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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"An activity I love"

by digby

Just as I cannot bear that little kids are starving or dying from disease, and just as I abhor violence, war and all warlike activity, I am deeply concerned about the fate of animals on our planet. I make no apologies for that.  This makes me heartsick.
Mr Palmer is said to have shot Cecil with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The group didn't find the wounded lion until 40 hours later, when he was shot dead with a gun.

The animal had a GPS collar fitted for a research project by UK-based Oxford University that allowed authorities to track its movements. The hunters tried to destroy it, but failed, according to the ZCTF.

On Monday, the head of the ZCTF charity told the BBC that Cecil "never bothered anybody". 
"He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at," Johnny Rodrigues said.
The American tourist, who is believed to have paid about $50,000 (£32,000) to go on the hunt, is said to have shot the animal with a crossbow and rifle.

It was later skinned and beheaded, according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a local charity.

Two Zimbabwean men - a professional hunter and a farm owner - have been charged with poaching offences because the group did not have a hunting permit.

They could face up to 15 years in prison in Zimbabwe if they are found guilty. They are due to appear in court on Wednesday.

'An activity I love'

But Mr Palmer, who is thought to be back in the US, insisted that his guides had secured "all proper permits" for the hunt.

"I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said he had not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or the US but said he "will assist them in any inquiries they may have".\

"Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion," he added.

Killing lions is anything but responsible and his regrets are worth nothing. This beautiful creature was killed by a rich, American ... sociopath who loves killing rare exotic animals. He shot him with a crossbow and the poor thing suffered for almost 2 days until they found him.

RIP Cecil:

The laboratories of democracy settled this Latino issue

by digby

Joe Trippi wrote a useful little primer on one of those experiments in the states which should show the Republicans something:
In 1994, two future GOP presidential hopefuls, Pete Wilson of California and George W. Bush of Texas, formed near-opposite relationships with the Latino community. Their fates, and the fates of their state parties, should tell the national GOP everything it needs to know about how best to handle immigration.

Twenty-one years ago, California was a swing state that leaned GOP. It had voted Republican in six of the last seven presidential elections and sent two of the last six presidents, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, to the White House. Wilson's 1994 reelection marked the fourth straight time the GOP won the governor's mansion.

Now California is overwhelmingly Democratic. What happened? Among other factors, Wilson made the unfortunate decision to support Proposition 187.

Today no Republican holds elected statewide office in California, and Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 majority over Republicans in both the state Senate and the Assembly.
The so-called Save Our State, or SOS, initiative prohibited immigrants in the U.S. illegally from using healthcare and public education in California, effectively denying these services to hundreds of thousands of their children. Anti-immigrant activists spun divisive slogans like “Deport Them All” and “Send Them Home,” while Wilson and the California Republican Party strongly endorsed Proposition 187. Those who stood on the other side were called traitors. When the coauthor of Proposition 187 said at a rally that “you are the posse, and SOS is the rope,” the entanglement of GOP support for 187 with racially intolerant rhetoric was complete.

Proposition 187 passed, but a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. As Mexico's president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, decried the law as xenophobic, Wilson and his fellow Republicans doubled down and appealed the court's decision. Although they ultimately failed to enact the law, they did succeed in driving a lasting wedge between the GOP and California's Latino community.

Latino participation in California's elections increased dramatically, and Republicans found it harder and harder to attract their votes. In 1998, Dan Lungren, the GOP nominee for governor, received just 14% of the Latino vote.

Today no Republican holds elected statewide office in California, and Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 majority over Republicans in both the state Senate and the Assembly. Since Proposition 187, the state has never voted Republican for president. And Wilson's campaign for the White House in 1996 lasted barely more than a month.

Now let's turn to Texas. In 1994, the Texas Democratic Party was thriving. Two of the last three governors — Mark White and Ann Richards — were Democrats. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a Texan, had run on the national Democratic ticket for vice president in 1988 and was serving as U.S. Treasury secretary. George W. Bush had narrowly defeated incumbent Richards, but Democrats had been reelected to the offices of lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and state treasurer.

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When it came to illegal immigration, Bush opposed “the spirit of 187” for Texas, saying he felt that “every child ought to be educated regardless of the status of their parents.”

From his first days as governor, Bush signaled that Mexico was not the enemy. He invited the governors of the five Mexican states closest to Texas to his inauguration and in his speech that day welcomed them, saying, “Friends bring out the best in each other. May our friendship bring much good to both our countries.”

The Texas GOP actively recruited Latinos into the party ranks. Continued outreach — emphasizing inclusion and respect for Latinos — helped the party achieve dominance in a state in which Latinos now approach 40% of the population.

No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994. As for Bush, he was reelected president in 2004 with one of the highest vote percentages among Latinos ever achieved by a Republican.

So the inclusive approach, derided by many conservatives today, led to dominance for the Republican Party in Texas. And the exclusionary approach, which seems to please the base, led to its virtual extinction in California.
I think the calculation among some Republicans just comes down to the misapprehension which many true believers on both sides always have: "most people agree with me."

The GOP base --- the Tea Party --- doesn't worry about stuff like this because they genuinely believe the country agrees with them on immigration. The party elites know better but there's nothing they can do about it except try to nominate someone who can plausibly keep the base energized without coming across as a screaming xenophobe. Trump's making that very, very difficult for them.


Blue State Governor Chris Christie must be following a Southern Strategy

by digby

He's writing off the Blue States and even some of the swing states with this:
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie, a Republican campaigning for the 2016 presidential nomination, said Tuesday during a town-hall meeting at the Salt Hill Pub in Newport, New Hampshire. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”

At a time when a majority of Americans say recreational pot use should be legal, and four states have already made it so, Christie remains opposed. The former federal prosecutor said Democratic President Barack Obama has selectively chosen which laws to enforce.

Christie is trying to pump up his candidacy ahead of the first Republican debate on Aug. 6 by talking to voters in New Hampshire, the state with the first primary. Fox News, the debate sponsor, plans to winnow the party’s field of 16 candidates down to 10 using an average of five national polls. The RealClearPolitics polling average currently has Christie in ninth place.

The governor said he believes marijuana alters the brain and serves as a so-called gateway to the use of harder drugs. Pointing to his own administration of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program that he opposes, he said elected officials can’t unilaterally choose which statutes to enforce.

“That’s lawlessness,” he said. “If you want to change the marijuana laws, go ahead and change the national marijuana laws.”
But he's also a big states' rights believer:
As he responded to the question on gun rights, Christie said that "all our rights are given to us by God," not by the government.

It was the second time during the 90-minute meeting that Christie spoke of rights coming from God. He also articulated his support for states' rights: "It was the states that created the federal government, not the federal government that created the states. We need to get back to that philosophy."
If that gives you a headache only a huge hit of indica could cure, it should. He believes in states' rights except for guns, the unfettered rights for which are federally guaranteed, and marijuana which is federally illegal. And probably some other stuff too. Depending on what he wants.

This is not unusual among so-called "states' rights" believers. Liberals use the separate laws in states to advance their agenda too, as they have with pot,  but with a few exceptions they tend to simply say that if states agree with them they'll certainly take it but they believe that since we are one country the laws should apply equally everywhere. They simultaneously work to pass national gun safety and marijuana legalization laws. Conservatives believe in states' rights as a principle --- unless the states are doing something they don't like.

Christie is desperate. He was supposed to be the prime asshole who told voters to "sit down and shut up" and Trump has out-assholed him. Now he's saying Trump is unseemly. Poor guy.

QOTD: A lucky billionaire

by digby

Mark Cuban:
I don't care what his actual positions are. I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.
This, ladies and gentleman, proves once again that having a lot of money is not a very good indicator of whether someone is qualified to do anything other than sit back and let his money make money.

