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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

 
It isn't just Trump U and Trump Mortgage, folks

by digby















Does it make sense to anyone that a man worth 10 billion dollars would be a cheap huckster like this? Something just doesn't add up:

[A]mong the most baffling elements of the media’s obsession with Clinton’s speaking fees: Why are her lecture circuit earnings the only ones that matter? When so many prominent Republican candidates previously cashed big checks making paid speeches (and some of them cashed the checks while running for president), why are only the Democratic front-runner’s speeches considered to be newsworthy and borderline controversial?

Those recent Republican candidates include Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani, who pocketed more than $11 million in the thirteen months prior to announcing his candidacy in 2007.

And yes, Donald Trump.

It turns out that a big chunk of Trump’s speaking fees revolve around ACN, a controversial multilevel marketing company that’s been accused of bilking people out of millions of dollars.

If presented in proper context by the press, Trump’s long-running and lucrative relationship with ACN would essentially eliminate questions about Clinton’s speeches. And if queries persisted, the press would have to demand Trump also release nearly a decade worth of transcripts.

In truth, there has been some good reporting on Trump's questionable relationship with ACN. (Interestingly, some of it has been done by the conservative press.) But apart from the initial flurry of reports last summer, Trump’s ACN association -- like so many scandals involving the presumptive Republican nominee -- has largely faded from view. And virtually none of the coverage has focused on the issue of paid speeches, or suggested Trump release transcripts to his six-figure ACN pep rallies, the way the press has hounded Clinton over that issue.

Here’s the key point: Clinton’s paid speeches, whether to financial institutions, universities or trade associations, have never represented endorsements. On the other hand, Trump has spent years giving paid speeches and appearances specifically to ACN and quite clearly endorsing the company: “ACN has a reputation for success, success that’s really synonymous with the Trump name.”

In 2009 and 2011, ACN executives appeared on Trump’s NBC reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. And during one episode, Trump touted a “revolutionary” videophone that ACN was rolling out: “I simply can’t imagine anybody using this phone and not loving it.” (The product quickly flopped.)

ACN’s website once bragged how, "Trump is a fixture at ACN International Training Events, setting the record for the most appearances from the ACN stage by any ACN special guest speaker." (The boasts have since been deleted.)

In fact, it seemed the whole point of his speeches and personal appearances were for Trump to boost ACN’s brand and convince more people to buy into its sales system. “To prop up its business, ACN relies heavily on Trump to recruit news salespeople into the fold,” The Daily Caller noted.

Being a multilayered marketing company means ACN relentlessly recruits people to sell its products.

As Slate explained:

Products sold through the multilevel marketing model aren’t sold in stores. Instead individuals purchase a startup kit (always encouraged, but not always required) and then contract with the company for the right to sell the merchandise to other individuals. They receive a commission on each sale but are not actually employed by the company. So far, so familiar. That’s the classic Avon Lady model. 
But selling goods one by one to your neighbors and friends isn’t the way to riches, no matter how much you hound them or otherwise guilt-trip them into making purchases. So multilevel marketing companies incentivize their salespeople to recruit other salespeople, promising them a cut of all that person’s sales, as long as both the original seller and the new recruit remain active.

Becoming an ACN salesperson costs money. The company charges a $499 initiation fee, and then “ACN representatives are charged a $149 annual renewal fee, and they often pay $39.99 a month for a package of technology and marketing materials, plus extra fees to attend company meetings and conferences.”

Trump now seems to realize the political downside to his ACN cheerleading. When asked about his cozy, decade-long relationship with ACN, Trump last year told The Wall Street Journal he didn’t really know much about the company. (“I know nothing about the company other than the people who run the company.”) This is a company, as the Journal reported, that has paid Trump “millions of dollars” “over the past decade.”

Indeed, Trump once bragged that in 2006 the company paid him $2.5 million for a single speech. And last year when Trump filed a financial disclosure with the Federal Election Commission, three ACN speeches/appearances from 2014 and 2015 were listed among his income. Trump pocketed $450,000 for each one.

Why are Trump’s ACN six-figure paychecks a big deal? And why, if Hillary Clinton had spent years hyping a company as suspicious as ACN, would there probably already have been Republican-led congressional hearings into that relationship?
There's much more at the link about this particular con. The company is under investigation for fraud all over the country.

Here's Trump being sold as ACN's partner:



Here's the phone endorsement:



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A major endorsement from a big fan

by digby













Trump is becoming beloved throughout the world --- by insane dictators and cunning tyrants.  Trump commonly tells everyone that Vladimir Putin has  called him a genius. (That's actually a lie --- of course.) Trump has expressed his admiration right back, saying he's a strong leader which is just wht this country needs as well. And Trump had also said he admired Kin Jong Un as well. Now the official North Korean newspaper has endorsed Trump:
An editorial published Tuesday heaps praise on Trump as a "wise politician" and a "far-sighted presidential candidate," according to a report by NKNews.org, which noted that the article referred to many of the presumptive Republican nominee's statements on foreign policy with respect to North Korea in particular.

“Trump said ‘he will not get involved in the war between the South and the North,’ isn’t this fortunate from North Koreans’ perspective?” the writer of the piece, identified as Chinese North Korean scholar Han Yong Mook, who also referenced Trump's comments in March saying that he would consider withdrawing United States troops from the Korean peninsula if South Korea does not pay more for its defense.

“Yes do it, now … Who knew that the slogan ‘Yankee Go Home’ would come true like this?" Han wrote, according to the report. "The day when the ‘Yankee Go Home’ slogan becomes real would be the day of Korean Unification.”

Trump was extremely disdainful of the press today, calling on reporter a sleaze to his face. He prefers the North Korean press. They know how to pay respect.

.

 
QOTD: Rebecca Traister

by digby














There is an Indiana Jones–style, “It had to be snakes” inevitability about the fact that Donald Trump is Clinton’s Republican rival. Of course Hillary Clinton is going to have to run against a man who seems both to embody and have attracted the support of everything male, white, and angry about the ascension of women and black people in America. Trump is the antithesis of Clinton’s pragmatism, her careful nature, her capacious understanding of American civic and government institutions and how to maneuver within them. Of course a woman who wants to land in the Oval Office is going to have to get past an aggressive reality-TV star who has literally talked about his penis in a debate.
I've said this before myself, in much less eloquent and insightful terms.  My crude analogy was that it's as if the GOP had nominated David Duke to run against Barack Obama.

