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Monday, August 19, 2019

When Trump panicked

by digby

This story about Trump and the Evangelicals is well worth reading. I had forgotten all about this episode, which apparently was just fine with all the caring Christians of the evangelical right:

We have been lucky not to have a national emergency with this lunatic in the White House. But I think that gives you an idea of what will happen if we have one.

3 Potential Mass Shootings were foiled, let's stop more

By Spocko

I'm always going on about how preventing gun deaths doesn't make the news. But this time it did! Maybe because CNN put three of them together, and in the news business, three's a trend!

James Patrick Reardon, Ohio. Tristan Scott Wix, Florida. Brandon Wagshol, Connecticut
There could have been three more mass shootings if these men weren't stopped, authorities say

(CNN) Authorities this weekend announced they had foiled three potential mass shootings after arresting three men in different states who expressed interest in or threatened to carry them out.

All three cases were brought to authorities' attention thanks to tips from the public.

This is a good thing.  Let's stop more shootings.  In the story we learn about how members of the public went to the police with what the men allegedly said on social media and in text messages. In the story we learn more details about their cache of weapons and ammo.  Each was arrested based on slightly different charges.

Read the article. LINK You will see that there are some questions left unanswered, but what is answered is that all of them had the guns and ammo to carry out a threat. 

Knowing the media and the gun lobby as I do, instead of focusing on the rock solid underlying connection between these three--THE GUNS--the focus will shift to the novel.

"What exactly was said? Is this a free speech issue? What if they were "just blowing off steam? What role did social media play? Are they involved with white supremacists? Anti-semites ? Are they Trump supporters?  Is this a 'pre-crime'?"

If you see any follow up on this story it will be about the government arresting people on the basis of their speech. "What's to stop someone from taking a joke comment on Facebook seriously and taking away my gun? This is a slippery slope!" (What's the opposite of a slippery slope? Grippy floor?)

If these guys were in another country and making these same threats the police response would be different. They could have the exact same motive and opportunity, but they likely wouldn't have the means. It's about the guns!

All three suspects had guns. Lots of them. The gun lobby wants us to see military weapons and high capacity magazines as normal.

The President wants to talk about a mental health problem and deny any racist, white supremacy connections found.

The lawyers for these men will want their case to turn on what they didn't do vs what they said in their threats.  "They didn't shoot anyone! It was a joke! They didn't mean to scare anyone!"  There will be discussions about threats, true threats and the meaning of each word.

The NRA doesn't really care about protecting these men's 1st Amendment rights, but they will get others to argue about protecting them on their behalf so they don't have to acknowledge that what makes the difference when these men make a threat are the guns they have.

We could be reading about their victims today.  The good news is we are reading about their arrests.

What can we do to stop more shootings? Take away guns from those who shouldn’t have them.
Read more about how it's being done in California.
San Diego’s city attorney is taking away hundreds of guns from those who shouldn’t have them

Synthesizing the message

by digby

I guess the CW is that he's going nowhere in this campaign, but Beto O'Rourke has a way of synthesizing the Democratic message in a way that I think is useful. This is how he put it on Meet the Press on Sunday:
CHUCK TODD:I feel like this is a conundrum that faces many of you running for president, which is, on one hand, you see the president, in some ways, as an existential threat to the American story, our culture. So does it seems silly, at times, to be debating whether or not there should be a public option, when you feel as if the president is a bigger threat on other issues? Is that what’s made this campaign sometimes seem, seem tonally off for the entire, for the entire field, at times?

O'ROURKE: No. Because I’ll tell you, if we don’t deliver on universal, guaranteed, high-quality healthcare, on a minimum wage that’s a living wage, on paid family leave, on those issues that restore dignity to the lives of our fellow Americans, then we have not only failed them, we have provided fertile ground for the kind of demagogue that Donald Trump is, who will channel that anger and frustration at our government’s dysfunction and our inability to get something done --- against immigrants, as he’s done, warning of invasions and infestations and animals and predators.

Having somebody, at one of his rallies, say, “We should shoot them.” And the crowd roars their assent. And Donald Trump smiles because he doesn’t want you to focus on the fact that you’re working two or three jobs right now just to make ends meet, or that you live in the wealthiest country on the face of the planet, but you can’t afford to take care of your diabetes.

Yes, Democrats have to address those issues and deliver on those issues. But we also have to call out the existential threat, to use the word that you just employed, that Donald Trump represents right now. Not only are we going to lose more lives, I’m confident that we will lose this country and our democracy, the longer he stays in office. So that is the urgency behind what I’m talking about.

Basically, it's not really "kitchen table issues" vs "Donald Trump is a menace." They are two sides of the same thing.


Watch your wallet

by digby

This piece by James Downie in the Washington Post sums up the current thinking by the White House's economic brain trust:
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd asked Kudlow to assess Wall Street fears about the economy. “I don’t see a recession,” answered Kudlow. “And let me add just one theme, Chuck. … Let’s not be afraid of optimism.” He cited strong “consumer numbers,” low oil prices and low interest rates and predicted “the economy’s going to be very good in 2019.”

That may sound good. But given that we’re well into 2019, Kudlow’s silence about 2020 is concerning. Furthermore, Kudlow’s confidence has some eerie echoes with the last downturn, as Todd pointed out:
But, you know, you actually said that in 2007 right before the second-worst downturn in American history. This is what you wrote. “There’s no recession coming.” This is in December of ’07. “The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come.”
Here’s the problem: Kudlow and others failed to see a recession coming because they refused to believe housing and other markets could really collapse. Others learned from that mistake; it seems Kudlow hasn’t.

As for Navarro, he was asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to explain a presidential contradiction: If tariffs don’t really hurt U.S. consumers, as Trump likes to claim, then why did he delay tariffs until Dec. 15 out of concern for hurting consumers? “I was there in the Oval Office when a group of business people came in and made the following very persuasive argument,” Navarro replied. “They had already bought everything that was going to be on our shelves, but they’d done it in dollar contracts, which means they weren’t able to shift the burden back to the Chinese.”

Assuming that those business leaders are telling the truth, it’s good that the Trump administration would finally recognize reality. Then again, why didn’t someone at the White House make any effort to find this out beforehand? Why go through the whole charade of these tariffs if they weren’t even going to hit China in the first place?

Whether another recession is coming is an open question: Strong consumer spending and low unemployment may continue to keep things afloat. But all Navarro’s and Kudlow’s answers offered was more evidence that, if the economy does go south, this administration is acting without thinking. Kudlow is wrong: No one is “afraid of optimism.” We’re afraid of the team in the White House.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

In the past, there was always the chance that allies and trading partners could work together to try to mitigate the worst of a global downturn. It didn't always work out (austerity anyone?) but there were open lines of communication and the possibility was there for a somewhat softer landing.

Needless to say, that will not happen this time. Nobody trusts Trump and no one on the planet has any reason to want to work with the US on anything. So good luck everyone.

It isn't just Trump. The GOP mainstream is overwhelmingly anti-immigrant

by digby

There's been a lot of criticism of the Post and the Times for their twin cover stories about the malevolent xenophobe Stephen Miller, but I thought the Times thesis was actually quite good. They pointed out that Miller didn't just spring up out of nowhere. The GOP mainstream has been growing more and more anti-immigrant over the past couple of decades:
When historians try to explain how opponents of immigration captured the Republican Party, they may turn to the spring of 2007, when President George W. Bush threw his waning powers behind a legalization plan and conservative populists buried it in scorn.

