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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, March 31, 2018

I did not see that coming: Top 10 April fools flicks

By Dennis Hartley

I know. April Fool’s Day is tomorrow. But then again, in the grand scheme of things, does that really matter? What is reality, anyway? Besides, this piece is about film, which is scant more than a “ribbon of dreams” (to quote Orson Welles) to begin with. Last April Fool’s, I picked my top 10 mockumentaries in honor of the holiday. So with that in mind, I’ve curated my top 10 narrative films wherein the characters, the viewer, or both are fooled, conned, surprised, or shockingly betrayed. Or was it all a dream…or a living nightmare? Maybe the protagonist is really d- …oops, spoiler alert! In alphabetical order:

Carny – This character study/road movie/romantic triangle is an oddball affair (Freaks meets Toby Tyler in Nightmare Alley) yet one of my favorite 1980s sleepers. Set in the seedy milieu of a traveling carnival, it stars the Band’s Robbie Robertson as the manager, Gary Busey as his pal (a dunk tank clown) and Jodie Foster as a teenage runaway who gets swept into their world of con games and hustling.

The story is elevated above its inherent sleaze by the excellent performances. Busey's work in this film is a reminder that at one time, he was one of the most promising young actors around (at least up until the unfortunate motorcycle mishap). Director/co-writer Robert Kaylor also showed promise, but has an enigmatic resume; a film in 1970, one in 1971, Carny in 1980, a nondescript Chad Lowe vehicle in 1989, then…he’s off the radar.

Certified Copy – Just as you’re lulled into thinking this is going to be one of those brainy, talky, yet pleasantly diverting romantic romps where you and your date can amuse yourselves by placing bets on “will they or won’t they-that is, if they can both shut up long enough to get down to business before the credits roll” propositions, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami throws you a curve ball.

Then again, maybe this film isn’t so much about “thinking”, as it is about “perceiving”. Because if a “film” is merely (if I may quote Mr. Welles again) “a ribbon of dreams”-then Certified Copy, like any true work of art, is simply what you perceive it to be-nothing more, nothing less. Even if it leaves you scratching your head, you get to revel in the luminosity of Juliette Binoche’s amazing performance; there’s pure poetry in every glance, every gesture (Full review).

Chinatown – There are many Deep Thoughts that I have gleaned over the years via repeated viewings of Roman Polanski’s 1974 “sunshine noir”. Here’s a small sampling:

Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water. 
Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough. 
You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but, believe me, you don’t.

I’ve also learned that if you assemble a great director (Polanski), a masterful screenplay (by Robert Towne), two leads at the top of their game (Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway), an ace cinematographer (John A. Alonzo) and top it off with a perfect music score (by Jerry Goldsmith), you’ll have a film that deserves its designation as a “classic”. I know to expect it now, but that family secret revealed at the end still “surprises” me.

The Godfather Part II – “I knew it was you.” The betrayal (and the payback) remain two of cinema’s greatest shockers, and Coppola’s sequel is more than equal to its predecessor.

Mulholland Drive – David Lynch’s nightmarish, yet mordantly droll twist on the Hollywood dream makes The Day of the Locust seem like an upbeat romp. Naomi Watts stars as a fresh-faced ingénue with high hopes who blows into Hollywood from Middle America to (wait for it) become a star. Those plans get, shall we say, put on hold…once she crosses paths with a voluptuous and mysterious amnesiac (Laura Harring).

What ensues is the usual Lynch mind fuck; so if you buy the ticket, be ready to take the ride, because this is one of his fun ones (or as close as one gets to having “fun” with David Lynch). Some reviewers have suggested the film is structured as homage to The Wizard of Oz; while I wouldn’t dismiss that out of hand, I’d cautiously file it under “Pink Floyd theory” (see my review below). At any rate, this one grew on me; by the third (or fourth?) time I’d seen it I decided that it’s one of the iconoclastic director’s finest efforts.

Siesta – Music video director Mary Lambert’s 1987 feature film debut is a mystery, wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. Ellen Barkin stars as an amnesiac who wakes up on a runway in Spain, dazed, bloodied and bruised. She spends the rest of the film putting the jagged pieces together, trying to figure out who she is and how she got herself into this discombobulating predicament (quite reminiscent of the 1962 film Carnival of Souls).

It’s a bit thin on narrative (critical reception was mixed), but high on atmosphere and beautifully photographed by Bryan Loftus, who was the DP for another one of my favorite 80s sleepers, The Company of Wolves. Great soundtrack by Marcus Miller, and a fine supporting cast including Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, and Isabella Rosselli. The script is by Patricia Louisianna Knop, who would later produce and occasionally write for her (now ex) husband Zalman King’s Red Shoe Diaries cable series that aired in the ‘90s.

The Sting – George Roy Hill’s caper dramedy is pretty fluffy, but a lot of fun. Paul Newman and Robert Redford reunited with their Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid director in this 1973 star vehicle to play a pair of 1930s-era con men who set up the ultimate “sting” on a vicious mobster (Robert Shaw) who was responsible for the untimely demise of one their mutual pals. The beauty of screenwriter David S. Ward’s clever construction is in how he conspiratorially draws the audience in to feel like are in on the elaborate joke…but then manages to prank us too…when we’re least expecting it!

The Stunt Man – How tall was King Kong?” That’s the $64,000 question, posed several times by Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole), the larger-than-life director of the film-within-the-film in Richard Rush’s 1980 drama. Once you discover that King Kong was but “3 foot, six inches tall”, it becomes clear that the fictional director’s query is actually code for a much bigger question: “What is reality?” That is the question to ponder as you take this wild ride through the Dream Factory. Because from the moment our protagonist, a fugitive on the run from the cops (Steve Railsback) tumbles ass over teakettle onto Mr. Cross’s set, where he is filming an arty WW I action adventure, his (and the audience’s) concept of what is real and what isn’t becomes hazy, to say the least. O’Toole really chews the scenery, supported by a cast that includes Barbara Hershey and Allen Garfield.

The Usual Suspects – What separates Bryan Singer’s sophomore effort from the pack of otherwise interchangeable Tarantino knockoffs that flourished throughout the 90s (aside from his tight direction) is a perfect cast (Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palmenteri, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollack and Stephen Baldwin), smart screenplay (co-written by Singer and Christopher McQuarrie) and a real doozey of a twist ending.

The story unfolds via flashback, narrated by a soft-spoken, physically hobbled milquetoast named “Verbal” (Spacey), who is explaining to a federal agent (Palmenteri) how he ended up the sole survivor of a mass casualty shootout aboard a docked ship. Verbal’s tale is riveting; a byzantine web of double and triple crosses that always seems to thread back to an elusive and ruthless criminal puppet master named Keyser Soze. The movie has gained a rabid cult following, and “Who is Keyser Soze?” has become a meme.

