Tag Archives: Stephen Golub

November 3 Deadline for the Survey That Will Help You Shape Benicia’s Future

Benicia’s Capitol State Historic Park. | Uncredited image.

By Stephen Golub, posted in the Benicia Herald on October 29, 2023

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

If you go to https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/strategicplan, or simply search for “Benicia Strategic Plan,” you’ll find a short but important online survey that the City has commissioned to help set priorities for years to come. The survey is one stage in a strategic planning process, stretching into early next year, by which we can all weigh in on where Benicia goes from here in terms of building on our strengths and tackling our challenges.

An online meeting this past Tuesday, attended by about 80 Benicians, provided a chance to discuss the planning process. We’ll have several more opportunities in the months to come. Watch for emails from and other announcements by City Manager Mario Guiliani for updates and future forums. The survey is a key component of this initiative.

But be aware:

The deadline for survey responses is November 3.

(Given the amount of time it can take for word about something like this to percolate, I’d suggest that the deadline should be extended. But let’s assume it’s set at November 3.)

The exercise takes maybe five or ten minutes to complete. It’s well worth the slight but interesting effort involved.

In taking the survey, I found myself wanting to endorse all fifteen potential answers for the “What are the things that make our community a great place to live?” question. We can only select up to five, however.

Nonetheless, there’s an opportunity to go beyond that list, under the “Other” option. I discussed the City’s waterfront setting as a significant asset that sets us apart from so many other communities.

Conversely, I wanted some more specificity regarding potential answers to the survey’s “What do you think are the top opportunities for improvement that the City of Benicia should focus on?” question. But thankfully, again, there is an “Other” option by which you can add and explain your own preferred answer(s).

Two things came to mind regarding that “Other” option:

First, I realize that we rely on Valero to some degree for jobs and other benefits, I appreciate the many fine Benicians who are its employees or retirees, and I respect the perspectives of our fellow community members who fully support it. But…

A truck drives into the Valero refinery in Benicia in July. | Rich Pedroncelli / AP.

There’s a major need to better address the massive, hazardous, longstanding air pollution violations Valero has committed, and which it didn’t tell us about for many years, while our kids, older adults and many other citizens possibly suffered health effects from potentially toxic emissions hundreds of times government limits. There are too many incidents and ongoing issues to detail here. But I’ll note that two examples of such repeated violations – at least one stretching back well over a decade – only came to light in 2022 and 2023.

Moreover, there’s nothing about Valero’s positive contributions that make them mutually exclusive with it being a better, safer neighbor. It’s the only refinery in the Bay Area that operates without a city or county ordinance geared to protecting citizen health and safety. The Texas-based corporation could do much better in partnering with the City, making its refinery here a less hazardous operation and sharing information vital to our safety and health.

The second thing that the survey brought to mind – even without specifically offering this as a potential answer – is that Benicia has the opportunity to diversify and strengthen its economy by taking advantage of potential private sector, federal and state funding to encourage manufacturing, servicing or otherwise profiting regarding wind, solar and other emerging technologies. Such initiatives would be great for local jobs and businesses, as well as our overall economic growth and health.

In a related vein, and even as we’re wary of the hazards the Valero refinery imposes or grateful for the economic benefits it brings, the facility won’t be here forever – or conceivably could be sold or altered in ways that make the need for alternative economic opportunities much more urgent. The strategic planning process, including the survey, gives us a chance to start considering such alternatives.

But those are just my quick reactions. And to be clear, the survey is about far more than such specific concerns, as it touches on parks, infrastructure, community engagement, arts and culture, festivals, policing, fire protection and a host of other matters.

So what are your thoughts? If you want to weigh in, the survey provides a great chance to offer your own goals and concerns. Yet another of its questions asks us to rank priorities; it’s a pretty thought-provoking exercise to engage in.

And again, it only takes five to ten minutes, at most.

And again, the deadline is November 3. Check it out!

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.


Stephen Golub: From a Glass House to a Courthouse

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: Public Citizen and other allies are organizing rallies around the country for this Thursday, August 3 — the day of Trump’s arraignment — to demand accountability and support the rule of law. I looked and the closest rally (that I can find, so far) is in Petaluma, at 5:30pm. If anyone local catches wind of a more local rally, or wants to initiate one, please email me and I’d be happy to promote it. From Public Citizen: Find a rally near you.]

