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Strange illusions shape Trumps views. In trying to protect America, he may unleash a killer that already claims 200,000 lives each year.

Spoiler Alert.

Over the last week, Quinnipiac University asked Americans for the first word that comes to mind when they think of President Trump. The answer given more times than any other was “idiot,” followed by “incompetent” and “liar.”

Given the above sentiment, there’s little surprise that Trump is down to a 36 percent approval rating in the university’s latest national poll. The mark sits just one percentage point above the 35 percent approval rating he got on April 4, his lowest since taking office.

It’s not just the approval rating. Every number in this poll is bad. The majority of Americans say Trump is “not honest,” lacks leadership skills, doesn’t care about average Americans, is not “level-headed,” and does not share their values. On the economy, immigration, foreign policy, and terrorism, more Americans disapprove than approve of the job he’s doing.

Perhaps the most revelatory number in this poll, which shows that Trump is floundering even in the eyes of his fans, is his support among white men. Approval among this bedrock group for Trump dropped below 50 percent in the past week, with only 48 percent of white men saying the president is doing a good job. Forty-six percent disagreed.

And that’s not even the poll result that would most enrage Trump. This is: When it comes to who Americans trust to tell them the truth, 57 percent say the media wins out over Trump.

Vox Populi / Trump scraps visit to FBI headquarters: report
« on: May 12, 2017, 11:50:48 am »

President Trump has abandoned plans to visit FBI headquarters in the days after he fired bureau Director James Comey, according to a report on Thursday.

Trump was told FBI agents might not give him a warm reception following Comey’s ouster, NBC News said Thursday.

FBI agents told NBC that many of them voted for Trump during the 2016 presidential election. But NBC’s sources added that few were ready to celebrate Trump’s visit after he sacked their boss.

“My sense is most FBI employees feel a loyalty to Comey,” one person who works at the bureau said, and right now “Trump would not be well-received at headquarters.”

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier on Thursday that Trump would likely visit the FBI headquarters soon.

“I believe it’s very likely that that takes place sometime in the next few days,” she said on “CBS This Morning."

She also doubled down on the claim that the majority of FBI workers agreed with Trump's decision to fire Comey and that the “rank and file” had lost faith in the director.

“I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision,” Sanders said at the White House briefing on Thursday.
The White House on Tuesday announced that Trump had fired Comey on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.
White House aides and Vice President Pence have repeatedly said since then that Trump acted on the Justice Department’s counsel.
Trump said in an interview aired Thursday, however, that he had already made up his mind to terminate Comey.
“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey,” he told NBC’s Lester Holt.
Trump’s decision stunned the political world, with many questioning the timing of the dismissal.
Comey announced in March that the FBI was investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race, including possible ties between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.


Former CIA deputy director David Cohen said it was not a good idea at all to let a Russian news agency and its equipment inside the Oval Office.

In a tweet sent Wednesday morning, Cohen, who served as deputy director from February 2015 to January 2017 during the Obama administration, reacted to the question of whether it was a good idea to let a Russian news agency into the Oval Office with a terse: "No, it was not."

Cohen’s comments come at a time when accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the federal government in general are still raging.

President Donald Trump’s meeting at the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was closed to all press with the exception of the Russian government-owned news agency TASS, which took photos of the event.

"The Lavrov meeting was closed to the press and the only visual account we have of it thus far is via handout photos from the Russian government," The Hill’s Jordan Fabian said in a pool report Wednesday, according to Talking Points Memo. "Those images show Trump also met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak."

Following the pool report, a White House official reportedly told Fabian, "On background, our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that’s it."

Getty wire images of the Oval Office meeting are credited to TASS.

THEY LIVE - John Carpenter.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Jared Kushner reportedly made a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group: The Trump campaign would provide Sinclair’s local news stations with intimate access to the candidate, in exchange for “fair” coverage of the GOP nominee.

Here are some of the ways that Sinclair kept its broadcasts fair and balanced, according to the Washington Post:

Sinclair-owned stations and its Washington bureau scored 15 “exclusive” interviews with Trump over the past year, including 11 during the final three months of the campaign in critical states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. They did 10 more with Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, from August through October, as well as 10 with Trump surrogates, primarily Ben Carson. Sinclair stations aired five such interviews with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine and two with Chelsea Clinton but none with Clinton or another top surrogate.

… Mark Hyman — a Sinclair executive and conservative commentator who appears on Sinclair stations — regularly criticized Clinton or highlighted positions favorable to Trump in his on-air commentaries. “Most Americans know very little about the leaked Clinton emails,” he said in one, which aired on Oct. 27. “Major news organizations buried the most damaging. So we’re sharing some with you.”

… News stories and features favorable to Trump or that challenged Clinton were distributed to Sinclair stations on a “must-run” basis — that is, the stations were required by managers in Washington to make room in their evening newscasts or morning programs for them.

… A “must-run” email from Washington managers to stations on Sept. 13 read this way: “DESCRIPTION: Why did Hillary Clinton struggle with disclosing her medical diagnosis? She has been repeatedly faced with previous questions of trust. Can a president lead with so many questions of transparency and trust?…There were no equivalent “must-run” stories examining Trump’s refusal to release his medical or tax records or about questions surrounding his charitable foundation.
Even if Kushner hadn’t held out the promise of access, Sinclair might have offered such fairness, nonetheless. The company’s longtime chairman David Smith is a big-dollar GOP donor, whose family helped fund one of Trump’s super-PACs. When Sinclair purchased Washington, D.C.’s ABC affiliate in 2014, the network’s editorial bent took a sharp right turn. And the aforementioned Mark Hyman routinely delivers conservative commentary on the local news broadcasts of Sinclair stations around the country.

