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

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Resistance Recess

by digby

Here's a tool for you to use to find out about events happening at congressional offices, townhalls etc during the recess this week:
The week of February 18–26 is the first recess of the 115th Congress—time specifically set aside for members of Congress to meet with constituents and get the pulse of the communities they represent.

This is the perfect time to raise our voices. We will show up at our elected officials' events, town halls, other public appearances, and even plan our own events, if they refuse to meet with us, to make it clear to those who represent us, as well as to the media, that tolerance of Trump's hurtful agenda is unacceptable and politically toxic.

Will you join fellow constituents and attend a Resistance Recess action near you?
Click here for more info. 

This can be effective. Even if your representative is a Democrats there may be meetings worth going to to feel out what's happening and let them know you expect them to resist normalization. And Republicans definitely need to hear from you.


The rogue superpower has the whole world reeling

by digby

The white house staff on November 9, 2016

On the morning of November 9th I wrote this for Salon:
We wake up today to a fundamentally different world than the one in which we woke up yesterday. The nation our allies looked to as the guarantor of global security will now be led by a pathologically dishonest, unqualified, inexperienced, temperamental, ignorant flimflam man. Things will never be the same. And we have no idea at the moment exactly what form this change is going to take, which makes this all very, very frightening.

The scariest thing you'll read this week-end is by foreign affairs expert Robin Wright in the New Yorker:
When I was five, I almost drowned after stepping into the deep end of a lake. I can still recall the terror, my small arms flailing toward the sunlight above the water, my legs kicking in all directions to find ground. A month into the Trump Presidency, that image haunts me as an apt metaphor for both the Trump Administration’s foreign policy and the gasping-for-breath fear among many old hands watching it play out.

“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil,” General Tony Thomas, who heads the United States Special Operations Command, remarked at a military conference in Maryland this week. “I hope they sort it out soon, because we’re a nation at war.”

The President is increasingly bewildering or worrying friends and foes alike. Longstanding allies now publicly chide America. On Thursday, the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called the Trump Administration’s policy on the volatile Middle East “very confusing and worrying.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel—who has become the de-facto spokesperson for the West’s liberal democracies since Trump took office—rebuked his “America First” policy this week. “No country can solve the problems alone; joint action is more important,” she said.

Even the Russians began complaining as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held their first talks in Europe this week. On Friday, the prominent Russian senator Alexey Pushkov tweeted about the contradictory messages coming from the White House. “Trump hopes to make a deal with Russia. Mattis thinks (in vain) that he can put pressure ‘from a position of strength’. Tillerson is playing a 2nd Kerry,” he wrote, referring to John Kerry, the Secretary of State under President Obama. “Three lines from 1 administration.”

Trump’s baffling foreign policy is a central focus of the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend. Top officials from almost fifty countries—including Mattis and Vice-President Mike Pence—are attending the three-day event, which is the premier global forum on security policy. The preparatory report—written by an international team as the official “conversation starter”—uses stark language about the new American President. “The worries are that Trump will embark on a foreign policy based on superficial quick wins, zero-sum games, and mostly bilateral transactions—and that he may ignore the value of international order building, steady alliances, and strategic thinking,” it says. “Or, maybe worse, that he sees foreign and security policy as a game to be used whenever he needs distractions for domestic political purposes.” The report, “Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order?” adds candidly, “What is uncertain is how Trump’s core beliefs will translate into policy (and whether policies will be coherent).”

In an ominous introductory note, the conference’s chairman, Wolfgang Ischinger, a widely respected former German Ambassador to Washington, warns of the dangers to global order if the United States reneges on international commitments and pursues a more unilateralist and nationalistic agenda. He writes, “We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age, one in which non-Western actors are shaping international affairs, often in parallel or even to the detriment of precisely those multilateral frameworks that have formed the bedrock of the liberal international order since 1945. Are we entering a post-order world?”

The Trump Administration’s policies vary, literally, by the day, often on the biggest issues. On Wednesday, the President backed away from longstanding support by both Republicans and Democrats for secure but separate Israeli and Palestinian states. “I am looking at two-state, and one-state—and I like the one that both parties like,” he said at a press conference with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. A day later, Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York, “We absolutely support a two-state solution.”

In December, President-elect Trump affronted China by talking directly to Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, in the first such high-level contact since Washington severed ties with Taiwan, in 1979. China views Taiwan as a renegade breakaway province, and its leaders could not have been pleased when Trump’s aides reported that Trump and Taiwan’s President spoke about “close economic, political, and security ties” between the two countries. Trump’s unorthodox conversation was followed by his surprise declaration, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month, that “everything is under negotiation, including ‘One China,’ “ another break from policy, in this case dating to Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing, forty-four years ago. Trump has long been tough on China, charging it with everything from currency manipulation to fostering the idea of climate change as a hoax to benefit its industries. But then, last week, Trump abruptly reversed course during a call with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, when he pledged to honor the “One China” policy.

On Russia, Trump is really floundering. During the campaign and into his Presidency, he has been consistent on one thing: improving relations with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. “If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” he reiterated at his press conference on Thursday, despite a series of Russian provocations presumably meant to test the new Administration—a spy ship travelling up and down the East Coast, Russian fighter jets buzzing a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea, and a ballistic-missile test interpreted by experts as a violation of arms accords.

Asked about these events at his press conference Thursday, Trump described all three actions as “not good,” but neither condemned them nor said whether he planned to take action. I was in Moscow last week, and the analysts I met clearly thought Russia had gained an edge over the United States since Trump moved into the Oval Office.

Even more worrying, Trump still has no strategic depth in his foreign-policy team; most top offices are still empty. Following the resignation of Michael Flynn as the national-security adviser, after only twenty-four days in the job, Trump offered the pivotal position to Robert Harward. Harward is a retired vice-admiral, Navy SEAL, and counterterrorism expert who—unlike most of the Trump team—has experience in policymaking, too. He worked on George W. Bush’s National Security Council. But on Thursday Harward turned down the job. He cited “personal reasons” to the Associated Press, but CNN’s Jake Tapper quoted Harward telling a friend that the offer was a “shit sandwich”—a suicide mission, in the language of the Special Forces—given the White House turmoil.

