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

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

We don't need no stinkin' allies

by digby

Donald and Nigel bffs forevuh

Trump is an imbecile and doesn't understand what he's saying. People around him, specifically Bannon and Flynn, do.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations.

Quoted in German from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent whether the EU breaks up or stays together, according to Bild.

Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he will stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world. On Russia, he suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.”

“It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump was quoted as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

While those comments expanded on doubts Trump raised about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.”

In contrast, Trump praised Britons for voting last year to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders to come in and “destroy it.” The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Bild cited Trump as saying.

“If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he was quoted as saying.

While Trump blamed Brexit on an influx of refugees he said that Britain was forced to accept, the U.K.’s number of asylum applications in 2015 was a fraction of the 890,000 refugees who arrived in Germany that year at the peak of Europe’s migrant crisis.

With Merkel facing an unprecedented challenge from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany as she seeks a fourth term this fall, Trump was asked whether he’d like to see her re-elected. He said he couldn’t say, adding that while he respects Merkel, who’s been in office for 11 years, he doesn’t know her and she has hurt Germany by letting “all these illegals” into the country.

In line with his threats against other automakers, Trump said Bayerische Motoren Werke AG would face a 35 percent import duty for foreign-built BMW cars sold in the U.S. BMW should scrap plans to open a new plant in Mexico and build the factory in the U.S. instead, he was quoted as saying. BMW plans to start building 3 Series sedans at San Luis Potosí in 2019.

Other Trump comments, according to Bild:

  • The Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq may have been the worst in U.S. history
  • Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is a natural talent who will bring about an accord with Israel
  • Trump plans to keep using social media including Twitter once he’s in the White House to sidestep the press and communicate directly with his followers
  • People entering the U.S. will face “extreme” security checks, possibly including some European nationals

So he is pretty much telling all companies who want to sell their products in the US that they can't build plants anywhere but here in the future. It's not about sending jobs overseas.

This trade war's going to be a lot of fun. Fasten your seat belts exporters!

And the rest ... oof. It sure sounds like the far-right line being pushed by Russia and the likes of Nigel Farage and Marine LePen. Jettisoning NATO and slamming Merkel for Germany's immigration policies and basically just popping off without understanding the ramifications of these actions is very dangerous. This would be a wrenching change, ill-considered, without concern for the instability it will instantly create. Maybe those white working class folks who decided the election knew this was what they were voting for but I doubt it.

I wrote about Trump's worldview many times during the campaign. It's not as if we didn't see this coming. I guess I had hoped that he would sober up after he won. I was wrong.

This piece from last May laid out his basic ideas.

Mr Popularity

by digby


His numbers are getting worse:
Donald Trump will enter the White House next week as one of the most unpopular presidents in recent American history. And he will be pushing an agenda that most Americans don't support.

The latest numbers for Trump, beset this week by fresh reports of Russian efforts to boost his candidacy, are stark. A new poll from Gallup shows that just 44 percent of Americans approve of his presidential transition efforts while 51 percent disapprove. By contrast, 83 percent approved of President Barack Obama's transition in 2008. Even George W. Bush, who like Trump lost the popular vote, enjoyed a 61 percent approval rating of his transition as he prepared to enter the White House.

There is limited enthusiasm for Trump's Cabinet choices, with 52 percent saying they are average or better and 44 percent considering them below average or poor, according to Gallup. Only 10 percent viewed Obama's choices as average or poor.

A recent Pew survey found that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Trump has done to explain his plans while 39 percent approve. The Pew poll said just 41 percent approve of Trump's Cabinet picks while 49 percent disapprove.

Trump himself has also seen his approval ratings slide again after a brief uptick following his surprise Electoral College win. A Quinnipiac poll out this week showed that just 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president-elect to 51 percent who disapprove. The numbers are the reverse of Obama, who had a 55 percent approval rating in the poll.

Other readings for Trump in the poll also showed signs of serious trouble. A 53 percent majority said Trump is "not honest" and 62 percent that he is "not level-headed." On average, Trump has a 48.7 percent unfavorable rating among Americans to 42.7 percent favorable.

Trump's inauguration next Friday might improve these numbers if he can deliver a unifying speech and convince Americans that he has clear plans to spark economic growth and ease fears that he is a thin-skinned hot head prone to lashing out at even the slightest criticism. But major protests planned for the inaugural weekend could dampen some of these efforts and galvanize Trump's opposition.

Trump also faces a broader problem once he takes office. His priorities are not widely shared by the American public. A new poll conducted for Politico and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that the top three priorities for Trump voters are repealing and replacing Obamacare (85 percent), stopping future illegal immigration (78 percent) and major increases in defense spending (67 percent).

The numbers are much lower for the general public. Just 44 percent say repealing at replacing Obamacare should be a top priority while 38 percent say immigration and 43 percent say increased defense spending.

The most popularity priority for the general public at 49 percent — major government spending on infrastructure — is the least popular among Trump voters at 50 percent. There are also major differences on immigration in general. Fully 57 percent of Trump voters view undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. as a "very serious problem" compared with just 30 percent of the general public. The public at large is also much more inclined to support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants than are Trump voters.

On taxes, the poll found that "a majority of both the general public and Trump voters oppose lowering taxes on big businesses and upper-income Americans. … Only 39 percent of Trump voters and 22 percent of the general public believe corporate taxes should be lowered. Only 18 percent of Trump voters and 13 percent of the public think taxes on upper-income Americans should be lower." Trump's initial agenda includes major tax cuts for both individuals and corporations.

