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Monday, February 20, 2017

A-hole in one

by digby

Trump with his foursome golfing this week-end

This is such a small thing but it really illustrates how reflexively dishonest these people are. From Steve Benen:
For the third consecutive weekend, Donald Trump has headed south, spending time at his private club in South Florida, where the president appears to enjoy golfing. And while that ordinarily wouldn’t be especially notable – just about every modern president has enjoyed hitting the links – with Trump, nothing is ever easy.

Because Trump complained bitterly for years about President Obama’s golfing, the Republican’s aides are a little touchy about the subject, to the point that they’ve begun shading the truth a bit. Politico reported this afternoon:
After initially saying Trump had only played a few holes, the White House reversed itself Monday after professional golfer Rory McIlroy posted on his website that he had played 18 holes with the president. 
“As stated yesterday the President played golf. He intended to play a few holes and decided to play longer,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Monday.
I’ll gladly concede that this White House’s falsehoods are so numerous, giving deceptive information about the president’s golf game hardly registers. For that matter, the president’s own lies are often so serious, it’s hard to get too worked up about this latest misstep.

But even with those caveats in mind, it’s an odd thing to lie about. Have we really reached the point at which Trump World is so accustomed to pushing bogus and misleading information that even the president’s golfing is fair game?

Part of the problem, of course, is Trump’s preoccupation with Obama’s downtime. The Trump Twitter Archive points to Trump whining about his predecessor’s golfing over and over and over and over and over again. As the Republican put it before his own election, Americans should perceive Obama as lazy and easily distracted because of his preferred form of recreation during his personal downtime.

Indeed, Trump said a year ago he’d be a very different kind of president. At an event in New Hampshire in Feb. 2016, while again complaining about Obama golfing, Trump declared that if he were in office, “I’d want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.”

In Nov. 2016, Trump moved the goal posts, saying he might golf a bit, but only as part of his presidential duties. “Golf is fine,” he said the day before the election. “But always play with leaders of countries and people that can help us!”

Now, as the Huffington Post noted, Trump’s whole perspective has changed. 
Since becoming president, Trump has played a lot of golf. Specifically, he has made six trips to the golf course in 30 days. This has caused some people to suggest Trump might be a hypocrite. The White House, which seems sensitive to those allegations, has responded by keeping the press and the public in the dark about Trump’s golfing – sometimes literally, like on Feb. 11, when administration officials made an AP reporter wait in a room with black plastic over the windows while the president played golf.

Trump’s golfing this weekend was similarly secret. Late Sunday afternoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a top White House press aide, told reporters Trump had played “a couple of holes” Saturday and Sunday.

It was more than a couple, and it wasn’t at all with world leaders:
Even today, the White House only conceded its original statement was wrong after the facts emerged from those Trump played with.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing Trump for wanting to go golfing. It’s a tough job, and presidents should unwind however they want. It’s not something the public should get too worked up about.

That said, Trump spent years arguing the exact opposite: he was convinced presidential golfing was a very big deal, it was worthy of incessant and whiny complaints; and it was a credible metric for evaluating a president’s diligence and productivity.

There are roughly 1,000 things Trump has done wrong that are more substantively ridiculous than this, but when it comes to combining hypocrisy, dishonesty, and viewing Obama through a fresh lens, this golfing flap nevertheless resonates for a reason.

It sure does.  He's entirely full of shit and anyone who couldn't see that before surely should be able to see it now. And yet 40% of the American people still think he's just terrific.

Trump is bringing everyone together. In England.

by digby

He's such a uniter: 
Donald Trump state visit: MPs of all parties call for US President's trip to Britain to be cancelled

A cross-party group of MPs has called on Theresa May to rescind an invitation for Donald Trump to attend a state visit to the UK later this year.

MPs branded the US President “disgusting” and “immoral” as they criticised the Prime Minister for appearing to act in “desperation” by extending the offer to Mr Trump just seven days after he entered the White House.

The debate was triggered after a petition to block Mr Trump’s state visit reached almost two million signatories. A separate petition, defending the state visit, which attracted more than 300,000 signatures, also formed part of the debate.

Calling on the Government to reconsider its offer, Labour's Paul Flynn compared the US President's behaviour to a "petulant child", while fellow Labour MP Daniel Zeichner branded him “a disgusting and immoral man” who “represents the very opposite of the values we hold”.

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said Ms May was left looking “desperate and craven” while Labour’s Dawn Butler said the US had a “pretty nasty virus, and it’s important that virus doesn’t spread”.

Green MP Caroline Lucas attacked Mr Trump’s “effrontery to basic climate science” and the SNP’s Alex Salmond suggested there was “desperation for a trade deal” driving Ms May’s Government.

They clashed with several Conservative MPs who insisted Ms May was right to prioritise Britain’s national interest by fostering good relations with its historic ally.

Tory Nigel Evans said he had seen no evidence from the first four weeks of the Trump administration to suggest that the President was “racist”.

"When we stand up in this country and condemn him for being racist, and I have seen no evidence of that, I have seen no evidence of him being racist, we are actually attacking the American people,” he said.
Much of the debate centred on the timing of the offer, coming just a week after Mr Trump was inaugurated and during a hastily-arranged visit to Washington by Ms May.

Barack Obama only received an invitation after 758 days, while his predecessor, George W Bush, waited 978 days before he was offered a state visit.

Tory MP Crispin Blunt said he was not opposed to a state visit but said it should be delayed until 2020 – the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower.

However, Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan said Mr Trump's state visit to the UK "should happen and will happen".

He told MPs in the Westminster Hall debate: "This is a special moment for the special relationship. The visit should happen, the visit will happen and when it does I trust the United Kingdom will extend a polite and generous welcome to president Donald Trump."

The debate over the US President’s impending trip took place against the backdrop of protests across the UK against the state visit.

You can't help but be proud to be an American.

Remember this welcome in Europe for our last president?

And we're supposed to believe that the monstrous imbecile Trump will bring about more favorable relationships with the world? Really?

The NRA call to arms. What could go wrong?

by digby

What's he getting at?

By the way, these are the actual protesters this man is inciting Trump's gun-toting cult followers to open fire on:

Scenes from a Trump Rally

by digby

"[Trump] needs to drain the swamp of judges, too. I don't care what he does. I'm behind him 100 percent. Put it this way: If he became a dictator, and they said, 'We want him in forever,' he's my man. He's in. I'll never vote against him ... I love his power ... It's the power that does something to me."

There's a lot of ugliness in this report from the Florida Rally on Saturday, but this is just ... sadly typical. 
Traffic was still backed up as people passed by the scrum of protesters and supporters and walked off through the flickering lights. The young Muslim girl in hijab was still there. She was from Orlando and had protested circa Occupy, and she conceded she wasn't prepared for the reception she'd gotten that afternoon, one that darkened as the day faded and made her want to withhold her name, for fear the night would stretch on forever online.