At his stream-of-consciousness press conference, Trump said he was “so beautifully represented” in foreign policy by his “fantastic” Secretary of State. But Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of Exxon-Mobil, so far appears to be marginalized by Trump’s inner circle of ideologues and family members, notably chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. As Trump hosted the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, at the White House last week, Politico’s Daily Playbook reported that Tillerson was dining with his wife at Washington’s Al Dente restaurant.

Tillerson, a diplomatic neophyte who has no policymaking experience, has struggled just to win approval for his choices at the State Department, where not a single senior position has been filled—much less confirmed, which itself is a time-consuming process. Trump turned down Elliott Abrams, who was Tillerson’s pick as his deputy, reportedly because Abrams criticized Trump during the campaign. The State Department hasn’t held a press briefing in a month. A diplomat mused to me this week, “We’re in uncharted territory.”

Tillerson made his decidedly low-key début, on Thursday, at a meeting in Bonn with foreign ministers of the so-called Group of Twenty, or G-20. He was there for listening sessions, and most of those were short. Despite mounting international concern about North Korea’s ballistic-missile test this month, the South Korean Foreign Minister, Yun Byung-Se, was allocated only twenty-five minutes. Tillerson held no press conferences. His main meeting was with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, who got an hour, and afterward Tillerson’s only comment was to read a bland five-sentence statement.

In contrast, Condoleezza Rice’s maiden trip as Secretary of State, in 2005, was a weeklong sweep through Europe and the Middle East, hitting London, Berlin, Warsaw, Ankara, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Rome, Vatican City, Paris, Brussels, and Luxembourg City. She took a full press entourage and briefed reporters along the way.

Inside the diplomatic corps there is a low-level revolt, one that has been gaining momentum since some thousand State Department staffers signed a formal letter of dissent about the White House travel ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. Some have already laid the groundwork to react to a new executive order that the President said he would introduce next week, which will be tailored to address the objections of various courts that blocked the original order.

On Wednesday, five former Ambassadors to Israel, who have served both Republican and Democratic Presidents, sent a joint letter to every member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging its members to reject Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as the top envoy to Israel. Friedman is “unqualified for the job” based on his “extreme, radical positions,” the letter says. The five Ambassadors are among a list of legendary career diplomats—Thomas Pickering, Daniel Kurtzer, Edward Walker, James Cunningham, and William Harrop—who have served in the State Department.

The world is taking note. As the Guardian reported this week, “It has been hard to disguise the gap between the department headquarters at Washington’s Foggy Bottom and the White House where far-reaching foreign policy decisions are being made.” The newspaper said that Tillerson was “out of the loop” and noted that State Department officials are so excluded from policy that they “have resorted to asking foreign diplomats, who now have better access to President Trump’s immediate circle of advisers, what new decisions are imminent.”

Trump seems to have an affinity for strongmen, and has spoken often of his respect for autocratic leaders such as Putin and the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. But one of the more unusual analyses I’ve heard about Trump came from a U.S.-educated Iranian analyst. He compared Trump to the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both graduated from prominent schools, “but they’re not well-read,” he told me. “They’re both hard-liners who came out of nowhere politically. They have narcissistic self-confidence but short attention spans. They rely on their inner instincts and tight inner circles. And they move quickly to show toughness, but act rather than think.”

This is the biggest problem we face with Trump, folks. He's a nightmare in every way, of course. But this could blow up the world. It's not a joke. And virtually everyone in government from leakers in the Intelligence community to the agencies to congress to the White House itself know it. The only people who are turning a blind eye are the sick and twisted Republican traitors who see an opportunity to fulfill their evil bucket list.


A new hope

by Tom Sullivan

Four hundred new activists in Asheville, NC prepare to engage the state Democratic Party.

You will need some good news after the horrific events that didn't happen this week in Sweden. There is some. But let's back up a moment first. This happened last night in Melbourne, Florida:

"You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible."

That, from a president of the United States you never thought possible.

The media tried to make some sense of Donald Tump's fake news. The Independent:

One of the country's official Twitter accounts, controlled by a different citizen each week, reacted with bafflement.

Its current administrator, a school librarian, said: "Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There has not [been] any terrorist attacks here. At all."
Or it might have been Pakistan. Who knows? Mediaite went on the hunt:
A quick Google search turns up a whopping zero results for any combination of the search words “incident,” “attack,” Sweden,” and “February 18.”

What Trump seems to be referencing is actually a segment that aired last night on Tucker Carlson about a documentarian and the film he made regarding immigration in Sweden. (If we’re splitting hairs, the interview actually took place earlier this week but the segment only aired last night. But there’s no need to nitpick.)

Somebody tell Tucker Carlson he's Trump's new national security advisor.

The good news is that in the wake of electing a president of questionable mental stability who gets his national security updates from Tucker Carlson, people who never considered engaging in political action suddenly find it imperative.

While Trump was on Air Force One headed to Florida, four hundred people crammed into the Rainbow Community Center here for a briefing on what to expect next week at their first Democratic precinct meetings. The meet-up was organized by the local Our Revolution chapter. While there were a few familiar faces, the organizers included first-time activists, a couple of Bernie Sanders convention delegates and a former Hillary for America (HFA) staffer. The stunned HFA veteran observed, as with the Women's March on Washington and here, all it took was launching a Facebook page and people came without further prompting.

It wasn't superior organizing skills. People are on edge. Neighbors I had not seen in years walked up and announced, "We're back." When I arrived, the line was wrapped around the building. People in this "independent" town are re-registering as Democrats to have more say in the political process. While some online colleagues were fretting about the reappearance of Obama's Organizing for America blamed for undermining state parties across the country, OFA never managed to draw a crowd anything like this.

Third party talk was all but nonexistent. Expediency and urgency is the order of the day. Fighting gerrymandering, taking back the majority in the state legislature from Republicans, and turning the Democratic Party back into a party that represents students and working people is the focus. The groups is teaming up with the large Indivisible group that has formed here for a rally next week. It is one of thousands. Local activists are organizing their own town hall event on saving the Affordable Care Act from the Republican axe and effectively daring their congressmen and senators to show up.