Trump and the Republican Congress will also be on very dangerous ground making repeal of the Affordable Care Act — without an immediate replacement that ensures people are not deprived of existing coverage — their first agenda item.

For the moment, Trump's deep unpopularity does not appear to be a problem for him with the Republican Congress. The president-elect remains popular with an aggressive base that delivered him an Electoral College win even as he lost the popular vote by 3 million. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill live in fear of crossing Trump and angering his supporters.

That last is important. His base is a bunch of uninformed, angry white men and the women who love them. Nothing he does matters except sticking it to the people they resent. And that's everyone but people like them. And they pretty much resent them too.

And anyway, this is nothing a good war won't fix, amirite? USA! USA! USA!

Politics and Reality Radio with Joshua Holland: The Crimes of Seal Team Six; Trump, Russia and the Left

Seal Team Six-- the highly trained "tip of the spear" widely hailed for killing Osama Bin Laden -- has taken on legendary status in the American imagination. But this week, Matthew Cole offered a painstakingly reported look at the darker side of the vaunted special operations group for The Intercept. We'll be joined by Cole to discuss the abuses he uncovered, and the failures of command that enabled them.

Then we'll speak with Yale political scientist John Stoehr about the US intelligence community's conclusion that Russians hacked the 2016 election, and how on the left the issue has become intertwined with hostility toward Hillary Clinton and resentments lingering from the Democratic primaries.

Junior Parker: "Tax Man"
Blackalicious: "Alphabet Aerobics"
Ricky Nelson: "Lonesome Town"

As always, you can also subscribe to the show on iTunes, Soundcloud or Podbean.


Sunday Funnies

by digby

Needless to say ... epic:

FYI: 90% of the cartoons this week were on this topic. It is sticking to him like glue:


 Running the country like he runs his businesses

by digby

I suspect most Trump voters would rather he just say to hell with Martin Luther King Day, but this will suffice.

The Trump effect

by digby

Here's your new country America. Get used to it:
A well-known Greenwich Republican called a town worker "nothing but a bloodsucking lazy union employee" and later reached in from behind to place his hand between her legs and pinch her in the groin area, according to the police arrest warrant.

Christopher von Keyserling...was arrested in Greenwich Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon and charged with fourth-degree sexual assault, police said. He posted $2,500 bond and was released to appear in court on Jan. 25.

The incident began at about noon Dec. 8 when the 57-year-old woman encountered von Keyserling in the hallway of an unnamed town facility, the warrant said.

The two briefly spoke about politics and the woman told him that "it was a new world politically" and he had to educate his fellow politicians, the warrant said. Von Keyserling is a member of Greenwich's Representative Town Meeting.

He allegedly replied: "I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct," according to the warrant.

She told him that if he was "proud of that I can't help you," after which he called her a lazy, bloodsucking union employee, the warrant said.

She uttered "(expletive deleted) you" and walked into her office, the warrant said. She said he followed her into the office and said he wanted to talk with her co-worker, the warrant said.

When that co-worker walked in, she said she didn't have time to speak with him and left the office, the warrant said. The 57-year-old woman decided to leave with her co-worker because she didn't want to be alone with him, the warrant said.

As she walked by, he allegedly pinched her in the groin area, according to the warrant. She threatened to punch him if he ever did that again, the warrant said.

She said he "looked back with a really evil look in his eyes and said, 'it would be your word against mine and nobody will believe you,'" according to the warrant.

On the following day, the woman accompanied by a friend and the town's Assistant Director of Human Resources went to the police department to report the incident, the warrant said. She said that she didn't want to have a criminal complaint laid against him.

A detective called von Keyserling at 6:35 p.m. and told him he was to not have any contact with the complainant and to stay away from the facility until he was contacted by the facility's executive director, the warrant said.

He told the detective that he understood and that it was all a misunderstanding, the warrant said. "He related that he was sorry he pinched her, and ... it has gotten this out of hand," according to the arrest warrant.

On Dec 16, the woman returned to police headquarters because she now wanted to move forward with the complaint, the warrant said. She said she had originally been reluctant to go forward due to a fear of retribution and the possible publicity that an investigation could bring, the warrant said.

She told the officer that she learned he had allegedly acted in a similar way with other employees and that he had told other individuals at Town Hall that the incident between the two of them was a joke, the warrant said. She said she was compelled to come forward to prevent similar acts from happening against other women, the warrant said.

Police also spoke with her about a meeting she had with von Keyserling on Dec. 9, the warrant said. He had been told to stay away from the facility and that if had concerns about that to speak with Human Resources. She had another employee sit in with her because she told police she wasn't comfortable with meeting him alone, the warrant said.

She declined to speak about the complaint, prompting him to say, "Was this about the little pinch I gave?" and further adding it was a joke and that he couldn't believe the 57-year-old woman could be offended, the warrant said. He said that he and the woman have "that kind" of a relationship. He added that "he is the kind of guy that like to embarrass his teenage daughter and he calls it a 'gig' and that's what this was 'a gig.'"  He asked whether he could apologize but was told to not contact the victim and stay away from the facility.

Police said video footage from a surveillance camera on the day of the incident is consistent with the sequence of events described by the complainant.

It's no big deal. Women who complain about such behavior are just being politically correct whiners. And that "it would be your word against mine and nobody would believe you" is the way the world works. After all, millions of our fellow Americans thought Hillary Clinton was a lying witch than Donald Trump, a man who cannot speak he truth ever, was just exaggerating for effect.