During the speech, she'd stood among the Trump supporters who watched on the big screen and listened through the loudspeaker. After, she'd moved together with the bloc of protesters who converged to greet the Trump supporters leaving the speech. Her head covering was noticeable, even in the crowd.

Later that night, she texted me a video of people walking in parallel to her, yelling, just a few blocks away outside Keiser University. She said they'd followed her from the rally, and their clothes and conversation suggest as much. The people looked familiar, in the same way that a composite does, in that way that all white people yelling racist things have a sneer that verges on archetype.

"Leave," a woman shouted on the video, flipping her off. "You don't like America, get the fuck out ... You are a disgrace to America," the man walking next to her said.

They mocked her camera. "You can jack off to that later, the man drawled. "I've got a big ol' white American redneck dick."

The woman in the hijab told him where to stick it.

"I can put it up your little tight ass," he countered, "and I won't be hittin' that clit, 'cause it already got removed."

All the allegedly "good" Trump voters seem to be fine with this sort of thing. They never say a word about it.

It's Presidents' Day

by digby

Considering the president with which we are saddled, it's a day you just want to dive back under the covers and try to forget. But we can't.

There are many great essay written to day about our predicament, but I enjoyed this one from Joe Romm at Think Progress the most:
On Saturday, President Donald Trump compared himself to “Abraham Lincoln and many of our greatest presidents.” On his inauguration, Trump chose to be sworn in on the so-called “Lincoln bible” — the same one Honest Abe was sworn in on — because he was “inspired by Lincoln’s words,” Quartz reported.

On Presidents’ Day, though, it’s worth remembering that Trump is the anti-Lincoln (and anti-Washington). Indeed, he is not just the demagogue Founding Fathers like Alexander Hamilton warned us about. He is exactly the demagogue Lincoln himself warned us about.

At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln famously asked whether a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal … can long endure.”

But Lincoln’s concern about the fate of the Republic — and the danger of a demagogue just like Trump — dates much earlier. Way back in 1838, a 28-year-old Lincoln gave a talk to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” Although it’s one of his earliest published speeches, its prescience and timeliness make it a must read today.

Lincoln was trying to imagine what danger or threat could destroy this great nation — and “by what means shall we fortify against it.”

He dismissed the threat of “some transatlantic military giant” and argued that “the approach of danger to be expected … if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad.” He warned that “if destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

Lincoln was worried about what “an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon” might do to this country. 
“It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them.”

The most ambitious men during the birth of our nation who “sought celebrity and fame, and distinction … expected to find them in the success of that experiment.” But that time has passed. “The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot.”

Such a man “sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others,” but rather “thirsts and burns for distinction.” 
“Distinction will be his paramount object, and [with] nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.”

Lincoln understood the psychology of those who have great ambition to lead, in part because he was one of them. Fortunately for us, Lincoln directed his enormous talent and ambition toward building up the country and preserving the Union.

Trump, sadly, is a man who wants to pull down the unity of the nation — and indeed the unity of the West. In a thinly-veiled attack on Trump, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Friday that the founders of the Munich conference he was attending, “would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism” and even more, that many people “including in my own country, are giving up on the West, that they see it as a bad deal that we may be better off without.” 
Trump is a disuniter, the anti-Lincoln.

During the revolution, Lincoln explained, “the passions of the people” were given focus — “establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.” This meant that “the deep-rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge, instead of being turned against each other, were directed exclusively against the British nation.”

But, he warned “this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.”

And remember, Lincoln was worried about the fading memory of George Washington’s spirit just a few decades after the Revolutionary War. Now we are over two centuries removed from that war.

Lincoln noted of “that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a participator.” He believed that their “indubitable testimonies … in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related … were a fortress of strength” against any challenge to our liberty, such as a a fame-seeking demagogue.

“They were the pillars of the temple of liberty,” he argued “and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.”

His speech ended with these powerful and prescient words:
Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. — Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his [Washington’s] name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our Washington.

The last sentence is a reference to the Bible, which Lincoln loved to quote.

The “last trump” is from 1 Corinthians: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible [imperishable], and we shall be changed.”

The last trump is sounded on the Day of Judgment to raise the dead, including George Washington. Lincoln was figuratively expressing hope, before Judgement Day, that Washington would never be disturbed or awoken by a “hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place.”

Tragically, we now have a Trump that is desecrating everything that Washington fought for and that the Founders stood for. Lincoln’s words are as true today as they were nearly two centuries ago.

This is America’s day of judgment. The only way to stop this desecrating demagogue before he goes too far is through “unimpassioned reason” and “a reverence for the constitution and laws.”
God help us.

One month report card

by digby

Via The Shadow Government blog at Foreign Policy:
Has it really only been a month? We wish we could say that Trump surprised us, but from the minute he took the oath of office one month ago today, he hasn’t: This has been the worst, most unsettling start of a new president in modern memory. This period is supposed to be the honeymoon. Yet there has been so much churn and breaking news it’s hard to keep up. While the drama has provided plenty of fodder for the readers (and writers) of Shadow Government, it has been very damaging to the country. But how much? It’s important to step back and reflect on the top ten things we have learned in recent weeks — and what this means for the future.

1. Process, process, process. Washington wonks love to talk about process, but the sloppy and rushed way in which the administration rolled out its Executive Order on immigration makes the best case for why process really matters. On the merits, we think the EO is a terrible, self-defeating policy to address a phony threat. As Michael Morell pointed out, there is little evidence that refugees or immigrants are terrorist threat to the United States — the real risk is homegrown radicalization, which the discriminatory EO may contribute to. The suspension of legal migration from seven Muslim-majority nations also risks complicating cooperation with counterterrorism partners across the Muslim world (with Iraq being a notable case in point).

But even for those sympathetic to Trump’s actions, the EO could have been met with far more applause among Republicans if the administration had shown basic competence — taking the time to include the interagency, brief Capitol Hill, line up its surrogates, and ensure that organizations like Customs and Border Control had a clear understanding of how the order would be implemented in practice, particularly in regards to Green Card holders. Beyond the EO debacle, other failures of process include the green lighting of the Jan. 8 Yemen raid (in which one U.S. Navy Seal and numerous civilians were killed) over dinner without interagency deliberation, and the absence of any clear process to review responses to early provocations by Russia and North Korea. (The frantic review of documents on the North Korea missile launch by cell phone light at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort doesn’t count).

2. Who is speaking for whom? The administration continues to present two sides to every story — one presented by the White House (often in the form of a presidential tweet) and another presented by cabinet officials like Secretary of Defense Mattis. The mixed messages are making it hard for anyone — Trump supporters, the press, or our allies — to get the ground truth on U.S. policy on Russia, North Korea, the Islamic State, alliances like NATO, and Iran. One month in, what’s striking is that aside from all the noise and bluster, U.S. policy on these issues has not changed much from the Obama approach. The outcome may or may not be good (depending on your perspective), but the confusion and contradiction is dangerous. It befuddles allies and emboldens adversaries.

