MS-13


Nancy Ohanian looks at Trumpanzee

Eliminating MS-13 and other violent criminal gangs should be a priority for law enforcement that all Americans should support. But that isn't what Barbara Comstock's Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act (H.R. 3697) is actually about. Her bill passed last week 233-175. Only one Republican, libertarian Justin Amash (MI), voted against it. 11 fake-Democrats took the bait and crossed the aisle to vote with the Republicans. Now Ryan is running around claiming the bill passed with "bipartisan support."

The 11 Democrats who voted for it are the worst of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, primarily Blue Dogs and New Dems who consistently support the Republican Party policy agenda. Only one-- Ruben Kihuen-- hasn't earned an "F" from ProgressivePunch (and he has a "C"). These are the Democrats who gave Ryan and McCarthy the right to call the bill "bipartisan."
Salud Carbajal (CA)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Josh Gottheimer (Blue Dog-NJ)
Ruben Kihuen (New Dem-NV)
Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL)
Stephanie Murphy (Blue Dog-FL)
Tom O'Halleran (Blue Dog-AZ)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Jacky Rosen (NV)
Raul Ruiz (CA)
Kirsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)
The bill is not a crime-fighting bill or even an anti-gang bill. It's just a bill meant to label immigrants the GOP doesn't like as criminals. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee said the bill could be easily used to target groups of people who aren't gangs-- religious organistions particularly. "This may seem reasonable until you look at the offenses listed," she said. "These offenses could sweep in many people that no reasonable person would think of as a gang member. That means that under this bill, a religious organization that aids undocumented immigrants could be a criminal gang." It was no surprise that Chicago patriot Luis Gutiérrez would be one of the leaders among Democrats in exposing the legislation for what it really is-- and isn't:
While the President is playing deal or no deal with the lives of DREAMers, Speaker Ryan is allowing House Republicans to vote on a bill that labels as many immigrant youth as possible as gang members and makes it easier to deport them. He could be moving the bipartisan DREAM Act forward, but instead, he wants to make it very clear that Republicans see Latinos and immigrants as a threat to the U.S., not an asset. Hundreds of thousands of doctors, teachers, nurses and soldiers are going to be yanked from the American economy if Speaker Ryan does not allow the DREAM Act to go forward in the next few weeks, but his priority is feeding red meat to the anti-immigration wing of his party and satisfying them with a big helping of ‘let’s label Latino youth as machete-wielding menaces.’” This is not a bill to curtail violence or make the country safer, it is a political bill to allow Republicans in the House to make speeches about urging Americans to fear young immigrants.

It is clear that Democrats and Republicans would prefer to be talking about the DREAM Act and showing the country that we can act in a bipartisan manner to resolve the status of DACA recipients and other immigrants who were raised in the U.S. I am committed to not exchanging the safety of DREAMers for more deportations or further restricting legal immigration so that there are no available legal avenues for immigrants who help feed us, build our communities and serve our country. But the priorities of House Republicans seem inconsistent with what the American people, the majority of House Members and their own voters want them to do.
Juan Vargas, a California New Dem, tried talking his New Dem colleagues out of voting for the bill-- and mostly succeeded. His point was that the "bill would result in the targeting of persons of faith, religious leaders, and faith-based organizations, who are compelled by their beliefs to open their doors to vulnerable migrants seeking safety and respite. For many in the faith community, this action is deeply rooted in religious expression and goes directly to the core of our American values as protected by First Amendment expression. The broad provisions of this bill, which purportedly targets gang members, would lead to attempts to criminalize religious groups across the country as gang members simply because they answered the call of their faith. As people of faith, we are called to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger. This bill would functionally criminalize individuals who aid undocumented immigrants as gang members under an expanded harboring statute.  The Catholic community has raised alarms over this statute in the past and is concerned that this bill could result in groups of nuns being classified as 'gangs.' There is no humanitarian exception provided in the bill and the federal government has a record of penalizing individuals who provide humanitarian relief to migrants."

He continued in a very personal way: "As a person of faith, my Catholic upbringing and time in the Jesuit order has impressed upon me the duty to speak for those less fortunate among us…for the oppressed, for the poor and for the voiceless. As leaders of this great nation, we must act in a way that reflects the best of our national values and that reflects the best of who we are as Americans. We should not contribute to a climate of fear by criminalizing humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants. Matthew 25 gibes me, and others that believe as I do, clear direction on how we are to treat the least among us."

Trump, of course, loves the bill and it is going to the Senate now. Stephen Lendman of Global Research labeled it "a police state measure" which define "a criminal gang as a "group, club, organization, or association of 5 or more persons that has as one of its primary purposes the commission of 1 or more of the following criminal offenses and the members of which engage, or have engaged within the past 5 years, in a continuing series of such offenses, or that has been designated as a criminal gang by the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, as meeting these criteria. The offenses described, whether in violation of Federal or State law or foreign law and regardless of whether the offenses occurred before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this paragraph, are the following:”
felony drug offenses;
aiding unwanted immigrants;
violent offenses;
obstructing justice;
and other alleged violations of US laws, shifting responsibility to prove innocence on targeted individuals, not authorities as mandated under international and constitutional law.
And the bill is even worse than it appears at first glance.
Any immigrant suspected or alleged to be a gang member can be deported. US prisons are filled with wrongfully convicted men, women, youths, and children, mostly people of color.

HR 3697 is a vehicle for the manufacture of human and civil rights abuses, disgraceful legislation, its provisions no just society would tolerate.

It creates a sweeping new definition of “gang member,” giving authorities broad latitude to target social and political groups, clubs, even churches or other religious organizations.