The civil counterargument

by Tom Sullivan

Shepard Fairey's famous Obama HOPE poster became instantly iconic. He was less inspired by the presidential election results of November 8, 2016:

I watched the election results with disbelief and dismay. I feel disheartened to acknowledge that whether by ignorance or hate, or both, a majority of the American voters have embraced xenophobia, sexism, racism, and a candidate with unprecedented narcissism, zero experience as a public servant, and zero ability to relate to the struggles of average Americans. In effect, the voters have rewarded possibly the most uncivil and disgusting behavior from any candidate I can recall. I refuse to believe that the majority of Americans actually share the values of Donald Trump. I think as a people we are better than what Trump represents. However, the success of Trump’s tactics will only invite more movement in an uncivil direction. Creating and implementing policy in a democracy requires a degree of civility. I’m very concerned that we are eroding the civility that is necessary for our government to function for the common good. We have taken a very dark turn as a nation.
Fairey has taken to posters again to push back against that dark turn with the help of the Amplifier Foundation and artists Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena. Facing a toxic Trump administration, Fairey told PBS:
It’s hard to encapsulate the complexity of what we’re facing, going into this Trump presidency, in three images. But we chose three groups that are vulnerable. In the history of the U.S., there are a lot of people who fled persecution from Europe on the basis of religious identities. The idea of championing the ideals of our forefathers and then limiting the movement of Muslims — it’s so confounding that this is not riling more people up. And so it’s really time do some [work] that I think is a counterargument to that, and that’s not based on division but based on inclusion. We’ve seen where division has got us.
"The antidote is not attacking Trump more."

According to their Kickstarter page, the plan is:

Much of Washington will be locked down on Inauguration Day, and in some areas there will be severe restrictions on signs and banners. But we've figured out a hack. It's called the newspaper! On January 20th, if this campaign succeeds, we're going to take out full-page ads in the Washington Post with these images, so that people across the capitol and across the country will be able to carry them into the streets, hang them in windows, or paste them on walls.

Every dollar you put into this campaign will buy six ads printed and distributed for us.

Amplifier will also distribute these images as large placards throughout DC at Metro stops, out the back of moving vans, at drop spots to be announced in the coming week via our social media feeds, and, on January 19, as free downloads for you to print and share as you like.

“We the People” posters by Shepard Fairey, Ernesto Yerena and Jessica Sabogal / Amplifier Foundation

Fairey told PBS:

SHEPARD FAIREY: The Obama poster was very sincere. I come from this rebellious subculture, where sincerity and earnestness are not always really welcome. I come from punk rock. But sometimes, [sincerity and earnestness] means you are going against the grain. When the status quo is fearful and scapegoating, then the most punk rock you can be is finding common ground with your fellow human beings.

“As much as I appreciate social media and the way it democratizes things….When people get out there and they hold something, it’s different.”

I’m also at this point in my life where I’m a really big believer in civility. There’s nothing wrong with disruption that’s ethically sound and well thought-out. Going to a town hall meeting and being uncivil is not something to be proud of.

The Clash are big role models of mine, and Rage Against the Machine. Even though these guys are angry, all their arguments are grounded in humanitarianism.… But sometimes I’m cautious to make sure that my style of my delivery doesn’t eclipse the content of my delivery.

I’m sort of doing this inside-outside strategy. Sometimes I’m very happy to do things pushing the envelope as an outsider. Other times it’s more constructive to infiltrate and make change within their own machinery and language, with subversive intent. Like in “We the People.”

The Amplifier Foundation is also printing and distributing artwork for the Women's March on Washington. Downloadable, in case you'd like to print some for your local event. The march is looking to be "one of America's biggest protests," the Guardian reports:

The Women’s March now has almost 200 progressive groups, large and small, signing on as supporting partners. The issues they represent are as varied as the environment, legal abortion, prisoners’ rights, voting rights, a free press, affordable healthcare, gun safety, racial and gender equality and a higher minimum wage. Men are invited.

More than 300 simultaneous local protests will also occur, across all 50 states, and support marches are planned in 30 other countries, organizer Linda Sarsour said.

“We have no choice. We need to stand up against an administration that threatens everything we believe in, in what we hope will become one of the largest grassroots, progressive movements ever seen,” said Sarsour.
The question is whether that many progressives can pull together and not in 200 different directions, and not devolve into a mishmash of interest groups. TBD, but it's doable.

In the meantime, it might be best to keep a sense of humor about the incoming Trump administration while we still can. It's funny, but it's not funny:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Kleptocracy Now: A Top 10 list

By Dennis Hartley

“To assess the ‘personality’ of the corporate ‘person’ a checklist is employed, using diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and the standard diagnostic tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social ‘personality’: it is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.” – from the official website for the film, The Corporation

I don’t know about you, but my jaw is getting pretty sore from repeatedly dropping to the floor with each successive cabinet nomination by our incoming CEO-in-chief of the United States of Blind Trust. It seems that candidate Trump, who ran on an oft-bleated promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington D.C. bears little resemblance to President-elect Trump, who is currently hell-bent on loading the place up with even more alligators.

When I heard the name “Rex Tillerson” bandied about as Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, it rang a bell. I knew he was the former head of Exxon, so it wasn’t that. Then I remembered. Mr. Tillerson was one of the “stars” of a documentary I reviewed several years back, called Greedy Lying Bastards (conversely, if I hear the words “greedy lying bastards,” bandied about, “Trump’s cabinet picks” is the first phrase that comes to mind).

So with that in mind, and in keeping with my occasional unifying theme, “Hollywood saw this coming”, I was inspired to comb my review archives of the last 10 years to see if any bellwethers were emerging that may have been dropping hints that the planets were aligning in such a manner as to set up a path to the White House for an orange TV clown (the “self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful” kind of orange TV clown).

