The Manafort mess: I’m shocked, shocked!

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“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!,” said Captain Renault in Casablanca, as a croupier handed him a pile of money.

I feel the same way about comments from political figures in the U.S., including Hillary Clinton, who have expressed astonishment and dismay over allegations that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, provided campaign assistance to Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was forced to flee from Ukraine to Russia in 2014 after violent several months of political crisis and violent protests.

I’m equally unsurprised by attempts to tar Manafort as a villain because he has lobbied in the U.S. for Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines

Hillary Clinton’s campaign leapt at the chance to draw blood. “Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them,” said Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook.

Good grief. Everybody’s in such high dudgeon.

But wait a minute.

We’re not all rubes, as so many politicians and media outlets assume. We know that Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments and special interests, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Take John Podesta, the Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In 1988, he and his brother, Tony, founded Podesta Associates, Inc., a Washington, D.C., government relations and public affairs lobbying firm. The firm later changed its name to the Podesta Group, Inc.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, which works to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent, the Podesta Group has been a registered agent, or lobbyist, for a number of foreign governments, including the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the National Security Council of Georgia, the Republic of Kosova, the Government of Albania and the Kingdom of Thailand.

In 2013, for example, the Podesta Group reported being paid $840,196.21 by the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The previous year, the corruption watchdog Transparency International awarded the crown of “Corrupt Person of the Year” to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. “Despite its massive oil resources, … Azerbaijan is plagued by endemic corruption that prevents ordinary Azerbaijanis from sharing in their country’s natural wealth and is a significant barrier to Azerbaijan’s development,” the organization said.

That same year, public protests against human rights abuses led to brutal crackdowns, arrests, and undemocratic trials.

2013 was another awkward time for the Government of Azerbaijan when election authorities released vote results re-electing Aliyev – a full day before voting had even started. The announcement followed intimidation of activists and journalists and free speech restrictions.

Freedom House, a promoter of global human rights, lambasted the country’s government. “Azerbaijan is ruled by an authoritarian regime characterized by intolerance for dissent and disregard for civil liberties and political rights,” the organization said in 2013.

The federal  Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

Late last year, the Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The study said the leader of the pack was Omnicom-owned Ketchum PR, which made $37 million representing human-rights violators, followed by Qorvis Communications/MSL Group at $20.6 Million dollars.

In 2013, Ketchum was behind a Vladimir Putin-led PR push tied to Syria. When the New York Times ran a highly visible op-ed about Syria submitted by Russian President Putin in Sept. 2013, Ketchum arranged it (and likely wrote it).

“From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future,” Putin said. “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.” The op-ed went on to say, “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force…”

According to ProPublica and Ketchum reports, Russia paid $1.3 million for Ketchum’s professional services for the period ended in May 2013.

In 2014, the New York Times reported how Angus Roxburgh, a former Ketchum consultant and journalist for the BBC and The Economist, recounted his experiences working with Ketchum. “The Russian officials…were initially convinced they could pay for better coverage, or intimidate journalists into it,” Roxburgh told the Times. “They were eventually persuaded to take reporters to dinner instead.”

According to the Times, Roxburgh told The Daily Beast that Ketchum’s aim “means helping them (Russia) disguise all the issues that make it unattractive: human rights, invasions of neighboring countries, etc.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia, under fire for human rights abuses, hired a cornucopia of U.S. PR/lobbying firms to tell its story in a favorable way and influence legislation.

In March, the Saudi Royal Embassy retained DLA Piper and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. That same month, it also hired Targeted Victory, which uses expansive data to put together digital campaigns for political clients, and Zignal Labs, which uses big data analytics, media monitoring and business intelligence to provide insights that drive public outreach efforts. In September 2015, the Saudi government expanded its efforts further by signing contracts with PR leviathan Edelman and the Podesta Group.

Just a few things to remember when attack dogs and establishment politicians, including Hillary Clinton, feign surprise and horror at amoral U.S. PR and lobbying firms doing business with foreign governments and foreign leaders with bad reputations.