It expands the use of mandatory, no-bond arbitrary detentions, a flagrant violation of international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits arbitrarily detaining anyone.

Refugees and asylum seekers will be deterred from seeking refuge in America.

It’ll subject law-abiding immigrants to flagrant abuses of power, including Fifth Amendment equal protection rights.

It’ll permit sweeping roundups of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers of color, mainly Latinos. Living in the wrong neighborhood would risk deportation.

So could wearing the wrong colored clothing or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sweeping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) roundups are notoriously indiscriminate, many individuals guilty of nothing abusively detained under deplorable conditions and deported.

HR 3697 authorizes deportations if there’s “reason to believe” so-called gang affiliation or association, no credible proof required.

Expansive language permits sweeping up law-abiding people indiscriminately, children as vulnerable as adults.

DHS can target anyone based on secret evidence, classified evidence, no evidence or any pretext cited-- without due process, constitutional protections denied.

Humanitarian relief can be denied individuals fleeing persecution from designated countries.
No one was surprised when a Gutiérrez neighbor, Chicago's far right Blue Dog Dan Lipinski, stuck with Ryan and Trump and voted against the Democratic position-- and against the interests of his own IL-03 constituents. His progressive primary opponent, Marie Newman, told us that once again Lipinski showed "that he's perfectly aligned with President Trump and the Republicans on the issue of immigration. By voting for H.R. 3697, Lipinski voted to increase racial profiling and the arrest of people of color on the mere suspicion that they're involved in criminal activity. Democrats in Congress ought to be focused on protecting Dreamers and keeping families together, not satiating President Trump's absurd views on Latinos." If you agree with Marie on this, please help her repeal and replace Dan Lipinski here. Hers is one of the few races in the country where a credible progressive is challenging a fake Democrat in a race that's going to go down to the wire.

There are only two Republican-held Senate seats that Schumer's DSCC thinks it can probably win in 2018: Flake's seat in Arizona and Heller's seat in Nevada. Both of his very conservative, hand-picked recruits, Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) and Jacky Rosen (NV) were among the 11 rogue Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party who supported this dreadful and deceptive legislation. Neither of these exceptionally bad candidates has any chance of winning without heavy Latino turnout. Neither is Latino in increasingly Latino-dominated states and in states where Latinos are becoming very cognizant of who their community's friends really are when push comes to shove. But these are the kinds of establishment GOP-lite candidates Schumer has always gravitated to for his entire career. Not just Arizona and Nevada, but all of America will suffer because of his inability to learn from his mistakes.

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Midnight Meme Of The Day!


-by Noah

It's common these days to hear Republicans loudly whining that we're not giving Señor Trumpanzee a fair chance to succeed and that no president has ever been so abused as their boy. Really? This, from people who spent 8 years sending us postcards and emails consisting of pictures of President Obama carrying a watermelon as he walked down the Air Force One ramp, pictures of the White House lawn turned into a huge watermelon patch, pictures of the president with bones in his nose, you name it. Screw these racist morons!

No doubt, Republicans aren't thinking when they complain about the treatment of Trump (the very deserved treatment of Trump). That's not surprising. They either lack the critical thinking gene or are mentally incapable of thinking how they are being lead around by the nose as they repeat the "Trump is the most abused ever" talking point that they got from Rush Limbaugh or some goon on FOX. I even have to wonder if there might be a touch of inbreeding involved when it comes to Republicans. Consider this: Republicans have a natural tendency to stay within their ethnic gene pool when it comes to picking a mate, don't they? Especially in rural America? Is there some other way to explain poor, babbling, lost unfortunates such as Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders? I mean, if you want to know how the people of places like rural Michigan can seriously regard Kid Rock to be senatorial material, you need to go to rural Michigan. It'll all make sense, just be sure to leave before nightfall.

Anyway, the next time one of these nihilistic losers complains to you about poor abused Trump, just remind them of the crap President Obama took by showing them this meme. Of course, they will immediately claim that they never saw such things, or the watermelon stuff either. You might also try pointing out to them that, unlike their mentally ill travesty of a president, Obama took it all, without complaint, for 8 damn years! And, is still taking it. Like I said, screw these morons.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Think Danger Bred A Different Kind Of Gay Back Then


I was lucky; I came out when I was living in Amsterdam. I worried there was something wrong with me so I went to see a psychiatrist. I told him I thought I could be gay. He asked me why I was coming to him and if I was looking for addresses of gay bars and other places where gay people met. I didn't. I lived right across the street-- literally, 30 steps-- from a side gate into Amsterdam's biggest park (like their version of Central Park or Griffith Park). And it was a special entrance, as it turns out. At night there were always gay men in that part of the park eager to meet other men. So much better than a dark, smokey bar!

Being gay is easy and almost without a sense of social opprobrium nowadays. Gays can get married. It's no biggie. When I was a kid it was very different. And... well-- how do I put this? If you were gay, you were an outlaw, a rebel... like Jean Genet, like Truman Capote, William Burroughs, John Rechy, James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, Gore Vidal, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles, Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, Anaïs Nin, John Waters, Jack Kerouac... role models. You know, who's a better role model Plato or a ribbon clerk?