Mr. Bush was so taken aback, he said he worried about America “losing its soul,” and immigration politics have never been the same.

That spring was significant for another reason, too: An intense young man with wary, hooded eyes and fiercely anti-immigrant views graduated from college and began a meteoric rise as a Republican operative. With the timing of a screenplay, the man and the moment converged.

Stephen Miller was 22 and looking for work in Washington. He lacked government experience but had media appearances on talk radio and Fox News and a history of pushing causes like “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” A first-term congresswoman from Minnesota offered him a job interview and discovered they were reading the same book: a polemic warning that Muslim immigration could mean “the end of the world as we know it.”

By the end of the interview, Representative Michele Bachmann had a new press secretary. And a dozen years later, Mr. Miller, now a senior adviser to President Trump, is presiding over one of the most fervent attacks on immigration in American history.

The story of Mr. Miller’s rise has been told with a focus on his pugnacity and paradoxes. Known more for his enemies than his friends, he is a conservative firebrand from liberal Santa Monica, Calif., and a descendant of refugees who is seeking to eliminate refugee programs. He is a Duke graduate in bespoke suits who rails against the perfidy of so-called elites. Among those who have questioned his moral fitness are his uncle, his childhood rabbi and 3,400 fellow Duke alumni.

Less attention has been paid to the forces that have abetted his rise and eroded Republican support for immigration — forces Mr. Miller has personified and advanced in a career unusually reflective of its times.

Rising fears of terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks brought new calls to keep immigrants out. Declining need for industrial labor left fewer businesses clamoring to bring them in. A surge of migrants across the South stoked a backlash in the party’s geographic base.

Conservative media, once divided, turned against immigration, and immigration-reduction groups that had operated on the margins grew in numbers and sophistication. Abandoning calls for minority outreach, the Republican Party chose instead to energize its conservative white base — heeding strategists who said the immigrant vote was not just a lost cause but an existential threat.

Arriving in Washington as these forces coalesced, Mr. Miller rode the tailwinds with zeal and skill. Warning of terrorism and disturbed by multicultural change, he became the protégé of a Southern senator especially hostile to immigration, Jeff Sessions of Alabama. And he courted allies in the conservative media and immigration-restriction groups.

Mr. Miller, who declined to comment for this article, affects the air of a lone wolf — guarded, strident, purposefully provocative. But he has been shaped by the movement whose ideas and lieutenants he helped install across the government as he consolidated a kind of power unusual for a presidential aide and unique in the Trump White House.

“I don’t agree with his policy on reducing legal immigration, but I’m in awe of how he’s been able to impact this one issue,” said Cesar Conda, who battled Mr. Miller on Capitol Hill as an aide to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. “He’s got speech writing, he’s got policy, he’s got his own little congressional-relations operation, he’s got allies whom he’s helped place across the government.”

“Years ago, the restrictionist movement was a ragtag group” with no strong ties to either party, he added. Mr. Miller “embodies their rise into the G.O.P. mainstream.”

Trump had never been a big immigrant basher before entering politics.  His racism was much more targeted toward blacks over the years. Not that he wasn't an all-around bigot. He was. But the anti-immigrant rhetoric he employed to get elected in 2016 came right out of right wing talk radio. His former assistant Sam Nunberg kept him up to date on what all the haters were talking about and this issue was at the top of the list.

Miller, of course, is a true believer. He really, truly seems to loathe foreigners and has since he was making an ass of himself at Santa Monica High. But he wasn't alone.

I wrote about this for Salon a few years back:

Right-wing obsession with undocumented workers from Mexico has been waxing and waning for decades. It is sometimes attached to economic insecurity but more often it seems to be the result of free floating anxiety that isn’t attached to any particular circumstance. During the Bush years, before the crash, it bubbled up in communities around the nation which had little experience with Latinos who were branching out from the traditional migration pattern to places where new work was available. There were a number of stories done around 2005 about the town of Herndon, Virginia, where a militia had grown up to defend the town against illegal immigrants:
Bill explains that he “slid into the Minutemen” because he was disturbed by the way his neighborhood was changing, and the other Minutemen standing with him nod in agreement. “Dormitory-style homes” have popped up on their streets, Bill says, and the residents come and go at strange hours. Their neighbors’ children are intimidated and no longer like to play outside, in part because “we’ve got about 17 cars coming and going from our neighbors’ houses.” Matt, another Minuteman who lives in nearby Manassas, claims that the police have busted prostitution rings operating out of nearby properties…Even on the coldest mornings, more than 50 workers often convene at the 7-11, and Bill judges that sometimes only 10 or 20 get hired. “When,” he asks me, “is it ever a good thing for 40 men to hang out together?” [“Outside In: The Minutemen Are More Mainstream Than You Think,” The New Republic, November, 2005]

(I always thought that was a funny quote coming from a guy who had joined a militia.)

But this was a big story 10 years ago — immigrants were gathering in our small towns and suburbs and changing the culture with their strange language and dirty ways. To people who live in the Southwest or Florida or any big city, it was a bizarre concept. Even if it’s contentious for economic or political reasons, immigrants are part of the fabric of life in those places. But it was a culture shock to a lot of folks who hadn’t dealt with it before. And they didn’t blame the Democrats — they blamed George W. Bush:

The retired social studies teacher said she got involved because houses in her neighborhood had become packed immigrant dormitories. She suspects that most tenants in the rooming houses, including the one next door, are illegal. She deals with roosters crowing and men urinating in the yard, loud parties and empty beer cans dumped outside. She fears it’s driving down the value of her house.

“I’m angry,” said the 60-year-old widow. She said the fight against illegal immigration was deeply personal and broadly political. “George Bush is in it for the Hispanic vote, and we’re on the receiving end,” she said. “That’s not fair. Before, everybody looked out for everybody else; no one locked doors,” she said of her neighborhood. “Now we all have security systems.”

Jeff Talley, 45, an airplane maintenance worker who lives across the street from Bonieskie, also joined the Minuteman chapter. “When you start messing with the value of people’s houses, people get really upset,” he said. As Talley sees it, illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans  whom it would cost companies more to employ and that will have long-term effects on American society.

“There’s a disappearing middle class,” said Talley, a Republican. “George Bush is a huge disappointment to this country. The Republican Party used to be for ordinary people, but no more.”

I bring all this up just to preface what’s led up to the current predicament in the Republican Party and their fraught relationship with Latinos. There was a time when the party thought it had made substantial inroads with that community and were hopeful they would be able to gain the loyalty of enough of them to be able to compete nationally in a world in which whites are no longer a majority. It didn’t work and reading that piece about the Hernden Minutemen you can see how it happened.

The issue continued to vex Republicans throughout the Obama administration as they found themselves caught in the cross-current of changing demographics and a base that was growing more and more hostile to immigrants. GOP politicians who had championed comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship — a mainstream position with both parties — were pressured to abandon their position. Not that it really mattered if they did. Anyone who had once advocated for reform was now seen as a conservative movement heretic, never to be trusted again.

