To Understand Donald Trump, You Must Understand Alex Jones

Submitted by Charlie on Wed 24 Aug 2016 - 09:55
TrumpOnJones

"Step right up folks and witness the magnificent medicinal miracle of Simpson & Son's Patented Revitalizing Tonic!" - Abe "Grampa" Simpson

Like right wing politicians, right wing talk radio hosts deal in fear, anxiety, and dread. The differences are all in the stage decoration. Rush Limbaugh's schtick is pure contempt: liberals are stupid fools who do stupid foolish things that make America worse. Laura Ingraham stalks the illegal immigration beat like she's getting paid by the deportation, but she puts a bright, sunny face on all of it. Glenn Beck peddles strait Apocalypse, but he's preached on the Book of Revelations for so long that the audience is starting to get restless. Alex Jones, by contrast, doesn't use any props, he's alone on the stage, ladling out pure fear.

If you've only ever read about Jones or seen him as a screaming man in one of his YouTube rants, you're doing him and yourself a disservice. You've got to listen to his show, and it's best if you do so on your local AM talk station, because that's where most of his audience found him and still hears him.

I'm certainly not suggesting you give him hours of your time. That would be wasteful. Just dip in for ten or fifteen minutes a few times. You can't miss him on the dial, his voice is the same kind of gargled ashphalt you hear in pickup truck commercials, only twice as fast and ranting about "globalists".

"Globalists" are Jones's ur-villain, the fiends behind everything from the 2001 terrorist attacks to the 2008 economic collapse to the death of Prince earlier this year, which he speculated might have been caused by "weaponized flu". And just who are these globalists? They're a shadowy conspiracy of rich people who are planning to wipe the rest of us out so that they can become immortal thanks to new technology. I'm going to repeat that because while mainstream media articles and interviews attempting to explain Alex Jones and his appeal are their own subgenre at this point, they rarely get to this part:

Alex Jones believes that the wealthy elite are planning to wipe out most of humanity so that they can become immortal.

Speaking as an aficianado of truly powerful bullshit, I am in awe of this. It's the perfect conspiracy theory. Fear of every imaginable kind fits into it without any awkward compromises or questions, yet it can never be dis-proven. It would've been just as plausible during the Gilded Age, or the Roaring 20s, or the Sixties, or any other snappily named American era. All it requires is that technology be improving (which it always is) and that bad things be happening (which they always are).

Of course, this ultimate calamity never quite seems to happen, but where lesser con men (like Glenn Beck) simply ratchet up the tension to keep the audience interested, Jones has adopted a kind of happy warrior attitude that's much more durable. He styles himself as a resistance leader, as someone shedding light on terrible things and, therefore, slowing and preventing them. God is on his side, and if you the listeners can tell your friends and get more people to wake up about what's going on, then the globalists can be defeated.

It's a great pitch: doom and gloom, but with a kernel of hope at the center. And - wouldn't you know it - that kernel of hope can only be nourished by visiting his website, by buying the various products he and his sponsors peddle, and by getting more people to do the same.

Even by the shameless standards of right wing radio hosts, Jones shills for an incredible array of merchandise. There are nutritional supplements that promise to make your dick work better and protect your DNA from chemtrails and toxins. There are non-GMO seeds, canned food, and water filters of all kinds to keep your precious bodily fluids from being sullied by all the poisons being used against us. There's lots of survivalist gear to help you stay free when they shut off the power or send everyone to FEMA camps or whatever it is they're planning to do.

Whether or not Jones actually believes any of this is hard to tell. Acting like he does has made him a multi-millionaire, however, and that's good enough. It also brings us to Donald Trump, who is running essentially the same scam, but on a far larger scale. Consider some of their shared tactics:

- A Lone Elite Against the Whole Elite - Jones is always bragging about celebrities who agree with him and going on about secret information he gets from people "high up" in government, business, Hollywood, and other rarified circles. A big part of Trump's pitch is that he's the rich guy who can't be bought by other rich guys, who understands how corrupt the system is and therefore can fix it.

- High Quality Products And A Reputation for Honesty - Jones is constantly personally attesting to how great the pills and gear he sells are, and how he's giving you the same stuff he uses. It got overshadowed by plagiarism, Cruz, and all the other circus stuff, but one of the major themes of the Republican convention was how trustworthy Donald Trump is. We can laugh at the pyramid scheme lady or the avocado woman or the UFC guy, but they were there to attest to the loyalty and honesty of Trump. One of his old cronies even invoked the "his handshake is his contact" trope.

- You're Getting Screwed By Everyone But Me - Both Jones and Trump exploit people's fears that the world is rigged against them, and both of them offer their audiences a peek behind the curtain. This "trust no one but me" pitch works just as well with comfortable middle class folks as it does with poor people. Those who don't have anything know the system is rigged against them, and those who do have things are worried that they'll lose everything. This is why no one should be surprised that Trump voters are relatively prosperous.

- Yes We Can! - This part can seem counter-intuitive to casual observers, but it's essential to the "us-versus-them" framework within which Trump and Jones operate. Mainstream commentators concentrate on the doom and gloom for the misguided (if entirely sensible) reason that it makes up most of what Jones and Trump say. But true believers don't see fear mongering; they see victory at hand. By listening to Jones and buying the crap he's selling, you're resisting the globalists! By signing up for Trump University, or buying Trump steaks, or voting for Trump, you're helping to make America great again! Redemption is at hand!

To be sure, their pitches aren't identical. Trump hits racist appeals a lot harder than Jones; and Jones will condemn the bulk of Americans as useful idiots in a way Trump never would. But overall the two of them run remarkably similar scams, which is probably why they slobber all over each other whenever Trump goes on Jones's show. To see this in action, watch the last minute of this interview from December, where they take turns complimenting each other and plugging Trump's book:

Trump: [Having just finished bragging about how he's gonna win the election...] So, I wrote a book called Crippled America, it's doing fantastic business...I hope your audience goes out and buys it as Christmas gifts and everything else. And I just want to finish by saying, your reputation's amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very, impressed, I hope. And I think we'll be speaking a lot, but you'll be looking at me in a year or two years to give me a little bit of time to run things, but a year into office, you'll be saying, 'Wow, I remember that interview, he said he was gonna do it and he did a great job.' You'll be very proud of our country.