Don’t be shocked.

 

Addendum

On 8/25/16, PoliticoPlaybook reported that the FBI and DOJ are looking into the Podesta Group’s work in Ukraine:

K STREET WATCH  The FBI and DOJ’s probes into the Podesta Group’s work for a non-profit tied to the former Ukrainian government are sending shockwaves downtown, where the investigation into the firm’s work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine has led to widespread nervousness. Reps from multiple firms who lobby for foreign entities think this might be a tipping point, and the feds might take a much broader look at other firms and clients. “It’s right in the purview of the DOJ – they don’t need a referral,” said one lobbyist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the beat goes on: the Clinton money muddle

Addendum, Sept. 6, 2016: Good to see the major media finally pick up on payments to Bill Clinton by Laureate Education for-profit schools company.

Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘honorary chancellor’ of a for-profit college

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Bill Clinton at the “Laureate Summit on Youth and Jobs at Universidad Europa in Madrid, Spain in May 2013

 

 

Conservative media screwed up last week….bad.

Hillary and Bill Clinton released their 2015 tax returns on Friday, Aug. 12. The Daily Caller, a conservative website, sensed blood when it reviewed the return and concluded that of the $1,042,000 in charitable contributions Hillary and Bill claimed, $1 million went to the high profile and controversial Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

With great fanfare, and obvious delight, The Daily Caller went on the attack, accusing the Clintons of self-dealing. Other conservative news sites gleefully repeated the story.

But they got it wrong.

The $1 million went, instead, to the Clinton Family Foundation, an entirely separate non-profit headquartered in Chappaqua, New York that was formed in 2002 and serves as a philanthropic vehicle for the Clinton family.

The liberal media exulted in the conservatives’ embarrassment. Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, said “An embarrassing misreading” of the Clintons’ tax returns (by the Daily Caller) …led to publication of an entire article based on a “false premise”.

But the story shouldn’t end there.

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If you dig deeper, you find that in addition to the $1 million that went to the Clinton Family Foundation in 2015, the Clintons donated $42,000 to Desert Classic Charities, which holds an annual PGA golf event in Southern California’s Coachella Valley. That organization turned right around and effectively returned the donation by giving $700,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. That was the Desert Classic Charities’ largest single contribution. Other than a $295.000 donation to the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, CA, no other donation exceeded $25,000.

The Clinton Family Foundation hasn’t released its 2015 tax returns. However, according to its 2014 990-PF filing with the IRS, Bill and Hillary donated $3 million to the Family Foundation. It turned around and donated $1,865,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation in Little Rock, Arkansas, the original name of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Similar self-serving transfers occurred in 2013, when the Family Foundation made its single largest donation, $300,000, to the William J. Clinton Foundation and $5,000 to the Clinton Birthplace Foundation of Hope, Arkansas. In 2012, the Family Foundation donated $220,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation, also its largest single contribution.

The Clinton’s 2015 tax filing also reveals that Bill Clinton earned about $1.7 million from a consulting business he created, WJC L.L.C. That included $1.1 million from Laureate Education, a for-profit education company, and $562,000 from Dubai-based GEMS Education, a for-profit operator of kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools, which says it has a network of 91 schools serving 250,000 students in over a dozen countries. Its only U.S. school is GEMS World Academy at 350 East South Water St. in Chicago.

Selling out as a corporate shill has rarely been so lucrative as it has been for ex-president Bill Clinton.

In 2010, he signed on to become an “Honorary Chancellor” for Laureate International Universities, part of Baltimore, MD-based Laureate Education Inc. Laureate grew out of the K-12 tutoring company, Sylvan Learning Systems, in 2004 when Sylvan was spun off.

The company was taken private in a $3.8 billion deal in 2007. Investors included KKR & Co., Soros Fund Management, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors, Citi Private Equity, Sterling Capital and others.

In Oct. 2015, the company, then $4.7 billion in debt, filed for an Initial Public Offering (IPO), but it has run into headwinds.