Please read Traister's profile even if you loathe Clinton. It's a remarkable piece of journalism and eye opening in a number ways.


*If you read the article you'll know why I used that pic.

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The most fearsome hawk of all

by digby





















I wrote about Trump's foreign policy worldview for Salon this morning:


Over the Memorial Day week-end Salon published an important piece by David Niose about Donald Trump's incipient fascism and what that reveals about American militarism. Let's just say that his success is not likely a sign that we are headed toward a new kinder, gentler foreign policy. Trump's use of the term "America First" doesn't harken back to pre-WWII isolationism as many people want to believe. He himself undoubtedly had no idea that it had that meaning when he said it, he just knew he'd heard it before. What he meant is "America will be Number One" which isn't the same thing at all.

Let's take this idea that he's something of a peacenik. Sure, he claims he won't get involved in foreign entanglements the way the ultra-hawks of the Democratic Party, particularly warmongering Hillary Clinton allegedly wants to do, because he's going to be "smart" and "vigilant" and build up the military to such greatness that "nobody will ever mess with us" because they'll be afraid of their shadows. Apparently, he labors under the illusion that the only reason wars break out is because the rest of the world is insufficiently impressed with America's military might --- which is odd since everyone knows the US is the world's only superpower with all that implies. It's unknown how he proposes to show the world the US Military is even more powerful than it already is but the traditional way to do it is to start a war. Perhaps he has a better idea. (A big rally showing off all the weaponry perhaps?)

Needless to say that entire line is fatuous nonsense based upon his playground worldview in which America must strut around beating its chest and demanding "respect" from the rest of the world, which in his estimation (and that of his followers) has been sorely lacking for many decades.  Other countries are taking advantage of us economically because we don't have "strong" leaders who are willing to keep them in their places. And our allies are taking advantage of us militarily because they rely on our security umbrella and they are either going to have to pony up for the full cost or build up their own military, including building nuclear weapons.

He claims that he has been against all the wars that haven't led to unambiguous American victories and was for those that were which makes him a genius military strategist. The record, however, does not bear out his claims. For instance, the one that gives even liberals a little thrill up the leg,  is his insistence that he was against the Iraq invasion. He used it to good effect to troll Jeb Bush in the South Carolina primary and has made it the centerpiece of his case that he can foresee a good war from a bad war. It is not true. And while it is always nice to have a presidential candidate criticizing insane warmongering, Trump simply wants to have it both ways. If the war had gone well he would have been one of its biggest cheerleaders.

He likes to hit the current administration and Hillary Clinton over the head with the intervention in Libya, declaring that he was against it from the start. Again, he lies. Buzzfeed located one of his videos from 2011 in which he said this:
"Qaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around. We should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives." 
That was precisely the rationale given by the government at the time. He was critical of the administration in real time however.  He felt they weren't being aggressive enough in raining ultra-violence down upon the Libyan people.  And his penchant for torture and other war crimes is well documented.  He is anything but a pacifist and his "isolationism" is a sham. But that doesn't mean he's George W. Bush or Dick Cheney either.

After 9/11, conservative firebrand Ann Coulter said a lot of crazy things including the infamous quote "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." But one of her other memorable lines was "why not go to war just for oil? We need oil."  She repeated it as recently as this March when she wrote this column devoted to calling Jeb Bush "retarded."
Saddam was a dangerous and disruptive force in a crucial oil-producing region of the world. We need oil. Why not go to war for oil?
Trump is a big fan of Coulter's and it's commonly assumed that he got much of his misinformation about Mexico sending all its "rapists and murderers" across the border from her most recent polemic called "Adios America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole". Their views on immigration track closely, including Trump's Muslim ban, although even he hasn't (yet) suggested that all immigration be halted as she has.

But they have something other than tremendous hostility to immigrants in common. Trump also believes America should "take" oil wherever it is around the world. Indeed, according to this article by Zack Beauchamp at Vox, this idea is at the very center of Trump's worldview. He finds numerous examples of Trump being very upfront about it, starting with this astonishing comment from 2011:
In the old days when you won a war, you won a war. You kept the country. [my emphasis]We go fight a war for 10 years, 12 years, lose thousands of people, spend $1.5 trillion, and then we hand the keys over to people that hate us on some council. 
In 2013, he tweeted this:


And he believes that the US should go back into Iraq and "take" the oil now.  His very first campaign ad contained the promise:  “He’ll quickly cut the head off of ISIS and take their oil.”   He continues to say it on the stump all the time using some iteration of this line from last December when he said, “You take the oil. You know, to the victor belongs the spoils. You take the oil. You don’t just leave it."   Lately he's taken to complaining about the fact that the administration isn't killing the oil truck drivers.

Beauchamp makes an interesting observation about where this confusion is coming from. Trump is an aggressive, militaristic, imperialist but it's not the kind we've seen in America in a very long time:
Trump's plan is to use American ground troops to forcibly seize the most valuable resource in two different sovereign countries. The word for that is colonialism.
Trump wants to wage war in the name of explicitly ransacking poorer countries for their natural resources — something that's far more militarily aggressive than anything Clinton has suggested. 
This doesn't really track as "hawkishness" for most people, mostly because it's so outlandish. A policy of naked colonialism has been completely unacceptable in American public discourse for decades, so it seems hard to take Trump's proposals as seriously as, say, Clinton's support for intervening more forcefully in Syria. 
Yet this is what Trump has been consistently advocating for for years. His position hasn't budged an inch, and he in fact appears to have doubled down on it during this campaign.
Beauchamp quotes  Walter Russell Mead who places Trump in the Jacksonian Tradition. He defines it as being:
[B]asically focused on the interests and reputation of the United States. They are skeptical of humanitarian interventions and wars to topple dictators, because those are idealistic quests removed from the interests of everyday Americans. But when American interests are in question, or failing to fight will make America look weak, Jacksonians are more aggressive than anyone...With them it is an instinct rather than an ideology — a culturally shaped set of beliefs and emotions rather than a set of ideas."
Mead points out that the Jacksonian tradition is notoriously associated with atrocities and overkill, due to the fact that they tend to act out of anger and believe in all out war to achieve their goals. This form of war fighting has been an integral part of American military policy as recently as Vietnam war which featured such figures as General Curtis LeMay who declared that we should "bomb them back into the stone age." But it's been a while since the bipartisan foreign policy consensus featured anyone with this particular philosophy. 