All 10 of these films were released within the last 10 years. I’ll let you be the judge:

The Big Short – Want the good news first? Writer-director Adam McKay and co-scripter Charles Randolph’s adaptation of Michael Lewis’ eponymous 2010 non-fiction book is an outstanding comedy-drama; an incisive parsing of what led to the crash of the global financial system in 2008. The bad news is…it made me pissed off about it all over again.

Yes, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, this ever-maddening tale of how we stood by, blissfully unaware, as unchecked colonies of greedy, lying Wall Street investment bankers were eventually able to morph into the parasitic gestalt monster journalist Matt Taibbi famously compared to a “…great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Good times!

Capitalism: A Love Story – Back in 2009, Digby and I did a double post on this film, which was Michael Moore’s reaction to the 2008 crash. Here’s how I viewed his intent:

So how did we arrive to this sorry state of our Union, where the number of banks being robbed by desperate people is running neck and neck with the number of desperate banks ostensibly robbing We The People? What paved the way for the near-total collapse of our financial system and its subsequent government bailout, which Moore provocatively refers to as nothing less than a “financial coup d’etat”? The enabler, Moore suggests, may very well be our sacred capitalist system itself-and proceeds to build a case (in his inimitable fashion) that results in his most engaging and thought-provoking film since Roger and Me […] at the end of the day I didn’t really find his message to be so much “down with capitalism” as it is “up with people”.

Digby gleaned something else from the film that did a flyover on me at the time:

But this movie, as Dennis notes, isn't really about saviors or criminals, although it features some of both. It's a call for citizens to focus their minds on what's actually gone wrong and take to the streets or man the barricades or do whatever defines political engagement in this day and age and demand that the people who brought us to this place are identified and that the system is reformed. Indeed, I would guess that if it didn't feature the stuff about capitalism being evil he could have shown this to audiences of all political stripes and most of the latent teabaggers would have given him a standing ovation.

If the film manages to focus the citizenry on the most important story of our time then it will be tremendously important. If it gets lost in a cacophony of commie bashing and primitive tribalism then it will probably not be recognized for what it is until sometime later. As with all of his films, he's ahead of the zeitgeist, so I am hopeful that this epic call to leftwing populist engagement is at the very least a hopeful sign of things to come.

She called it. “Someone” did tap into that populist sentiment; but sadly, it wasn’t the Left.

The Corporation – While it’s not news to any thinking person that corporate greed and manipulation affects everyone’s life on this planet, co-directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott deliver the message in a unique and engrossing fashion. By applying a psychological profile to the rudiments of corporate think, Achbar and Abbott build a solid case; proving that if the “corporation” were corporeal, then “he” would be Norman Bates.

Mixing archival footage with observations from some of the expected talking heads (Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, etc.) the unexpected (CEOs actually sympathetic with the filmmakers’ point of view) along with the colorful (like a “corporate spy”), the film offers perspective not only from the watchdogs, but from the belly of the beast itself. Be warned: there are enough exposes trotted out here to keep conspiracy theorists, environmentalists and human rights activists tossing and turning in bed for nights on end.

The Forecaster – There’s a conspiracy nut axiom that “everything is rigged”. Turns out it’s not just paranoia…it’s a fact. At least that’s according to this absorbing documentary from German filmmaker Marcus Vetter, profiling economic “forecaster” Martin Armstrong. In the late 70s, Armstrong formulated a predictive algorithm (“The Economic Confidence Model”) that proved so accurate at prophesying global financial crashes and armed conflicts, that a shadowy cabal of everyone from his Wall Street competitors to the CIA made Wile E. Coyote-worthy attempts for years to get their hands on that formula.

And once Armstrong told the CIA to “fuck off”, he put himself on a path that culminated in serving a 12-year prison sentence for what the FBI called a “3 billion dollar Ponzi scheme”. Funny thing, no evidence was ever produced, nor was any judgement passed (most of the time he served was for “civil contempt”…for not giving up that coveted formula, which the FBI eventually snagged when they seized his assets). Another funny thing…Armstrong’s formula solidly backs up his contention that it’s the world’s governments running the biggest Ponzi schemes…again and again, all throughout history.

And something tells me that we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet…

Greedy Lying Bastards – I know it's cliché to quote Joseph Goebbels, but: "If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth." That's the theme of Craig Rosebraugh's 2013 documentary. As one interviewee offers: "On one side you have all the facts. On the other side, you have none. But the folks without the facts are far more effective at convincing the public that this is not a problem, than scientists are about convincing them that we need to do something about this." What is the debate in question here? Global warming.

Using simple but damning flow charts, Rosebraugh follows the money and connects dots between high-profile deniers ("career skeptics…in the business of selling doubt") and their special interest sugar daddies. Shills range from media pundits (with no background in hard science) to members of Congress, presidential candidates and Supreme Court justices. Think tanks and other organizations are exposed as mouthpieces for Big Money.

Sadly, the villains outnumber the heroes-which is not reassuring. What does reassure are suggested action steps in the film’s coda…which might come in handy after January 20th.

Full review

Inside Job – I have good news and bad news about documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson’s incisive parsing of what led to the crash of the global financial system in 2008. The good news is that I believe I finally grok what “derivatives” and “toxic loans” are. The bad news is…that doesn’t make me feel any better about how fucked we are.

