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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

 

Democracy: for better and for worse

by Tom Sullivan

Rick Hasen had a particularly blue Monday: "I believe I've never been called a Nazi before today." Twitter users piled on over a Slate headline Hasen did not write atop an article many did not read. So it goes with social media.

Hasen argues against Democrats calling the Georgia governor's race "stolen" (Sen. Sherrod Brown) or "illegitimate" (Stacey Abrams) for three reasons. One, "rhetoric about stolen elections feeds a growing cycle of mistrust and delegitimization of the election process." Two, former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp's blatant efforts to suppress the vote in Georgia, while odious, have not been proven illegal. Hasen believes, "making charges of a stolen election when it cannot be proved undermines Democrats’ complaints about suppressive tactics." And three, "stolen election" rhetoric diverts attention from how erecting bogus obstacles to voting violates the "dignity and respect" due each voter and onto election outcomes instead.

One reader counters that a fine distinction between voter suppression and stolen elections does not exist for the disenfranchised. Fair point, Hasen replied, "I guess that I'm desperately worried about both voter suppression and about delegitimization of our electoral system and democratic processes."

On points one and two, calling the election stolen is inflammatory in the same way for Democrats as it is for GOP voters. But concern for their credibility has never stopped GOP operatives from making unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud that led us to this point.*

An argument Hasen doesn't quite make is that after so many months of inflammatory and baldfaced Trumpish lies, Democrats trading in similar talk, even if justified, reduces the argument over voting rights to he-said/she-said. So it will be portrayed in the press: overheated rhetoric.

Concern about delegitimization of the election process is valid, of course. But that horse has left the barn. The GOP spent decades purposefully undermining the public's confidence in elections. Kris Kobach, Hans von Spakovsky, Brian Kemp and other GOP hucksters spun the legend of voter fraud to create public demand for voter ID and other vote-suppressing regulations that would tilt game the system in their favor. They personalized their pitch, arguing that a single illegitimate ballot "steals your vote." Promoting "election integrity," they mug, is oh, so vital for rebuilding public trust they themselves worked so assiduously to undermine to their benefit.

That they have done so through "bureaucratic legerdemain and malfeasance in office" is beside the point, argues Charlie Pierce: "Is there an exemption by which theft is not theft if it is done under the color of law?"

In similar fashion, red-leaning states starve efforts to replace aging and vulnerable voting equipment as well as improvements to the process Hasen wants to see. When machines break down, when clerks turn away purged voters, when standing in line to vote takes hours, those too undermine voter confidence in democratic government. Just as planned. Hasen's point about calling it theft is well-taken, but the experience of having your voice stolen by a sabotaged process is far more potent than the rhetoric.

Rachel Maddow last night provided graphics to illustrate how rigged the system is, albeit legally.

On Hasen's third point, attention does indeed need to remain fixed on how rigging the election process degrades the dignity and respect of voters who out of respect for and in service to our hard-fought democracy stand for hours to have their voices heard, only to have doors slammed in their faces by patriotic poseurs.

But nobody is fooled by flag-hugging that what is left of the Republican Party has any scruples left to shed. Nor has the party faith in any form of democracy that does not guarantee its rule. The sitting president is not the source of that royalist sentiment, but a product of it. The GOP has spent decades and innumerable dollars undermining the public's confidence in elections to lock in its power. In the process of repairing what is broken, will bluntly pointing that out make it worse?

* I just re-reviewed the Heritage Foundation’s updated bundle of 1,088 “voter fraud” cases used to bolster the case for voting restrictions. To pad out their count, the archive includes cases going back to 1948. Any and all varieties of election rigging, registration fraud, vote-buying, even ballot petition fraud are lumped together under the rubric of voter fraud (which they use interchangeably with election fraud). Counts are approximate because some crimes overlap. A sampling:
Impersonation Fraud at the Polls: 13. A couple of those involve election judges and one by a man wanting to demonstrate how easy it is to impersonate someone at the polls.

Duplicate voting: 54. Many of the duplicate voting cases involve 2-state voting; 7 cases were attempted & thwarted by election judges.

Ineligible Voting: 201. Most of the ineligible voting cases involve felons and non-citizens improperly registered, many already possessing IDs.

Altering the Vote Count: 5. One dates from 1948.

Ballot Petition Fraud: 72


Monday, November 19, 2018

 
Charlie Pierce FTW


by digby






Pierce makes a very important point:


This interesting moment that occurred on Meet The Press between Chuck Todd and the recently re-elected Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Under discussion was the manner in which Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp used the power of his office to help him finagle his way to the governorship over Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.

Senator Brown recently decided to point out the elephant in the room.

TODD: Let me start with you were out this week, talking about another race in 2018. And it was in Georgia and Stacey Abrams. It was before she had acknowledged her defeat. She has now admitted defeat, didn't call it a concession. But I want to ask you about something you said this week about Georgia. Let me play it.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: If Stacey Abrams doesn't win in Georgia, they stole it. It's clear. It's clear. And I would say, I say that publicly. It's clear.

TODD: Strong language to throw that out there. You believe, today, that this is a stolen race, that basically, Brian Kemp is, is somebody who's illegally governor right -- or governor-elect of Georgia.

It is here where Sunday Showz protocol demands that the politician cavil, hedge, or otherwise walk his argument back over his own feet. However, Senator Brown wasn't playing that.

BROWN: Well, I think you look at the lead-up to this election as secretary of state -- and I was the secretary of state in Ohio 30 years ago. I know what you do, as secretary of state. You encourage people to vote. You don't purge millions of voters. You don't close down polling places in rural areas where voters have difficulty getting to the polls, which were mostly low-income areas. You don't do what Republicans are doing all over the country.

And you've seen it, Chuck. You've seen the kind of voter suppression that, all over this country. And you end with the secretary of state of Georgia should have recused himself from running that election, as Jimmy -- as former -- Georgia resident, former-President Jimmy Carter said he should. And clearly, he did everything he could to put his thumb on the scale and won that election, quote unquote, "won" that election by only about a point.

Chuck Todd was appropriately dismayed. But Senator Brown wasn't playing that, either.

TODD: I guess I would ask this. Couldn't you bring up all of those, all of those issues, lay all of that out, without using the word, stolen? And I throw that out there, because we have enough distrust in our institutions as it is...Does that add to it?

BROWN: Okay, Chuck. Don't do the false equivalency of, of, of, the, you know, the lack of respect in institutions. I mean, we have a president that attacks your profession day after day after day. You, if you saw the earlier part of my election-night speech, you would've heard me thank the media. And you would've seen hundreds of people in Ohio, on the Democratic -- at this election-night gathering, turn around and clap for the media. We see a president that goes after the courts, that goes after the judicial system, a president that says, as the votes were counted, that something's been wrong with the elections. He criticizes the elections that way. So don't play this false equivalency. Because a former secretary of state, like me, said that about this election, which clearly is an effort to suppress the vote, not of people that look like you and me, Chuck--

CHUCK TODD: Right.