The Wizard of Oz – So the jury is still out as to when to drop the needle. Conventional wisdom advises the 3rd roar of the MGM lion; but there are still those who would argue the case for the 1st or 2nd roar. Then is yet another school of thought that subscribes to waiting until the logo fades to black. I’m sorry, I just realized I’m being exclusionary to readers who don’t have time to fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way, hunting for that sweet spot that syncs up Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz. At any rate, long before that mashup was but a gleam in a stoner’s reddened eye, Victor Fleming’s 1939 beloved musical fantasy had already been emulated, quoted, parodied and analyzed ad nauseam. Obviously, it’s on my list for 2(!) Big Reveals in the third act.

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--Dennis Hartley
He wants to declare that he won victory over ISIS so he can have his stupid parade

by digby

Going for the Vic-to-ry:

The Trump administration has frozen more than $200 million allocated for recovery efforts in Syria, it was reported Friday, a day after President Donald Trump announced he wants U.S. troops out of the country “very soon.”

The administration’s actions, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, send more mixed signals on a highly sensitive issue: Suspending the funds could alarm Saudi Arabia, Israel and others worried about growing Iranian influence in the restive region.

The White House ordered the freeze to the State Department funding following a news report the president read noting the U.S. had committed an additional $200 million to support earlier recovery efforts in Syria, a State Department official confirmed to POLITICO.

The additional funds were pledged by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February during a meeting in Kuwait with the coalition to defeat ISIS.

Tillerson, who was fired by Trump on March 13, earlier this year introduced a strategy for the ongoing war in Syria that called for U.S. troops to stay in the country for the foreseeable future to ward off ISIS resurgence and Iran’s influence.

Trump’s declaration he wanted to soon end the U.S. presence in Syria was just the latest instance in which the president has publicly undercut or defied his foreign policy team, to the frustration and confusion of U.S. officials and America’s allies.

Apparently, he's been on this for a while:

President Donald Trump's unscripted remark this week about pulling out of Syria "very soon," while at odds with his own policy, was not a one-off: For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president has increasingly told them privately he wants out, U.S. officials said.

Only two months ago, Trump's aides thought they'd persuaded him that the U.S. needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended — not only because the Islamic State group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on major speech in January in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared "it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria."

But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials. Alarm bells went off at the State Department and the Pentagon, where officials have been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure like roads and sewers in the war-wracked country.

I would guess that it's mostly because he wants to have his parade and to do that he needs to be able to declare victory somewhere.

But it could also be because he has made a deal:

If President Donald Trump makes good on his promise to get out of Syria "very soon," one of the biggest winners will be Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

Although the Kremlin has tried to cast its involvement in Syria as primarily an air campaign, there are extensive Russian boots on the ground through military contractors, and a US withdrawal would make their job of combating forces hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad considerably easier...

And most foreign policy experts believe that vacuum would likely be further filled by Russia.
Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, told CNN on Friday that "if the US were to withdraw, it seems to me the Russians would have a free hand" in Syria and the forces "fighting Assad would be weakened."
Additionally, Stent said, a US withdrawal would help Iran, a country whose forces are fighting alongside Russians in Syria.

"I do wonder if that is something the President thought about when he made that announcement," Stent said, noting that any departure would elevate Russia's status to make it "the main power broker in that area."

I don't know what he has in mind but he almost certainly wants to pretend that he's won a war somewhere. It is very likely nothing more than that. If someone else benefits from his puerile egomania well, that's the fallout we'll all have to face.


Trademark FSB

by digby

Richard Engel of NBC reported this chilling story last night. I highly recommend that you watch the whole video:
The former Russian double agent got a terrifying message on his birthday: He was on a Kremlin hit list along with Sergei Skripal, another ex-spy who weeks later was poisoned with a nerve agent in a case Britain blames on Vladimir Putin's government.

"Be careful, look around, something is probably going to happen,'" the former agent, Boris Karpichkov, says an old friend told him on the telephone in mid-February. "It's very serious, and you are not alone." Boris Karpichkov. NBC News

Among the names on the list was that of Skripal, whom Karpichkov didn't know at the time but whose poisoning alongside his daughter, Yulia, on March 4 on British soil inflamed tensions between the Kremlin and the West and triggered international condemnation. The two are in a hospital in Britain, where Skripal is in critical condition. Yulia is "improving rapidly" and is no longer in critical condition, the hospital treating the pair said Thursday.

Also on the Kremlin's list, he says, were several other ex-KGB agents, as well as Christopher Steele, author of a 35-page dossier alleging collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Bill Browder, the driving force behind a set of U.S. sanctions against Russian individuals known as the Magnitsky Act, was there as well, he adds.

Karpichkov, 59, says that at first he thought the call was a joke rather than a threat — typically dark Russian humor. But Skripal's poisoning has put him on high alert. “Trademark FSB,” he says, referring to Russia’s security agency, the Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB. NBC News interviewed Karpichkov over the weekend at a rented studio in London; he refused to say where he lives in the U.K.

I'm sure Trump's reaction was "well, we have a lot of assassins who kill our critics with signature nerve gas too. You think we're so innocent?" In case you were wondering that was an allusion to this:

What in the world is she talking about?
by digby


Think Progress explains:

The idea that the mainstream media is ignoring Trump’s quiet efforts to effectively counter sex trafficking rings has been roundly debunked. The Trump administration is not making any particularly notable progress in this area.

As noted by Will Sommer in a thorough rundown published on Medium, this belief about Trump is actually a hallmark of a fringe conspiracy theory with similarities to “Pizzagate” — the fake news stoked by right-wing corners of the internet that reached a fever pitch in 2016, when a man fired a rifle in a D.C. pizzeria.

Comet employee on life during ‘Pizzagate’: ‘If this doesn’t stop someone is going to get killed’

The “QAnon” theory — also sometimes referred to broadly as “the Storm” — involves an anonymous 4chan user claiming to have high-level government information who leaves cryptic clues across the internet for followers to “decode.” The convoluted messages don’t seem to have much meaning on their face, but followers claim they signal credible predictions.

For instance, “QAnon” claims that the major Democratic operatives and celebrities who currently have the most power over the country are pedophiles, and will soon be arrested for their role in facilitating sex trafficking rings.

Over the past several months, “the Storm” theories have gradually made their wayout of the depths of 4chan and into more mainstream online platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter — including Roseanne Barr’s Twitter account.

Sommer notes that Barr has a long history of interest in “QAnon,” and has tweeted questions about “Q” to her followers several times. The Daily Beast published on Friday a detailed report of Barr’s interactions with “QAnon” fans over the past several months (including a breakdown of a convoluted theory that Barr herself helps provide proof of the “QAnon” theory, after her internet presence went dark following her public request to be put in touch with “Q”).