When Trump evoked the names of Patton and MacArthur, as he does frequently on the campaign trail, this is what he's talking about. So is this horrifying apocryphal story about General "Blackjack" Pershing in the Philippines in the early years of the 20th century, which he commonly tells on the campaign trail, where it is met with huge cheers from his followers:
They were having terrorism problems, just like we do," Trump said, according to an account in the Washington Post. "And he caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood — you heard that, right? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said: You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem."
That is a presidential candidate running for office endorsing gruesome war crimes. One can argue that all US presidents commit them, whether it's the "liberal interventionists" or the "neoconservative hawks" all of whom believe, at least in some respects, that they are either preventing something worse or subduing tyrants to promote democracy. Their record is mixed at best. But the sheer, brutality of what Donald Trump is proposing --- the colonialism, the use of overwhelming force, the insistence that America is perceived as weak and disrespected and must show the world that it is number one --- is more dangerous than those more familiar hawks. 

Under Trump the world's most powerful nation (and yes it is, regardless of what Trump says) becomes a rogue superpower to be universally mistrusted and feared. Trump thinks that's a good thing. Sane people understand that makes the world much less safe. And that includes America. 


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"Abortion can no more be legislated than Niagara Falls can be dammed with a spoon"

by Gaius Publius


Former right-wing evangelical Frank Schaeffer confesses his sins (seriously)


Another in our series, "They knew and they didn't care." The video above shows ex-evangelical minister Frank Schaeffer talking about the birth of the anti-choice movement and how it's responsible, among other things, for the presidency of George W. Bush.

Schaeffer on that:
"We [the anti-choice part of the right-wing movement] created that audience — alienated, angry people convinced of their own victimhood. So, they became a majority while the mainstream media slept, and when everybody suddenly woke up to the fact was when George W. Bush was sitting in the White House as a totally unqualified crazy person who launched two wars we didn't need to be in. So the fallout had a direct ramification on American history."
The title quote —  "Abortion can no more be legislated than Niagara Falls can be dammed with a spoon" — comes after the four-minute mark, as Schaeffer says he's come to think of abortion as simply a fact of life, "like broken relationships, and abortion is no different ... part of the warp and woof of life, part of our mortality as a human being."

It's really a striking clip, both for the admission and for the language it's couched in. And yes, he admits he was in it for the money.

Schaeffer Knows What He Did

Schaeffer and his family are directly and personally responsible for the anti-choice movement in this country, and in this five-minute clip he sees unblinkingly — and profanely (this is not-safe audio if your boss is nearby) — what he, to his deep and passionate regret, helped do to the entire country.

It's not a surprise, this confession, because he's said many of these things before. But it's on the level of Lee Atwater's deathbed regret for his Willie Horton-ization of Republican politics. Schaeffer and his family had that great an impact on the landscape of, let's face it, almost the length of our politicall ives.

The interviewer is Samantha Bee, though she makes no appearance. Also, it really is a profane clip. Schaeffer is both colorful, a delightful speaker, and effective. Headset warning.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)

GP
 


.
 

Leaked to you as a public service

by Tom Sullivan

Just a week ago, we covered the Guardian's report on the failure of the Pentagon's whistleblower office to protect the identity of Pentagon whistleblower, Thomas Drake – and Drake's subsequent prosecution. Edward Snowden told an interviewer in 2015, “It’s fair to say that if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there wouldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.” Thus, Snowden undertook what the Government Accountability Project (GAP) dubbed “civil disobedience” whistleblowing.

That was last week. Now:

The former US attorney general Eric Holder has said the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by starting a debate over government surveillance techniques.

Speaking on a podcast hosted by David Axelrod, a former campaign strategist for Barack Obama, Holder emphasized, however, that Snowden must still be punished.

“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder said, in an hourlong discussion on The Axe Files.

“Now, I would say that doing what he did – and the way he did it – was inappropriate and illegal.”
Snowden obviously saw the irony:


Monday, May 30, 2016

 
So refreshing to see a politician who doesn't pander

by digby

Telling it like it is, as always: 

"Politicians have used you and stolen your votes. They have given you nothing. I will give you everything. I will give you what you've been looking for to 50 years. I'm the only one." --- Donald Trump

As Molly Ivins would have said, I think it sounded better in the original German.

Update:  Important to note how paternalistic he is. He will "give" everyone what they've been looking for. He will "take care" of women and Hispanics. That's very unAmerican. It's not his to give.

.


 
Memorial Day 2016

by Batocchio















Memorial Day is meant for remembering those who died in military service (a worthy commemoration). It's also a holiday that naturally spurs thoughts of civilians killed in war, of living veterans and how they're treated, and how war is discussed in our country. It's only right to pause and remember the dead. And perhaps the best way to honor them the other days of the year is by challenging the belligerati who believe that casually and aggressively endorsing war or torture somehow makes them tough or makes the nation safer. Requiring a high threshold for war shouldn't be a political calculation; it's the position of basic sanity. Unfortunately, saber-rattling insanity is both fashionable and profitable in some circles, and rarely seems to draw the same condemnations that wiser, less bellicose positions do.

This weekend, PBS broadcast a short documentary about The Telling Project, which uses theater to help military veterans talk through their experiences, from losing a limb, to being raped, to PTSD, to contemplating suicide. One of the veterans remarked that 'there's no bigger pacifist than a deployed serviceman.' Rather than letting our national discussions of war be hijacked by the braggadocio of the insecure, the cruel, the calculating and the delusional, we'd benefit from considering the harsh realities of war instead. Rather than letting tough guy (and tough gal) fantasies reign, we should seek out true stories. Rather than letting another bombastic speech from an irresponsible ignoramus dictate the terms of discourse, we should give time to veterans and civilians affected by war, and quietly listen.

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He likes the limo better

by digby
















You just have to laugh:

Donald J. Trump, the Manhattan real estate mogul who boasts about his wealth, maintains a fleet of aircraft and sells his own brand of neckties, paid respects on Sunday to an incongruous constituency.

“Look at all these bikers,” Mr. Trump, standing before a crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial, said with admiration. “Do we love the bikers? Yes. We love the bikers.”