Will he pass the "whiz" test?

by digby

“Scott Walker has not been able to take positions on evolution, President Obama’s love of country, and lacks the leadership to pick a side when one of his fellow GOP candidates steps way over the line. And now he can’t even pick a cheesesteak? This pattern of pandering is unpresidential.” – TJ Helmstetter, DNC spokesperson

This is a bit of a stretch, but Walker is pandering with everything he has to pretend that being a far right, hardcore conservative who barely survived a recall election in his first term in statewide office uniquely qualifies him to win the presidency.

The cheesesteak thing is also being done to remind everyone that the wingnuts went after the flip-flopper John "the Frenchman" Kerry with everything they had for ordering his cheese steak with swiss cheese instead of "Whiz wit":

Back in 2004 during the presidential campaign, George Bush ordered his cheese steak "Whiz wit," while John Kerry asked for his with Swiss cheese, a misstep that solidified Kerry's effete reputation and made him the subject of ridicule across Philadelphia.

Right. "It solidified his effete reputation." Which just proves how stupid our politics have been for a very long time.

(In case you are wondering, "Whiz wit" means a cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz. Urp.)

Update: The answer appears to be no, he didn't pass:

Wisconsin Governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker stopped by Pat’s and Geno’s in South Philly today for a campaign event, and, perhaps not surprisingly, things appear to have not gone all that well.

First off, it appears that when Gov. Walker showed up, he cut his way into line at Geno’s, which legitimately and understandably upset some members of the lunch crowd

Then, when Gov. Walker got to the front of the line, he ordered his steak with American cheese and no onions. For many Philadelphians, that’s strike two

Then, over at Pat’s following his second steak, Gov. Walker reportedly left his trash on a table in the outdoor seating area, apparently expecting the steak shop to send out a member of the wait staff (which does not exist) to clean it up

Walker is from Wisconsin. he could have easily just said, I'm from cheese country and I eat cheddar, dudes." He ordered American cheese which is worse than ordering Whiz ...

You have to admire the protests though. They seem to fit with Walker's own immaturity:

Nothing shows the downward trajectory of the GOP better than Ole Bob Dole

by digby

Steve Benen took a look at the chances of something like the Americans with Disabilities Act --- one of the most successful government regulations in history which has made the lives of millions of Americans better:

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) was on Capitol Hill yesterday for a bipartisan event celebrating this week’s 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law, which has done so much to improve the lives of millions of Americans, is “the sort of big bipartisan triumph of yore that now seems unimaginable,” the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank noted this morning.

This truth did not elude Dole, the 92-year-old war hero now bound to a wheelchair, who’s occasionally candid about his disappointment in today’s radicalized Republican Party. Referring to the dozens of congressional Republicans who simply refuse to compromise, Dole said yesterday, “I don’t know what they are.”

But it’s against this backdrop that The New Republic’s Brian Beutler considered whether the Americans with Disabilities Act would pass in Congress “if it were introduced as new legislation today.”
In general, and whether it’s true or not, Republicans tend to oppose federal regulation on the grounds that regulation imposes heavy burdens on businesses. In 1990, opponents to the ADA, such as they were, made precisely this argument. And they weren’t wrong! Requiring places of business to accommodate disabled people is an obviously worthy undertaking, but it isn’t necessarily a cheap or easy thing to do.

It’s not that the burdensome-to-business objection is a red herring exactly, but the ADA shows that once upon a time not too long ago, Republicans in Congress were happy to override that objection if they viewed the underlying regulatory goals as particularly worthy.
Well said. The arguments against the ADA were rooted in fact – requiring businesses to spend money accommodating the needs of people with disabilities is expensive – but a quarter of a century ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed that it was a burden worth imposing on the private sector.

In contemporary politics, for purely ideological reasons, GOP lawmakers tend to think any government-imposed burden on business is offensive, if not literally unconstitutional. It’s the difference between a center-right party in 1990 and a radicalized party in 2015.

Indeed, all you have to do is look at this to show you just how radical --- and completely heartless --- they are:

Dole Appears, but G.O.P. Rejects a Disabilities Treaty

WASHINGTON — Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.

Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.

Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.

A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.

Among their fears about the disabilities convention were that it would codify standards enumerated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child — and therefore United Nations bureaucrats would be empowered to make decisions about the needs of disabled children — and that it could trump state laws concerning people with disabilities. Proponents of the bill said these concerns were unfounded.

The measure, which required two-thirds support for approval, failed on a vote of 61 to 38.

That made me sad. On the other hand, Dole was instrumental in turning the GOP into what it is today:

Dole's sunny side is prone to accommodating his allies and sponsors. His dark side, by contrast, is prone to skepticism, umbrage, and defiance. God help the politician who provokes Dole's dark side. Just ask Bill Clinton. Arm in arm with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dole is doing everything possible to destroy Clinton's presidency. But if Dole were to capture the White House, he wouldn't have Clinton to kick around any more. The only remaining agenda would be Gingrich's doctrinaire counterrevolution. Would Dole continue to go along with that agenda? Or would his dark side turn against it?

The legend of Dole's dark side is as old as Mother Jones. In 1976, as President Ford's running mate, he blamed the deaths and injuries of 1.7 million American soldiers on "Democrat wars." He derided Jimmy Carter as "Southern-fried McGovern." Running for president in 1988, he told Vice President Bush, on live national television, to "stop lying about my record." He dismissed Bush as "a qualified loser" and ordered a sidewalk heckler to "get back in your cave."

Dole was known as "the Prince of Darkness" back when he ran for Vice President in 1976. He was a far right hit man. But as the party became ever more radical he ended up a moderate. And now, as an elder statesman, his Party considers him a pathetic sell-out.


Illegitimate rape

by digby

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress fills us in on the particulars of the laws against marital rape in case you weren't aware:

The Donald’s special counsel appears to have a very dated understanding of what constitutes rape. “You cannot rape your spouse,” Trump lieutenant Michael Cohen told the Daily Beast for an article published Monday, “and there’s very clear case law.”

The Daily Beast article centered around an explosive, if somewhat dated, allegation against the Republican presidential frontrunner: Trump allegedly raped his former wife, Ivana. Cohen, who is an attorney, reacted to the allegation with Trump-like bombast. “You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet,” Cohen told the Daily Beast. He also advised them to “tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.”

These were bold words from a man who appears to know fairly little about the laws governing the crime of rape. Cohen also claimed that “by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.” He’s wrong. Marital rape has been a crime in all 50 states since July 5, 1993. The highest court in New York, where Donald and Ivana lived, held that a marital exemption to the crime of rape is unconstitutional in 1984, five years before Donald allegedly raped Ivana.

The Daily Beast does not identify the state where this alleged rape occurred (although it implies that it occurred in New York), so it is possible that the alleged assault occurred while the couple was visiting one of the handful of states that still did not criminalize marital rape in 1989. Nevertheless, Cohen’s categorical statement that “you can’t rape your spouse” does not accurately describe current law in any of the 50 states.

He's allegedly a lawyer so he should have known better.But he's not alone in thinking that there is no such thing as marital rape. All of humankind believed it until very, very recently. And some still do. Irin Carmon writes:

while Cohen may have been simply misinformed, there is a long history of conservative opposition to the very concept of marital rape, which is a fairly recent concept in law. Recognizing that rape occurs within marriage requires believing that husbands don’t have automatic sexual rights over their wives’ bodies.

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly has been a Republican delegate to eight national conventions, including in 2012. She ran for Congress on the Republican ticket, twice. She also has repeatedly said she doesn’t believe that marital rape exists.

“I think that when you get married you have consented to sex,” she said in a 2008 interview. “That’s what marriage is all about, I don’t know if maybe these girls missed sex ed.”

She added, “When it gets down to calling it rape though, it isn’t rape, it’s a he said-she said where it’s just too easy to lie about it … Feminists, if they get tired of a husband or if they want to fight over child custody, they can make an accusation of marital rape and they want that to be there, available to them.”