Jones: Well, I'm impressed! You're saying you're fully committed, you know there's no future if we don't take this country back. Donald Trump, I hope you can help un-cripple America. Thank you so much, sir. You will be attacked for coming on, and we know you know that, thank you.

Trump: Thank you very much.

The video - which has 1.97 million views on Alex Jones's YouTube channel - then immediately cuts to an add for Jones's in house brand of "body cleansing" dietary supplements to give you "true health". Even amid a presidential campaign, the two of them are always hustling. Remember when Trump used a post-primary victory "press conference" to crow about his his personal brand of steaks and wines? Same deal.

The fear that Jones and Trump echo and exploit is real. All those articles you've read about dying towns and a perpetually stagnant economy are correct. And America really is getting browner by the day, which freaks out an awful lot of white folk. Jones and Trump are in the business of addressing that fear by selling people a way to fight back.

Box Score Cinema: Anthropoid

Submitted by Charlie on Fri 12 Aug 2016 - 17:55

Anthropoid

"Yeah, it's a good idea, Homer, but they've already made some movies about World War II..." - Troy McClure

Top Line: Anthropoid is an A+ WWII spy/action movie. It is Serious with a cap S, but it's also smart, so things don't get dull. The gun fights, the spy tradecraft, the locations, the emotions, a metric ton of research and homework went into this movie and it shines because of it. It is the opposite of a popcorn muncher, but it is a terrific film. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: Czechs and people who want to see a WWII movie done right. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Cranky ass film critics, apparently. 

Box Score:

Runtime - 2h:0m - Doesn't waste any time. Subplots could've easily bloated this to 2h:40m, but they resisted. Good for them.

Actual Start - Showtime + 22 Minutes - Ugh. See longer rant about this at the bottom.

Friday Morning Demographics: About ten people, two old ladies, and a bunch of other lone dudes like me. Real Friday morning crowd. 

Anything After the End Credits: Nope.
MPAA - PG-13 - "Rated R for violence and some disturbing images"

What It's Got: There's a realistic but not gory amount of blood, a couple of tough interrogation scenes, it's a real R.

Should Be Rated: PG-14
Three Stars:
  1. Cillian Murphy: Tommy Shelby is fantastic as an ultra-dedicated man who is nevertheless still a real person underneath. 
  2. Anna Geislerová: A resistance member who is every bit Murphy's equal. Great role.
  3. The rest of the cast, pretty much: Even the small roles are knocked out of the park. Everyone from the old guy handler to the violin playing kid is excellent.
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):
  •  +2 Great movie.
  •  +2 Intense movie, so it's nice to watch it distraction free. Paying close attention is rewarding as there are multiple times where glances are important.

Final Score: 6

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):
  • +5 See above. If there was any justice to the Oscars, this movie would be nominated for a lot of them.

Final Score: 10

 
Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

Final Score: 6

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Sean Ellis: This is his fourth time in the big chair. His first was the fun (and Skinemax level nude) Cashback, and I haven't seen the other two, though Metro Manila was supposed to be good.

Writer:

  • Sean Ellis: Also writes his movies. Apparently he was working on this one for fifteen years.
  • Anthony Frewin: Only his second feature writing credit, and he apparently used to be Stanley Kubrick's assistant.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 55% Top Critics: 52% Audience: 80%

Notes:

  • I often disagree with the critic's consensus, but I'm rarely surprised by the scores. Here I'm shocked. Those numbers are insulting to this movie. Any critic who's spent any time bitching about sequels, franchises, and the CGI superhero takeover of the box office should be thrilled with this film. It's actual adult entertainment that rewards you for paying close attention.
  • I did not recognize Viserys from Game of Thrones. He's great too.
  • It's usually a very bad sign when you see "Based on Actual Events" or "Based on a True Story" or "Inspired by Real Events" in front of a movie. Most such things take one or two interesting, real life characters or events and then clone a generic drama around them. Anthropoid is a shining example of how to do a "true story" movie. It recounts public facts as faithfully as possible and leaves its fictionalizing to private moments that flesh out the characters. More like this, please.
  • There are a whole slew of great scenes: the nightclub, the veterinarian, even just walking down the street is done with intensity.
  • The ending is outstanding.
  • The guy from 50 Shades of Contract Negotiation actually can act when given something better to do than bite toast.
  • Movie start time rant: I made my peace with the six-trailer standard a while ago. It was annoying that the film often didn't start until 15 minutes or more after the listed time, but trailers are usually fun so okay, why not? Now, the damned trailers didn't even start until 6 minutes past the listed start time AND there was a soda ad *after* the trailers so that we didn't get started until 22 minutes after showtime. That's ridiculous and annoying, especially when half the ads are for the theater chain itself talking about how it wants to "enhance my experience". How about letting me experience the movie I paid to see?

Bottom Line: Anthropoid is a meticulously constructed WWII spy story about the real life heroes who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, who stood out as a monster even among the Nazi high command. We start with two Czechoslovakian nationals parachuted into a forest, and things go from there. It becomes very clear very quickly that the movie made a deliberate choice to stay with the resistance fighters and not have some famous actor play Heydrich as a smoothly evil villain. If you want to see that, watch HBO's Conspiracy from 2001, where Kenneth Branagh does exactly that.

Instead, we stick with the good guys through to the very end, and it's by far the right choice. Life in occupied Prague was no picnic, and as often as the Nazis are used as movie bad guys, you don't often see the Gestapo portrayed for what they were: a bunch of really crude thugs. The film never lets the audience forget the fear they instilled in life. When our heroes walk down the street, the movie is careful to show us that they are always watching, always seeing if they're being followed. Meetings have to be swift and quiet. Even something as innocuous as putting on lipstick can potentially be a fatal mistake.