Mr. Trump was addressing a gathering at the 29th annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle run, a vast event over Memorial Day weekend that is dedicated to accounting for military members taken as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action.

Bikers assembled at the Pentagon before riding en masse into the nation’s capital, with many dressed in leather vests covered in patches, their bikes rumbling throughout the afternoon.

For the blunt-spoken Mr. Trump, who likes to stress his desire to strengthen the military and improve how veterans are treated, the gathering provided a receptive audience, if one where he might otherwise seem out of place.

“He speaks what’s on his mind and means what he says,” said Tom Christian, 43, a heating and air-conditioning contractor from Tennessee. “And that’s what a biker does. That’s the way we are: We say what we think. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, go the other way.”
He didn't always like the Harley boys so much:
Campaigning in Wisconsin in March, Mr. Trump observed that Mr. Walker was “always on a Harley.I’m not a huge biker, I have to be honest with you, O.K.?” Mr. Trump added. “I always liked the limo better.”
I guess that whole Fortunate Son thing is no longer operative. Trump forgot to go to Vietnam. In fact he forgot which foot he injured that prevented him from going to Vietnam. But it's all good. He hates Mexicans and he hates Muslims and he probably hates a whole bunch of other people who deserve to hated so he's all good. Plus he's really, really rich.

.
 
More Trump "populism"

by digby

















He's a real friend of the working man:
The Supreme Court is being asked to take up a bankruptcy dispute involving the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and to decide whether to restore the health and pension benefits of more than 1,000 casino workers.

At issue is a conflict between labor laws that call for preserving collective bargaining agreements and bankruptcy laws that allow a judge to reorganize a business to keep it in operation.

“This is about how a bankruptcy was used to transfer value from working people to the super-rich,” said Richard G. McCracken, general counsel for Unite Here, the hotel and casino workers’ union that appealed to the high court.

Billionaire Carl Icahn stepped in to buy the casino – founded by Donald Trump – after it filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

As the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said in January, Trump’s “plan of reorganization was contingent on the rejection of the collective bargaining agreement,” also known as the CBA, with the union. Icahn promised a “capital infusion of $100 million” to keep the casino in operation, but “only if the CBA and tax relief contingencies are achieved.”
This is about how a bankruptcy was used to transfer value from working people to the super-rich.— Richard G. McCracken, general counsel for Unite Here

With that understanding, the Philadelphia-based appeals court upheld a bankruptcy judge’s order that canceled the health insurance and pension contributions called for in the union’s contract. “It is preferable to preserve jobs through a rejection of a CBA, as opposed to losing the positions permanently,” wrote Judge Jane Roth.

The union is urging the Supreme Court to review and reverse that ruling, arguing the labor laws call for preserving collective bargaining agreements, even if they expire during a bankruptcy. The National Labor Relations Board agreed and filed a brief in the support of the casino workers union when the case was before the 3rd Circuit.

The appeal petition in Unite Here Local 54 vs. Trump Entertainment Resorts argues the bankruptcy judge wrongly allowed the casino management to bypass the union.

“On Sept. 9, 2014, Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc., and its affiliated debtors including Trump filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code,” the union told the justices. On Sept. 26, Trump filed a motion with the bankruptcy judge “seeking to reject the collective bargaining agreement and implement different terms proposed by Trump.”

Union officials and Trump’s representatives met twice to discuss a new contract, but were unable to agree. The bankruptcy judge then granted Trump’s motion on Oct. 17, 2014.

“Trump immediately implemented the changes in terms and conditions of employment that the Union had rejected. It ceased making contributions to the pension, health and welfare, and severance funds that provided benefits to Trump’s employees. It expanded its own authority to consolidate positions, assign work and subcontract, which resulted in layoffs and loss of pay,” the union said.

In February, shortly after the appeals court ruling, the casino emerged from bankruptcy. While Trump’s name remains on the property, Icahn is the new owner.

The justices met Thursday to vote on dozens of pending appeals, including the union’s case against Trump Entertainment Resorts. The court will issue orders on Tuesday morning and could announce whether it will hear the case.

This happened in 2014, folks.

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The first Memorial Day

by digby



















The forgotten origin:

Union General John Logan is often credited with founding Memorial Day. The commander-in-chief of a Union veterans’ organization called the Grand Army of the Republic, Logan issued a decree establishing what was then named “Decoration Day” on May 5, 1868, declaring it “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Today, cities across the North and South claim credit for establishing the first Decoration Day—from Macon, Georgia to Richmond, Virginia to Carbondale, Illinois. Yet, a key origin story of the holiday has been nearly erased from public memory and most official accounts, including that offered by the the Department of Veterans Affairs.

During the spring of 1865, African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina—most of them former slaves—held a series of memorials and rituals to honor unnamed fallen Union soldiers and boldly celebrate the struggle against slavery. One of the largest such events took place on May first of that year but had been largely forgotten until David Blight, a history professor at Yale University, found records at a Harvard archive. In a New York Times article published in 2011, Blight described what he considers to be the first Memorial Day:


During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.

After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.” Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner” and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.

After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantrymen participating were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite.

This origin story of Memorial Day, also reported by Victoria M. Massie of Vox, was not merely excluded from the history books but appears to have been actively suppressed. The park where the race course prison camp once stood was eventually named Hampton Park after the Confederate General Wade Hampton who became South Carolina’s governor following the civil war.

 
QOTD: An important lawman

by digby




















This strikes me as important but I guess your mileage may vary:
"We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made."
That quote is from former Attorney General Eric Holder.

*In fairness he did say he thought what Snowden did was illegal and harmful but felt that the public service aspect of his revelations mitigated that enough that a judge should take it into account in any sentencing. The funny thing is that the law won't allow that evidence to be considered.  But otherwise great idea ...
 

Whither the Democrats?

by Tom Sullivan

A story about California Governor Jerry Brown in the New York Times comes as friends ponder just where the Democratic Party goes in the wake of the 2016 presidential primary. (I'm not the one here to comment on California politics, but I've got the 3-hour news jump.)