Following Trump’s election, Sinclair hired the president’s former spokesman Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst — and Trump’s FCC relaxed rules on how many local stations a single owner can control.

Sinclair was already the largest owner of local television stations in the U.S. in 2016. That footprint gave the company tremendous influence, as Kushner eagerly explained to business executives who later spoke with Politico:

Kushner highlighted that Sinclair, in states like Ohio, reaches a much wider audience — around 250,000 listeners — than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000. “It’s math,” Kushner said according to multiple attendees.
Last year, a Pew Research study found that nearly 60 percent of American adults get their news from television — and 50 percent of those rely on local stations. The study also found that likely voters make up a disproportionate share of the local television audience.

This week, Sinclair capitalized on the FCC’s new laissez-faire attitude, purchasing Tribune Media for $3.9 billion — and, thereby, claiming ownership of enough local television stations to reach 70 percent of American households. To have its deal finalized, Sinclair will need to secure further cooperation from the FCC. Currently, the regulator bars any one broadcaster from claiming greater than 39 percent market share. To stay under that cap, Sinclair may need to sell off its less desirable holdings. Or, maybe not: The FCC’s Republican chairman Ajit Pai has suggested that the 39 percent-limit could be raised.

Sinclair also secured the Tribune’s crown jewel, WGN America, a cable network that reaches 80 million homes, just 10 million fewer than Fox News. On a conference call with investors Monday, Sinclair executives said they would be shifting WGN away from “high-cost originals” (i.e. scripted dramas) and toward more “cost-effective originals.” That remark has fed speculation that Sinclair may try to refashion WGN into a Fox News competitor — an endeavor that could be launched with the aid of erstwhile Fox News star Bill O’Reilly and a few of red America’s other favorite (alleged) sex criminals.

There would be several obstacles to such a rebrand. To name just one: Turning WGN into a news channel could violate the terms of agreements between the network and cable operators, and result in some of the latter dropping the former from their packages.

It’s also possible that the profit motive will temper Sinclair’s partisan leanings on local channels. As the New York Times notes:

Whether Sinclair uses its expanded reach to push its conservative-leaning views remains to be seen. Any ambitions to do so would face significant hurdles.

For one, television, where ratings beget advertising revenue, is not a forgiving medium for dissatisfaction, several media analysts and specialists said. Because overnight ratings are readily available, Sinclair will know almost instantaneously if its programming is attractive to viewers or driving them — and advertising dollars — away.

If you are not serving the community’s needs, you will know it, and you will know it fast,” said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute. “In television, if you fail to serve, you will pay the price.”
Regardless, the largest provider of cable news in the United States is a proud mouthpiece for the Republican Party; the largest purveyor of “left-leaning” cable news recently hired right-wing commentators George Will, Hugh Hewitt, and Nicolle Wallace; and America’s leading newspaper has an editorial page populated by multiple conservative climate-change skeptics but not a single democratic socialist, despite the fact that one of the most (if not the most) popular politicians in America identifies as the latter.

And now, a company aligned with the far-right Republican president will supply local news to a supermajority of American households, pending the approval of that president’s administration.

The greatest trick the “liberal” media ever pulled was to convince the world that it exists.

Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe vowed to lawmakers that he will never update President Trump or the White House on the status of the investigation into Trump's ties to Russia. WHEW!

The acting head of the FBI, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, vowed to lawmakers on Thursday that he would not update the White House on the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

But he declined, under fierce questioning from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to weigh in on whether it would have been “wrong” for former Director James Comey to tell the president he was not under investigation.

President Trump on Tuesday fired Comey, roiling Washington with speculation the decision to  was an attempt to quash the Russia probe. Part of that investigation includes an examination of whether any Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russia to influence the election.

The president, in his dismissal letter to Comey, said that he “appreciated” that the director had “on three separate occasions” assured him he was not under investigation.

That claim has been met with raised eyebrows in Washington. 

McCabe in his testimony sought to reassure lawmakers that the investigation was appropriately resourced and was proceeding apace independent of any political influence from the White House.

“There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” he said.

He further promised that he would inform the committee if there is any attempt to interfere in the probe in the future.

All in all, it was a worrying series of statements from the president at a time of national crisis.

Friday morning, President Trump took to Twitter to launch a series of bizarre complaints — beginning with the allegation that the entire Russia issue was fabricated, veering into threats to cancel the White House press briefing, and culminating with a claim that he had secret “tapes” of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.

All in all, it was a worrying series of statements from the president at a time of national crisis.

The tweets started at a little before 8 am EST, with the Russia investigation:

We know this not to be true — not only from the mountains of evidence and the fact that Russia ties got Trump’s first pick for national security adviser canned, but also because interim FBI Director Andrew McCabe said in Congressional testimony on Thursday that the investigation was “highly significant.”

All this the day after Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the “made-up” Russia investigation.

Trump also made an explicit threat to cancel the daily White House press briefings, one of the main ways the press has been able to hold the Trump administration accountable for its fairly confused and often false public messages:

It’s worth noting that Trump is not, by historic standards, a very busy president — having accomplished very little in terms of significant legislation in his first 100 days in office. When my colleague Sean Illing asked presidential historian H.W. Brands to evaluate Trump’s performance, he said that “very little has been done.”