What makes all of that vastly more engaging and immersive than most WWII shoot 'em ups is the details. The gunfights are a lot like real gunfights: most bullets miss (even pistols from close range), guns jam, and guys have to actually, you know, reload. Messages have to be decrypted by hand. Makeshift darkrooms have to be constructed for developing film. The tradecraft is excellent, and it's apparent right from the start that Ellis and his crew have seriously done their homework. Even the torture and interrogation scenes are spot on.

What this movie is not - and this, too, is to its credit - is formulaic. Yes, it's a World War II movie, and there have been a lot of those. Yes, it's a spy movie, and there have been a lot of those. Hell, there have even been multiple movies about this specific assassination. What makes Anthropoid so good is that it picks its characters and shows them as real, ordinary people caught in a very awful time. Yes, many of them are scared, but they're brave as hell, too. Yes, they get tired and annoyed and frustrated with each other, but never in the "ooh, that guy's gonna turn on them in Act 3" way. Yes, they struggle with killing, because that's what most people do.

All told, Anthropoid is a very un-Hollywood WWII movie, and that's what makes it so good.

 

 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Anthropoid:

- Equity - Did you know that women can be evil banksters too? Anna Gunn and James Purefoy look like they're enjoying the taste of all that scenery, though. They're good enough to maybe save this, but it looks pretty bad.

- Bleed - Boxer gets crippled, overcomes it. Looks reasonably well done, but definitely suffers from Whole Movie in the Trailer syndrome.

- The Birth of a Nation - Yes! 10,000x Yes! The Nat Turner movie that steals D.W. Griffith's title is coming . . . and it's gonna be in theaters right as Donald Trump's going down in flames in October. The right wing freakout is going to be more delicious than Scott Tenorman's tears. I can't wait.

- American Pastoral - This was a Philip Roth novel, and the trailer contains basically no dialogue, only a breathy rendition of "Mad World", so you know it's artsy and classy as fuck. Meh.

- American Honey - How many chances is Shia LaBeouf gonna get? If he's on the Matthew McConaughey trajectory, he's entering his EDTV phase and won't be in anything decent until about 2026 when everyone will suddenly stop hating him. Boo.

- Denial - Rachel Weisz takes on notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, who's being played by Wormtail from Harry Potter. I vaguely recall when this was going on in the news and wondering what the hell it was about, so even though this looks very Oscarbait-y, it'll probably be watchable. Plus: Tom Wilkinson.

Book Report: Give Us the Ballot

Submitted by Charlie on Wed 03 Aug 2016 - 14:11

Give Bender the Ballot

"I'm not allowed to vote." - Bender "Bending" Rodriguez
"Cause you're a robot?" - Phillip J. Fry
"No. Convicted felon." - Bender "Bending" Rodriguez

Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
By Ari Berman
372 pages (314 pages of manuscript), 2016

My favorite quote from the Revolutionary War comes from Captain Levi Preston, a veteran of the Battle of Concord who was interviewed in 1842 at the age of 91:

"Did you take up arms against intolerable oppressions?"

"Oppressions? I didn't feel them."

"What, were you not opposed to the Stamp Act?"

"I never saw one of those stamps. I certainly never paid a penny for one of them."

"Well, what then about the tea tax?"

"I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard."

"Then I suppose you had been reading Harington or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty?"

"Never heard of 'em. We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watts' Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanac."

"Well, then, what was the matter? And what did you mean in going to the fight?"

"Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn't mean we should." [Quote taken from Samuel Morison's Oxford History of the American People, p212-213]

America got started because a bunch of guys got pissed off because they were being told what they could and couldn't do by people whose authority they didn't have any say in granting. That many of them were also slave owners was a hypocrisy much noted and the time and since. But from 1775 through to today, the vote - that tiny but crucial institution that lets everyone have a say - has slowly expanded from only men of property to the poor, to women, and even to the descendents of the slaves themselves.

This process has not been smooth. It has seen many of its breakthroughs later tarnished by massive setbacks that sometimes last decades. But America has tended to do better the more people cast a ballot. For example, the groundwork for the enormous recent advancements in gay rights began in the 1960s when gay men in San Francisco started organizing to get the city to actually pick up the trash cans in the Castro. Once they started voting as a bloc, they suddenly had power and respect and the clean streets came with them. America gets better for more Americans the more people are allowed to vote.

Ari Berman's excellent Give Us the Ballot, which just came out on paperback, is a brief history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which expanded the franchise to most of the country's minorities, especially black people in the South, and Latinos and Indians in the Southwest. Since then, successive Republican Administrations have done what they can to undermine the law and roll back those protections. It began with Nixon, who made enforcement much less aggressive than it had been under Johnson. Reagan's Justice Department was even less interested, and did everything it could to close up shop. Things hit their nadir with Bush the Younger, who's Administration brought in long time right wing hacks who were actively opposed to everything about the Voting Rights Act.

But Bush struck his worst blow when he appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito to replace William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, a massive rightward shift that resulted in the Shelby County decision, easily the worst of the entire Roberts Court. Shelby, which grew out of right wing anti-voter activism, ripped the guts out of the VRA's main enforcement mechanism on the theory - popular with racists since at least 1966 - that racism was over and it wasn't needed anymore. This self evident horseshit was refuted before the ink was even dry. Most of the states of the old Confederacy, plus several more, immediately went out and enacted explicitly racist voting laws in an effort to keep minorities (i.e. Democrats) away from the polls.

In the case of a North Carolina law that was struck down just last week, they got started literally the day after Shelby came down. Berman himself is on the case:

When it came to early voting, North Carolina admitted that it eliminated voting on a Sunday before the election because “counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic.” The court called this “as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race — specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise.”

Having that law go down is all well and good, and several more have been recently struck down as well, but even temporary restrictions on voting rights can have permanent consequences. In this case, the law that has now been ruled blatantly unconstitutional probably cost the Democrats a U.S. Senate seat in 2014 (from page 312):

the new restrictions affected the outcome of the election. In a fiercely contested U.S. Senate race, the Republican Thom Tillis, who as speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, had overseen the state's voting law, defeated the Democrat Kay Hagan by forty-eight thousand votes. Nearly five times as many voters in 2010 used the voting reforms eliminated by the North Carolina GOP: two hundred thousand had voted during the eliminated first week of early voting, twenty-one thousand had used same day registration, and six thousand had cast out-of-precinct ballots.