Danny Fields, who I met when I was in college when I had booked The Doors to come play at my school and he worked for their record label, was the one who put the idea of ribbon clerks in my consciousness. He and Dee Dee Ramone wanted to go someplace "exciting" after The Ramones first show in San Francisco. I had no idea where to take them so I suggested the Eagle's Nest, a forbidding gay bar on Folsom Street. Danny made a face. "Ribbon clerks playing dress up," he sneered in his charming way. Eventually I started taking out of town guests to Mr. B's Ballroom instead. The DEVO guys, who I don't think were even gay, wrote a song about the night I brought them there.
Three cheers!
They're yellin' again
Three cheers!
They'll be at it to the end

So drink some big beers and go crazy tonight
They're all dressed up and they'll be gettin' it tonight
Big swingers in double knits tonight
Big babies gonna get in a fight
Actin' crazy, bustin' up the chairs
Doubled over gettin' sick on the stairs

They know the limits 'cause they cross them every night
The dull sensations as it turns real hot
Why, the guys in the back with their heads on the floor
Surrounded by their buddies, they're all hollerin' for more
Whoa, whoa, whoa
It's Mr. B's ballroom

Party time, turn the music up loud
Party time, lose your head in the crowd
Yellin',, laughin' tryin' hard to act smart
Put 'em under pressure and you watch them fall apart

Freeze! Come on out of there
Freeze! You ain't goin' nowhere
Freeze! Put your hands on your head
It's Mr. B's ballroom
Someone slipped in semen and fell down and we left. Books were easier-- and I've always been a bookish guy. There's a new movie that screened in NYC this week, Tom of Finland, and it's opening in New York on October 13 and in L.A. and San Francisco October 20... all the towns I lived in. Watch the trailer up top. I think Finnish director Dome Karukoski conveys what I'm trying to talk about far better than I am.

Tom of Finland was the pseudonym for Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991) and Wikipedia describes him as "a Finnish artist known for his stylized highly masculinized homoerotic fetish art, and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. He has been called the "most influential creator of gay pornographic images" by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade. Over the course of four decades, he produced some 3500 illustrations, mostly featuring men with exaggerated primary and secondary sex traits, wearing tight or partially removed clothing." At the time, all his work had an implied sense of danger. The film company reminds critics that he was "a decorated officer" and that the film describes him as returning "home after a harrowing and heroic experience serving his country in World War II. But life in Finland during peacetime proves equally distressing. He finds post-war Helsinki rampant with homophobic persecution, and gay men around him are being pressured to marry women and have children. Touko finds refuge in his liberating art: homoerotic drawings of muscular men, free of inhibitions. But it is only when an American publisher sees them and invites Tuoko over to the West Coast that his life really takes a turn. Finally being able to walk free and proud in Los Angeles, Tuoko dives head first into the sexual revolution, becoming an icon and a rallying point. His work-- made famous by his signature ‘Tom of Finland’-- became the emblem of a generation of men and fanned the flames of the worldwide gay revolution."

But not today's gays I don't think. Yes, this is a real stamp:

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Ever Wonder How A Totally Worthless Hack Like Joe Crowley, Steeped In Corruption, Gets Into Position To Take A Role In Running America?


Shane Goldmacher wrote an important piece for the NY Times Monday and Trump has been putting out so much crap that I haven't had time to get to it. But it's too consequential to for me to just let it get lost, specially in light of how New York;s Democratic Party bosses just screwed over Lower East Side District Leader Paul Newell-- not to mention progressives in the party-- to steal an open state Senate nomination (Daniel Squadron's seat) for Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh. Background: Newell won a whopping 72% of the weighted vote from the Manhattan Democratic Committee to Kavanagh's 28%. But the sleazy party bosses in Brooklyn took care of that inconvenience-- with the backing of Cuomo, of course, and De Blasio.
“They’ve stolen the seat from with Boss Wright and Boss Seddio overruling the people,“ charged candidate Paul Newell, referring to Manhattan Democratic Party leader Keith Wright and Brooklyn Democratic leader Frank Seddio... [I]n Brooklyn, Seddio did not call a party committee meeting and steered the Brooklyn vote to five-term Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh after consulting with the borough’s elected officials.

...Newell may not have helped his cause with Cuomo after backing the governor’s Democratic rival, Zephyr Teachout, in the 2014 Democratic primary.

A committee vote is not legally required for a vacancy covering a two-county seat and party leaders can call the shots.

...Democratic district leaders in Manhattan were furious that Wright went against the wishes of their non-binding vote.

"Total BS. I told Keith that he has asked to go down in history alongside Carmen DeSapio," Greenwich Village district leader and Newell supporter Arthur Schwartz said, referring to Manhattan’s last Democratic Party leader from the Tammany Hall era.

“It’s really astounding. This was two guys in a room electing a state senator.”

In Brooklyn meanwhile, members of the New Kings County Democratic Club staged a protest at a meeting held attended by Seddio at Junior’s restaurant Monday.
That's Schumer's old stomping ground! I wonder if he had any role in this. That it's hardly a new phenomena or something confined to New York, is why I couldn't let the Goldmacher story pass unmentioned at DWT. This is, after all, tyranny. And this kind of grotesque corruption has led to the most corrupt man in Congress, Queens Party boss Joe Crowley, getting uncomfortably close to the Speaker's chair. This is what happens when there's one-party rule-- including Democratic one party rule.
It was hardly a secret that Herman D. Farrell Jr. had planned to retire from the New York State Legislature. The governor feted him at a goodbye breakfast in June. Colleagues sent the 85-year-old assemblyman off to shouts of “for he’s a jolly good fellow.” They even named a state park after him.

But Mr. Farrell, known to most as Denny, did not retire when all these festivities occurred. He called it quits earlier this month, saying it marked the anniversary of his first government job.

The timing ensured that Mr. Farrell could essentially handpick his Democratic successor, sidelining voters in his Upper Manhattan district after four decades of his incumbency. Stepping down in June would have cleared the way for an open Democratic primary in September. Instead, with the deadline passed for filing election petitions, party insiders gathered this weekend to formalize the choice of Mr. Farrell’s chief of staff [Al Taylor].