Whether a hard rain is gonna fall or not this year will depend on how the party appeals to the wave of energized voters who support Bernie Sanders and whether it can energize those who support Hillary Clinton. Putting aside arguments about the process, it is undeniable that there are broad bases in the party for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Party leadership that is typically ham-fisted about finding any kind of message would be foolish not to take to heart themes that have energized Sanders' base and led to his strong showing nationwide. Adam Nagourney suggests Jerry Brown can show them how it's done:

Mr. Brown is in many ways a blend of these two very different candidates, having created a style that has made him an enduringly popular and successful California governor. And it is not only Mr. Brown: The California Democratic Party stands as a model of electoral success and cohesion, in contrast to national Democrats struggling through a divisive primary and debate about an uncertain future.

California is one of the few states in the country, and easily the largest, where Democrats are completely in control, holding every statewide office as well as overwhelming majorities in the Assembly and the Senate, not to mention both United States Senate seats. Mr. Brown and his party are using that power to try to enact legislation — on guns, tobacco, the environment, the minimum wage and immigrant rights — that suggest the kind of agenda that has eluded national Democrats.
On big reason for that is demographics. As the Latino population has grown, Republican registration has shrunk. Republican governor Pete Wilson's 1994 initiative to cut off social services for illegal immigrants didn't help, Nagourney writes. But Brown's popularity is more than that:
“Jerry Brown is a unique combination of the leadership qualities of Hillary and Bernie,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor, who is running to succeed Mr. Brown when his term ends in early 2019. “Jerry is extraordinarily adept at populism. But he also has the hardheaded pragmatism that comes with experience, wisdom — and age.”

It certainly seems appealing to California voters: According the latest Field Poll in April, 55 percent approved of his performance. But he has not endorsed anyone in the presidential primary on June 7, and it is difficult to say whether voters prefer the Sanders or the Clinton side of their governor. A poll last week by the Public Policy Institute of California found Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton essentially tied, a surprise to Mrs. Clinton who had expected California to be a relatively easy win. As a result, both candidates are making frequent appearances here, and are advertising on television, in advance of the primary.
Newsome goes on the say that Brown will be hard to replace because he has "figured it out" and found the "sweet spot.”

Endless online discussions among activist friends (pre 2016) about building progressive infrastructure as the way to advance policy goals have given way to near-religious ones about whether the soul of the Democratic Party is redeemable. Perhaps that is because the focus is and has been what happens in Washington more than what happens in the states. Republican gains across the country in 2010 and 2014 did not just happen because of the collapse of the Obama coalition (Democratic failure in Washington), but because of REDMAP and good organizing in the states by Republicans as Democrats napped. It is something national Democrats have neglected since Howard Dean's fifty-state strategy got tossed, sure, but long-term coalition building is often just not sexy enough or immediate enough for new activists. They want to fight the big, high-profile fights when the real action where things get done is more local. Finding the sweet spot between national and local focus seems to elude progressives as a movement, especially during presidential years.

From a tribute at my other blog to an activist friend I just lost, a reflection on that:
I live in a state taken over by a T-party legislature that has passed one of the worst voter ID bills in the country, drafted absolutely diabolical redistricting maps, passed HB2 as a get-out-the-vote tool, and launches regular legislative attacks against our cities where the largest block of blue votes are. President Bernie isn’t going to fix that for me. Neither is President Hillary. And not in Michigan or Wisconsin either. We have to beat them ourselves. Here, not in the Electoral College.

But friends on the left now talk about the Democratic Party the way conservatives talk about “the gummint,” as though it is some sort of monolithic beast with agency of its own apart from that of its voters and activists. I get it. That’s how it looks if your focus is Washington. It looks a mite different out here in the provinces where we’re fighting the border wars. Sometimes out here — and more regularly than every four years — we get to win. That’s what keeps us going. Because the battle never ends.
If we are going to talk about sustainability, it is the smaller wins that sustain us for the long haul, not just the marquee battles. If you don't show up to play, you forfeit. But showing up — consistently — really improves your chance of winning and of building that infrastructure we so often complain of lacking.

What is perennially impressive about California is how state and local initiatives begun there seem to migrate east. That makes them worth doing and perhaps makes their national impact more long-lasting. Maybe that's what Jerry Brown figured out.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

 
An extra soother for the long week-end

by digby

A reader pointed out to me that my Friday night soother this week was somewhat political even though it featured an adorable wallaby and therefore cannot be considered truly soothing.  Since the name Trump was even mentioned in the video I had to agree.

So here:


 
A wild convention

by digby

















Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort is known for his convention shows back in the 1980s. I think he did Reagan 84. He's been promising an extravagant show in Cleveland to nominate Trump, a show like we've never seen before.

Well, they just set the bar pretty darned high at the Libertarian convention:




That was a candidate, by the way.

Let's hope Trump doesn't try to top it. And he could. He has, after all, talked about the size of his penis in a GOP debate on national television. He prides himself on being a man of action so ...

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Lil' Marco, showing his fealty to his Liege Lord

by digby


















God this is embarrassing:
Meditating on everything from Trump's rise to his fractious relationship with Jeb Bush, Rubio revisited nearly every turn of his presidential run in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that aired Sunday on "State of the Union." The former presidential candidate, who has grudgingly said he will support Trump in November, also admitted a series of mistakes that he says eventually bedeviled his campaign.

Chief among those, Rubio has said, was belittling Trump for the size of his hands in the leadup to Super Tuesday, which he has publicly said he regrets. But Rubio went further when speaking with Tapper.

"I actually told Donald -- one of the debates, I forget which one -- I apologized to him for that," Rubio said. "I said, 'You know, I'm sorry that I said that. It's not who I am and I shouldn't have done it.' I didn't say it in front of the cameras, I didn't want any political benefit."
I don't think Trump returned the favor. But I'm sure he liked seeing Lil' Marco grovel. That's what he lives for. 

Rubio went on to say that he thinks Trump is a great "change agent" (what kind of change he doesn't specify) and indicated he was ready to join the Trump party. 

Here's what a conservative leader who has any sense of patriotism and common sense says about Trump. It's Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal Editorial board, a man with whom I have nothing politically in common.  But like me, he sees the catastrophic reality of Donald Trump:

Fareed Zakaria: Brett, I have to ask you ,you have written eloquently against Donald Trump on the ticket. The rest of the Republican establishment has pretty much collapsed and surrendered to his not particularly warm embrace. Are you going to vote for Donald Trump in the fall.
Stephens: I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump. I will vote for the least left wing opponent to Donald Trump and I will want to make a vote that will make sure he is the biggest loser in presidential history since Alf Landon or going back further. It's important that Donald Trump and what he represents, this "ethnic conservatism or populism" be so decisively rebuked that the Republican party and Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way shape or form. They have to learn a lesson the way Democrats learned in 72.  George Will has said lets have him lose 50 states. Why not Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia too?