In return for serving as a front man for the privately held company, Clinton collected $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014. Laureate also has made multi-million dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation. He resigned as honorary chancellor in April 2015, but has obviously found a way to keep making money off the relationship. It will be interesting to see whether Bill Clinton benefits financially if the IPO is successful.

As for GEMS, Bill Clinton has been taking money from that organization since he was appointed honorary chairman of GEMS’ philanthropic arm, the Varkey Foundation, in December 2010. Since then GEMS has paid him more than $5.625 million ($500,000 in 2011; $1.25 million in 2012; $1.75 million in 2013; $2.125 million in 2014; 2015 – NA)

Bill’s income from Laureate and GEMS is of particular interest because Hillary, following on Barack Obama’s policies, has promised to crack down on the for-profit education industry.

It’s also worth noting that the Clinton’s 2015 tax filing shows their income firmly entrenched them in the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers, far from the middle class on which Hillary Clinton says her presidential campaign is focused and far from when Hillary claimed she and Bill were broke after leaving the White House.

“We have a life experience that is clearly different in very dramatic ways from many Americans,” Clinton said in an ABC TV interview in 2014.

I’ll say!

Addendum, Sept. 6, 2016: Gee, nice of the major media to finally pick up on the Laureate connection to the Clintons:

Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘honorary chancellor’ of a for-profit college

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There they go again.Trump and guns.

Feigned Outrage

There they go again.

“If she (Hillary Clinton) gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in North Carolina today. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

His campaign maintained that he was referring to political activism.

But Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager responded in high dudgeon: “What Trump is saying is dangerous.”

Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, erupted in disbelief. “Nobody who is seeking a leadership position, especially the presidency, the leadership of the country, should do anything to countenance violence, and that’s what he was saying,” Kaine said.

The ever low-key Elizabeth Warren followed up, saying Trump had made a “death threat.”

And of course a Democratic Congressman, Eric Swalwell, CA, followed up by calling on the Secret Service to investigate Donald Trump’s comments directed at Hillary Clinton, according to The Hill.

“Donald Trump suggested someone kill Sec. Clinton. We must take people at their word. @SecretService must investigate #TrumpThreat,” Swalwell Tweeted.

The fact that his tweet got him some media attention probably pleased Swalwell no end.

Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which has endorsed Mrs. Clinton, said Mr. Trump’s statement was “repulsive — literally using the Second Amendment as cover to encourage people to kill someone with whom they disagree.”

The media loved it, seeing another opportunity for more over-the-top, twisted, contorted, coverage of the presidential campaign.

The New York Times reported that  Donald Trump seemed to suggest that gun rights backers could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton nominated judges who favor gun control.

I heard the same kind of hand-wringing language on OPB this afternoon.

Similarly, The Hill reported: “Yet another Donald Trump reset has gone by the wayside as the GOP nominee appeared to joke that someone could shoot his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. His comment came just one day after a highly-touted economic speech meant to put Trump back on message.  After the comment gained steam on social media, the Trump campaign raced to clarify that Trump only meant political resource, not violence. But it’s the kind of diversion that drives on-the-fence Republicans crazy.”

Good grief. Come on folks. There are enough legitimate Trump issues to focus on without stooping to this kind of manufactured outrage.

Measure 97: don’t buy a pig in a poke

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After months of waffling and so-called reflection, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown now says she supports a whopping increase in business taxes through Ballot Measure 97. Surprise!

What liberal Democrat wouldn’t salivate over the prospect of $6.1 billion of additional state revenue in the 2017-19 biennium?

What’s dismaying is that Brown seems to be on the voters’ side, according to a recent poll by Clout Research. That poll, released on July 27, concluded the following with respect to Measure 97:

  • Yes              39%
  • No               34%
  • Not Sure    27.1%

The only saving grace here is that, according to FiveThirtyEight, Clout Research isn’t too reliable, earning a lousy C- ranking. Of the 9 Clout polls FiveThirtyEight reviewed, Clout called only 3 correctly. This compares, for example, with the ABC News/Washington Post which polled 78 percent of 51 races reviewed correctly and earned an A+ rating.