For decades, seats in the New York State Legislature have traded hands this way in what amounts to one of the last, most powerful vestiges of Tammany Hall-style politics in the state. Election laws here grant politicians and local party bosses and county committees vast sway in picking candidates when legislators leave office in the middle of their term-- whether they retire early, pass away, depart for another job or are carted away in handcuffs.

The rules are a crucial part of what empowers party bosses in a state that regularly outpaces the nation in corruption. They encourage ambitious politicians, even the most independent ones, to pledge fealty to county political leaders, lest they get passed over if and when the time comes for possible advancement.

“It’s New York Politics 101,” said William F. B. O’Reilly, a longtime Republican operative. “It’s not pretty-- it’s just the way it’s done. People are in the wings for years building up chits.”

Vacancies are filled differently across the country. In 25 states, replacement legislators are simply chosen by appointment, either by the governor (11 states) or some combination of party and local officials (14 states), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Varying rules govern the 25 states that hold special elections, but few bestow more influence on local power brokers than New York does.

Nearly 30 percent of the current roster of New York State lawmakers were first gifted their party nominations, according to a study by Citizens Union, a watchdog group. With so many lopsidedly Democratic and Republican districts-- Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 20-to-1 in Mr. Farrell’s seat, for instance-- being handed the nomination is often tantamount to being put in office. The power of incumbency means many of these legislators stick around for decades.

“We’re being played for fools,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. “They treat their seats as if these are monarchies with coronations as opposed to democracies with elections.”

Voters may be relegated to the sidelines but those with lobbying interests can be intimately involved. Lawmakers convicted as felons sometimes play power brokers in picking their successors. And party leaders are free to cut clandestine deals with one another in gentlemen’s agreements that disempower the public.

“It’s too bad, so sad: This is who the nominee is, and that’s how it’s going to be,” state Senator Todd D. Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat who first won his seat after party insiders nominated him in a 2016 special election. “Clearly, it was a great help to me,” he admitted.

Mr. Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, says the rules should be changed: “Electoral reforms are long overdue.”

A who’s who of New York politicos have climbed the ladder in this way at some point in their careers, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (it’s how she got to Congress) and Scott M. Stringer, the New York City comptroller (it’s how he got to the Assembly). Representative Joe Crowley, the No. 4 Democrat in the House, first got his congressional seat when his predecessor, Representative Thomas J. Manton, handed him the Democratic nomination before even publicly announcing his resignation. Mr. Manton was the powerful Queens County Democratic boss at the time; Mr. Crowley now holds that post.

“It’s in the weeds, hard to explain and doesn’t capture the imagination, but it is about the bedrock of democracy: Who can choose who will represent you?” said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat.

She, too, was first selected by party insiders to fill a 2006 vacancy. The process left such a bad taste that she introduced a bill to guarantee voters a say in special elections every legislative session for the last decade.

The bill has never gotten so much as a hearing in the Assembly.

The Republican leader of the State Senate, John J. Flanagan, first ascended to the Legislature as a 25-year-old after his father, then an assemblyman, died in 1986. Local political leaders gave the younger Mr. Flanagan his father’s line on the ballot.

“I was chosen by a committee so I’d like to think that they exercised good judgment,” said Mr. Flanagan, who has served for more than 30 years.

In a normal primary, while the party might endorse its preferred candidate, someone else could still challenge that person for the nomination. The voters would then decide at the ballot box. That doesn’t happen in special elections. Every county and political party has different rules for who exactly is involved, but the common thread is that the broader public is shut out.

In Queens, midterm replacements are picked by a handful of political insiders assigned to the particular district. Only four people are slated to decide who the Democrat will be on the ballot to replace Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz, 45, who died this month-- and two of them are Morton Povman, a former city councilman, and his wife, Sandra.

Mr. Farrell’s seat isn’t the only one to be delivered in the coming days by party insiders. A replacement for former Senator Daniel L. Squadron, whose district includes Manhattan and Brooklyn and who recently resigned, was getting picked, as well.

“The process is horrible, and the state law must be fixed to empower voters,” said Mr. Squadron, who stepped down for a nonprofit job even though as a lawmaker he had carried legislation to change the system. “Like a lot of critical reforms in Albany, this is bottled up in a back room.”

In a twist, the Manhattan party boss overseeing filling both current vacancies, Keith L. T. Wright, is a top official at a leading lobbying firm with business before the very legislators whose seats he is helping give away.

“It’s simply the law of the State of New York. Many people think I can snap my fingers-- which makes me this all-powerful person-- but there’s a process,” said Mr. Wright, who is the chairman of New York County Democrats and a former assemblyman. In Manhattan, that process includes party insiders from the districts of departing lawmakers voting. “I’m not picking them,” Mr. Wright said. “I mean let’s be clear: I administer.”

Among his lobbying firm’s clients are real estate developers, auto dealers, the financial industry and corporate giants, including Oracle and Abbott Laboratories. Mr. Wright himself has not registered as a lobbyist.

“I think it sucks,” said Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, a committee member of the New York County Democrats and among those insiders with a say in Mr. Farrell’s replacement. “You can quote me on that. I think it sucks. It shouldn’t be my choice alone, or the committee’s choice alone.”

The handing-off of seats can be a multigenerational family affair. Assemblyman David I. Weprin of Queens took his seat when party officials gave him the Democratic nomination in a 2010 special election to replace his brother, Mark, who in turn had won David’s seat on the New York City Council. Mark Weprin first arrived in the Assembly after his father, former Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin, passed away in 1994 and party leaders gave him the Democratic nomination.

The elder Mr. Weprin won the seat in 1971 in a special election, where presumably party insiders again got their way-- meaning that some voters in Queens have gone through about a half-century and three different Weprin assemblymen since there has been an open primary contest.