This issue finally boiled over in 2014 when the Republican majority leader of the House, Eric Cantor, unexpectedly lost his seat in a primary to an anti-immigrant Tea Party upstart, David Brat, a novice politician heavily promoted by national conservative talk radio. Stars like Laura Ingraham had been pushing the anti-immigration line for quite some time and homed in on Cantor as a perfect example of a squishy establishment sell-out. Not that Cantor actually was a particularly immigrant-friendly politician. He had tepidly supported legalization of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and once said that he thought immigrants should be allowed to enlist in the military “in principle,” but voted against allowing them to serve. That was all it took. As far as talk radio was concerned he was a dead man walking.

The GOP mainstream is now overwhelmingly anti-immigrant. It's important to acknowledge that it's not just Trump. He rode their wave not the other way around.
Trump ditches Barrack because he didn't get his cut

by digby

So Trump isn't speaking to his good pal Tom Barrack anymore and Politico tells us why:

The key issue driving the two men apart: Barrack’s role as chairman of the president’s 2017 inauguration fund, which is under investigation by prosecutors.

Trump was “really upset” to read reports about Barrack’s role in allegedly making it easy for some foreigners and others to try to spend money to get access to Trump and his inner circle and whether some of the inauguration money was misspent, according to a senior administration official.

“The president was really surprised to read all about the inauguration and who was trying to buy access and how, because the president doesn’t get any of that money,” said the official.

It is perfectly normal now to read about how the president is upset about some corrupt practice in his administration, not because it's against the law and totally unethical, but because he didn't get his cut.

These two have been friends for 40 years. In fact, Barrack may be his only real friend. Oh well.

Of course, the falling out may also be due to some other factors too. Barrack has cooperated with federal investigators. With Bill Barr in charge, Trump undoubtedly knows everything the witnesses have told the feds. And Politico speculates that Trump was upset that Barrack employed Rick Gates right up until he was indicted, which is dumb. Barrack surely employed him on Trump's behalf to keep him happy.

But this may be part of it as well:

Several sources said Trump’s falling out with Barrack, who hasn’t yet donated to Trump’s re-election campaign, began even before the damaging reports about the inaugural committee.

“Barrack is the kind of guy who would tell him things he didn’t want to hear, so Trump stopped talking to him,” a former senior White House official said.

Barrack has also made some critical remarks about Trump’s performance in office and said in Trump’s first year that his friend was “better than this” (referring to Trump’s rhetoric toward Muslims and immigrants), and that he was “shocked” and “stunned” by some of the remarks.

Yeah, whatever. If they really aren't speaking, it's because nobody gets to sell access to Trump, but Trump. That's what his personal appearances at his golf clubs every weekend are for.

Update: Well, he actually did get a cut. I guess it wasn't enough:

Smell the isolationism

by digby

Trump is still obsessing about Venezuela

President Trump has suggested to national security officials that the U.S. should station Navy ships along the Venezuelan coastline to prevent goods from coming in and out of the country, according to 5 current and former officials who have either directly heard the president discuss the idea or have been briefed on Trump's private comments.

Driving the news: Trump has been raising the idea of a naval blockade periodically for at least a year and a half, and as recently as several weeks ago, these officials said. They added that to their knowledge the Pentagon hasn't taken this extreme idea seriously, in part because senior officials believe it's impractical, has no legal basis and would suck resources from a Navy that is already stretched to counter China and Iran.

Trump has publicly alluded to a naval blockade of Venezuela. Earlier this month he answered "Yes, I am" when a reporter asked whether he was mulling such a move. But he hasn't elaborated on the idea publicly.

In private, Trump has expressed himself more vividly, these current and former officials say. 
"He literally just said we should get the ships out there and do a naval embargo," said one source who's heard the president’s comments. "Prevent anything going in."

"I'm assuming he's thinking of the Cuban missile crisis," the source added. "But Cuba is an island and Venezuela is a massive coastline. And Cuba we knew what we were trying to prevent from getting in. But here what are we talking about? It would need massive, massive amounts of resources; probably more than the U.S. Navy can provide."

Hawkish GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, has a different perspective about the value of a show of military force. "I've been saying for months that when the Venezuelan military sees an American military presence gathering force, this thing ends pretty quickly," he told me.
Meanwhile, this is perfectly normal:
Diosdado Cabello, an alleged drug lord with substantial power inside the Venezuelan political and military elite, has been communicating through emissaries with National Security Council official Mauricio Claver-Carone, these sources said. These sources did not know what messages, if any, Claver-Carone had sent back to Cabello through these intermediaries.
A senior administration official added that members of various centers of power within Venezuela, including Cabello, have been reaching out through emissaries to U.S. government officials. 
Trump administration officials view Cabello as an important power broker, and some say the Venezuelan opposition's April 30 uprising would have succeeded if Cabello had been involved. 
Some State Department officials are concerned about the idea of communicating with an alleged drug lord, per a source familiar with the situation. It's also the case that some administration officials have assessed that Cabello purportedly sending messages is a positive sign and suggests Maduro's circle is gradually cracking.

Only the best people.

He's very frustrated because he really wanted a military option before now:

Trump is deeply frustrated that the Venezuelan opposition has failed to topple Maduro — more than 3 months after a failed uprising, and more than 6 months after Trump led the world in recognizing Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

Trump has had good reason to be frustrated, current and former officials said. For the first year and a bit of his presidency, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and chief of staff John Kelly collaborated to ignore or stymie what they judged to be dangerous requests from Trump. 
This included, in Mattis' case, a request for military options to topple Maduro, according to sources with direct knowledge of Trump's unfulfilled asks.

Trump would berate his former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, asking him why he hadn't produced the Venezuela military options he'd requested. But McMaster wasn't the obstacle to producing the options for Venezuela; it was Mattis, according to sources with direct knowledge.

McMaster grew so exasperated with Mattis that around September 2017, he sent him a memo saying the president had requested new options for Venezuela.

In the classified memo, which has never been reported on until now, McMaster gave Mattis a deadline to present the military options, according to sources familiar with the memo's contents. Mattis ignored the memo and blew past the deadline, these sources said.

Now that he has Bolton and Pompeo on board, all options are on the table. So far, Trump hasn't ordered an invasion so that's good.

It's so reassuring that we don't have an interventionist president. Blockades, trade wars, insulting allies and a massive military build-up --- it's all good.


Looney on the runway

by digby

I watched that whole runway gaggle yesterday and he was as looney as I've ever seen him.
President Donald Trump on Sunday slammed his preferred news network over recent unfavorable poll results, saying: “There’s something going on at Fox [News], I’ll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it.”

Trump’s comments to reporters in New Jersey were in response to a question about the network’s recently released survey showing the president losing head-to-head match-ups against four of the top Democratic presidential primary candidates.

Trump said he didn’t “believe” the poll that was published, adding: “Fox has changed. My worst polls have always been from Fox.”

He also complained about how Democrats had barred the network from hosting or televising the party’s 2020 primary debates, and then signaled a warning about the the general-election cycle.

“And I think Fox is making a big mistake,” the president said when asked about the polling and the network’s leadership. “Because, you know, I'm the one that calls the shots on that — on the really big debates.”