Demonstrating the circular nature of vote suppression, Tillis himself now sits on the Senate Judiciary committee, where he has been instrumental in blocking Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court as well as a host of lower court judges like the ones who just struck down the law that got him his seat. There's no way to prove exactly how much more Democratic the House and the Senate (plus Jebus knows how many state legislatures) would be without Shelby, but North Carolina was far from alone.

Case in point: Shelby itself couldn't have happened without earlier efforts to deny the ballot. Easily the most consequential example of modern voter suppression occurred in Florida prior to the 2000 election. Jeb "Please Clap" Bush had his secretary of state purge thousands of mostly black voters from the rolls. The nominal justification for this was that these people were ex-felons who weren't allowed to vote. Setting aside the issue of felon disenfranchisement (spoiler alert: it's racist), the lists were pruned with deliberate sloppiness. Even if, say, the middle name or initial didn't match, people who shared the same first and last name of someone with a felony conviction lost their vote. From page 213:

No one could ever determine precisely how many legitimately registered voters were prevented from voting. But the commission staff director, Edward Hailes, did the math the best he could: if 12,000 voters were wrongly purged from the rolls and 44 percent of them were African-American and 90 percent of African Americans voted for Gore, that meant 4,752 black Gore voters, almost nine times Bush's margin of victory, could have been barred from the polls. It wasn't a stretch to conclude that the purge cost Gore the election. "We did think it was outcome determinative," Hailes said.

Every unmitigated disaster of Bush the Younger's presidency: eight years of inaction on climate change, the Iraq War, the Katrina response, politicizing the Justice Department, Roberts and Alito and the untold damage they've done, all of it was because of voter suppression.

That's why the recent spate of voting rights cases is more important than whatever mouth poop just dropped out of Trump. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the 5-4 Supreme Court majority that gave us Shelby is now down to 4-4, which means that lower courts have more discretion to strike down discriminatory laws like North Carolina's, which in turn means that the electoral prospects for Republicans like Trump are worse than they'd otherwise be.

It's already pretty hard to concoct a plausible map where Donald Trump gets to 270 electoral votes, but it's nigh impossible to come up with one that doesn't involve North Carolina in his column. As a nice bonus, there's also a Senate race there this year, and Hillary Clinton needs all the friendly Senators she can get if she's going to do things like appoint justices to the Supreme Court who care about voting rights. With recent cases in states as far afield as Texas, Michigan and North Dakota, the shape of the voting laws will go a long way toward determining what kind of state, local, and federal representatives we all have come 2017.

Voting is governing, and the more people who can vote, the more responsive the government is. Give Us the Ballot is an easy-to-read (if often infuriating) place to begin understanding how those ancient fights affect us today. And since we live in the future, the book isn't the last word. Berman has a great Twitter feed that'll keep you up to date on the (hopefully) continuing improvements in ballot access across the country.

Book Report: How Jesus Became Christian

Submitted by Charlie on Tue 02 Aug 2016 - 17:52

How Jesus Became Christian
By Barrie Wilson, Ph.D.
317 pages (265 pages of main text), 2008

The history of early Christianity first became interesting to me as a cudgel I could use against the dimwitted teachers at Catholic School. Non-canonical gospels, the fact that the Pope most certainly isn't a direct linear inheritor of the "Throne of Peter", even a child can poke a lot of holes in the myths that less curious Christians take as fact.

How Jesus Became Christian isn't so much about the practical ways in which the proto-Catholic brand of Christianity prevailed, or how it became adopted and co-opted by the late Roman Empire. Rather, it focuses on the theological distinction between Jesus as a Jewish prophet and radical who preached a strict adherence to Torah and the imminent overthrow of Roman rule, and the great bulk of his current adherents who take him as a messiah and don't have anything to do with Jewish rituals and practices.

There's a lot about the sleight of hand that went into the New Testament, with gospels rewritten and books placed out of order to reconfigure Jesus's teachings into a messiah narrative. (Bart Ehrman's excellent "Misquoting Jesus" books are invoked several times.) The Book of Acts and that bastard St. Paul come in for especially close and damning examination. Thanks to no Torah, and especially no adult circumcision, Paul's "Christ Movement" won out over the exclusively Jewish "Jesus Movement".

None of this is entirely new if you're familiar with the topic, but "Christ vs. Jesus" is a great way to frame that tricky idea, and demonstrate why antisemitism was baked into Christianity from the get go. Judaism was a rival, pure and simple, and it had to be attacked as both theologically wrong and scripturally unsound. It was a marketing decision, one that's caused a lot of people to die very bad deaths in the twenty or so centuries since.

Ghostbusters 3: I Wish This Movie Had Been a Comedy

Submitted by Charlie on Sat 16 Jul 2016 - 17:29
Ghostbusters 3: Now With More Action

"They really hate it! For once in my life I truly belong!" - Jay Sherman

Top Line: Ghostbusters 3 is basically a Marvel movie with Ghostbusters branding. It's got over the top action, lots of CGI, and a streak of comedy to lighten things up. There's even an after-the-credits scene that sets up the next entry in the franchise. The trailer is pretty accurate.

Who (probably) should see this movie: Kids whose parents don't think they're old enough to see actual comic book movies. Fans of the first or first two movies.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Faux righteous male film geeks, apparently. 

Box Score:

Runtime - 1h:56m - Feels about right. Could've easily been shorter with less over the top action scenes, but I think they think that's what people want. They may be right.

Actual Start - Showtime + 20 Minutes - Only six previews, but the freaking previews don't even start until three or four minutes after the start time these days thanks to commercials for theater gift certificates and cell phone warnings brought to us by candy companies. Boo everything about that.

Saturday Noon Show Demographics: ~50 people, mostly adults but with quite a few little kids as well

Anything After the End Credits: Why, yes, we will be making a sequel.
MPAA - PG-13 - "supernatural action and some crude humor"

What It's Got: Pretty much that. It's a lot more violent than the first two movies, but probably slightly less violent than most PG-13 action movies. 

