The diva and the gypsy: Dalida (**) & Django (***)
By Dennis Hartley
This has been keeping me up for several nights. How could I, a self-proclaimed musicologist, have been hitherto completely and blissfully unaware of the Egyptian-Italian “international superstar” Dalida, who sold a record-breaking 170 million records during her lifetime? Her 30-year career began in 1956…my birth year. So apparently, her music was part of the soundtrack of my life (although…you wouldn’t know it to ask me). In my own (weak) defense, I have heard of Zamfir (master of the pan flute!), and I’m aware of international superstar Nana Mouskouri, but Dalida? A complete flyover for me.
Unfortunately, after watching Dalida, Lisa Azuelo’s slickly produced yet superficial 124-minute biopic, I still don’t know that much about her, except that her personal life was a tragedian’s dream. While she did have natural talent, statuesque beauty, and massive success going for her, an inordinate number of men in her life committed suicide…as did she (it’s probably not the best “date movie” if you or your date lean toward melancholia).
In fact, the film kicks off with Dalida’s first suicide attempt in 1967 (talk about foreshadowing) and then proceeds from there with flashbacks and flash-forwards. We do see Dalida (born Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti) as a young girl in Cairo, getting taunted and bullied by her fellow students at Catholic school; they call her “ugly” and “four-eyes”…but there is no elaboration offered as to whether this sowed the seeds of her lifelong self-esteem issues (manifesting in adult life as we see her struggle with bulimia).
Of course, our ugly duckling does turn into a swan; after winning the Miss Egypt pageant, Dalida (Sveva Alviti) relocates to Paris in the early 1950s to pursue a show biz career. While she aspires to act, her singing talent and charismatic stage presence gains her entre into the music business. She meets Radio Europe 1 producer (and future hubby) Lucien Morisse (Jean-Paul Rouve), who helps guide her into international superstardom.
After a promising start, the film falls into a predictable pattern: Dalida starts a passionate new relationship. Her lover kills himself (either while the relationship is still in progress, or a delayed reaction sometime after it fizzes). She sings a really sad song. She meets someone else. Her new lover kills himself. She sings an ever sadder song. She meets another guy. Her latest lover kills himself. She sings a song so sad…I want to kill myself.
If that was her life story, that was her life story; I understand that, and it’s very sad. But there is little else in the film that gives us a sense of who she really was. On the plus side, Dalida’s original recordings provide the soundtrack (revealing a unique juxtaposition of melancholia and pop sensibility that recalls Scott Walker). The film sports earnest performances, catchy tunes, and it has a good beat; but as a biopic…you can’t dance to it.
If you were a free-thinking musician, artist, writer, poet, filmmaker, scientist, or scholar living in or around Germany circa 1933-1945, there was a shared occupational hazard: fleeing the Nazis. Whether you were Albert Einstein or the von Trapp family, there was just something about the Third Reich that made you feel, oh, I don’t know…unwelcome?
The crushing of free thought and creative expression under fascism’s thumb has provided dramatic fodder for a number of WW2 films; some fictional (e.g. Cabaret, Mephisto, and The Last Metro), and others that are based on true stories (The Sound of Music and Julia).
The latest film to mix biopic with WW2 intrigue is Etienne Comar’s Django, which dramatizes guitarist-composer-European jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt’s escape attempt to Switzerland while living in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1943. While his talent and reputation kept him relatively “safe”, Reinhardt had a couple strikes against him. He was a free-spirited musician, and he was Sinti (the Nazis were less than kind to the Gypsies).
As the film opens Django (portrayed with verisimilitude by Reda Kateb) is in the midst of one of his legendary Paris engagements with the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Django has a patron in jazz-loving Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, aka “Doktor Jazz” (Jan Henrik Stahlberg). While on the one hand Django is well aware of the atrocities being committed against Gypsies, he is somehow able to appease the occupying Germans enough to keep his immediate family fed and out of danger while still actively engaging in his favorite extracurricular activities of drinking, gambling, and womanizing.
However, he has a sobering moment when Dr. Jazz informs him that he has arranged a tour for Django and his group, with an itinerary that includes dates in Germany. While things are still relatively loose in Paris, the closer you get to the fatherland, the more stringent the “rules”. Django is outwardly amused but obviously concerned about his possible future when he is presented with a rider for the tour that includes directives like:
“As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation […]
…so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs).”
Oy. Tough room.
So it is not surprising that when Django sees an opportunity at one of the road gigs for his family (who have accompanied him on the tour) and himself to make a break for the Swiss border in the dark of night, they go for it, providing some suspense and intrigue in the third act. Possible spoiler here, but quite curiously, there seems to be a bit of disparity between how the filmmakers portray the outcome of this escapade with the actual historical accounts (and that’s all I am prepared to say about that at this juncture...ahem).
The recreation of Reinhardt’s music (by The Rosenberg Trio) is beautifully done; if Kateb isn’t actually playing, I have to say he’s doing a wholly convincing job of miming the right notes (although “hands only” cutaways for the more intricate soloing passages suggests supplementation from a ringer). A nitpick or two aside, Comar has fashioned an absorbing (although far from complete) portrait of a fascinating musical talent whose work and innovation is ripe for rediscovery and appreciation by a new generation of fans.
[“Dalida” and “Django” are both playing at SIFF’s “French Cinema Now” festival, running through October 5th in Seattle. For tickets and further information, click here].
President Trump sent a number of tweets Saturday in response to the disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico, and in response to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz "begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying."
The big picture: He's turning the focus from his morning tweets, which earned him widespread rebuke, to claiming he's being treated unfairly.
Trump's new tweets:
"Despite the Fake News Media in conjunction with the Dems, an amazing job is being done in Puerto Rico. Great people!'
"The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, is a great guy and leader who is really working hard. Thank you Ricky!"
"Congresswoman Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico has been wonderful to deal with and a great representative of the people. Thank you!"
"To the people of Puerto Rico: Do not believe the #FakeNews! #PRStrong"
"My Administration, Governor @ricardorossello, and many others are working together to help the people of Puerto Rico in every way...#FakeNews critics are working overtime, but we're getting great marks from the people that truly matter! #PRStrong"
"We must all be united in offering assistance to everyone suffering in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the wake of this terrible disaster."