The president’s criticisms are a continuation of a larger attack on one of his favorite targets, the news media. But Trump has increasingly lumped in Fox News, a network known for its conservative bent, in recent months for what he views as unfavorable coverage.

He has squared off with the network as it devoted time to forums with Democratic presidential candidates earlier in the year. Trump took jabs at Fox News in April over the network’s town hall with Bernie Sanders, and again in May, ahead of its town hall with Pete Buttigieg.

This time, Trump’s annoyance with an unfavorable poll led him to wrongly assert that he had control over the 2020 presidential debates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which is not controlled by any political party or outside organization and does not endorse, support or oppose political candidates for parties, has sponsored general-election presidential debates in every election since 1988.

He's not going to debate is he? Not that it matters much. He trainwrecks everything ...

How about this?
President Trump told reporters on Sunday that Apple CEO Tim Cook privately made a "very compelling argument" that the administration's tariffs on Chinese-assembled goods have made an unfair impact on the California-based tech giant, because its chief rival, Samsung, has conducted most of its manufacturing in South Korea and did not have to pay the levy.

The president also issued a stern warning to China, saying there might not be an end to the trade war if the government resorts to "violence" to crush demonstrators in Hong Kong.

Trump announced last week he would delay major new tariffs on China for three months, and his latest comments hinted that more concessions may be forthcoming. The new ten-percent tariffs had been slated to go into effect Sept. 1, and would have affected Apple's signature iPhones and iPads.

In May, Trump increased tariffs on roughly $200 billion in Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent, but later nixed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico. In June, China hiked its retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. by more than 15 percent.

"I had a very good meeting with Tim Cook," Trump said at an airport in New Jersey, on his way back to the White House. "I have a lot of respect for Tim Cook, and Tim was talking to me about tariffs. And, one of the things, and he made a good case, is that Samsung is their number-one competitor, and Samsung is not paying tariffs because they're based in South Korea."

Trump continued: "It's tough for Apple to pay tariffs if they're competing with a very good company that's not. I said, 'How good a competitor?' He said they're a very good competitor. ... I thought he made a very compelling argument, so I'm thinking about it."

Cook and Trump have met several times in the past year. Earlier in the day, Trump had sounded a note of optimism on China, tweeting, "We are doing very well with China, and talking!"

It never occurred to him until now that American companies might be impacted this way by his tariffs?

It sounds like he's looking for an excuse to fold...



2020: It's the Trumpism, stupid

by Tom Sullivan

"So I think the concept of mental institution has to be looked at."

Rachel Bitecofer's prediction on the 2018 "blue wave" was "numerically close to perfect," writes Paul Rosenberg in an interview for Salon. The assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia estimated Democrats would gain 42 seats. The do-over election in NC-9 scheduled for September 10 could make Democrats' final count 41. On August 6, Bitcofer released a preliminary list of 18 House seats that with the right campaigns Democrats could pick up in 2020.

Her explanation for the size of the tsunami contrasts with conventional wisdom still on display among Democrats in Washington.

Bitecofer tells Salon, "I don't know why Nancy Pelosi, the DCCC or many of these moderate members are convinced that moderate Republicans crossed over and voted for them. I have the data for some of these districts and the data tells a very different, very clear story: If Republicans voted in huge numbers, they voted for Republicans."

And Republicans did turn out in large numbers. Turnout among Democrats and independents was simply higher. What made them turn out was not health care, but negative partisanship. It was Trump, Inc. By Bitecofer's reckoning, not understanding the effects of that on turnout may have cost Democrats an additional half dozen seats they may have successfully contested in 2018.

She writes in her August 6 posting (emphasis mine):

Although Trumpism has been an effective rallying cry for the GOP base, it has galvanized a previously complacent part of the electorate; white, college educated millennial women as well as all voters under age 40, who represent a far more diverse and liberal voter universe than their older counterparts. As such, any district with high levels of college educated voters was extremely vulnerable for Republicans in 2018, even those that had long been in the hands of the Republican Party such as the six Orange County districts in Southern California which my model was quite clear would uniformly flip to the Democrats.
Two takeaways from Bitecofer's Salon interview. First, the percentage of college-educated voters in the district. Bitecofer explains, "we have college-educated voters moving towards the Democrats, and white working-class voters moving away from them." And in suburban districts, that trend advantages Democrats. Basically, the electorate model is shifting.

Second, Democrats' preference for Blue Dogs in more conservative districts is misplaced:
I'm also able to show that even in these districts where Democrats ran Blue Dog candidates who were as unobtrusive as possible — with, exactly as you stated, the goal of not riling up Trump voters — the turnout for Republican voters in those districts was huge.

In fact, not only did Democrats not get the benefit of not stirring up the Trump base — the Trump base was stirred up and showed up in huge numbers — but by not tapping into anti-Trump sentiment in their own campaign strategy, by not intentionally activating that Trump angst, they paid a price in terms of their own base turnout. It was depressed, compared to other districts.
Nine of the House seats on Bitecofer's preliminary list are in Texas, making it "Ground 0 of the Democrats’ 2020 efforts." That points up another weakness in Democratic strategies. Bitecofer explained August 6:
However, actually flipping these districts would require a massive investment in an area Democrats have continually under-invested in: Latino turnout. Democrats’ success in increasing the size of their House majority will largely depend on whether they come to recognize the need to maximize turnout among Democratic-friendly constituencies such as college-educated women, Latinos, African Americans, and Millennials and in their ability to understand that it is fear of Trump, not policy, that will best motivate these voters to the polls, no matter what the voters themselves may think.
Which is to say candidates' policy proposals are simply icing on the cake. Democrats need to make 2020 a referendum on Donald Trump. Bitecofer's July 1 projection for next year showed Democrats winning 278 electoral votes, eight more than necessary to secure the election, with several swing states still in play. But it is a long way to November 2020.

A key overlap across all those sub-groupings Bitecofer mentions is voters under 40, be they college-educated women, Latinos, African Americans, etc. That is where the nonvoters are, nonvoters with the numbers to control this country's destiny and perhaps the world's. Given the increasing decline evident in the acting president's ramblings, the sooner the (non-white nationalist) youth take control the better. It's something Democrats have to look at very strongly.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

QOTD: an apostate

by digby

Ben Howe,former Red State writer and Never-Trumper has written a book called The Immoral Majority. This interview in The Atlantic features this quote which I think is exactly right:

In the minds of a lot of conservatives, the left exists to impugn their motives, and the Republican Party regularly lied to them and said they would defend them and then didn’t. And that was the establishment. Trump became their hero, because he hated the establishment, and he beat up on the media, and he was fighting back against all these forces. The more he fights, the more they feel justified, like, He’s our hero because we needed someone to do this for us.

Trump’s appeal is not judges. It’s not policies. It’s that he’s a shit-talker and a fighter and tells it like it is. That’s what they like. They love the meanest parts of him.

I guess this really is one of those chicken or egg situations. I see people who love a lying asshole like Trump because he's a "shit-talker" and it seems obvious to me that they really are deplorable. And the truth is that, for me, this is a relatively new thing. I impugned the motives of their leadership over the years and rightly so. But it's only with the advent of Trump and the ecstatic reaction from GOP voters to his disgusting Nuremberg rallies that I realized how far gone they really were.