Should Be Rated: PG-8
Three Stars:
  1. Kate McKinnon: Gets the best part and makes the most of it as the sardonic mechanical genius of the group.  
  2. Leslie Jones: Does what she can with a terribly underwritten part that only occasionally allows her to be anything other than loud, sassy black lady.
  3. Chris Hemsworth: Is basically playing Jon Hamm's handsome idiot from 30 Rock before taking over as a villain near the end. Does both well.
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):
  • +1 Decent piece of summer fun.
  • +1 CGI is petty good, way better than most Marvel movies.
  • -1 Nothing that's really eye popping, though. 

Final Score: 3

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):
  • +5 It's the next Ghostbusters movie, and I'll guarantee they're already working on the sequel, so you'll probably end up seeing it eventually.
  • -2 There's nothing really important about it. Nobody's going to be calling it a classic thirty-two years from now.

Final Score: 8

 
Bechdel (Baseline: 5):
  • +5 Passes easily. (Duh.)

Final Score: 10

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Paul Feig: He used to direct on TV, including the sainted Arrested Development, now he makes big screen hits with Melissa McCarthy.

Writer:

  • Paul Feig: Has fewer writing credits than directing credits, but did write Spy (2015), which wasn't bad.
  • Katie Dippold: Wrote 2013's The Heat, which is on my list for "funniest of the decade" and is the main reason I had any hope for this film.
  • Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman, and Harold Ramis all got "based on" credits.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 73% Top Critics: 57% Audience: 49%

Notes:

  • Given the amount of manbaby butthurt over the new class of Ghostbusters being all female, I'm going to discount the Audience score, but the Top Critics are much closer to the worth of this movie than the All Critics. It's not terrible or bad or anything, but it's just another PG-13, CGI action flick in a year that's already loaded with them.
  • Melissa McCarthy is really hampered by not having access to her full vocabulary. They can push the bounds of PG-13 a little, but the creatively aggressive vulgarity that she's so good at is left punchless without the real words.
  • As you'd expect, the soundtrack is great.
  • The movie takes care of its fan service obligations well. There are slyly repeated lines, quick cameos from the surviving cast of the first films (Aykroyd's is particularly good), and the logo reveal is downright clever.
  • Zach Woods (a/k/a Jared from Silicon Valley) absolutely owns his scene as a creepy mansion tour guide at the beginning.
  • But that's also where you can start to tell you're watching a very different era of Ghostbusters. A ghost beats the crap out of him, including lots of those wall and floor body slams that are so popular in superhero movies. That scene alone has more physical violence than the entire first two movies put together.
  • Not gonna lie: got a little chill when the car pulls up all decked out for the first time.
  • I don't know if it was just a joke or a clever cry for help, but since the Ghostbusters end up working secretly for the government, at the end one of them jokes that this must be what Batman feels like, saving the world and not getting any credit for it.

Bottom Line: I saw this movie with a decent sized audience, and for the first half hour or so, the laughs were coming steadily. Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig play scientist ex-friends who get roped into a ghost hunt together, and Feig and Dippold's script has plenty of the dry humor and banter that makes Ghostbusters what it is. Unfortunately, the laughter gradually died away as CGI ghost action took over the film. By the end it's mostly a comic book movie with the odd quip or pratfall here and there. I didn't hear more than a lone chuckle or two for the last hour.

Feig and Dippold are professionals, so things never get boring, and the cast is excellent, but it's still a damned shame what the requirements of modern franchise blockbusters do to beloved fiction. For example, in the first two movies, the Ghostbusters had some science-y equipment that was goofy, but did a plausible job of catching ghosts. Here, the Ghostbusters have a whole arsenal of science-y weaponry: grenades, shotguns, lots of different laser blasters that cause lots of different damage, and even a "ghost shredder". They have enough firepower to blast a whole ghost army, which is exactly what they spend the end of the movie doing, including a slow motion, 300 style side view multi-kill.

I suppose this sort of degeneration was inevitable. When Ghostbusters came out, the other big movies of the year were the likes of Beverly Hills Cop, Karate Kid, and Gremlins. This year it's Captain America 3, X-Men 6, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Franchises. It wasn't like they didn't have crappy sequels in 1984, Temple of Doom came out that year, but the cookie cutter CGI franchise was still far in the future. A movie like Ghostbusters, which was a comedy with special effects, could stand out and become a classic. Now, they've taken the existing Ghostbusters ideas and crammed them into their Summer Action Franchise template, so however much popcorn and tickets this version sells, it's unlikely anyone's going to care much about it three decades from now.

 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Ghostbusters 3:

Bourne 5 - Matt Damon is back. There's actually a line where a guy says, "We've just been hacked, could be worse than Snowden!" Ha! Terror War movies are so awful.

Star Trek 13 - Woof. Someday they're going to make a good Star Trek movie again, but these crappy action movies aren't it.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - The kids-with-powers movies have reached the Tim Burton phase. I repeat, the kids-with-powers movies have reached Burton.

Sully - Why did they make this movie? "Directed By Clint Eastwood". Oh.

The DaVinci Code 3: Inferno - They made another one of these. This one's about a plague that can wipe out mankind. Hollywood, can you please find something better for Tom Hanks to do? I think the last good thing I saw him in was a Carly Rae Jepsen video.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - This might actually be good. It might also be Oscar bait crap. Trailer leans toward crap, but not so much that I'm not intrigued. 

2016 Election Preview Part 3: The Three (Maybe Four) States That Matter For Senate Control

Submitted by Charlie on Thu 14 Jul 2016 - 08:09
Scalia's Dead, We Need a New Justice

"Oh, Bart, I'm not sure random locker searches are permitted by the Supreme Court." - Principal Skinner
"Pfft, Supreme Court? What have they done for us lately?" - Bart Simpson

NOTE: This is the third of three articles about the 2016 U.S. federal election. The first was about Trump's misadventures and the second dealt with the terrible way the Republicans mutilated the House of Representatives. Today we're moving on to the point of greatest uncertainty about this year: can the Democrats regain control of the Senate?

