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

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Sunday, August 18, 2019


A "calming thought when you're feeling homicidal"

by Tom Sullivan

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

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

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

Next time, more sociopaths.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday Night at the Movies

Free to ride: RIP Peter Fonda

By Dennis Hartley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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--- Dennis Hartley

The ugliness is spilling out

by digby

This is just the saddest story ...

Weeks before the bullets of El Paso, the words of Greenville echoed through this small city on the North Carolina coastal plain — and across the nation.

Samar Badwan, a Greenville resident, watched that day as 8,000 neighbors and fellow citizens jammed a local basketball arena to serenade the president with a chant of “Send her back,” a response to Trump’s insistence that a Muslim, Somali American congresswoman should “go back” to the land of her birth.

“As we say in the South, he’s stirring the pot,” Badwan remembers thinking. “And that’s a very dangerous game. People are listening.”

That visit — and that chant — continues to reverberate loudly here nearly a month later, particularly for those such as Badwan, who see themselves as targets of a campaign to whip up xenophobia and hate.

After this month’s El Paso shooting, in which 22 people were killed by a gunman who parroted the president’s warnings about an “invasion” of immigrants, the words carry a particularly ominous resonance: as a prelude to murder.

“In my heart, I knew what his message was going to be,” Badwan said, as she sipped sweet tea at her local Starbucks. “I didn’t know the extent to which it would impact our small town.”

Before that day, Badwan never had to question whether her hijab was incompatible with her Southern drawl. She never had to fear that her North Carolina neighbors might hold her Palestinian heritage against her. She never had to think that in Greenville — a city she has been proud to call home for 30 years, raising three children along the way — her faith would mark her as an unwanted outsider.

Then the president came to town.

Greenville, a university city of just under 100,000, touts itself as diverse and inclusive, but it was introduced to much of the country through a chant condemned by the Anti-Defamation League as “the sound of intolerance.”

A recent study by University of North Texas researchers found a 226 percent surge in reported hate crimes in counties that hosted 2016 Trump campaign rallies when compared with those that did not. Police in Greenville say they have seen no increase in reported hate speech or crimes since the president’s July 17 visit.

But to immigrants, refugees and others who don’t fit neatly into some people’s ideas of what an American should look like, the appearance has spawned fears that the president’s words could be used as a pretext for violence.

The crowd’s chant has also prompted painful reflection: Was the hostility on display at the rally new for Greenville? Or was it here all along, just waiting to be activated?

Heidi Serrano, who was born in Guatemala but who has lived in Greenville her entire adult life, has reluctantly concluded the latter. She now wonders if some of her neighbors and co-workers truly want her here.

“Trump has allowed people to say what’s in their hearts,” said Serrano, 39. “That’s been the hardest part for me. You think you know somebody.”

As Serrano spoke, a diverse group of children shrieked with delight as they bounded up and down an inflatable slide. Mothers wearing hijabs casually bantered, while dads toggled between English and Spanish as they led their children on a tour of a firetruck. African American and white families shared barbecue, fresh off the grill.

It was National Night Out, a chance for police officers to mingle with residents, and the idyllic scene at Greenville’s Jaycee Park reflected the message advertised in welcome signs posted on the outskirts of the city: “We are building an inclusive community.”

Many residents say, on the whole, that is what it is.

Badwan, who came here as a teenager and has never left, said no one in Greenville has ever told her to go back to where she came from.

Some people do tell her Greenville is too small, too isolated from big-city attractions — a minor island of urbanity in a sea of farms and fields.

But Badwan, who teaches autistic students and serves as an Arabic interpreter for the local school district, couldn’t imagine a better place to live.

“I do a lot of traveling,” she said, “but there’s nothing like coming back here.”

Greenville boasts a high-quality state university, top-notch hospital and thriving arts district. Everything she might need is within a short drive, and the community’s leaders, she said, support the city’s diversity.

After a gunman in March sprayed two New Zealand mosques with bullets, killing 51 people, Badwan texted local officials to invite them to a vigil outside of Greenville’s mosque. All of them showed up.

“Samar, if your mosque needs me to come and sit by the door during prayers so you feel safe, I will come,” a local pastor told her.

She thanked him for his offer, but the mosque’s leaders decided they would need more: They hired a security guard to protect worshipers, who can number in the hundreds during Islamic holidays and who hail from Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Syria and beyond — a reflection of the fact that this city, which is still predominantly made up of native-born white and black citizens, is becoming ever more international.

“Sometimes, people in Greenville can be isolated from what the rest of the world really is,” said longtime resident Ann Hamze. “But there’s so much more diversity here now. The world has descended on Greenville.”

Hamze taught social studies in the public schools for 25 years, and she tried to instill in her students a sense for the wider world. She had worked overseas for the U.S. Agency for International Development earlier in her career, and her husband is Lebanese.

She thought the city had moved beyond some of the racial prejudice she had seen decades ago in Greenville and that for some is reflected in the monument to Confederate soldiers that stands in the heart of the city’s downtown.

Then she watched the Trump rally, and she heard the chant.

“I was surprised,” she said. “I was scanning the crowd, hoping that none of my former students from seventh-grade social studies were there.”

Trump’s rally prompted heated exchanges on the letters page of Greenville’s newspaper, the Daily Reflector.

“I have a confession to make. I was at the president’s rally Wednesday night, and when the chant ‘send them back’ broke out, I joined in, with enthusiasm,” wrote Steven Van Cleave, a resident of nearby Winterville. “And I have another confession to make. I do not feel the slightest need to apologize to anyone for doing so.”

The chant, Van Cleave wrote, had been directed at four congresswomen who “have nothing but contempt for this country” and who “should leave and go to a country they admire such as Cuba or Venezuela.”

The four congresswomen, who have been told by Trump to “go back” to where they came from, are all people of color. Three were born in the United States; the fourth, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a refugee when she was a child.

At the dental office where she works, Serrano challenged co-workers who support the president to defend his words — and the crowd’s.

They did: The chant, she was told, was all about the congresswomen and their political beliefs, not about their race, ethnicity or religion.

Serrano was unconvinced. She felt “hurt and betrayed,” the crowd’s words settling in her mind like a slur against entire groups of people. It’s something, she said, she couldn’t have imagined only a few years ago.

“There was a filter, and now the filter has been broken,” she said. “My Hispanic friends are afraid to go to the store. They’re afraid to do anything. It’s scary.”