BROWN: --but people of color especially. And it's happened. Now spend your air time-- I don't mean to lecture--


TODD: No, no, no, I, look --

BROWN: -- but spend your airtime critical of those people who are trying to suppress the vote.

This is not to single out Chuck Todd. His interplay with Brown was merely the most obvious public manifestation of dismay over the senator's quite accurate assessment of what happened in Georgia. More than a few pearls were clutched over Brown's choice of language.

Rick Hasen, the election-law guru, writing in Slate, made the same argument at greater length. I confess I don't follow Hasen's line of thought at all. He seems to be arguing that calling the election in Georgia "stolen," as Brown clearly did, undermines the fight against suppressing the vote, as Kemp clearly did.
I'm unclear how this is the case.

First, rhetoric about stolen elections feeds a growing cycle of mistrust and delegitimization of the election process, an attack pushed by President Donald Trump and other Republicans who have been yelling “voter fraud” every time they are behind in the count. I’ve already set out my fear that Trump could refuse to concede the 2020 presidential election if he is ahead in the count on election night and then ballot counts inevitably shift toward Democrats as the counting continues. A democratic polity depends on losers accepting election results, even if the election was not conducted perfectly. I would hold “stolen” election rhetoric for conduct even more outrageous than Kemp’s decisions, which, while odious, either have not been found to be illegal or that courts allowed to remain in place for this election.

I mean, holy hell. Because Kemp used the power of the office he held to help himself gain the office to which he was aspiring, this means that he could not be said to have "stolen" the election, even as a shorthand designation for his clearly corrupt conduct? If a state legislature in, say, Nebraska, were to use its eminent domain power to appropriate a farmer's land in order to help a foreign corporation build, say, an oil-sands pipeline, is it really not permissible for people to say that the legislature "stole" the farmer's land, even though it used its power corruptly to benefit a private interest? Is there an exemption by which theft is not theft if it is done under the color of law? A lot of local sheriffs who got rich behind civil forfeiture laws are going to be happy to hear that.

And as for the growing cycle of distrust and delegitimization, that's already been underway for some time, as Rick Hasen's previous work has demonstrated. In our current historical moment, it began with the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore. Do the people making the tone-police argument on this issue really believe that the Georgia voters who showed up at their polling place only to find that it had been closed, and who then went out of their way to the nearest one only to find that they couldn't vote because the hyphen in their last name really was a dash, wouldn't say their votes were "stolen," and that, therefore, the election was, too? They don't need Sherrod Brown to believe that, I assure you.

Hasen also seems to misunderstand the nature of El Caudillo Del Mar-A-Lago, too. If the Democratic Party tries to temper its rhetoric based on whatever the most recent egregious lie has emerged from the presidential* gob, the Democratic Party is going to have a nervous breakdown. The president, because he is both corrupt and something of a dunce, will say what he's going to say regardless of how temperate the Democratic response is. Sometimes, blunt instruments have to be met with blunt instruments.

Much of the most loyal portions of the Democratic Party's political base already believe from their own experience, and not because of anything Sherrod Brown and Stacey Abrams have said, that their elections are being stolen out from under them. It's up to the opposition to speak for those whose right to choose their own leaders was, yes, stolen from them through bureaucratic legerdemain and malfeasance in office. Which is a long way around to point out that the run-off election for Secretary of State in Georgia is the most important election of many lifetimes.

Furthermore, we are in a time in which the very concept of the truth is at issue. It's vitally important that everyone who cares about that just keep it simple and stick with the facts and the truth. If they steal an election, use the clear words to describe it, don't hedge, don't be "nuanced." At this moment we need all the clarity we can get.


.
 
Russia, if you're listening and you have Ivanka's emails...

by digby



Oh, Trey Gowdy? This is your jurisdiction. Surely you must be extremely concerned. This is actually current:

Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence.

White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.

The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s practices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign. Trump attacked his Democratic challenger as untrustworthy and dubbed her “Crooked Hillary” for using a personal email account as secretary of state.

Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump’s personal emails — and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. Trump said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction.

She's playing dumb, of course. But the fact is that when she was alerted to this she had her lawyers forward only what the determined were government emails to the White House server for record retention. Just like Clinton. With her, however, there is every reason to wonder if she did that to hide the fact that she was doing Trump organization business while in the White House. After all, she didn't resign from the company right away.

She's cute so it probably won't matter. Still, you couldn't make this up. After all that bullshit in the campaign she didn't know that she shouldn't use her personal email? Please.


.


 
More trouble in wingnut paradise?

by digby




George Conway isn't just going up against his wife KellyAnn over Trump, he's also making moves against the Grand Duke of the rightwing legal community:

Via Axios:
Leonard Leo attacks George Conway's "Checks and Balances" group

In a rare public rebuke of an old friend, Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo is sharply criticizing a group of conservative lawyers called "Checks and Balances," helmed by George Conway, who argue President Trump is breaking legal norms.

"I find the underlying premise of the group rather offensive," Leo told me. "The idea that somehow they need to have this voice because conservatives are somehow afraid to talk about the rule of law during the Trump administration." 
"And my response to that is, no, people aren't afraid, many people just don't agree that there's a constitutional crisis and don't agree with the people who have signed up with this group." 
Leo spoke in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the Federalist Society.

Why it matters: Leo, who has known Conway for more than two decades, is one of the most influential figures in the conservative legal world. He is a key outside adviser to Trump on judicial nominations.

Behind the scenes: Conway's actions have irritated Trump, according to two sources with direct knowledge. Conway's wife, Kellyanne Conway, is a top White House adviser.
I asked Leo if he saw any merit in Conway’s criticism. For example, Conway told Yahoo News he was "appalled" that Trump attacked Jeff Sessions because the Justice Department indicted two Republican congressmen ahead of the midterms.

Leo's response:

"I measure a president's sensitivity to the rule of law by his actions, not his off-the-cuff comments, tweets or statements. And the president has obviously had lots of criticisms about former Attorney General Sessions and about the department, but at the end of the day, he hasn't acted upon those criticisms. 
"He's allowed the department to have an awful lot of freedom and independence. ... He can say what he wants to say, but at the end of the day, words don't threaten the rule of law, actions do. I've been to 48 countries around the world. I know a constitutional crisis, and I know what a rule of law crisis is. Lots of countries have them. This country doesn't right now." 