The more fundamental issue, rather, is that Trump’s surrogates at the briefing have continually embarrassed him. With press secretary Sean Spicer out doing Naval Reserve duty (lucky for him!), deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been doing his job for the past two days. Sanders, like Spicer, has repeatedly stepped in it — outright telling the press yesterday that the point of firing Comey was to end the Russia investigation, directly undermining the White House line.

The crown jewel in the president’s tweetstorm was literally Nixonian:

A few questions here:

These tapes are almost certainly not real, right?
Is the president saying he was secretly recording his conversations with the FBI director — at a time when his actions are already being compared to Nixon’s during Watergate? Why would he do that?
If Trump wasn’t recording Comey, who does he think might have been doing it?
Why is the word “tapes” in quotes?
All in all, it’s just an absolutely stunning series of things to say. At a time when people are legitimately worried about the implications of the president canning the FBI director for investigating him for American democracy, the president is going on a tirade that sounds like a parody of a petty authoritarian’s fumings.

Decent piece on Chris Rock. The tour is funny, smart and personal. Hope you can catch it this year. Well worth your time.

Last October, Chris Rock drove from his New Jersey home to Greenwich Village's Comedy Cellar and slipped inside undetected. The Comedy Cellar charges patrons $24 to see anonymous comics, with the unspoken tease that you might see Louis C.K. or Amy Schumer working on new material. Tonight was no different. The patrons sipped away their drink minimums and endured unknowns sprinkled with knowns – both Judd Apatow and Dave Attell did sets. Then the MC announced Rock. The audience went silent for a moment before jumping up in a roar as Rock, in jeans and a T-shirt, took the stage.

He hadn't been seen much on the stand-up scene in a while; he'd spent his past few years starring in movies both sky-high (Top Five, which he wrote and directed) and crawl-space low (co-starring in Adam Sandler's Grown Ups). There had been a turn as Oscar host in 2016 – the year of no black nominees. In fact, much of what the Comedy Cellar crowd had recently read about Rock was regarding his divorce from Malaak Compton-Rock after 18 years of marriage. Every divorce is unhappy in its own specific way, and Rock's was no different. There were claims that Malaak kept Chris from their two daughters, Lola and Zahra, a charge she vehemently denied. After a tense two years of negotiations, the divorce became final in August.

That night, Chris Rock was still a wound that had not been cauterized. At 52, he somehow doesn't look much different from when he played crack-addled Pookie in New Jack City exactly half his life ago. Still reed-thin, he smiled with perfect teeth – the one cosmetic change from his early days – and paced the claustrophobic stage for a few seconds. He then began describing how much his ex now hated him.

"If someone wants 52 percent custody, you know they want to kill you," he said.

There were some knowing giggles, but the response was muted. The audience was eavesdropping on a therapy session. Rock mentioned that he had slept with only three women on his last tour. Some of the women hissed, and many of the men stared into their drinks. Rock smiled. "Men, it's a lot easier to be faithful when no one wants to f*ck you."

There was uneasy laughter. Someone whispered he was glad he hadn't brought his wife. Rock spoke about Donald Trump for a minute, predicting his victory. In October in New York, this made the crowd pity him like a sad clown. He quickly returned to his own life, occasionally glancing at some notes he kept on a stool. He mentioned he might have to take on some sh*tty TV work to make his alimony payments. He then went into a bit about being in court and realizing he was paying for everyone – his lawyers, her lawyer, the court reporter: "Everyone woke up today and said, 'I'm billing Chris Rock.'" There was more unsure laughter. Then he ended his set with a rhetorical question.

"Would I ever get married again?" He paused. His voice raised an octave. "Not if it would cure AIDS."
The crowd clapped, because Chris Rock is one of the greatest comedians of our lifetime, but they wondered what the hell they had just witnessed.

Rock was at the bar about an hour later watching the Los Angeles Dodgers try to stay alive in the playoffs against the Washington Nationals. Desperate for a win, the Dodgers brought in Clayton Kershaw, the Chris Rock of pitching, to make his first relief appearance of the year. Kershaw had pitched just two days earlier, and the bar speculated whether he would have his good stuff. He did, getting a pop-up followed by a strikeout with high heat. Rock watched with wonderment. "Man, he still has his fastball," he said. "After all that, he still has his f*cking fastball."

A few months later, Chris Rock headed out on the road for the first time in nine years, openly wondering "if I still have my fastball." He had just signed a two-special, reportedly $40 million deal with Netflix and was adjusting to sharing custody of his girls. The stakes had never been higher.


This just made my whole week.

Melissa McCarthy was seen driving a podium down a busy New York City street dressed as Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

The comedian is set to host Saturday Night Live this weekend. For the past few months, McCarthy has made special appearances on the program, portraying Spicer in a humorous fashion. As Spicer, McCarthy has used dolls as props, squirted water at journalists, and used her podium to beat-up a member of the press in her comedic skits. She’s even locked up a member of CNN, forcing them to wear a diaper while in a cage at the mock press briefing.

While on 58th Street in New York, Spicer — er, uh, McCarthy dressed as Spicer — drove the famous podium to the amusement of many passerby, waving those in her way to move. Many on social media have since published video of her driving the podium on their accounts.

McCarthy first portrayed Spicer in January, and was an instant smash. She has returned frequently to continue her role for SNL, much to the chagrin of President Donald Trump, who was apparently upset that a woman portrayed a male member of his administration.

"Will this sad old racist whore get what he deserves?