3. Staffing gaps are a YE-HUGE problem. Trump prides himself on the speed with which his administration has made cabinet picks (which in reality was an average pace). But his team has been setting records for the slowest appointment of second and third tier political appointments — the folks who actually make the machinery of government run. Four weeks in, not a single foreign policy official has been named below the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.

Partly this reflects a reluctance of many qualified candidates to be associated with this administration (such as retired Navy Vice Admiral Bob Harward, who passed on the National Security Adviser job); partly it reflects Trump’s own vindictiveness toward anyone who criticized him during the election (as the torpedoing of Elliot Abrams demonstrates); and partly it reflects the disorganization and total lack of preparation to govern on display during the transition that persists today. And even if they start naming deputy, under, and assistant secretaries soon, this problem will go on for several months given the time it takes to get nominees confirmed.

The NSC staff, meanwhile, is in a full tailspin. Professional NSC staff have been marginalized from the outset, and many of the political appointees who had been hired at the senior director level were Mike Flynn people not well known to the Trump team or the foreign policy establishment. With Flynn gone, their futures are very much in doubt.

4. Kremlingate isn’t going away. Given Flynn’s unceremonious departure over his calls to the Russian Ambassador during the transition and his supposed misrepresentation of those calls to his own colleagues (including Vice President Pence), the story about Trump’s ties to Russia can’t simply be swept under the rug (as both the administration and some Republicans in Congress hope). There are too many unanswered questions: Why would Flynn reassure the Russians that their interference in the U.S. election could be smoothed over? Did Trump know about Flynn’s engagements ahead of time (given that Trump clearly approved of the outcome — Russian restraint in the face of Obama’s sanctions — after the fact)? Was there collusion between those in the Trump campaign and Russian officials involved in passing hacked information to WikiLeaks? These are only some of the questions likely to dog — and potentially consume — the administration in the coming months. The demands to launch a bipartisan investigation — or, potentially, a 9/11-style commission — into what Russia did during the election last fall and the connections between Trump campaign officials and Russia are only getting louder.

5. Competing centers of gravity at the White House only bring dysfunction. At present, the U.S. government and our friends and allies have to navigate three separate centers of power inside the White House: the NSC, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s newly minted Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG), and Jared Kushner. We’ve heard that key ambassadors are being told to engage with Kushner, not the NSC staff. In addition to creating real uncertainty about who is in charge, those three centers of power are raising serious questions about the decision-making process more broadly. And as the vacuum and dysfunction at the NSC persists (see problem 3), the influence of parallel national security structures that involve no interagency input — especially the SIG — will likely grow (worsening problem 1).

6. For all the big talk, major shifts in national security policy have yet to be seen. Trump’s rhetoric, early-morning tweets, erratic personality, and scratchy phone calls have unsettled many of our closest allies and partners, and left many around the world worried about the course Trump plans to set. Yet despite expectations that the Trump team would shred the Iran deal, cut a grand bargain with Russia (starting by lifting sanctions), launch a new plan on defeating the Islamic State, move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and push back on China from an economic and trade perspective, the world has seen little in terms of major changes in policy. Maybe this is because of incompetence, lack of bandwidth, or White House infighting (see 1, 3, and 5) — or maybe it is because like so much else,

Trump just talked his way into these policies without any real desire to follow through. Trump just talked his way into these policies without any real desire to follow through. We hope it is the latter, because actually following through with Trump’s foreign policy agenda would create massive problems for U.S. national security. 
7. Mattis is becoming too big to fail. Allies and many across Washington (including some of us) regularly cite Secretary of Defense Mattis as the guy that will save us by injecting sanity into the administration. His stature has only grown in the last month, as he has been sent abroad to sooth allies in Asia and Europe (and soon the Middle East), and by the fact that Trump says he would defer to his favorite Mad Dog on issues like torture and the campaign against the Islamic State. Senator John McCain is putting it all on Mattis as well, almost encouraging him to just pretend the White House doesn’t exist. So Mattis is quickly becoming too big to fail: Just imagine how the press, the Washington community, and the world would react if rumors started speading that Mattis was ready to walk because he couldn’t work with the Trump White House.

But Mattis’s job is not going to get any easier: His comments in Brussels this week about European defense spending — in which he tried to reassure NATO of America’s commitment, while suggesting that commitment may be “moderated” if NATO allies to pay more for their own defense — show how challenging his tightrope walk will be. What will happen when Trump overrules Mattis on an issue that could fundamentally compromise U.S. security or American values? And what will happen if the gap between what Mattis and the president believe — and what Mattis does contrary to White House desires — grows over time?

8. Trump will not change. Last year, all of Trump’s opponents — in the Republican primary, and Obama and Clinton during the general election — agreed on one thing: that he is temperamentally (and many would drop the “temper”) unfit to be leader of the free world.

Trump is erratic, self-absorbed, intellectually un-curious, and vindictive.
Trump is erratic, self-absorbed, intellectually un-curious, and vindictive. And he lacks two of the most important traits a successful president must have: humility and empathy. Even the most talented team managing the most rigorous, well-run process can’t make up for the fact that Trump is Trump; he will not change. Remember all those folks who thought that once in the White House, Trump would become more normal? Sad! 
9. Checks and balances sort of working? Despite all the drama, we’ve also seen early signs that, despite all the fears of creeping authoritarianism under Trump, elements of America’s democratic system are pushing back. Civil society has mobilized enormous protests and marches across the country. Courts have blocked the immigration EO (for now). The professional bureaucracy is raising concerns, and bringing them to light (the State Department dissent cable on the EO, signed by more than 1,000 diplomats, is a good example). And the media (not to mention every late night talk show, led by Saturday Night Live) is calling out Trump and speaking truth to power (the Flynn resignation is an early sign of impact). So far, the one institution doing little to rein in Trump’s abuses is Congress. Democrats in the Senate have doggedly grilled Trump nominees, and support is building on both sides of the aisle for a thorough investigation into Kremlingate. But the big question remains: when Trump’s actions compromise our security and shared values, will the GOP leadership in Congress step up?

10. Strap yourselves in, because the real test is still coming. Trump likes to claim that he inherited a mess at home and abroad that he alone can fix. But what’s remarkable is how every part of this month of perpetual crisis has been self-created: The world has not thrown him many curveballs — the closest one was the North Korea missile test that will forever be remembered for christening the Mar-a-Lago SitRoom. Trump has brought all of this on himself. And in a weird way, he’s been lucky: Unlike Obama in 2009, Trump inherited a situation at home and abroad that was relatively good (the United States is not in the midst of an economic meltdown and does not have 170,000 troops in combat).

So this brings us to the scary part: There is nothing we have seen in the last month to suggest Trump or his team will handle a crisis well. In fact, there are ominous signs to expect the opposite. When there is an Orlando-style attack; or a North Korea ICBM test; or a meltdown in Venezuela that sparks a refugee crisis in our hemisphere; or a natural disaster like the 2010 Haiti earthquake; or something we’re not thinking of (one of the scarier scenarios is a terrorist attack on a Trump hotel abroad), we have to expect that Trump and his team will not only act with incompetence, but use such events to justify all sorts of policies at home and abroad that will only further undermine America’s position in the world — and test our constitutional system.