I suspect there are legions of people who agree with that. Mostly they're the same people who like Donald Trump.

*It's important to note that the Trump's divorce was notoriously contentious and while her description of the event in her deposition was very detailed Ivana Trump gave a statement after the fact and just today that she doesn't believe she was raped. And:

Both Donald Trump and Cohen have now repudiated Cohen's previous statement that spousal rape is not rape. Cohen told CNN that "[i]n my moment of shock and anger, I made an inarticulate comment – which I do not believe — and which I apologize for entirely." A different spokesperson for Trump, meanwhile, says that “Mr. Trump didn’t know of [Cohen's] comments but disagrees with them."

Obama's Donors Flocking To Sanders, Romney's Going To Rubio

by Gaius Publius

This is an interesting find. The underlying article is from U.S. News, as is the graphic above, and underlying that is analysis by Crowdpac, a "San Francisco-based political data-mining firm which analyzed the July presidential campaign finance reports." There's a nice interactive graphic on their site if you're inclined to play with the data.

First, from the article; then a few notes (h/t dKos diarist LieparDestin; my emphasis):
Obama's Donors Flocking To Sanders, Romney's Going To Rubio

Bernie Sanders is drawing more of Barack Obama's 2012 campaign donors than Hillary Clinton.

And Marco Rubio is scoring the biggest share of Mitt Romney's contributors thus far.

These are the findings of Crowdpac, a San Francisco-based political data-mining firm which analyzed the July presidential campaign finance reports.

The Vermont senator has already received contributions from 24,582 of Obama's donors; whereas Clinton has only tapped just over 9,000 of them. Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, has grabbed 383 Obama donors.

That means Sanders has nabbed 72 percent of the 34,340 Obama donors who have given to a candidate in 2016, according to Crowdpac.
There's interesting analysis of donor moves on the Republican side as well, but I'll let you click to read it.

I found this both fascinating and confirming:
And then there's the surprising.

There's 276 Romney donors who have given to Sanders, and 280 who have given to Clinton.

And just to show the dizzying breadth of some people's choices, Crowdpac discovered that five contributors to Michele Bachmann – one of the most conservative candidates in the 2012 GOP field – sent money to Sanders, the self-avowed socialist.
Which leads to this set of thoughts...

Is Sanders a Stronger Candidate in the General Election than Clinton?

It's always been my sense that while Clinton would likely inspire Republicans to vote against her (not her fault, it's just that '90s history and the right-wing's ready hatred of what they presume is the Clintons' hippie past) — Sanders would inspire Republicans to voter for him. After all, he's really talking the talk I personally hear from "tea party" voters all the time. Literally, all the time. (Ask any one of your right-wing relatives what she thinks of the bank bailout of 2008.)

Put another way, if you're just into electoral strategizing, it's been my sense that to some degree, Clinton will depress the Democratic turnout relative to Sanders (because of all those Warren wing types who have had it with "TPP presidencies," to apply just one label); at the same time she will perhaps increase turnout against her (again, not her fault).

I suspect Sanders, on the other hand, would keep all of Clinton's voters in the general election (because, "Republicans!" dontcha know) and pick up some Republicans that can't stomach the Trump or the Bush or the Bailout.

Which leads to two thoughts. One, let the Democratic candidates duke it out; that's why we have primaries. But make it a fair fight. After all, if Chuck Schumer–Democrats (the Wall Street–wing players who have power) do to Sanders what they do to almost all progressives — and Clinton loses in the general election — that lose is on them.

And two, if I'm right, Sanders' more difficult battle is the Democratic primary, not the general election. Partly because Hillary Clinton is indeed a "formidable opponent" (in Stephen Colbert's formulation), and because of the above — because the Chuck Schumers of the world may very well prefer to lose to an insider Republican (with whom they can deal on all issues related to money) than win with an anti-money Democrat.

Watch out for that. The bipartisan Wall Street wing is not to be trusted.

About That Data Above

As data goes, I found that pretty interesting. One thing to keep in mind, though. They can only analyze the data they have. Data from the 2012 race, they may have a fair amount of. Data from this race? There's probably more there than will ever meet the eye.

And one more thing — we don't know whether large donors are overrepresented in either the Sanders or the Clinton group, something that may be fascinating to know. Still, there's plenty of time, and apparently of money.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)



Clown car or musical chairs?

by Tom Sullivan

There are only 10 chairs onstage for the first GOP presidential debate on August 6 in Cleveland. The clowns are circling, circling, circling, tripping over their big shoes and eyeing each other, listening for Katie Perry to stop singing "Roar." Several are going to be left without a chair.

Politico calls the GOP race for 10th place a "Darwinian struggle for survival." Couldn't happen to a better bunch of social Darwinists:

Debate host Fox News has decided that only the top 10 contenders, determined by an average of national polls out by Aug. 4, will merit a spot onstage — setting off a Darwinian struggle that has some candidates taking desperate measures to try to move their numbers, and others spinning away their near-certain failure to qualify. Several campaigns also are already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads to boost their profiles, even though the Iowa caucuses are six months away.

So who will be left when the music stops?

According to POLITICO’s latest average of national polls, eight candidates are looking like a lock for the debate: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. Perry and Chris Christie are in for now, but only barely. Those still with a chance to make the stage are John Kasich, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal. For the other candidates — Carly Fiorina, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore — it will be very difficult to get to Cleveland.

It's not looking good for Graham:

“I think it sucks,” the South Carolina senator said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Gentlemen, start your blenders.

Monday, July 27, 2015

OH who cares what the people actually think #Irandeal

by digby

Look who backs the Iran deal:

Most American Jews want Congress to approve the deal reached between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, a poll released on Thursday showed.

According to the poll, sponsored by the L.A. Jewish Journal, 53 percent of those surveyed said Congress should approve the deal, while 35 percent said Congress should oppose it, compared to 41 percent and 38 percent, respectively, in the general population.

In answer to the direct question "Do you support or oppose the Iran deal," however, 49 percent answered in the affirmative to 31 percent against.

According to the L.A. Journal, the survey's results reflect a significant divide between the positions of most of the main Jewish groups, such as AIPAC and many Jewish Federations, and the majority of U.S. Jews.

According to officials in the pro-Israel camp, AIPAC will deploy about 300 lobbyists on Capitol Hill next week to try to convince lawmakers, especially undecided Democrats, to vote against the deal.

In other words, right wing Jewish groups are working against the wishes of a majority of American Jews. Of course, that tracks with the right wing's influence on pretty much everything so no surprise there.


Throw down the crutch of Medicare!

by Tom Sullivan

Reports of Medicare's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Jeb! Bush doesn't seem to have gotten the memo, however. His people quickly backtracked after he suggested, "We need to figure out a way to phase out the program for others." (Those not already receiving benefits, of course.)

Paul Krugman was looking at the trend lines at his blog over the weekend. He provides some nifty charts to illustrate just how the health care cost curve has indeed been bent. Projections for runaway growth have all but vanished since passage of the Affordable Care Act:

The truth is that there never was an entitlements crisis. But now there isn’t even an excuse for pretending that such a crisis exists.

But then, who said the right needed an excuse, good or otherwise? Krugman finishes the thought in his Monday column:

The real reason conservatives want to do away with Medicare has always been political: It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful. But when they make their case to the public they usually shy away from making their real case, and have even, incredibly, sometimes posed as the program’s defenders against liberals and their death panels.

What Medicare’s would-be killers usually argue, instead, is that the program as we know it is unaffordable — that we must destroy the system in order to save it, that, as Mr. Bush put it, we must “move to a new system that allows [seniors] to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.” And the new system they usually advocate is, as I said, vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance.