"Refusing to recuse oneself from a conflict or breaking the promise to recuse from a conflict is a serious breach of legal ethics. "Someone could file a bar complaint, and/or one with DOJ's office of professional responsibility, if Sessions had a conflict of interest when it came to the firing decision, and if he did not follow the ethics rules, including those of DOJ by acting when he had a conflict of interest," legal ethics expert Norman Eisen tells me. "The fact that he broke his recusal commitment, if he did, would be relevant context, and violating an agreement can sometimes in itself be an ethics violation." In sum, Sessions has risked his law license, whether he realized it or not. He needs to testify immediately under oath; if there is no satisfactory explanation, he must resign. The alternative could be impeachment proceedings."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. "During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for president of the United States," he said in his written recusal released on March 2. "Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States."

Any existing or future investigations. Related in any way.

Sessions consulted with the president and coordinated the firing of James Comey. Recall that Comey had testified on March 20 that he was heading the Russia investigation:

"I've been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed. Because it is an open, ongoing investigation, and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining."

That is the investigation that Sessions promised to stay away from. Firing the man heading the investigation -- especially if Sessions knew that the reason was not the one stated in Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein's May 9 memo -- is a matter "arising from the campaigns for President of the United States."

Sessions may have some explanation for why he chose to participate in the firing of Comey. But the attorney general may now be in considerable legal peril.

Refusing to recuse oneself from a conflict or breaking the promise to recuse from a conflict is a serious breach of legal ethics. "Someone could file a bar complaint, and/or one with DOJ's office of professional responsibility, if Sessions had a conflict of interest when it came to the firing decision, and if he did not follow the ethics rules, including those of DOJ by acting when he had a conflict of interest," legal ethics expert Norman Eisen tells me. "The fact that he broke his recusal commitment, if he did, would be relevant context, and violating an agreement can sometimes in itself be an ethics violation." In sum, Sessions has risked his law license, whether he realized it or not. He needs to testify immediately under oath; if there is no satisfactory explanation, he must resign. The alternative could be impeachment proceedings.

The problem for Sessions (as it is for Trump) is legal as well. This returns to whether firing Comey constituted obstruction of justice. Lawfare blog supplies us with the persuasive analysis:

"Under 18 U.S.C. 1505, a felony offense is committed by anyone who 'corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation in being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress.'

"An accompanying code section, 18 U.S.C. 1515(b), defines 'corruptly' as 'acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information.' This is where obstruction of justice intersects with the false statements law. If you knowingly and willfully make a false statement of material fact in a federal government proceeding, you've potentially violated 1001, and when you add an objective to influence, obstruct, or impede an investigation, you've now possibly violated 1505 as well. Perjury can intersect with obstruction of justice in the same way.

"Under the statute, a 'proceeding' can be an investigation. Section 1503 criminalizes the same conduct in judicial proceedings. So obstruction during an investigation might violate 1505, while if that same investigation leads to a criminal prosecution, obstruction during the prosecution itself would violate 1503. The individual also has to know that a proceeding is happening in order to violate the statute, and must have the intent to obstruct-that is, act with the purpose of obstructing, even if they don't succeed."

The question for Sessions -- and for the president -- is whether there was intent to obstruct justice. ("As applied to the President and his staff, the first two elements appear to be a slam dunk. First, courts have given "proceeding" a broad definition. . . . Second, Comey himself had recently confirmed that the investigation was ongoing-in extremely public and publicized congressional hearings.") That leaves the matter of intent.

While ordinarily one might find this hard to prove, here we have overwhelming evidence that the reason for the firing was not his handling of the Hillary Clinton email matter. Saying it was not about Russia constitutes a lie, part of an effort to interfere with the investigation. Firing the lead investigator to slow the investigation appears to be designed "to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding."

So Sessions faces a host of serious, potentially career-ending questions. "As I see it, the President's discharge of FBI Director Comey on a clearly pretextual basis for the obvious purpose (even if unlikely to be achieved) of shutting down the FBI's then-accelerating investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was on its face an obstruction of justice, the very same charge that the first Article of Impeachment against Richard Nixon made," says constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe. "And part of the evidence supporting the charge of AG Sessions' conscious involvement in that obstruction is the way in which he violated his public recusal commitment, something he cannot possibly have done in a fit of absent-mindedness."

We are open to alternative explanations for Sessions's conduct, but what could they possibly be?

In The News / When Racists Attack
« on: May 05, 2017, 03:50:06 pm »
Asian Man Assaulted in NYC After Man Yells ‘We Are White Power’

Police have arrested 48-year-old Steven Zatorski for allegedly assaulting an Asian man in Midtown Manhattan while yelling about immigrants and “white power”, officials said on Tuesday.

According to police, Zatorski went up to the 30-year-old victim on Monday morning at around 10:40 a.m. on Third Avenue near 53rd Street and shouted, “You are a f*cking immigrant!” before kicking the man twice in the leg and punching him in the face and back of the head.

He then bellowed out, “Go back to you country” and “We are white power,” NBC New York reported.

The victim, identified by the New York Post as a delivery worker, was treated at the scene for suffering swelling to his eye and bruising, police said.

Zatorski was arrested and has also been charged with misdemeanor assault and assault as a hate crime after witnesses told an NYPD transit officer about the beating.

Zatorski, who resides at a Sixth Avenue condo building that has a 24-hour concierge, was held on $5,000 bail at Rikers Island, police confirmed.

However, a man who claimed to be related to the suspect denied the allegations.

Zatorski and the victim did not appear to know one another prior to the attack on Monday.