Daily Action gives activists directives for action every day. A Capitol Hill mom started it. Emily's list is encouraging thousands of women to run for office as "part of an activist wave that began with the election of President Trump."

Can't imagine what has got everyone so spooked, can you?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Night at the Movies

Put some shorts on

By Dennis Hartley

At the risk of having my critic’s license revoked, I will freely admit this, right here in front of (your deity of choice) and all six of my readers: I have not seen any of the 9 films nominated for Best Picture of 2016. Then again, you can feel free to ask me if I care (the Academy and I rarely see eye-to-eye). Funny thing, though…I have managed to catch all of the (traditionally more elusive) Oscar nominees for Best Short Film-Animation and Best Short Film-Live Action. And the good news is you can, too. The five nominees in each sub-category are making the rounds as limited-engagement curated presentations; each collection runs the length of a feature film, with separate admissions (the films are held over this week in Seattle and will be on various streaming platforms February 21).

(Reads woodenly off teleprompter) And the nominees for Best Short Film-Animation are:

Blind Vaysha (Canada; 8 mins) – Directed by Theodore Ushev, this piece (based on the eponymous short story by Georgi Gospodinov) is a parable about a girl born with uniquely dichotomous vision: one eye sees the past, the other the future. Is it a metaphor about living in the moment? Oh, maybe. Simple, direct, and affecting, with a woodcut-style “look” that reminded me of Tomm Moore’s animated films (The Secret of Kells).

Rating: ***

Borrowed Time (USA; 7 mins) – Set in the old west, this portrait of remembrance and regret is visually impressive, and seems well-intentioned…but it’s curiously uninvolving. It’s co-directed by veteran Pixar Studios animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj.

Rating: **

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada/UK; 35 mins) – Director Robert Valley’s resume includes a graphic novel series; and his film definitely has that dark vibe. It’s a noir-ish memoir concerning the narrator’s longtime love/hate relationship with his best buddy, “Techno Stypes”, a charismatic but maddeningly self-destructive Neal Cassady-type figure. The story is involving at the outset, but becomes somewhat redundant and ultimately, tiring. Atmospheric, and great to look at-but even at 35 minutes, it’s overlong. Note: Parents should be advised that this one (not exactly “family-friendly”) is being exhibited last, allowing time for attendees to opt out (“hey kids-who wants ice cream?!”).

Rating: **½

Pearl (USA; 6 mins) – A young girl and her free-spirited musician father have a care-free, nomadic existence living out of their car, but as the years pass, life’s bumpy road creates challenging detours (Jesus, did I just write that? A gig with Hallmark beckons). Quite lovely and very moving; it’s my favorite of the nominees in this category. It’s almost like a 6 minute distillation of Richard Linklater’s interminable Boyhood (wish I’d discovered this first-would have saved me some time). Well-directed by Patrick Osborne.

Rating: ***½

Piper (USA; 6 mins) – I’ve resigned myself to the fact that a Pixar nomination in this category is as unavoidable as Taylor Swift at the Grammys. Actually (long-time readers will back me up on this) I have softened on my curmudgeonly stance on CGI animation, enough to cave on this animal-lover’s delight. Not much of a narrative, but somehow “the story of a hungry sandpiper hatchling who ventures from her nest for the first time to dig for food by the shoreline (the end)” is a perfect salve for what’s, you know…going on the world right now. In fact, I might need to watch this on a loop, just to keep from hurtling myself off the nearest cliff. Beautifully directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer.

Rating: ***

And the nominees for Best Short Film-Live Action are:

Ennemis Interieurs
(France; 28 mins) – Set in 1990s France, an Algerian-born French citizen is given the third-degree at a police station regarding his association with members of his mosque who are suspected terrorists. The political subtext in Sleim Aszzazi’s film recalls The Battle of Algiers; with a touch of The Confession. While I appreciate what the director is trying to convey in his examination of Islamophobia, the film doesn’t go anywhere; it’s too dramatically flat to stand out in any significant way.

Rating: **½

La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland; 30 mins) – Inspired by a true story, Timo von Gentun’s film stars 60s icon Jane Birken (mother of Charlotte Gainesbourg) as a lonely widow living a quiet, structured life. “Quiet” with one exception-which is when a daily express train thunders past her cottage. Smiling and waving at the train is the highlight of her day. After she stumbles on a letter that the train’s conductor chucked into her garden, a unique relationship begins (a la 84 Charing Cross Road). OK, it is borderline schmaltzy at times-but also touching and bittersweet, with an endearing performance from Birken.

Rating: ****

Silent Nights (Denmark; 30 mins) – A young Danish woman who works as a volunteer at a homeless shelter and an illegal immigrant from Ghana cross paths at the facility and develop a mutual attraction. Director Aske Bang uses the ensuing romantic relationship as political allegory; examining difficulties of cultural assimilation and the overall plight of immigrants in Western countries (much as Fassbinder did in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul).

Rating: ***

Sing (Hungary; 25 mins) – It’s interesting that two of the five nominated films in this category are set in the 90s, and specifically in allusion to the political turmoil in Europe that was proliferating at the time (it’s either “interesting”, or perhaps I’m merely slow in catching on that “the 90s” was a generation ago, ergo “history”...funny how one loses sense of time as one ages, isn’t it?). At any rate, Kristof Deak’s tale centers on a young girl just starting out at a new school. She joins the choir, a perennially award-winning group with a dictatorial choir director. When she finds out that the “secret” to the choir’s continuing success is not above board, she is faced with a moral conundrum. Although based on a true story, it plays like a modern parable about the courage of whistleblowers.

Rating: ***½

(Spain; 15 mins) – As directed by Juanjo Gimenez Pena, this hipster catnip about two mopey millennial security guards (one male, one female) who barely exchange a word during their daily shift change is a glorified YouTube video that uses up its irony quotient quickly. I might have thrown it an extra star if it was but ten minutes shorter.

Rating: *

More reviews at Den of Cinema

--Dennis Hartley

They just have to kill things.

by digby

Uday and Qusay celebrating their fresh kill of an endangered species

This breaks my heart:
The Endangered Species Act is endangered.