Vouchers, yes. With tax cuts, vouchers are the miracle elixir of conservative economics. Throw down those crutches of Medicare and public schooling, my boy! Nothing better than vouchers and tax cuts for curing what ails ya, save a clean bowel, an economic Road to Wellville, where...

the spirits soar, the mind is educated, and the bowels - - the bowels are born again!

The company he keeps

by digby

Among the Donald's many fans:

On July 13, neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin wrote an arti­cle on The Daily Stormer, the vir­u­lently racist and anti-Semitic site he runs, which praised Trump for his com­ments on Mex­i­cans. Anglin asserted, “The Trump Train has left the sta­tion and is run­ning non-stop to total vic­tory over the bar­bar­ian hordes of Mex­ico. Because there is one issue which mat­ters beyond all other issues and that is the inva­sion of White coun­tries by non-whites.”Anglin adds that “the amount of good” that Trump has done “is immeasurable.”

Writ­ing also on July 13, Peter Brimelow, who runs the racist, anti-immigrant site VDare, attacked “cul­tural Marx­ists,” often a code word for Jews, for rebuk­ing Trump’s remarks and “shut­ting down” the immi­gra­tion debate. Brimelow com­pares the reac­tion to Trump to the neg­a­tive reac­tion to the Con­fed­er­ate flag. Brimelow then implies that the main­stream media “elite” that has rejected Trump’s views is mostly made up of Jews in New York.

Richard Spencer, the head of the National Pol­icy Insti­tute, a white suprema­cist think tank, posted pic­tures of Trump’s cam­paign stop in Ari­zona on July 12, in the online racist jour­nal Radix under the title, “Trump Against the World.” Spencer claimed that Radix peo­ple were at the event. In the arti­cle, he also made an appar­ently sar­cas­tic com­ment about the “diver­sity” of the largely white crowd.

On July 10, non The Alter­na­tive Right, a white suprema­cist web­site, an uniden­ti­fied writer com­pared Trump to a “honey bad­ger” that has ram­paged through the Repub­li­can pri­mary field. The per­son writes, “Even if they could find some way of stop­ping Trump, the man has already left his mark on the 2016 Pres­i­den­tial Race by tap­ping into the ris­ing eth­no­cen­tric tide of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, some­thing that is hardly likely to dis­si­pate when the lib­eral left is engaged in a mas­sive cul­ture war against White identity.”

Kevin Mac­Don­ald, a white suprema­cist and anti-Semite, wrote an arti­cle about Trump’s can­di­dacy in his online pub­li­ca­tion Occi­den­tal Observer on July 10. Mac­Don­ald claims that “Trump’s state­ments on the crim­i­nal ten­den­cies and gen­er­ally low func­tion­ing of Mex­i­can and Cen­tral Amer­i­can immi­grants have struck a chord with White America.”

He's making America great again by bringing us back to our white supremacist roots.

Jeb! shoots and scores with the far right

by digby

You just can't go wrong with this:

“I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess,” Bush said Thursday. “And should [O’Malley] apologize? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn’t apologize to a group that seemed to disagree with it.”

He's turned "Black Lives Matter" into an attack on white people. That's very clever. Maybe he's starting to hit his wingnut stride.

Rick Perry wants to reduce the collateral damage in our movie theatres

by digby

Since gun violence is inevitable --- like earthquakes and hurricanes --- Perry thinks that if we just have more bullets flying in movie theatres there might, maybe, be fewer casualties among average citizens.
Rick Perry said in an interview Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that the shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, earlier this week shows why gun-free zones are "a bad idea" and said he believes people should be able to take their firearms to the movies.

"I think that it makes a lot of sense to send a message across this country," Perry said when asked by host Jake Tapper if the former governor believed a way to prevent such violence would be to allow moviegoers to take guns inside. "If we believe in the Second Amendment, and we believe in people's right to protect themselves and defend themselves, and their families."

John Russell "Rusty" Houser on Thursday shot 11 people, killing two, in a theater using a handgun he legally purchased from a pawn shop, authorities have said. Houser, who authorities say had a history of legal and mental problems, then turned the gun on himself.

"I believe that, with all my heart, that if you have the citizens who are well trained, and particularly in these places that are considered to be gun-free zones, that we can stop that type of activity, or stop it before there's as many people that are impacted as what we saw in Lafayette," Perry said.

Right. All citizens must be trained as sharpshooters and carry loaded weapons at all times. for the sake of public safety.

Honestly, of all the daft wingnut ideas out there (and they are legion) this one never fails to amaze me. If you are ever tempted to think the Republicans are interested in practical solutions to problems this should cure of that misconception.


"You cannot defeat evil until you admit it exists"

by digby

Bobby Jindal immediately after Chattanooga:

“It’s time for the White House to wake up and tell the truth…and the truth is that Radical Islam is at war with us, and we must start by being honest about that. There have been many bad things that have happened under President Obama. One that stands out to me was the horrible shooting at Ft. Hood…which was clearly an act of terrorism by a Radical Islamist. Yet the White House labeled that horrible act as ‘workplace violence.’ This is grotesque. You cannot defeat evil until you admit that it exists.”

Bobby Jindal immediately after Lafayette:

Gov. Bobby Jindal said "now is not the time" to discuss gun control, despite repeated questions Friday outside the movie theater where a right-wing extremist killed two people and wounded nine others before killing himself.

Pressed to declare his position as a Republican presidential candidate, Jindal upbraided the reporters and said, "I'm sure people will want to score political points," but "now it's time to shower the victims with love and prayer."

"My answer is not changing," he continued. "Now is not the right time. Let us mourn. You can ask me all you want in a couple of days."

Lone wolves are only evil when they're mentally ill Muslims who come under the influence of Islamic extremist politics on the internet and shoot some people. Let's not talk about the mentally ill white men who come under the influence of Rightwing extremist politics on the internet and shoot some people. The first is a mortal danger to our nation and we must do everything in our power, including going to war, to stop them. The latter are just some unfortunate, misunderstood people about whom there's nothing we can do without sacrificing important principles we hold dear.

And yet the victims are just as dead, by exactly the same means, regardless of the motivation of the people who killed them.

Oh, and by the way, the Lafayette shooter had something in common with Jeb! Bush: they both admire the same authors.
Asked to elaborate on his concerns about family formation, [former Gov. Jeb Bush] twice praised author Charles Murray, best known for his highly controversial 1994 book which touches on racial differences in I.Q., for his later research into the rise of single motherhood. 
“My views on this were shaped a lot by Charles Murray’s book,” Bush said.
The Republican presidential hopeful added, “I like Charles Murray books to be honest with you, which means I’m a total nerd I guess.”


Why Sanders Got Twice as Much Applause as Clinton When He Spoke to La Raza

by Gaius Publius

It's conventional wisdom at this point that Sanders has the "white liberal" vote in his pocket, or at least the subset of "liberals" who are in the so-called Warren wing of the party. That, according to Nate Silver, could even get him wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But what about the rest of the races? Silver (and almost everyone else) says he'll need the black and Latino communities to win.

So let's start here, with Sanders speaking to La Raza (my emphasis throughout):
Why Bernie Sanders Got Twice as Much Applause as Hillary Clinton When He Spoke to La Raza

Sanders connects at the Latino civil rights group's big convention.

On Monday [July 13], three Democratic presidential candidates—Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley—gave half-hour speeches at the National Council of La Raza’s annual convention in Kansas City.

While Clinton spoke with familiarity to an audience she’s long known, it was Sanders whose speech was the most riveting, drawing twice as many applause interruptions as Clinton's.

Sanders' speech to the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization was notable because he confronted the "stain of racism," his father’s immigrant experience and his impoverished upbringing, and he went into greater detail than Clinton about what federal government could and should do to create more dignity and economic security for individuals and families.