This is nonsense. The President of the United States' words are important in themselves. It matters what he says. People listen and they take signals from it.

And let's be serious here. Long before he installed his stooge Whittaker he's tried to impede the Mueller investigation. If the likes of Rosenstein and Mueller were people with less integrity he would have gotten the job done just with his tweets. For all we know they have had some effect.  To the extent he hasn't been successful, it's simply a matter of incompetence and cowardice not intentions.

And in any case, he does use his twitter feed to fire people and announce directives that nobody has vetted and the White House staff has to scramble to make them happen. And his henchmen in Congress certainly hear what he's saying and have commonly taken action. Devin Nunes and the boys have done their jobs admirably. I don't think I have to mention that he fired the FBI director and his own Attorney General because they didn't adequately protect him from a counter-intelligence investigation based on evidence that he may have conspired with a foreign government and then covered it up.

This is happening. It's not just about Trump acting stupid on twitter.

.
 
Will Trump protect those he loves?

by digby



I'm not talking about his family or even Kim Jon Un and Vladimir Putin. I'm talking about Wikileaks, which Trump said many, many times that he "loved."

I am reserving judgment over this Wikileaks sealed charges stuff. I no longer have respect for the organization or Assange because of his biased meddling in the election, which I think destroyed his credibility as an honest broker. And anyone who consciously worked to help Donald Trump become president, as Assange's correspondence proved he did, is not someone for whom I can offer a blanket defense anymore.

Having said that, if the government is planning to indict him simply on the basis of publishing information that was given to him, even by the Russians, I will do it, as unpleasant as that may be. There are some other reasons to justify prosecution, as Marcy Wheeler points out, that may make more sense. But as much as I loathe him, I hope they only go after him if they have some incontrovertible proof that he committed a real crime. You don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially with this anti-press, First Amendment degrading president.

Trump may end up protecting Assange because he "loves Wikileaks" as he said literally hundreds of time during the campaign. And I would imagine he'll do it by making a thoroughly insincere defense of the "free press" even as he degrades that freedom in every other way. It's a truly unpleasant thought but it could happen.

Marcy has a new post up today about the difference between the Wikileaks of 2011, for which I had admiration, and the Wikileaks of 2018. It's not the same organization:
Since DOJ confirmed last week that it does have at least one sealed criminal complaint against Julian Assange, WikiLeaks has adopted a notable defense strategy. In most of their responses, WikiLeaks has claimed a continuity between what it has done in the last two years and what it was doing in 2010, when the US government first took aggressive action against WikiLeaks. For example, this timeline claims vindication of persistent claims among WikiLeaks supporters that Assange had already been indicted, even while linking to reports that make it clear DOJ has changed its approach recently (and ignoring, entirely, the NYT report that says the charge dates to this summer and which WikiLeaks’ Twitter feed attacks elsewhere).

November: US prosecutors inadvertently reveal that Julian has been charged under seal (i.e., confidentially) in the US – something which WikiLeaks and others have long said but which has been denied by some US officials. The document making the admission was written by Assistant US Attorney Kellen S Dwyer. The Wall Street Journal reports that “over the past year, US prosecutors have discussed several types of charges they could potentially bring against Mr. Assange”. It notes that charges against Julian could include violating the US Espionage Act, which criminalizes releasing information regarding US national defence.

Assange’s UK lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, did the same in an appearance with MSNBC. She claimed that the charge came out of the investigation started in 2010 in response to WikiLeaks’ publication of US Diplomatic cables, the Iraq war logs, the Afghan war logs, which she argues (correctly, I’d agree) was demonstrated to be in the public interest and had been published by other media outlets, including the NYT. She says this criminal charge proves it was correct for Assange to have sought asylum from Ecuador. And she emphasized that Assange would be extradited “for publishing truthful information.” She repeated “public interest” over and over.
[...]
In other words, WikiLeaks is working public opinion by pretending it is being prosecuted for the stuff it did in 2011, even to the point of claiming that news of a recent complaint proves that Assange has been indicted all this time. It is true that the prosecutor who made the cut-and-paste error that revealed the existence of a complaint, Kellen Dwyer, has reportedly been on the WikiLeaks investigative team for years. But that doesn’t mean, at all, that the US prosecution is in any way related to those earlier actions.

The reports of both the WSJ and NYT seem to prove the opposite. Whether because the Trump Administration that WikiLeaks worked so hard to elect turned out to be far less respectful of freedom of the press than the Obama Administration, or because the US started collecting more aggressively on WikiLeaks and therefore learned more about its operations, or because the nature of Assange’s more recent actions are fundamentally different from what he did in 2011, DOJ came to charging Assange this summer when Eric Holder refused to do so. Indeed, while no one has confirmed this one way or another, the assumption has been that Assange’s charges relate either to his involvement in the 2016 Russian hack-and-leak (though that would presumably be charged in DC) or his involvement in the 2017 Vault 7 and Vault 8 files as well as his exploitation of them.

The possible crimes may have expanded, too. Espionage is definitely still a possibility, particularly given how DOJ charged accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte, including possibly suggesting his leaks were designed to help another nation (presumably Russia). If Assange had advance knowledge of any of the Russian hacks (or the Peter Smith negotiated efforts to obtain Hillary’s server emails), he might be exposed to CFAA as well. And if he is charged by Mueller, he will surely be charged with at least one conspiracy charge as well; WikiLeaks was already described as an unindicted co-conspirator in the GRU indictment.

But there may well be other charges, starting with extortion or something akin to it for the way Assange tried to use the threat of the release of the Vault 7 documents to obtain a pardon. Some of his actions might also amount to obstruction. Yochai Benkler’s latest post also imagines Assange may have coordinated more closely with Russian intelligence, which might lead to different charges.

WikiLeaks’ attempts to rest on its earlier laurels is telling, for several reasons. It suggests they and their supporters don’t seem to want to defend Assange’s more recent actions. I find it remarkable, for example, that Robinson didn’t mention how many stories the NYT and WaPo wrote based on the 2016 files, which would support her argument that the files were newsworthy.

The attempt to pretend Assange is being prosecuted for his earlier actions seems to serve another purpose — to defend his years of asylum claims, which are also the basis for his claims to be a victim of US political targeting (and the premise for his demands for immunity on threat of releasing the Vault 7 files). Don’t get me wrong. I think some of the things DOJ is known or suspected to have done in 2010 and 2011 are problematic. But those did not directly merit an asylum claim (and in fact they preceded Assange’s asylum claim by over a year).

That may, in turn, serve to obscure what Assange wanted immunity for in coercive negotiations that started in 2017: Was it 2011, his role in publishing the State cables? Or was it 2016, as his offers to explain what (he claims) really happened in 2016 would suggest?