You'll notice that he doesn't use the usual cheap dodge about how Trump isn't a "real conservative." He makes the argument on the right grounds: Trump is "manifestly unqualified in any way, shape or form." 

This is what's at stake. It's not a game and it isn't about ideology. It's about the fact that this loon is unfit. There are a few Republicans who are willing to say this out loud. But most are like Lil' Marco --- selling out whatever is left of their integrity for a favor from The Donald. 

This is the litmus test of litmus tests. Did you speak up when the party nominates someone who is manifestly unqualified or not? 


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A tight ship

by digby

















I hadn't heard this but it's either true or it's a sign of paranoia behind the scenes:
KARL: OK, one more question before you go. The New York Times reported that some on your campaign staff believe that the campaign headquarters there at Trump Tower has been bugged. What's going on with that?

MANAFORT: I don't know who said that. Certainly there are people probably would like to, because there's a lot of good work going on there and we've been able to develop a campaign that is cohesive, that's working together, and in a record time thanks to a great candidate who has got a vision and connected to the American people, put the campaign in a position to win the presidency.

And so we're going to continue to move forward...

KARL: But do you believe your campaign headquarters has been bugged?

MANAFORT: Do I believe it? No, I don't believe it. But I don't know who said that.

KARL: All right. Paul Manafort, thank you for joining us.

No, the campaign is not cohesive and their candidate is in so far over his head that he's drowning in his own bile at this point.

Chris Wallace asked Corey Lewandowski about this:

“Is there any bugging going on at the Trump Tower?” Wallace asked:

"I think that’s a lot of speculation, I don’t think that’s the case at all, I think we’re very happy with the way that our offices are set up."

What?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's 90% likely to be true.

Trump's a control freak we know that. He's also an authoritarian nutcase. You do the math.


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It's a man's world

by digby




















Food for thought:

Gordon Dahl at the University of California, San Diego and Enrico Moretti at the University of California, Berkeley noticed more than a decade ago that men are more likely to marry, and stay married to, women who bore them sons rather than daughters. In an analysis of American census data, they found that men were more inclined to propose to their partners if they discovered that a baby in utero was a boy, and they were less prone to getting a divorce if the first child was a boy rather than a girl. In the event of divorce, men with sons were more likely to get custody, and women with daughters were less likely to remarry.

To confirm this relationship between sons and marital harmony, Laura Giuliano, an economist at the University of Miami, analysed a survey of parents of children born in America between 1998 and 2000. She found that couples with a son were indeed more likely to be married three years after the birth of their child than those with a daughter. This effect can be seen in data on households across a number of rich countries, which show that adolescent boys are more likely than girls to live with both biological parents. The difference is small – in America, for example, 39% of 12- to 16-year-old girls live without their biological father in the house, compared with 36% of 12- to 16-year-old boys – but consistent. “I have never found a single statistic on a father’s presence in the household that didn’t have a significant gender difference,” says Shelly Lundberg, an economist who specialises in family behaviour at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

What is going on here? Do fathers simply prefer sons? Or are there other forces that bind fathers to homes with boys?
Well:
Part of the appeal of having a child of the same sex as oneself is what Pharaon calls the “mini-me phenomenon”: parents hope to create someone who is both similar to and better than themselves. By granting their children opportunities that they themselves lacked, and by behaving as the parents they always wanted, many seek to remove the same obstacles they believe were set on their own paths as they were growing up. “A lot of parents will see themselves through their child. They think, ‘Here is where I can get it right’,” Pharaon says.

This desire is hardly exclusive to men. Faith, a woman in her mid-60s with long dark hair, concedes that it was “kind of a relief” to have daughters. “There’s something we have in common,” she says of her three girls, now women in their 30s. “At each stage of their lives I would relate to how I felt at that age, and what I wished my mom said to me.”

But among fathers, this preference is plainly more profound. Sean Grover, a family psychotherapist in New York and author of the book “When Kids Call the Shots”, suggests that this is because men often feel less intuitive as parents than women do. Mothers offer babies their first opportunity for attachment; their bodies are literally essential for nourishment. Many fathers find it takes longer to connect with their children, not only because they lack that physical bond, but also because they are often stuck at work during the day. “A lot of men complain that when the baby arrives they don’t know what to do with themselves,” says Grover. “Once you get past their bravado, they are really lost.” Some men, says Pharaon, “attach themselves to the idea that at least my boy will need me to throw a ball around.” They feel a sense of purpose in the job of modelling what it means to be a man.

Fathers also like to see themselves as “the fun dad who takes their kids places,” says Grover. Mothers often get stuck with the lion’s share of routine child care – all the cleaning and feeding and whatnot – whereas fathers tend to swoop in for more recreational experiences. So it makes sense that the activities they are most eager to share are the ones they enjoy themselves. Nick, a journalist in his early 50s with two sons, aged 22 and 14, adds that men in general tend to like “bonding over a third object”, such as technology or sports, which can seem easier to do with a boy. “Men are much more gendered in their behaviour, and in their expectations of the behaviour of their kids, than women are,” says Michael Lamb, a professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge whose research investigates parent-child relationships. “Fathers tend to be more involved and engaged with sons than with daughters, and this distinction only gets more marked over time.”
[...]
A new study of California’s paid-leave benefit, for example, found that fathers were twice as likely to take paternity leave for a son than a daughter. American time-diary data from 2003 to 2006 found that married fathers with a child between six and 12 years old spent nearly 40 more minutes per day with sons than with daughters, mostly doing things like playing sports and watching television. In married families with two children of the same sex, fathers with sons spent between 22 and 27 minutes more per day on child care, and said they had less leisure time than those with daughters. Married mothers, on the other hand, spent only around six minutes more per day with a daughter than a son.

I think this is all pretty primitive stuff. I have, for instance, known plenty of women who favored their sons as the "keeper of the family legacy" which is also plainly gendered stuff.These currents run deep. And they manifest themselves in the wider culture in ways we are not always fully aware of. None of these fathers are bad people who don't love their daughters. That's not the point.