Perhaps tellingly, the heightened scrutiny on Barr’s connection to the conspiracy theory has recently incited some pushback in right-wing media circles. Rush Limbaugh defended Barr this week from ongoing criticism in the media regarding her elevation of “QAnon” theories.

Barr has long been a fan of Trump (as is her character on her show), and the feeling appears to be mutual. The president called Barr to congratulate her this week after ABC’s premiere of “Roseanne” drew big ratings.

It's very sweet of "liberal Hollywood" to promote the idea of the salt of the earth Trump voter who just cares about "jobs" on the new Roseanne show.

But the real Roseanne is the real thing. She obviously spends her days immersed in right wing media propaganda. As do Trump voters. And this is the kind of nonsense they believe.


Trump favorite courtier

by digby

It looks like King Donald has a new "gentleman of the stool":

President Donald Trump has wondered aloud over the past weeks -- to pretty much anyone listening -- who would occupy the singular role of confidant and conspirator that longtime top aide Hope Hicks was leaving behind.

The answer, at least in some capacity, will be Dan Scavino, the social media director who this week moved into the minuscule office a pace or two from Trump's desk that Hicks spent the past week packing up. Described by aides as Trump's "mini me," who can channel his moods and voice as few others can, Scavino is the last remaining staffer from the launch of Trump's presidential campaign still posted by the President's side.

That's left West Wing officials, most with shorter and more distant relationships with the President, eying Scavino as Hicks' natural successor -- not as communications director, but as the White House aide Trump calls upon when he wants to vent, plot, confide, boast or reminisce.

If Hicks was able to occasionally act as a taming force on the President, however, there's little expectation that Scavino will follow suit. When the President has come under fire in the past, Scavino has doubled down on the controversy of the moment, at times defending Trump from his own personal Twitter account.

Scavino is viewed by colleagues with a mix of reverence, for his uncanny ability to mimic the President's moods and whims, and puzzlement, for his unlikely rise from Trump's golf caddy to his club manager to gatekeeper of the most powerful Twitter account in the world.
"It's beyond loyalty," a source familiar with their relationship said.
In a White House that is becoming increasingly full of aides the President either doesn't know or doesn't trust, Scavino is one person the President is confident has his back entirely, people familiar with their relationship say. Scavino, one source noted, has dedicated his entire adult life to Trump.

Look for Scavino to be promoted to Secretary of Defense when Mattis is inevitably fired. That's how feudal kings work.

The F.M. is on a roll today

by digby

I'll just leave this story by Phillip Bump right here:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump escalated his assault on Amazon.com on Saturday, accusing the online retail giant of a “Post Office scam” and falsely stating that The Washington Post operates as a lobbyist for Amazon.

In a pair of morning tweets sent during his drive from his Mar-a-Lago estate to the nearby Trump International Golf Club, the president argued that Amazon costs the U.S. Postal Service billions of dollars in potential revenue.

Trump has repeatedly advanced this theory, even though officials have explained to him that Amazon’s contracts with the Postal Service are profitable for the agency.

[Fact Checker: Trump’s bundle of faulty claims about Amazon’s cost to taxpayers]

The president also incorrectly conflated Amazon with The Post and made clear that his attacks on the retailer were inspired by his disdain for the newspaper’s coverage. He labeled the newspaper “the Fake Washington Post” and demanded it register as a lobbyist for Amazon. The Post operates independently of Amazon, though the news organization is personally owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.

In Trump’s first of two Amazon tweets, sent at 8:45 a.m., he wrote: “While we are on the subject, it is reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to Billions of Dollars. The Failing N.Y. Times reports that ‘the size of the company’s lobbying staff has ballooned,’ and that...”

The president continued with a second tweet sent seven minutes later: “...does not include the Fake Washington Post, which is used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER. If the P.O. ‘increased its parcel rates, Amazon’s shipping costs would rise by $2.6 Billion.’ This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!”

Trump also criticized California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for pardoning five ex-convicts facing deportation. He tagged Fox News Channel in his tweet, indicating his comment was inspired by a segment he watched on the network.

Trump tweeted, “Governor Jerry ‘Moonbeam’ Brown pardoned 5 criminal illegal aliens whose crimes include (1) Kidnapping and Robbery (2) Badly beating wife and threatening a crime with intent to terrorize (3) Dealing drugs. Is this really what the great people of California want? @FoxNews.”

Trump is typically motivated to lash out at Amazon because of The Post’s coverage of him, officials have said. One person who has discussed the matter repeatedly with the president explained that a negative story in The Post is almost always the catalyst for one of his Amazon rants.

The Post on Friday afternoon published online an exhaustive account of the Trump Organization’s finances “under unprecedented assault” because of three different legal inquiries: Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation; the $130,000 payment to secure the silence of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels after her alleged sexual encounter with Trump; and lawsuits alleging that Trump is improperly accepting gifts, or “emoluments,” from foreign or state governments through his businesses.

Trump is known to react especially sensitively to news stories about his personal and business affairs.

Saturday marked the second time in three days that Trump has attacked Amazon. On Thursday, the president tweeted that “they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!”

In fact, Amazon does collect taxes on products it sells to customers in the 45 states that have a sales tax, although items sold by third-party vendors may have different arrangements.

Beyond Trump’s use of his bully pulpit to single out Amazon, the White House has indicated it there are no plans to take action against the behemoth.

Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One on Thursday, “The president has expressed his concerns with Amazon. We have no actions at this time.”

But White House officials have struggled to back up Trump’s theories about the retailer. Asked why Trump believes Amazon is hurting the Postal Service when experts say it ships so many packages it helps keep the Postal Service in business, Walters offered no explanation.

Still, Trump’s attacks, irrespective of their factual accuracy, could impact public confidence in the company. After Axios reported Wednesday that Trump was “obsessed” with Amazon, shares fell more than 4 percent. They continued their tumble on Thursday, when Trump tweeted, falling more than 3.8 percent in morning trading.

The share price recovered once Walters said there were “no actions at this time,” and it was up 1.1 percent for the day by the close of trading.

Trump has discovered that he can destroy billions of dollars in company value with a tweet so I think we can expect more of it. You know what that means:

I think what gets me about this is that he thinks Amazon is taking advantage of the Post Office when, in fact, the Post Office making a ton of money shipping Amazon products. They try to tell him it's not true but he doesn't care. He's just that stupid. And dangerous.

Here's a link to the story that set him off this morning:From Mueller to Stormy to ‘emoluments,’ Trump’s business is under siege


For The Win 2018 is ready for download

by Tom Sullivan

Political campaigns are not just contests of ideas. They are contests of skills.

Experienced county committees as well as new, hair-on-fire activists face a daunting task in 2018. More Democrats have filed for office than ever. From school board to the state House to the U.S. Senate, you need them to win. They need your help.