The 43-year-old law is under attack from the Republican Party and it’s not clear if and how it will survive the onslaught, especially with President Trump in power. Conservative members of Congress already deny climate change, dismiss the EPA, and are itching for more fossil fuel production—but what could they possibly have against a law designed to protect imperiled plants and animals? This is the very law credited with saving the Bald Eagle—the national emblem of the United States—from extinction, after all.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is holding a hearing entitled “Oversight: Modernization of the Endangered Species Act”; the latest development in an ongoing GOP campaign to try and rollback the power of the Endangered Species Act. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, an outspoken critic of the law, is the new committee chairman, and he’s likely to pick up where his predecessor, climate change denier Jim Inhofe (R-OK), left off.

The Senate hearing comes during the same week that the chamber could potentially vote on the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, to serve as EPA Administrator. Pruitt is no friend of the environment, and has made clear that he aims to limit the EPA’s scope, a position that falls in line with rest of Trump’s fossil fuel-friendly cabinet. The ESA panel adds to a long list of worries environmentalists and conservationists have with the Trump administration.

The Endangered Species Act is one of the government’s most powerful conservation tools, and that’s what Republicans don’t like about it. It can obstruct economic development and be burdensome for landowners and others to accommodate.

“I’m not sure what people really mean by ‘modernizing’ in this era of political double-speak.”

“I’m not sure what people really mean by ‘modernizing’ in this era of political double-speak,” said Amy W. Ando, an agriculture professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It surely would depend now on whether a Republican or Democrat was talking. Republicans once supported common sense environmental protection and nature conservation—Teddy Roosevelt created the National Parks, Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law, and George H.W. Bush signed the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act that created the innovative new provisions to cut acid rain.”

Ando said the current slate of environmental bills in Congress presented by the GOP “have taken an ideological stance against all conservation and environmental protection.”

“I don’t think any sensible progress on improving conservation policy is possible under the current administration and Congress,” she said. “A thoughtful revision of the ESA would require a Congress and executive branch that is genuinely interested in limiting the harm done to nature by unfettered use. Until we have such a government in place, the best we can do is to hold on to the law as it currently exists.”
This is just plain evil.  But then what isn't with these people?

 A poll released in January shows that the people don't support this by the way:
According to the poll results, 70% of voters opposed policy initiatives to target iconic species like the gray wolf or greater sage-grouse for removal from protection under the Endangered Species Act, compared with only 22% of poll respondents who supported such initiatives. This ranks legislative efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act second in unpopularity only to the sell-off of federal public lands among environment-related initiatives opposed by the American public.
“Clearly, the public isn’t buying the anti-endangered-species rhetoric that is being peddled by the industries that stand to profit from gutting protections for endangered wildlife,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “Protecting our native wildlife, and preventing the irresponsible land uses that cause the extinction of rare native species, continues to be a core American value.” 
Fine-scale tabulations from the polling reveal that public opposition to dismantling protections for at-risk wildlife cuts across party lines, with majority opposition in every voter category. Some 75% of swing voters opposed dismantling protections for at-risk wildlife, compared to 81% of Clinton voters and 55% of Trump voters.  Some 65% of voters expressed concern that the policies of President-elect Trump and the GOP Congress would result in increased extinctions and weaker wildlife protections, with 55% of voters rating this a “very big concern.”
Even 55% of Trump voters aren't in favor of the wanton killing of animal life on the planet.  But 100% of his sons are bloodthirsty killing machines and a vast majority of the Republican congress are in the pockets of businessmen who really want to be able to destroy everything in their path to make an extra buck so it doesn't matter.


Pay for play, right out in the open

by digby

On any given weekend, you might catch President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast dealmaker, Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on the dining patio. If you are lucky, the president himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege — and the few available spots are going fast.

Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Fla., club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Mr. Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests.

But Mr. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago — he arrived there on Friday afternoon, his third weekend visit in a row — have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies. At least three club members are under consideration for an ambassadorship. Most of the 500 have had memberships predating Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and there are a limited number of memberships still available.

William I. Koch, who oversees a major mining and fuels company, belongs to Mar-a-Lago, as does the billionaire trader Thomas Peterffy, who spent more than $8 million on political ads in 2012 warning of creeping socialism in America.

Another member is George Norcross, an insurance executive and the South Jersey Democratic Party boss, whose friendship with Mr. Trump dates to the president’s Atlantic City years, when Mr. Norcross held insurance contracts with Mr. Trump’s casinos, and Mr. Trump wrangled with the state’s Democratic leaders over tax treatment of the properties. Yet another member is Janet Weiner, part owner and chief financial officer of the Rockstar energy drink company, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying federal officials to avoid tighter regulations on its products.

Bruce Toll, a real estate executive who co-founded Toll Brothers, one of the nation’s largest home builders, and who is still active in the industry, owns a home nearby and frequently sees Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago, he said. While they did not discuss any of Mr. Toll’s specific projects, he said, the two would occasionally discuss national issues, such as Mr. Trump’s plans to increase spending on highways and other infrastructure projects.

“Maybe you ought to do this or that,” Mr. Toll said of the kind of advice that Mr. Trump got from club members.

Mr. Trump’s son Eric, in an interview on Friday, rejected suggestions that his family was offering access to his father and profiting from it. First, he said, only 20 to 40 new members are admitted per year, and second, the wealthy business executives who frequent the club, among others, have many ways to communicate with the federal government if they want to.

“It assumes the worst of us and everyone, and that is unfair,” Eric Trump said.
Porr little boo boo. Yes, it's very unfair to assume the worst of people isn't it? Kind of like this bullshit that Eric Trump spewed during the campaign over and over and over again:
“The question I always ask is, what product were they selling? If we make a buck, we sold a bottle of wine or an apartment, or we sold a hotel room. What product were they selling to make $150 million,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

Host Ainsley Earhardt suggested: “Favors? The government?”

“Of course,” responded Mr. Trump.

Donald Trump's son told CNBC on Wednesday the latest revelations about the Clinton Foundation proves "pay to play" and "corruption at the highest level."