Newcomers to Greenville say that they, too, have noticed a shift.

Tareq al-Hilali, 33, came to the city as a refugee five years ago after fleeing his native Iraq. He and his family soon opened a convenience store, where they serve fried chicken to an appreciative clientele and field inquiries about the finer points of their religion.

“Why don’t you eat pork? Why does your sister wear a hijab?” said Hilali. “People ask questions, but they’re nice questions.”

His sister is less convinced that the interest is so benign. When she first moved to the United States, she said, she felt no fear walking around the city while wearing her hijab.

That has changed. Trump, she said, is responsible.

“I don’t feel safe anymore,” said Sura al-Hilali, 24.

Something else has changed, too. A few months ago, after hours of study crammed in between work at the store and her university classes, she passed her citizenship test.

“They can’t send me back now,” she said. “I have my rights.”

No, they can't send her back. But that won't stop them from chanting and cheering Trump's ugly xenophobic language, obviously. After all, the four members of the squad are citizens.

Think for a moment about the fact that these people are embracing "love it or leave" from a man who routinely disparages this country in the harshest of terms, calling its leaders (other than himself or his sycophants) "stupid",condemning any state that doesn't vote for him, denigrating its cities and calling its military leaders incompetent among dozens of other insults toward the very country his allegedly patriotic followers claim to be defending.

Trump and the Republicans have turned over a rock and all this ugly racism and hate has come slithering out. And way too many of our fellow Americans are delightedly embracing it.

There is nothing too small for him to lie about

by digby

Daniel Dale of CNN made note of this Trump boast on twitter:

At least seven times since November 6, 2016, including at his rally last night, Trump has claimed that he was once named Michigan’s Man of the Year.

All signs point to this never having happened.

If you once gave Donald Trump the Michigan Man of the Year award, or work for Trump and want to set me straight about this very real award, please email me at daniel.dale@cnn.com.

Someone finally stepped up:

I have made progress on the Michigan Man investigation. Former GOP congressman Dave Trott calls to say Trump claimed to him that he was given the award at a Lincoln Day dinner Trott invited him to speak at in 2013. But Trott says there was no award, just a speech.

Trott says that Trump thanked him for the alleged award at a 2017 roundtable with auto CEOs. Trott says he wasn’t about to correct Trump in front of CEOs while in Congress, but now he’s out of office and doesn’t care, so he can say Trump made it up.

Trott adds that the speech was well-received. He also adds that Trump insisted he had to tell the press that it was the largest Oakland County Lincoln Day Dinner crowd ever, even though Trott told him he had no idea if that was true. He says Trump claimed CBS said it was.

This is revealing. Trump doesn't just make these petty dishonest boasts on his own. He actively enlists other Republicans in his childish lies and they go along with it.

In fact, they don't just go along with it, they actively support this addled narcissist. It's astonishing.


"We respect him for the title"

by digby

So the taxpayers paid for Trump's outrageous political rally at the Shell plant last week --- and the bosses forced the workers to go or forfeit their pay for the day. A scam from beginning to end:

Workers at a massive new Shell plant in Pennsylvania had to attend a speech by President Donald Trump there earlier this week to be paid — and were ordered not to protest, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Attendance was not mandatory for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant north of Pittsburgh, but they had to forfeit pay for the day if they skipped, according to attendance and comportment information obtained by the newspaper.

“Your attendance is not mandatory,” one manager told workers, summarizing a memo that Shell sent to union leaders, the Post-Gazette reported, but only those who showed up at 7 a.m., scanned their ID cards and prepared to stand for hours through lunch would be paid.

“No scan, no pay,” workers were warned.

In addition, workers who decided not to listen to the president’s speech reportedly would not be paid overtime rates routinely built in for extra time during the week.

The newspaper said that they were also told: “No yelling, shouting, protesting or anything viewed as resistance will be tolerated at the event. An underlying theme of the event is to promote good will from the unions. Your building trades leaders and jobs stewards have agreed to this.”

“This is just what Shell wanted to do and we went along with it,” Ken Broadbent, business manager for Steamfitters Local 449, told the newspaper. He said he wouldn’t “bad rap” the situation.

“We’re glad to have the jobs. We’re glad to have the project built,” he said. “The president is the president whether we like him or dislike him. We respect him for the title.”

The new $6 billion plant, which has been under construction since 2017, is an “ethane cracker” plant. It will “crack” ethane, a natural gas liquid found in some natural gas deposits, and turn it into plastic pellets to be used in various plastic products. The plant will produce over 1 million tons of plastic. Environmentalists and community groups complain that the operation will harm the region’s air quality and will increase carbon emissions and plastic pollution.

Trump took full credit for the plant in his speech, even though it was initially approved in June 2016, during the Obama administration, CNN reported.

“It was the Trump administration that made it possible,“ Trump told workers. “No one else. Without us, you would never have been able to do this.”

He also told workers: “I’m going to speak to some of your union leaders to say, ’I hope you’re going to support Trump. If they don’t, vote them the hell out of office because they’re not doing their job.”

Trump was supposed to stick to addressing energy in his speech, but it morphed into a full-blown, free-range campaign speech.

As Kevin Drum wisely observes:
Donald Trump may have the knack of talking to blue-collar workers, and I suppose union leaders need to do their best to work with whoever’s in the White House. But as Trump said to them about unions, “they cost me a lot of money.” That part was real. The little laugh that followed wasn’t. Unions cost Trump and the rest of the business class a lot of money, and they’ve spent the last 50 years conducting a scorched-earth campaign to destroy them. So when, one way or another, it turned out there was no Trump infrastructure bill and never would be; and Trump started whittling away at public sector union rights; and Trump repealed the “overtime” rule put in place by President Obama; and Trump’s NLRB overturned a couple of key labor rules; and Trump appointed Eugene Scalia to be the next Labor Secretary; and Trump said not a peep when Boeing workers tried to organize in South Carolina; and Trump’s trade war started hurting union jobs—well, you’d be foolish to wonder why he did all that. The answer is simple. He’s a Republican. It’s what he does.

Any union that supports Trump’s White House and Mitch McConnell’s Senate deserves whatever they get. Any union that backs a Trump initiative that screws other unions as long as they themselves are exempted should hardly be surprised when that exemption is suddenly in danger.

Sadly, it's the workers who will suffer. But quite a few of them voted for Trump too so ...