"Results of recovery efforts will speak much louder than complaints by San Juan Mayor. Doing everything we can to help great people of PR!"
Basically, he's saying that all the reporting from Puerto Rico is bullshit and everything's fine.
I guess we'll see in a few days if he's able to convince his people that's true. I'd guess they'll believe him.
My dad lives on the island. I shared the President's response with him this morning. He wanted me to share one anecdote in response. For context, my dad is helping with rebuilding right now, and has friends in the govt, elected and appointed, on the island. After I told him what the President said he went quiet and said "Wow." A second later he says "I'm gonna share one detail with you. One.There's a medical center down here, and everyone that was in the Intensive Care Unit, died. Everyone. That's just one detail."
He said that's what should be tweeted at the President @realDonaldTrump, so that's what I'm doing. Disaster response is insanely difficult. I get that. My wife has worked in the field for almost ten years. What I don't think is too much to ask is for the President to show a little compassion and grace.
Maybe that's me wanting everything to be done for me. All I know is I'm lucky my family is okay, and I can occasionally hear from my dad.
Some more Howard Stern Donald Trump tapes have recently been released and Trump is the usual pig we know him to be. This story he tells is apt considering the most recent illustration of his total lack of empathy.
He talks about a $100,000 per table charity dinner at Mar-a-lago where an 80 year old man collapsed:
So what happens is, this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head, and I thought he died. And you know what I did? I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting,’ and I turned away,” said Trump. “I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him… he’s bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible.
You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed color. Became very red. And you have this poor guy, 80 years old, laying on the floor unconscious, and all the rich people are turning away. ‘Oh my God! This is terrible! This is disgusting!’ and you know, they’re turning away. Nobody wants to help the guy. His wife is screaming—she’s sitting right next to him, and she’s screaming.”
“What happens is, these 10 Marines from the back of the room… they come running forward, they grab him, they put the blood all over the place—it’s all over their uniforms—they’re taking it, they’re swiping [it], they ran him out, they created a stretcher. They call it a human stretcher, where they put their arms out with, like, five guys on each side,” shared Trump.
“I was saying, ‘Get that blood cleaned up! It’s disgusting!’ The next day, I forgot to call [the man] to say he’s OK,” said Trump, adding of the blood, “It’s just not my thing."
He's always been glad to have a man in uniform handy to clean up the mess.
Notice how he says he felt terrible. He didn't. That's obvious.
This WSJ piece was published yesterday. It contains a bunch of interesting nuggets about the state of play in the Russia investigation and the WH response:
White House Counsel Don McGahn this summer was so frustrated about the lack of protocols surrounding meetings between President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law whose activities are under scrutiny in the Russia probe, that West Wing officials expressed concerns the top lawyer would quit, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Mr. McGahn expressed concern that meetings between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump could be construed by investigators as an effort to coordinate their stories, three people familiar the matter said.
Two senior White House officials—then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former chief strategist Steve Bannon —urged Mr. McGahn not to resign, according to people familiar with the conversations. One person characterized Mr. McGahn’s frustration as, “Fine, you’re not taking my advice? Why stay?”
Mr. McGahn stayed in the job, reassured in part by the White House’s hiring of a legal team specifically to manage the response to the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Attorney Ty Cobb was hired to lead that group.
A White House official said Mr. McGahn “did not consider resigning, and he was not concerned about any one individual. He was focused on implementing the proper processes and structures to protect the White House and its staff, including Jared.”
Mr. McGahn’s concerns from earlier in the summer illustrate the disruption and tension that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is causing in the West Wing and how the White House’s legal strategy has evolved to respond to the probe.
Some members of Mr. Trump’s legal team in June concluded Mr. Kushner should step down and aired their concerns to the president, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Their concern was that if Mr. Kushner were to speak to the president or White House colleagues about the Russia investigation, Mr. Mueller could seek testimony about what was said.
Mr. Kushner’s role has caused particular concern among some White House officials as federal investigators examine meetings he held with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, said people familiar with the matter.
Federal investigators are examining a meeting during the transition that included Mr. Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and another one that he held with the head of a Russian-run bank that has faced U.S. sanctions. Mr. Mueller is also probing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer tied to the Kremlin, which was attended by Mr. Kushner and other campaign aides, including the president’s eldest son, according to people familiar with the matter.
The fallout from the probe continues to reverberate in the White House. Mr. Trump has also spoken to aides about his concern about the effect the continuing investigation is having on Mr. Kushner; Mr. Trump’s questions about Mr. Kushner spring partly from family considerations, said people familiar with the conversations.
Before taking office, Mr. Trump had urged Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to remain in New York rather than join him in Washington. Inside the White House, he regularly repeats his view that following him put their reputations at risk, those officials said.
A person close to Mr. Trump said that “as a father, the president feels protective over his kids when they are constantly under attack, but is grateful for their continued contributions towards his agenda.”
Mr. McGahn and some other lawyers wanted a large law firm to manage the response to the probe. They advocated using Jones Day—the law firm where Mr. McGahn worked prior to entering the administration—to play an expanded role in the matter. Mr. Trump opted to keep Jones Day largely focused on representing his campaign.
Mr. McGahn still harbors some concerns about a lack of White House resources available to Mr. Cobb. One person familiar with the team’s operations expressed similar concerns, comparing Mr. Mueller’s team of prosecutors to a “killing machine,” while Mr. Cobb is armed with little more than an “accordion folder” filled with legal pads and post-it notes.
A White House official defended Mr. Cobb, saying he had not been given the resources he needed at the outset.
A veteran of the previous Republican administration said the White House typically seeks to wall off individuals involved in continuing investigations.
“Whenever you have someone who is under investigation, and that individual is having conversations with the president on a wide variety of things that may not relate to the investigation—nonetheless, it creates perception problems,” said Alberto Gonzales, who served as White House counsel and later attorney general under former Republican President George W. Bush. “Someone may slip up and say something that relates to the investigation. You really want to minimize direct contact between someone that’s involved in an investigation and the president of the United States.”
Mr. McGahn, one of Mr. Trump’s closest confidants dating back to the campaign, has on multiple occasions had heated conversations with the president in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Kushner, who holds an elite perch as a top adviser working a few paces from the Oval Office, continues to oversee a sweeping policy portfolio that includes Middle East peace and government efficiencies.