"It should not be happening. It makes the whole world question our system. We are leaders of the free world. Why are we doing it?" Eric Trump said in an interview on "Squawk Box."
Anyway ---
Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said the president had no conflicts of interest, a reference to the fact that federal law exempts him from provisions prohibiting federal employees from taking actions that could benefit themselves financially.

“But regardless, he has not and will not be discussing policy with club members,” she said in a written statement.

Mar-a-Lago, she added, is “one of the most successful private clubs in the world,” and it “was intended to be the Southern White House, and the president looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property.”

But unlike the real White House, it has no public access, and no official visitor log is available. When members of the White House press corps accompanied Mr. Trump to the club and nearby golf course last weekend, they were housed during part of the trip in a room whose windows had been covered with black plastic.

Mar-a-Lago members and their guests, on the other hand, had a front-row seat to a brewing foreign policy crisis, when Mr. Trump and his aides huddled on the dining patio to devise a response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the middle of a dinner with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and his wife.

“No one needs to have a long sit-down with Donald Trump,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “If you can whisper in his ear for 40 seconds, that can be decisive on your policy.”

Mr. Koch — the estranged brother of his better-known siblings, Charles G. and David H. — owns a home in Palm Beach and hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump during the campaign. His company, Oxbow Carbon, is among the world’s largest sellers of petroleum coke, an oil byproduct, and would be a significant beneficiary of the Keystone XL pipeline, construction of which is now a Trump administration priority.

Brad Goldstein, a spokesman for William Koch, said that he did not know whether the two men had ever discussed policy matters. “If I did know,” Mr. Goldstein added, “the answer would be that I decline to comment.”
Mr. Trump’s weekend White House appears to be unprecedented in American history, as it is the first one with customers paying a company owned by the president, several historians said.

“Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and Andrew Jackson biographer. “Presidents have always spent time with the affluent,” he added. “But a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing.”

Presidents always hang around with rich people. It's an unfortunate reality in our system. But we've never had people literally paying into the president's family's personal coffers large sums of money to buy access.  This is just outright bribery.

But according to the White House counsel the president cannot be corrupt so it's all good.

These people might as well be handing Trump bags full of cash. So, let's just dispense with any notions that the presidency is anything more than a branding opportunity for the Trump family. They should just put the Trump name on the White House and call it a day.

Bannon doesn't know what he's talking about

by digby

Andrew Sullivan is right about this:
Steve Bannon, on the other hand, is quite something. I’ve read and reread his 2014 speech at the Vatican to see if I can find any coherence in it, and I confess I failed. It’s a hodgepodge of melodrama, hysteria, and a defense of some kind of “enlightened capitalism” along Judeo-Christian lines, in the face of an imminent Islamist takeover of the planet. It’s the 1950s versus jihad, an attempt to convey the gist of the entire Drudge Report every day and turn it into a thesis. He argues that we are just “at the very beginning stages of a global conflict” that could eradicate 2,000 years of Western civilization. It reads like the apocalyptic, paranoid fantasies of someone who writes letters to the editor, single-spaced, in all caps.
I felt the same way but thought I must be missing something important since everyone seemed  to think he was saying something profound.

Here it is. Decide for yourself.


Nice little network you have here. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

by digby

Just a little chat between the President's son-in-law and the president of a news network. Nothing to see here ...
Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, met with a senior Time Warner Inc. executive in recent weeks and expressed the administration’s deep concerns about CNN’s news coverage, according to a White House official and other people familiar with the matter.

In a meeting at the White House, Mr. Kushner complained to Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications at CNN’s parent Time Warner, about what Mr. Kushner feels is unfair coverage slanted against the president, the people said.

The Trump administration’s hostile posture toward the news media, especially CNN, has been evident in the president’s own statements and those of his press secretary and top aides. On Thursday, Mr. Trump lashed into CNN once again at a news conference, calling it “very fake news” with expert commentary that is “almost exclusively anti-Trump.”

But the anti-CNN push isn’t just a public display meant to rally Mr. Trump’s supporters. Behind the scenes, Mr. Kushner, the real-estate scion who until recently owned the New York Observer newspaper, has been pushing the issue with Time Warner executives including CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker.

“Our journalism has never been stronger as we continue to hold the administration’s feet to the fire. Those are the facts,” said a CNN spokeswoman.

While the administration is battling a large swath of the media, the fight with CNN has special intrigue because its parent company has a massive piece of business awaiting government approval: a proposed $85.4 billion sale to AT&T Inc. Messrs. Kushner and Ginsberg, who have been friends for a decade and whose discussion covered a variety of issues including Israel and the economy, didn’t discuss the merger in their recent meeting, said the people familiar with the matter.

In the final stretch of the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump said he would block the agreement and singled out the news network in his statement. “AT&T is buying Time Warner, and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration,” he said. The deal will be reviewed by government agencies including the Justice Department.

Such rhetoric from a presidential then-candidate and meetings such as the one between Messrs. Kushner and Ginsberg are unusual, according to Mark Feldstein, journalism historian at the University of Maryland.

“Lord knows that every president has been angered by their news coverage, going back to George Washington,” said Mr. Feldstein. “But to engage in that kind of bare-knuckled tactics is extraordinary.”

Mr. Kushner has taken issue with specific CNN contributors including Van Jones, a Democrat who served in the Obama administration, and Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist, who have each criticized Mr. Trump in harsh terms, the people familiar with the matter said.

CNN’s panels often include a few Mr. Trump supporters, such as Reagan administration veteran Jeffrey Lord and conservative commentator Kayleigh McEnany, a few critics, and journalists who cover the administration.

A White House official said: “It’s no secret that the President and his team have been critical of CNN’s dishonest coverage of the President both during the campaign and since his inauguration, and it’s obvious their ratings have suffered as a result. FOX on the other hand provides mostly fair, and more complete coverage of the Administration and their ratings have never been better.”

After publication of this article, the White House official told The Wall Street Journal that Mr. Kushner’s discussion of CNN with Mr. Ginsberg was not in-depth. The official also said Mr. Kushner denies specifying panelists by name, and said those complaints date back months to the campaign.

The CNN spokeswoman said, “Once again, the White House has their facts wrong. CNN’s ratings are up 50%.”

Oh, ok then. They just tried to get the black guy and the Latina fired during the campaign.