A similar incident occurred back in February, when a Korean grandmother was randomly hit in the head by a Caucasian woman who screamed “white power” on the streets of Los Angeles before attempting to run off.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The U.S. Army has published the final photo of a combat photographer who captured her own death on camera in an accidental mortar explosion in Afghanistan nearly four years ago.

The photograph of Spc. Hilda Clayton was published this week in Military Review.

The Army’s professional journal noted that Clayton’s death “symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts.”

Clayton snapped the picture during a live-fire training exercise on July 2, 2013 in the Laghman Province, Afghanistan. The blast also killed four Afghan National Army soldiers. One of them was a photojournalist Clayton had partnered with to train.

Clayton, of Augusta, Georgia, was a member of the Fort Meade, Maryland-based 55th Signal Company. She was 22.

In The News / Dan Rather’s Second Coming
« on: May 05, 2017, 03:45:27 pm »
One late morning on a recent rainy Saturday in Austin, Texas, Dan Rather, dressed in a pressed dark suit and a crisp blue shirt, climbed a short flight of stairs up onto a stage. The venue was a hip space called the Belmont, the event was a discussion about the importance of rigorous reporting in the time of President Donald Trump, and the packed-in crowd was stylish, educated and conspicuously young. The introduction of Rather, who is 85, old enough to be a grandfather to most of the people who were present, elicited long, loud applause—noticeably longer and louder than it was for his two accomplished and much younger fellow panelists. Rather adjusted his hearing aids and spoke into a handheld microphone. His answers to questions landed not like the musings of a name from the past but as fire from a battle-tested combatant. He called for laser focus on “what the hell has gone on with the Russians in the election.” He denounced Trump’s dismissals of facts: “Any argument that 2 and 2 equals 5 is not an ‘alternate fact.’ It’s untrue. Water does not run uphill. Gravity exists. It’s a truth.” Rather was met with roars of approval.

The last time people were paying this much attention to Rather, he was at the center of his own blowup over fake news. More than a decade ago, Rather was ousted from CBS in the wake of a flawed investigation into President George W. Bush’s National Guard duty during the Vietnam War. Rather’s downfall after 24 years as the face of the network was a cause for celebration on the right and quiet discomfort on the left. Instead of retiring, though, the man who was the heir to Walter Cronkite and was watched at his peak by 18 million people every night took a job with HDNet, a low-profile cable outlet owned by Mark Cuban now called AXS TV, toiling in relative obscurity hosting a news show and interviewing musicians.

Now, though, in an unexpected, career-redefining resurrection aided by Trump’s shocking ascent, Rather has clawed back a piece of the spotlight. Last fall, he debuted a weekly SiriusXM radio hour called “Dan Rather’s America,” and he’s a regular with hits on mainstream cable—a bigger platform than he has with AXS TV, for which he did “Dan Rather Reports” from 2006 to 2013 and now hosts “The Big Interview.” But the improbable, white-hot hub of his comeback is Facebook. Rather’s personal page has more than 2 million likes, his “News and Guts” page has another million-plus, and his posts are seen, shared and read by millions more. On average, “News and Guts” gets more likes, comments and shares per post than BuzzFeed, USA Today or CNN. For decades, Rather was fodder for critics who considered him too emotional, too liberal, too ambitious, too self-serious. He didn’t smile a lot; his folksy sayings could come off as downright weird. But the exact eccentricities that made at times for an awkward fit for network television, and his talent for thoughtful but unambiguous pronouncements of outrage, have been pitch-perfect for this new medium and moment. One of the leading voices of the Trump resistance is not some black-masked radical or a marching young woman with a pink knit hat but a man with gray hair, a name you know and a neatly knotted tie.

“He is the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going, and the country is better for it,” Cuban told me. His order to Rather after he hired him: “Go piss people off.”

In his Facebook essays, Rather has called Trump unsettling and unstable and incompetent and erratic and gloating and swaggering and petulant and ill-informed. His tone has grown increasingly alarmed. In January, he wrote of “potential peril.” “This is an emergency,” he warned in February. In March, in the wake of more news concerning Russian interference in the election, he suggested people start praying for the future of the country.

Rather has wanted this for just about forever—not necessarily the fraught historical juncture itself, but the chance to rise to such an occasion. For nearly his entire life, Rather has patterned himself after Edward R. Murrow, the legendary CBS broadcaster whose television shows in the 1950s stood up to the red-baiting demagoguery of Senator Joe McCarthy. Rather has been chasing his own Murrow moment virtually from the day Murrow retired. He broke the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, showed America at war with itself during the civil rights struggle, spent the better part of a year in Vietnam, chronicled the criminal ruin of President Richard Nixon and has tangled with other occupants of the Oval Office as well, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Never, though, has Rather had a foil like Trump. They’ve known each other for decades, and have been publicly at odds before, dating back to 2000, when Trump bristled at the way Rather portrayed him in a breezy, almost throwaway piece for “60 Minutes II”—at a point in time when Rather was approaching the twilight of his career and Trump was four years from rebooting himself as a reality TV business whiz. The squabble was one-sided. Trump didn’t like Rather, and Rather didn’t care, because Trump didn’t matter.

Now he matters. The accumulated wisdom from a life that stretches back to the Depression and a career that started in the ’50s tells Rather that he matters a lot. And so half an hour after the panel at the Belmont, Rather settled into a seat at a tiny two-top in the corner of Shoal Creek Saloon, his pick of an unfussy place. The wood-paneled room smelled like Old Bay and boiled red crawfish. Rather had changed into a ball cap and a Barbour button-down shirt. He adjusted the small black “gadget” that controls his hearing aids, and his pint of Dos Equis remained mostly untouched as he talked for an hour and a half.