Deep State just in case

by digby

And here I thought the Trumpies were our new champions of civil liberties:

The Trump administration has broken its long silence on a high-profile National Security Agency programme that sifts records of Americans’ telephone calls and text messages in search of terrorists on Thursday.

They acknowledged for the first time that the system has been indefinitely shut down — but asked congress to extend its legal basis anyway.

In a letter to congress delivered on Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, the administration urged lawmakers to make the USA Freedom Act permanent, being the legal authority for the National Security Agency to gain access to logs of Americans’ domestic communications.

The law, enacted after the intelligence contractor Edward Snowdenrevealed the existence of the programme in 2013, is set to expire in December, but the Trump administration wants it made lasting.

The unclassified letter, signed by Dan Coats on Wednesday in one of his last acts as the director of National Intelligence, also conceded that the NSA has indefinitely shut down that programme after recurring technical difficulties repeatedly caused it to collect more records than it had legal authority to gather.

Well ok then.



'B' for effort

by Tom Sullivan

Stacey Abrams has launched an effort to safeguard voting rights in 2020 and beyond. Abrams this week launched Fair Fight 2020 "to staff, fund, and train Democratic voter protection teams" in battleground states across the country. Abrams is considered a potential vice presidential pick. She told the New York Times on Wednesday she would be "honored to be considered by any nominee." “No matter which ones of our nominees win, if we haven’t fought this scourge,” Abrams told the Times, “if we haven’t pushed back against Moscow Mitch and his determination to block any legislation that would cure our voting machines, then we are all in a world of trouble.”

“We’re going to have a fair fight in 2020 because my mission is to make certain that no one has to go through in 2020 what we went through in 2018,” Abrams told the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades in Las Vegas. Abrams hopes to use the primary season to build a 20-state countermeasure to voter suppression.

Voter suppression efforts in Georgia in 2018 may have cost Abrams her the chance to become the country's first black female governor. The man who led those efforts now sits in the governor's mansion. The Washington Post reports the effort could cost as much as $5 million and plans to target states "in the Midwest and Southeast, and three states with gubernatorial elections this year: Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi."

Fighting voter suppression and securing voting systems is part of Abrams' admirable "long game." She could play a "a key role in shaping the future of the Democratic Party that may endure beyond four years in the White House," writes The Atlantic's managing editor, Adrienne Green.

As vital as such efforts are, as well as those of independent third-party groups in securing the right to vote, new groups organized around ballot access still leave the job of securing election wins primarily to candidates' campaigns not only at the top of the ticket, but all the way down ballot. The farther down-ballot the candidate, the fewer resources there are available both in terms of funding and campaign talent. Most volunteers want to work the marquee races at the top, especially in presidential years.

The 2020 election will determine not only control of the White House, the U.S. House and Senate, but control of state legislatures across the country. Securing the right for people to vote for president is important, but less meaningful if Democrats cannot elect state representatives and senators that will decide how their states draw new districts in 2021 that will stand for another decade.

A key flaw in how we approach elections is to focus turnout efforts on the big, blue cities where statewide races are won, and on the big, blue states with blocks of Electoral College votes. But if my state is any indicator, there are only so many state house and senate seats to be won in the cities, and not enough to make controlling majorities in the legislature. For that, securing the right to vote is not enough. Nor is counting on a presidential ticket to drag all the under-resourced, down-ticket Democrats across the finish line.

The long-game problem Democrats have yet to address is the decaying party infrastructure in counties outside the cities. Local committees are under-resourced and less-experienced. In many places, they are invisible or nonexistent.

In Abrams' Georgia, a third of the population resides in counties under 100,000 in population. Half that in counties under 30,000. Of 159 counties statewide, 97 are shown as unorganized on the state party's website this morning.

Granted, many of those counties are tiny. Over 30 are home to under 10,000. Many larger counties in Georgia and in states across the country have local organizations that are minimally functional or at least have have no web presence. Thirty-two in Georgia have only dummy FB pages someone set up in 2017 and promptly abandoned. They are cookie-cutter duplicates. Only the names and header pictures change. These Democratic county committees are otherwise unorganized to all appearances.

Democrats in 32 Georgia counties have only dummy Facebook pages.

Don't try finding on the web more than a handful of Democrats' parish committees in Louisiana.

Collectively, rural counties are charged with electing Democratic state senators and representatives. Do they? Can they? Or does that simply fall on poorly funded local candidates and their campaigns? Or on national tickets with no serious interest in them? Or on already stretched statewide campaigns? This needs fixing across the country. Control of 2021 redistricting depends on it, perhaps as much as on ballot access.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Night Soother

by digby

A hopeful story about humans and penguins:
It’s a magical sight: Just as the light begins to vanish, thousands of tiny penguins waddle out of the surf on an island in southeastern Australia, then head up the beach and along well-worn paths toward their burrows.

The “penguin parade” has been a major attraction since the 1920s, when tourists were led by torchlight to view the nightly arrival of the birds — the world’s smallest penguin breed, with adults averaging 13 inches tall — from a day of fishing and swimming.

For much of that time, the penguins lived among the residents of a housing development, mostly modest vacation homes, in tight proximity to cars and pets, as well as ravenous foxes. The penguins’ numbers fell precipitously. But in 1985, the state government took an extraordinary step: It decided to buy every piece of property on the Summerland Peninsula and return the land to the penguins. The process was completed in 2010.

The birds are now thriving. There are about 31,000 breeding penguins on the peninsula, up from 12,000 in the 1980s. Phillip Island Nature Parks is the most popular wildlife tourist destination in the state of Victoria, drawing 740,000 visitors in 2018. And late last month, a gleaming symbol of that success opened to the public: a $58 million visitor center, a striking star-shaped buildingwith glass walls that look onto penguin burrows.

A park ranger speaking to visitors at Summerland Beach, where the penguins approach each evening.CreditAsanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times

The birds, known as little penguins, are the world’s smallest penguin breed, with adults averaging 13 inches tall. CreditAsanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times

The story of the transformation of the Summerland Peninsula from a coastal suburb into a wildlife habitat and world-class tourist spot is one of unusual government foresight. It also reflects the vital Australian tourism industry’s heavy reliance on wilderness and wildlife resources, and the economic threats posed by environmental degradation.

“The case study at Phillip Island is proof that difficult short-term decisions can yield great long-term results,” said Rachel Lowry, chief conservation officer of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Australia. “It is an incredible example of allowing scientific modeling to motivate and inform a decision that has gone on to benefit both people and nature in the long term.”