This is very creepy stuff. Not unprecedented, of course. I remember the Bush White House calling CBS president Andrew Hayward on the carpet after the Bush National Guard story blew up and the news network made a sharp right turn. (They seem to have gotten back on track recently.) And Johnson and Nixon both had their beefs with the media. But this is something else.

"You are the special people"

by digby

Politico obtained a recording of Trump at his golf club in New Jersey (the above is Mar-a-Lago) where he interviewed all the cabinet members during the transition talking to his club members:
“We’re doing a lot of interviews tomorrow — generals, dictators, we have everything,” Trump told the crowd, according to an audio tape of his closed-press remarks obtained by POLITICO from a source in the room. “You may wanna come around. It’ll be fun. We’re really working tomorrow. We have meetings every 15, 20 minutes with different people that will form our government."

"We’re going to be interviewing everybody — Treasury, we’re going to be interviewing Secretary of State,” he continued. “We have everybody coming in — if you want to come around, it’s going to be unbelievable….so you might want to come along.”


So, this is my real group,” Trump said at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, on November 18, according to the audio tape. “These are the people that came here in the beginning, when nobody knew what this monster was gonna turn out to be, right?”

He added: “I see all of you. I recognize, like 100 percent of you, just about.”

Trump had a packed schedule of meetings that weekend less than two weeks after the election. On the Saturday after the cocktail party, Trump met with Mitt Romney, Michelle Rhee, Betsy DeVos, Todd Ricketts, Bob Woodson, Lew Eisenberg and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. On Sunday, John Gray, Kris Kobach, Wilbur Ross, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Robert Johnson and David McCormick all schlepped out to Bedminster for meetings.

Trump often appears to want to include his friends in the decision-making process.

Turning to a longtime club member that night, he said: “We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who we gonna accept -- boy, can you give me some recommendations?”

The supportive crowd ate it up as the relaxed Trump, in his element, gave them a close-up view of how he was setting up the government. “You are the special people,” he told the crowd of about 100 members, who mingled around a sushi station served by a waiter wearing a camouflage “Make America Great Again” cap.
I'm sure the servant felt very special too so it's all good. Trump had created a job for him, after all.

He's a liar

by digby

Either here:

Or yesterday:

I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election.

He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the country. So that’s the extent.

Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media. The real news is the fact that people, probably from the Obama administration because they’re there, because we have our new people going in place, right now.


I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything.


Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to.

I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago...

I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.


Making America ashamed again

by Tom Sullivan

Refugees making their way across the East German border in 1962.

You know that world "apology tour" conservatives accused Obama of making that he never made? Donald Trump owes the world and real "real America" one and right now. Reuters:

Nine asylum-seekers, including four children, barely made it across the Canadian border on Friday as a U.S. border patrol officer tried to stop them and a Reuters photographer captured the scene.

As a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer seized their passports and questioned a man in the front passenger seat of a taxi that had pulled up to the border in Champlain, New York, four adults and four young children fled the cab and ran to Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the other side.

One by one they scrambled across the snowy gully separating the two countries. RCMP officers watching from the other side helped them up, lifting the younger children and asking a woman, who leaned on her fellow passenger as she walked, if she needed medical care.

Atlantic has the backstory to the photos by Reuters photographer Christinne Muschi:
Muschi reports that “in Quebec, 1,280 refugee claimants irregularly entered between April 2016 and January 2017, triple the previous year's total.” and that “the Canada Border Services Agency said in January that 452 people made a refugee claim at Quebec land border crossings.” Canadian advocacy groups say they are preparing for even more asylum-seekers, following increased anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S., and public expressions of welcome made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
There are several more photos at the link.

This particular crossing place is a regular route now for refugees fleeing the United States of America to seek asylum in Canada. The country road on the American side dead ends at the Canadian border where the two countries are separated only by a low ditch and an orange marker. Kathleen Masterson of Vermont Public Radio went there to see for herself:
It's so well-known that, according to people who live on the road, the Canadian police stay parked on their side of the border most days. In New York state, taxi drivers follow a protocol where they contact U.S. Border Patrol if someone requests drop-off there — the person is still granted their ride, but U.S. officials often stop the cab to check the person's paperwork.

Wednesday, an officer in a U.S. Border Patrol car parked at the end of Roxham Road said that by 11 a.m. already two families had walked across illegally. They knowingly walked into arrest by the Canadian police waiting on the other side.

Refugee advocates say the reason so many are crossing illegally is because of the Safe Third Country Agreement signed by the U.S. and Canada in 2002. The pact is meant to prevent "shopping for asylum" in both countries; it requires refugees seeking asylum to do so in the country they reach first.
Since the United States is not looking very welcoming about now, refugees already here are looking for another way to find asylum. The Voice of America website explains that per the the agreement they would be turned back at the U.S. border, "However, if they sneak across at an unofficial location, they may apply for asylum in Canada even if they are caught. They may spend a night or two in custody, but upon release, they are free to pursue their claims."

So they're exploiting a loophole. Except for their complexion problem, you'd think Trump would welcome them as his kind of people.

People living along the road offered North Country Public Radio differing opinions of the refugees:
ZH: I spoke with Gino Ramirez, an Army veteran who’s lived on Roxham Road for only about four or five months. He was suspicious of these migrants crossing the border right near his trailer. He said if they’re leaving the U.S., they probably did something wrong.
“If they’re running away from the problem then they have something to hide,” Ramirez said. “That’s just the bottom line. If they don’t want to be here, just go.”
ZH: But not everyone sees it that way.

Melissa Beshaw said she’s lived there for two decades. And she’s watched some people cross into Canada over the years, but she’s seen a lot more make the trip since Donald Trump was elected. And she feels sorry for them.
“Now that Trump wants all the immigrants to be sent back or whatever, it’s not right. They’re running for their lives, for their freedom. And it’s an awful thing. Even families come up here with their kids. And I feel so bad for them, you know?” Beshaw said.
While most border crossings sound less dramatic than the Reuters story at the top implies, the images of refugee families fleeing the United States of America leave me deeply saddened. In fact, they remind me of the one from Berlin at the top of the post.* "Strength" is not what comes to mind, or Lee Greenwood's sappy song. Trump's promised "big, fat, beautiful wall" to keep immigrants out could as easily serve a different function altogether. Officially, East Germany's "Anti-Fascist Protective Wall" in Berlin was there to keep out the wrong kinds of people. No amount of propaganda or "alternative facts" could conceal the ugly truth.