Whichever it is, WikiLeaks seems to have a lot staked on making a defense of Assange’s 2011 activities. Which suggests they’re a lot less confident they can defend his 2016 and 2017 activities.

The fact that this famous radical transparency activist supports the authoritarian, anti-press zealot Donald Trump is all you really need to know about where Assange is today. He is siding with the autocrats. It makes no sense but that's the reality of it.

However, once again it's important that the principles be maintained. If they go after Assange for his earlier releases it will set a very bad precedent. His recent activities may add up to something more. We'll have to see.

.
 
A young fascist declares, "to be quite honest? I like to be offensive. It's fun."

by digby




This article about "California Conservatives" or rather, the "intellectual" basis for Trumpism that's being fleshed out by certain academics and media stars centered in California, is very interesting. It boils down to the fact that the conservative movement no longer has any interest in ideas or ideology and basically is just about racism and owning the libs. And they are vastly enjoying the freedom of just being themselves.

I'm not sure how groundbreaking it really is, however. This is just the right being boiled down to its essence, a project that started a long time ago and which was evident in California when the OG Trumpist, the obnoxious Andrew Breitbart from LA, became their biggest star well over a decade ago.

They are simply right wing assholes and are well-represented by people like this young fascist who demonstrated in Charlottesville:




"To be quite honest? I like to be offensive. It's fun."

These California Conservatives are exactly like him. No difference at all. Its what the Republican Party has become all over the country.

.
 
"Afghanistan takes from the US and gives nothing in return"

by digby

If you want to see someone with zero understanding of how the world works look no further than the leader of the free world:






The simpleton can only see the world in one way: Other countries aren't paying enough protection money to the US coffers and their trade policies are all unfair, no matter what they are.

That's all he knows. He even admits he's believed those things for decades.

It's fine with me if the US military leaves Afghanistan and re-thinks its relationship with Pakistan (for entirely different reasons.) But there will be consequences, none of which Trump is capable of dealing with because of his simplistic view of the world and his top adviser, John Bolton, will use as an excuse to start another war.


 
Trump's desperately clinging to the high wire but he thinks he's flying

by digby





My Salon column today:

We knew politics was going to be tumultuous in the post-election period, and that's certainly been true. The days of dealing with some boring last-minute business in the lame-duck Congress, followed by a long holiday break after midterm elections are long over. With Donald Trump in the White House, it's obviously crazier than ever.

The president visited California on Saturday and mercifully didn't throw any paper towels at the victims of the horrific wildfires that have left more than 70 people confirmed dead, with more than 1,000 still missing. He screwed it up anyway, of course:







This assurance that forest fires will soon be fixed "spectacularly" is reminiscent of his other recent assurance that the nuclear threat had been eliminated because of his love affair with Kim Jong-un. It was reported last week that the U.S. intelligence community has determined that Kim is actually building 16 new missile facilities. In an interview with Chris Wallace which aired on Sunday, Trump dismissed that finding, saying that he simply doesn't believe it's true.

Trump also told Wallace that despite the CIA's "high confidence" that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last month, the prince told him he didn't do it, so what can you do? You'll recall that he used the same excuse for Russian President Vladimir Putin's apparent interference in the 2016 election. If an authoritarian lies to him he just shrugs his shoulders and says, well, that's it then. If the prime minister of Canada or a European ally even whispers a complaint he immediately starts threatening them. This pattern is now firmly established and can no longer be ignored. His most valued allies are what we used to think of as adversaries, and vice versa.

The Wallace interview featured a number of interesting exchanges, including one shocking response to a long line of questions by Wallace about Trump and the media. Responding to some comments that the president's attacks on the press are the greatest threat to our democracy, Trump insulted retired Adm. Bill McRaven, a Navy SEAL and former head of special operations, by suggesting that he dropped the ball by not getting Osama bin Laden sooner. Then he went on a weird rant about how he'd seen better compounds than the one in Pakistan where bin Laden had been living.

Trump just can't seem to stop showing his contempt for the military and its leaders lately. Indeed, one of the more important bits of news in the interview was his tepid show of support for White House chief of staff and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. Wallace asked Trump if he planned to keep Kelly on.

Trump: We -- I wouldn’t -- look, we get along well. There are certain things I love what he does. And there are certain things that I don’t like that he does -- that aren’t his strength. It’s not that he doesn’t do -- you know, he works so hard. He’s doing an excellent job in many ways. There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault, it’s not his strength ...

Wallace: So 2020 is no longer written in stone?

Trump: It could happen. Yeah, it could -- I mean, it could be. But let’s see what happens. I have not -- look, I have three or four or five positions that I’m thinking about. Of that, maybe it’s going to end up being two. Maybe, but I want to -- I need flexibility.
It's also pretty clear that the rumors about Homeland Security director Kirstjen Nielsen being on the chopping block are true. Trump told Wallace that she just isn't "tough" enough on the border. It's hard to imagine what being tougher than putting babies is cages will look like, but it appears we're going to find out. As for the other three cabinet members likely to get the ax, the ones most often discussed are yet another military man, Defense Secretary James Mattis, along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose corruption charges are starting to pile up to a level that can't be ignored. But who knows? With the exception of the family, it could be anybody.


One person who is actually solidifying his relationship with the president (and who may be the ultimate catalyst for Kelly being fired) is National Security Adviser John Bolton. Despite recently having his second-in-command exiled to a different department by the first lady, according to the Wall Street Journal, Bolton is consolidating his power and consolidating his authority in the White House. Eschewing the adviser's traditional role as an honest, impartial broker for the various departments, he is imposing his worldview. This isn't really too difficult as long as he pays lip service to Trump's policy of ranting incoherently about trade, whining childishly about "fairness" and making foreign countries stop "laughing at us." He seems to have figured out how to flatter the boss while still advancing his own agenda, which is best described as good old-fashioned right-wing hawkishness.

The Wall Street Journal article points out one possible pitfall, however:

Mr. Bolton’s ability to shape Mr. Trump’s priorities and pursue his own causes have given rise to a new nickname among some critics: President Bolton. His allies know the term could earn him the ire of Mr. Trump, who has been known to turn on others seen as stealing his spotlight.
“If John ever behaved in a way that led people in the administration to refer to him as ‘President Bolton,’ his effectiveness would be destroyed,” said Elliott Abrams, a longtime Bolton friend and one-time member of President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. “It’s critical that the president never think that, and no one understands that better than John.”

That's something he really can't control. Trump will hear about it eventually. He's got a lot of "executive time" to fill.