Phillip Island, which sits in the mouth of Westernport Bay about 85 miles south of Melbourne, is home to the world’s largest colony of the species known as the little penguin. In addition to the southern coastline of Australia, the birds also breed and nest in New Zealand.

In the 1930s, the owners of the land on the peninsula gave about 10 acres to the State of Victoria for the protection of the little penguins, and by the 1950s viewing stands and fences had been built on Summerland Beach — the main observation point for the parade — to control human access and viewing. A visitor center was built in the 1960s.

For many residents of the state of Victoria, a visit to the penguin parade was — and still is — a childhood rite of passage, the destination for school trips and family outings.CreditPhillip Island Nature Parks

For decades, the little penguins shared a habitat with a housing development, the Summerland Estate, shown in 1984. A year later, the state of Victoria decided to remove all of the homes and return the land to the penguins, a process that took 25 years.CreditPhillip Island Nature Parks

For many residents of Victoria, a visit to the penguin parade was — and still is — a childhood rite of passage, the destination for school trips and family outings.

But the peninsula, with its breathtaking views of the ocean, has also been an attractive location for developers. On the penguins’ breeding ground, 190 structures — mainly homes — were built as part of Summerland Estate, with plans for hundreds more.

That, along with the predatory behavior of foxes (now eradicated) that had been introduced by European settlers, led to a sharp decrease in the island’s population of little penguins. At one time there were 10 colonies on Phillip Island; today there is only one.

By the early 1980s, scientists studying the colony were worried about the prospect of total local extinction.
The penguin population has reversed its steep decline in the years since the government decided to restore the land to its natural state.

“The colony was being eroded at an alarmingly rapid rate,” said Peter Dann, the research manager at Phillip Island Nature Park. Dr. Dann has worked for the park since the early 1980s and was one of the authors of a study that led to the Summerland property buyback.

When Dr. Dann describes the 1985 decision to remove or destroy the structures in Summerland Estate, he still seems shocked it happened. It is thought to be the only instance in the world in which an entire community has been purchased by a government for the sake of environmental and wildlife protection.

Dr. Dann gives much of the credit to Joan Kirner, who was the minister for conservation at the time and went on to become Victoria’s premier. She died in 2015.

“She came out here, she toured the island, I explained the situation to her,” Dr. Dunn said. “She went back and convinced the government that this was the right thing to do. I think if it had been anyone else, anyone but Kirner, I never could have convinced them.”

In the years leading up to 1985, measures had been taken by the government to halt development and buy undeveloped land on the peninsula. But the idea of eradicating Summerland Estate was a bombshell for residents.

Scanning a microchip embedded in a penguin to monitor its health and movements.CreditAsanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times

“We were horrified and deeply shocked and incredibly saddened,” a former resident, Jean Verwey, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year, adding that she finds it difficult to visit the site of her former family home.

The state government initially allocated about $7 million, or about $17 million in today’s money, for the effort. But because of financing issues, the buyback took a decade longer than originally planned. This gave some residents more time in their properties, but it also left them in a state of limbo. They were banned from building or upgrading in any way.

Dr. Dann, who himself was a onetime renter on the peninsula, said he understood the anguish. “I have lots of empathy — these are people who have spent countless Christmases and holidays here, who made intergenerational family memories,” he said. But his main concern and loyalty lay with the penguins, he said.

The new visitor center is on land that was previously a parking lot for the old center, in a location between the dunes, the headland and the wetlands, where penguins are unlikely to build burrows. It has a much larger capacity than the old center, with two restaurants, event spaces and meeting rooms.

This week, nine years after the last Summerland Estate home was purchased and removed by the state, a final demolition will begin: The old center and its surrounding facilities will be cleared, freeing up almost 15 acres of prime habitat — enough for around 1,400 tiny penguins.

Trump's international blunders are starting to catch up with him

by digby

Michelle Goldberg is alarmed about the international situation under Trump. As am I:

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, visited The New York Times editorial board, and I asked him about the threat of armed conflict between his country and India over Kashmir. India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over the Himalayan territory, which both countries claim, and which is mostly divided between them. India recently revoked the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of the part of Kashmir it controls and put nearly seven million people there under virtual house arrest. Pakistan’s prime minister compared India’s leaders to Nazis and warned that they’ll target Pakistan next. It seems like there’s potential for humanitarian and geopolitical horror.

Khan’s answer was not comforting. “We are two big countries with very large militaries with nuclear capability and a history of conflict,” he said. “So I would not like to burden your imagination on that one, but obviously if things get worse, then things get worse.”

All over the world, things are getting worse. China appears to be weighing a Tiananmen Square-like crackdown in Hong Kong. After I spoke to Khan, hostilities between India and Pakistan ratcheted up further; on Thursday, fighting across the border in Kashmir left three Pakistani soldiers dead. (Pakistan also claimed that five Indian soldiers were killed, but India denied it.) Turkey is threatening to invade Northeast Syria to go after America’s Kurdish allies there, and it’s not clear if an American agreementmeant to prevent such an incursion will hold.

North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile testingcontinue apace. The prospect of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine is more remote than it’s been in decades. Tensions between America and Iran keep escalating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have broken down. A Pentagon report warns that ISIS is “re-surging” in Syria. The U.K. could see food shortages if the country’s Trumpish prime minister, Boris Johnson, follows through on his promise to crash out of the European Union without an agreement in place for the aftermath. Oh, and the globe may be lurching towards recession.

In a world spiraling towards chaos, we can begin to see the fruits of Donald Trump’s erratic, amoral and incompetent foreign policy, his systematic undermining of alliances and hollowing out of America’s diplomatic and national security architecture. Over the last two and a half years, Trump has been playing Jenga with the world order, pulling out once piece after another. For a while, things more or less held up. But now the whole structure is teetering.

To be sure, most of these crises have causes other than Trump. Even competent American administrations can’t dictate policy to other countries, particularly powerful ones like India and China. But in one flashpoint after another, the Trump administration has either failed to act appropriately, or acted in ways that have made things worse. “Almost everything they do is the wrong move,” said Susan Thornton, who until last year was the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, America’s top diplomat for Asia.

Consider Trump’s role in the Kashmir crisis. In July, during a White House visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate India and Pakistan’s long-running conflict over Kashmir, even suggesting that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so. Modi’s government quickly denied this, and Trump’s words reportedly alarmed India, which has long resisted outside involvement in Kashmir. Two weeks later, India sent troops to lock Kashmir down, then stripped it of its autonomy.