 Opponents of Measure 97 can also take some solace in the fact that The Clout poll  found support for the measure is diminishing. About 39 percent of respondents to the Clout poll favored the measure, versus 44 percent who favored it in early May.

Still, Brown’s support for Measure 97 is hard to fathom given the real impacts and uncertainties associated with the measure.

For example, Democrats always like to position themselves as dedicated, empathetic protectors of the poor. But Measure 97, if approved, would be a significant burden on the poor.

“…the gross receipts tax is subject to the same equity concerns as the retail sales tax because under most circumstances it eventually leads to higher consumer prices,” said Oregon’s nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office in a report. “Any tax that is based on general consumption will have a regressive impact on the distribution of the tax burden, meaning that lower income households will experience a higher tax burden as a percentage of their income than higher income households.”

According to the report, families earning up to $48,000 a year will see a 9 percent decrease in net household after-tax Income under Measure 97 after wages and prices have adjusted to the new tax policy. In contrast, families earning over $206,000 a year will see just a 4 percent decrease in net household after-tax Income.

In the same vein, Measure 97 would change the distribution of Oregon’s state and local tax burden to disadvantage low-income Oregonians. According to the report, families earning up to $48,000 a year would see their effective tax rate go up in the range of .51 percent-.80 percent. In contrast, the effective tax rate of families earning more than $206,000 would go up just .27 percent.

So much for the Democrat’s commitment to low-income families.

For a party that says so often that it wants fairness and equality in the economy, its support for Measure 97 is also inconsistent. That’s because Measure 97 could really cause the equality of Oregon’s corporate tax system to go seriously awry.

According to the Legislative Revenue Office report, gross receipts taxes, such as those proposed in Measure 97, can distort tax payments because of something called pyramiding. “Pyramiding occurs when the gross receipts tax is built in at the time each transaction occurs and then passed on to the next stage,” the report said. “Because industries vary greatly in the number of transactions that occur, the effective tax rates can be considerably higher for those industries with multiple transactions compared to those that have very few.”

A study by the Washington Legislature, cited in the Legislative Revenue Office report, backed up this conclusion. “Because the degree of pyramiding varies widely, this means that effective tax rates will vary widely among industries, thereby distorting market prices and decisions,” the report said.

With all their talk of fighting inequality, is that really what Democrats want, a flawed, unequal business tax system?

Democrats will also be relying on some very iffy revenue expectations if Measure 97 passes and they grow spending based on the Legislative Revenue Office’s revenue projections. The office’s report projects that the largest 274 corporations based on Oregon sales would see their annual Oregon taxes increase by over $2 billion, or most of the total tax revenue increase from Measure 97.

But the office emphasizes that this is a very dubious number. “Since these corporations are large, operate globally in many cases, and often have substantial market power; accurately predicting their behavioral response to a large tax increase presents numerous challenges. The individual behavioral response of these corporations will be a key factor in determining how the tax burden is ultimately distributed.”

Finally, Oregonians who support Measure 97 because they believe Democrats’ claims that the revenue would be committed to things like K-12 education and healthcare are tragically misinformed. On Aug. 1, 2016, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Counsel released an opinion saying, in essence, the Legislature can do anything it damn pleases with Measure 97 revenue.

“Section 3 would not bind a future legislature in its spending decisions,” wrote Chief Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson in the opinion. “If Measure 97 becomes law, the Legislative Assembly may appropriate revenues generated by the measure in any way it chooses.”

In other words, don’t bet your sweet bippy on how this would all play out.

With all these negatives and uncertainties, do Oregonians really want to buy the Democrat’s and unions’ Measure 97 snake oil?

 

 

Dereliction of duty: mainstream media and the presidential campaign

 

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Far too much media coverage of the presidential campaign has been more clickbait than content.

So what did you think of the white pantsuit Hillary Clinton wore when she accepted the Democratic presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention?