Toward the end of their interview, Wallace asked Trump where he ranked himself in the pantheon of great presidents. He said, "There’s Lincoln and Washington, there’s FDR and Reagan, do you make the top 10?" Trump doesn't have the capacity to do such an analysis so he just said he's doing a great job and that we'd be at war with North Korea if Obama were still president. And then he added:

I would give myself, I would – look, I hate to do it, but I will do it, I would give myself an A+, is that enough? Can I go higher than that?

I think he actually believes that, which may be the most alarming thing about him. It's one thing to survive each day, barely balancing on the high-wire act of this crazy presidency. It's quite another to imagine you're actually flying.


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The rake flake

by Tom Sullivan

"He came. He saw. He said something stupid," tweeted NBC producer Ken Olin. Pretty much sums it up. Except several stupid things, really.

Surveying California fire damage he blames on poor forest management, American president Donald J. Trump repeated something he misunderstood from something he half-heard about forest management from the president of Finland. That makes him an expert on the subject:

“We’ve got to take care of the floors, you know the floors of the forest, very important,” he continued. “You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story. I was with the president of Finland and he said… we’re a forest nation, he called it a forest nation, and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. They don’t have any problem, and what it is, it’s a very small problem.”
All Finnish President Sauli Niinistö remembers is telling Trump is "we take care of our forests." He only rakes his yard. In announcing on "Face the Nation" that Trump would not cut funding to California for fighting fires, California Gov. Jerry Brown called it a "big, big win." The magic word. Speak it and the sitting president is putty in your hands. But on Saturday, Brown looked like he wanted to be anywhere else except standing beside a fool spewing nonsense.

Finnish social media had a much better time with Trump's raking comments. CBS reports the death toll stands at 76 and the estimate of the missing has risen since Friday to 1,276.

Watch Brown's head whip around (video at top) when Trump mentions "a lot of study going on." Brown has actually read "peer-reviewed scientific articles" [timestamp 2:40] attributing a doubling of land burned in California over the last 15 years to climate change. He wisely did not argue the point with the man who thinks the fire threat results from inadequate raking of federal forests by the state of California.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

 
He prefers people who catch bin Laden earlier, ok?

by digby



He's really working hard to insult the military these days, isn't he?



McRaven responded:

"I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times. I stand by my comment that the President's attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime. When you undermine the people's right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the Constitution and all for which it stands."


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Loser. Bigly.

by digby




I wrote earlier about his continuing insistence that he won
, except where he didn't as if it makes sense.

Here's the most amazing cold water being thrown on that nonsense I've seen yet:













Why so few stories about The Resistance? Because it's a bunch of liberal and moderate men and women and people of color. They aren't Real Americans like all those Trump voters who say things like "the NFL stands for Ni**ers For Life. You know, the salt of the earth folks who really matter.

The truth is that the media has done a good job exposing Trump. I'm not criticizing them. But they have failed to tell the stories of people who are appalled by him. And it is a majority! Trump is not popular!

I'm sure it's mostly because of the years of conditioning to believe that "the heartland" which is mostly white rural Americans are a reflection of the majority. This is no longer true. And it wasn't fair to the people who were working their fingers to the bone to elect Democrats in the last cycle. Sadly, I doubt it will be any different this time. This goes back to the 60s when the Republicans discovered that they could hector the press into focusing on conservatives in order to prove they aren't biased. It was always a suckers game but never more than now.

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"You take care of the floors"

by digby



Huffington Post:

With 76 people dead and nearly 1,300 unaccounted for and feared dead in California wildfires, President Donald Trump had a word of advice about stopping future blazes: “Raking.”

“You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important,” Trump noted Saturday surrounded by the devastation of the burned town of Paradise in northern California.

“I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different —we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem. And when they do, it’s a very small problem,” Trump said.

Critics were stumped by the raking solution.

They also pointed out the many extreme differences between warm, sunny, drought-stricken California with its annual destructive (and growing worse) fire seasons and Finland, land of marshes, cold temperatures and snow. A quarter of the nation is within the Arctic Circle.

But even with the fire-preventing advantages of far colder temperatures and precipitation, Scandinavia and Finland were hit with serious fires this year due to unusually hot and dry conditions, which scientists attributed to climate change.

I'm with her:








 
"Yeah, they brutally murdered a journalist and US resident, but I don't really give a shit"  --- Trump, basically

by digby




Former Obama National Security Official Ben Rhodes on "This Week"

I think what’s very important here, and one of the things I want to know about is, what did Trump know and when did he know it? Because the US intelligence community…Saudi Arabia is something that they follow very closely. And so, the idea that something like this would happen without our intelligence agencies knowing something about what happened, I always thought was very unlikely. And so, what we’ve seen over the last few weeks is Trump kind of trying to get through this, and trying to avoid blaming Mohammed bin Salman, this person who he’s held in a full embrace since the beginning of his presidency. He’s acted almost like the defense attorney for Mohammed bin Salman, trying to figure out what the cover story is today. 
And they just felt like they were about to get through it. And now we have this report that the US intelligence community has high confidence assessment that MBS did this. … That’s based on information they’ve been looking at for some time. So, when Trump says, well, we just got this information in, no. You just got an intelligence assessment that leaked to the press. The intelligence that informed that assessment has probably been in the system for some time. And guess what? They would share intelligence about a high profile event like this with the White House. So, I think a Democratic House should look very carefully at, was the White House aware that MBS was responsible for this murder? Were they lying about it when they knew MBS was responsible for this murder? Why are they covering up for the Saudi murder of a dissident in a third country?

Trump takes it even further, lying through his teeth about the reasons by insisting that it's all about millions of jobs building weapons for Saudi Arabia. (It's not --- very few jobs will be created, not that that matters anyway) No, the reason is something else, probably no more complicated than his feeling of sympatico with the authoritarian Prince bin Salman and the influence of the hardliners who want war with Iran. Also, probably money in his pocket and his general lack of respect for human rights across the board.

He's a monster.







 
The mind of a child

by digby





A dim child. This passage shows him contradicting himself with the space of a minute. I can't get past the idea that people think this guy is brilliant --- or even mentally competent:

WALLACE: When Democrats flipped the House back in 2006 and picked up 30 seats, President Bush 43 had a news conference the next day and said, “We had a thumping.” Last week, in this election, the House picked up, so far it’s 36 seats, it may be on the way to 40 seats and your reaction was that it was almost a complete victory.

TRUMP: I won the Senate, you don’t mention that.

WALLACE: But, well – I--

TRUMP: Excuse me, I won the Senate.

WALLACE: I understand that but--

TRUMP: I think they said 88 years.