“I’ve been a few miles, and I’ve seen a few things,” he told me. “What I’m trying to do is just say, ‘Look, I don’t know everything, but I know some things—let me level with you. Based on my experience … this is what’s happening.’”

What’s happening, in the estimation of Rather, is something that’s menacing, something that’s never been experienced in the two and a half centuries of the history of this nation, and something he sees as a potentially mortal threat to its democracy.

He then told me he’s been thinking a lot of late about Adolf Hitler. “And I’m not comparing Trump to Hitler,” he added, “but … ” Rather remembers listening to reports on the radio in the 1930s about the rise of Hitler, he said, and he remembers his parents buying Mein Kampf. He remembers hearing them talking about it. What would Hitler mean for the world? For Europe? For them? He remembers how Hitler used radio, and thinks of how Trump uses Twitter. And he remembers his parents wondering out loud whether Hitler really meant the worst of what he was saying.

“However you feel about Trump personally,” Rather said in the saloon, “to have this kind of chaos, bordering on havoc, with a new president coming in—that’s something new, and very, very dangerous.”


Dan Rather came by his down-home Americanisms honestly enough, growing up on a rock road in a blue-collar neighborhood in Houston called the Heights Annex. Due northwest from the sprawling city’s sleek skyline, the area today is a mishmash of pawnshops and auto lots, and the small, still-standing home at 1432 Prince Street is where Rather’s dream of being at the center of the news began. Rather’s father was a ditch-digger and an oil-company pipe-liner, and his mother was a seamstress, a waitress and an odd-jobber when needed. And they marveled when Ed Murrow came on the radio. He was, they thought, “scholarly” and “erudite,” Rather said last month. They liked how he didn’t just read the news but gave it a shape one could understand. From his “This is London” broadcasts of air raids from rooftops in England to his vivid accounts out of the bellies of bombers above Berlin, Murrow’s voice, Rather once wrote, “was as present” in the house of his youth “as our saying grace.”

This was especially important for Rather himself, because he was stricken with rheumatic fever as a boy, stuck in bed for two separate year-and-a-half-long bouts of the disease. Rather was vulnerable and often alone—and after his immediate family, his most consistent, important companion was Murrow. “I’m prepared to say I listened to Edward R. Murrow more than any other child in America,” he told me—“mostly because I was bedridden.” When he heard Murrow, beamed in from Europe through the speakers on his nightstand—“incendiaries … going down like a fistful of white rice thrown on a piece of black velvet … thrown to the other side of the cockpit … explosives … bursting below like great sunflowers gone mad”—Rather, sick, scared and stuck in the Annex, could see past the oaks and the chinaberry trees out his windows into a version of what he wanted his future to be.

As he recovered and readied for his own career, Rather ramped up his study of his hero, the man he saw as his “navigational star.” Murrow was a chain-smoking trailblazer who revolutionized reporting in not one but two media—radio in the ’40s, TV in the ’50s. In 1954, Murrow did what few in America dared at the time, and took on the populist demagogue McCarthy and his anticommunist witch hunts. “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home,” Murrow intoned, and while Rather didn’t watch it live—he was in San Diego for a brief stint in the Marines before they learned of his rheumatic fever—he read ravenously about one of the seminal episodes of early commercial TV and network news. In a speech in 1958, Murrow bit the hand that fed him, warning that TV’s increasing prioritization of profits and entertainment over public service could lead to a dumbed-down populace. If TV, Murrow said, was going to be used mainly to “distract, delude, amuse and insulate,” it was “nothing but wires and lights in a box.” It was the beginning of the end for Murrow at CBS, which finally came in 1961. The following year, Rather started.

He would spend his entire, 44-year career at Murrow’s network looking for his own London rooftops, his own bellies of bombers, his own Joe McCarthy to take down. In the ’60s, he covered the civil rights movement in the South in towns where reporter-loathing locals carried sawed-off shotguns, and he lobbied to go to Vietnam, where he clambered onto helicopters with soldiers instead of staying in the press tents of Saigon. In the ’70s, he engaged in contentious exchanges with Nixon in news conferences in the run-up to Watergate. In the ’80s, he sneaked into Afghanistan disguised as a local peasant to report for “60 Minutes” on the rebels fighting the Soviet Union and questioned Vice President George H.W. Bush about the Iran-Contra affair so aggressively that the interaction turned voices-raised argumentative. Critics kicked him for what they considered look-at-me theatrics; conservatives denigrated CBS as the “Colored Broadcasting System” or the “Communist Broadcasting System,” and pegged the ubiquitous Rather as its chief liberal antagonist. “What would Murrow do?” Rather said he often asked himself.

Both were serious in purpose and mien, but Murrow came across as stylish and cool, while Rather had a tendency to come off as stilted and cold. Murrow exuded an effortlessness; one of the biggest knocks on Rather was that he often appeared to be trying too hard. Both cared a lot; only Rather’s strain showed. Even when Rather was the anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” at the apex of his industry, he seldom seemed at ease. Cronkite, Rather’s predecessor, was “the most trusted man in America,” who concluded his newscasts with a comforting “That’s the way it is.” Rather tried his own tagline in 1986, capping a week of newscasts with a single-word sign-off—“Courage.” It was meaningful to Rather, as it was one of his father’s favorite words, as well as a quality he openly admired about Murrow. But viewers found it peculiar, so he scrapped it. His list of what some took to calling “Ratherisms”—“shakier than cafeteria Jell-O,” “so nasty it would gag a buzzard”—struck many as corny and forced. Staked to a ratings lead by Cronkite, Rather clung to the top spot among the three networks for most of the ’80s, but eventually he and CBS slipped to last.