I have always assumed that most Republicans were basically normal Americans with an ideology I opposed. I knew that some were racists but I never thought it would add up to 90% or more of the Party! I certainly assumed that they would be appalled by Trumps obvious psychological and intellectual insufficiency, much less his clear immorality. It's very hard to have respect for people like this:

I know you are not supposed to say this. I get reprimanded every time I mention it. But it is my honest observation and in this day and age I think it's important to be honest about what you see. The Republican rank and file is in thrall to an unfit racist demagogue and he's not hiding it. So it's on them.


White nationalists are very pleased with Donald Trump's leadership

by digby

As usual, Trump gives a big boost to the far-right:

A former Infowars staffer who organized the Proud Boys protest in Portland Saturday deemed the “mission” a success because President Donald Trump sided with the right-wing extremist group against the anti-fascists.

“Go look at President Trump’s Twitter,” Joe Biggs told The Oregonian (see the video above). “He talked about Portland, said he’s watching antifa. That’s all we wanted. We wanted national attention, and we got it. Mission success.”

Biggs said he was pleased with the relatively peaceful day between the Proud Boys — which describes its members as “Western chauvinists” — and counterprotesters, who included anti-fascist activists. Portland police reported that at least 13 people were arrested and six were injured.
Instead of addressing increasing right-wing violence, however, Trump repeated on the day of the Portland protest that he is considering labeling the leftist antifa a “terrorist” organization. “Antifa” is a blanket term that refers to a decentralized network of leftist, anti-fascist organizations that take on far-right protesters in the streets, sometimes violently. Nor have anti-fascist activists been linked to a single death, unlike gunmen compelled by extreme right-wing views.

No, they haven't. Mostly they just dress up like ninjas and wander around the streets when the Nazis show up. Sometimes they protect people and sometimes they end up engaging in violent scuffles with the far right. But they haven't killed anyone.

They haven't locked up any babies in cages...

Reality is a witch hunt

by digby

Poor Trump. Despite all of his ridiculous public bluster, he's worried:

Privately, however, the president has sounded anxious and apprehensive. From his golf club in New Jersey, where he is vacationing this week, Trump has called a number of business leaders and financial executives to sound them out — and they have provided him a decidedly mixed analysis, according to two people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were confidential.

Trump has a somewhat conspiratorial view, telling some confidants that he distrusts statistics he sees reported in the news media and that he suspects many economists and other forecasters are presenting biased data to thwart his reelection, according to one Republican close to the administration who was briefed on some of the conversations.

“He’s rattled,” this Republican said. “He thinks that all the people that do this economic forecasting are a bunch of establishment weenies — elites who don’t know anything about the real economy and they’re against Trump.”
Meanwhile, his top economic adviser:
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Sunday confirmed that the Trump administration is exploring trying to buy the country of Greenland, noting that the self-governing country is a “strategic place” that is rich in minerals.

“It’s developing. We’re looking at it,” Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Denmark owns Greenland. Denmark is an ally. Greenland is a strategic place … I’m just saying the president, who knows a thing or two about buying real estate, wants to take a look.”

President Trump’s desire to buy Greenland, which is part of the kingdom of Denmark, was first reported last week by the Wall Street Journal. Two people with direct knowledge of the directive told The Washington Post that Trump has mentioned the idea for weeks, and aides are waiting for more direction before they decide how seriously they should look into it.

Trump is scheduled to visit Denmark in two weeks. In the days since news of Trump’s interest in Greenland broke, the idea has been ridiculed by politicians in Denmark, and Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that the island is not for sale.

“Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism,” the ministry said in a tweet. “We’re open for business, not for sale.”

While many in the United States have mocked the idea, one Democratic lawmaker on Sunday voiced openness to considering it. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “changes are happening” in Greenland due to climate change, “and the people up there understand it and they’re trying to adjust to it.”
Hey, once the ice melts and the animals are all dead, the riches underneath the desert that's left will be ripe for the taking! Let's get in on that global warming bonanza!


No Joe, they are not decent people. They aren't.

by digby


Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden told a Massachusetts fundraiser Saturday "there’s an awful lot of really good Republicans" with whom he successfully worked when he was vice president, as he defended his cooperative approach, The Hill reports.

Why it matters: Biden has been criticized by some Democrats for having worked with Republicans. But at an event in Harwich Port, he hit back at his 2020 rivals for promising executive orders to achieve policy priorities rather than working to generate consensus, the Washington Examiner notes. "You have to generate a consensus," he said, according to a pool report.

Is Joe Biden is trolling for GOP Senator votes? I can see why. They would undoubtedly love to have him "negotiating" with them again:
Even for Barack Obama's liberal critics, there was much to like about the way he set up last week's fiscal deal, not least the use of his presidential perch to drive home his message on taxes. As my colleague John Judis argued, it's easy to see how Obama could reprise this approach for the next installment of our ongoing fiscal soap opera. The GOP's plan to force Medicare and Social Security cuts under threat of a debt default could prove wildly unpopular with the right White House framing, and Obama has proved himself pretty capable in this department.

The problem is what happens when, having crafted a favorable backdrop to the negotiation, it comes time for him to close the deal. And this is where the just-completed "cliff" episode is still disconcerting. Because it turns out Obama made a critical if underappreciated mistake in the final hours of the back and forth: sending Joe Biden to haggle with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell once McConnell's talks with his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid, had broken down.

From my after-the-fact discussions with Democratic aides in the House and Senate leadership, it’s clear that Reid had a plan for resolving the cliff and considered the breakdown of his talks with McConnell very much a part of it. By involving Biden, Obama undercut Reid and signaled that he wanted a deal so badly he was unwilling to leave anything to chance, even when the odds overwhelmingly favored him. It suggested that even if Obama plays his cards exceedingly well in the run-up to the debt-limit showdown, he could still come away with a worse deal than he deserves because of his willingness to make concessions in the closing moments.

Here’s what happened near the end of the cliff talks, as I understand it. On Friday, December 28, Obama handed off the negotiations to Reid and McConnell, with the caveat that he wanted a vote on a fallback plan to raise taxes on income above $250,000 for couples (and $200,000 for individuals) if they couldn’t strike a deal by Monday the 31st. The two Senate leaders made some progress but hit a wall Saturday afternoon. Reid had offered to move the threshold up to $450,000 for couples and $360,000 for individuals in exchange for a one-year extension of federal unemployment benefits and delaying the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester for a year. McConnell was unwilling to go so low on the income-tax threshold or so long on the sequester delay. He was also asking for a change to Social Security’s cost of living adjustment—a fairly significant benefit cut. After huddling with his staff late Sunday morning, Reid told McConnell he had no more concessions to give.

Not long after, McConnell went to the Senate floor saying he had placed a call to Biden but hadn’t heard back. Sunday night, Reid’s staff went to bed aware that Biden had returned McConnell’s call but assuming nothing would come of it. “There was no indication [Biden] would engage,” says a Senate Democratic leadership aide close to the talks. Alas, it didn’t work out that way. Reid’s staff woke up Monday morning to discover that Biden had opened up his own negotiation with McConnell. The Republican leader had accepted a $450,000 income-tax threshold ($400,000 for individuals) and Biden was offering him a three-month delay of the sequester. (The eventual deal was a two-month delay.)