I love that Trump wanted to keep Jones Day focused on his "campaign" rather than hiring them to deal with the existential threat of this Russia probe. He's in major denial.
Meanwhile, this piece in Vanity Fair discusses the dilemma Mueller faces in whether it makes sense to go ahead with the obstruction charge before he's able to nail down the underlying crime. I don't have a legal opinion on that but I think it makes political sense to first prove the underlying crime if they think it really exists. Since the congress is so dysfunctional that it can't quickly and thoroughly work on a bipartisan basis to uncover the how and why this was done and try to set up processes to prevent it from happening again, this probe seems to be the only hope we have for getting to the truth of what happened.
Trump pretty obviously obstructed justice. He admitted it on TV and has done numerous things since then to show that he was leaning on various officials to illegally shut down the probe. What we don't know is if he was covering up his crimes or if he was just annoyed that he was having to deal with the questions and since he believes he's a king rather than a democratically elected official subject to the rule of law, he figured he could just order the government to do his bidding.
Not that it should matter. He's obviously way out of bounds whatever his motives. But considering the seriousness of the underlying issue I would hope that the Special Prosecutor will do everything in his power to unravel what happened in the election whether it indicts Trump or not. He was clearly unfit for office regardless of Russian interference and people voted for him anyway. That's on the American electorate not him.
[Trump's] Twitter outburst this morning — as he has left Washington on another trip to one of his golf courses, as millions of U.S. citizens are without water or electricity after the historic devastation of Hurricane Maria, as by chance it is also Yom Kippur — deserves note. It is a significant step downward for him, and perhaps the first thing he has done in office that, in its coarseness, has actually surprised me. (I explained the difference, for me, between shock and surprise when it comes to Trump, in this item last week.) Temperamentally, intellectually, and in terms of civic and moral imagination, he is not fit for the duties he is now supposed to bear.
His first tweet, at the top of this item, dramatized his inability to conceive of any event, glorious or tragic, in terms other than what it means about him. People are dying in Puerto Rico; they have lost their homes and farms; children and the elderly are in danger. And what he sees is, “nasty to Trump.”
That was followed by:
This is an outright attack on the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, whose passionate appeals for her people would evoke compassion and support from any normal person — and from other politicians would stimulate at least a public stance of sympathy. I can think of no other example of a president publicly demeaning American officials in the middle of coping with disaster. There were nasty “God’s punishment!” remarks about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, but they did not come from the White House or George W. Bush.
Want “everything to be done for them.” It is impossible to tell whether this is a conscious racist dog-whistle by Trump—these people! always looking for a handout—or whether it is instinctive. Either way, it is something that no other modern president would have said in public, and that no one who understood the duties of the office could have done.
A man who can say these things—from a golf course, while millions of his fellow citizens are in dire straits, and during an emergency that is worse because of his own narcissistic inattention—does not understand the job.
This has not happened before. It is not normal. It should not be acceptable. The United States is a big, resilient country, but a man like this can do severe damage to it and the world — and at the moment, he is leaving many Americans in mortal peril.
During the campaign, I argued that the greatest responsibility for Trump’s rise lay not with the man himself—he is who he is, he can’t help it—but with those Republicans who know what he is, and continue to look the other way. Their responsibility for the carnage of this era increases by the day, and has grown by quite a lot this weekend.
As it happens, I wrote that preceding paragraph a week ago. The Republicans’ responsibility is all the graver now, and deepens by the day.
Trump's mind is organized around two things: taking credit for things he did not do and blaming others for the things he did.
He's a racist imbecile and he's been caught. Again.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria were devastating. Category 5 Irma tore off roofs and took out power and stripped the trees bare in the Virgin Islands. It killed power in most of Puerto Rico. Irma hit Florida as a Category 4 storm, ripping up the length of Florida. Category 4 Maria destroyed homes across Puerto Rico and finished destroying the power grid. Weeks earlier, Harvey hovered over Houston for days, dumping 50 inches of rain and creating unprecedented flooding.
Hurricane Don might be the worst yet. Don threatens to hover over the U.S. and dump on us for another three and a half years. The day after Maria brought apocalyptic devastation to Puerto Rico, Don left for his golf resort in New Jersey:
Power is still down in Puerto Rico for those without generators and the fuel to run them. Clean water is scarce. Neither food nor water are reaching Americans desperate for it. Puerto Ricans cannot drive over to a neighboring state for a clean bed, a hot shower, and a filling meal. Response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was swifter. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has had enough of the meager response from Washington.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked people to register online where there is no power or Internet. Cruz on Friday publicly demanded FEMA figure it out and improvise:
"If you register for FEMA on the Internet, you're OK. Well, we don't have any Internet. We barely have phones. We don't have power anywhere... this is not standard operating procedure. Everything has just gone away so you have to improvise," she said.
Trump said things in Puerto Rico are going "really well."
The reality-show president responded to the deepening crisis Friday by heading to his Bedminster, N.J. golf resort for the weekend, marking the 66th time he has visited one of his 17 golf courses in his presidency. That is beyond tone deaf. It is brain dead.
In Puerto Rico, people are drinking out of creeks, San Juan's mayor reported. The island's agricultural sector — family farms, mostly — has been growing at 3 to 5 percent per year, reports Business Insider. Now crops are drowned and farms destroyed. Dead horses and farm animals rot where they fell. [BI Gallery.]
Aid workers have warned that recovery efforts in Puerto Rico could take years due to extensive damage to the island’s agriculture and the downing of 2,400 miles of power transmission lines. One local official said that the devastation may have set the island back “nearly 20 to 30 years.”
This president doesn't have an attention span of 20-30 minutes.
Cruz used the news conference to ask U.S. citizens to send help and requested that news reporters send a “mayday” emergency call to the world.
“I know your hearts. You’re loving and caring. Help us. Show the world what we can do together,” she said.
The videos above were from yesterday. This one below was posted Tuesday, September 26, the morning after the duffer in D.C. broke his silence about Maria's September 20 devastation of a U.S. territory:
Trump administration lawyers are demanding the private account information of potentially thousands of Facebook users in three separate search warrants served on the social media giant, according to court documents obtained by CNN.
The warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users who are described by their attorneys as "anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration's policies."