I dread the day the inevitable crisis hits. I just don't know what will happen.


A mental health break and back to the spy business

by Tom Sullivan

A few of my colleagues here are already so dizzy from riding the President 45 merry-go-round that they are taking needed down time. It's easy to find this fight too much to handle. It's going to be a long march. So take a mental health break before you stab someone in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, okay?

Josh Marshall linked yesterday to his September 2015 post about relaxing by hand-building a small sailboat with his son. It brought back a story about the value of working with your hands. First, Josh Marshall:

I cannot think of the last time I had what I would call a hobby. At first my hobby was history but it was also my profession. Then there were years hustling to find some footing in journalism and a name for myself as a writer. I have never been able to work at something I didn't love or was driven to do. So hobbies and avocations and work were all the same thing. Then there was TPM. And for a decade and a half TPM has been both my work, my hobby, my living, in a word, my everything. As work, it is all words and symbols. I love it. In some ways I am it. But there’s nothing physical or tactile or concrete about it. Woodworking was filling some void in me that I hadn’t known existed.
Marshall walked his readers through the whole project. Once done, he had to learn to sail it.

Several of my old roommates are now priests and ministers. One (the Presbyterian) shared a similar story. He received a gift from his wife one summer: a class of his choosing at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The arts school was founded in 1925 at Brasstown, NC deep in the mountains west of here:
From Basketry to Writing, you can choose from over 860 weeklong and weekend classes each year in a broad variety of areas. Your creative learning vacation is enhanced by knowledgeable instructors and small classes.
He told me that for his vacation he'd taken a class in coopering.

"You made barrels?" I asked.

"Well, I made a wooden bucket," he said, smiling.

It wasn't much to look at, he admitted, but it was his creation.

He'd made friends with a woman police officer from Chicago who came each year for blacksmithing. She had her own forge and shop at her home in Illinois.

It was funny, reverend roommate said, many of those he'd met in Brasstown, like her, were in "people" professions. They spent their days interacting with people and their problems rather than concrete objects. Like Josh Marshall, they found doing something tactile relaxing. Working with their hands was therapeutic.

"You know," he said, "I can counsel a parishioner for years and then one night he can go home and put a bullet in his head. And what have I got to show for it?"

"But I made this potholder," I laughed, holding up an imaginary one.


Right after Marshall's tweet about boat building, it was back to business:

The Times reports:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.
The president's personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, delivered the proposal. The backstory is "amazingly byzantine," says Marshall:
Having spent some time studying the matter, the biggest red flags about Donald Trump's ties to Russia and businessmen around Vladimir Putin have always been tied to the Trump SoHo building project in Lower Manhattan, from the first decade of this century. I base my knowledge of this on this rather cursory but still quite good April 2016 article from the Times and my own limited snooping around the Outer Boroughs Russian and Ukrainian emigre press. (I summarized the most salient details of the earlier Times article in Item #3 of this post.) This was a key project, perhaps the key project in the post-bankruptcy era in which Trump appeared heavily reliant on Russian funds to finance his projects. Sater was at the center of that project. The details only came to light after the project got bogged down in a complicated series of lawsuits.

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant. Bayrock Capital, where he worked was located in Trump Tower and he himself worked as a special advisor to Trump. Again, read the Times article to get a flavor of his ties to Trump, the Trump SoHo project and Russia. For my money there's no better place to start to understand the Trump/Russia issue.
Sater cropped up last August:
A Russian-born, mafia-linked businessman whose ties to both Donald Trump and loyalists of Russian President Vladimir Putin have sparked scrutiny, visited Trump Tower last month for undisclosed business, he told POLITICO.

The businessman, Felix Sater, also donated the maximum allowable contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign, according to the campaign’s most recent FEC filing.

Sater, whose firm co-developed a major Trump project in New York and who was later hired by Trump to drum up business in the former USSR, has said that he closely associated with Trump and his family, while Trump has suggested he wouldn’t even recognize Sater.
And last May:
The Russian-born businessman had already done a stint in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, and he was now awaiting sentencing for his role in a Mafia-orchestrated stock fraud scheme — all the while serving as a government informant on the mob and mysterious matters of national security.
Marshall has an update here that suggests Sater has "ties to at least certain elements of US law enforcement and intelligence." He had a hand in Trump's failed Trump Tower Fort Lauderdale and appears to be someone who "works with a bewildering cast of characters in the interests of saving his own neck."

Trump knows all the best people. Top, top people.

David Burbach, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College, tweeted, "We're in full spy novel territory."

And "This week in Trump" is just getting started.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"An invaluable arm of the presidency"

by digby

This is how a mature, intelligent president thinks about the independent press:

All presidents are flawed. Indeed, I think there must be something wrong with anyone who wants to take on that job. Some have been smarter than others. And some have behaved erratically.

But the one we have now is beyond flawed. He is an ignorant, unqualified imbecile. But you knew that.

They don't look like Indians

by digby

Nobody should be surprised that Trump calls Elizabeth Warren Pocohontas:

He hasn't changed.


The Swedish Nightmare

by digby

You've probably heard about Trump's rally yesterday in which he lamented the horrific attack that took place in Sweden on Friday Night.

Here's a Swedish paper's response:

U.S. president Donald Trump gave a speech in Melbourne, Florida, Saturday evening.

While speaking about keeping America safe he mentioned the major terrorist attacks in Nice, Paris and Brussels – and in the same sentence he pointed out an unspecified event in Sweden Friday evening.

”You look at what happened last night in Sweden”, he said.

Mr President, here is what happened in Sweden Friday night:

3:24 PM (local time): A man set himself on fire at Sergels torg, a plaza in central Stockholm. He was taken to the hospital with severe burns. There is so far no information on his motives but the intelligence service is not part of the investigation.

6:42 PM: The famous singer Owe Thörnqvist had some technical problems during rehearsal for the singing competition ”Melodifestivalen”. (However, the 87 year old singer still managed to secure the victory the very next day.)

8:23 PM: A man died in hospital, after an accident in the workplace earlier that day in the city of Borås.

8:46 PM: Due to harsh weather in the northern parts of Sweden the road E10 was closed between Katterjåkk and Riksgränsen. Due to strong winds and snow in the region the Met office also issued an avalanche warning.

12:17 AM: Police officers initiated a chase for a fleeing Peugeot through central parts of the Swedish capital of Stockholm. The pursuit ended in police officers ramming the suspect at Engelbrektsgatan. The driver is now accused of driving under the influence, traffic violation and car theft.

Another dystopian hellhole.

The truth is that Trump was watching Fox News on Friday night and Tucker Carlson had some wingnut documentary filmmaker on talking about his movie about refugees in Sweden committing crimes. Trump was probably in an intelligence briefing and they wouldn't let him concentrate on his shows so he got the story wrong.

This happens frequently. Remember the weird one about seeing the planeloads full of money being unloaded in Iran? The thousands of Muslims cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11? He's a very typical old, white, Fox News obsessed wingnut in that regard. They get mixed up a lot.