Reporters in the mainstream media devoted hundreds of articles and thousands of words to this topic. Yahoo opined that Hillary obviously was sending a message of support for “the suffragettes who fought so tirelessly for women to gain the right to vote 100 years ago”.

One reporter from Philadelphia Inquirer even managed to praise Hillary’s outfit as reflecting a “soft and strong” woman “telling us she has arrived (while asserting a week earlier that the white dress worn by Melania Trump during her Republican National Convention speech as “another reminder that in the G.O.P. white is always right.”

Boy, this is important stuff.

And all of this faux news has been squeezing out coverage of serious issues of great import to Americans.

In this vein, the media have taken to highlighting distracting errors committed by Trump to such a degree that they have almost taken over the newshole.

The media assert that they’re just reporting on what the public cares about or that they’re responding to controversies that surface on social media.

But that’s not an explanation. It’s an excuse.

Let’s get real here. It’s the media that determines what to cover and how, not the candidates. And so far much of the media has decided to invent or write about trivial matters and manufactured controversies, while also writing with heavy-handed bias that favors Hillary Clinton.

When Trump jokingly approved of, and then disparaged, a screaming baby at a Virginia campaign event, it was the media that determined this was newsworthy, decided to treat the incident as a breach of political protocol by Trump and extended the life of the story with repeated critical coverage.

In July, Trump tweeted a photo of Clinton next to a 6-pointed star-shaped badge saying “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” with a background of $100 bills. It was the mainstream media that decided to treat as legitimate and serious online complaints that the star (a generic shape in Microsoft Paint) was evidence of Trump’s anti-semitism.

Then there was the time Trump said he hoped the Russians — who had been accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computers — would release 30,000 of Clinton’s missing emails. Trump said he was speaking in jest, but the Democratic National Committee feigned outrage, accusing Trump of encouraging Russian “espionage” and the media enthusiastically jumped on board.

Then there’s the clear, almost awkward, bias.

Take when the Republican convention featured Patricia Smith, mother of Sean Smith, one of the Americans slain in Benghazi. “For all of this loss, for all of this grief, for all of the cynicism the tragedy in Benghazi has wrought upon America, I blame Hillary Clinton,” Smith said. “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son.”

The media largely ignored Smith’s speech. When reporters did comment it was most often in a derogatory tone.

Jim Geraghty, a National Review contributor, has noted how the liberal publication, The Nation, called the grieving mother’s speech a “cynical exploitation of grief”. NBC News’ Richard Engel said the Republican convention offered “a manipulation of someone’s grief,” which meant “going to a very dark place.”

A GQ writer even sent out an amazingly crude tweet, “I don’t care how many children Pat Smith lost I would like to beat her to death.”

Contrast this with how the media decided to cover remarks at the Democratic National Convention by Khizr Khan, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq. Khan, at the invitation of Democratic Party officials, gave a blistering denunciation of Trump, right before Chelsea Clinton introduced her mother as the Democratic nominee.

After he memorialized his son and blasted Trump (“You have sacrificed nothing,” he said), nobody in the mainstream media lashed out at Khan for going to a very dark place or for using his son’s death for partisan gain.

Trump foolishly let Khan’s remarks bait him into responding with ill-advised comments. But they were exaggerated by mainstream media, which also chose to ignore that Hillary has certainly made few sacrifices, neither she or her husband served in the military (Bill dodged the draft), and Hillary’s entire family has been living for years in a lap of luxury funded by lavish payments from special interests.

“Any objective observer of the news media’s treatment of Trump can certainly conclude that reporters are taking a side in this election — and they don’t have to be wearing a button that says “I’m with her” for this to be readily apparent,” said an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

So true.

 

Addendum, Aug. 9, 2016:

There they go again.

“If she (Hillary Clinton) gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in North Carolina. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

His campaign maintained that he was referring to political activism

But Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager responded in high dudgeon: “What Trump is saying is dangerous.”