For The Win is a primer for helping county committees (particularly under-resourced ones) mount a countywide Get Out The Vote effort. It's free. This is the nuts and bolts of organizing a months-long coordination effort with little money and minimal computer skills.

No theory. If it's in there, we've done it here.

Within 48 hours of sending links to Texas counties last year, over 50 downloaded For The Win. Seventeen more previously unorganized Texas counties have popped up on the radar since mid-December. Things are moving in Texas; 221 (of just over 250) received updates Thursday night. Whether or not they download and deploy its recommendations is on them. This is a lead-a-horse effort, true, but there are some thirsty horses out there.

In January, I wrote about the first Democratic Candidates Conference. Asked how much field support they could expect from the county committees in their districts, all but one candidate I asked gave some variation of the same answer: a pregnant pause, a sigh, or an eye roll. Maybe all three.

A woman wrote in late January to say she went from getting involved on November 9, 2016 to being the new chair of her rural Democratic committee. But her predecessors left her nothing to work with. Her state party had been difficult to reach either by email or phone, and her District Chair was unreachable. "Your email and GOTV Platform," she wrote, "is the FIRST communication I have received that gives me any help at all."

Which is exactly why For The Win exists. If you're not in a swing state, especially if you're in a more rural county in not-a-swing-state, Barack Obama isn't parachuting in a team from Michigan Avenue to show you how to assemble a high-energy, months-long, countywide Get Out The Vote and electioneering effort. The governor's race doesn't show up out there. The U.S. Senate race doesn't set up out there. That’s why many local Democratic committees don't do more ... because they don't know what more looks like.

Here's more. The beyond-thirtysomething single woman who assembled this portable call center has no money, no financial backers, and 30 laptops with headsets and a phone-banking interface customized by a freshman at Stanford. Between campaign gigs, she keeps a roof over her head by house sitting. She didn't write a grant proposal or start a nonprofit. She just started.

Bridget McCurry's call-center-in-a-trunk. If you're not Goliath, fine. Be David.

Look, state parties and the campaign arms of state and national legislative caucuses are focused on large cities and targeted races that will put warm butts in seats on their party's side of the aisle ASAP. Occupying the countryside is too long-term a goal and too much bother.

And so, in the fullness of time, Republicans controlled 32 state legislatures, voter suppression legislation, and 2020 redistricting. Maybe we should do something about that?

This year is a real as it gets. So let's get real.

If you previously requested our countywide Get Out The Vote planner via this blog, or if you are a Democratic county committee officer in one of the red-shaded states below (and your contact info was public), watch your in-box for the link to the For The Win update. If you would like a copy yourself, request the download link at the address below, and in addition to your name, please provide your city, state, and a very brief statement about how you are engaged. I'm building out my map.

* * * * * * * *

For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail. (If you are already on my email list, check your in-box.)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday Night Soother: TGIF

by digby

Here is a bonus adorable baby rhino playing and practicing his awesome charge.


Big, Beautiful Boondoggle

by digby

These pictures are of a repair on existing fencing from 2009

How much time and money does he waste on nonsense like this?

When it comes to who’s going to foot the bill for his “big, beautiful” border wall, President Donald Trump is trying to change the M from “Mexico” to the “military,” asking the Pentagon to redirect a couple of billion dollars so that he can keep one of his central campaign pledges.

Few in Trump’s cabinet think using defense dollars to pay for the wall is a good idea, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, according to a Trump administration official who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak publicly about internal discussions. But that doesn’t mean the idea is dead on arrival. Mattis feels that, at the very least, he owes Trump some options, but all of them are fraught with political and legal problems, the official said.

And none of them get the White House even close to the $25 billion Trump’s seeking. That’s because, perhaps to Trump’s surprise, Congress holds the power of the purse, meaning it gets to decide how taxpayers’ dollars are spent. And Congress did this just last week, when it passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September. In that bill, which Trump reluctantly signed, lawmakers appropriated only $1.6 billion for a border wall. Meanwhile, Congress gave the Defense Department about $700 billion, which clearly got Trump thinking: Maybe some of that money can go toward the wall, as the Washington Post reported earlier this week. Since then, he has cryptically tweeted (and retweeted): “Build WALL through M!”

On Thursday, the Pentagon acknowledged that Mattis has had conversations with Trump on this topic, but would not provide any further details.

My favorite thing about this lunacy is that Trump is telling the whole country that the military is swimming in so much money it doesn't really need that it has 25 billion to spare. It's actually true! Unfortunately for him, he doesn't get to just move money from one account to the other for his pet projects. Congress is pretty useless right now but it does still have that prerogative.

And then there's that stupid parade ...


There is such a thing as straight up bribery

by digby

I've been wondering about this:

Much of the news coverage has focused on whether offering pardons to induce a witness not to cooperate in the special counsel’s investigation could constitute obstruction of justice. But there is another potential charge that could apply more directly and that prosecutors might have reason to favor: conspiracy to commit bribery.

Federal bribery requires that a public official agree to receive and accept something of value in exchange for being influenced in the performance of an official act. In this scenario, the official act would be granting a pardon. While the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in the case of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell dramatically narrowed the definition of “official act,” there’s no question that a president granting a pardon would be an exercise of government power under the McDonnell v. United States standard.

“Thing of value” is also fairly easily met: It would be the agreement not to cooperate against the president. The thing of value in bribery law is not limited to envelopes stuffed with cash. It can include anything of subjective value to the public official, whether tangible or intangible. Such intangibles as offers of future employment and personal companionship have been found to be things of value for purposes of bribery. A promise not to cooperate in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe could readily serve as the quid in this quid pro quo.

The public official, of course, is the president. Dowd is not a public official and cannot be bribed himself, but he could conspire with a public official to arrange bribes on the official’s behalf. The theory would be that Dowd and the president engaged in a conspiracy to accept bribes by agreeing that Dowd would make the offer. This, of course, would require proof that Dowd was acting with the president’s approval and not merely freelancing.

It seems obvious to me that if Dowd mentioned pardons to witnesses who were being pressed to cooperate with the authorities in the Russia probe it was an offer of a quid pro quo. Why else would he bring it up?

And somehow I doubt these are the only quid pro quos being bandied about in Trump's white house these days. He's turned the whole place into a toxic sewer of corruption, mostly to pay back his friends and enrich himself and his family.

Your grotesque presidential corruption story of the day

by digby

This one features The National Enquirer, aka Trump's enforcer. The New York Times reports:
In July, David J. Pecker, the chairman of the company that owns The National Enquirer, visited his old friend President Trump at the White House.

The tabloid publisher took along a special guest, Kacy Grine, a French businessman who advises one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men and sometimes acts as an intermediary between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Western businesses.

The two men and other Pecker associates chatted with the president in the Oval Office and briefly met with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy, Jared Kushner. Before moving on to dinner with the group, the president had a photographer snap pictures of the guests standing with him behind his desk.