But who knows? He also has a very active fantasy life so he might just have dreamed it all up on his own.

Update: It's a fake news story.

Politics and Reality Radio: Authoritarians Hype Terror Threat; 3.5% of the Population Can Topple a Dictator; What’s Russia’s Game?

with Joshua Holland

This week, we begin by looking at the specter of terrorism, both real and imagined. Hyping the threat of terrorism and crime is a trademark of authoritarian governments. It should be noted that we recorded the show before Donald Trump cited a non-existent terror attack in Sweden.

Then we'll be joined by Luke Harding, author of A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West. Harding spent four years as The Guardian's Moscow bureau chief, and he offers some insight into the larger strategy behind Russia's influence campaigns in the West.

Finally, we'll speak with Erica Chenoweth, a professor of international studies at the University of Denver and co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. Chenoweth and her co-author, Maria Stephan, found that when even a small portion of the population is actively engaged, citizens can topple a dictator -- and that nonviolent resistance is the quickest, most effective way of fighting an authoritarian government.

The White Stripes: "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues"
The Coasters: "Poison Ivy"
Southern Culture on the Skids: "Wheels"

As always, you can also subscribe to the show on iTunes, Soundcloud or Podbean.

Resistance Recess

by digby

Here's a tool for you to use to find out about events happening at congressional offices, townhalls etc during the recess this week:
The week of February 18–26 is the first recess of the 115th Congress—time specifically set aside for members of Congress to meet with constituents and get the pulse of the communities they represent.

This is the perfect time to raise our voices. We will show up at our elected officials' events, town halls, other public appearances, and even plan our own events, if they refuse to meet with us, to make it clear to those who represent us, as well as to the media, that tolerance of Trump's hurtful agenda is unacceptable and politically toxic.

Will you join fellow constituents and attend a Resistance Recess action near you?
Click here for more info. 

This can be effective. Even if your representative is a Democrats there may be meetings worth going to to feel out what's happening and let them know you expect them to resist normalization. And Republicans definitely need to hear from you.


The rogue superpower has the whole world reeling

by digby

The white house staff on November 9, 2016

On the morning of November 9th I wrote this for Salon:
We wake up today to a fundamentally different world than the one in which we woke up yesterday. The nation our allies looked to as the guarantor of global security will now be led by a pathologically dishonest, unqualified, inexperienced, temperamental, ignorant flimflam man. Things will never be the same. And we have no idea at the moment exactly what form this change is going to take, which makes this all very, very frightening.

The scariest thing you'll read this week-end is by foreign affairs expert Robin Wright in the New Yorker:
When I was five, I almost drowned after stepping into the deep end of a lake. I can still recall the terror, my small arms flailing toward the sunlight above the water, my legs kicking in all directions to find ground. A month into the Trump Presidency, that image haunts me as an apt metaphor for both the Trump Administration’s foreign policy and the gasping-for-breath fear among many old hands watching it play out.

“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil,” General Tony Thomas, who heads the United States Special Operations Command, remarked at a military conference in Maryland this week. “I hope they sort it out soon, because we’re a nation at war.”

The President is increasingly bewildering or worrying friends and foes alike. Longstanding allies now publicly chide America. On Thursday, the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called the Trump Administration’s policy on the volatile Middle East “very confusing and worrying.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel—who has become the de-facto spokesperson for the West’s liberal democracies since Trump took office—rebuked his “America First” policy this week. “No country can solve the problems alone; joint action is more important,” she said.

Even the Russians began complaining as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held their first talks in Europe this week. On Friday, the prominent Russian senator Alexey Pushkov tweeted about the contradictory messages coming from the White House. “Trump hopes to make a deal with Russia. Mattis thinks (in vain) that he can put pressure ‘from a position of strength’. Tillerson is playing a 2nd Kerry,” he wrote, referring to John Kerry, the Secretary of State under President Obama. “Three lines from 1 administration.”

Trump’s baffling foreign policy is a central focus of the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend. Top officials from almost fifty countries—including Mattis and Vice-President Mike Pence—are attending the three-day event, which is the premier global forum on security policy. The preparatory report—written by an international team as the official “conversation starter”—uses stark language about the new American President. “The worries are that Trump will embark on a foreign policy based on superficial quick wins, zero-sum games, and mostly bilateral transactions—and that he may ignore the value of international order building, steady alliances, and strategic thinking,” it says. “Or, maybe worse, that he sees foreign and security policy as a game to be used whenever he needs distractions for domestic political purposes.” The report, “Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order?” adds candidly, “What is uncertain is how Trump’s core beliefs will translate into policy (and whether policies will be coherent).”

In an ominous introductory note, the conference’s chairman, Wolfgang Ischinger, a widely respected former German Ambassador to Washington, warns of the dangers to global order if the United States reneges on international commitments and pursues a more unilateralist and nationalistic agenda. He writes, “We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age, one in which non-Western actors are shaping international affairs, often in parallel or even to the detriment of precisely those multilateral frameworks that have formed the bedrock of the liberal international order since 1945. Are we entering a post-order world?”

The Trump Administration’s policies vary, literally, by the day, often on the biggest issues. On Wednesday, the President backed away from longstanding support by both Republicans and Democrats for secure but separate Israeli and Palestinian states. “I am looking at two-state, and one-state—and I like the one that both parties like,” he said at a press conference with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. A day later, Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York, “We absolutely support a two-state solution.”

In December, President-elect Trump affronted China by talking directly to Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, in the first such high-level contact since Washington severed ties with Taiwan, in 1979. China views Taiwan as a renegade breakaway province, and its leaders could not have been pleased when Trump’s aides reported that Trump and Taiwan’s President spoke about “close economic, political, and security ties” between the two countries. Trump’s unorthodox conversation was followed by his surprise declaration, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month, that “everything is under negotiation, including ‘One China,’ “ another break from policy, in this case dating to Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing, forty-four years ago. Trump has long been tough on China, charging it with everything from currency manipulation to fostering the idea of climate change as a hoax to benefit its industries. But then, last week, Trump abruptly reversed course during a call with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, when he pledged to honor the “One China” policy.

On Russia, Trump is really floundering. During the campaign and into his Presidency, he has been consistent on one thing: improving relations with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. “If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” he reiterated at his press conference on Thursday, despite a series of Russian provocations presumably meant to test the new Administration—a spy ship travelling up and down the East Coast, Russian fighter jets buzzing a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea, and a ballistic-missile test interpreted by experts as a violation of arms accords.

Asked about these events at his press conference Thursday, Trump described all three actions as “not good,” but neither condemned them nor said whether he planned to take action. I was in Moscow last week, and the analysts I met clearly thought Russia had gained an edge over the United States since Trump moved into the Oval Office.