The merry-go-round of politicians trading jobs is in especially full swing this time of year, as three state legislators won primaries last week to move to the New York City Council. Others are running for local offices elsewhere. Depending on when they step down, special elections will automatically occur or could be called by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has broad discretion about when and whether to call for special elections.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said party bosses picking nominees “is counter to the spirit of the democratic process, and reforms should be put into place to open it up.” Watchdog groups have questioned Mr. Cuomo’s commitment to ethics reforms in Albany, but Mr. Azzopardi said, “This is something we’re examining very closely.”

Special election openings have long been part of what greases political machines in New York.

For instance, after the former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted of corruption, his political apparatus helped pick his replacement on the ballot. The Silver-backed candidate was later defeated in an open Democratic primary.

City officials can game the system, too. David G. Greenfield, a New York City councilman, announced he would not seek re-election this July, functionally giving the Democratic line to an allied consultant.

For Mr. Farrell, who declined to comment for this article, his early resignation meant a small set of Manhattan insiders, overseen by Mr. Wright, gathered over the weekend to pick his successor.

Mr. Farrell’s chief of staff, Al Taylor, was the only person nominated; Mr. Farrell seconded the pick. He knew well the arcane rules governing the meeting: He was formerly a Manhattan party boss for more than a quarter-century.

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Kansas Progressives Have A Real Chance to Win a Swing District-- The Third District


McCain and Romney both won in KS-03, the Kansas congressional district that includes all of the Kansas part of Kansas City, all of suburban Johnson and Wyandotte counties and part of rural Miami County. Last year, though, Trump lost (narrowly), 47.2% to 46.0%. The DCCC ran one of their GOP-lite candidates, Jay Sidie, and he lost in a rout-- 51.3% to 40.6%, underperforming even Hillary. Maybe they could have figured out he was the wrong candidate when they saw how well Bernie did in Kansas against Hillary. Bernie won every district in the state and he won KS-03 62.1% to 37.9%. But the DCCC doesn't pay attention to inconvenient facts like that.

Last year the district's PVI was R+6 but now it's R+4, easily the least red district in the state. Jay Sidie, the guy from last cycle, is running again-- as are at least 4 other candidates. One is the kind of forthright progressive that Kansas voters seem interested in as an antidote to the status quo. We asked him to introduce himself.

Who I am and our campaign
-by Brent Welder

Pouring concrete in scorching summer heat and waiting tables on nights and weekends, I worked my way through college. I never had a rich dad that could loan me a million dollars. But I did have a mom and dad who made sure I had solid Midwest values and a strong work ethic.

From an early age, I learned the importance of standing up for what I thought was right. That’s why I have fought my whole life for workers’ rights through working for labor unions and progressive candidates, like Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders inspired me. From the first time I heard him speak, I knew I had found someone who finally said everything I knew what was right—from a $15 per hour minimum wage to single payer heath care system to creating a government that works for us, not the wealthy 1%.

So I got involved. I started organizing locally, then got elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Then Bernie Sanders nominated me to serve on the National Platform Committee. I wrote an amendment to ban corporate money from elections, and we passed the most progressive platform in history.

Disillusioned with politics as normal and poor decisions leading up to the November elections, I realized that I needed to do more. It was time for me to step up and put it all on the line.

I am running because I am tired of billionaires and giant corporations having too much control over our government. We need to get money out of politics, that’s why I’m not accepting any corporate PAC money. I am committed to fighting for the issues I care for (expanded list), including:
Fighting for US, Not Billionaires or Giant Corporations
Fighting for a $15 Minimum Wage
Fighting for Middle Class Workers and Labor
Fighting for Medicare for All
Fighting for Women’s Equality
Fighting for Racial Justice
Fighting for Immigration Reform
Why can I win Kansas-03?

Kansas-03 is 1 of only 5 Republican districts that Clinton won in the general and Bernie won in the primary. Bernie won the primary with 62% of the vote. The Republican that currently holds the seat, Kevin Yoder, has voted with Trump 97% of the time, even though Trump’s negatives are the third highest of any swing district in the country. Polling has Yoder losing to a generic Democrat by 6%. Therefore, it is very likely to become a Democratic seat in 2018.

I helped to organize this district for Bernie. My wife and I are labor lawyers with deep ties to the community. I have already received Our Revolution Kansas City and my first union endorsement from BMWED. I have what it takes to win-- the drive, the story, and you.

My Republican opponent, Kevin Yoder is raking in the corporate PAC money, but our campaign is staying strong with donations from people like you. I can’t do this without you. Together we are stronger than any handful of billionaires trying to corrupt our economy and political process. Donate today.

More information:

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Nevada's U.S. Senate Race Looks Wide Open-- Party Establishment Picks May Fail To Make The Final Ballot


The ad above by Save My Care started running yesterday in Nevada, where panic-stricken serial flip flopper Dean Heller is widely seen as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent up for reelection in 2018. After vowing to Nevadans to not help GOP extremists repeal Obamacare he was threatened by Trump and immediately buckled and voted against Nevadans. And now he's back with another bill he helped write that will rip healthcare away from even more Americans than the last one! Below is the ad a Trump SuperPAC, with money raised by Mike Pence, used as an effective cudgel to beat up Heller and force him to switch his postion from the pro-healthcare position that the popular Republican governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, embraces to flat-out a flat-out anti-healthcare stand that Nevadans hate:

Last year Clinton beat Trump in Nevada, 539,260 (47.92%) to 512,058 (45.50%). She won big in Clark County (Vegas)-- 52.43% to 41.72%-- and narrowly in Washow County (Reno)-- 46.39% to 45.14%-- enough to take the state's 6 electoral votes. On the same day Catherine Cortez Masto beat Republican Joe Heck for the U.S. Senate seat, also narrowly-- 521,994 (47.1%) to 495,079 (44.7%). Nevada is a swing state trending blue.