Many pundits have written that Sanders has a problem addressing audiences of color, because he comes from nearly all-white Vermont. But Sanders’ La Raza speech shows that he can deeply connect with Latino audiences. What follows is a transcript of excerpts from his remarks that prompted 45 applauses and a concluding standing ovation.
A few of those excerpts (read the rest at the link):
These are tough times for our country. And it is absolutely essential that we involve more people in the political process, that we provide a voice for those people who have no voice, for those people who are in the shadows, and that we engage in serious debate on serious issues—and that is exactly what La Raza has been doing and will do. (applause)
I want to focus on three issues. I want to talk about the stain of racism in this country. I want to talk about the need for real immigration reform. (applause) And I want to talk about economic policies that address the grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality in America (applause) and the need to create an economy that works for all of us and not just a handful of billionaires. (applause)
America becomes a greater nation, a stronger nation, when we stand together as one people and in a very loud and clear voice, we say no to all forms of racism and bigotry. (applause)
And about his own immigrant past:
I know something about immigration, because my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket, without much of an education, and without knowing the English language. Like immigrants before and since, he worked hard to give his family a better life in the United States. He never made much money. We lived in a three-and-a-half-room rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York. But he worked hard. My mom worked hard. And they were able to create a situation where their two kids went to college. (applause)

When we talk about the Latino community, and in fact, when we talk about America, one critical piece that must be talked about is the need for comprehensive immigration reform (applause)

Let us be frank. Today’s undocumented workers play an extraordinarily important role in our economy. Without these folks, it is likely that our agricultural system would collapse. (applause
To watch the full speech, click here.

Sanders is not talking like a man who's "stuck on economics," and I think you'll find he'll find his voice on justice issues as well. And yes, it's true that without undocumented workers, "it is likely that our agricultural system would collapse." And the big (Republican) growers know it.

If Sanders Is So Good with these Crowds,  Why Is Clinton Ahead?

It's true that Sanders is "winning the crowds," both in size (the "packing the house" factor) and in their enthusiasm. And it's also true that Clinton has had a huge lead for a while and much greater name recognition. We could point to other factors as well.

But one writer at Vox has an interesting addition. Bernie's a better campaigner, but Clinton is a better "insider." Jonathan Allen, who addresses the Netroots Nation event as well to make his main point:

The 2015 Netroots Nation conference was a disaster for Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. But it was a win for Hillary Clinton.

Interrupted by #BlackLivesMatter activists, Sanders began talking about his record on civil rights issues over the last 50 years. It was awkward enough that he was later mocked mercilessly on Twitter with the hashtag #BernieSoBlack. O'Malley got in hot water, too, when he responded to the #BlackLivesMatter folks by saying "all lives matter." He apologized for it Sunday.

That's because Sanders and O'Malley are rookies.

Neither candidate has run a presidential campaign before. This is Clinton's fourth, counting the two she was engaged in when her husband sought and won the presidency. One of the ways she's shown her savvy as an inside player is to avoid the common pitfalls that take out lesser candidates. Trying to win an argument at Netroots Nation is one of them. Clinton remembers her appearance in 2007, when she was booed by the liberal, Obama-leaning crowd for saying that not all lobbyists are the scum of the earth.

So she skipped Netroots Nation and watched the ensuing controversy. Two days later, in a Facebook Q&A session, Clinton gave a carefully constructed response to a query about #BlackLivesMatter.

"Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that," Clinton said. "We need to acknowledge some hard truths about race and justice in this country, and one of those hard truths is that racial inequality is not merely a symptom of economic inequality. Black people across America still experience racism every day."

Those were the words activists were looking for.

The reason Clinton didn't fall prey to the Netroots Nation trap is the same reason that she has lined up a majority of Democratic voters, nearly half of the Democratic members of Congress, economists and education experts who can hardly stand each other, and major identity constituencies within the party: She knows how to play the inside game.

This is something people often forget after watching Hillary Clinton's uninspiring appearances on the stump: She's not a great campaigner, but she's a damn good candidate.

That's not a denigration of Clinton. Playing to win means playing the inside game as well as the outside game. In the outside game, Sanders has the decided edge. Can he use that edge to force changes to the inside game?

I've often said that "Warren wing" progressives needed a place to "park a vote" in 2016 — not just an opportunity to answer opinion polls — if neo-liberal-enabling Democrats were to be forced to take notice and bend to the "Piketty" forces within their own party. Otherwise, frankly, they'll risk defeat, since those forces are growing. You can buy all the electoral media love you want, but you have to still get the votes to get into office. For me, that's the lesson of 1968 as it applies to today. With the vote comes power, if votes can be leveraged.

Can Sanders harness actual votes to topple the reigning favorite? We'll see. To do that, though, he'll need more than just a couple of wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. After those contests (early February) come South Carolina, Nevada and the March 1 Super Tuesday vote (calendar here).

Stay tuned.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.) 



It's only racist to point it out

by Tom Sullivan

It is not clear as I'm writing this exactly what went down in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon:

The streets of Cleveland turned ugly on Sunday following the first national Black Lives Matter conference, where activists convened to discuss the use of deadly force between police and African Americans.

Witnesses told local ABC affiliate Newsnet5 that a 14-year-old who was thought to have been intoxicated was slammed to the ground after transit police confronted him about an open container by a bus stop.

Think Progress has more:

After this arrest, protesters rallied near the scene, and one video of the protest shows them linking arms in an apparent effort to prevent police from breaking up the protest. According to reporting by Jonathan Walsh, a reporter with the ABC affiliate, that’s when a white officer began to pepper spray the crowd. [video]

Coverage of such events always bring out the trolls — the kind that still insist racism is over and those who bring it up are the real racists. The comments on Dante Boykin's Periscope video started with "Is this a new Zoo exhibit?" and got uglier from there.

But you know, it's only racist to point it out.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

QOTD: Dorothy Rabinowitz

by digby

"If you want to extract information all you have to do is put them in a room with Hillary Clinton and make them listen to her speak and they'll tell you anything"

She seems nice.


"Somebody's doing the raping"

by digby

I think that should be Trump's campaign slogan.

LEMON: I read [the stats], that’s about women being raped. It’s not about criminals coming across the border entering the country.

TRUMP: Somebody’s doing the raping, Don. I mean, you know, somebody’s doing it. You say it’s women being raped. Well, who’s doing the raping? Well, how can you say such a thing?

Funny thing. It turns out that somebody is doing the raping --- "job creators" like Donald Trump:

The H-2 visa program invites foreign workers to do some of the most menial labor in America. Then it leaves them at the mercy of their employers. Thousands of these workers have been abused — deprived of their fair pay, imprisoned, starved, beaten, raped, and threatened with deportation if they dare complain. And the government says it can do little to help. A BuzzFeed News investigation...

All across America, H-2 guest workers complain that they have been cheated out of their wages, threatened with guns, beaten, raped, starved, and imprisoned. Some have even died on the job. Yet employers rarely face any significant consequences.

Many of those employers have since been approved to bring in more guest workers. Some have even been rewarded with lucrative government contracts. Almost none have ever been charged with a crime.

In interview after interview, current and former guest workers — often on the verge of tears — used the same word to describe their experiences: slavery.

These are legal immigrants.

Flag waving on hallowed ground

by digby

So, I took a trip to the Gettysburg memorial yesterday and look who was there protesting:

The Gettysburg National Park does feature some memorials to various Confederate Army units. Like the Union soldier memorials they were paid for by the various states from which the units hailed. But for the most part Gettysburg is about Union soldiers who, as we all know, prevailed in that epic battle on Union soil. Lincoln's most famous speech was all about the "great cause" for which they died. They didn't bury any confederate dead in the cemetery. (In fact, the story of what happened to the confederate war dead is really interesting.)

The fact that these were also carrying the wingnut favorite "Don't Tread On Me" flag shows they were there making a modern political point, not staging a tribute to the confederate soldiers, and frankly they soured the whole atmosphere. It really is hallowed ground.