Reid was furious. In a call, he told the president that he or Biden would have to come to the Senate and pitch the deal to Democrats themselves--Reid wanted no part of it himself. But while other accounts have portrayed Reid’s frustration as stemming from the substance of the deal, Reid was just as frustrated over the fact that he'd been in the middle of executing his own plan, which was now moot.
According to the Senate aide, Reid believed that one of two things would happen if the negotiations were allowed to play out his way: Either McConnell, who obviously wanted a deal, would have come slinking back to him and basically accepted Reid’s last offer. “It would have been great if he called Biden and no one called him back,” says the leadership aide. “He would be so desperate for a deal that he took whatever he could get.” Or, less likely, McConnell would have thrown in the towel, allowing Reid to hold a vote on the Democratic fallback bill, which would have moved the income threshold back to $250,000 while extending unemployment insurance and a series of tax credits for the poor and middle class.

The latter might well have passed the Senate—Reid believed there were close to 60 votes for it—but would have been unlikely to pass the House, sending us over the cliff. In that case, Reid assumed the House GOP would have taken the blame, and that Republicans would rapidly soften up. Reid’s plan was to then work out another deal with McConnell that would have provided a small fig leaf—perhaps a slight rise in the income threshold above $250,000, but not close to $400,000 or $450,000—which would have likely passed on Saturday, January 5 (basically the soonest possible date). The aim was to pass this new bill with a large bipartisan majority (just as the eventual compromise did), thereby isolating the House GOP and forcing them to pass it too.

This may seem a bit far-fetched—how could Reid be so confident, after all? Obama, for one, worried that missing the cliff deadline could mean waiting for weeks if not months to resolve the situation. According to a senior White House official, the embarrassing failure of John Boehner’s “Plan B” meant the House might “never be able to act … and this would bleed into debt ceiling.” The official added: “Our hand is weakened on the debt ceiling if the economy is spiraling out of control and everyone’s taxes were up.”

But there were good reasons to believe the endgame would play out the way Reid envisioned. Reid’s model was the payroll tax cut fight of late 2011, when he and McConnell struck a deal to renew the tax cut for two months because they couldn’t agree on how to pay for a year-long extension. The deal passed the Senate overwhelmingly, at which point conservatives in the House revolted. For a day or two, the outcome looked uncertain—polls showed the public favored the tax cut, but the House had dug in. At that point, Obama suggested to Reid that they reopen the negotiations, but Reid, according to the Senate aide, told him, “Don’t you dare.” Democrats held the line, and the House GOP abruptly folded. When all was said and done, Democrats got an even better deal than they’d hoped for. The Republicans were so eager to put the episode behind them they dropped their insistence that the tax-cut extension be offset with spending cuts.

Long story short: Reid’s strategy would have at worst produced a slightly better deal than Biden negotiated had McConnell accepted his final offer before the cliff (a slightly lower threshold for the new top income tax rate and a one-year suspension of the sequester rather than a two-month suspension). At best it could have produced significantly more revenue (closer to a $300,000 threshold) had we briefly gone over. But Reid never got the chance to execute it. “Their guys were running around asking to be forced to vote for this so they could move on,” says the Senate aide of the GOP. “Everything Republicans were doing signaled weakness and desperation for a deal. Unfortunately, everything out of the White House did, too.”

It is, of course, important not to romanticize congressional Democrats here. Senate moderates didn’t exactly earn any glory during the last Bush tax cut fight in 2010. At the time, many were panicked about the idea of letting them lapse for anyone, even the wealthy, which massively complicated the administration’s efforts to phase out the tax cuts at higher income levels. The White House official argues that Reid’s cliff scenario would have hinged on Reid’s ability to hold Senate Democrats together this time around, too, which Team Obama considered an open question at best. Indeed, when Reid called Obama urging him not to take the Biden-McConnell deal, Obama was quick to ask what would happen if the House somehow passed a bill raising the threshold to $500,000—could Reid keep Senate Democrats from peeling off to support it? Reid insisted he could, but the White House was skeptical. (The White House official says that, during the December 28th meeting between the president and the top four congressional leaders, Reid even put a 500,000 income-tax threshold on the table. But aides to both Reid and Nancy Pelosi deny this.)

Still, the Senate Democrats had actually shown surprising discipline this time around, having passed a bill in July that would have lowered the threshold to $250,000. There had been little wavering by individual senators since then—and none since the election. “No one more than us had come around to the idea that our political leverage was greater now,” says the Senate aide. “In 2010 we thought we were vulnerable in a million ways. In 2012, we did the ass-kicking.”

Whatever the case, allowing your adversary to decide who he’s going to negotiate with is a terrible precedent to set. The evidence suggests that McConnell got a better deal from Biden than he could have gotten from Reid. But even if you disagree, McConnell himself clearly believed this to be true. The lesson he surely took from the White House's sidelining of Reid is that Republicans will be rewarded with concessions if they hold out in the run-up to a deadline. With that in mind, McConnell will almost certainly repeat the exercise during the next round. And since, by the White House’s own accounting, failing to raise the debt limit would have far more serious economic consequences than going over the fiscal cliff, it’s hard to believe that the president will be in any position to call him on it.

Obama did some good things. Sending Biden up to the hill to negotiate with the Grim Reaper wasn't one of them.

Joe Biden needs to stop acting as if he's already the nominee and is running as fast as he can in the right in the general election. That's a strategy of the 20th century, not today. He may not have learned anything from the past few years of GOP perfidy bt Democratic voters have. And whether he knows it or not, Democrats know there are good alternatives to his anachronistic vision this time.

At the time of that botched negotiation, I wrote this:

I have to suspect at this point that this is not entirely a function of "bad negotiating." It looks an awful lot like a subtle way to achieve desired policy outcomes which may be opposed by the president's own party. The need to make a deal at all costs has become the negotiating strategy. And it conveniently means that all the demagogueing about the consequences of not making a deal will get more and more shrill as the negotiations go on and the Republicans will always take it to the very edge --- at which point it becomes "necessary" to make a less than optimal deal than what might have been possible without all the hand wringing and rending of garments. And I hate to say it, but after several of these so-called hostage situations, it's looking to me as if the Republican leaders are partners in a little square dance, not adversaries.

In other words, it serves both parties' technocratic goal of austerity in the guise of "reform" to milk every contrived fiscal crisis to its last drop and then be "forced" to make a "compromise" that didn't have to be made. Perhaps that's cynical, but we've seen this dance enough times now to at least be skeptical.

After what we've seen of these neo-fascist Trump sycophants during the last two and a half years, I don't think the Democratic electorate will stand for this nonsense again.


The Halcyon Days of the Trump Era May Be Ending 

by tristero

And you probably think it's already gotten really bad. But this is a harbinger of the future:
Saturday morning, before events in Portland had gotten underway, President Donald Trump said "major consideration" was being given to designating Antifa an "organization of domestic terror." He added, "Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job."
Did you catch that? Trump tweeted this before the fascists gathered in Portland. Holy Minority Report, Batman!

And this is just one of many, many signs that serious suppression of dissent is just one or two small steps away.