Rather persisted in pushing for the primacy of news over what he judged to be softer, more frivolous fare, regardless of ratings. Some of his stances bordered on self-righteous, to the point of self-destructive. In 1987, for example, he objected to a company decision to let coverage of a U.S. Open tennis match run into his scheduled slot. He disappeared from the set, and when the match ended, he was still not back in his chair, leading to six excruciating minutes of dead air.

In 1993, Rather even took it upon himself to attempt a reprise of Murrow’s speech from 1958. In the ensuing 35 years, Murrow’s warning had gone unheeded: “Infotainment” was overwhelming information, and titillation was beating investigation. And Rather said so—to the same organization.


It was early March when a representative from the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations sat down with Jill Bloomberg, the longtime principal of Park Slope Collegiate in Brooklyn, a combined middle and high school, to inform her that she was under investigation.

The representative told Ms. Bloomberg that she could not tell her the nature of any allegations, nor who had made them, but said that she would need to interview Ms. Bloomberg’s staff.

Then one of her assistant principals, who had met with an investigator, revealed to her exactly what the allegation was, one that seemed a throwback to another era: Communist organizing.

“I think I just said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This is something O.S.I. investigates?’” Ms. Bloomberg said, using an abbreviation for the Office of Special Investigations. “I mean, what decade are we living in?”

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But after the initial shock, she said she realized she had been waiting for something like this to happen for a long time.

Over the years, Ms. Bloomberg has become one of the most outspoken and visible critics of New York City’s public schools, regularly castigating the Education Department’s leadership at forums and in the news media. Most of her criticism is aimed at actions that she says perpetuate a segregated and unequal educational system and that penalize black and Latino students. Through the years, she has helped organize protests and assemblies to push for integration and equal resources and treatment for her almost entirely black and Latino student body.

Last Friday, Ms. Bloomberg filed a lawsuit against the school system saying it violated her rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects an individual’s civil rights and the right to free speech under the First Amendment. Ms. Bloomberg was seeking an injunction to stop the investigation until her lawsuit is resolved.

In filings with the court, the city denies her claim, saying the investigation is unrelated to her activism, but that Department of Education policies ban political organizing and fund-raising of any type during school hours or on school grounds.

The department “was obligated” to open an investigation “after allegations of misconduct were brought to its attention,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in an email. “Based upon the facts and the evidence, we believe this lawsuit has no merit.”

According to a letter sent to Ms. Bloomberg’s lawyers from the general counsel for the Education Department, Ms. Bloomberg and two unnamed teachers at the school are accused of belonging to the Progressive Labor Party, a Communist organization. They are also accused of recruiting students and inviting them to participate in the party’s activities, including marches.

Ms. Bloomberg, 53, denies those allegations.

A diminutive woman whose students often tower over her, Ms. Bloomberg did not set out to become an activist against her employer. She started her career teaching in Chicago before coming to work in New York City’s schools. When she was named principal of Park Slope Collegiate in 2004 — at the time, it was one of three small high schools in the former John Jay High School building in Park Slope — she said she found a deeply neglected school with a leaky roof, toilets that overflowed, moldy walls and doors that would not open properly. The student body was being neglected as well, she said, with few of its graduates ready for the rigors of college.

But, she said, she did not think much about integration or equal resources at the time and focused on teaching.

“I taught Brown v. Board, I taught about this landmark case on integration in segregated schools, with no irony,” she said as she sat in her sparsely decorated office earlier this week. “We all just took for granted that there was something broken about the system and we have to do the best we can.”

But that changed in 2010, when she learned the education department wanted to open a new high school in her building to serve white middle- and upper-class families in the neighborhood who had shunned Park Slope Collegiate. City officials proposed creating a selective secondary school to be called Millennium Brooklyn High School as a sister school to the overwhelmingly white Millennium High School in Manhattan.

Ms. Bloomberg said she did not understand why the white parents in the neighborhood could not simply send their children to one of the existing high schools. She said she thought the district had an excellent opportunity to integrate this black and Latino high school with white students from Park Slope and neighborhoods nearby.

But department officials were adamant about creating the new high school, which would screen students for test scores and behavior. As an enticement, the department promised to fix up the dilapidated John Jay building if Millennium came in.

“That really did it,” Ms. Bloomberg said.

She had been begging, for years for money to fix up her school. “You mean there is money? They’ve been sitting on money or they can find money if it’s for white students?” Ms. Bloomberg recalled thinking. “This was too much. It was right in our faces. It became clear to the students: ‘You’re not good enough.’”

Ms. Bloomberg, parents and students at the school began to protest the new Millennium Brooklyn school. In the end, they lost, and the new Millennium went in.

But a fire had been lit. Over the years, Ms. Bloomberg supported her students in fighting the installation of metal detectors in their school, helped organize school assemblies to talk about police violence, and had spoken out passionately against segregation and what she considers racist Education Department policies.

Some teachers at Park Slope Collegiate disagreed with the assemblies and other protests that Ms. Bloomberg, who is extremely popular among her students and their parents — had supported and refused to participate.

Ms. Bloomberg has been admonished several times by her supervisors for speaking out, but never disciplined.