Schumer and Harry Reid have selected the worst possible candidate to run against Heller, conservative and utterly undistinguished and unaccomplished, Republican-lite freshman Jacky Rosen. Rosen has already earned one of the lowest "F" scores of any Democrat in Congress from ProgressivePunch, normally voting with the Blue Dogs on every important issue. In July Stanley Paher wrote in the Reno Gazette-Journal that it would be very unwise for the Democrats to run her. "For more than a half century," he wrote, "successful Nevada politicians have ascended from lower offices upwards into the U.S. Senate. These include Paul Laxalt, Harry Reid, Dick Bryan and Dean Heller. In contrast, a non-political background as touted by Rosen seldom translates into electoral success. How does synagogual leadership, computer programming skills, and familial experience translate into votes? Her lone electoral win last November was a 1% squeaker against a very weak Republican who had lost 5 elections over the past 8 years... The Rosen forces will point to Las Vegas’ large Democratic registration as an advantage for her statewide bid. But tell that to the bushel full of Nevada Democrats who lost in the 2014 midterm elections up and down ballot, as well as in 2010 when Joe Heck bested incumbent Las Vegas Congresswoman Dina Titus and Republicans Krolicki and Sandoval won in landslides for Nevada’s top two offices."

Rosen beat Danny Tarkanian, a crackpot Trumpist, for the open congressional seat last year, 146,869 (47.2%) to 142,926 (46%). The southern Clark County district, basically everything south of the airport, including Henderson and Boulder City, right down to the tip of the state where California, Arizona and Nevada meet in the Mohave Valley. Obama won the district both times but Hillary lost it to Trump 47.5% to 46.5%. Rosen's brief tenure in Congress has shown her to be, basically, everything that voters in NV-03 didn't like about Clinton. She's a disaster as a candidate and Reid and Schumer-- and EMILY's Lidt, of course-- stumbled right into it.

Meanwhile the Trumpist, Tarkanian, is primarying Heller with the support for Bannon and the rest of the whole nationalist fringe of the GOP. The most recent poll of Nevada Republicans-- which shows Trump with an 80% approval rating and Heller with a 34% approval-- indicates that Tarkanian would beat him 39-31% if the primary were held today.

Democrats do have a choice in their own primary as well. If they want to stand up to the party bosses-- Reid and Schumer-- they can vote for a Berniecrat in the race, Jesse Sbaih, someone who Reid rejected as a Democratic candidate last year because of his Muslim faith. When he was running for Congress, Reid told him to get out of the race because "a Muslim cannot win this race." Unlike Rosen Sbaih is a dedicated progressive and has pledged to fight for Medicare-For-All. Rosen is one of the minority of House Democrats who has refused to co-sponsor John Conyers' Medicare-For-All bill. Sbaih's wife is a physician and he has made Medicare-For-All one of the keystones of his campaign.

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Paul Ryan And Señor Trumpanzee In League To Destroy Senate Bipartisan Efforts


Lamar Alexander (R-TN) voted to repeal Obamacare but when the repeal failed he decided he doesn't really want to hold folks in Tennessee who get healthcare coverage through Obamacare hostage. A former governor of his state and the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, he started working on a bipartisan fix that would at least stabilize the insurance markets while Congress figures out how to proceed. I've been hearing reports that his efforts have been going well. But then someone ratted him out to Trump and yesterday Trump-- with Paul Ryan in tow-- tried to put the kibosh on the whole endeavor. Ryan and White House extremists went to McConnell and Cornyn and told them to make Alexander stop, claiming that if a catastrophe is looming, there will be more pressure on senators to pass this new version of TrumpCare-- the one 10 governors, including Republican governors of Ohio, Massachusetts, Alaska, Nevada and Vermont, came out against yesterday and the one, also yesterday, the AMA said "would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance coverage, destabilize health insurance markets, and decrease access to affordable coverage and care," and the one Vet Votes told their members "would be the single largest cut to veterans' health care in the history of our nation. If this bill passes, tens of thousands veterans will lose their health care, and countless military family members as well." That one.
Republicans say that while the bipartisan talks between Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) initially seemed promising, many in the GOP fear providing money for Obamacare but offering little for conservatives-- especially after Republican lawmakers have been throttled by President Donald Trump and the GOP base for failing to repeal the health law.

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that the Trump administration is all-in on the latest repeal effort, flying to Washington with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to deliver a message to the Senate GOP on repeal: "This is the moment. Now is the time," according to a pool report. Ryan and Trump called them during the plane ride as well.

Trump has threatened to withhold billions in Obamacare subsidies, which would upend private insurance markets. Alexander and Murray are working on legislation to have Congress provide those subsidies while allowing states more flexibility.

But Republicans claim Democrats are not willing to bend enough. Democrats reject that claim and say it is intended to sink bipartisan negotiations.

The “speaker is drawing a red line” and said the House “would not be able to pass a bailout of insurers,” said one congressional source familiar with the dynamics. “The White House also told GOP leaders that [Obamacare subsidies] without repeal would not work.”

A House source familiar with the conversation confirmed that a call between Ryan and Senate GOP leadership occurred in which the stabilization approach was sidelined. A second House Republican source said a stabilization bill "would definitely make some in our conference pretty upset if we took it up."