This post was produced by Benicia resident Stephen Golub. Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.

A US Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. | Image uncredited

Jack Smith is doing his job. The rest is up to us.

By Stephen Golub, July 3, 2023

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land


Yesterday, a grand jury indicted Donald Trump for, in essence, trying to gut American democracy. In securing that indictment, Special Counsel Jack Smith launched a case of unprecedented importance to our country.

I’d thought that I might greet the news with relief that the inevitable has come to pass, or despair over what Trump’s abuses signify, or trepidation over the societal ruptures that await us.

But I feel something far more stirring. Not quite elation.


I’ve spent my career working to promote democracy and the rule of law across the globe. As I’ve written, the effort has largely flopped, though there have been powerful exceptions to that unfortunate rule.

One of the heartbreaking aspects of this endeavor has been how blind America has been to our own failures here at home. Even as the United States has sought to teach, train and tut-tut other societies about their democratic and legal shortcomings, we’ve ignored our own glass house.

But at this one historic moment, this country has lived up to its promise.

On this one day, we’re seeing the rule of law in action in its most vital sense: No one is above the law.

The indictment, practically free of legalese and packed with persuasive detail, makes for compelling reading. It portrays how Trump and six so-far unindicted and unidentified co-conspirators undertook a multi-stage drive to undo the election results. It superbly illuminates how they sought to pressure state and federal officials, line up fake electoral college electors, bulldoze then-Vice President Pence and ultimately ignite a mob, all in order to block Joe Biden from being certified as president-elect on January 6.

By citing abundant incriminating evidence from Trump’s own top aids and allies, including contemporaneous notes by Pence, it also shows how Trump knew that his allegations of electoral theft were lies.

In an irony that perhaps will not go unnoticed by Trump’s nativist and white nationalist fans, both the federal magistrate to whom the indictment was presented and the federal judge who will oversee the case are immigrants, respectively from India and Jamaica.

Now, none of this is to say that any of this will play out well, even if Trump is convicted. Things will get ugly, vicious, maybe even violent.

Nor does it compensate for what got us here, from Trump’s depravity to his followers’ tribal loyalty to Republican leaders’ craven acquiescence to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s ill-advised delay in approving the Trump insurrection investigation.

Furthermore, as I’ve previously suggested, the ultimate forum that will decide Trump’s legal fate will be the court of public opinion. That is, whether he will be held legally accountable for his alleged crimes against this country will probably hinge on whether he wins next year’s election.

But this first step had to happen. At this pivotal point in our history, we had to move from a hypocritical glass house to a literal, crucial courthouse. Smith and his team will do their best to hold Trump accountable for his crimes.

Now, the rest of us must do our part to ensure that Trump loses in the court of public opinion as well.

This post was produced by Benicia resident Stephen Golub. Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.

Read more from Steve by visiting his blog or clicking any of the links below.


Stephen Golub: The U.S. has a mixed record of promoting American-style democracy abroad

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: While I think all of Steve’s posts are well worth the time it takes to read them, I really encourage everyone to sit down with this one, especially because we’re still very close to Independence Day. The seeding, care and feeding of democracy abroad is a complicated undertaking at the best of times. Keeping it alive and thriving in our own garden has become a surprisingly fraught enterprise, too. Steve’s thoughtful analysis of what has and hasn’t worked provides a reasonable framework for the cultivated endurance of democracy and, perhaps more importantly, it provides at least me with very welcome hope.] 

This post was produced by Benicia resident Stephen Golub and originally appeared in the Washington Post‘s ‘Made by History’ section. Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.

For 40 years, the U.S. government has ignored what sorts of democracy promotion work — and which ones don’t

Image uncredited.

By Stephen Golub, July 4, 2023

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

As America celebrates Independence Day, we find our democracy not nearly as strong as we’d once thought. Authoritarian challenges threaten our institutions, our rights and the rule of law.

Ironically, this sobering reality confronts us after the United States, along with affluent allies, has devoted decades and massive resources to trying to build democracy in the world’s poorer and post-communist societies, including via rule of law, good governance, human rights and anti-corruption programs. With some exceptions — mostly centered on providing electoral assistance and fortifying civil society and media — these efforts have largely fallen flat. Data from Freedom Housethe World Bank and the World Justice Project confirm the decline in democracy and associated fields across the globe.