Even more worrying, Trump still has no strategic depth in his foreign-policy team; most top offices are still empty. Following the resignation of Michael Flynn as the national-security adviser, after only twenty-four days in the job, Trump offered the pivotal position to Robert Harward. Harward is a retired vice-admiral, Navy SEAL, and counterterrorism expert who—unlike most of the Trump team—has experience in policymaking, too. He worked on George W. Bush’s National Security Council. But on Thursday Harward turned down the job. He cited “personal reasons” to the Associated Press, but CNN’s Jake Tapper quoted Harward telling a friend that the offer was a “shit sandwich”—a suicide mission, in the language of the Special Forces—given the White House turmoil.

At his stream-of-consciousness press conference, Trump said he was “so beautifully represented” in foreign policy by his “fantastic” Secretary of State. But Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of Exxon-Mobil, so far appears to be marginalized by Trump’s inner circle of ideologues and family members, notably chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. As Trump hosted the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, at the White House last week, Politico’s Daily Playbook reported that Tillerson was dining with his wife at Washington’s Al Dente restaurant.

Tillerson, a diplomatic neophyte who has no policymaking experience, has struggled just to win approval for his choices at the State Department, where not a single senior position has been filled—much less confirmed, which itself is a time-consuming process. Trump turned down Elliott Abrams, who was Tillerson’s pick as his deputy, reportedly because Abrams criticized Trump during the campaign. The State Department hasn’t held a press briefing in a month. A diplomat mused to me this week, “We’re in uncharted territory.”

Tillerson made his decidedly low-key début, on Thursday, at a meeting in Bonn with foreign ministers of the so-called Group of Twenty, or G-20. He was there for listening sessions, and most of those were short. Despite mounting international concern about North Korea’s ballistic-missile test this month, the South Korean Foreign Minister, Yun Byung-Se, was allocated only twenty-five minutes. Tillerson held no press conferences. His main meeting was with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, who got an hour, and afterward Tillerson’s only comment was to read a bland five-sentence statement.

In contrast, Condoleezza Rice’s maiden trip as Secretary of State, in 2005, was a weeklong sweep through Europe and the Middle East, hitting London, Berlin, Warsaw, Ankara, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Rome, Vatican City, Paris, Brussels, and Luxembourg City. She took a full press entourage and briefed reporters along the way.

Inside the diplomatic corps there is a low-level revolt, one that has been gaining momentum since some thousand State Department staffers signed a formal letter of dissent about the White House travel ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. Some have already laid the groundwork to react to a new executive order that the President said he would introduce next week, which will be tailored to address the objections of various courts that blocked the original order.

On Wednesday, five former Ambassadors to Israel, who have served both Republican and Democratic Presidents, sent a joint letter to every member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging its members to reject Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as the top envoy to Israel. Friedman is “unqualified for the job” based on his “extreme, radical positions,” the letter says. The five Ambassadors are among a list of legendary career diplomats—Thomas Pickering, Daniel Kurtzer, Edward Walker, James Cunningham, and William Harrop—who have served in the State Department.

The world is taking note. As the Guardian reported this week, “It has been hard to disguise the gap between the department headquarters at Washington’s Foggy Bottom and the White House where far-reaching foreign policy decisions are being made.” The newspaper said that Tillerson was “out of the loop” and noted that State Department officials are so excluded from policy that they “have resorted to asking foreign diplomats, who now have better access to President Trump’s immediate circle of advisers, what new decisions are imminent.”

Trump seems to have an affinity for strongmen, and has spoken often of his respect for autocratic leaders such as Putin and the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. But one of the more unusual analyses I’ve heard about Trump came from a U.S.-educated Iranian analyst. He compared Trump to the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both graduated from prominent schools, “but they’re not well-read,” he told me. “They’re both hard-liners who came out of nowhere politically. They have narcissistic self-confidence but short attention spans. They rely on their inner instincts and tight inner circles. And they move quickly to show toughness, but act rather than think.”

This is the biggest problem we face with Trump, folks. He's a nightmare in every way, of course. But this could blow up the world. It's not a joke. And virtually everyone in government from leakers in the Intelligence community to the agencies to congress to the White House itself know it. The only people who are turning a blind eye are the sick and twisted Republican traitors who see an opportunity to fulfill their evil bucket list.


A new hope

by Tom Sullivan

Four hundred new activists in Asheville, NC prepare to engage the state Democratic Party.

You will need some good news after the horrific events that didn't happen this week in Sweden. There is some. But let's back up a moment first. This happened last night in Melbourne, Florida:

"You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible."

That, from a president of the United States you never thought possible.

The media tried to make some sense of Donald Tump's fake news. The Independent:

One of the country's official Twitter accounts, controlled by a different citizen each week, reacted with bafflement.

Its current administrator, a school librarian, said: "Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There has not [been] any terrorist attacks here. At all."
Or it might have been Pakistan. Who knows? Mediaite went on the hunt:
A quick Google search turns up a whopping zero results for any combination of the search words “incident,” “attack,” Sweden,” and “February 18.”

What Trump seems to be referencing is actually a segment that aired last night on Tucker Carlson about a documentarian and the film he made regarding immigration in Sweden. (If we’re splitting hairs, the interview actually took place earlier this week but the segment only aired last night. But there’s no need to nitpick.)

Somebody tell Tucker Carlson he's Trump's new national security advisor.

The good news is that in the wake of electing a president of questionable mental stability who gets his national security updates from Tucker Carlson, people who never considered engaging in political action suddenly find it imperative.

While Trump was on Air Force One headed to Florida, four hundred people crammed into the Rainbow Community Center here for a briefing on what to expect next week at their first Democratic precinct meetings. The meet-up was organized by the local Our Revolution chapter. While there were a few familiar faces, the organizers included first-time activists, a couple of Bernie Sanders convention delegates and a former Hillary for America (HFA) staffer. The stunned HFA veteran observed, as with the Women's March on Washington and here, all it took was launching a Facebook page and people came without further prompting.

It wasn't superior organizing skills. People are on edge. Neighbors I had not seen in years walked up and announced, "We're back." When I arrived, the line was wrapped around the building. People in this "independent" town are re-registering as Democrats to have more say in the political process. While some online colleagues were fretting about the reappearance of Obama's Organizing for America blamed for undermining state parties across the country, OFA never managed to draw a crowd anything like this.

Third party talk was all but nonexistent. Expediency and urgency is the order of the day. Fighting gerrymandering, taking back the majority in the state legislature from Republicans, and turning the Democratic Party back into a party that represents students and working people is the focus. The groups is teaming up with the large Indivisible group that has formed here for a rally next week. It is one of thousands. Local activists are organizing their own town hall event on saving the Affordable Care Act from the Republican axe and effectively daring their congressmen and senators to show up.

Daily Action gives activists directives for action every day. A Capitol Hill mom started it. Emily's list is encouraging thousands of women to run for office as "part of an activist wave that began with the election of President Trump."