"Our focus is on repealing and replacing this failing law, and we are encouraged the Senate is making progress," said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan.
Señor Trumpanzee by Nancy Ohanian

Instead, Ryan and the White House are backing the repeal bill written by Graham and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would turn federal health care programs into state block grants, repeal Obamacare’s coverage mandates and wind down the law’s Medicaid expansion while capping the entitlement program’s spending for the first time.

Graham said his friend Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may support the bill, according to the pool report, a potentially significant development considering McCain's opposition to the last repeal attempt.

Asked about Graham's suggestion in an interview Tuesday, McCain responded: "I have nothing to say."

Pence called Graham Monday night to get him ready for the goal line push, and also called Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat, to test his support. A Manchin spoksesman said Tuesday he opposed the bill.

Pence also spoke to Alaska Gov. Bill Walker about how the bill might affect Alaska, in a bid to reel in Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another senator who helped tank the last effort.

However, a bipartisan group of governors-- including Walker and GOP Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada-- sent a letter to McConnell on Tuesday saying they oppose the Graham-Cassidy plan and want the Senate to concentrate on the bipartisan Murray-Alexander approach.

The Congressional Budget Office said Monday it would not be able to provide full estimates on how the Graham-Cassidy bill would affect insurance premiums or coverage for several more weeks. The bill would make deep spending cuts to Medicaid in the coming years; CBO has estimated that similar proposals would mean millions more would be uninsured.

...A senior White House official said there was never much interest in the Murray-Alexander talks and chalked it up to "the media talking about it,” though McConnell openly acknowledged the possibility that the two deal-making senators could strike a bargain. Trump listened to arguments for it and seemed intrigued, but it wasn't seriously considered as a possibility, this person said.

The bipartisan proposal would continue subsidy payments and would not be seen as repealing Obamacare, this person said. Other White House officials said Graham-Cassidy isn't their ideal bill, but it's a "final chance to actually get something done," according to a second administration official.

...Democrats portrayed the rejection of the bipartisan push as intended to create pressure on Senate Republicans to hold their nose and support the Graham-Cassidy bill, and as the only way out of the party's political quagmire. If that bill fails, Republicans may have to return to bipartisan talks, particularly if Trump again threatens to halt subsidy payments.

On Monday, Democrats said Murray was willing to make significant concessions to Alexander on more flexibility for states to run their health care systems if Obamacare subsidies were funded by Congress.

“Murray has agreed to basically everything that Alexander has been asking for,” a Democratic aide said.

If Democrats are able to perusade just three Republicans to endorse the stabilization effort, it could mark a death blow for the Graham-Cassidy bill, since it would suggest there are not 50 Senate Republicans willing to completely repeal Obamacare. Democrats say GOP leaders and the White House are trying to create a false sense of urgency with a deadline looming.

“It’s crystal clear that Republicans are trying to shut down those negotiations in order to close off the better, more bipartisan path that moderate Republicans could take,” said a second Democratic aide. “They know that if they have a choice between a good bipartisan bill and Graham-Cassidy, some of them are likely to choose to former.”

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Midnight Meme Of The Day


-by Noah

Republicans still have their daggers out for Hillary Clinton and they always will. Having their guy win the presidency over her just isn't enough to them. Maybe it's the fact that she got over 3 million more votes than Señor Trumpanzee. Maybe it's just because they can't deal with women at all or women of such professional accomplishment and brain power. She may have been a poor campaigner and candidate, but, really, do they want to get into comparisons of Clinton vs. a stark, raving mad fascist with a mind that will keep shrinks talking for the rest of human history?

The build up to the release of Clinton's new book, What Happened has brought out a new flood of deranged bile from every dark corner and crevice of Republican World, including insane accusations that it was Hillary Clinton who was "colluding with Russia" all along, not the assclown that leads their party, and-- you guessed it-- calls for new investigations into Benghazi, and-- wait for it-- Her Emails!!! Two dozen Republican congresscretins called for a special counsel, back in July, to get into this once again and the Senate Republicans want to look at the "possibility" that Ukrainians were helping Hillary.

Clearly, no amount of rehab will ever retrieve the sanity of any Republicans you may have the misfortune to know; not that they ever had any anyway. The only thing that distracts the Republican Party from their demented obsession with Hillary Clinton is their desire to do away with Obamacare and find the best way (to them) to bring about the deaths of as many Americans as possible, but, hey, that's another nutball obsession that runs their days.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Take Off Your Swastika: Berkeley Punks Rule-- Gilman Street/Green Day Film Arrives Just In Time For Campus "Free Speech Year"


Green Day at Gilman, 1992-- photo by Murray Bowles

-by Denise Sullivan

In 1988, the peace punks who congregated at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, California, had a choice to make: To meet encroaching skinheads with violence or to fight back with the tactics of non-violence. Choices were made, the inevitable schisms from within ensued, and life went on, as the new documentary, Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, tells. While the story and other tales of punk rock glory illustrate punk's inherent contradictions and what happens when utopian ideals like egalitarianism and rule-by-committee are put to the test, the film is also in perfect synch with the hate speech controversy happening in Berkeley here and now.

“The film played in Charlottesville a few weeks back,” explained its director, Corbett Redford. “Someone from the audience commented, 'This is how allies work. Allies stand up.”

The punks of Gilman, far more of them straight, white, and male than queer, people of color, or women, did indeed stand up to the Nazi strain in their midst. And yet, the politics of waging peace and the how music fits into those politics is often more nuanced and complicated than taking up of pitchforks, tiki torches, or baseball bats. The project at Gilman Street, while largely a success and a piece of the Bay Area's larger legacy of resistance, is also a reminder, to me anyway, that people on the same team are not immune to the cruelties and divisiveness that destroys alliances, especially here in our own left coast bubble.