The reason I bring this particular story up is just to illustrate in another small way that gender affects our thinking in ways we don't necessarily consciously comprehend or purposefully act upon. These gender roles are more primal than any other form of human interaction, going all the way back to the caves. If one genuinely believes in freedom and equality, to dismiss it, to not care about it, to think that it isn't real is ... wrong. And it's disorienting and painful for those of us who know it is real, who see the subtleties in this dynamic everyday, who feel this gendered imbalance in our culture, to hear people tell us it isn't happening. Just saying.


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Politics and Reality Radio with Joshua Holland: LOL James O’Keefe; Do Sanders’ Supporters Favor His Policies?

by Joshua Holland
























This week, we're joined by LA Times reporter Matt Pearce, who parachuted into Minnesota to report on a terror trial of three Somali-Americans and ended up with a much more interesting story of a refugee community trying to carve out a piece of the American Dream.

Then we speak with Princeton University political scientist Christopher Achen, who co-authored a piece in the NY Times this week arguing that people tend to choose a candidate based on their "inherited partisan loyalties, social identities and symbolic attachment," rather than the candidate's policy positions.

Then Ed Kilgore, the NY Magazine columnist, drops by to talk about the State Department's IG report on Hillary Clinton's email brouhaha. We keep that one short and to the point.

And finally, Digby joins us to point and laugh at right-wing dirty trickster James O'Keefe, who recently managed to sting himself when he failed to hang up his phone before articulating his scheme to burn George Soros' Open Society Foundation.



Musical theme this week is TV theme-songs!


Playlist:
CBS Orchestra: "Theme from Hawaii-5-0"
Sammy Davis, Jr.: "Baretta's Theme"
Jerry Scoggins: "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" (Beverly Hillbillies)
The Blues Brothers: "Rawhide"
Mike Post: "Hill Street Blues"

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He'll fix the problems with all the dead crops

by Tom Sullivan

Interspersed with Dave Weigel's dispatches from the Libertarian National Convention in Orlando, a clip from Idiocracy came across the Twitter feed yesterday and for some reason it wouldn't get out of my head after that. From Think Progress:

Speaking to an audience in California on Friday, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump told the crowd “there is no drought” in their state.

Trump claimed there isn’t a real water shortage. Instead, he said, state officials are intentionally denying water to farmers in the middle of the state — choosing to reroute the water to the ocean to protect an endangered California fish called the delta smelt. “It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump said. “There is no drought. They turn the water out into the ocean.”
TPM continues:
Trump said that if he were president, he'd have a simple solution.

“If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive," Trump said according to USA Today.
"Believe me." (Have we ever seen a candidate with a more obvious "tell"?) Trump is going to surround himself with the very best people. TOP people. He's got this guy, Not Sure. He'll fix the problems with all the dead crops and the dust storms.

We entered the era of post-truth politics years ago. According to fact checkers, 91 percent of what Trump says is nonsense, but really? And Trump has Sarah Palin as his opening act:

Proving once again that she is not merely laughable but deeply disgusting, in another speech in San Diego warming up for Trump, Palin criticized President Obama for going to Hiroshima this week, calling his visit an “apology lap.”

“You mess with our freedom,” Palin bellowed, “we’ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way.”

The crowd lapped it up, chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”
How long before one of them pulls an automatic weapon from behind the podium and fires a burst into the air for emphasis?


Saturday, May 28, 2016

 
Saturday Night at the Movies

Goin’ mobile: Top 10 Road Movies


By Dennis Hartley












Since Memorial Day weekend signals the warm-up to the summer travel season, I thought I would address those stirrings of wanderlust by sharing my picks for the Top 10 road movies. As usual, the list is in alphabetical order. So…fill ‘er up and check the oil!


Five Easy Pieces  – “You see this sign?” Thanks to sharp direction from Bob Rafaelson, a memorable screenplay by Carole Eastman (billed in the credits as Adrien Joyce) and an outstanding, iconic performance by Jack Nicholson, this remains one of the defining American road movies of the 1970s. Nicholson was born to play the protagonist in this character study about a disillusioned, classically-trained pianist from a moneyed family, working at soulless blue-collar jobs and teetering on the edge of an existential meltdown. Karen Black gives one of her better performances as his long-suffering girlfriend. The late great DP Laszlo Kovacs makes excellent use of the verdant, rain-soaked Pacific Northwest milieu. And remember where to hold the chicken salad…

Genevieve  A marvelous entry from Britain’s golden age of screen comedies, this gentle and good-natured 1953 film centers on the travails of an endearing young couple (Dinah Sheridan and John Gregson) as they join their bachelor friend (Kenneth Moore) and his latest flame (Kay Kendall) on their annual road trip from London to Brighton as participants in an antique car rally. After the two men have a bit of a verbal spat in Brighton, they decide to convert the return trip to London into a “friendly” race, with a 100 pound wager to be awarded to whoever is the first to reach and cross Westminster Bridge. Colorful, drolly amusing and engaging throughout, especially thanks to Sheridan and Gregson’s charming onscreen chemistry. Oh, in case you were wondering-“Genevieve” is the name of the couple’s antique car! Director Henry Cornelius’ next project was I Am a Camera, the 1955 film that was reincarnated as the musical Cabaret.


Lost in America  – Released at the height of Reaganomics this 1985 gem can now be viewed in hindsight as a spot-on satirical smack down of the Yuppie cosmology that shaped the Decade of Greed. Director/co-writer Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty portray a 30-something, upwardly mobile couple who quit their high-paying jobs, liquidate their assets, buy a Winnebago, and go Kerouac in order to “find themselves”; they’ll “touch Indians” (with a “nest egg” of $145,000). Actually, Brooks’ character fancies their new elective lifestyle choice to be closer in spirit to the protagonists in Easy Rider (except that Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper didn’t hit the road in an RV that featured a microwave with a built-in browning element for making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich). Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, the “egg” is soon off the table, and they now find themselves on the receiving end of “trickle down”, to Brooks’ chagrin. Like all of Brooks’ best movies, it is at once painfully funny and so very, very painful to watch.