A big, beautiful wall. View from West Berlin in 1986.
Photo by by Thierry Noir via Wikipedia Commons.

* There are many more such photos out there, but they all seem owned by Getty. Here is a selection of them.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Night Soother: a little orange goodness for a change

by digby

A bright orange, endangered Francois’ Langur was born February 6 at Lincoln Park Zoo and is now on exhibit at Helen Brach Primate House.

The infant is the seventh successful offspring for Lincoln Park Zoo’s breeding pair, Pumpkin (dam) and Cartman (sire), and a part of the Francois’ Langur Species Survival Plan ® (SSP), which cooperatively manages the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited-zoo population. Lead Keeper Bonnie Jacobs serves as Vice-Chair of the Francois’ Langur SSP and has been managing the studbook for this population in the AZA for the past 15 years.

The sex and measurements of the infant are yet to be determined, as the newborn is still clinging tight to mom.

“Pumpkin is an experienced and attentive mother and the entire troop is being supportive,” said Curator of Primates, Maureen Leahy. “We recently updated the Langur exhibit to include more dynamic elements such as vines, sway poles and pulley feeders, so it will be exciting to see the newest addition of the troop grow more independent and explore the habitat.”

Francois’ Langurs (Trachypithecus francoisi) are classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List due to habitat degradation and hunting. They’re native to the southern Guangxi province of China, northern Vietnam and west-central Laos.

Adults display black body coloration with a white marking from ear-to-ear and a black crest atop the head. Infants are born with a bright orange hue, which scientists believe encourages alloparenting, or ‘aunting behavior,’ among females in the group. Infants’ fur turns black within the first three to six months of life.

With its parents, the Langur infant joins sisters Kieu and Orla, brothers Vinh and Pierre, and adult female Chi on exhibit at Helen Brach Primate House, open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Lincoln Park Zoo. For more information, visit www.lpzoo.org .

What did he say???

by digby

It's hard to pick a quote of the day or week anymore since Donald Trump is spewing nonsense every time he gets in front of a camera and all the members of his staff are nearly as bad. The press conference yesterday was full of memorable stuff, from his yelling at a jewish reporter for asking about Antisemitism to asking a black reporter if she's friend with Congressional Black Caucus and asking her to set up a meeting to explaining that he's been briefed and found out that nuclear holocaust would be a bad thing. The number of insane comments was overwhelming.

But this one was particularly telling in that it proves once and for all that Trump believes he and the Republicans are only obligated to represent the people who voted for them.
We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It’s a disaster. You can say, “Oh, Obamacare!” — They fill up our rallies with people that, you wonder how they get there, but they’re not the Republican people that the representatives are representing.

That's not how this works. Or, at least, it's not how it's supposed to work. Even the people who voted for your opponent are your constituents. Donald Trump literally doesn't know that.


A well oiled machine

by digby

The Trumpies are having fits saying the Democrats are the cause of their disastrous start because they're refusing to rubber stamp every cabinet nominee.

Take a look at this:

I know it's shocking. But  they don't know what they're doing.

Perhaps some people can at least be educated about he fact that a wealthy heir to a fortune who became an entertainer and con artist might not have the qualifications to run the country. I know that's a stretch. But somehow we went from Republicans insisting that we need a president they can have a beer with to a cartoon businessman with the vocabulary of a fourth grader. And the one they chose isn't capable of growing into the job. He's 70. He's not changing.

They love him, they really love him

by digby

Gallup has him at 38% approval rating and 56% disapproval rating in their three day rolling poll:

That's the first full three days post-Flynn.

I'm going to take a wild guess that his press conference yesterday didn't do anything to change the trajectory, although Trump is touting the only good reviews he got ... from Rush Limbaugh.


Will they be stationed on the wall?

by digby

What could go wrong?
The Trump administration considered a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by The Associated Press.

Staffers in the Department of Homeland Security said the proposal had been discussed as recently as last Friday.

The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana.

Four states that border on Mexico were included in the proposal — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — but it also encompasses seven states contiguous to those four — Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday the document was "not a White House document."

"There is no effort to do what is potentially suggested," he said. Spicer called the AP report "100 percent not true, adding that there was "no effort at all to utilize the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants."

A DHS official described the document as a very early draft that was not seriously considered and never brought to the secretary for approval.

The AP had sought comment from the White House beginning Thursday and DHS earlier Friday and had not received a response from either.

Governors in the 11 states would have had a choice whether to have their guard troops participate, according to the memo, which bears the name of U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general.

While National Guard personnel have been used to assist with immigration-related missions on the U.S.-Mexico border before, they have never been used as broadly or as far north.

The memo was addressed to the then-acting heads of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It would have served as guidance to implement the wide-ranging executive order on immigration and border security that President Donald Trump signed Jan. 25. Such memos are routinely issued to supplement executive orders.

Also dated Jan. 25, the draft memo says participating troops would be authorized "to perform the functions of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension and detention of aliens in the United States." It describes how the troops would be activated under a revived state-federal partnership program, and states that personnel would be authorized to conduct searches and identify and arrest any unauthorized immigrants.

If implemented, the impact could have been significant. Nearly one-half of the 11.1 million people residing in the U.S. without authorization live in the 11 states, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on 2014 Census data.

Use of National Guard troops would greatly increase the number of immigrants targeted in one of Trump's executive orders last month, which expanded the definition of who could be considered a criminal and therefore a potential target for deportation. That order also allows immigration agents to prioritize removing anyone who has "committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense."

Under current rules, even if the proposal had been implemented, there would not be immediate mass deportations. Those with existing deportation orders could be sent back to their countries of origin without additional court proceedings. But deportation orders generally would be needed for most other unauthorized immigrants.

The troops would not be nationalized, remaining under state control.