WALLACE: But this was a -- this was a historically big defeat in the House. You lost 36, maybe 40 seats. Some would argue that it was a thumping. And I want to talk about some of the ways in which you lost. You lost in traditionally Republican suburbs, not only around liberal cities like Philadelphia and D.C. but also red-state big cities like Houston and Oklahoma City. You lost among suburban women. You lost among independents and, in three key states that I think you remember pretty well -- Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan -- you lost both the governor seats and the senate seats.

TRUMP: Are you ready? I won the Senate, and that’s historic too, because if you look at presidents in the White House it’s almost never happened where you won a seat. We won -- we now have 53 as opposed to 51 and we have 53 great Senators in the U.S. Senate. We won. That’s a tremendous victory. Nobody talks about that. That’s a far greater victory than it is for the other side. Number two, I wasn’t on the ballot. I wasn’t--

WALLACE: Wait -- wait a minute you said -- you kept saying--

TRUMP: I said look at me -- I said look me.

WALLACE: You said, “Pretend I’m on the ballot...”

TRUMP: But I have people and you see the polls, how good they are, I have people that won’t vote unless I’m on the ballot, OK? And I wasn’t on the ballot. And almost everybody that I won -- I think they said it was 10 out of 11. And I won against President Obama and Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama in a great state called Georgia for the governor. And it was all stacked against Brian and I was the one that went for Brian and Brian won. Look at Florida. I went down to Florida. Rick Scott won and he won by a lot. I don’t know what happened to all those votes that disappeared at the very end. And if I didn’t put a spotlight on that election before it got down to the 12,500 votes he would of lost that election, OK? In my opinion he would have lost. They would have taken that election away from him. Rick Scott won Florida. You’d have to say, excuse me, a man named Ron DeSantis is now your governor -- your new governor of Florida. A wonderful man named DeWine is your governor of the great state of Ohio. Remember what they used to say before my election? You cannot win unless you win Ohio. I won Ohio. We had a tremendous set of victories. You look at the victories--

WALLACE: But if you can’t carry -- and you certainly didn’t carry it two weeks ago -- Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania -- you’re not going to get reelected.

TRUMP: I didn’t run. I wasn’t running. My name wasn’t on the ballot. There are many people that think, “I don’t like Congress,” that like me a lot. I get it all the time; “Sir, we’ll never vote unless you’re on the ballot.” I get it all the time. People are saying, “Sir, I will never vote unless you’re on the ballot. I say, “No, no, go and vote.” “Well, what do you mean?” As much as I try and convince people to go vote, I’m not on the ballot.

First of all, George W. Bush won a Senate majority in the 2002 midterm. But whatever.

You can see the disordered nature of his mind. Where Republicans won it was because of him. Where they didn't win it was because he wasn't on the ballot. It makes no sense. The whole idea is irrational.

But as I have said before, this is about Trump being desperately afraid of being seen as a loser. He knows that is the kiss of death among many of his cult members. If they come to believe that he's not the Giant Slayer, all the bad stuff will come to the surface and they will see him for who he really is.

He doesn't understand much, but he understands that.

Update: The Finnish press reports on this idiocy. They don't rake the forest. Also, they are an arctic country.

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Women, what women?

by digby



538 breaks down what happened with women voters in the midterms. It's not pretty for the Republicans. They don't seem tocare much so maybe that's fine:

Democratic women did really well last Tuesday. And many broke new ground: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a New York U.S. House seat, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib, who won in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, and Ilhan Omar, of the Minnesota 5th, will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Women also flipped districts blue in competitive races — Navy veteran Elaine Luria won in the Virginia 2nd, and former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin, who served in the Obama administration, won in the Michigan 8th.

According to ABC News projections and FiveThirtyEight analysis, 113 women U.S. House and Senate candidates — from both parties — are expected to be winners.1 And there are eight unresolved races with at least one woman candidate.2 The number of women winners is certain to grow to 115, because both of the major-party candidates in two of the unresolved races are women. In the other six races, two of the women candidates are favored to win — Republicans Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi’s Senate runoff and Mia Love in Utah’s 4th District — according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis.

Regardless, the 116th Congress will feature the largest class of female legislators ever. But there’s a sharp divide across party lines in this historic first. Of the 113 projected women winners, 98 are Democrats, and 15 are Republicans. (They will be joining 10 female senators who weren’t up for election this year: six Democrats and four Republicans.) It’s a sober reminder that this standout year for women is mostly a standout year for Democratic women.

But this is not necessarily a new trend. According to data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the Democratic Party has historically elected more women to Congress than the GOP has. Even though at least 123 women will make up the 116th Congress, only 19 — or 15 percent — will be Republicans.



That’s down from 27 percent in the 115th Congress, according to the center. So why are so few Republican women elected to Congress? We’ve looked at this question in-depth before the 2018 midterm elections, but it’s worth revisiting in the wake of 2018 to better understand the dynamics that have led to fewer Republican women running for office and the underlying reasons as to why.

According to data collected by the Center for American Women and Politics, 63 percent of

the women who ran in Senate and House primaries from 1992 through 2018 were Democrats. In every election during that period, there were more women candidates in Democratic primaries than in Republican ones (although the numbers were fairly close in 2010, when 145 Republican women ran and 153 Democratic women ran). The largest difference was in this election cycle, when 73 percent of the women who ran in the primaries were Democrats. (The gap held in the general election, as well — 77 percentof all women candidates nominated by one of the two major parties were Democrats.)

That said, lower female representation in government is not unique to the Republican Party. There are more men than women in Congress overall and in state legislatures, too. Up until this election, the share of women in Congress had yet to break 20 percent. If the number of women serving in the 116th Congress stays at 123, women will be 23 percent of the total.

But why are fewer Republican women than Democratic women running for office? Political science gives us a few clues.

Being tapped or recruited to run for office matters — especially among potential women candidates. But there is some evidence that Republican women don’t respond to recruitment efforts as positively as Democratic women do. In a survey experiment published in 2016, professors at Brigham Young University found that even if a community leader encouraged Republican women to run for office, they were not any more likely to run. Democratic women were more receptive, however.

This has been happening for a while, ever since the GOP started to go batshit crazy. You can thank Newt Gingrich for this:

A study published in 2014 in the journal Research and Politics defined the criteria for successful candidates as people who were closely aligned with one of the two political parties, who were highly educated and who held a high-status job, like an attorney or professor. The researchers then looked at data on the adult population of the U.S. to see who fit the criteria. Most of the people who did were men. The women who met the criteria tended to identify as Democrats. As time went on, the gap between the Democratic and Republican female candidate pools grew, the study found: In the 1970s and 1980s, the numbers of Democratic and Republican women considered potentially successful candidates were about the same. But in the 1990s, the Democrats began to pull away, and the gap has only grown since then.