She goes on to point out that while most people in America, even his followers, have learned that he's a pathological liar so we don't take his proclamations seriously. But the rest of the world still does and frankly, they have no choice. He is the most powerful man in the world and if you don't take him seriously you could be making a huge mistake.

Certainly, some world leaders are looking closely for green lights from the US president. It appears that Trump's comments to Modi may have pushed the Indian prime minister to do it but he wanted to do it anyway. And, in any case, Modi is certainly assured that Trump will not lift a finger in defense of human rights or democratic values. President Xi in China knows this too.

Obviously, India and Pakistan still have every interest in avoiding a nuclear holocaust. China may show restraint on Hong Kong. Wary of starting a war before the 2020 election, Trump might make a deal with Iran, though probably a worse one than the Obama agreement that he jettisoned. The global economy could slow down but not seize up. We could get through the next 17 months with a world that still looks basically recognizable.

Even then, America will emerge with a desiccated diplomatic corps, strained alliances, and a tattered reputation. It will never again play the same leadership role internationally that it did before Trump.

And that’s the best-case scenario. The most powerful country in the world is being run by a sundowning demagogue whose oceanic ignorance is matched only by his gargantuan ego. The United States has been lucky that things have hung together as much as they have, save the odd government shutdown or white nationalist terrorist attack. But now, in foreign affairs as in the economy, the consequences of not having a functioning American administration are coming into focus. “No U.S. leadership is leaving a vacuum,” said Thornton. We’ll see what gets sucked into it.

I have been afraid of this since the morning after the election in 2016.

It's not that we can't re-evaluate and reform the global security order. Indeed, it is overdue. But putting some fool in charge who thinks global affairs are like doing a licensing deal for Trump steaks in The Sharper Image catalog is a dangerous mistake. We ill be lucky to emerge from this without a global conflagration.


The cruelty is the point at every level

by digby

They just can't stop being assholes:

Wisconsin Republicans, led by Speaker Robin Vos, are still befouling themselves in their treatment and attitude towards State Representative Jimmy Anderson, a Democrat who was paralyzed from the chest down when a drunk driver smashed into the car that Anderson was riding in.

It started when Anderson made a simple request to appear via telephone at some Assembly committee meetings when his physical disabilities and health concerns won't allow it. Vos denied him this right guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and accused Anderson of "grandstanding" in his request.

Bad enough, right? But as with all things Republican, there's more. There's always more.

Anderson circulated a letter to each and every fellow state representative to ask Vos to allow Anderson his request for this accommodation. All 36 of Anderson's fellow Democrats signed the letter willingly. However, not one Republican would sign the letter. This includes Republican State Representative Barbara Dittrich, who prides herself as being a long time advocate for those with disabilities.

But Vos still wasn't done. Apparently concerned that there might still be some lingering doubt, Vos wanted to make sure that the world knows that he is a complete and utter shithead.

Vos did this by trying to play the victim card. Yes, you read that correctly. Vos tried to portray himself as the victim, stating that Anderson was only making the request to make him look bad:
Vos told WISN's Jay Weber he believes the timing of Anderson's public appeal, which included speaking to a Journal Sentinel reporter, was meant to undermine the announcement of Vos taking over as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
But Vos didn't say it even that tactfully. What Vos actually said was way worse and about as callous and petty as I have ever seen:
"(This) does not seem like an accident to me," Vos told a conservative radio show host Thursday. "Everything they do is political and trying to make the other side look bad."

Projection for dummies.


Why Greenland? It's worse than you think.

by digby

Vox explains:
Greenland is believed to contain a lot of natural resource wealth that is difficult to exploit due to the large amounts of ice and permafrost in the way.

But the planet is getting warmer. A vision of American public policy that is neither interested in halting the warming process nor concerned about the environmental impact of exploring the resources would naturally want to acquire such a potentially rich land. Many Americans, of course, do not share that policy philosophy, but it is very much the Trump worldview.

But the practical problem is that Greenland is not for sale — and there is no indication that Greenland’s inhabitants want to see their island strip-mined by Americans.

“We are open for business, but we’re not for sale,” the island’s foreign minister, Ane Lone Bagger, told Reuters when it called for some follow-up reporting.

That's a truly astonishing example of his stupidity. The world will be on fire with mass migration, starvation and probably wars. But Trump and his fellow morons think it's going to present lots of money-making opportunities (I'm sure they figure they'll make big bucks price gouging water.)

But it won't unfold quite the way they think --- the pitchforks will be out long before that ever happens.

He's not the only one:
During the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Finland, Pompeo emphasized that the Arctic Ocean “is rapidly taking on new strategic significance.”

“Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade,” he said. “This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days.”

Pompeo added that Arctic sea lanes could become the “21st century Suez and Panama canals.”

Meanwhile, the facts describe a concerning new reality.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card released in December revealed that the oldest ice in the region had seen a 95% reduction in the past 30 years.

“First-year ice now dominates the ice cover,” the study said, explaining that it is thinner, more fragile, more mobile and “more vulnerable to melting out in the summer.”

According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, the melting ice can exacerbate global warming, causing temperatures to rise as oceans heat up, unable to reflect the sun’s rays back into space without the cover of white.

I'm just surprised he didn't suggest just taking it. Remember:
“In the old days, you know when you had a war, to the victor belong the spoils,” he told George Stephanopoulos in 2011. “You go in. You win the war and you take it. . . . You’re not stealing anything. . . . We’re taking back $1.5 trillion to reimburse ourselves.”
That's right. He thinks the US should be "reimbursed" for invading Iraq --- a war he supposedly opposed although there is no record of him having done so.

There is also this:
Controversial private security tycoon Erik Prince has famously pitched an audacious plan to the Trump administration: Hire him to privatize the war in Afghanistan using squads of "security contractors." Now, for the first time, Buzzfeed News is publishing that pitch, a presentation that lays out how Prince wanted to take over the war from the US military — and how he envisioned mining some of the most war-torn provinces in Afghanistan to help fund security operations and obtain strategic mineral resources for the US. 
Prince briefed top Trump administration officials directly, talked up his plan publicly on the DC circuit, and published op-eds about it. He patterned the strategy he's pitching on the historical model of the old British East India Company, which had its own army and colonized much of Britain's empire in India. "An East India Company approach," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support." 
But the details have never been made public. Here is the never-before-published slide presentation for his pitch, which a source familiar with the matter said was prepared for the Trump administration.
He hasn't changed:
Mr. Trump has said little publicly about Afghanistan since being elected. But his thinking about what the United States should reap for its military efforts was made clear in another context soon after his inauguration. Speaking to employees of the C.I.A., the president said the United States had erred in withdrawing troops from Iraq without holding on to its oil.
“The old expression ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’” Mr. Trump declared. “You remember?”