Mr. Pecker has long used his media empire to protect Mr. Trump’s image. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Pecker’s company, American Media Inc., suppressed the story of a former Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.

The night of the dinner, Mr. Pecker got something from Mr. Trump: an unofficial seal of approval from the White House.

It was an opportune moment for Mr. Pecker to showcase his White House connections. He was considering expanding his media and events businesses into Saudi Arabia and also was hunting for moneyed partners in acquisitions.

Mr. Pecker’s company, American Media Inc., published a glossy magazine that is essentially a promotional brochure for Saudi Arabia and the crown prince.
The intersection of the tabloid publisher with the Saudis, enhanced by the White House visit, is a previously untold chapter in the long, symbiotic relationship between the president and Mr. Pecker, which was forged in the 1990s. At the time, Mr. Trump was celebrating a real estate comeback after his casino bankruptcies and was both the subject and the source of much gossip in New York.

Mr. Pecker, who had known Mr. Grine only for a few months, invited him to the dinner to thank him for advice he had provided about investing in the Middle East, according to someone who knew of the invitation.

Word soon traveled back to Saudi Arabia about the dinner: It signaled Mr. Pecker’s powerful status in Washington.

Two months later, he was in Saudi Arabia, meeting with Mr. Grine and the crown prince about business opportunities there, according to A.M.I.

And by January, Mr. Pecker was confident enough about his growing rapport with Saudi investors that he sought their help bankrolling a possible acquisition of Time magazine, which he had long coveted, according to two people with direct knowledge of the talks. A.M.I. disputed that.

There's more. It will make you nauseous. Trump is paying back his sleazy pals for all the underhanded help they've given him over the years by letting them literally sell influence with the president to foreign investors right in the White House.

But it gets weirder:
The outcome of Mr. Pecker’s efforts to do business with the Saudis remains unclear. But he is still working to cultivate ties. This week, he and Mr. Grine both attended events in New York featuring Prince Mohammed, who is on a tour across the United States.

Ahead of that visit, A.M.I. published a 97-page glossy magazine that is essentially a promotional brochure for Saudi Arabia and the crown prince. It makes no mention of anything troubling, like the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, human rights concerns or the crown prince’s arrest last fall of many extended royals, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an influential client of Mr. Grine’s.

The magazine — which refers to Saudi Arabia throughout as “the Magic Kingdom” — includes an interview with Mr. Grine, accompanied by a photo of him posing with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, taken during his visit with Mr. Pecker. It talks up the relationship between Mr. Trump and the Saudis, noting that Mr. Trump “endorsed the crown prince’s high profile anticorruption” crackdown.

A.M.I. has said it produced the magazine to “capitalize” on interest in the crown prince, who is next in line to the throne, and has been careful to say it received no input or guidance from Saudi officials. That carries important legal implications: Foreign direction or control of such a purely promotional publication may require disclosure to the Justice Department. The Saudi government did not respond to a request for comment.

The magazine — 200,000 copies distributed in Walmart and other outlets, with a cover price of $13.99 and no advertising — provided a unique welcome mat for the prince, whose visit comes as the Trump administration is trying to establish tighter ties with the kingdom. Both countries are touting cross-border investment opportunities, including a pledge by the Saudi government to put $20 billion into a fund that will invest in American infrastructure projects. The kingdom is also nearing a deal to buy American-made missiles and other military equipment.
It's just the president of the United States paying back the friend who paid hush money on his behalf to keep his Playboy Playmate mistress quiet by letting him sell access to he White House to his potential Saudi Arabian backers. And hey, they offer up some slick propaganda for the new authoritarian Saudi monarch and military contractors get some big profits. What's the problem?

So much winning. I'm begging to stop with all the winning.

Seriously, this is full-on kleptocratic oligarch behavior that Putin and his cronies like the Agalarovs and  Deripaska have to be toasting Trump with a long pull of ice cold vodka. Well done, sir!


No Trump's not evolving

by digby

Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star helpfully published a chronology of President Trump's obnoxious speech in Ohio. This way you can quickly peruse his fatuous dishonest braindead blather without having to sit through it as I did and ruin your whole day:

2:09 p.m. — Trump begins with a reference to his election victory: “What a group. Remember, you can’t win unless you win the state of Ohio, right?”

2:13 p.m. — Trump says of Democrats: “They want people to come in from the border, and they want, I guess, want, I can’t imagine they want, but certainly drugs are flowing across borders. We need walls.”

2:14 p.m. — Trump falsely claims that a California project to replace a section of existing border wall — a project proposed in 2009 and entirely separate from his own proposed new wall — is indeed his own wall project. And then he brags about how this wall is a high-quality wall because of his own talents as a builder.

“We started building our wall. I’m so proud of it. We started. We started. We have $1.6 billion. And we’ve already started. You saw the pictures yesterday, and I said what a thing of beauty. And on September 28 we go further. And we’re gettin’ that sucker built. And you think that’s easy? People said, ‘Oh, has he given up on the wall?’ Nah, I never give up. I never … And you saw those beautiful pictures, and the wall looks good. It’s properly designed. That’s what I do is I build. I was always very good at building. It was always my best thing.”

2:16 p.m. — Trump says the U.S. has been treated better on trade by its enemies than its allies: “Frankly our friends did more damage to us than our enemies. Because we didn’t deal with our enemies, we dealt with our friends, and we dealt incompetently.”

2:16 p.m. — “That was a Hillary Clinton special, I hate to say it,” Trump says of the existing free trade agreement with South Korea, which was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration and then revised by the Obama administration.

2:18 p.m. — One day after his administration boasted of the successful completion of a revised trade agreement with South Korea, Trump says, “I may hold it up ’til after a deal is made with North Korea.”

“Does everybody understand that? You know why, right? You know why? Because it’s a very strong card, and I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly and we’re moving along very nicely with North Korea. We’ll see what happens.”

2:19 p.m. — Trump says the media — “the fake news” — would have accused him of “exaggerating” if he had claimed three million jobs would be created between Election Day and today. In fact, slightly more jobs were created over the previous 16-month period, under Obama.

2:21 p.m. — Trump makes his midterm election pitch, telling voters that they cannot afford to jeopardize the strong economy by voting for Democrats. “You know the expression from, I guess it was, Bill Clinton: ‘it’s the economy, stupid?’ Well, it is the economy.”

2:24 p.m. — Trump falsely claims, “We got rid of the bump stocks. The bump stocks now are under very strict control.” His administration’s proposed ban on the firearm device has not been finalized; it will be accepting public comments on the proposal until June 27. Then he falsely claims, “Nobody reported it. It doesn’t get reported.”

2:25 p.m. — Trump says, “I’ve been in construction and building all my life. I love it. I love the smell of a construction site, right? There’s just something about it.”