Ferguson starts where the seeds were sown-rampant financial deregulation during the Reagan administration (“morning in America”-remember?). The film illustrates, point by point, how every subsequent administration, Democratic and Republican alike, did their “part” to enable the 2008 crisis- through political cronyism and legislative manipulation. The result of this decades long circle jerk involving Wall Street, the mortgage industry, Congress, the White House and lobbyists (with Ivy League professors as pivot men) is what we are still living with today…and I suspect it is about to get unimaginably worse.

Full review

The International – Get this. In the Bizarro World of Tom Tykwer’s conspiracy thriller, people don’t rob banks…. banks rob people. That’s crazy! And if you think that’s weird, check this out: at one point in the film, one of the characters puts forth the proposition that true power belongs to he who controls the debt. Are you swallowing this malarkey? The filmmakers even go so far as to suggest that some Third World military coups are seeded by powerful financial groups and directed from shadowy corporate boardrooms…

What a fantasy! (Not.)

The international bank in question is under investigation by an Interpol agent (Clive Owen), who is following a trail of shady arms deals all over Europe and the Near East that appear to be linked to the organization. Whenever anyone gets close to exposing the truth about the bank’s Machiavellian schemes, they die under mysterious circumstances. Once the agent teams up with an American D.A. (Naomi Watts), much more complexity ensues, with tastefully-attired assassins lurking behind every silver-tongued bank exec.

The timing of the film’s release (in 2010) was interesting, in light of the then-current banking crisis and plethora of financial scandals. Screenwriter Eric Singer (no relation to the KISS drummer) based certain elements of the story on the real-life B.C.C.I. scandal.

Full review

The Queen of Versailles -- In Lauren Greenfield’s 2012 doc, billionaire David Siegel shares an anecdote about his 52-story luxury timeshare complex in Vegas. In 2010, Donald Trump called him and said, “Congratulations on your new tower! I’ve got one problem with it. When I stay in my penthouse suite, I look out the window and all I see is ‘WESTGATE’. Could you turn your sign down a little bit?” (how he must have suffered).

While Greenfield’s portrait of Siegal, his wife Jackie, their eight kids, nanny, cook, maids, chauffeur and (unknown) quantity of yippy, prolifically turd-laying teacup dogs is chock full of wacky “you couldn’t make this shit up” reality TV moments, there is an elephant in the room…the family’s unfinished Orlando, Florida mansion, the infamous “largest home in America”, a 90,000 square foot behemoth inspired by the palace at Versailles. Drama arises when the bank threatens to foreclose on it, along with the PH Towers Westgate. So does the family end up living in cardboard boxes? I’m not telling.

However, there is a more chilling message, buried near the end of the film. When Siegel boasts he was “personally responsible” for the election of George W. Bush in 2000, the director asks him to elaborate. “I’d rather not say,” he replies, “…because it may not necessarily have been legal.” Any further thoughts? “Had I not stuck my big nose into it, there probably would not have been an Iraqi War, and maybe we would have been better off…I don’t know.” Gosh, imagine a billionaire having the power to “buy” the POTUS of their choice. Worse yet, imagine a similarly odious billionaire becoming the POTUS. Oh.

Full review

Welcome to New York -- While it is not a “action thriller” per se, Abel Ferrara’s film is likewise “ripped from the headlines”, involves an evil banker, and agog with backroom deals and secret handshakes. More specifically, the film is based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal. In case you need a refresher, he was the fine fellow who was accused and indicted for an alleged sexual assault and attempted rape of a maid employed by the ritzy NYC hotel he was staying at during a 2011 business trip. The case was dismissed after the maid’s credibility was brought into question (Strauss-Kahn later admitted in a TV interview that a liaison did occur, but denied any criminal wrongdoing). I’m sure that the fact that Strauss-Kahn was head of the International Monetary Fund at the time (and a front-runner in France’s 2012 presidential race) had absolutely nothing to do with him traipsing out from the sordid affair smelling like a rose (as of this writing, we don’t know the veracity of intelligence reports alleging shenanigans in a Russian hotel room that involve a “certain” President-elect, so I won’t draw any parallels…just sayin’).

It is interesting watching the hulking Gerard Depardieu wrestle with the motivations (and what passes as the “conscience”) of his Dostoevskian character. It doesn’t make this creep any more sympathetic, but it is a fearless late-career performance, as naked (literally and emotionally) as Brando was playing a similarly loathsome study in Last Tango in Paris. Jacqueline Bisset gives a good supporting turn as the long-suffering wife.

The Yes Men Fix the World – Anti-corporate activist/pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (aka “The Yes Men”) and co-director Kurt Engfehr come out swinging, vowing to do a take-down of a powerful nemesis…an Idea. If money makes the world go ‘round, then this particular Idea is the one that oils the crank on the money-go-round, regardless of the human cost. It is the free market cosmology of economist Milton Friedman, which the Yes Men posit as the root of much evil in the world. Once this springboard is established, the fun begins. Perhaps “fun” isn’t the right term, but there are hijinks afoot, and you’ll find yourself chuckling through most of the film (when you’re not crying). However, the filmmakers have a loftier goal than mining laughs: corporate accountability; and ideally, atonement. “Corporate accountability” is an oxymoron, but one has to admire the dogged determination (and boundless creativity) of the Yes Men and their co-conspirators, despite the odds. It’s a call to activism that is as timely as ever.

Full review

Previous posts with related themes:

SCOTUS night at the movies
More reviews at Den of Cinema

--Dennis Hartley


If there's ever been a situation that requires a special prosecutor it's this one

by digby

This seems obvious to me. At this point, Comey's decision to contravene normal prosecutorial guidelines and norms in what turned out to be a trivial and unsubstantiated case against Hillary Clinton, while following those norms and guidelines in the case of a much more serious set of charges against Donald Trump during the election. His ongoing double standard makes it imperative that the investigation be taken out of his hands.