Then in January, Ms. Bloomberg sent an email to department officials accusing them of discriminating against the predominantly black and Latino schools at John Jay by allotting Millennium twice as many sports teams as the other schools. Not long after that, the investigator visited her school.

The inquiry has fractured the school community, evoking for some the era of McCarthyism in the 1950s when people were falsely accused of being Communists. Many teachers and staff believe that the accusations came from people inside the building, now split into Bloomberg supporters and those who stand with her accusers.

Rhonda Hendrickson teaches social studies at Park Slope Collegiate. She is a model teacher, a designation given to exemplary instructors. “I was shocked by the accusations,” she said. “I think this investigation has unearthed an undercurrent of division and now people are taking sides.”

Ms. Hendrickson said there was now a sense of distrust at staff meetings. When the allegations first came out, Ms. Hendrickson was teaching a unit on the Cold War and a student asked her a question about communism as a form of government. “I felt caught, should I answer? How should I answer? I can’t even teach it because I am scared,” she said. “I felt like I was in some type of twilight zone because we teach this as something that happened in the past, but that we’re smarter than that now.”

Ms. Hendrickson said she had never seen any signs of communist or other political activity at the school, but that some teachers were uncomfortable with Ms. Bloomberg’s efforts to fight racism.

A small number of staff members, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the allegations against Ms. Bloomberg might be justified. They point to posts on the Progressive Labor Party website that claim students have joined a study group sponsored by the party, which is “using this struggle as a school to build communist ideas and raise class consciousness.”

Ms. Bloomberg denies any knowledge of organizing efforts for the Progressive Labor Party at the school. She said she could not control what groups other school workers or parents might belong to. She also said all events at Park Slope Collegiate were organized by the school and not by any outside organization.

Nathan Maybloom, a gym teacher, said Ms. Bloomberg created the atmosphere of fear by revealing to her staff the nature of an investigation that was supposed to be confidential. The investigation should go forward, he said. “When O.S.I. comes in, they are not usually coming in for a small little thing,” he said.

Mr. Maybloom said some teachers did not support Ms. Bloomberg but were afraid to speak out. He said some staff members believed that Colleen Siegel, the chairwoman for the teachers union chapter at the school, was one of the people who complained about Ms. Bloomberg to school officials and that there was now an effort to force her from her union position.

Ms. Siegel would not say whether she was one of the accusers, but said she had been elected chapter chairwoman twice and no one had tried to remove her until now. She said the investigation was not about “anything other than allegations of political organizing in public schools, and if there has been political organizing, that is a violation of the public trust and the public needs to know.”

In Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday, Ms. Bloomberg’s lawyers argued that the atmosphere of division and fear from a baseless accusation was reason for a federal judge to order the city’s education department to halt the investigation.

So many teachers, parents, former and current students filed into the courtroom to support Ms. Bloomberg that Judge Paul G. Gardephe invited the dozens standing along the walls to take seats in the jurors’ box and in chairs near the lawyers’ tables.

On Wednesday, Judge Gardephe declined to issue an injunction, saying that Ms. Bloomberg had not proved in the preliminary hearing that her rights were being violated, that the investigation had a chilling effect on her free speech or that of other workers at the school.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, found the McCarthy-era echoes of the investigation shocking. “The use of that language just sounded the alarm,” she said, adding that the city was walking a fine line in trying to parse what it considered political activity. “Teachers and principals don’t check their rights at the schoolhouse door.”

Vox Populi / Trump has a dangerous disability
« on: May 05, 2017, 03:31:55 pm »
It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.

In February, acknowledging Black History Month, Trump said that “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” Because Trump is syntactically challenged, it was possible and tempting to see this not as a historical howler about a man who died 122 years ago, but as just another of Trump’s verbal fender benders, this one involving verb tenses.

Now, however, he has instructed us that Andrew Jackson was angry about the Civil War that began 16 years after Jackson’s death. Having, let us fancifully imagine, considered and found unconvincing William Seward’s 1858 judgment that the approaching Civil War was “an irrepressible conflict,” Trump says:

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

Library shelves groan beneath the weight of books asking questions about that war’s origins, so who, one wonders, are these “people” who don’t ask the questions that Trump evidently thinks have occurred to him uniquely? Presumably they are not the astute “lot of,” or at least “some,” people Trump referred to when speaking about his February address to a joint session of Congress: “A lot of people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber.” Which demotes Winston Churchill, among many others.

What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.

The United States is rightly worried that a strange and callow leader controls North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea should reciprocate this worry. Yes, a 70-year-old can be callow if he speaks as sophomorically as Trump did when explaining his solution to Middle Eastern terrorism: “I would bomb the s--- out of them. . . . I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left.”

As a candidate, Trump did not know what the nuclear triad is. Asked about it, he said: “We have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ballgame.” Invited to elaborate, he said: “I think — I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.” Someone Trump deemed fit to be a spokesman for him appeared on television to put a tasty dressing on her employer’s word salad: “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?” To which a retired Army colonel appearing on the same program replied with amazed asperity: “The point of the nuclear triad is to be afraid to use the damn thing.”

As president-elect, Trump did not know the pedigree and importance of the one-China policy. About such things he can be, if he is willing to be, tutored. It is, however, too late to rectify this defect: He lacks what T.S. Eliot called a sense “not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.” His fathomless lack of interest in America’s path to the present and his limitless gullibility leave him susceptible to being blown about by gusts of factoids that cling like lint to a disorderly mind.

Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.

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