The 2010 election may have been an unmitigated disaster that haunts us still, but it was a full Senate term ago, and all those seats the Republicans took in Blue states are back in the mix, which means the good guys are in the luxurious position of playing on a very friendly map. They need 4 seats to tie and 5 seats for a majority. There are seven Republicans running for re-election in states that Obama carried twice, plus possible pickups in North Carolina and Arizona.

Control of the Senate will be tremendously consequential for Hillary Clinton's Administration, even more than the Republican margin in the House. Without Senate control, not only can you forget about any kind of major legislation getting passed, but every nominee she appoints will be turned into some kind of bomb throwing anarchist before they get to committee hearings. And that doesn't even include any Supreme Court nominations she makes.

A Democratic Senate means that Clinton will be able to confirm not only a new justice (or justices), but whole slates of federal judges and commissioners on the FCC, FEC, SEC, and all those other important sounding acronyms. (Fergawdsakes, put people on the Postal Board!) It also means that whatever ten cent cronies she nominates as ambassadors to Ghana, Fiji, and the Republic of Kraplakistan will sail through against little more than a few outraged op-eds in the Wall Street Journal.

For a Presidential term that is likely to be hobbled legislatively from before it even begins, a friendly Senate majority is the biggest single factor in whether or not she'll be able to govern effectively and, as they say, "get things done". So let's take a look at the big board!

(The obvious way to divvy these up is geographically, but that's hardly any fun. So let's look at these Republican seats in terms of oldness of the incumbents.)

 

Tier 1 - *Really* Old White Guys

Iowa - Charles Grassley (b. 1933) - Since getting elected with an 8-point margin the same year Reagan won the White House, Grassley has been re-elected five times. The closest shave he had was in 2010, when he got 64% and won by 31-points. On the surface there wouldn't appear to be much hope, except for two wrinkles. First, Grassley has a real opponent on his hands in Patty Judge, a former Lieutenant Governor who has actually won statewide office. Second, those good government Iowans are none too pleased that their longtime senator, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has refused to so much as grant a hearing to Merrick Garland. Unfortunately, Judge is only ten years younger than he is, and that election she won was in the wave of 2006, so the sharks don't see much chance for her.

Cook: Likely-Republican
Sabato: Likely-Republican
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Safe-Republican

 

Arizona - John McCain (b. 1936) - Obama never won Arizona, but polls have Clinton up there because Trump gonna Trump. McCain has a credible challenger this year, Ann Kirkpatrick, a three time Democratic House rep. But however much fun it would be to see McCain go down, if he does it probably means most if not all of the races below went Democratic as well, so control of the Senate is unlikely to hinge on Arizona.

Cook: Likely-Republican
Sabato: Leans-Republican
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Favored-Republican

 

Tier 2 - Moderately Old White Guys

Wisconsin - Ron Johnson (b. 1955) - Johnson is a Tea Party nutbar from Wisconsin who was one of those rich guys who'd never held office before deciding he wanted to be a Senator. He's among the richest men in the Senate, and spent millions of his own money to take Saint Russell Feingold's seat. He has tip-top ratings from a whole horrorhouse of conservative asylums: he's got an "A" rating from the micro-penises down at the NRA, a perfect 100% from the anti-women Bible thumpers at National Right to Life, and he got an "All Charges Dropped" from the Domestic Violence League. I made that last one up, but you had to think about it, and he really did vote "No" on the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.

Now Feingold is back, and since he was Elizabeth Warren before it was cool, returning him to the Senate would not only help Clinton, but also make America a non-trivially less shitty place.

Cook: Toss-Up
Sabato: Leans-Democratic
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Tilt-Democratic


Ohio - Rob Portman - (b. 1955) - Portman was a longtime Republican Congressman who decided - in 2005! - that he wanted to work for the plainly hapless and dysfunctional Bush Administration. Then he took over an already Republican Senate seat in Ohio in 2010. All you need to know about him is that the "Issues" page on his campaign site has six categories, and three of them are "2nd Amendment", "Obamacare", and "Protect Life". That certainly seems like a list of half of America's problems to me. His opponent is former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who is even older than Portman but isn't a right wing kook.

Cook: Toss-Up
Sabato: Toss Up
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Tilt-Republican

 

North Carolina - Richard Burr (b. 1955*) - Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008 and then narrowly lost it in 2012. Like McCain in Arizona, if Burr goes down it will probably won't matter for control of the chamber. But North Carolina has been trending Blue of late, and locking in a Senate seat from there throughout Clinton's first term would be a big win, now and in 2022. His opponent is Deborah Ross, a longtime state legislator.

Cook: Leans-Republican
Sabato: Leans-Republican
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Lean-Republican

(*Jebus, '55 must've been a vintage year for wingnuts. Possibly unrelated note: that was the peak of atmospheric nuclear testing.)

 

Tier 3 - Regular Old White Guys

Illinois - Mark Kirk (b. 1959) - Mark Kirk is doomed. He knows it. His opponent, two-time Democratic House rep Tammy Duckworth, knows it. Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee knows it. They're barely even bothering with this race and they're supposed to help everybody.

Cook: Toss-Up
Sabato: Leans-D
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Lean-D   

 

Pennsylvania - Pat Toomey (b. 1961) - The Club for Growth is one of those marvelously misnamed Washington influence outfits. The only thing they care about is cutting taxes, preferably on rich people. To that end, they believe in both the flat tax and the Balanced Budget Amendment, either of which would cast America into a 19th Century dark age where rich men hunt the rest of us for sport. Before he became a Senator, Pat Toomey was their president. His opponent is a longtime Democratic functionary named Kathleen "Katie" McGinty. If she wins, she would be the first female Senator from Pennsylvania, so that'd be a nice cherry on top of that whole first woman President thing.

Cook: Toss-Up
Sabato: Toss-Up
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Tilt-Republican

 

Tier 4 - The Non-Old People: Kelly Ayotte and possibly Marco Rubio

New Hampshire - Kelly Ayotte (b. 1968) - There aren't a lot of Republicans in New England, and there's a reason. Ayotte won office in the 2010 wave, and knew from the get go that she couldn't vote straight ticket wingnut if she wanted a second term. So she's voted for things like immigration reform and accepts that climate change isn't a hoax cooked up by greedy scientists. After Trump clinched the nomination, her semi-non-endorsement of him didn't even include his name.