I don't think any of the other people who were there yesterday wanted to argue in that place --- the 51,112 men who died in those three days of fighting on that battlefield settled the issue in blood a very long time ago. It's obsessive and sick to keep pushing confederate "pride" after all this time.  Especially there.


Competing for the crazy

by digby

So John Kasich is coming on fast in New Hampshire.

The poll found a strong early showing in New Hampshire for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who at 7% is in fourth place among GOP voters there. Mr. Kasich, who formally launched his presidential campaign Monday, has just 2% support in Iowa, good for 11th place among the 17 Republican candidates tested.

Personally, I think that just proves the base really likes the crazy. As I wrote at Salon earlier:
In 2010, Kasich ran for Governor of Ohio as a Tea Party conservative and won. And, in keeping with his Tea Party promises, the first thing he did was decimate the public employees’ unions. Unlike Scott Walker, he didn’t just go after the kindergarten teachers (whom we can all agree are a grave threat to everything Americans hold dear); he also targeted the mostly male professions of police and firefighters. The unions then took it to the ballot and the people voted against Kasich’s law, big time.
That failure seemed to lead him to the decision that it was long past time to let his freak flag fly in public. But his freak flag doesn’t look like any other GOP governor’s freak flag. Where executives like Sam Brownback turned their states into a “petrie dish” [sic] for supply side economics and fundamentalist theocracy, and pretty much destroyed its economy, Kasich came out for the expansion of Medicaid, saying that it was important for poor people to have medical care:
“They can’t afford health care. What are we going to do, leave them out in the street? Walk away from them, when we have a chance to help them? For those that live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored. We can help them.”
Later, he committed this heresy:
“Because people are poor doesn’t mean they don’t work hard. … The most important thing for this legislature to think about: Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Put yourself in the shoes of a mother and a father with an adult child that’s struggling. Walk in somebody else’s moccasins. Understand that poverty is real.”
Meanwhile, the rest of his party was clutching their pearls over the “47 percent,” and calling anyone who might need assistance “moochers” and “parasites.” By contrast, Kasich might as well have declared that his greatest influence was Karl Marx. Mainstream Republicans and Tea Partiers alike went mad. And the more they tried to obstruct him, the more he resisted. His flinty temperament engaged, he decided to take unilateral actions and fought the Tea Party, the Kochs and his own political allies all the way to the state Supreme Court and won. Then he handily won re-election, setting himself up for this presidential run as a moderate GOP iconoclast in a sea of doctrinaire conservatives.
As Molly Ball put it in this Atlantic article for a few months back, headlined “The Unpleasant Charisma of John Kasich”:
If only, Republican voters might be thinking, there were a candidate who could appeal to blue-collar voters but also mingle with the GOP establishment. A governor who’d proven he could run a large state but who also had national experience. Someone who’d won tough elections and maintained bipartisan popularity in an important swing state. A candidate whose folksy demeanor and humble roots would contrast nicely with Hillary Clinton’s impersonal, stiffly scripted juggernaut. That’s Kasich’s pitch, in a nutshell.
That sounds good, except for one thing. When Kasich let his freak flag fly, he really waved it around and then rubbed it in people’s faces. He’s not the only GOP governor with a bombastic, confrontational style, but his temper flies willy-nilly against just about anyone. For all his failures, and subsequent successes, he’s got a personality that is so strange that if it weren’t for Donald Trump being in the race, he’d get the weirdo prize in a heartbeat.
There was, for example, this odd moment:
Kasich was ticketed on Jan. 11, 2008, for “approaching a public safety vehicle with lights displayed” on Route 315 in Columbus and later paid an $85 fine. But he was not happy about it.
During a Jan. 21 speech to Ohio EPA workers, the governor recalled the day three years ago when he was given the ticket. In telling the story, Kasich, who took office on Jan. 10, three times referred to the Columbus police officer who ticketed him as an idiot as seen in this video:
“Have you ever been stopped by a police officer that’s an idiot,” Kasich asked the seated audience, pausing his speech as he moved around the room. “I had this idiot pull me over on 315. Listen to this story. He says to me, he say, uh, he says you passed this emergency vehicle on the side of the road and you didn’t yield.”
“I said, officer I, are you kidding, I didn’t, I didn’t see any, I didn’t even see any, where the heck was it?” a stammering Kasich recalls. “The last thing I would ever do would be to pass an emergency, are you kidding me?”
“He says, ‘Well I understand that. Give me your license,’” Kasich continues. “He goes back to the car, comes back, gives me a ticket and says you must report to court, if you don’t report to court we’re putting a warrant out for your arrest.”
Then Kasich stills himself and bellows, “He’s an idiot! We just can’t act that way. What people resent are people who are in the government who don’t treat the client with respect.”
Republicans don’t tend to like that sort of talk. And I’m going to guess that his African American constituents aren’t too sympathetic to his plight.
To his credit Kasich later signed an executive order calling for statewide standards for law enforcement in the wake of the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland. But that was only after he had said to the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, when they’d asked him to diversify his lily-white, mostly-male cabinet, “I don’t need your people.” His freak flag flies in all directions.
Then there’s the matter of his 2012 State of the State speech, a legendary address that included some of the following bullet points (collated by Business Insider):
- A reference to his “hot wife”
- Imitating someone with Parkinson’s disease
- Warning two recipients of the the Governor’s Courage Awards not to sell their medals on eBay.
- Calling Californians “a bunch of wackadoodles.”
- Referring to ethnic communities as “the ethnics,” and to God as a “lobbyist” for the “mentally ill, the disabled, the poor.”
- Giving a “shout-out” to virtually every person in the room — and multiple shout-outs to Ohio State President Gordon Gee
- Telling the people of Ohio that he wanted to “touch them.”
- Mentioning Galileo, Soviet gulags, John Adams and “Navy SEAL” — all in one breath.
- Crying

More at the link.

"Monsters from the id"

by Tom Sullivan

So I'm driving through an upscale neighborhood in Greenville, SC this week and pass a big house with a big yard, and a fresh, new Confederate flag flying right beside the road.

Except it's not the familiar battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the one they just took down in the state capitol. It's the first flag of the Confederate States of America.

I've seen a lot of Confederate battle flags over the decades, but this is the first time I've seen this particular flag displayed by a homeowner. Ever.

I wonder how many others recognized it? The battle flag came down in Columbia just weeks ago and already neo-confederates are going "more abstract" with their white supremacist. Just as they once did with "forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff." Somewhere, is Lee Atwater smiling?

The RNC apologized to the NAACP a decade ago for the Southern Strategy. Republicans just never abandoned it. Fueling white resentment as a get-out-the-vote tool has worked too well too long for the GOP. They just can't quit that flag. Resentment is the conservative id. Nurtured for years. Promoted. Now in the person of Donald Trump it is coming back to bite them. Maybe:

They say he’s trashing the Republic brand. They say he’s “stirring up the crazies,” in the words of Senator John McCain. But Trump is the brand, to a sizable degree. And the crazies have long flourished in the Republican media wing, where any amount of gaseous buffoonery goes unchallenged.

And now that the party can’t control him, Trump threatens to destroy its chances if he doesn’t get his way, running as an independent with unlimited wealth — a political suicide bomb.

Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief.

Dan Balz wrote at the Washington Post:

Many Republicans want Trump to go away. But they are wary about trying to hasten his fall because they fear they will pay too high a price among those for whom he has provided a voice.

A voice for those with years of conditioned resentment thirsty to guzzle the Kool-Aid Trump is peddling. And ready to burn down their own shining city on a hill if they can't have her for themselves.

"Monsters from the id." The horrors of our nightmares were unseen enemy in Forbidden Planet. An enemy unleashed by a race of geniuses who destroyed themselves when their own creation spun out of control.