Message to all: hang in there and don't give up.
Qualifications for President 2020: Mentally stable and not beholden to hostile foreign powers

by digby

I don't know how many Republicans feel this way right now but even a non-trivial number would be helpful. This is by Never-Trumper Tom Nichols:

I don’t care if Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a mendacious Massachusetts liberal. She could tell me that she’s going to make me wear waffles as underpants and I’ll vote for her. I don’t care if Sen. Kamala Harris is an opportunistic California prosecutor who wants to relitigate busing. She could tell me that I have to drive to work in a go-cart covered with Barbie decals and I’ll vote for her. I don’t care if Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is a muddle-headed socialist from a rural class-warfare state (where I once lived as one of his constituents). He could tell me he’s going to tax used kitty litter and I’ll vote for him.

I don’t care if Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is clearly influenced by a hostile foreign government or that Marianne Williamson is a weird, anti-science guru. They could …

Wait. I do care about that. It’s the reason they won’t get my vote next year, and why the president won’t either.

Trump is getting worse

All of the policy “what about” hypotheticals from my conservative friends are diversions. They’re trying to move the argument to policy to blind us to the reality that President Donald Trump is both unstable and compromised.

As I have argued for well over two years, there is plenty of evidence that the president is compromised by our most dedicated enemy. Even before the Mueller report laid bare the degree to which the Trump campaign welcomed Russian help, it was obvious that Trump feared Russian President Vladimir Putin — not only because Putin knew how much Trump had lied to the American people during the campaign about his dealings with Russia, but also likely because Moscow holds Trump’s closest financial secrets after years of shady dealings with Russian oligarchs.

And obviously, I would care if Warren or Harris wanted me to do something insane, because it would be evidence of their mental or emotional impairment. As much as conservatives hate to admit it, governing by executive order or supporting the financial evisceration of rich people is not a sign of an emotional disorder.

I can live with policies I hate

Compulsive lying, fantastic and easily refuted claims, base insults and bizarre public meltdowns, however, are indeed signs of serious emotional problems. Trump has never been a reasonable man, but for two years, he has gotten worse. He literally cannot tell the truth from a lie, he often seems completely unable to comprehend even basic information, and he flies off the handle in ways that would make most of us take our children to a pediatrician for evaluation.

This is why policy doesn’t matter. I have only two requirements from the Democratic nominee. First, he or she must not be obviously mentally unstable. Second, the nominee must not be in any way sympathetic — or worse, potentially beholden — to a hostile foreign power. This rules out Gabbard, Williamson and maybe New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, although in de Blasio’s case it’s hard to tell whether he is unstable or just a terrible person.

As for the rest of them, I am willing to live with whoever wins the Democratic primary process. I will likely hate the nominee’s policies, but at least I will not be concerned that he or she is incapable of understanding “the nuclear” or “the cyber.” I will feel like I have a shot at trying to convince my elected representatives that they should listen to the policy preferences of normal human beings instead of two old men wearing shirts that say they’d “rather be a Russian than a Democrat,” or a woman in a shirt indicating that she is willing to have the president grab her genitalia.
I can't believe I miss Eric Holder

The Democratic candidate will promise to nominate people into Cabinet posts who will make me tear my hair out. But at least I will be confident that they are in charge of their own inner circle, instead of surrounded by unprincipled cronies who keep their own boss in the dark while taking a hatchet to the Constitution. Is there anyone that Warren or former Vice President Joe Biden could bring to, say, the Justice Department, whom I would fear more than an odious and sinister courtier like William Barr?

I never thought I could miss Eric Holder, yet here we are.

It is a sign of how low we have fallen as a nation that “rational” and “not compromised by an enemy” are now my only two requirements for the office of the president of the United States. Perhaps years of peace and prosperity have made us forget the terrifying responsibilities that attend the presidency, including the stewardship of enough nuclear weapons to blow the Northern Hemisphere to smithereens.

As long as the Democrats can provide someone who can pass these simple tests, their nominee has my vote.

Pass the waffles.

I doubt there are very many who see the stakes in this election so clearly. But every vote counts.

Oh wait ...


Of course they would say the court jester has executive privilege

by digby

Executive privilege for dummies:

White House officials have been engaged in preliminary discussions about invoking executive privilege to limit former campaign aide Corey Lewandowski from complying with a congressional subpoena, despite Lewandowski never serving in any role in the administration, according to three sources. House Democrats authorized a subpoena for Lewandowski last month, and served it Thursday.

The White House has invoked executive privilege in the past to block former aides such as Don McGahn from complying with similar congressional subpoenas. While testifying in June, Hope Hicks declined to answer nearly every question about her time in the West Wing, citing instructions from President Donald Trump that she was "absolutely immune" from answering. Annie Donaldson, McGahn's deputy, also did not answer more than 200 questions in her written responses to the House Judiciary Committee, citing similar immunity.

But this would be the first time Trump has tried to invoke privilege for someone who has never worked in the administration when it comes to the Russia investigation. McGahn, Hicks and Donaldson all held titles in the West Wing; Lewandowski has only informally advised Trump since his work on the 2016 campaign ended. The White House once asserted that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's conversations with the President about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census were "confidential." Kobach nonetheless testified in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

House panel subpoenas Lewandowksi and former White House official as impeachment push ramps up
Trump officials and allies aren't confident the move on Lewandowski will work, skeptical that the President will be able to assert the same executive privilege principles over an informal adviser as he would a staff member. The White House has been in contact with members of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department about whether it would be successful, and say it remains an option. A White House official cautioned that the discussions are preliminary and no formal Office of Legal Counsel opinion has been sought or rendered by the White House counsel's office yet, though there is one related to Kobach's testimony.

"Executive privilege exists to protect internal government information that, if made public, would cause some damage to the country," said Mark Rozell, the author of "Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy and Accountability." "It applies to the President and high-level executive branch officers, not private citizens who never served in the administration

lol!As if that matters.



A "calming thought when you're feeling homicidal"

by Tom Sullivan

After a particularly tough week for all "involved," this video of a foul-mouthed, self-taught naturalist from the old neighborhood rescuing a sick coyote pup lightened my mood. You too might need a break from reading profiles of administration sociopaths who believe they embody the nation and whose rhetoric suggests they'd just as soon "embody" some of you. With extreme prejudice.

Tony Santoro's YouTube page calls it "A Low-Brow, Crass Approach to Plant Ecology as muttered by a Misanthropic Chicago Italian." Botany is a subject about which I know nothing beside kudzu and poison ivy. But Santoro's enthusiasm is catching.

Rescuing the coyote pup has turned Santoro into a minor internet celebrity. He's toned down his language for this TV profile.

Next time, more sociopaths.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday Night at the Movies

Free to ride: RIP Peter Fonda

By Dennis Hartley

Regarding Peter Fonda: Well, I didn’t see that coming. Not so much his death (he was 79 and he had been battling cancer for a while) but my unexpectedly emotional reaction to it.

At 63 I’m no spring chicken myself; by the time you reach your sixth decade, you begin to grow armor against losing your shit every time another pop culture icon of your youth buys the farm. It’s all part of life. Nobody lives forever, and your idols are no exception.