Can't imagine what has got everyone so spooked, can you?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Night at the Movies

Put some shorts on

By Dennis Hartley

At the risk of having my critic’s license revoked, I will freely admit this, right here in front of (your deity of choice) and all six of my readers: I have not seen any of the 9 films nominated for Best Picture of 2016. Then again, you can feel free to ask me if I care (the Academy and I rarely see eye-to-eye). Funny thing, though…I have managed to catch all of the (traditionally more elusive) Oscar nominees for Best Short Film-Animation and Best Short Film-Live Action. And the good news is you can, too. The five nominees in each sub-category are making the rounds as limited-engagement curated presentations; each collection runs the length of a feature film, with separate admissions (the films are held over this week in Seattle and will be on various streaming platforms February 21).

(Reads woodenly off teleprompter) And the nominees for Best Short Film-Animation are:

Blind Vaysha (Canada; 8 mins) – Directed by Theodore Ushev, this piece (based on the eponymous short story by Georgi Gospodinov) is a parable about a girl born with uniquely dichotomous vision: one eye sees the past, the other the future. Is it a metaphor about living in the moment? Oh, maybe. Simple, direct, and affecting, with a woodcut-style “look” that reminded me of Tomm Moore’s animated films (The Secret of Kells).

Rating: ***

Borrowed Time (USA; 7 mins) – Set in the old west, this portrait of remembrance and regret is visually impressive, and seems well-intentioned…but it’s curiously uninvolving. It’s co-directed by veteran Pixar Studios animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj.

Rating: **

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada/UK; 35 mins) – Director Robert Valley’s resume includes a graphic novel series; and his film definitely has that dark vibe. It’s a noir-ish memoir concerning the narrator’s longtime love/hate relationship with his best buddy, “Techno Stypes”, a charismatic but maddeningly self-destructive Neal Cassady-type figure. The story is involving at the outset, but becomes somewhat redundant and ultimately, tiring. Atmospheric, and great to look at-but even at 35 minutes, it’s overlong. Note: Parents should be advised that this one (not exactly “family-friendly”) is being exhibited last, allowing time for attendees to opt out (“hey kids-who wants ice cream?!”).

Rating: **½

Pearl (USA; 6 mins) – A young girl and her free-spirited musician father have a care-free, nomadic existence living out of their car, but as the years pass, life’s bumpy road creates challenging detours (Jesus, did I just write that? A gig with Hallmark beckons). Quite lovely and very moving; it’s my favorite of the nominees in this category. It’s almost like a 6 minute distillation of Richard Linklater’s interminable Boyhood (wish I’d discovered this first-would have saved me some time). Well-directed by Patrick Osborne.

Rating: ***½

Piper (USA; 6 mins) – I’ve resigned myself to the fact that a Pixar nomination in this category is as unavoidable as Taylor Swift at the Grammys. Actually (long-time readers will back me up on this) I have softened on my curmudgeonly stance on CGI animation, enough to cave on this animal-lover’s delight. Not much of a narrative, but somehow “the story of a hungry sandpiper hatchling who ventures from her nest for the first time to dig for food by the shoreline (the end)” is a perfect salve for what’s, you know…going on the world right now. In fact, I might need to watch this on a loop, just to keep from hurtling myself off the nearest cliff. Beautifully directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer.

Rating: ***

And the nominees for Best Short Film-Live Action are:

Ennemis Interieurs
(France; 28 mins) – Set in 1990s France, an Algerian-born French citizen is given the third-degree at a police station regarding his association with members of his mosque who are suspected terrorists. The political subtext in Sleim Aszzazi’s film recalls The Battle of Algiers; with a touch of The Confession. While I appreciate what the director is trying to convey in his examination of Islamophobia, the film doesn’t go anywhere; it’s too dramatically flat to stand out in any significant way.

Rating: **½

La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland; 30 mins) – Inspired by a true story, Timo von Gentun’s film stars 60s icon Jane Birken (mother of Charlotte Gainesbourg) as a lonely widow living a quiet, structured life. “Quiet” with one exception-which is when a daily express train thunders past her cottage. Smiling and waving at the train is the highlight of her day. After she stumbles on a letter that the train’s conductor chucked into her garden, a unique relationship begins (a la 84 Charing Cross Road). OK, it is borderline schmaltzy at times-but also touching and bittersweet, with an endearing performance from Birken.

Rating: ****

Silent Nights (Denmark; 30 mins) – A young Danish woman who works as a volunteer at a homeless shelter and an illegal immigrant from Ghana cross paths at the facility and develop a mutual attraction. Director Aske Bang uses the ensuing romantic relationship as political allegory; examining difficulties of cultural assimilation and the overall plight of immigrants in Western countries (much as Fassbinder did in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul).

Rating: ***

Sing (Hungary; 25 mins) – It’s interesting that two of the five nominated films in this category are set in the 90s, and specifically in allusion to the political turmoil in Europe that was proliferating at the time (it’s either “interesting”, or perhaps I’m merely slow in catching on that “the 90s” was a generation ago, ergo “history”...funny how one loses sense of time as one ages, isn’t it?). At any rate, Kristof Deak’s tale centers on a young girl just starting out at a new school. She joins the choir, a perennially award-winning group with a dictatorial choir director. When she finds out that the “secret” to the choir’s continuing success is not above board, she is faced with a moral conundrum. Although based on a true story, it plays like a modern parable about the courage of whistleblowers.

Rating: ***½

(Spain; 15 mins) – As directed by Juanjo Gimenez Pena, this hipster catnip about two mopey millennial security guards (one male, one female) who barely exchange a word during their daily shift change is a glorified YouTube video that uses up its irony quotient quickly. I might have thrown it an extra star if it was but ten minutes shorter.

Rating: *

More reviews at Den of Cinema

--Dennis Hartley

They just have to kill things.

by digby

Uday and Qusay celebrating their fresh kill of an endangered species

This breaks my heart:
The Endangered Species Act is endangered.

The 43-year-old law is under attack from the Republican Party and it’s not clear if and how it will survive the onslaught, especially with President Trump in power. Conservative members of Congress already deny climate change, dismiss the EPA, and are itching for more fossil fuel production—but what could they possibly have against a law designed to protect imperiled plants and animals? This is the very law credited with saving the Bald Eagle—the national emblem of the United States—from extinction, after all.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is holding a hearing entitled “Oversight: Modernization of the Endangered Species Act”; the latest development in an ongoing GOP campaign to try and rollback the power of the Endangered Species Act. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, an outspoken critic of the law, is the new committee chairman, and he’s likely to pick up where his predecessor, climate change denier Jim Inhofe (R-OK), left off.

The Senate hearing comes during the same week that the chamber could potentially vote on the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, to serve as EPA Administrator. Pruitt is no friend of the environment, and has made clear that he aims to limit the EPA’s scope, a position that falls in line with rest of Trump’s fossil fuel-friendly cabinet. The ESA panel adds to a long list of worries environmentalists and conservationists have with the Trump administration.

The Endangered Species Act is one of the government’s most powerful conservation tools, and that’s what Republicans don’t like about it. It can obstruct economic development and be burdensome for landowners and others to accommodate.

“I’m not sure what people really mean by ‘modernizing’ in this era of political double-speak.”