But don't hold your breath.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies
Destroyer of worlds: Top 15 Nuke Films

By Dennis Hartley

Hiroshima, August 1945

“The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.”
-J. Robert Oppenheimer
At the beginning of this year I was ensconced in knee surgery recovery, so I completely missed the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists January 22 news release announcing that the hands on the Doomsday Clock had now been moved to 3 minutes to midnight (I’ll lay odds the story received little to no media coverage anyway, because it held nowhere near the import regarding future generations as that national nightmare we called Deflategate).
Those geeks in the white lab coats didn’t mince any words, either:
Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity. And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of leadership endanger every person on Earth. 
Good times ahead!
In just over a week from now, we will mark the 70th anniversary of mankind’s entry into that “different country”. So what have we learned since 8:15am, August 6, 1945-if anything? Well, we’ve tried to harness the power of the atom for “good”, however, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, that’s not working out so well (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, et al) Also, there are enough stockpiled weapons of mass destruction to knock Planet Earth off its axis, and we have no guarantees that some nut job, whether enabled by the powers vested in him by the state, or the voices in his head (doesn’t really matter-end result’s the same) won’t be in a position at some point in the future to let one or two or a hundred of ‘em rip. Hopefully, cool heads and diplomacy (as most recently demonstrated by the Iran nuclear deal) will continue to keep us all rad-free.
Given that nukes are sexy again (at least for the next week or two) I am sharing my picks for the top 15 nuke films you should watch before…we all go together (when we go). Why 15, instead of the usual 10? Long-time readers may be aware that I have published several nuke-themed posts in the past; however this is my “ultimate” list, revised and culled from all previous. In a way, it’s “new”. Clear? As per usual, in alphabetical order:
The Atomic Cafe -Whoopee we’re all gonna die! But along the way, we might as well have a few laughs. That seems to be the impetus behind this 1982 collection of cleverly reassembled footage culled from U.S. government propaganda shorts from the Cold War era (Mk 1), originally designed to educate the public about how to “survive” a nuclear attack (all you need to do is get under a desk…everyone knows that!). In addition to the Civil Defense campaigns (which include the classic “duck and cover” tutorials) the filmmakers have also drawn from a rich vein of military training films, which reduce the possible effects of a nuclear strike to something akin to a barrage from, oh I don’t know- a really big field howitzer. Harrowing, yet perversely entertaining. Written and directed by Jayne Loader, Pierce Rafferty and Kevin Rafferty (Kevin went on to co-direct the similarly constructed 1999 doc, The Last Cigarette, a takedown of the tobacco industry).
Black Rain-For obvious reasons, there have been a fair amount of postwar Japanese films dealing with the subject of nuclear destruction and its aftermath. Some take an oblique approach, like Gojira or Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear (see my reviews below). Others deal directly with survivors (referred to in Japan as hibakusha films). One of the top entries in the latter genre is this overlooked 1989 drama from Shomei Imamura (The Ballad of Narayama, Vengeance is Mine) which tells a relatively simple story of three Hiroshima survivors: an elderly couple and their niece, whose scars run much deeper than the physical. The narrative is sparse, yet contains more layers than an onion (especially when one takes the deep complexities of Japanese society under consideration). Interestingly, Imamura injects a polemic which points an accusatory finger in an unexpected direction.
China Syndrome– Well directed by James Bridges (who co-scripted with Mike Gray and T.S. Cook), this nail-biting thriller centers on an ambitious reporter (Jane Fonda) who ends up in the “wrong place at the right time” while conducting a routine interview at a nuclear power plant. Her cameraman (Michael Douglas, who produced) captures (at first accidently, then surreptitiously) potentially damning footage of what appears to be a serious radioactive containment issue and subsequent scramble by officials to cover it up. To their dismay, Fonda and Douglas discover that getting the truth out to the public might require them to make loathsome moral compromises, not only with plant officials, but with the brass back at the television station. Jack Lemmon gives a heartbreaking performance as a conflicted man desperately wrestling with his conscience. The film is a dire warning about the inherent dangers of nuclear energy, and of a too-compliant media.
The Day After Trinity-This thoughtful and absorbing film about the Manhattan Project and its subsequent fallout (literal, historical, political and philosophical) is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, period. At its center, it is a profile of project leader J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose moment of professional triumph (the successful test of the world’s first atomic bomb, just three weeks before one was dropped on Hiroshima) also brought him an unnerving precognition about the destructive horror he and his fellow physicists had enabled the military machine to unleash. Oppenheimer’s journey from “father of the atomic bomb” to anti-nuke activist (and having his life destroyed by the post-war Red hysteria) is a twisted and tragic tale of Shakespearean proportions. Two recommended companion pieces: Roland Joffe’s 1989 drama Fat Man And Little Boy, which focuses on the working relationship between Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) and the military director of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves (Paul Newman); and an outstanding 1980 BBC miniseries called Oppenheimer (starring Sam Waterston).
Desert Bloom-Although his off-screen political 360 in recent years may have obfuscated this fact for some of us lib’ruls, Jon Voight remains one of America’s greatest actors-take a gander at this overlooked gem from 1986. Voight is an embittered, paranoid, alcoholic WW2 vet, who runs a “last chance” gas station on the outskirts of Las Vegas in the early 1950s. He makes life nerve-wracking for his long-suffering wife (JoBeth Williams) and three daughters. On a “good” day, Dad is an engaging, loving and even erudite fellow. But there are more “bad” days than good, and that’s when Mr. Hyde comes to visit. This is particularly stressful to his eldest daughter (Annabeth Gish, in an impressive film debut). When a free-spirited aunt (Ellen Barkin) comes to visit, she sets off the emotional time bomb that has been ticking within this dysfunctional family for a long while. Director Eugene Corr and screenwriter Linda Remy draw insightful parallels between the fear and uncertainty of nuclear threat (the story is set on the eve of a desert bomb test), and the fear and uncertainty of growing up with an alcoholic parent. This is a unique, powerful and touching coming-of-age tale, beautifully made and splendidly acted by all.
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb-“Mein fuehrer! I can walk!” Although we have yet (knock on wood) to experience the global thermonuclear annihilation that ensues following the wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove’s joyous (if short-lived) epiphany, so many other depictions in Stanley Kubrick’s seriocomic masterpiece about the tendency for men in power to eventually rise to their own level of incompetence have since come to pass, that you wonder why the filmmakers even bothered to make all this shit up. In case you are one of the three people reading this who have never seen the film, it’s about an American military base commander who goes a little funny in the head (you know…”funny”) and sort of launches a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Hilarity (and oblivion) ensues. You rarely see a cast like this: Peter Sellers (playing three characters), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones and Peter Bull (who can be seen breaking character as the Russian ambassador and cracking up as Strangelove’s prosthetic arm seems to take on a mind of its own). There are so many great lines, that you might as well bracket the screenplay (by Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George) with quotation marks. BTW, if you are a fan of this film, check out HBO’s new series, The Brink; while initially a bit clunky (and distractingly derivative), it’s really begun to find its rhythm as of episode 4.
Fail-SafeDr. Strangelove…without the laughs. This no-nonsense 1964 thriller from the late great director Sidney Lumet takes a more clinical look at how a wild card scenario (in this case, a simple hardware malfunction) could ultimately trigger a nuclear showdown between the Americans and the Russians. Talky and a bit stagey; but riveting nonetheless thanks to Lumet’s skillful pacing (and trademark knack for bringing out the best in his actors), Walter Bernstein’s intelligent screenplay (with uncredited assistance from Peter George, who also co-scripted Dr. Strangelove) and a superb cast that includes Henry Fonda (a commanding performance, literally and figuratively), Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver, and Larry Hagman. There’s no fighting in this war room (aside from one minor scuffle), but lots of suspense. The film’s final scene is chilling and unforgettable.