So why the waterworks? I mean, I was 13 when Easy Rider came out in 1969; by the time I finally had a chance to see it (probably on late-night TV or maybe a VHS rental…can’t recall) I was in my mid 20s and Jerry Rubin was working on Wall Street; so obviously the scene where Captain America gets blown away by inbred rednecks (while still shocking) did not portend the same potentially mind-blowing epiphany for me that it might have for a 25 year-old dope smoking longhair watching it in a theater back in 1969.

Maybe it’s the timing of Fonda’s passing. Not that he planned it, but it came smack dab amid the 50th anniversary of Woodstock (August 15-17, 1969). Since it began on Thursday, I’ve been sporadically listening in to a 72-hour synchronized broadcast/web-streaming of the uncut audio recordings of every Woodstock performance (via Philly station WXPN). It’s a very different experience from watching Michael Wadleigh’s famous documentary film, which (for very practical reasons) only features bits and pieces of the event. WXPN’s presentation is more immersive, and somehow-it is more moving.

So perhaps I was feeling extra nostalgic about the era; which adds extra poignancy to Fonda’s passing, as he was very much a part of the Woodstock Generation iconography.
But he was not just an icon, he was a human being. Here’s his sister Jane’s statement:
“He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing."

I did not know him personally, but if you can go out laughing…that is a pretty cool life.

As to that part of his life he shared with all of us-here are some film recommendations:

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry– John Hough’s 1974 road movie features Fonda as the leading man and co-stars Susan George (*sigh* my first teenage crush) and Adam Roarke. Fonda and Roarke are car racing partners who take an ill-advised detour into crime, robbing a grocery store in hopes of getting enough loot to buy a pro race car. They soon find themselves on the run from the law. A shameless rip-off of Vanishing Point; but delivers the thrills for action fans (muscle car enthusiasts will dig that cherry ’69 Dodge Charger).

Easy Rider – This was the film that not only awakened Hollywood to a previously untapped youth market but put Fonda on the map as a counterculture icon. He co-wrote the screenplay along with Terry Southern and Dennis Hopper (who also directed). Fonda and Hopper star as two biker buddies (flush from a recent lucrative drug deal) who decide to get on their bad motor scooters (choppers, actually) and ride from L.A. to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Along the way, they encounter a cross-section of American society; from a commune of idealistic hippies, a free-spirited alcoholic Southern lawyer (memorably played by Jack Nicholson) to a pair of prostitutes they end up tripping within a cemetery.

The dialogue (along with the mutton chops, fringe vests and love beads) may not have dated so well, but the outstanding rock music soundtrack has held up just fine. And thanks to Laszlo Kovacs’ exemplary DP work, those now iconic images of expansive American landscapes and endless gray ribbons that traverse them remain the quintessential touchstone for all American “road” movies that have followed in its wake.

The Hired Hand – Fonda’s 1971 directorial debut is a lean, poetic neorealist Western in the vein of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Jan Troell’s Zandy’s Bride. Gorgeously photographed by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, it stars Fonda as a taciturn drifter who returns to his wife (Verna Bloom) after a prolonged absence. Embittered by his desertion, she refuses to take him back, advising him to not even tell their young daughter that he is her father. In an act of contrition, he offers to work on her rundown farm purely as a “hired hand”, no strings attached. Reluctantly, she agrees; the couple slowly warm up to each other once again…until an incident from his recent past catches up with him and threatens the safety of his longtime friend and traveling companion (Warren Oates). Well-written (by Alan Sharp), directed, and acted; it’s a genuine sleeper.

The Limey
– One of my favorite Steven Soderberg films (from 1999) also features one of Fonda’s best latter-career performances. He’s not the main character, but it’s a perfect character role for him, and he runs with it. Scripted by Lem Dobbs, Soderberg’s taut neo-noir centers on a British career criminal (Terrance Stamp, in full East End gangster mode) who gets out of prison and makes a beeline for America to investigate the death of his estranged daughter. He learns she had a relationship with an L.A.-based record producer (Fonda), who may be able to shed light on her untimely demise. Once he locates him, the plot begins to thicken. Fast-moving and rich in characterization, with a great supporting cast that includes Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Nicky Katt, and Barry Newman (look for a winking homage to Newman’s iconic character in Vanishing Point).

92 in the Shade – This quirky, picaresque 1975 black comedy is acclaimed writer Thomas McGuane’s sole directorial effort. (I consider it a companion piece to Frank Perry’s equally oddball Rancho Deluxe, which was also written by McGuane, features several of the same actors, and was released the same year). Fonda stars as a trustafarian slacker who comes home to Key West in to start a fish chartering business. This doesn’t set well with a gruff competitor (Warren Oates) who decides to play dirty with his rival.

As in most McGuane stories, narrative takes a backseat to the characters. In fact, the film essentially abandons its setup halfway through-until a curiously rushed finale. Still, there’s a bevy of wonderful character actors to savor, including Harry Dean Stanton, Burgess Meredith, William Hickey, Sylvia Miles and Louise Latham. Also in the cast: Margot Kidder (McGuane’s wife at the time) and Elizabeth Ashley (his girlfriend at the time)-which begs speculation as to what was going through his mind as he directed a scene where Kidder and Ashley exchange insults and then get into a physical altercation!

Race With the Devil –Peter Fonda and Warren Oates star as buds who hit the road in an RV with wives (Lara Parker, Loretta Swit) and dirt bikes in tow. The first night’s bivouac doesn’t go so well; the two men witness what appears to be a human sacrifice by a devil worship cult, and it’s downhill from there (literally a “vacation from hell”). A genuinely creepy chiller that keeps you guessing until the end, with taut direction from Jack Starrett.

The Trip – This 1967 drug culture exploitation fest from famed B-movie director Roger Corman may be awash in beads, Nehru jackets, patchouli and sitars…but it’s a much better film than you’d expect. Fonda plays a TV commercial director who seeks solace from his turned-on and tuned-in drug buddy (Bruce Dern) after his wife leaves him. Dern decides the best cure for Fonda’s depression is a nice getaway to the center of his mind, courtesy of a carefully administered and closely supervised LSD trip. Susan Strasberg and Dennis Hopper co-star. Trippy, with a psychedelic soundtrack by The Electric Flag.

Ulee’s Gold – Writer-director Victor Nunez’s 1997 family drama ushered in a career revival for Fonda, who received critical accolades (as well as an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win) for his measured and nuanced performance. Fonda plays a widower and Vietnam vet who prefers to keep himself to himself, living a quiet life as a beekeeper-until the day his estranged son (Tom Wood) calls him from prison, asking for a favor. Unexpected twists ensue, with Fonda slowly peeling away hidden depths of his character’s complexity. Beautifully acted and directed, with career-best work by Fonda.

The Wild Angels – Another youth exploitation extravaganza from Roger Corman, this 1966 drama kick-started a spate of low-budget biker movies in its wake. Fonda is a member of San Pedro M.C., The Angels. The club decides to party in Palm Springs…and all hell breaks loose. It’s fairly cliché genre fare, but a critical building block for Fonda’s 60s iconography; especially when he delivers his immortal line: “We wanna be free to ride our machines…without being hassled by The Man!” The cast includes Nancy Sinatra, Michael J. Pollard and erm-Laura Dern’s parents (Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd!).

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--- Dennis Hartley