2:28 p.m. — Trump brings up Clinton again in boasting of his decision to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta: “Hillary wasn’t gonna approve it. Nobody was. It was a dead project. I got in, almost, like, right at the beginning, I approved that.”

2:29 p.m. — Trump falsely says nobody protested his approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines: “Nobody. I approved it, the pickets, they picked up their stuff and they left and it was the end of it.” In fact, the North Dakota protesters were ordered to leave by the governor. About 20 were arrested for refusing to do so.

2:32 p.m. — Trump returns to his prepared text for a moment, saying “nearly 40 per cent of our bridges were built before, think of this, before the first moon landing.” He then laments that another country is currently “building 29 bridges.” He says he will not name this country because it is “friendly to me.”

2:33 p.m. — Trump complains that TransCanada Corp. was not sufficiently grateful for his decision to approve Keystone XL: “And I just say to myself, can you imagine the boss of whatever the hell company it is, who never actually called me to say thank you, but that’s OK. We’ll remember. So this guy’s sitting behind his beautiful chair in a certain place, I know exactly where, nice place, big company, and the consultants march into his office to tell him what a great job they did. They were dead. They had no chance, they failed. I got it approved.”

In fact, TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling thanked Trump twice, in person, in the Oval Office, with cameras rolling.

2:34 — Trump complains that the U.S. spends money “building up foreign countries” while allowing its own infrastructure to fall into disrepair. He specifically complains about U.S. support for South Korea.

“Look at Korea. We have a border at Korea. We have a wall of soldiers. We don’t get paid very much for this, do we? We have, you look at that, nobody comes through. But our own border, we don’t take care of it. Think of it. We spend billions of dollars in other countries maintaining their borders and we can’t maintain our borders in our own country. Is there something a little bit wrong with that? Think of it. We spend billions and billions of dollars. Look: North and SouthKorea. Thirty-two thousand soldiers. The finest equipment. Barbed wire all over the place. We protect that whole thing, nobody comes through. But our country, we don’t do it. Things are changing, folks.”

2:34 p.m. — Trump falsely claims that he was opposed to the Iraq War “from the beginning.” He haltingly supported the war when radio host Howard Stern asked him in 2002, saying, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

2:35 p.m. — Trump appears to ad-lib a major foreign policy declaration that is at odds with his administration’s stated policy — claiming, with no details, that he will withdraw the U.S. military from Syria “very soon.”

“And by the way we’re knockin’ the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon. We’re coming out. We’re going to have 100 per cent of the caliphate, as they call it, sometimes referred to as land, we’ve taken it all back quickly, quickly. But we’re gonna be coming out of there real soon, we’re gonna get back to our country, where we belong, where we wanna be.”

2:36 p.m. — Trump falsely claims, for the ninth time in office, that the U.S. has spent $7 trillion on Middle East wars. (One Brown University estimate put the current total at $4.3 trillion, and the total including estimated future costs at $5.6 trillion.) Trump then says, “Nobody ever heard of the word trillion until 10 years ago.”

2:38 p.m. — Trump advocates a war crime, saying the U.S. should have seized Iraqi oil for itself: “And you know what we have for it (the war)? Nothing. Remember I used to say keep the oil? ... We never kept the oil. If we kept the oil we would’ve been OK. If we kept the oil we wouldn’t have ISIS … They kept the oil, we didn’t keep the oil. Stupid! Stupid!”

2:39 p.m. — Trump expresses confusion about all of the judicial vacancies that greeted him upon entering office: “I don’t know why Obama left that. It was like a big beautiful present to all of us. Why the hell did he leave it? Maybe he got complacent ….What happened? How did he do that?” What happened was Senate Republicans refused to approve Obama’s judicial nominees.

2:39 p.m. — Trump explains what judges are: “We were left judges! They’re the ones that judge all your disputes! They judge on what’s fair on the environment and what’s not fair!”

2:41 p.m. — Trump complains of an international program in which wealthy countries help developing countries cover the cost of transitioning to cleaner energy. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re developing. Pay us some money. Right? Pay us. We’re developing.”

2:43 p.m. — Trump says of the Department of Veterans Affairs before his presidency: “They had sadists that treated our vets horribly. Horribly. Worse than a movie.”

2:45 p.m. — Trump says he does not know what a community college is. He says community colleges should be called vocational schools, though those are entirely different.

“When I was growing up we had what was called vocational schools. They weren’t called community colleges. ‘Cause I don’t know what that means, a community college. To me, it means a 2-year college. I don’t know what it means. But I know what vocational. And I tell people, call it vocational from now on. It’s a great word. It’s a great word. Call it vocational, and technical, perhaps. But use vocational, because that’s what it’s all about. People know what that means. We don’t know what a community college means.”

2:46 p.m. — Trump gives a rare shout-out to his daughter Tiffany, standing behind her better-known sister Ivanka.

2:49 p.m. — Trump complains about an unnamed road in an unnamed state, which he says has been made too curvy. “Not good if you’re not feeling so good behind the wheel.”

2:51 p.m. — Trump says, “America built the Empire State Building in one year. Think of it, one year. It’s actually like nine months, can you believe that?” It was 13 months.

2:54 p.m. — Trump says America’s infrastructure is “like, in many cases, a Third World country.”

2:56 p.m. — Trump suggests he deserves some credit for the SpaceX rocket launch and landing in February. He also suggests he doesn’t think the government should fund such rocket programs — and, incongruously, takes credit for reviving the government’s space agency, NASA.

“We must recapture the excitement of creation, the spirit of innovation, and the spark of invention. We’re starting. You saw the rocket the other day, you see what’s going on with cars, you see what’s going on with so much, NASA, space agency, all of a sudden it’s back, you notice? It was dormant for many, many years. Now it’s back. And we’re trying to have the private sector invest the money. Why the hell should we do it, right? Let them invest. If they want to send rocket ships up, they’re rich, let ‘em do it.”

2:58 p.m. — Trump tells workers: “You’re restoring pride in this country again. Our country had very little pride. Look back. See what was happening. Our country had very little pride.”

2:59 p.m. — Trump is building up to his big conclusion. But he gets distracted by a thought in his head — about the revival of the sitcom Roseanne, starring Roseanne Barr as a Trump supporter.

“Even look at Roseanne! I called her yesterday! Look at her ratings! Look at her ratings! I got a call from Mark Burnett, he did The Apprentice, he’s a great guy. He said, ‘Donald, I called just to say hello and to tell you, did you see Roseanne’s ratings?’ I said, ‘Mark, how big were they?’ They were unbelievable! Over 18 million people! And it was about us! They haven’t figured it out! The fake news hasn’t quite figured it out yet! They have not figured it out! So that was great. And they haven’t figured it out. But they will. And when they do, they’ll become much less fake. May take a while, but it’s happening.”