He's always believed in just taking the resources. But to set it up as speculation based on catastrophic climate change is a new level of malevolence and greed.

A last request?

by digby


The Epstein story is just so ... tawdry. And it gets weirder and weirder. He got away with outrageous behavior up until the very end:

The day after he was taken off suicide watch, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein spent at least two hours locked up alone with a young woman, in a private room reserved for inmates and their attorneys, according to an attorney who was visiting the prison that day.

"The optics were startling. Because she was young. And pretty,” said the visiting attorney, who asked that his name not be used because he didn’t want to create friction with the prison administration. He speculated the woman could be a lawyer—NBC News has reported that Epstein paid members of his team to sit with him in a room for eight hours a day for attorney-client meetings, allowing him to avoid his cell.

The visiting attorney went to the Manhattan Correctional Center on July 30, a day after Epstein was reportedly taken off suicide watch and transferred into the Special Housing Unit (SHU). During the hours the visiting attorney was present, it wasn’t Epstein’s main lawyer, Reid Weingarten, or other named attorneys who visited him.

“If I was him, I would have hired... an old bald guy,” said the lawyer, who said the young woman was in there with Epstein for at least two hours when he was there. He also pointed out that the room is locked when prisoners go in, after their handcuffs are removed, and unlocked only when prisoners leave and handcuffs are put back on.

Weingarten and other attorneys representing Epstein have not responded to requests for comment by Forbes.

Epstein’s daily occupation of the room in the SHU was a sore point for attorneys trying to visit their clients. Instead of waiting 15 minutes for a room, the wait could stretch for two hours, as it was that day. “They wouldn't move anybody until he got where he was going, which is what they used to do with El Chapo, too,” the visiting attorney said. There are 12 attorney visiting rooms at MCC, but only two are for attorneys visiting SHU clients. That means Epstein was monopolizing a scarce resource.

It was unusual because “you meet with your lawyers as needed,” the attorney said. He added that it would be difficult for any other lawyer to monopolize an interview room every day if the lawyer didn’t have eight hours of work to do with a client. And in the visiting attorney’s experience, based on the early stages of Epstein’s case, he definitely wouldn’t need that much time every day with his lawyers. MCC has not returned calls about Epstein’s apparent access to the interview room.

David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York, a nonprofit that provides low-cost or free legal representation for people, said that spending eight hours a day in the MCC meeting rooms is unusual, and that attorneys typically couldn’t do that. “We don't have the ability to spend that kind of time on a single visit,” Patton said. Mostly, “the waits can be very long and aggravating.”

As for Epstein’s companion, the visiting attorney noted that she didn’t seem to have any files with her. He speculated that she could have been a first-year associate, and that she was dressed casually. “It was slacks and a blouse. ... Could have been jeans or another kind of pants,” he said. “But, like, Sunday brunch attire.”

Who needs experts?

by digby

Trump promised to hire only the best people. The problem is that he doesn't know about anyone who isn't on TV:

President Trump inherited a good economy, and for roughly 2½ years managed (mostly) not to mess it up. As with his business empire, he also somehow convinced much of the public that this windfall was due to his personal talents rather than luck.

But right now his luck — and ours — might be running out.

Bond markets are flashing warning signs. Stock prices are whipsawing. Some troubling economic data are rolling in, both here and abroad. All this suggests that the risk of a U.S. recession is rising.

Trump seems to be worried about getting blamed for what is coming. For months, he has been setting up the Federal Reserve as a scapegoat — including for market swings caused by his own foolish trade wars. When stocks go up, Trump claims full credit; when they go down, it’s the Fed’s fault. Personal responsibility and all that.

Trump says U.S. consumers ‘may’ pay for tariffs ‘at some point’

President Trump on Aug. 15 falsely said U.S. consumers are not paying for tariffs Trump imposed on Chinese imports. (The Washington Post)

My view on what he (and the rest of us) should be fixed on is slightly different. If indeed we have a downturn, Trump might or might not be the cause; the exact triggers of recession are often hard to pinpoint. But you know what would unequivocally be his fault, rather than fickle fortune?

A badly mismanaged recession. Which seems inevitable if, indeed, recession strikes.

If things go south, this administration doesn’t have a plan. It never had a plan. And it doesn’t have competent personnel in place to come up with a plan.

Trump’s economic brain trust consists of a guy who plays an economist on TV, a crank who has been disowned by the (real) economics profession and the producer of “The Lego Batman Movie.”

For those unfamiliar with this particular dream team, the first person on that list is National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, an affable former CNBC personality. Kudlow has one skill that actually could be useful in a crisis: being able to communicate clearly to financial markets. That skill has been rendered moot, however, by Trump’s inability to settle on any consistent message worthy of communicating.

Next is senior White House aide and trade adviser Peter Navarro. When profiled in the New Yorker in 2016, Navarro could not name a single other economist who agreed with his views on trade. More recently, he suggested the Wall Street Journal editorial page sounded communist.

That’s a first, for sure.

And finally, there’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Bankrolling “Suicide Squad” and other movies — whatever their artistic merits — and earning the coveted title of greatest sycophant in Cabinet history bear little relevance to rescuing the world from economic crisis.

Moreover, Mnuchin’s Treasury Department is rife with vacancies. Many senior jobs lack even a nominee. There is likewise no nominee for the Senate-confirmed job of chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. The acting chair is a health expert.

Not that we should expect Trump, who reportedly disregards briefings that don’t feature his name in every paragraph, to take the wise counsel of aides even if it were on offer. Indeed, the scary question is not whether there are any smart people in meetings with Trump, but if there’s one he would even listen to.

The only competent economic policymakers we have right now are over at the Fed, an institution that Trump is spending all his energy trying to discredit. He has done this by questioning Fed officials’ abilities (a theme of his blow-by-blow tweetstorm of Wednesday’s market rout, which referred to Trump’s own hand-picked Fed chair as “clueless”); and he’s done it by compromising the central bank’s perceived political independence.