Why the widespread failure? First, we hubristically bit off more than we could chew. The United States mistakenly assumed that foreign aid for training and equipping recipient nations’ government institutions could overcome the deep-seated political, historical, economic and cultural forces permeating them and could thus build democracies in our image.

Second, in focusing most democracy aid on such government institution-building, the United States put a relative paucity of resources into nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society forces that modestly but more effectively strengthen specific policies, processes and populations.

In some ways, the roots of this failure reach back to our experience in the Philippines at the outset of the 20th century. At that time, America’s imperialist endeavor drove the Spanish from the archipelago and brutally crushed an indigenous independence movement. During the next half-century, we built corrupt, elite-controlled government institutions instead of strengthening grass- roots participation in representative government. This became an unintentional template for our subsequent democracy-building abroad decades later.

That template became salient when, in the 1980s, a host of actors and factors combined to make democracy a U.S. foreign policy priority.

Providing political cover for its wars in Central America and right-wing allies throughout Latin America, the Reagan administration funded government-focused, ostensibly democracy-promoting programs in the region. The unfortunate upshot was, for example, partnering with human rights-violating governments on major and, ultimately, unsuccessful administration of justice initiatives to which officials in our partner nations were actually resistant or indifferent. Similarly flawed and government-focused U.S. democracy programs arose alongside backing for authoritarian Cold War allies elsewhere.

In a more promising development, the 1980s also saw bipartisan support for the new National Endowment for Democracy, new U.S. Agency for International Development projects and other U.S. initiatives that provided small grants to civil society and media initiatives around the world. But such funding was (and is) dwarfed by major USAID programs and related support for government institutions.

This funding disparity meant that, as the United States started pouring money into top-down programs geared toward building American-style government institutions abroad, it tended to downplay support for civil society programs that could directly benefit and strengthen populations poorly served by those institutions.

By contrast, various private funding sources prioritized civil society. The Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corp. and other donors made grants to South African NGOs pursuing anti-apartheid legal activism. Financier George Soros began providing funds for innovators, budding democracy activists, journalists and international exchanges as Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union slowly started to liberalize. The partly U.S.-funded but private Asia Foundation supported Bangladeshi NGOs’ innovative local dispute resolution work. (I worked for the foundation elsewhere, and later evaluated and researched that work.)

These privately supported efforts exhibited promising results as they expanded their operations and impact in the 1990s. They contributed to significant health, housing and other victories in South Africa after the racist regime stepped down. Bangladeshi NGOs’ local dispute resolution models gathered steam — and support from additional donors and the Bangladeshi government itself — by ameliorating gender inequities and providing the poor with alternatives to a distant, corrupt and incomprehensible judicial system.

Around the world, both foundations and donor nations alike funded a growing array of NGOs featuring paralegals who, unlike those working in U.S. law offices, were typically community-based volunteers whom NGO attorneys trained and collaborated with. They advocated for and with their communities and fellow citizens to address health, housing, land, gender and other issues.

These programs thrived at the same moment that the United States and other affluent nations began pouring greatly expanded sums into seeding democracy worldwide in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Eastern European communist regimes and the Soviet Union. Books on “exporting democracy” — even presenting it as America’s destiny — assumed it was the wave of the future.

Yet, the United States ignored the success of the projects funded by foundations and clung to the notion that foreign aid to governments could secure dramatic democratic transformations. This partly stemmed from foreign policy priorities, including the post-Cold War perspective that fortifying U.S.-friendly capitalist democracies was in our own economic and political interest. But it also flowed from a bureaucratic reality: It was easier to secure funding in Washington for ambitious programs that promised to build up national ministries, legislatures and judiciaries than for local programs that worked with farmers, women or other disadvantaged groups.

Maintaining this unfortunate focus, George W. Bush linked his post-9/11 military and political programs to both defeating terrorism and installing democracy, stoking cynicism in many circles about that latter effort. Even if viewed in the most charitable light, U.S. democracy-building efforts in Afghanistan proved no match for the dominance of warlords and — as with some other aid recipient nations — entrenched corruption networks that permeated the government.

The past two decades have seen U.S. democracy aid flow and ebb, in response to such events as the Arab Spring and its demise. This aid has continued to feature a blend of foreign policy priorities, immense bureaucracy, hubris, cynicism and idealism. Its misplaced priorities have endured: Despite the documented success of paralegal programs, for example, many have suffered funding cutbacks from American and other sources.