“I’m not sure what people really mean by ‘modernizing’ in this era of political double-speak,” said Amy W. Ando, an agriculture professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It surely would depend now on whether a Republican or Democrat was talking. Republicans once supported common sense environmental protection and nature conservation—Teddy Roosevelt created the National Parks, Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law, and George H.W. Bush signed the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act that created the innovative new provisions to cut acid rain.”

Ando said the current slate of environmental bills in Congress presented by the GOP “have taken an ideological stance against all conservation and environmental protection.”

“I don’t think any sensible progress on improving conservation policy is possible under the current administration and Congress,” she said. “A thoughtful revision of the ESA would require a Congress and executive branch that is genuinely interested in limiting the harm done to nature by unfettered use. Until we have such a government in place, the best we can do is to hold on to the law as it currently exists.”
This is just plain evil.  But then what isn't with these people?

 A poll released in January shows that the people don't support this by the way:
According to the poll results, 70% of voters opposed policy initiatives to target iconic species like the gray wolf or greater sage-grouse for removal from protection under the Endangered Species Act, compared with only 22% of poll respondents who supported such initiatives. This ranks legislative efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act second in unpopularity only to the sell-off of federal public lands among environment-related initiatives opposed by the American public.
“Clearly, the public isn’t buying the anti-endangered-species rhetoric that is being peddled by the industries that stand to profit from gutting protections for endangered wildlife,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “Protecting our native wildlife, and preventing the irresponsible land uses that cause the extinction of rare native species, continues to be a core American value.” 
Fine-scale tabulations from the polling reveal that public opposition to dismantling protections for at-risk wildlife cuts across party lines, with majority opposition in every voter category. Some 75% of swing voters opposed dismantling protections for at-risk wildlife, compared to 81% of Clinton voters and 55% of Trump voters.  Some 65% of voters expressed concern that the policies of President-elect Trump and the GOP Congress would result in increased extinctions and weaker wildlife protections, with 55% of voters rating this a “very big concern.”
Even 55% of Trump voters aren't in favor of the wanton killing of animal life on the planet.  But 100% of his sons are bloodthirsty killing machines and a vast majority of the Republican congress are in the pockets of businessmen who really want to be able to destroy everything in their path to make an extra buck so it doesn't matter.


Pay for play, right out in the open

by digby

On any given weekend, you might catch President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast dealmaker, Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on the dining patio. If you are lucky, the president himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege — and the few available spots are going fast.

Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Fla., club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Mr. Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests.

But Mr. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago — he arrived there on Friday afternoon, his third weekend visit in a row — have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies. At least three club members are under consideration for an ambassadorship. Most of the 500 have had memberships predating Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and there are a limited number of memberships still available.

William I. Koch, who oversees a major mining and fuels company, belongs to Mar-a-Lago, as does the billionaire trader Thomas Peterffy, who spent more than $8 million on political ads in 2012 warning of creeping socialism in America.

Another member is George Norcross, an insurance executive and the South Jersey Democratic Party boss, whose friendship with Mr. Trump dates to the president’s Atlantic City years, when Mr. Norcross held insurance contracts with Mr. Trump’s casinos, and Mr. Trump wrangled with the state’s Democratic leaders over tax treatment of the properties. Yet another member is Janet Weiner, part owner and chief financial officer of the Rockstar energy drink company, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying federal officials to avoid tighter regulations on its products.

Bruce Toll, a real estate executive who co-founded Toll Brothers, one of the nation’s largest home builders, and who is still active in the industry, owns a home nearby and frequently sees Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago, he said. While they did not discuss any of Mr. Toll’s specific projects, he said, the two would occasionally discuss national issues, such as Mr. Trump’s plans to increase spending on highways and other infrastructure projects.

“Maybe you ought to do this or that,” Mr. Toll said of the kind of advice that Mr. Trump got from club members.

Mr. Trump’s son Eric, in an interview on Friday, rejected suggestions that his family was offering access to his father and profiting from it. First, he said, only 20 to 40 new members are admitted per year, and second, the wealthy business executives who frequent the club, among others, have many ways to communicate with the federal government if they want to.

“It assumes the worst of us and everyone, and that is unfair,” Eric Trump said.
Porr little boo boo. Yes, it's very unfair to assume the worst of people isn't it? Kind of like this bullshit that Eric Trump spewed during the campaign over and over and over again:
“The question I always ask is, what product were they selling? If we make a buck, we sold a bottle of wine or an apartment, or we sold a hotel room. What product were they selling to make $150 million,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

Host Ainsley Earhardt suggested: “Favors? The government?”

“Of course,” responded Mr. Trump.

Donald Trump's son told CNBC on Wednesday the latest revelations about the Clinton Foundation proves "pay to play" and "corruption at the highest level."

"It should not be happening. It makes the whole world question our system. We are leaders of the free world. Why are we doing it?" Eric Trump said in an interview on "Squawk Box."
Anyway ---
Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said the president had no conflicts of interest, a reference to the fact that federal law exempts him from provisions prohibiting federal employees from taking actions that could benefit themselves financially.

“But regardless, he has not and will not be discussing policy with club members,” she said in a written statement.

Mar-a-Lago, she added, is “one of the most successful private clubs in the world,” and it “was intended to be the Southern White House, and the president looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property.”

But unlike the real White House, it has no public access, and no official visitor log is available. When members of the White House press corps accompanied Mr. Trump to the club and nearby golf course last weekend, they were housed during part of the trip in a room whose windows had been covered with black plastic.

Mar-a-Lago members and their guests, on the other hand, had a front-row seat to a brewing foreign policy crisis, when Mr. Trump and his aides huddled on the dining patio to devise a response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the middle of a dinner with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and his wife.

“No one needs to have a long sit-down with Donald Trump,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “If you can whisper in his ear for 40 seconds, that can be decisive on your policy.”

Mr. Koch — the estranged brother of his better-known siblings, Charles G. and David H. — owns a home in Palm Beach and hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump during the campaign. His company, Oxbow Carbon, is among the world’s largest sellers of petroleum coke, an oil byproduct, and would be a significant beneficiary of the Keystone XL pipeline, construction of which is now a Trump administration priority.

Brad Goldstein, a spokesman for William Koch, said that he did not know whether the two men had ever discussed policy matters. “If I did know,” Mr. Goldstein added, “the answer would be that I decline to comment.”
Mr. Trump’s weekend White House appears to be unprecedented in American history, as it is the first one with customers paying a company owned by the president, several historians said.

“Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and Andrew Jackson biographer. “Presidents have always spent time with the affluent,” he added. “But a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing.”

Presidents always hang around with rich people. It's an unfortunate reality in our system. But we've never had people literally paying into the president's family's personal coffers large sums of money to buy access.  This is just outright bribery.

But according to the White House counsel the president cannot be corrupt so it's all good.

These people might as well be handing Trump bags full of cash. So, let's just dispense with any notions that the presidency is anything more than a branding opportunity for the Trump family. They should just put the Trump name on the White House and call it a day.