The authors of the 2014 study suggest that one factor behind the partisan gap could be the different beliefs about gender roles that are held by Democrats and Republicans. For example, according to a Pew Research Center survey, in 2012, 88 percent of Republicans said they have “old-fashioned values about family and marriage” compared with 60 percent of Democrats. And 21 percent of Republicans said they agreed that women should return to their traditional roles in society, compared with 16 percent of Democrats. These more conservative attitudes about family and women’s roles in society held by Republicans may have a negative influence on Republican women’s interest in pursuing a path that might lead to a political career.

It's also what keeps so many conservative white women in the fold. They are still in thrall of the traditional patriarchal set-up for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the old "well, I may be a second class citizen but I'm still better than black and brown people and I want to keep it that way." In other words, racism. There was a time when I might have thought they were religious zealots who held traditional views but clearly that is not the case. They are voting for Donald Trump --- worshipping him even. Their "traditional values" aren't religious. They believe in "traditional" white supremacist values.

And (surprise!) those values also put women in the "traditional" role of broodmare and supplicant. You didn't see a lot of women marching in that Nazi march. But I'm sure they were behind the scenes making sandwiches for the boys.

I don't know what it will take to convince these women to wake up but I'm skeptical about it. I have them in my family and they are just as brainwashed as the men, maybe more in some ways. It's a form of being the "cool girl" in conservative circles. However, the new generation of white women is moving away from that. We'll see where they stand in a decade or so but I'd be surprised if they move back to the traditional view. But the old ones? They're gone.


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He alone can fix forest fires

by digby




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Restoring a little faith

by Tom Sullivan

"They start shifting in their seats," the freshly minted citizen tells me. Born in Argentina, raised in Venezuela, the single mother works seven days a week and supplements her work as a Spanish translator by driving for Uber and Lyft. Chatting after an impromptu post-mortem on the election Saturday, she explained how her more Trumpish passengers react to her being from Venezuela.

What is it like being from a communist country? they ask pointedly. How did things go bad so quickly?

It's really an authoritarian dictatorship, she corrects them. (Her family left before Hugo Chávez took power.) She then has a little fun. People wanted a change from the status quo, she explains. So, they elected a man with no experience. People thought he was a straight-shooter.

Her passengers start looking uncomfortable and start shifting in their seats, she grins.

He appointed cronies to key government positions, she continues. Then he insisted the president needed more time to fix what was broken. So he began rewriting the national constitution to extend his term indefinitely.

And so on.

That's the problem with electing strongmen. Her family left Venezuela to get away from them. Now, she says with some irony, she is a citizen of Trump's America.

A senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, Joshua Kurlantzick cautions that once democratically elected autocrats begin unwinding democratic institutions and norms, "rebuilding democracy is arduous and hardly guaranteed." His opinions run counter to the confidence of experts at CFR, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and the Center for American Progress that liberal democracy can weather the autocratic populists now in control in countries across the globe.

Kurlantzick cites a series of cases to argue that recovery from a descent into autocracy is hit or miss, and easier when there is "a relatively clean break with the ancien regime," as after military defeat and occupation. Populists simply turned out of office can retain influence and a strong base of support. Even return to power:

Another problem is that, while in power, democratically elected tyrants can permanently alter institutions. In Turkey, as Cook points out, Erdogan and his party have so deformed the judiciary, parliamentary oversight and the election process that it will be extremely difficult for future leaders to reform the system and fashion any type of real democracy. This differs from the situation of purer post-authoritarian states: Where there were genuine revolts, where fully autocratic governments fell, their replacements could build judiciaries and political systems with integrity from scratch. Germany fashioned a more decentralized political system after the Nazi era, and Indonesia did the same in the years after Suharto.

Weakened institutions and shattered civic norms leave an opening for other populists to rise — or for opponents of the populists to fight back with even more undemocratic methods, like the coups that ousted Thaksin and, in 2014, his sister and successor. In Venezuela, some Hugo Chávez opponents welcomed a failed 2002 coup, and in Turkey, opponents of Erdogan tried to oust him with a coup in 2016. Citizens who lose faith in democracy and turn to antidemocratic tactics to oust populist leaders grease the slide toward permanent authoritarianism.
A survey of countries across Latin America shows faith in democracy falling. Dissatisfaction has risen from 51% in 2009 to 71%, reports a pollster in Santiago, Chile. Content with it has fallen to 24%, the lowest recorded in two decades. More than half say it is still their preferred form of government, although that too has declined.

Disillusionment is becoming easier here among white Trumpers who see their standing on the social pecking order challenged. It is challenging for Democrats to hang on, too, when corrupt officials no longer shrink at hiding efforts to undermine elections, Brian Kemp.

Pundits keep warning of an impending constitutional crisis that asymptotically never arrives. Hint: It's here. But for the president's lack of competence as an autocrat, we might already be Venezuela:
The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.
The smackdown Trump received on November 6 means the U.S. still has a chance to stop the Trump train before it runs away with the country. Democrats headed for control of the House have more at stake than reelection and regaining the presidency in two years. They have to promote policies that will make people's lives better if they can get back the power to enact them. People's faith in democracy must be reinforced against those who have rejected it.

My new friend was not done with her passengers. Where else had she lived? they asked. Belgium, she replied.

So, what is it like living under socialism? they ask pointedly.

Her son was born there prematurely, she says. She herself spent a week in the hospital. Her son had to remain even longer, getting top-notch care in a hospital that felt to her like a spa.

They start shifting in their seats again.

When it was done, her husband paid about $1,000 total, she said.

Maybe our new crop of Democrats could start with something like that.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

 
Saturday Night at the Movies

Stick a fork in it: Top 10 foodie films

By Dennis Hartley





As we are but several days away from Thanksgiving, that most venerable of American holidays which enables families to come together once a year to count their blessings, stuff their faces, and endeavor mightily to not bring politics into the conversation, I thought I might mosey on over to the movie pantry and hand-select my top 10 food films:

Big Night- I have repeatedly foisted this film on friends and relatives, because after all, it’s important to “…take a bite out of the ass of life!” (as one of the characters demonstrates with voracious aplomb). Two brothers, enterprising businessman Secondo (Stanley Tucci, who also co-wrote and co-directed) and his older sibling Primo (Tony Shalhoub), a gifted chef, open an Italian restaurant but quickly run into financial trouble.

Possible salvation arrives via a dubious proposal from a more successful competitor (played by a hammy Ian Holm). The fate of their business hinges on Primo’s ability to conjure up the ultimate feast. And what a meal he prepares-especially the timpano (you’d better have pasta and ragu handy-or your appestat will be writing checks your duodenum will not be able to cash, if you know what I’m saying). The wonderful cast includes Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver, Liev Schreiber, Allison Janney, Campbell Scott (who co-directed with Tucci), and that’s Latin pop superstar Marc Anthony as the prep cook.