3:00 p.m. — Trump hastily pivots to his conclusion.

“But you’re the ones who are truly making America great again. We’re going to work together, we’re going to work with the state of Ohio, we’re going to work with everybody, and we’re going to bring our country to a level of success and prominence and pride like it has never, ever seen before. Thank you, and God bless America.”

He is, as you can see, entirely unchanged from the campaign. After 14 months he has not learned even one thing and is just as mendacious and unserious as he was before.

In case you were wondering ... it's not getting any better.

Let's fight the last war shall we? That's always a winning strategy.

by digby

These people aren't taking to the streets to support Trumpism

So it turns out that the exit polls were wrong and there were a lot more white working class people who voted than college educated whites. According to Thomas Edsall this means that the Democrats need to change radically and do it fast. Here's the recommendation:

Let’s go back to Galston, writing on the Brookings website, presciently, in June 2016. I will quote him at some length, because in my opinion no one captures the situation better than he does:

Most working-class whites have incomes below $50,000; most whites with BAs or more have incomes above $50,000. Most working-class whites rate their financial circumstances as only fair or poor; most college educated whites rate their financial circumstances as good or excellent. Fifty-four percent of working-class whites think of themselves as working class or lower class, compared to only 18 percent of better-educated whites ….

In many respects, these two groups of white voters see the world very differently. For example, 54 percent of college-educated whites think that America’s culture and way of life have improved since the 1950s; 62 percent of white working-class Americans think that it has changed for the worse. Sixty-eight percent of working-class whites, but only 47 percent of college-educated whites, believe that the American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influences. Sixty-six percent of working-class whites, but only 43 percent of college-educated whites, say that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. In a similar vein, 62 percent of working-class whites believe that discrimination against Christians has become as big a problem as discrimination against other groups, a proposition only 38 percent of college educated whites endorse.

This brings us to the issue of immigration. By a margin of 52 to 35 percent, college-educated whites affirm that today’s immigrants strengthen our country through their talent and hard work. Conversely, 61 percent of white working-class voters say that immigrants weaken us by taking jobs, housing, and health care. Seventy-one percent of working-class whites think that immigrants mostly hurt the economy by driving down wages, a belief endorsed by only 44 percent of college-educated whites. Fifty-nine percent of working-class whites believe that we should make a serious effort to deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries; only 33 percent of college-educated whites agree. Fifty-five percent of working-class whites think we should build a wall along our border with Mexico, while 61 percent of whites with BAs or more think we should not. Majorities of working-class whites believe that we should make the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States illegal and temporarily ban the entrance of non-American Muslims into our country; about two-thirds of college-educated whites oppose each of these proposals.

Opinions on trade follow a similar pattern. By a narrow margin of 48 to 46 percent, college-educated whites endorse the view that trade agreements are mostly helpful to the United States because they open up overseas markets while 62 percent of working-class whites believe that they are harmful because they send jobs overseas and drive down wages.

It is understandable that working-class whites are more worried that they or their families will become victims of violent crime than are whites with more education. After all, they are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher levels of social disorder and criminal behavior. It is harder to explain why they are also much more likely to believe that their families will fall victim to terrorism. To be sure, homegrown terrorist massacres of recent years have driven home the message that it can happen to anyone, anywhere. We still need to explain why working-class whites have interpreted this message in more personal terms.

The most plausible interpretation is that working-class whites are experiencing a pervasive sense of vulnerability. On every front — economic, cultural, personal security — they feel threatened and beleaguered. They seek protection against all the forces they perceive as hostile to their cherished way of life — foreign people, foreign goods, foreign ideas, aided and abetted by a government they no longer believe cares about them. Perhaps this is why fully 60 percent of them are willing to endorse a proposition that in previous periods would be viewed as extreme: the country has gotten so far off track that we need a leader who is prepared to break some rules if that is what it takes to set things right.

Ok. But Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes and lost the presidency by 70,000 in the antiquated electoral college spread across three states in a fluky election from outer space. But sure, let's throw out the baby with the bathwater and cater to the fears of this demographic because ... well, just because.

It sounds as though he's saying that Democrats need to get on the Trump train. Maybe they could be a little less crude but that above is a recipe for a kinder and gentler anti-Muslim, law and order, nativist, white nationalist approach.  And I guess if the young people and women and Hispanics and African Americans and college educated whites who currently make up the vast majority of the Democratic Party don't like it well, too bad. Apparently, every election will always feature that 70,000 vote spread that simply cannot be overcome unless we trash our values and betray the future.

By the way --- if you really want to cater to the fears and resentments of whites who voted for Trump, you'd better add guns, gays and abortion to this mix. They believe those issues are destroying their way of life just as much as the Mexicans and the Muslims along with all this "political correctness" that requires decent society to stop using the "N" word and treat women with respect. Better tell the Parkland kids to STFU, get straight and learn CPR and abstinence.

Maybe someone, somewhere could address the fact that these people are being brainwashed by rightwing propaganda day in and day out which might have something to do with the fact that they are all so goddamned afraid of everything. Until that is challenged and dealt with no amount of appeasement to their paranoia will change anything other than demoralize the existing Democratic base and turn young people apathetic. There is always something for these wingnut demagogues to turn into "the other."

I'm sorry these white people feel so afraid of people who don't look like them. I have a cure. Turn off Fox and Rush Limbaugh. They'll feel safer and more secure almost immediately.

*Standard disclaimer: of course Democrats should offer policies that do benefit these people and their families. But catering to their prejudices won't put food on their tables or give their kids a future. That's why rich selfish Republicans do it.

His Majesty elevates his "gentleman of the stool"

by digby

I wrote about the King's promotion of the the Whit house doctor to run the VA for Salon this morning:

Everyone understands by now that President Trump doesn't hire people so much as he casts them. His cabinet has all been chosen the way he chose contestants for "The Apprentice." So when it was reported that he had finally followed through on the rumored firing of the secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, and replaced him with the White House doctor, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson -- on the basis of the press conference where Jackson pronounced the president to be svelte, fit and genetically superior -- it wasn't a surprise. After all, Jackson had delivered quite a performance, without breaking character even once.

It's easy to see why Trump would want to give Jackson a bigger role in the show. He demonstrated real talent for giving Trump administration press conferences. Nonetheless, it is a little weird that the president would "reward" Jackson with the job of running a sprawling and perpetually troubled bureaucracy when he's spent his entire military career as a doctor. Apparently, being an admiral, a doctor and a talented performer tells Trump that the man is capable of anything. After all, he himself is the heir to a fortune who lost millions, turned himself into a celebrity brand name and became president. He is completely unqualified by normal standards and yet he's in the White House. Clearly, "running things" is a snap.