One of those users, Emmelia Talarico, operated the disruptj20 page where Inauguration Day protests were organized and discussed; the page was visited by an estimated 6,000 users whose identities the government would have access to if Facebook hands over the information sought in the search warrants. In court filings, Talarico says if her account information was given to the government, officials would have access to her "personal passwords, security questions and answers, and credit card information," plus "the private lists of invitees and attendees to multiple political events sponsored by the page."
The president of the United States has been repeatedly blaming the biggest legislative failure of his administration on a senator in a made-up hospital, and no one in the White House is quite sure why.
Starting Wednesday, President Donald Trump has insisted seven times, in public comments to reporters and via his Twitter account, that Republicans failed to deliver on his campaign promise to tank Obamacare because “you can’t do it when somebody is in the hospital.”
That somebody—“one senator” who is a “great” guy, Trump says—is Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), who is not in the hospital. Cochran and his office were forced to clarify this repeatedly. The senator himself tweeted: “I’m not hospitalized, but am recuperating at home in Mississippi and look forward to returning to work soon.”
And yet, Trump continued to make this excuse, most recently on a Thursday morning broadcast of his latest Fox & Friends interview.
“Oh, Pete, the health care bill didn’t go down,” Trump told Pete Hegseth, the Fox News interviewer. “We have the votes, but reconciliation is a disaster... We don’t have enough time because we have one senator who’s a ‘yes’ vote―a great person―but he’s in the hospital.”
White House officials could not quite rationalize why President Trump keeps promoting the bizarre claim. One senior Trump aide told The Daily Beast that the president was “just, you know, doing his thing,” in riffing on a topic and reiterating a false claim to which he feels attached. Another said the media was engaged in hair-splitting to ding the president. But when The Daily Beast emphasized that the failure of the repeal effort had nothing to do with a sick lawmaker, the official did not respond.
Another White House official, however, did, only to sarcastically reply: “tax reform going great.”
Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about a fake hospital.
Trump’s lie about Cochran isn’t the first time that he has left his aides completely baffled by their boss’ wild assertions or conspiracy-theorizing. And, as in the past, this one left Trump’s public defenders in tough spots.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not address The Daily Beast’s repeated emails on the subject Thursday morning. But during the afternoon’s White House press briefing, she insisted that it was the administration’s “understanding” that “the senator was physically unable to be here this week.” She also insisted that Trump has been saying “in the hospital” as shorthand for “physically unable to be here” in Washington, D.C.
But Sanders also repeated the incorrect talking point that the White House has “the votes on the substance” of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act—just not the process or the bill itself.
That's ridiculous too.
Trump didn't have any public appearances yesterday. Nobody knows why. He didn't even bother to attend the swearing in of the new FBI director.
President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser — Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president worth an estimated $266 million — appears to be completely clueless about what the average American family spends on a car, vacation or home improvement project.
“If we allow a family to keep another thousand dollars of their income, what does that mean?” he asked. “They can renovate their kitchen. They can buy a new car. They can take a family vacation. They can increase their lifestyle.”
First of all the median income is around 55,000. So people making 100k a year are not poor.
But then Gary Cohn is a multi-millionaire who is completely clueless just like his boss. These people think that a thousand dollars a year will change everything for someone who makes 100k because in their minds 100k is poverty level and cars only cost a thousand dollars.
By the way, in case you heard something exciting about the doubling of the standard deduction, think again. It's a bait and switch. They are combining the $6350 standard deduction and the $4,050 personal exemption. The combination of those two deductions today is $10,400. They aren't telling anyone that they are eliminating the personal exemption and are instead are calling the new "standard deduction" double at 12,000. That means people are really only going to get an additional 1600 dollars in deductions, not twice as much as they got before. That money is taxed at between 10 and 15% so the total savings for the average person taking the standard deduction will be $160 -$240 a year.
Of course Gary Cohn probably thinks that $240.00 buys a years worth of food for the average family so in their minds it's quite generous.
Regarding acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke’s vacuous comment that the Hurricane Maria relief efforts are a “good news story":
“Well, maybe from where she’s standing, it’s a good news story. When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings — I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me. You know, I would ask her to come down here and visit the towns, and then make a statement like that, which frankly, it is an irresponsible statement.”
“Damn it, this is not a good-news story. This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story. This is a 'there's-a-truck-load-of-stuff-that-cannot-be-taken-to-people story.' This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water,” she continued. “It is not a good-news story when people are dying, when they don't have dialysis, when their generators aren't working and their oxygen isn’t providing for them. Where is there good news here? ... I’m really sorry, but you know when you have people out there dying, literally, scraping for food, where is the good news?”
Meanwhile, here's the president of the United States this morning:
...The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!
There have been many postmortems about the Alabama Senate primary runoff last Tuesday, mostly focusing on what its result tells us about Donald Trump and whether it affects Mitch McConnell's future. These are good questions, since the candidate endorsed by Trump and McConnell lost to a deranged theocrat considered to be so extreme that even the National Rifle Association dropped nearly a million dollars' worth of ads to try to defeat him. How can it be that a man who was opposed by just about everyone in the Republican Party won the Republican nomination in the most Republican state in the country?
One way of looking at this result is to simply note that President Trump didn't back the Trumper candidate. In a rare moment of party comity, Trump agreed to help out Mitch McConnell and endorse the establishment's chosen candidate, appointed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, against the wishes of Trump's revolutionary wingman Steve Bannon. Trump was either convinced by his advisers and the party poobahs that wild man Roy Moore couldn't win and he needed to back the winner or that Moore was nuts and Trump needed to pull Strange over the goal line with his massive popularity. Whatever the reasoning, Trump seemed to understand that he'd backed a dud when he mused out loud at his big rally for Strange last Friday night, "Maybe I've made a mistake."
One can easily understand why so many Republicans from all factions of the party wanted to keep Judge Roy Moore out of the United States Senate. He is a notorious political figure from the most extreme corner of the religious right, who was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to enforce the rule of law. First it was for refusing to remove a 10 Commandments monument from the courthouse and then it was for ordering the state to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore is a vocal birther who believes that sharia law is being enacted in states around the nation and claimed that Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota should not be allowed to serve in Congress because he is a Muslim. Not only did he refuse to honor the Supreme Court's order legalizing gay marriage, he thinks homosexual conduct should be outlawed. He has said that the 9/11 attacks and the Newtown mass shooting occurred because God was upset that we "legitimize sodomy” and “legitimize abortion.”