From former DOJ staffer Matthew Miller in TIME:
It was always going to be difficult for FBI Director Jim Comey to oversee an investigation into ties between President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Thursday’s announcement that the Department of Justice’s Inspector General will investigate Comey’s conduct during last year’s presidential election makes it impossible.

As director of the FBI, Jim Comey is a key intelligence advisor to the president, responsible for briefing him on threats to our country’s security from a number of fronts, including foreign espionage. The agency he leads is also responsible for investigating those plots, and producing evidence that can be used by Department of Justice prosecutors to bring criminal charges against anyone who commits espionage against the United States.


Comey is without a doubt a man of personal integrity, but over the past six months, he has shown repeatedly that his perception of his skill at managing high-profile political investigations vastly exceeds his actual ability. He improperly inserted himself into the 2016 campaign twice, first in July when he violated Department of Justice rules to pass judgment on Hillary Clinton’s conduct, and then again in October when he violated further Justice guidelines to comment on an ongoing case during the waning days of a campaign.

At the same time as Comey was publicly maligning Clinton, he was refusing to answer questions from Congress about whether the FBI was investigating Trump (it was), all while sources within the bureau were repeatedly leaking damaging information about Clinton. Furthermore, Comey in October refused to sign an assessment by other members of the intelligence community finding that the Russian government had intervened in the election — a fact with obvious relevance to the electorate. These issues together had already cast doubt on the FBI’s ability conduct a fair investigation into Donald Trump under the current chain of command. The fact that Comey will now be leading the probe while under investigation himself make it completely untenable.

The situation will only be made worse when Senator Jeff Sessions is confirmed as attorney general and given the duty of supervising Comey and any Justice investigations that are underway into Trump. Sessions did not just endorse Trump and campaign repeatedly for him, he also officially joined his campaign as chair of its national security advisory committee. It is simply impossible for the American people to have confidence that Sessions can conduct a fair investigation into a campaign of which he was a senior official.

This matter requires an unquestionably independent investigation because the outstanding questions go to the heart of our democracy and to the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. They include:

• Did Trump campaign officials – or intermediaries such as Roger Stone – have knowledge of the Russian government’s campaign to hack the email accounts of Democratic party officials and release the information through Wikileaks?

• Did Trump campaign officials, including former chairman Paul Manafort – who once worked for a Putin-backed autocrat in Ukraine – change the party’s platform at the behest of the Russian government?

• What are the extent of Trump’s business dealings in Russia, and is there any truth to the allegations the Russian government is sitting on information with which it plans to blackmail him?

• Did Trump campaign officials such as incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn, a paid contributor to the Kremlin-financed RT television network, participate in the official Russian propaganda campaign to elect Trump that the intelligence community described in its public report?

An investigation led by Jeff Sessions and Jim Comey will never be accepted by the American public as having fairly and adequately addressed these questions. Sessions has never been independent from Trump, and Comey has squandered much of his reputation for fairness. It is crucial that Sessions, or Attorney General Lynch in her waning days in office, appoint a special counsel with independent authority to determine whether criminal statutes were violated, and, if appropriate, bring charges.

Furthermore, Congress should establish a bipartisan commission with subpoena power, the ability to make criminal referrals, and a mandate to hold public hearings and issue a public report. While an investigation by a special counsel is crucial, criminal investigations are not by themselves sufficient for a question that also raises fundamental Constitutional questions. The American people deserve the sort of full public accounting of what happened during the campaign and whether it presents an ongoing risk to our democracy that only a bipartisan commission can deliver.

President-elect Trump has to date resisted any further inquiry, and he seems to fear that this issue casts doubt on the legitimacy of his presidency. But it is precisely because of those doubts that we need a full and fair investigation.

Either the Trump campaign acted in coordination with a hostile foreign power to influence the election or it didn’t. If it did, the American public deserves to know the full truth. If it didn’t, Trump deserves to have these questions put to rest. Until they are, he will never obtain the legitimacy he so obviously craves.

I don't know about his personal integrity. His "mistakes" sure seem to only go in one direction. But it doesn't matter. He and Sessions cannot be trusted to run the Trump investigation and there needs to be a special prosecutor. The probe will have no credibility with those two in charge.


Trump's little white slip is showing again

by digby

Trump is mad a John Lewis, the moral conscience of American politics, for calling him an illegitimate president. So he lashed out on twitter, saying Lewis has never done anything in his career. 

On Martin Luther King Day week-end.

Obviously Trump has no clue who John Lewis is or he's the last person he would say is "all talk." In fact, Trump saying that about anyone is insane, but to say it about a man who was beaten half to death fighting for civil rights is obscene.

But our new president doesn't know that because he really doesn't know much of anything. He is an imbecile.

Moreover he obviously attacked Lewis for his allegedly "crime infested" neighborhood because he's black and we know he assumes that every black person in America except for Ben Carson and Omoarosa lives in a dystopian hellhole. That is racist.

John Lewis's constituents have some words for Trump:

Politicians and pundits weighed in too:
Jason Carter, the 2014 Democratic candidate for governor who represented part of the 5th District in the state Senate, said Trump “clearly doesn’t know anything about the 5th District or Atlanta.”

“It exemplifies what’s great about this country,” Carter said in an interview. “The center of business, the center of innovation and the cradle of the civil rights movement and it’s incredibly successful right now. And it’s about the host a (NFL) playoff victory!”