Gojira-It’s no secret that the “king of the monsters” was borne of fear; the fear of “the Bomb” as only the Japanese could have truly understood it back in 1954 (especially when one considers it was released only 9 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki). It’s also important to distinguish between this original Japanese cut of the film, and the relatively butchered version released in the U.S. in 1956 as Godzilla , King of the Monsters. That is because the original Japanese cut not only has a more haunting and darkly atmospheric quality, but carries a strong anti-nuke message as well (it’s an American H-bomb test that awakens the long-slumbering beast from his deep-sea hibernation). The U.S. cut downplays this subtext (replacing cut footage with inserts featuring Raymond Burr). This is why American audiences remained largely oblivious to the fact that the film was inspired by a real-life 1954 incident involving a Japanese fishing vessel (“The Lucky Dragon”). The boat was in an alleged “safe zone” near one of the Bikini Atoll bomb tests conducted by the U.S. in March of that year. Many of the crew members received serious burns, and one of the injured eventually died of radiation sickness. This original 1954 Toho version is the first and the best of what was to ultimately become a silly franchise.
I Live in Fear -This 1955 Akira Kurosawa film was the great director’s follow-up to The Seven Samurai, and arguably one of his most overlooked efforts. It’s a melodrama concerning an aging foundry owner (Toshiro Mifune, disguised in theatrically exaggerated Coke-bottle glasses and silver-frosted crew cut) who literally “lives in fear” of the H-bomb, to the point of obsession. Convinced that the “safest” place on Earth from radioactive fallout is in South America, he tries to convince his wife and grown children to pull up stakes and resettle on a farm in Brazil. His children, who have families of their own and rely on their father’s factory for income, are not so hot on that idea. In fact, they take him to family court and have him declared incompetent. This sends Mifune’s character spiraling into madness. Or are his fears really so “crazy”? It is one of Mifune’s most powerful and moving performances. Kurosawa instills shades of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” into the narrative (a well he drew from again some 30 years later, in Ran).
Miracle Mile Depending on your worldview, this is either an “end of the world” film for romantics, or the perfect date movie for fatalists. Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham give winning performances as a musician and a waitress who Meet Cute at L.A.’s La Brea Tar Pits museum. But before they can hook up for their first date, Edwards stumbles onto a fairly reliable tip that L.A. is about to get hosed…in a major way. The resulting “countdown” scenario is a genuine, edge-of-your seat nail-biter. In fact, this modestly budgeted, 90-minute sleeper offers more heart-pounding excitement (and much more believable characters) than any bloated Hollywood disaster epic from the likes of a Michael Bay or a Roland Emmerich. Writer-director Steve De Jarnatt stopped doing feature films after this 1988 gem (his only other credit is Cherry 2000).
No Nukes -This 1980 documentary was compiled with highlights from a five-night Madison Square Garden concert series and one-off Battery Park rally organized the previous year by Musicians United for Safe Energy (“MUSE”), a collective of activists and Woodstock generation music icons aiming to raise awareness of non-nuclear energy alternatives in the wake of the Three-Mile Island plant incident. It’s a real 1970s “soft rock” time capsule: Jackson Browne, The Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash are all here in their glory. They’re all in fine form, but the “California mellow” contingent is roundly blown off the screen by a rousing and cacophonous 20-minute finale courtesy of Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band-at the peak of their powers. It’s not the most dynamically produced concert film (don’t expect the cinematic artistry of, say, The Last Waltz), but the performances are heartfelt, and the message is a positive call to action that is more timely now than ever.
Silkwood-The tagline for this 1983 film was intriguing: “On November 13th, 1974, Karen Silkwood, an employee of a nuclear facility, left to meet with a reporter from The New York Times. She never got there.” One might expect a riveting conspiracy thriller to ensue; however what director Mike Nichols and screenwriters Nora Ephron and Alice Arden do deliver is an absorbing character study of an ordinary working-class woman who performed an act of extraordinary courage which may (or may not) have led to her untimely demise. Meryl Streep gives a typically immersive portrayal of Silkwood, who worked as a chemical tech at an Oklahoma facility that manufactured plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. On behalf of her union (and based on her own observations) Silkwood testified before the AEC in 1974 about ongoing health and safety concerns at her plant. Shortly afterwards, she tested positive for an unusually high level of plutonium contamination. Silkwood alleged malicious payback from her employers, while they countered that she had engineered the scenario herself. Later that year, on the last night of her life, she was in fact on her way to meeting with a Times reporter, armed with documentation to back her claims, when she was killed after her car ran off the road. Nichols stays neutral on the conspiratorial whisperings; but still delivers the goods here, thanks in no small part to his great cast, including Kurt Russell (as Silkwood’s husband), and Cher (garnering critical raves and a Golden Globe for her supporting performance).
Testament- Originally an American Playhouse presentation, this film was released to theatres and garnered a well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Jane Alexander (she lost to Shirley MacLaine). Director Lynne Littman takes a low key, deliberately paced approach, but pulls no punches. Alexander, her husband (William DeVane) and three kids live in sleepy Hamlin, California, where the afternoon cartoons are interrupted by a news flash that a number of nuclear explosions have occurred in New York. Then there is a flash of a whole different kind when nearby San Francisco (where DeVane has gone on a business trip) receives a direct strike. There is no exposition on the political climate that precipitates the attacks; a wise decision by the filmmakers because it helps us zero in on the essential humanistic message of the film. All of the post-nuke horrors ensue, but they are presented sans the histrionics and melodrama that informs many entries in the genre. The fact that the nightmarish scenario unfolds so deliberately, and amidst such everyday suburban banality, is what makes it all so believably horrifying and difficult to shake off. As the children (and adults) of Hamlin succumb to the inevitable scourge of radiation sickness and steadily “disappear”, like the children of the ‘fairy tale’ Hamlin, you are left haunted by the final line of the school production of “The Pied Piper” glimpsed earlier in the film…“Your children are not dead. They will return when the world deserves them.”
Thirteen Days-I will confess that I had a block against watching this film about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis for years (it was released in 2000), for several reasons. For one, director Roger Donaldson’s uneven output (for every Smash Palace or No Way Out, he’s got a Species or a Cocktail to kill the buzz). I also couldn’t get past “Kevin Costner? In another movie about JFK?!” Finally, I felt that the outstanding 1974 made-for-TV film, The Missiles of October would be hard to top. But to my surprise-I found this to be one of Donaldson’s better films. Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp make a very credible JFK and RFK, respectively. The film works as an exciting political thriller, yet it is also intimate and very moving at times (especially in the Oval Office scenes between the brothers). Costner provides the “fly on the wall” perspective as Kennedy insider Kenny O’Donnell. Costner gives a compassionate performance; on the downside he proves once again that he has a tin ear for regional dialects (that Hahvad Yahd brogue comes and goes of its own free will). According to a tidbit of trivia posted on the Internet Movie Database, this was the first film to be screened at the White House by George and Laura Bush in 2001. Knowing this now…I don’t know whether to laugh or cry myself to sleep.
Threads- Out of all of the selections on my list, this is arguably the grimmest and most sobering “nuclear nightmare” film of them all. Originally produced for British television in 1984, it aired that same year here in the states on TBS (say what you will about Ted Turner-but I always admired him for being the only American TV exec with the balls to air it). Mick Jackson directs with an uncompromising sense of docu-realism that makes The Day After (the similarly-themed U.S. television film from the previous year) look like a Teletubbies episode. The story takes a run-of-the-mill, medium sized city (Sheffield, England) and shows what would happen to its populace during and after a nuclear strike…in graphic detail. The filmmakers make it very clear that, while this is a dramatization, it is not designed to “entertain” you in any sense of the word. Let me put it this way-don’t get too attached to any of the main characters. The message is simple and direct-nothing good comes out of a nuclear conflict. It’s a living, breathing Hell for all concerned-and anyone “lucky” enough to survive will soon wish they were fucking dead.

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