In other words, Moore is exactly the kind of fringe candidate that caused the Republicans to fail to win the Senate back in 2010 and 2012 after running kooks like Todd "legitimate rape" Akin and Sharron "Second Amendment remedies" Angle. As a leaked GOP memo about the Alabama race that was circulated among donors pointed out, the party leadership thought it had purged the self-destructive Tea Party impulse by running more mainstream candidates in 2014 and 2016 and winning the majority. Apparently you can't put that genie back in the bottle.
Charlie Sykes, a Trump critic and former right-wing radio host, pointed out in Time magazine this week that the right has been dealing with a strong strain of "crackpottery" for many decades. and it's true. The modern conservative movement was hatched in the McCarthy era, after all, and the Republican party has been dealing with one group of flakes after another ever since, from the gold bugs to the theocrats to the gun nuts and sovereign citizens and more. It's in the GOP DNA. Until recently, party leaders were able to skillfully exploit the prejudices and paranoia of those factions of their base, while keeping a lid on the worst excesses most of the time and maintaining a somewhat respectable reputation.
But talk radio changed everything and, along with Fox News and the newer online media platforms, has radicalized the grassroots. Starting in the '90s, the Republican Party began to lose control of its own supposed constituency. Sykes quotes a fellow apostate in explaining his own epiphany:
Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, tried to diagnose the mindset of the Tea Party voters when he told the Washington Examiner, "I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans." Massie continued, "But after some soul-searching, I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron [Paul] and me in these primaries, they weren't voting for libertarian ideas. They were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class."
Roy Moore, like fellow birther Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is likely to become a close pal of the president if he wins the election. He's Trump's kind of guy, a card-carrying kook. Trump isn't likely to make the same mistake again and will be backing the extremists from now on. He may not know much about politics, but he knows his base.
The political press generally saw this campaign as a test of Steve Bannon's political clout versus the president's, and Bannon's "win" as a high-profile Moore booster has them swooning. According to the New York Times, Bannon and his billionaire benefactors Robert and Rebekah Mercer are planning to run primaries against incumbent Republicans in order to "drain the swamp" and "blow up the establishment." If this feels like déjà vu all over again, that's understandable. Just a few years ago, the billionaire Koch brothers decided to do the same thing and financed the Tea Party movement. The philosophical goals are different -- the Kochs are pro-business libertarians and the Mercers are eccentrics who want to usurp the establishment -- but the process is the same.
The result for the Republican Party is likely to be what Sykes describes as "an endless feedback loop as it tries with diminishing success to placate its most bombastic voices. The most obvious consequence is their inability (so far) to legislate." Longer term, the party seems to be headed for the long-awaited crack-up.
The GOP stuck together to vote for Donald Trump despite the misgivings of many more mainstream Republican voters. They are party loyalists and simply couldn't imagine themselves voting for a Democrat, especially not the hated Hillary Clinton. Those voters aren't the ones who will get fed up and leave. It's far more likely that if the party finally splits it will be the people who want to vote for "the craziest son of a bitch in the race" who will go their own way. That's not how Steve Bannon originally envisioned blowing up the establishment, but it could achieve his goal anyway.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) flies from Chicago to San Juan this morning to survey the damage and hurricane relief efforts.
"I won’t sit back and watch TV as another crisis like Katrina in New Orleans unfolds," he said in a press release. "These are our people and they need our help right now.”
Disaster relief for Puerto Rico has been, shall we say, slow. So, it's fair to ask why:
"I think it’s a fair ask why we’re not seeing a similar command and response,” said retired Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen, the three-star general who commanded the U.S. military effort in Haiti, where 200,000 people died by some estimates. “The morning after, the president said we were going to respond in Port-au-Prince ... robustly and immediately, and that gave the whole government clarity of purpose.”
Clarity is not exactly the sitting president's métier. But since the lieutenant general asked, perhaps it is because disaster capitalists hot to snap up devalued Caribbean real estate for a song from desperate Americans who've lost everything simply don't want them helped.
Does having no evidence to support that allegation make me sound presidential?
Paul Krugman doubts there is cynical calculation behind the tepid relief for Puerto Rico. The reality-show president is simply a "massively self-centered individual who can’t bring himself to focus on other people’s needs, even when that’s the core of his job." Others' suffering is simply not his concern. Perhaps.
The same is true, Krugman writes, with the administration's sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. They're not even being coy about their efforts to undermine it.
Why are the Trumpists doing this? Is it a cynical calculation — make the A.C.A. fail, then claim that it was already doomed? I doubt it. For one thing, we’re not talking about people known for deep strategic calculations. For another, the A.C.A. won’t actually collapse; it will just become a program more focused on sicker, poorer Americans — and the political opposition to repeal won’t go away. Finally, when the bad news comes in, everyone will know whom to blame.
That's wrong. For one, the sitting president clearly means to undo everything his pedecessor, the Kenyan Pretender, accomplished.
But as I frequently observe, conservatives in power, even this crew in the White House, never do anything that is not at least a twofer. If there's a disaster, they smell profit. If their opponents achieve something, it must be destroyed ... at a profit. Not-for-profit public expenditures are a crime against capitalism, unless they profit the right people and strengthen one's grip on power. Power is the lens through which the president and his allies view the world. Money is its proxy. "Freedom" is its guise.
Assaults on labor both profit the business class and erode the political base for Democrats. Privatization of public assets in red states profits the business class and politically weaken cities (where the largest blocks of blue votes are). When the financial crises comes for blue cities, conservative legislators are counting on the public not remembering whom to blame, and that they'll accept it was "Democrat" mismanagement.
Profiting politically and financially from natural disasters and victims' suffering? Waste not, want not.
It is one way of looking at the world. The scavenger's way. The predator's way. There are plenty of animals that are successful at it in evolutionary terms. But it is not the only way and, I'd argue, not the American way.
Oddly enough, an insurance company has begun pointing to interdependence as a more human and humane alternative:
"But there's another way to live -- a way that sees the only path to fulfillment is through others, that our time here can be deep beyond measure ... What the world taught as weakness, is in fact, our greatest virtue."