All of this helps explain the mediocre record for U.S. democracy promotion: The United States has focused too much on working with change-resistant institutions and too little on supporting the civil society and media change agents that might gradually affect such institutions over the long haul. Even in the short term, these shortchanged programs have a record of helping citizens bring about concrete results — improving farmers’ land tenure, combating corruption, reducing violence against women, enhancing communities’ health or strengthening inputs into local governance, among other goals. They may not be as sexy as transforming a country’s government, but history indicates such programs actually work.

All told, the United States has poured about $100 billion into democracy aid over the past 40 years, mostly for large-scale, government-focused programs, often designed and implemented by international consulting firms.

However, despite far less funding, homegrown projects that draw on local knowledge — which foreign consultants and aid officials lack — and that help partner populations pursue economic, health, political or human rights priorities have proved far more successful.

In a related vein, U.S. support for free and fair elections — programs often carried out by American NGOs that provide election-oriented monitoring, advice and training — has yielded notable achievements. Such programs have protected electoral integrity in some instances and fueled successful drives to challenge corrupt results in others, including Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution.

With the exception of such dramatic electoral results, civil society support may not produce the seismic shifts that American officials seek. But neither has the top-down, institution-building approach that has fruitlessly gobbled up vast resources.

Authoritarians are strong until they’re not. History is littered with the downfalls of repressive regimes that once appeared firmly entrenched. Just recently, the world saw Vladimir Putin’s seemingly iron hold on power shaken by the corrupt forces he himself enabled.

Thus, the global pendulum may yet swing back toward democracy. Helping to make that happen, in however modest a manner, demands supporting the kinds of efforts that have worked in the past and rethinking those that have not.

These lessons apply at home as well. Even as we honor Independence Day, the health of our government institutions seems in question. But a vibrant civil society, a thriving free press and safeguarding elections can protect those institutions’ integrity, keeping the flames of political accountability burning and ensuring that our democracy endures.

This post was produced by Benicia resident Stephen Golub. Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.

Read more from Steve by visiting his blog or clicking any of the links below.


Stephen Golub: The One Court That Will Decide Trump’s Fate

This post was produced by Benicia resident Stephen Golub. Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.

The One Court That Will Decide Trump’s Fate

A US Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. | Image uncredited

It’s Not Any of the Usual Suspects

By Stephen Golub, July 3, 2023

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

It seems like you can’t tell a Trump trial or investigation without a scorecard these days. There are dozens of them.

Regardless of what you think of him, you’d think that courts in Washington, Florida, Georgia or New York would determine Trump’s ultimate legal fate.

Think again.

Let’s Be Civil

To start with, two upcoming New York City trials are both noteworthy.

The New York State Attorney General’s suit against him for massive financial fraud is set for October. She’s seeking a $250 million fine and to bar him, his family and his firm from doing business in the state that serves as his headquarters.

Following the favorable verdict for E. Jean Carroll in May, in which she won a $5 million judgement against Trump for sexual abuse and defamation, he verbally slammed her for her victory. This in turn will be a focus of her related $10 million defamation suit against him, which is slated for trial in January.

However, as civil lawsuits, the fraud and Carroll cases don’t carry that ultimate penalty of potential imprisonment. There’s even the possibility of Trump raising enough funds from his followers to at least partly offset his financial penalties if found liable. Nonetheless…

The Current Criminal Cases

A threat of incarceration faces the ex-president, through two current criminal indictments.

There’s the Stormy Daniels hush money prosecution, brought by the Manhattan District Attorney in connection with Trump paying the adult film star on the cusp of the 2016 election, in return for her not revealing their affair. It starts next March in New York City.

Then there’s the pending trial most in the news recently: U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith’s national security documents case, which will be held in Florida at some point. The DOJ has charged Trump with lying about and otherwise obstructing the return to the U.S. Government of classified materials.

As the indictment states, those papers pertain to “defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack.”

Furthermore, “The unauthorized disclosure of those classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.”

Not exactly bathroom reading, eh? Though that’s where Trump reportedly stored some such items.

But Wait! There’s More!

Finally (for now, at least), there are two additional investigations which quite possibly will see Trump indicted this year.