Whenever the Fed has refused to bend to Trump’s will, he (alongside other members of his team) has taken to the airwaves to complain, in violation of a multi-decade-long norm for the White House to never comment on monetary policy. This means that even if Fed officials cut interest rates further next month solely because they believe that would be best for the economy — which in my view, would be the only reason this group of professionals would ever cut rates — at least some Fed-watchers will instead interpret the action as a response to the president’s bullying.

In other words, regardless of what the Fed does, Trump is eroding its credibility just when we need it most.

It looks like a Democratic president is going to have her hands full ... as usual.



A path out of chaos

by Tom Sullivan

Keeping people in his orbit off balance is how Donald Trump maintains his sense of being in control. The actual outcomes of his ventures never mattered to him, Jack O’Donnell, who once ran a casino for Trump in the 1908s, told the New York Times in January. What did matter was finding a quick way to declare himself the victor and damn the collateral damage.

Trump did just that with the Carrier plant he claimed he saved in Indiana before taking office.

Now chaos is finding him. The stock market has been a roller coaster ride for the last two weeks. As usual, when it's up, Trump takes credit. When it's down, someone else is to blame (often, the Federal Reserve). Should the economy fall into recession, this administration has a "dream team for mismanaging" it, says the online headline for Catherine Rampell's column. With the economy flashing warning signs of a recession, Trump knows a faltering economy means faltering chances for his reelection.

An unnamed Republican close to the administration tells the Washington Post, “He’s rattled.”

So are some of his supporters. One New Hampshire Obama/Trump voter, Chad Johansen, tells the Associated Press he's experiencing "Trumpgret" today:

The Republican president has done little to address health care issues for a small employer, he said, and the Manchester man remains on edge about how Trump’s tariffs could affect his business, which employs fewer than 10 people. Beyond that, he said, unrelenting news about bigotry and racism in the Trump administration is “a turnoff.”

“The president’s supposed to be the face of the United States of America,” said Johansen, who voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2012. “And supposed to make everyone be proud to be an American and stand up for everyone who is an American. And I don’t feel that President Trump’s doing that. I feel like it’s chaos.”
Republican "by nature," Gino Brogna, 57, cannot vote for Trump again. He felt his 2016 vote was "necessary," but now feels Trump cannot be trusted to keep his word.

A few people AP spoke with felt Trump gets partial credit for the economy, but not Gary West, 71. The retired steel fabricator now drives a school bus. "Maybe the guy that’s got a million dollars he’s helped," West says. "But I don’t feel like he’s helped me at all."

Any prospective Democratic candidate will have to deliver. And quickly, possibly against a GOP headwind in the Senate.

The Week's Ryan Cooper believes Trump has delivered for the conservative elite. Aided by Republican ruthlessness in Congress, like Reagan and George W. Bush before him Trump has wielded executive authority to accomplish "extreme goals achieved through procedural maximalism and tendentious legal theories." As I have written before, their theory of governance is to find the line, step over it, and dare anyone to push them back. No pushback means a new "line." Rinse, repeat.

Cooper does not want to see Democrats adopting similar goals. But a Democrat in the Oval Office in 2021 has "every right to fight fire with fire when it comes to say, protecting immigrants or the environment, attacking monopoly power, boosting unions, and so forth." Not doing so would simply endorse voters' sense of Democratic timidity and to misunderstand the "basic logic of playground bullies" behind Republican tactics:
Many Democrats seemingly believe that a totally one-sided demonstration of good faith will win them Responsibility Points among the electorate. But what it really shows is that they are suckers who are easily bullied.
Voters will tolerate bullies who will fight for them. It's what these voters in New Hampshire thought they were getting. They won't vote for suckers.

The trick for a Democratic president facing a Mitch McConnell-led Senate will be to outwit the bullies and get things done for workers, maybe even big structural change, without it feeling like more chaos.

Molly Hensley-Clancy at BuzzFeed News provides a fascinating account of how, working below the radar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren managed to cancel loans for 30,000 students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges and other bankrupt for-profit schools. Taking on not just the industry but her own party, Warren looked for statutory weaknesses she could exploit to accomplish her goals without legislation:
“Her theory of change is that you focus on one or two levers, and you push them hard,” said one former government official who worked with Warren on higher education. “She intuitively was like, 'That's the lever.'”
Warren used an “inside/outside strategy” to at once "hammer the administration publicly at the same time she worked behind the scenes with those government officials, acting, many felt, as an ally." When Barack Obama took office, he quickly dismantled his grassroots army rather than allow it to become its own locus of power. Warren wants to cultivate one bigger than ever.
“There’s a part that’s savvy of it — when you channel that outrage, it gets press attention and social media hits, and it built the pressure on institutional actors,” said another former department official. “It’s not that she’s excited to have more social media followers, to be on the TV more. It’s that she sees the building of public will as a way to bend the system towards the interest of working folks who haven’t gotten the kind of protection from the government before.”
Hensley-Clancy writes:
The battle over Corinthian is emblematic of Warren’s unique approach to power: an intense focus on microscopic details alongside an at times bullheaded push for the government to act as an agent of what her campaign now calls “big structural change.” And it is a road map of what Warren’s presidency could look like — particularly if she finds herself pitted against a Republican Senate.
The article is worth your time. Indeed, it might be worth the time of whichever candidate Democrats nominate. Unless a landslide flips the Senate, the next Democrat in the White House is going to need to be bullheaded and creative.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Oh my

by digby

He thinks he's King George

by digby

The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Trump made his name on the world’s most famous island. Now he wants to buy the world’s biggest.

The idea of the U.S. purchasing Greenland has captured the former real-estate developer’s imagination, according to people familiar with the deliberations, who said Mr. Trump has, with varying degrees of seriousness, repeatedly expressed interest in buying the ice-covered autonomous Danish territory between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

“Some of his advisers have supported the concept, saying it was a good economic play… while others dismissed it as a fleeting fascination that will never come to fruition. It is also unclear how the U.S. would go about acquiring Greenland even if the effort was serious. “

The worst part is that he has advisers who think it's a "good economic play."