I wonder do they really believe it, or just think it's good marketing?
* * * * * * * *
Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.
One of President Trump’s judicial nominees became something of a hero to religious conservatives after she was grilled at a Senate hearing this month over whether her Roman Catholic faith would influence her decisions on the bench.
The nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor up for an appeals court seat, had raised the issue herself in articles and speeches over the years. The Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee zeroed in on her writings, and in the process prompted accusations that they were engaged in religious bigotry...
Ms. Barrett told the senators that she was a faithful Catholic, and that her religious beliefs would not affect her decisions as an appellate judge. But her membership in a small, tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise never came up at the hearing, and might have led to even more intense questioning.
Some of the group’s practices would surprise many faithful Catholics. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.
Read the whole thing.
*Update: according to an informant, the book was, in fact, based on a real-life sect where the women were called "handmaids." tristero 9/29/2017 05:30:00 AM
Thursday, September 28, 2017
The wind took everything
In a Puerto Rican Village: ‘The Wind Came and Took Everything’
In a village fifteen minutes from the capital of Puerto Rico, residents sit amid the rubble that was once their homes.
A little something to add to the election postmortems
Standard disclaimer: Hillary Clinton's popular vote winning campaign was the worst in the history of politics. Having said that, this would seem to be an important bit of information to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of various strategies in 2016:
Millions of tweets were flying furiously in the final days leading up to the 2016 US presidential election. And in closely fought battleground states that would prove key to Donald Trump’s victory, they were more likely than elsewhere in America to be spreading links to fake news and hyperpoliticized content from Russian sources and WikiLeaks, according to new research published Thursday by Oxford University.
Nationwide during this period, one polarizing story was typically shared on average for every one story produced by a professional news organization. However, fake news from Twitter reached higher concentrations than the national average in 27 states, 12 of which were swing states—including Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan, where Trump won by slim margins.
While it’s unclear what effect such content ultimately had on voters, the new study only deepens concerns about how the 2016 election may have been tweaked by nefarious forces on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. “Many people use these platforms to find news and information that shapes their political identities and voting behavior,” says Samantha Bradshaw, a lead researcher for Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project, which has been tracking disinformation strategies around the world since 2014. “If bad actors can lower the quality of information, they are diminishing the quality of democracy.”
Efforts by Vladimir Putin’s regime were among the polarizing content captured in the new Oxford study. “We know the Russians have literally invested in social media,” Bradshaw told Mother Jones, referring to reports of Russian-bought Facebook ads as well as sophisticated training of Russian disinformation workers detailed in another recent study by the team. “Swing states would be the ones you would want to target.”
The dubious Twitter content also contained YouTube videos—including some produced by the Kremlin-controlled RT network, which were uploaded without any information identifying them as Russian-produced.
The dubious Twitter content in the new study also contained polarizing YouTube videos–including some produced by the Kremlin-controlled RT network, which were uploaded without any information identifying them as Russian-produced. All the YouTube videos have since been taken down, according to Bradshaw; it’s unclear whether the accounts were deleted by the users, or if YouTube removed the content.
The Oxford researchers captured 22 million tweets from November 1 to November 11 in 2016, and they have been scrutinizing the dataset to better understand the impact of disinformation on the US election. The team has also analyzed propaganda operations in more than two dozen countries, using a combination of reports from trusted media sources and think tanks, and cross-checking that information with experts on the ground. Their recent research has additional revelations about how disinformation works in the social-media age, including from Moscow.
I have been hearing people on TV saying that this was really an attempt to sow discord in our democracy. That may be true. But they only seemed to want to sow discord on the left. There is no evidence that they ever bought any ads or launched any campaigns for "Never Trump."
“I have so many friends that are owners. And they’re in a box. I mean, I’ve spoken to a couple of them. They say, ‘We are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth, and I think it's disgraceful. And they’ve got to be tough and they’ve got to be smart.”
That's the language he uses when he talks about terrorists.
This is what Trump and the Republicans are spending all their time talking about and the media is covering while there is a humanitarian crisis for millions of Americans unfolding in real time:
1) A straight-up tax cut for the rich. The top tax rate in the United States is 39.6 percent. Trump and GOP leaders propose lowering that to 35 percent. It's also worth noting the 39.6 percent tax rate applies only to income above $418,400 for singles and $470,700 for married couples. The outline doesn't specify what income level the new 35 percent rate would kick in at. It's possible the rich will get an every bigger tax cut if the final plan raises that threshold.
2) The estate tax goes bye-bye. Trump likes to call the estate tax the “death tax.” At the moment, Americans who pass money, homes or other assets on to heirs when they die pay a 40 percent tax. But here's the important part Trump leaves out: The only people who have to pay this tax are those passing on more than $5.49 million. (And a married couple can inherit nearly $11 million without paying the tax.)
Trump frequently claims the estate tax hurts farmers and small-business owners. But as The Post's Fact Checker team points out, only 5,500 estates will pay any estate tax at all in 2017 (out of about 3 million estates). And of those 5,500 hit with the tax, only 80 (yes, you read that right) are farms or small businesses.
3) Hedge funds and lawyers get a special tax break. The plan calls for the tax rate on “pass-through entities” to fall from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Republicans claim this is a tax break for small-business owners because “pass-through entities” is an umbrella term that covers the ways most people set up businesses: sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations. But the reality is, most small-business owners (more than 85 percent) already pay a tax rate of 25 percent or less, according to the Brookings Institution.
Only 3 percent pay a rate greater than 30 percent. That 3 percent includes doctors, lawyers, hedge fund managers and other really well-off people. Instead of paying a 35 percent income tax, these rich business owners would be able to pass off their income as business income and pay only a 25 percent tax rate. (The tax outline released Wednesday “contemplates” that Congress “will adopt measures to prevent” this kind of tax dodging. But there's no guarantee that will happen).
4) The AMT is over. Republicans want to kill the alternative minimum tax, a measure put in place in 1969 to ensure the wealthy aren't using a bunch of loopholes and credits to lower their tax bills to paltry sums. The AMT starts to phase in for people with earnings of about $130,000, but the vast majority of people subject to the AMT earn over $500,000, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Trump himself would benefit from repealing the AMT. As The Post's Fact Checker team notes, Trump's leaked tax return from 2005 shows that the AMT increased his tax bill from about $5.3 million to $36.5 million. In 2005 alone, he potentially could have saved $31 million.