Motorama   – This blackly comic 1991 road movie/Orphic journey nearly defies description. A rather odd 10-year old boy (Jordan Michael Christopher) flees his feuding parents to hit the road in search of his version of the American Dream-to win the grand prize in a gas station-sponsored scratch card game called “Motorama”. As he zips through fictional states with in-jokey names like South Lyndon, Bergen, Tristana and Essex, he has increasingly bizarre and absurd encounters with a veritable “who’s who” of cult filmdom, including John Diehl, John Nance, Susan Tyrell, Michael J. Pollard, Mary Woronov, Meatloaf and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. What I find particularly amusing is that none of the adults seem to question why a 10 year old (who curses like a sailor and sports a curious bit of stubble by film’s end) is driving a Mustang on a solo cross-country trip. Not for all tastes-definitely not one for the kids (especially since the venerable parental admonishment of “You’ll poke your eye out!” becomes fully realized). Director Barry Shils has only made one other film, the 1995 doc, Wigstock: The Movie.


Powwow Highway  – A Native American road movie from 1989 that eschews stereotypes and tells its story with an unusual blend of social and magical realism. Gary Farmer (who greatly resembles the young Jonathan Winters) plays Philbert, a hulking Cheyenne with a gentle soul who wolfs down cheeseburgers and chocolate malts with the countenance of a beatific Buddha. He has decided that it is time to “become a warrior” and leave the res on a vision quest to “gather power”. After choosing a “war pony” for his journey (a rusted-out beater that he trades for with a bag of weed), he sets off, only to be waylaid by his childhood friend (A. Martinez) an A.I.M. activist who needs a lift to Santa Fe to bail out his sister, framed by the Feds on a possession beef. Funny, poignant, uplifting and richly rewarding. Director Jonathan Wacks and screenwriters Janey Heaney and Jean Stawarz keep it real. Look for cameos from Wes Studi and Graham Greene.


Radio On  – You know how you develop an inexplicable emotional attachment to certain films? This no-budget 1979 offering from writer-director Christopher Petit, shot in stark B&W is one such film for me. That being said, I should warn you that it is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, because it contains one of those episodic, virtually plotless "road trip" narratives that may cause drowsiness for some viewers after about 15 minutes. Yet, I feel compelled to revisit this one at least once a year. Go figure. A dour London DJ (David Beames), whose estranged brother has committed suicide, heads to Bristol to get his sibling's affairs in order and attempt to glean what drove him to such despair (while quite reminiscent of the setup for Get Carter, this is not a crime thriller...far from it). He has encounters with various characters, including a friendly German woman, a sociopathic British Army vet who served in Northern Ireland, and a rural gas-station attendant (a cameo by Sting) who kills time singing Eddie Cochran songs. But the "plot" doesn't matter. As the protagonist journeys across an England full of bleak yet perversely beautiful industrial landscapes in his boxy sedan, accompanied by a moody electronic score (mostly Kraftwerk and David Bowie) the film becomes hypnotic. A textbook example of how the cinema is capable of capturing and preserving the zeitgeist of an ephemeral moment (e.g. England on the cusp of the Thatcher era) like no other art form.


Sideways  – Not unlike the fine wines coveted by one of its main protagonists, this 2004 dramedy from director/co-writer Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt) is destined to become richer and more fully appreciated over time (and repeated viewings, as I have discovered). Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church really shine as a divorced, unpublished writer and a soon-to-be-married, middling TV actor (respectively), two middle-aged pals who embark on a road trip through California’s wine country. For the writer, it’s to be a leisurely cruise through the lovely environs, teaching his friend how to appreciate the aesthetic pleasures of the grape, and its subtle variances from vineyard to vineyard. For his less refined pal, it’s one last shot at a boning and grogging debauchery before he ties the knot. When the two hook up with Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen, things get interesting (cue the midlife meltdowns). Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor picked up a deserved Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar (based on Rex Pickett’s novel).


Sullivan's Travels – A unique and amazingly deft mash-up of romantic screwball comedy, Hollywood satire, road movie and hard-hitting social drama that probably would not have worked so beautifully had not the great Preston Sturges been at the helm. Joel McCrea is pitch-perfect as a director of goofy populist comedies who yearns to make a “meaningful” film. Racked with guilt about the comfortable bubble that his Hollywood success has afforded him and determined to learn firsthand how the other half lives, he decides to hit the road with no money in his pocket and “embed” himself as a railroad tramp (much to the chagrin of his handlers). He is joined along the way by an aspiring actress (Veronica Lake, in one of her best comic performances). His voluntary crash-course in “social realism” turns into much more than he had originally bargained for. Lake and McCrea have wonderful chemistry. Many decades later, the Coen Brothers co-opted the title of the fictional “film within the film” here: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Trip – Pared down into feature length from the 2011 BBC TV series of the same name, Michael Winterbottom’s film is essentially a highlight reel of the 6 episodes; which is not to denigrate it, because it is the most genuinely hilarious comedy I’ve seen in years. The levity is due in no small part to Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, basically playing themselves. Coogan is commissioned by a British newspaper to take a “restaurant tour” of England’s bucolic Lake District, and write reviews. He initially plans to take his girlfriend along, but since they’re going through a rocky period, he asks his pal, fellow actor Brydon, to accompany him. This simple narrative setup is basically an excuse to sit back and enjoy Coogan and Brydon’s brilliant comic riffing (much of it feels improvised) on everything from relationships to the “proper” way to do Michael Caine impressions. There’s unexpected poignancy as well-but for the most part, it’s comedy gold. The director and both stars reunited for their equally enjoyable 2014 sequel, The Trip to Italy.
Vanishing Point   – I don’t know if anyone has ever done a study to see if there was spike in sales for Dodge Challengers in 1971, but it would not surprise me, since every car nut I have ever known who throws around phrases like “cherry” or “big block” usually gets a dreamy, faraway look in their eyes when I mention this cult classic, directed by Richard C. Sarafian. It’s best described as an existential car chase movie. Barry Newman stars as Kowalski (there’s never a mention of a first name), a car delivery driver who is assigned to get a Challenger from Colorado to San Francisco. When someone wagers he can’t make the trip in less than 15 hours, he accepts the challenge. Naturally, someone in a muscle car pushing 100 mph across several states is going to eventually get the attention of law enforcement-and the chase is on. Not much of a plot, but curiously riveting nonetheless. Episodic; one memorable vignette involves a hippie chick riding around the desert on a chopper a la Lady Godiva, to the strains of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” (riveting!). Cleavon Little plays Supersoul-a blind radio DJ who becomes Kowalski’s guardian angel and provides a sort of Greek Chorus. The enigmatic ending still mystifies.







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