Comfort and Joy
- A quirky trifle from Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero). An amiable Glasgow radio DJ (Bill Paterson) is dumped by his girlfriend on Christmas Eve, throwing him into existential crisis and causing him to take urgent inventory of his personal and professional life. Soon after lamenting to his GM that he yearns to produce something more “important” than his chirpy morning show, serendipity lands him a hot scoop-a brewing “war” between two rival ice-cream dairies.

The film is chockablock with Forsyth’s patented low-key anarchy, wry one-liners and subtle visual gags. As a former morning DJ, I can attest the scenes depicting “Dickie Bird” running his show are authentic (a rarity on the screen). One warning: it might take several days for you to purge that ice cream van’s loopy theme music out of your head.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover- A gamey, visceral and perverse fable about food, as it relates to love, sex, violence, revenge, and Thatcherism from writer-director Peter Greenaway (who I like to call “the thinking person’s Ken Russell”).

Michael Gambon chews up the scenery as a vile and vituperative British underworld kingpin who holds nightly court at a gourmet eatery. When his bored trophy wife (Helen Mirren) becomes attracted to one of the regular diners, an unassuming bookish fellow (Alan Howard), the wheels are set in motion for a twisty tale, culminating in one of the most memorable scenes of “just desserts” ever served up on film (not for the squeamish).

The opulent set design and cinematographer Sacha Vierny’s extraordinary use of color lend the film a rich Jacobean texture. Richard Bohringer is “the cook”, and look for the late pub rocker Ian Dury as one of Gambon’s associates. It’s unique…if not for all tastes.

Diner- This slice-of-life dramedy marked writer-director Barry Levinson’s debut in 1982, and remains his best. A group of 20-something pals converge for Christmas week in 1959 Baltimore. One is recently married, another is about to get hitched, and the rest playing the field and deciding what to do with their lives as they slog fitfully toward adulthood.

The most entertaining scenes are at the group’s favorite diner, where the comfort food of choice is French fries with gravy. Levinson has a knack for writing sharp dialog, and it’s the little details that make the difference; like a cranky appliance store customer who will settle for nothing less than a B&W Emerson (he refuses to upgrade to color TV because he saw Bonanza in color at a friend’s house, and thought “…the Ponderosa looked fake”).

This film was more influential than it gets credit for; Tarantino owes a debt, as do the creators of Seinfeld. It’s hard to believe that Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern, Timothy Daly, Steve Guttenberg and Paul Reiser were all relative unknowns at the time!

Eat Drink Man Woman- Or as I call it: “I Never Stir-Fried for My Father”. This was director Ang Lee’s follow-up to his crowd pleaser The Wedding Banquet (another good food flick). It’s a well-acted dramedy about traditional Chinese values clashing with the mores of modern society. An aging master chef (losing his sense of taste) fastidiously prepares an elaborate weekly meal which he requires his three adult, single daughters to attend. As the narrative unfolds, Lee subtly reveals something we’ve suspected all along: when it comes to family dysfunction, we are a world without borders.

My Dinner with Andre- This one is a tough sell for the uninitiated. “An entire film that nearly all takes place at one restaurant table, with two self-absorbed New York intellectuals pontificating the whole running time of the film-this is entertaining?!” Yes, it is. Director Louis Malle took a chance that pays off in spades. Although essentially a work of fiction, the two stars, theater director Andre Gregory and actor-playwright Wallace Shawn are playing themselves (they co-wrote the screenplay). A rumination on art, life, love, the universe and everything, the film is not so much about dinner, as a love letter to the lost art of erudite dinner conversation.

Pulp Fiction- Although the universal popularity of this Quentin Tarantino opus is owed chiefly to its hyper-stylized mayhem and the iambic pentameter of its salty dialogue, I think it is underappreciated as a foodie film. The hell you say? Think about it.

The opening and closing scenes take place in a diner, with characters having lively discussions over heaping plates of food. In Mia and Vincent’s scene at the theme restaurant, the camera zooms to fetishistic close-ups of the “Douglas Sirk steak, and a vanilla coke.” Mia offers Jules a sip of her 5 Dollar Milkshake.

Vincent and Jules ponder why the French refer to Big Macs as “Royales with cheese” and why the Dutch insist on drowning their French fries in mayonnaise. Jules voraciously hijacks the doomed Brett’s “Big Kahuna” burger, then precedes to wash it down with a sip of his “tasty beverage”. Pouty Fabienne pines wistfully for blueberry pancakes.

Even super-efficient Mr. Wolfe takes a couple seconds out of his precisely mapped schedule to reflect on the pleasures of a hot, fresh-brewed cup of coffee. And “Don’t you just love it when you come back from the bathroom and find your food waiting for you?”

Tampopo
- Self billed as “The first Japanese noodle western”, this 1987 entry from writer-director Juzo Itam is all that and more. Nobuko Niyamoto is superb as the title character, a widow who has inherited her late husband’s noodle house. Despite her dedication and effort to please customers, Tampopo struggles to keep the business afloat, until a deux ex machina arrives-a truck driver named Goro (Tsutomo Yamazaki).

After one taste, Goro pinpoints the problem-bland noodles. No worries-like the magnanimous stranger who blows into an old western town (think Shane), Goro takes Tampopo on as a personal project, mentoring her on the Zen of creating the perfect noodle bowl. A delight from start to finish, offering keen insight on the relationship between food, sex and love.

The Trip- Pared down into feature film length from the BBC series of the same name, Michael Winterbottom’s film is essentially a highlight reel of that show-which is not to denigrate; as it is the most genuinely hilarious comedy I’ve seen in many a moon. The levity is due in no small part to Winterbottom’s two stars-Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, basically playing themselves in this mashup of Sideways and My Dinner with Andre.

Coogan is asked by a British newspaper to take a “restaurant tour” of England’s bucolic Lake District, and review the eateries. He initially plans to take his girlfriend along, but since their relationship is going through a rocky period, he asks his pal, fellow actor Brydon, to accompany him. This simple setup is an excuse to sit back and enjoy Coogan and Brydon’s brilliant comic riffing (much of it improvised) on everything from relationships to the “proper” way to do Michael Caine impressions. There’s some unexpected poignancy-but for the most part, it’s pure comedy gold. It was followed by two equally entertaining sequels, The Trip to Italy (2014) and The Trip to Spain (2017).

Tom Jones- Hah…you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Nobody forgets this scene:








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--Dennis Hartley