It appears increasingly probable that, within the next several months, Special Counsel Smith will charge Trump in Washington, D.C. for activities connected to the January 6th insurrection or various other kinds of electoral interference pertaining to the 2020 election.

The Fulton County District Attorney, in Georgia, is expected to announce in August a decision regarding whether and whom to indict regarding 2020 electoral interference, possibly including multi-state racketeering chargesrelated to Trump pushing for the selection of “alternative electors” who could have subverted the Electoral College vote.

Image uncredited.

How Many Trials Was That?

From four to very possibly six major trials loom in Trump’s future.

Nonetheless, none of them seem likely to determine Trump’s legal fate and accountability in the most fundamental manner possible: whether he goes to prison. That decision rests in the hands of another court. Here’s why.

As I’ve noted, prison isn’t an option in a civil trial.

The New York hush money case is nothing to scoff at. But it’s arguably the toughest criminal case to win against him, and the one least likely to get him imprisoned even if he’s found guilty.

Instead, what becomes of Trump could conceivably hinge on the national security, insurrection and electoral theft trials that could consume much of next year. But whether the ultimate outcomes of those cases will actually be decided in Florida, Washington or Georgia courtrooms is another matter.

There already are indications that the national security documents case could be pushed back until after Election Day 2024. For one thing, the Trump-friendly judge presiding over the trial simply could decide to finalize the date for then or otherwise stymie the prosecution. For another, special considerations regarding national security trials also could delay the proceedings. And of course, there are the delaying tactics that Trump attorneys exploit in any litigation involving him.

The complexity of the potential, election-related federal and Georgia prosecutions could also delay the prosecutions of Trump for those crimes.

But such considerations are not the fundamental reasons why the courts hearing those cases might not decide Trump’s fate, unless of course they find him not guilty. This, it must be emphasized, is certainly possible. Such a verdict could be a legitimate outcome in a given case, as much as some might think or wish otherwise. Or, in a less legitimate vein, it could prove more probable by virtue of rulings that the Trumpist judge in the Florida documents trial could make.

Democracy in Action

But let’s put aside the potential “not guilty” outcomes for now.

Rather, Trump’s dodging the legal bullets rests on his getting re-elected (or perhaps another Republican winning in 2024, and then doing Trump some very big favors). Here’s how:

  • President Trump could in effect halt federal trials that haven’t started or been completed.
  • He could pardon himself if convicted.
  • He could similarly exert pressure to get a Georgia verdict in effect negated.

More specifically, Candidate Trump has made no secret of his plan to appoint an attorney general who will do his bidding, including halting a federal prosecution. If already convicted by the time he’s elected, he’ll seek to use his pardon power to spare himself.

Now, such scenarios are not a lock. Trump could of course lose the Republican nomination or the general election. A Democratic-controlled Senate could refuse to confirm his kind of compliant Attorney General, though that might only prove to be a stopgap measure. The Supreme Court could decide that a president can’t pardon himself. Many other twists and turns could take place.

Georgia on My Mind

But what about the potential Georgia case? It should be on our minds partly because the state prosecution there would not be controlled by the (potentially Trump-appointed) U.S. attorney general and a conviction there would not be subject to the possibility of a presidential pardon. But…

In May, Georgia’s governor signed into law the establishment of a commission with the power to remove local prosecutors who “refuse to uphold the law.”  There also is the possibility that a different Georgia law could be amended by the Republican-dominated state government to allow for a speedy state pardon of Trump even if he’s convicted.

Image uncredited.

The Court That Counts

So, both federal and state prosecutions could conceivably be halted, or their convictions effectively negated.

Which brings me back to my original point. As crucial as the actual and potential Trump trials are, they probably won’t ultimately determine whether he goes to prison. As much as we yearn for the rule of law to trump politics, these crucial outcomes might not be the product of what judges and juries decide.

Rather, Trump’s legal future hinges on the November 2024 election, and on all of the intensity that will entail. That’s so sobering for a nation that prides itself on its rule of law, on no person being above the law and on justice being beyond vote counts.

In other words, the crucial verdicts regarding these profoundly serious charges will not be decided by courts in Washington, Florida, Georgia or New York.

The verdicts will be rendered by the court of public opinion.

This post was produced by Benicia resident Stephen Golub. Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.

Read more from Steve by visiting his blog or clicking any of the links below.