Recounted against a backdrop of music, animation, and collected ephemera, the film provides plenty of context in the form of hundreds of testimonials by the fans, friends, DJs, zine makers, and bands, all who helped to shape and were shaped by the intentional community that was Gilman. Additional voiceover narration is supplied by Iggy Pop. All of the elements go a long way toward explaining how one place held close white punks, black speed-metal heads, self-identified queers, and baby feminists, as capitalism moved steadily toward its hypernormal end phase.

Take the story of Green Day, who are also the film's executive producers: Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt were just two kids with long hair-- mullets, in fact-- trying to find their way out of the suburbs and into rock 'n' roll. This was a logical career choice for people back then-- in the years before the Internet-- a time when music still meant something and musicians with actual talent had a real shot at making a living with their art. For kids from East Bay suburbs like Pinole, El Sobrante, and Rodeo (accent on the day-o) any options beyond their semi-rural, semi-industrial refinery towns would've been welcome in the economically dim R & B (Reagan and Bush) era, as was Gilman, a place where you could dream about life beyond the 'burbs (or get away from parents), accompanied by a hardcore punk soundtrack of your own making. You were also taught about others systems of governance and lifestyles, all of it an alternative to skateboarding in 7-11 parking lots, video games, and bottomless bowls of weed, the area's standard fare.

At Gilman, kids were people too; they had a voice and made decisions. But as players on the punk scene, musicians with songwriting talent the likes of Green Day were also subject to skepticism and derision. By the time Billie Joe came around asking to play, the band was perceived as “too pop” and was turned away by Tim Yohannan, Gilman's co-founder and booker. Yohannan (“A red-diaper baby who had been at People's Park,” according to filmmaker Redford) was also the founding publisher of the punk zine and radio show, Maximum Rock'n'Roll; he used what means he had to secure the 924 space, becoming its de facto elder. He then gave the youngsters its keys, as well as an education in all things collective, communal, and dogmatic: Enforcing the strictly straight-edge, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic rules worked in theory, but was more complicated in practice. Yohannan does not get to tell his story (he died of cancer in 1998), but his friends and co-workers remember him in Turn It Around.

Howie recently compared Billie Joe to Shakespeare in a tweet. I mention this because both his and Yohannan's extreme positions on Green Day go some way toward explaining the divide within the small but mighty Bay Area punk scenes which supposedly had a code of no racism, no sexism, and no homophobia, but at times felt racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and threatening to anyone who wasn't a straight white male. Back when Yohannan held dominion over Gilman and the East Bay but before Green Day hit the scene, Howie was young and I was younger still. We both worked on the San Francisco side of the Bay, spinning records that were not heard anywhere but in clubs and on the left end of the dial, and our tastes were decidedly more “commercial,” and catholic. These simple differences led to real hostilities, you might even say warfare, between rival college radio stations KUSF and Berkeley's KALX (Redford tells me that version of his film was mostly left on the proverbial cutting room floor but will likely show up as extras on a DVD). By the time Green Day was on the rise, I was reporting on Bay Area music for the region's paper, the Contra Costa Times. Admittedly, much of what I knew about what went on inside Gilman was colored by my experience with punk rock at KUSF and SF's own punk clubhouse, the Mabuhay Gardens. I was among those who perceived hardcore and the suburban influence to have poisoned our scene, bringing with it slamdancing, mosh pits, skinhead violence and the smell of fear. The small-minded punk versus "not punk enough” dynamic came to bear further after Howie left San Francisco and was heading Green Day's chosen record label, Reprise, which helped make way for their superstardom (for those unfamiliar, Green Day are stadium-fillers with Grammy and Tony Awards to their credit; they are also among the handful of American recording artists who stood up in the era of Bush II and cried foul during the Iraq war with a concept album titled American Idiot). Green Day's success was not entirely celebrated by the punks at Gilman who had “collectively” banned major label recording artists from their space. I ultimately attended some girl-friendly shows there, but while the place wasn't for me, it was a godsend for the kids in the East Bay, a once largely conservative bastion whose districts by and large vote Democrat these days, though there is still one assembly district held down by a Republican in the wealthier, far east county. Filmmaker Redford contends that things could've easily gone the other way.

“When you have a blustery blowhard in the media everyday, it emboldens people to come out from under their rocks,” he says in the wake of Berkeley's recent defeat of Nazi terror and in anticipation of the University's planned Fall program of hate speech. “But I don't believe there are more of them than people who believe in treating people fairly and equally. I have to believe that. I don't want to lose hope."

Green Day is currently on a multi-city mega world tour. Gilman survives as an all-ages, non-profit collective and its alumni seem more comfortable celebrating each other's successes since its regulars have gone on to become popular zine makers and authors, scholars, professional musicians, and workers of all stripes-- everyday people who still believe in the dream of pluralism while the threat of fascism looms large in Berkeley and throughout the land. Our differences, for the most part, have been cast aside, we are all children of punk rock, and its spirit of self-reliance and resistance serve us well in these times: Punk made us pro-peace and against racism, sexism, and wage slavery. We still seek safe places-- a safe country for people of all identities-- and reject patriarchal, colonial mentalities. And while we recognize it is uneasy business to create these spaces, many of us remain involved in trying.

“People building things, making positive change, creating art for each other, anywhere you find that, there is punk rock,” says Redford, much like a true-believing, modern day Tom Joad. “Punk isn't dead, no matter what anyone tells you. If you can't find it, you might have to change your way of thinking. Wherever there is resistance culture, wherever there are people, there is punk rock.”

Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk opens in theaters nationwide this week.

Denise Sullivan reports on arts, culture, and gentrification issues for DWT!

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