And how about this?

On Thursday, the city of Atlanta, Georgia Tech and 10 of the metro area’s biggest corporations, including Home Depot and Delta Air Lines, announced plans to launch a technology incubator and venture fund that they hope will cement Atlanta as a tech powerhouse.

In particular, Midtown has emerged since the Great Recession as the Atlanta region’s technology boomtown. NCR in recent years announced it would relocate from Gwinnett County to a new headquarters at Technology Square.

The company then doubled down on that move last year when it announced its tech hub and second phase of development. The company will ultimately have more than 5,000 workers in Midtown.

Other prominent names that have built new innovation labs or made corporate expansions near Georgia Tech include Equifax, Southern Company, Panasonic, Sage Software and AT&T. Coca-Cola and Turner Broadcasting teamed up in late 2015 to back start ups that could bring potential innovations to both companies.
I'm sure Trump will take credit for that too, claiming that he personally turned Atlanta around.

He is an ignorant bigot. There's no other explanation for why he would attack Congressman John Lewis in this specific way. Racists always reveal themselves in all their true ugliness when they're angry.

Update: Read this from Joan Walsh on the meaning of Lewis's comments.

True love

by digby

I don't know what the poster is behind them, but it adds to the joke, I think.

In case you missed it this week, these things happened too:

Keep a list so you don't adapt

by digby

This is a useful exercise. Amy Siskind is keeping a list of the weekly Trump atrocities on Facebook. Here's just this week:

Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you'll remember. Here's my list for week 9:

1. The Office of Government Ethics director publicly lamented, "we seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election."
2.Three vendors have placed liens on the Trump hotel in DC for unpaid bills of over $5 million, in total.
3. The OGE similarly said they had not completed ethics reviews of Trump's cabinet nominees. Leader McConnell said the Democrats need to "grow up" on Trump's desire for speedy confirmations.
4. Sean Hannity endorsed a tweet which said "Make Russia Great Again" with the word, "Amen." Hannity later deleted his tweet.
5. Meryl Streep used her Golden Globes lifetime of notable work speech to eloquently attack Trump, without mentioning his name.
6. Trump responded via a tweet that Streep is an "over-rated" actress, and denied he had mocked a disabled reporter.
7. Trump took credit for a Fiat Chrysler plant and jobs in MI and OH. Fiat Chrysler responded that Trump had nothing to do with it.
8. Trump appointed Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, to a top WH post, possibly violating the 1967 federal anti-nepotism statute.
9. Trump told the NYT that all the dress shops in DC are sold out for his inauguration. This was a lie.
10. Trump team dismissed the National Nuclear Security Administration and his deputy, responsible for maintaining our nuclear arsenal, as of January 20. Trump also dismissed the commanding general of the DC national guard.
11. Cory Booker became the first US Senator to speak out against a fellow sitting senator at a confirmation hearing (Sessions for AG).
12. CNN reported a bombshell - Intelligence chiefs had briefed Trump that Russia had gathered information to blackmail him (the dossier).
13. Same day, BuzzFeed published contents of the dossier, which apparently had been in the hands of the FBI and some in the media since the summer. Contents included the infamous golden shower.
14. Trump denied having been briefed, and said the contents of the dossier were confirmed by intelligence to be fake. DNI Clapper issued a public statement indicating the dossier's contents are still being verified (not fake), and media reported that Comey met with Trump one-on-one to review the dossier the prior Friday.
15. Trump held his first press conference since July. Trump packed the room with paid employees, who applauded him, and jeered at reporters.
16. At presser, Trump said he had no plans to release his tax returns, or resolve conflicts of interest, saying, "I have no-conflict situation because I'm president."
17. Trump bullied reporters at two news outlets, calling them "fake news," and used other news outlets as evidence.
18. The director of the OGE publicly blasted Trump's non-plan for dealing with conflicts of interest. Next day, Rep Jason Chaffetz threatened to investigate the OGE.
19. Next day, while meeting with CEO of AT&T at Trump Tower (AT&T needs approval for their merger with Time Warner, parent company of CNN) Trump tweeted CNN is "FAKE NEWS" and tanking.
20. Rep Barbara Lee said she would not attend Trump's inauguration. During the week, the list grew to 6 members of Congress.
21. Trump encouraged his followers in a tweet to "buy L.L. Bean," in violation of a WH policy prohibiting the endorsement of products.
22. The Justice Department inspector general opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the FBI and Comey, leading up to the election.
23. C-Span's online broadcast was interrupted by Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT, while Rep Maxine Waters was speaking. Waters has said she will not meet with Trump. The broadcast was also interrupted that morning when a Senator discussed Russian hacking.
24. WAPO reported that Michael Flynn, Trump's NSA, spoke to Russia's envoy on Dec 29th, the day Obama announced sanctions on Russia. Trump team initially denied this, then later, said they spoke only once that day. Reuters reports they spoke 5 times that day.
25. Trump continued to deny Russian hacking, and to use quotes around Intelligence in his tweets.
26. Trump appointed Rudy Giuliani to a cybersecurity role - albeit though a private company.
27. Trump appointed a sixth Goldman Sachs (past or present) employees to a major role in his administration.
28. After Congress was briefed by Intelligence chiefs, Rep John Lewis said, "I don't see Trump as a legitimate president."
29. Next morning, Trump tweeted a disparaging attack on Lewis, on MLK weekend, saying he was all talk.
30. Democrats in Congress were furious with FBI director Comey's unwillingness to answer their questions and fully brief them.
31. UK media broke that the former agent who gathered the info in the dossier, had shared his findings with the FBI, starting in the summer, and had become concerned that a cabal within the FBI was compromised and attempting to cover-up information.
32. The Senate announced hearings on possible Russia-Trump ties, and said subpoenas would be used if necessary.
33. The FEC sent Trump a letter listing 247 pages of illegal contributions to his campaign.
34. In the wake of the Trump dossier becoming public, Russia's cybersecurity head is out of a job.
35. Human Rights Watch issued it's annual report of threats to human rights around the world. For the first time in 27 years, the US is listed as a top threat because of the rise of Trump.
36. A Quinnipiac poll showed Trump's favorability ratings continuing to slide to historic lows for modern day presidents: only 37% of Americans view Trump favorably.