Elizabeth Warren followed up, saying Trump had made a “death threat.”

The New York Times reported that  Donald Trump seemed to suggest that gun rights backers could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton nominated judges who favor gun control.

I heard the same kind of hand-wringing language on Public Radio this afternoon.

Similarly, The Hill reported: “Yet another Donald Trump reset has gone by the wayside as the GOP nominee appeared to joke that someone could shoot his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. His comment came just one day after a highly-touted economic speech meant to put Trump back on message.  After the comment gained steam on social media, the Trump campaign raced to clarify that Trump only meant political resource, not violence. But it’s the kind of diversion that drives on-the-fence Republicans crazy.”

And of course a nincompoop Democratic Congressman, Eric Swalwell, CA, followed up by calling on the Secret Service to investigate Donald Trump’s comments directed at Hillary Clinton, according to The Hill.

“Donald Trump suggested someone kill Sec. Clinton. We must take people at their word. @SecretService must investigate #TrumpThreat,” Swalwell Tweeted.

The fact that his tweet got him some media attention probably pleased him no end.

Come on folks. There are enough legitimate Trump issues to focus on without stooping to this kind of stuff. The media is completely losing credibility in its apparent effort to weaken Trump.

Think third party: your vote will not be wasted

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It doesn’t have to be a choice between an evil queen and a bombastic clown, two toxic, fatally flawed candidates.

About two-thirds of prospective voters consider both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dishonest and untrustworthy. That’s millions of Americans who hold both candidates in high disregard, but appear ready to just hold their noses and vote for one of them, unwittingly helping to preserve the status quo. That’s insanity.

The idea that a third party candidate can’t win will then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But there is another option in this presidential race. Support, and then vote for, a candidate from another party, such as  Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Your vote won’t be wasted and America will be the better for it.

As Eugene V. Debs, five-time presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, observed, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”

The potential receptivity of Oregonians to a third party is reflected in the fact that about a third of Oregon’s three million registered voters don’t belong to the Democratic or Republican Party.

Some of that is surely a clear decision by voters refusing to align themselves with one of the major parties. Some may be tied to Oregon’s new policy of automatically registering voters when they visit a Department of Motor Vehicles. Under that process, voters are automatically registered as “unaffiliated” and later given the option of picking a party choice, but most do nothing.

Nationally, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center recently reported that the share of independents in the public, which long ago surpassed the percentages of either Democrats or Republicans, continues to increase. In a 2016 report, based on 2014 data, 39% identify as independents, 32% as Democrats and 23% as Republicans. This is the highest percentage of independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling, according to Pew.

In a 2014 Gallup poll, 58 percent of U.S. adults also favored having a third party because the Republican and Democratic parties “do such a poor job” representing the American people. Only 35 percent said the two existing major parties do an adequate job of this.

Your willingness to express support for a third party candidate will have one immediate impact. In 2000, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a private company, approved rules stipulating that, besides being on enough state ballots to win an Electoral College majority, debate participants must clear 15% in pre-debate opinion polls.

At a minimum, if you express your support for another party’s candidate, that person will have a better chance of joining the presidential debates, making Americans more aware of their positions and enhancing the possibility that they will emerge as a serious contender.

Don’t cop out by endorsing write-ins instead. If you agree that voting is about expressing a political preference, write-ins only signal a defection from the two-party system, not support for another person and agenda. Voting for a third party conveys endorsement of a recognizable set of principles, a public platform.

Even if your third party candidate doesn’t win, your vote will have an impact. Willie Sutton reputedly replied to a reporter’s inquiry as to why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is.” Politicians follow a similar principle. They go where the votes are. If voters reject the history, values and solutions of Clinton and Trump, other politicians will become more open to alternatives.

Americans will not be throwing away or wasting their votes by casting them for people and policies they support, rather than for the lesser of two evils.

As John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

The only wasted vote is one that’s not cast at all.