But that doesn't seem to be the only or even the biggest reason why he chose Jackson to head up the VA. The man who trained Jackson, Brig. Gen. Dr. Richard Tubb, said in a letter that the doctor had been attached like "Velcro" to Trump since Inauguration Day. Tubb explained that Jackson’s office is “one of only a very few in the White House Residence proper,” located directly across the hall from the president’s private elevator. He said that "on any given day 'physician's office,' as it is known, is generally the first and last to see the President."

Apparently, this is all perfectly normal. At least it explains why the president would give him a big promotion. You see, Trump sees himself as more of a beloved monarch than a man of the people:

I’m sitting in an apartment the likes of which nobody’s ever seen. And yet I represent the workers of the world. And they love me and I love them. I think people aspire to do things. And they aspire to watch people. I don’t think they want to see the president carrying his luggage out of Air Force One. And that’s pretty much the way it is.
As Politico pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Trump has been in office for over a year now and he hasn't gone to a baseball game or visited a soup kitchen or dropped in at any local eateries (ones he doesn't own, anyway.)
He has persisted in the habits of a celebrity, positioning himself as someone whose lifestyle is just a bit out of reach. His mingling happens chiefly at his private clubs in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia, where he is not walled off by the Secret Service ...
When he travels it consists of private fundraisers, circumscribed photo-ops or big rallies. He mainly watches Fox News which has turned itself into Trump TV, devoted to serving Trump's ego and pressing his agenda. He doesn't mingle with the hoi polloi if there's any way to avoid it.

This is reminiscent of feudal kings who spent their days exclusively among their noble courtiers, many of whom acted as personal servants, some in the most intimate ways. The more intimate they were, the more the king would bond with them and the greater access to power they often had.

According to this fascinating piece by the BBC, one of the most famous examples is the Tudor court of King Henry VIII. The king moved from palace to palace and wherever he was, the center of power in the court was his "privy chamber" (what Trump thinks of as the "private residence"), consisting of the king's personal suite. The noblemen who attended him were all "gentlemen of the chamber," required to be there to entertain Henry and keep him company.

The "grooms of the chamber" were even more important. They helped the king dress and because of their close contact with him were powerful advisers. That subjected at least two of them to the jealous wrath of Thomas Cromwell, the king's adviser, and they ended up with their heads on pikes.

But there was one courtier who had an even more intimate job and it led him to a position of great power:
The most intimate position of all was the ‘groom of the stool,’ the man who helped Henry go to the toilet. Henry so trusted and confided in this figure that he was called the ‘chief gentleman of the chamber.’ From the time of Henry VIII onwards, this man was also in charge of the ‘privy purse’ – he was the king’s personal treasurer. In fact, he practically directed England’s fiscal policy.

That's right. King Henry made the man who cleaned up after his bowel movements into the nation's de facto treasurer.

But even being the man who pulled up King Henry's underpants was no guarantee that he would stay in favor. His "gentleman of the stool," Sir Henry Norris, was convicted on a trumped-up charge of treason for allegedly conspiring with Henry's wife Anne Boleyn, and was beheaded along with six others.

Trump's own "chief gentleman of the chamber," Ronny Jackson, should keep in mind that despite their intimate bond, Trump isn't likely to do his own dirty work if it doesn't work out. According to outgoing VA Secretary Shulkin, he found out he was fired from a phone call with White House chief of staff John Kelly, who let him know that Trump was about to tweet the announcement of his replacement. Like Henry Norris and those other "gentlemen of the chamber" double-crossed by rivals, it appears that Shulkin was stabbed in the back by right-wing ideologues when he refused to go along with their underhanded plot to privatize Veterans Affairs. The New York Times editorial board called it a coup.

One hopes for Jackson's sake that the man who's been "velcroed" to the president since the inauguration comes to a better end than Henry Norris. But judging by the massive turnover in Trump's first year, the odds are good that his head will wind up on a metaphorical pike as well. The more intimate one has been with the king, the more likely he is to become spiteful if he feels betrayed.

Dear Michelle Goldberg

by tristero

Dear Michelle Goldberg,

You write that in the age of Trump, it's difficult to know what conservative voices are serious enough to  engage. Maybe so, but let's get one thing straight.

If the Atlantic was truly serious about providing genuine conservative voices, they would have hired a genuine conservative instead of a right wing, racist, homophobic, misogynist blowhard like Kevin Williamson. So what if Williamson can turn a phrase? He doesn't have opinions. He merely has prejudices.

You want a real conservative voice to engage with? I'd suggest Colin Powell, someone I strongly disagree with on many issues, someone who made a spectacular error in judgment in making a case at the UN for Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, but also someone who has both the intelligence and experience to deserve to be listened to.



Their most vulnerable spot

by Tom Sullivan

Rick: And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.
Captain Renault: That is my *least* vulnerable spot.
Aim instead for the pocketbook and score another for The Spocko Method. It drew an apology out of Laura Ingraham. That had to sting.

On Wednesday, Fox News' Laura Ingraham tweeted about 17-year-old high school senior, David Hogg, who since surviving the Parkland massacre has become a gun-control activist:

But David Hogg knows pundits like Ingraham are only fueled by insults and armored against them. He knows where they are most vulnerable. Hogg worked up a quick list for his 650k+ Twitter followers:

The Washington Post takes up the story there:

Within 24 hours, several companies responded — among them the pet food brand Nutrish and the home goods retailer Wayfair — announcing over Twitter and in media interviews that they would pull their ads from Ingraham’s show.

By Thursday afternoon, Ingraham apologized. “On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland,” she tweeted.
Ingraham didn't apologize for targeting Hogg, mind you. Only for hurting his widdle feelings. Only because his followers hit a softer target than hers.

One wonders whether @davidhogg111 knows he's using The Spocko Method. Nevertheless, the strategy pioneered over a decade ago by our resident Vulcan has proven itself once again.

Vox adds:
“As a company, we support open dialogue and debate on issues,” Jane Carpenter, Wayfair’s head of public relations, told CNBC. “However, the decision of an adult to personally criticize a high school student who has lost his classmates in an unspeakable tragedy is not consistent with our values.”
A corporation's brand is one of its most vulnerable spots. Pointing out that who they sponsor can devalue the brand in which they've invested so much makes corporate PR people twitchy, as Spocko pointed out here:
3) This is about ALL of their stated values What does their mission statement say? What do their HR guidelines say? If they are a public company, do they have corporate governance documents?Regulation that they are legally required to follow? Vendor ethics agreements? Core brand value statements? They can then answer the question: "Are we true to our values? Is this what we want people to associate our brand with?" Then, if what they are sponsoring doesn't line up with their own stated values, they can decide to make a change.
It's a shame Spocko doesn't get "a piece of the action" commensurate with his contribution, but it must be gratifying that people have taken up the Method from the Vulcan Stanislavski without even knowing its origins.

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