Past weeks:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Chaffetz searches for the real killer

by digby

House Republicans have found a subject for their opening review of conflicts of interest under Donald Trump: the federal official in charge of investigating conflicts of interest. 
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the head of the House Oversight Committee, criticized the director of the federal Office of Government Ethics on Thursday over his criticism of Donald Trump’s plan to address conflicts of interest. And he threatened to subpoena the official, Walter Shaub, if he refuses to participate in an official interview.

Isn't that special? Chaffetz is upset that the with Schaub for making pronouncements about ethics rules which is his job. And for no reason!
Earlier Thursday, Chaffetz had praised Trump’s newly announced ethics policy. “President-elect Trump’s obligation is to comply with the laws on the books. It appears he is going to great lengths to be as responsible as possible and comply with those requirements," he said in a statement. 
On Wednesday, Trump rolled out an ethics policy that places his two adult sons and a longtime executive in charge of his company, as well as imposing a prohibition on new international deals and requiring a newly-appointed Trump Organization ethics staffer to review any domestic changes in the portfolio. The approach falls short of the total divestment that Shaub, ethics officials and many Democrats have called for. 
This isn’t Chaffetz’s first time challenging Shaub. In late 2015, the Republican accused the Obama appointee of giving Hillary Clinton a pass on conflict-of-interest laws over speaking fees she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were supposed to disclose.
Chaffetz plans to continue to persecute Hillary Clinton by the way.


Adapt or die

by Tom Sullivan

After the kakistocracy follies of the last few weeks and after watching both Democrats and the national press struggle to adapt to the new order, "adapt or die" came to mind from Moneyball:

Baseball isn't just numbers.
It's not science.
If it was, anybody could do
what we're doing, but they can't
Because they don't know what we know.
They don't have our experience
And they don't have our intuition.


Billy, you got a kid in there that's got
a degree in economics from Yale.
You got a scout here with with 29 years
of baseball experience.
You're listening to the wrong one.
Now, there are intangibles that
only baseball people understand.
You're discounting what scouts
have done for 150 years?
Even yourself?

Adapt or die.
Replace "baseball" with "politics" and I imagine you could hear the same conversation several times a day inside the Beltway between sage, old political hands and the new kids on the block. It's wisdom handed down from party elders with decades on their resumes of doing what they've always done, the way they've always done it, because that's the way it's always been done and because that's what donors are comfortable funding. Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) tells Oakland manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), "Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions." Not only baseball.

Adapt or die. Welcome to a brave, new world.

What Democrats have (Republicans too) are consultants and aging political players who know the game inside out. Just like that scout. But they only know how to play the game one way: the way they've always played it. The way that's always worked for them. Problem is, Donald Trump and his alt-right posse just tore up the rule book and burned the pieces. Other books come later.

Yes, norms matter. To the civilized. To barbarians, not so much. So now what?

I've got a growing collection of Democratic postmortems with all kinds of advice you can expect the party cognoscenti to ignore because it takes them out of their comfort zone. A lot of criticism focuses on Hillary Clinton's team being arrogant, or on the DNC for supposedly having its thumb on the scale — but no more than the Russians. Some Berners speak as though Debbie Wasserman Schultz personally twisted 17 million arms into voting for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. (Bernie Sanders received 13 million votes.) Clinton partisans point to the 2.8 million more votes Clinton received than Donald Trump as though his win was just a fluke. Indeed, it may have been a fluke. But it wasn't only a fluke.

Even if Clinton had pulled in another 100,000 votes in the right states to win in the Electoral College, the down-ballot losses and loss of governorships and legislatures Democrats have accrued over years would not have changed. That's not a presidential candidate problem, but a more systemic one.

Adapt or die.

Here in North Carolina, Democratic legislators are so outgunned by a Republican supermajority, they attend each session as walking punching bags to be shut out and laughed at by GOP legislators. On Capitol Hill, Democrats face similar margins and have to hope for fractures on the Republican side to prevent Republicans from rolling back the 20th century and chopping up the social safety net.

The Washington Post observed:
The traditional Washington ways of messaging have not changed either. Members of Congress speak from the floor to largely empty press galleries. They gather in TV studios, where few networks cut in to cover them. They respond to tweets with wordy press releases, columns, or open letters, each one staff-edited down to the last period after the last talking point.

And they hold press stunts that worked before Trump came to town. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday, for instance, that Democrats would “hold the floor late into the night” to protest the Obamacare repeal push with cameras rolling. Less clear was whether anyone would be watching.
Adapt or die.
“if you challenge the conventional wisdom, you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.” ― Michael Lewis, Moneyball
Billy Beane has to build a winning team for his bottom-of-the-barrel club using the limited budget he's given. He has to get creative. He does. Democrats are facing an epic shitstorm dismasted and without a rudder. To get through it and come out on the other side, they had better find some fresh thinking.

If you're not Goliath, fine. Be David.