5) The wealthy get to keep deducting mortgage interest. Only about 1 in 4 taxpayers claims the mortgage interest deduction, the Brookings Institution says. “Upper-income households primarily benefit from the subsidy,” wrote Brookings scholar Bruce Katz in a report last year. In fact, the wealthy can deduct up to $1 million in mortgage interest every year. There have been many calls over the years to lower that threshold, but the Trump tax plan is keeping it in place.
The GOP is doing this even though the tax cuts would add to the United States' debt, since it doesn't raise enough revenue to offset all the money lost from the new tax breaks. The outline also calls for the charitable deduction to stay, another deduction used heavily by the top 1 percent.
6) Stockholders are going to be very happy. Trump is calling for a super-low tax rate on the money big businesses such as Apple and Microsoft bring back to the United States from overseas, a process known as “repatriation.” Trump argues companies will use all this money coming home to build new U.S. factories. But the last time the United States did this, in the early 2000s, it ended up being a big win for people who own stocks. Companies simply took most of the money and gave it to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buybacks.
Guess what? Just about everyone (outside the White House) predicts the same thing will happen again. Corporations are even admitting it.
7) The favorite tax break of hedge fund billionaires is still safe. There's no mention in the tax-overhaul rubric of “carried interest.” Those two words make most people's eyes glaze over, but they are a well-known tax-dodging trick for millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street. Hedge fund and private-equity managers earn most of their money from their investments doing well. But instead of paying income taxes on all that money at a rate of 39.6 percent, the managers are able to claim it as “carried interest” so they can pay tax at the low capital gains rate of 20 percent.
Trump called this totally unfair on the campaign trail. During the primaries, he said he would eliminate this loophole because hedge fund managers were “getting away with murder.” But that change didn't end up in the GOP plan.
8) Capital gains taxes stay low. The nine-page document also says nothing about capital gains, the tax rate people pay when they finally sell a stock or asset after holding on to it for many years. At the moment, the wealthiest Americans pay a 20 percent capital gains rate. Trump and Republican leaders aren't proposing any changes to that, even though it is a popular way for millionaires to lower their tax bill.
9) The Obamacare investment tax goes away. The Affordable Care Act put in place a 3.8 percent surcharge on investment income (known formally as the Net Investment Income Tax). It applies only to individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and married couples earning more than $250,000. There's no mention of this tax in the outline released this week, but Republicans clearly want to get rid of it. Repealing it was part of the GOP health-care bills that failed to pass Congress in recent weeks. One way or another, Republicans are likely to roll back this tax.
When reporters asked Trump whether the tax plan would help him personally, he quickly said no.
“No, I don’t benefit. I don’t benefit,” Trump said. “In fact, very, very strongly, as you see, I think there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.”
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), who was part of the team that worked with the White House to craft the tax-overhaul outline, was asked a similar question on Fox News. He, too, said this plan does little to help the rich.
“I think those who benefit most are middle-class families struggling to keep every dollar they earn,” Brady told Fox News.
But one look at this plan tells a very different story. It gives an outright tax cut to the wealthiest Americans and it preserves almost all of the most popular loopholes they use to reduce their tax bills.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), a strong proponent of tax cuts, was more straightforward this week. He told reporters, “This is a supply-side approach,” another way of saying trickle-down economics.
He's lying but that's not even necessary to mention, is it? Of course he will benefit.
People evacuated by the U.S. from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico must sign promissory notes ensuring they fully repay transportation costs to the Defense Department, according to the State Department.
Evacuees from Dominica and other countries hit by the hurricanes also must sign the promissory notes, though their repayments would go through the State Department.
The notes fall under a longstanding but discretionary policy meant to ensure that evacuees pay transportation costs, which are based on “the price of the last commercial one-way, full-fare (not discounted) economy ticket prior to the crisis.”
Marketwatch first reported that the evacuees from Puerto Rico were required to put up the promissory notes.
It is unclear how many people have been evacuated on military flights from Puerto Rico, which has been hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the last three weeks.
A State Department source said 225 people had been evacuated from Dominica. The source confirmed there had been evacuees from Puerto Rico, but could not provide a number.
According to the State Department's website, the policy applies to all evacuees who boarded U.S. government aircraft or other vehicles to evacuate.
It's possible that promissory notes could be waived.
Some promissory notes for people evacuated from Dominica were waived due to medical emergencies, for example, a State Department spokesman said.
It's not clear if any waivers have been issued for evacuees from Puerto Rico, who would be overseen by the Department of Defense.
People who sign the promissory notes are effectively taking out a loan from the U.S. government. The loans, according to State's website, are managed "by the Comptroller and Global Financial Services office in Charleston, South Carolina."
A note on the State Department's website says that due to "ongoing emergencies," State is not accepting repayments on the loans right now.
"Currently, loan repayments cannot be completed due to ongoing emergencies in the region. We will update travel.state.gov/evacuate as soon as repayments can be made," the State Department says.
Limits are placed on the passports of evacuees who sign the notes, the State Department's website says.
“Upon evacuation, a Department of State official must limit an evacuee’s passport. In order to obtain a new passport, an evacuee must arrange payment as agreed upon via the promissory note," the website reads.
The Trump administration has faced criticism from Democrats about the pace of relief efforts in Puerto Rico. The island is without power, and many of the territory's 3.4 million inhabitants are without clean drinking water.
Trump has vowed that his administration would receive high marks for Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
“We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico,” Trump said Tuesday. “But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”
Trump on Thursday [finally]mlifted shipping restrictions on relief efforts to Puerto Rico, allowing non-U.S. owned and crewed ships to deliver aid to the island.
Goldman Sachs millionaire is on TV right now pimping his tax cut plan. All the networks are covering it.
Trump may be mad at Price but it isn't because he hates "waste"
So fiscal conservative HHS secretary Tom Price gouged the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars using private planes to fly around the country like he's Donald Trump or something. He may not last. Trump said he wasn't happy about it.
But that's not why he won't last. Trump was lying. He is mad at Price but not because of the travel. That's just and excuse for him to go, if he does.
Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price is, to put it mildly, not having a great week. The failure of Republicans' repeal-and-replace effort, coupled with the ongoing reporting about the private flights he took on taxpayers' dime, has weakened his stature within the Trump administration.
A source who has watched President Trump and Price interact at length told my colleague Jonathan Swan that Price burned his credibility when health care failed to get across the finish line in Congress.
Early in the administration, Trump, House and Senate leaders, Price and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus met in the Roosevelt Room to discuss health care. Trump asked whether a deal would pass, and both Priebus and Price emphatically said "yes."
The two have never really gelled, Swan's sources tell him. Price is wonky, and Trump seems to endure their meetings more than enjoy them.
So, it's really that Price failed to give Trump his repeal bill like he promised. And I would guess that
I'm hearing major NY Times reporters say that the president really hates waste and he won't stand for it. I'm sure he likes that very much. And others are saying that this doesn't present the image Trump wants to present of a populist leader of working people and the striving middle class. One of them even mentioned that he gives up his yearly salary.
That would be Trump, the guy who has a gold plated apartment in a gold plated tower in the middle of Manhattan, is married to a super model and travels at taxpayer expense every week-end to one of his many golf resorts for which he pockets the cash from every member. That would be the president who refused to release his tax returns or divest himself of his international business which is going strong selling the name of the president of the United States all over the world.
This would be the man who was still doing deal with Russia as he ran for president of the United States.
That's the guy these elite reporters are telling is worried about his "populist" image because he "doesn't like waste."
Saying he needs to “raise the alarm” about Puerto Rico’s dire straits, Sen. Marco Rubio told the White House on Tuesday that the federal government needs to take over recovery efforts on the island quickly to prevent a Hurricane “Katrina-style” disaster in the U.S. territory.
“This has the potential of being a serious humanitarian crisis in a U.S. territory impacting United States citizens,” Rubio told POLITICO on Tuesday before delivering a similar message in a face-to-face meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. “There’s going to have to be a lot more hands-on federal engagement for us to be able to successfully carry out the mission.”
Rubio was not the only one to evoke the government's disastrous response to Katrina back in 2005. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said this:
The response has been anemic. Back when we had Katrina I said at a news conference that God would not be pleased with our response. And God would certainly not be pleased with this response.
Last Sunday Hillary Clinton tweeted this:
President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens
The administration belatedly announced two days later that they were sending the Comfort, a hospital ship. It leaves four days from now and will take another five days to get there.
Over the weekend, Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, gave numerous interviews saying he hoped the government would send more than the bare minimum of help, even as he thanked FEMA and the military. On Monday the mayor of San Juan, the island territory's capital, tearfully begged for more assistance, saying that a humanitarian crisis was unfolding before our eyes.
Meanwhile, in between obsessing about NFL players protesting police brutality and insulting John McCain for refusing to vote for the latest Obamacare repeal bill, the president grudgingly tweeted about Puerto Rico, apparently suggesting that the island's debt problems had to be "dealt with" as a condition of disaster aid. On Monday he held a press conference with the Spanish president in which he claimed that Puerto Rican officials were telling "anyone who will listen" what a great job Donald Trump was doing:
[A] massive effort is underway, and we have been really treated very, very nicely by the governor and by everybody else. They know how hard we're working and what a good job we're doing. As Gov. Rosselló just told me this morning, the entire federal workforce is doing great work in Puerto Rico, and I appreciated his saying it. And he's saying it to anybody that will listen.
When asked for follow-up, Trump helpfully explained that Puerto Rico is "an island sitting in the middle of an ocean," which for some reason made it "tough" to get supplies there. But the main thrust of his comments was what a great job he was doing:
The governor of Puerto Rico is so thankful for the great job that we're doing. . . . The governor said we are doing a great job. . . . We have had tremendous reviews from government officials . . . and this morning, the governor made incredible statements about how well we're doing. . . . So everybody has said it's amazing the job that we've done in Puerto Rico, we're very proud of it. . . . I think we've done a really good job . . . and we are going to do far more than anybody else would ever be able to do and it's being recognized as such.
George W. Bush was vilified in the wake of Katrina for saying eight words that captured his obliviousness to the depth of devastation and horror: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." He was of course speaking to his hapless FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned shortly thereafter. Bush's approval ratings never recovered. Those words will forever be part of his legacy of failure.
Bush had been on a fundraising trip and was photographed with John McCain and a birthday cake while New Orleans was underwater and people were stranded on rooftops. It was seen as a political truism that no president could ever be caught short that way again. Trump had seemed to understand that lesson when Harvey and Irma hit, and although he is terrible at any aspect of the job that requires empathy or personal interaction with strangers, he and Melania dressed up in some casual gear and flew down to the disaster area to be photographed pretending to give a damn. It even boosted his lousy poll numbers a bit.
With Puerto Rico, other than to insist that everyone is incredibly impressed with what a terrific, fabulous, amazing job he is doing, he isn't even trying. For some reason, he doesn't seem to think the American people will hold it against him the way they held it against Bush when an American city drowned before their eyes.
That's the rub, isn't it? Donald Trump has never acknowledged that the 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. He talks about how far away the island is and how big the ocean is that separates us. He never mentions that it's part of our country. As Amy Davidson Sorkin in the New Yorker put it, "instead of emphasizing that closeness, or a sense of mutual obligation, Trump has, so far, focused on how different Puerto Rico is, and what its people owe him, which is, above all, their gratitude."
Trump must not have heard Gov. Rosselló when he said:
We are U.S. citizens that just a few weeks ago went to the aid of other U.S. citizens even as we’re going through our fiscal downturn and as we were hit by another storm. Now, we’ve been essentially devastated. Complete destruction of the power infrastructure, severe destruction of the housing infrastructure; food and water are needed. My petition is that we were there once for our brothers and sisters, our other U.S. citizens, now it’s time that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are taken care of adequately, properly.
I suspect that if the president were to focus on the job at hand instead of worrying about NFL ratings and his imaginary tax cut plan, if he were to address the American people with exactly that message, most Americans would rally to their fellow citizens.
Unfortunately, all we're getting so far is "Trumpie, you're doing a heck of a job." It remains to be seen if he will be held to account for this callous and shocking behavior or if this is yet another norm Donald Trump has blown to smithereens. Only 3.5 million lives hang in the balance.