However, she's still a wingnut at heart: anti-choice, deep in the pocket of Big Gun, and cheerfully breaking with centuries of tradition by studiously ignoring a pending Supreme Court nominee. Her opponent, New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan, is none of those things and would happily vote for a Democratic Supreme Court justice.

Cook: Toss-Up
Sabato: Toss-Up
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Toss-Up

 

Florida - Marco Rubio (b. 1971) - Befitting Florida, this entire race is a shitshow. Marco Rubio was going to vacate the seat, but then he realized [circle one: he wasn't going to get a good lobbying job / his 2020 presidential bid looks better if he's still in office]. So now, after denying all last year that he was running, he's running. Since nobody thought he was running, he actually has a serious primary opponent who is still being backed by the governor, so whether or not he'll even get the chance to defend his seat is an open question.

On the Democratic side, things are possibly even worse. The state party establishment is backing Patrick Murphy, the idiot son of a very rich Republican who lied about his professional past and flirted with switching parties. The insurgent is Alan Grayson, an enjoyably lunatic left wing firebrand who is nevertheless the kind of loose cannon no one can trust. Why? Well, the already 8-figures wealthy Grayson decided it would be a good idea to run a Cayman Islands hedge fun while he was in office. That's ten times as dumb as Hillary Clinton giving speeches to Wall Street when she a) didn't need the money and b) knew she was running for President.

The primary is on August 30th, so maybe the entire state will vanish into the sea before then and the rest of us will be spared this horror.

Cook: Toss-Up
Sabato: Toss-Up
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: Toss-Up

 

Tier Sleazy Bastard - Is Evan Bayh Running?

Earlier this week, word broke that the presumed - and presumably doomed - Democratic nominee in Indiana dropped out. This was followed by a bunch of repetitive clickbait stories about former Democratic Senator, No Labels fraud, and Indiana heavyweight Evan Bayh running instead. Befitting a man who keeps his options relentlessly open, Bayh hasn't actually said he's running yet. If he runs, the Indiana seat goes into play. (The Republican incumbent isn't running.) If Bayh doesn't run, it probably stays Red and doesn't affect the analysis below.

2016DemocraticSenateTargetMap

 

The map above shows all seven Senate races in states with a Republican incumbent that were also twice won by Obama, plus North Carolina and Arizona, both of which Clinton looks likely to carry this November. Of those, Illinois is the only one that's a foregone conclusion. Wisconsin is close, however, with polling there showing Feingold well ahead. The Real Clear Politics average has him up by 8-points, and Pollster has him at 9-points. Given that Feingold was a popular and long serving Senator before Johnson edged him in the 2010 wave, we can safely put that one in the Democratic column.

 

With those in the bag, that leaves 2 more seats for a tie, 3 more for a majority, and the rest is gravy. Of the 7 remaining, Iowa (due to Grassley's durable popularity), Arizona (same with McCain), and North Carolina (it's in the South and hates Clinton) are the heaviest lifts. If the Democrats get even one of those, it probably means they already got all the ones below and are just adding to their majority. Not bad, but not decisive.

Florida is a gigantic unknown and, if Murphy ends up winning, probably can't be counted on that much anyway. Democratic Senators who are closet Republicans are better than plain old Republican Senators, but that's a low bar.

That leaves New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. If the Democrats are going to regain a Senate majority - and put Hillary Clinton's Administration on a solid footing - they need to sweep those three races. Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of polling yet. Toomey is ahead in Pennsylvania, but he's the incumbent and better known, so that isn't surprising in July. Ohio appears to be a dead heat. And in New Hampshire, RCP has Ayotte ahead, while Pollster likes Hassan, but both margins are small.

In these contested states (as elsewhere in the country), Democrats are going to do everything they can to tie Republicans to Donald Trump and all the evil for which he stands. The Republican incumbents, if they have even the least bit of sense, are going to ignore Trump and run hard against that reviled and corrupt socialist, Hillary Clinton. The absolute best pitch someone like Ayotte or Portman can make is: send me to stop Hillary. You don't have to vote Trump, but you don't want that radical [locally appropriate female slur] running the whole government, do you?

That kind of ticket splitting used to be common, but has declined almost to nothing in recent years. If it stays dead, the Democrats will take the Senate and ease Hillary's troubles considerably. If it revives, if lots of people vote Republican in Senate races while ignoring Trump or even voting for Clinton at the Presidential level, the Republicans may be able to hang on to the upper chamber and gum up the works like we've never seen before. The last time a Democratic President took office with a Senate minority in place was Grover Cleveland in 1885. If Hillary becomes the next, expect 2017 to be a nightmare of confirmation hearings.

So this election season, as your brain goes numb from the latest Trump outrage, soothe yourself by remembering that he's going to lose in humiliating fashion. He'll never live it down, which for him is worse than death. Unfortunately, and despite his embarrassment, he probably isn't going to take the Republican House majority down with him. The tightest action this year is in the Senate, and when you break it all down it's really only three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. Keep an eye on those, everything else is noise. 

2016 Election Preview Part 2: Anti-Public Housing

Submitted by Charlie on Wed 13 Jul 2016 - 08:18
2012 House Election Results, Only One Of These Numbers Should Be Bigger Than The Other

 

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work." - Kent Brockman

 

NOTE: This is the second of three articles about the 2016 U.S. federal election. The first bathed in the schadenfreude created by Donald Trump's win on America's Next Top Republican Nominee. Today's is about the House of Representatives, which is considerably less fun to talk about. The third article will return things to happier ground by discussing the Senate.

On election night 2012, Obama won by 5% overall and racked up 332 Electoral Votes. He could've lost Virginia, Ohio, and Florida and still stayed President. It wasn't as big a blowout as 2008 had been, but the networks all called the election shortly after 11:00pm Eastern, and could've done so much earlier if they weren't unofficially required to wait for polls to close on the West Coast. (Screw you, Alaska and Hawaii!) The House, which has no such restriction, was called for the Republicans almost three hours earlier, as soon as polls closed on the East Coast. 