Spokespeople for the governors of nine of the states either declined to comment or said it was premature to discuss whether they would participate.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said his state had not had any contact about the proposal, but added, "I would have concerns about the utilization of National Guard resources for immigration enforcement. I believe it would be too much of a strain on our National Guard personnel."

A representative for Texas did not immediately respond to the AP.

The proposal would have extended the federal-local partnership program that President Barack Obama's administration began scaling back in 2012 to address complaints that it promoted racial profiling.

The 287(g) program, which Trump included in his immigration executive order, gives local police, sheriff's deputies and state troopers the authority to assist in the detection of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally as a regular part of their law enforcement duties on the streets and in jails.

The draft memo also mentions other items included in Trump's executive order, including the hiring of an additional 5,000 border agents, which needs financing from Congress, and his campaign promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The signed order contained no mention of the possible use of state National Guard troops.

According to the draft memo, the militarization effort was to be proactive, specifically empowering Guard troops to solely carry out immigration enforcement, not as an add-on the way local law enforcement is used in the program.

Allowing Guard troops to operate inside non-border states also would go far beyond past deployments.

Between the border deployment and Chicago, the military's going to be very busy dealing with domestic chores. Of course, Trump promises to yuuugely expand the military so  maybe all you kids should start worrying about whether he's going to institute a draft. He's going to need cannon fodder.

Here's the draft order, under General Kelly's name.
Brother Trump's traveling salvation show

by digby

I wrote about that press conference for Salon yesterday:

So President Donald Trump is taking his act on the road again. Apparently being president isn’t nearly as much fun as running for president and he needs to cut loose in front of an adoring crowd to charge up his batteries. So he’s having one of his victory rallies in Florida on Saturday. And yes, they’re calling it a campaign rally so stock up on the Stoli and Beluga caviar, because that means Trump is already running for re-election.

On Thursday he gave his followers a little teaser by holding his first real press conference since the inauguration. It was what professional presidential scholars refer to as “a doozy.” The press was more pungent in its criticism. CNN’s Jake Tapper called it “unhinged” and “wild” and a “Festivus airing of grievances.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted, “We can agree across all ideological, political and partisan divisions that this is a deranged performance, right?” Even Shep Smith of Fox News seemed shell-shocked, saying, “It is crazy what we are watching every day; it is absolutely crazy.” CBS News’ Scott Pelley said, “Today we learned the length of the president’s fuse.” (Which unfortunately brought to mind what my great-aunt used to say about her first husband: “He was a 6-foot, 3-inch stick of dynamite with a little bitty fuse.”)

That was just the tip of the iceberg. The Daily Beast reported:
[A]s the official White House press conference disintegrated further into unhinged criticism and belligerent sniping, reporters seated in the East Room could hardly contain themselves. There was an awkward mix of laughing with Trump, and chuckling at him as the president kept venting and sneering. The reporters present couldn’t stop quietly gossipping about Trump. “What is going on?” one journalist whispered to another. “This is insane” and “What the hell?” were other popular refrains in the room.
There have been dozens of articles and listicles already published about this inane and surreal event, so I won’t go through the whole litany again. If you’ve got the time, it’s worth watching the whole press conference just to bear witness to the wholesale destruction of what we used to call the dignity of the office. Trump makes George W. Bush look like George Washington by comparison, and Bush was the guy who spit a wad of chewing gum into his hand before signing the Treaty of Moscow.

Trump mostly concentrated on how much he loathed the lyin’ press and despised all the fake news, oddly insisting that it’s nothing more than a cover-up for Hillary Clinton’s “terrible loss.” In fact, he just can’t quit her, which presidential historians note is very odd:

I think there’s a good reason Trump does this and it’s related to why he needs to get in front of his cheering followers. He is obviously in over his head and cannot deal with the complexity of the task he has been elected to perform. If anyone watching the campaign thought he must have hidden depths he or she has been disabused of that by now. His full range of talents were on display on stage in those rallies.

Trump told us during the campaign, “I yam what I yam,” and so he is. He is a trash-talker. But unlike the trash-talking master of all time, boxer Muhammad Ali, who pretty much invented the form, Trump is a Wrestlemania political performance artist who unfortunately believed his own hype. Ali talked trash, but he also had the goods. Trump does not.

During the GOP primary he took out one rival after another by bestowing them with puerile nicknames and hurling nasty insults in their faces. They didn’t know what hit them. When he got to Hillary Clinton, it was also no holds barred. He said to her face that she was filled with hate, called her the devil and paraded women who had accused her husband of assaulting them in front of her. He made barely restrained cracks about her looks and insisted over and over again that she was weak and didn’t “look like a president.” He played the crude, aggressive wrestling “heel” throughout the campaign, and his supporters roared with pleasure as he took down his opponents one by one.

Trump participated in professional wrestling storylines for years. He loves it. Indeed, the press conference on Thursday showed that he’s lost without it. He needs a rival, a real opponent. He doesn’t have one at the moment, so his shtick just seems wild and unfocused, as if he were flailing at phantoms. Douglas Brinkley, a historian at Rice University, described it as “bizarre theater,” saying “he turned a presidential press conference into a reality TV show in which he can be the star and browbeat anyone who objects to him with the power of his office.”

Of course, Trump has always used “the media” as a foil, and since he assumed office and no longer has a specific opponent to spar with, consigliere Steve Bannon has tried to make the press corps into the rival at whom Trump can swing his bat and keep his show going. Bannon has called the media “the opposition” and clearly pumps up Trump, not that it’s hard to do that since the president spends inordinate amounts of time assessing his image on television and clearly doesn’t like what he sees.

But it won’t work. The press isn’t “the opposition” and the presidency isn’t a competition or even a phony wrestling match. If you want to compare it to a form of entertainment, it’s a drama — often a tragedy — and the press is the Greek chorus. It makes no sense to turn media commentators and reporters into key players, particularly when there are real political adversaries out there jockeying for position. But Trump seems to not be interested in fighting real battles or even engaging in genuine politics. It’s all a pageant to him, a fixed narrative, a rigged game in which he’s is supposed to be the big winner in the end, with the cheering and the booing just being all in good fun. But nobody’s having any fun, least of all him. And putting on a show is all he knows how to do.