(Postscript: The Chicago Tribune agrees: Editorial: Let Libertarian Gary Johnson debate Clinton and Trump, http://trib.in/2b6FGv4)

 

At the border that divides us: Friendship Park

“So near and yet so far,” sang the divine Ella Fitzgerald in her vibrant rendition of Cole Porter’s song.

“My condition is only so-so, ‘Cause whenever I feel you’re close, oh, You turn out to be, oh, so, Far.”

I know the feeling.

I completed a cycling trip down the Pacific Coast last week.

journeysEnd copy

The last day was to be the big one, the penultimate, the big cheese in my ride to the Mexican border. In San Diego, I boarded a ferry to Coronado, then rode through Silver Strand State Beach to Imperial Beach on the border with Mexico. I headed out into the countryside on deeply rutted roads, following a route meticulously laid out by Adventure Cycling Association. Then, at mile 98 there it was….nothing.

What appeared to be the border was a simple wooden gate.

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The end of the line?

I had ridden so far to be here? This is it? This is the fabled wall? Incredulous, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was getting dark, so, disappointed as hell, I just turned around and headed back.

But it turns out I quit too soon.

Had I ridden around the gate and gone just 1.5 miles further on the rutted, often flooded, road, I would have come to a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

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If I’d looked out to sea, I would have seen that the wall even extends into the Pacific Ocean.

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I would also have come to Friendship Park, where members of separated families visit with people on the other side of the border wall in Tijuana.

Friendship Park / El Parque de la Amistad overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  In the U.S., Friendship Park is located atop Monument Mesa, inside California’s Border Field State Park.  In Mexico, El Parque de la Amistad sits beneath a lighthouse (“El Faro”) in Playas de Tijuana.

Some research revealed that for most of its history the U.S.-Mexico border here had no formal barrier separating the two countries. People moved freely from one side to the other. According to Friendship Park’s website (friendshippark.org), it wasn’t until sometime after World War II that U.S. officials stretched barbed wire across Monument Mesa. To this day locals will sometimes refer to the border as “el alambre” … the wire.

But even then, enforcement of border restrictions was minimal. Old timers in San Diego still recall hauling their bikes through the gaps in the barbed wire, riding around Tijuana for the afternoon and returning by the same method at sunset.

In the early 1990s, U.S. government contractors built a durable fence of hard metal grate and Spanish-speakers began to refer to the border as “el cerco” or “la cerca,” or “fence” .

Beginning in 2007, Department of Homeland Security contractors built an 18-foot high security wall along the international boundary line at Friendship Park. In 2009 they completed a second wall, running parallel to the border about ninety feet north of the primary wall, defining a security zone over which U.S. authorities could exercise complete control.    Two years later, in 2011, U.S. government contractors completed a “Surf Fence,” a new extension of the primary wall into the Pacific Ocean.

The park is open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am-2 pm. With regular hours posted and a commitment from Border Patrol for staffing the gate, dozens of people come to the park every weekend to visit. There’s even a Border Church that meets every Sunday at the park and volunteer attorneys regularly come to provide legal advice to deported people and others looking for some help on the Mexican side of the fence.

Meanwhile, Friends of Friendship Park, a non-profit volunteer organization, says it works “…to maintain public access to the park on the border where friendships can blossom and families separated by deportation, by mixed immigration status, and by the injustice of border militarization can come together and maintain family bonds.”

In 2015, “The Polaroid Project” was started by América Martinez, of Si Se Puede. Combining video and audio recordings, América documents visitors’ experiences at Friendship Park then gives the families a Polaroid photo of their visit.

Friends of Friendship Park also started a blog in 2015 to feature the stories and Emily Packer, a film student from Hampshire College, came to San Diego to create a film about the park, El Parque de la Amistad. (Read more at: https://elparquedeamistad.wordpress.com/)

Packer also created a short film “La Tierra Chingada” that, according to Friends of Friendship Park, “…explores the breaks and ruptures produced by the border walls and our obliviousness to this pain and anguish.”

I guess I’ll have to go back and finish my ride. I have a lot to learn at the border.

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