Yet another degenerate Trump associate

by digby

Oh look, yet another underage sex trafficker with ties to Trumpworld
An accused pedophile helped Steve Bannon secure a $100,000 speaking gig from a prestigious Washington think tank, according to emails reviewed by The Daily Beast. The emails—between Republican fundraiser and investor Elliott Broidy and Lebanese-American political operative George Nader—shed light on the relationship between Trump’s ex-adviser and a man now in jail awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges.

The emails point to a closer relationship between Bannon and Nader than previously known. It’s been widely reported that Nader met with Bannon in the White House during his time as a Trump adviser there. But these emails show they stayed in contact after Bannon left government, and that Nader helped the ex-Breitbart chief secure an appearance with a six-figure payday. A Bannon spokesperson, meanwhile, said Nader was “irrelevant” to Bannon’s speech.

Nader’s work drew the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who questioned him extensively as part of his probe into foreign meddling in the 2016 presidential race. But Mueller wasn’t the only federal prosecutor interested in Nader. On June 3 of this year, he was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and charged with possessing child pornography. And just last month, the feds rolled out additional charges for child sex trafficking. Nader is in jail awaiting trial, and has pleaded not guilty.

Broidy, meanwhile, also appears to have drawn attention from the feds: The Daily Beast confirmed in April that one of his former associates has spoken with FBI agents about his business dealings.

The emails between Nader and Broidy, sent in September and October 2017, involve arrangements for a conference on Qatar hosted by the Hudson Institute. Broidy, then seeking business from the government of the United Arab Emirates, was running a quiet public relations campaign designed to undermine the Qatari government’s influence in Washington and with American Jewish leaders. He was particularly incensed that Nick Muzin, a former staffer to Sen. Ted Cruz with deep ties to Jewish leaders, had signed on to lobby for the government of Qatar. They’d run in the same tight-knit circle of Jewish Republicans and Broidy saw Muzin as a traitor. The country’s connections to Iran—with which it shares a huge gas field—have long angered many in the pro-Israel community. And its ownership of Al Jazeera also fuels opposition from many supporters of Israel.
Just a few months earlier, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates started a blockade of Qatar. It was a bid to isolate the peninsular nation, which those governments blamed for funding terrorism. The Qataris kicked off a well-funded lobbying effort to tell their side of the story in Washington and stay in the Trump administration’s good graces. Muzin’s outreach to Jewish leaders—which Broidy sought to countervail—was part of the Qataris’ effort to shore up support.

As part of Broidy’s project, he helped arrange a conference to be held at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank known for its foreign policy work. The conference, set for October of 2017, would make the case against Qatar.

In September, Broidy communicated with Nader—whom he had known since Trump’s inauguration—about those plans. And on Sept. 22, Nader emailed Broidy about getting Bannon involved [all punctuation sic].

“Hope all is going well with you and the Conference,” Nader wrote. “Send me please an update[.] Steve is interested in participating.”

Nader then shared Bannon’s email with Broidy.

“Send him pls a letter to brief him…on the conference, what you like him to do and when,” Nader continued. “You should get him key time and all by himself with proper guy to introduce him. Let me know what you have in mind!”

Two days later, Broidy sent Nader a curious email. It opened with the words “Dear Steve,” and then described the plans for the conference. “I would love to have you as one of the keynote speakers,” Broidy wrote in the email sent to Nader but addressed to Bannon. The email included a draft of the conference’s agenda. It appears Broidy wanted Nader to proof-read the invitation before it went to Bannon, who had left the White House in August 2017.

On Sept. 29, event organizers circulated a draft of a Save-the-Date invitation for the conference. Bannon’s name wasn’t on it.

“You need to add please Steve Bannon,” Nader wrote in an email to Broidy. “He is as important if not more to that invitation and kindly send me too a draft of the full program as is for now[.]”

Two weeks later, Bannon was in.

“Still working on many details,” Broidy wrote to Nader on Oct. 17. “Will get schedule to you when ready. Steve is on board, FYI $100k honorarium.”

Five days later, Broidy was still keeping Nader looped in on Bannon’s participation. He forwarded Nader an email he sent directly to Bannon that day. “I am very excited about your appearance at the conference tomorrow,” he wrote in the email to Bannon that he forwarded to Nader. “George asked me to resend some talking points. See you then.”

A person close to Bannon said that the two men got to know each other better after Bannon left the White House, and that Nader was one of many people who approached Bannon on behalf of event organizers about making speeches.

But a Bannon spokesperson discounted Nader’s role in Bannon’s speech.

“This is just one of many speaking requests Mr. Bannon receives,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Hudson Institute is a highly respected think tank, and because of that, he accepted an invitation with others such as Sen. Cotton and Gen. Petraeus. George Nader was irrelevant; neither he nor anyone has influenced Mr. Bannon’s longtime position on the condemnation of Qatar as an urgent threat to Israel: a state sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and other Islamic terror organizations.”

The conference went forward, largely as planned, and a source familiar with it confirmed that Bannon received the $100,000 payment. It featured a host of luminaries, including Gen. David Petraeus; Zalmay Khalilzad, who later became the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation; Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives; and Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Bannon, in his speech, was characteristically bombastic and praised the blockade.

“I think the single most important thing that’s happening in the world is the situation in Qatar,” he said. “What’s happening in Qatar is every bit as important as what’s happening in North Korea.”

A lawyer for Nader declined to comment for this story. Spokespersons for Broidy and Bannon declined to comment as well.

The Hudson Institute stands by its work.
In an ironic twist, Bannon has since gotten to know Muzin—Broidy’s old nemesis—and discussed going into business with him. The Daily Beast reported earlier this year that Muzin pitched an executive at Juul, the e-cigarette company, on his lobbying services and said Bannon would be able to help out with his influence efforts. Juul didn’t take them up on the offer.

For Broidy and Nader, the weeks before the Hudson conference were a comparatively simple time. Two months after the event, hackers stole troves of emails Broidy had sent and received. The emails were fodder for a host of news stories about his business dealings and relationships with foreign government officials, including officials looking to influence Trumpworld. Many of Nader’s communications with Broidy have also become public since the hack. And numerous reports have revealed Nader’s work as a gatekeeper between Gulf dignitaries and denizens of Trumpworld. The emails The Daily Beast obtained indicate that, on at least one occasion, he also helped connect a Republican financier to Bannon.

Broidy has alleged in court that the Qatari government sponsored the hacks. The Qataris say the allegations are baseless, and the litigation is underway.

The vast number of grifters, weirdos and fascists who surround him is rather awe-inspiring.  Never say he isn't brining people together.