Sadly, just as that early House call was a turd in 2012's punchbowl, it's likely going to be repeated this November. Yes, it's possible that a truly yuge Trump defeat could flip the House, but - for extremely depressing reasons that will shortly be clear - for that to happen Clinton would have to win not just by more than Obama did in 2012, she would need more (a lot more, in fact) than even his historic blowout in 2008.

To understand why, allow me to take you on a brief tour of my home state of Michigan. After the 2000 election, Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor's office, so they got to draw the next decade's maps all by themselves. This was especially bad because Michigan lost a Congressional seat to reapportionment after that year's census, dropping us from 16 to 15.

The effect on both the state and federal levels was profound. With the Republicans in complete control of redistricting and a new map of only 15 U.S. House seats, losing at least one Democratic seat in 2002 was a foregone conclusion. But the lines had been so finely drawn that the Democrats lost 3 seats, despite winning a narrow (30,000 vote) majority of the popular House vote. It was the first time Michigan had a majority Republican House delegation since Watergate.

Four years later, the 2006 wave in which the Democrats picked up a whopping thirty-one (31!) House seats nationwide saw precisely zero change in Michigan's delegation, it remained 9-6 Republican despite the fact that Democratic candidates won 300,000 more votes overall (an 8-point win).* Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm romped to re-election by 14-points and the State House flipped from Republican to Democratic control.

(*One Republican lost a primary, but the seat itself stayed Red.)

But that otherwise fine election was tainted by a disappointment with which Democrats here in Michigan are long accustomed: the State Senate stayed Red. Michiganders cast 350,000 more votes (a 10-point margin) for Democratic State Senators than Republican ones, but it didn't matter. In fact, it barely even budged. The nationwide Democratic wave that swept away six U.S. Senators and those thirty-one U.S. House reps managed to sink just a single Michigan state senator. The chamber itself went from a 22-15 Republican majority to a 21-17 Republican majority. Hooray.

The post-2000 lines had been so well drawn that the 2008 Obama election, which saw a further 21 Democratic gains overall, produced a mere 2 pickups in Michigan. A nearly 9-point win and a margin of 400,000 votes got the Democrats just over the hump to an 8-7 majority, which was swiftly reversed back to 9-6 Republican in 2010.

The Great Mid-Term Disaster was also the next time the State Senate was up, and you don't need me to tell you how that went. Along the way, the Democrats lost the State House and the governor's office (Granholm was term limited), meaning the Republicans regained unified control just in time to redistrict themselves twice in a row. Once again, Michigan lost a House seat to reapportionment, and the Republicans made sure it didn't come out of their column.* In 2012, the first year on the new maps, the Democrats lost a U.S. House seat in Michigan despite earning 240,000 more votes and a 5-point margin.

(*Yeah, flee to warmer climates now. Your kids will all be back here in twenty years when Florida's underwater and Arizona's dry as a bone.)

Of the fourteen remaining districts left in 2012, only a single one was close. Michigan's 1st (mostly the Upper Peninsula) elected Republican Dan Benishek by just 0.5%. Only two other Republican winners were even in single digits, the closer of which was Kerry Bentivolio in the 11th. Thanks to unfettered control of redistricting, that seat is one of the most absurdly gerrymandered in the country. To see how, check out the .gif below:

Michigan's heavily weird 11th Congressional District

That is the Census Racial Dot Map overlaid with the 11th District in red. The blue dots are white people and the green dots are black people (Asians are in red, Hispanics in yellow). Note the way it artfully curves around the largely black city of Pontiac while managing to include predominantly white Bloomfield Hills. (That sea of green in the lower right is Detroit.) The little carve out for Farmington is even more ridiculous.

Now, the 11th isn't quite a must win for a Democratic House, but since 2014 blasted them into an historic hole, it's close. And winning it (even with Trump at the top of the ticket) is going to be very tough. In 2012, Romney went down by nearly 10-points statewide, but the 11th went for Romney by 5.4 points (52.3-46.9) while Bentivolio defeated the Democratic hopeful by 6.4 points (50.8-46.4). Bentivolio lost a primary challenge in 2014, but his successor, Dave Trott, scorched the Democratic challenger by 15.4% (55.9-40.5). Cook Political rates the race as "Likely Republican" and has the district as a whole at R+5, but that doesn't tell the whole tale.

The 2016 electorate is going to be the most diverse in history, with white people (the only ethnic group that goes Republican) making up just 69% of eligible voters nationwide. But in Michigan's 11th, it's a lot less 2016 than it is 1980. White people make up 83% of the total population, or roughly 3% more than the country as a whole that year. So even though Trump is deeply unpopular, Dave Trott will be competing in a district that looks the way America did when Il Duche still had most of his original hair.

Since the Republicans have a 59 seat advantage in the U.S. House, the Democrats need to pick up 30 seats to get to a bare majority. To do that, they're going to need seats like Michigan's 11th, plus equally gerrymandered ones in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. That's a very tall order because the 11th, and there are a lot of districts like it nationwide, was drawn specifically to withstand not just Romney's 2012 drubbing, but a 2008 level meteor strike.

With their unified control of the 2010 redistricting, Republicans "ratfucked" the 11th so exquisitely that even in Obama's crowning moment of 2008, it still would've had a Republican House rep. Which means that if Clinton somehow equals Obama's almost unfathomable 17-point statewide win in 2008, it won't be enough.

And that, sports fans, is why the House is almost certainly going to stay Red: Clinton doesn't just need to equal 2008, she needs 2008+. Is it possible? No votes have yet been cast, so anything's possible. But unless Trump starts actually wearing a Nazi armband, or lots of dyed in the wool Republicans suddenly stop hating Hillary Clinton, it's hard to see how.

Even lacking a majority, however, margins still matter. A Democratic gain of 15 seats would be okay, but a gain of 20 or 25 would mean that Nancy Pelosi, and her hapless sidekick Paul Ryan, would only need to pick off a handful of Republicans to pass everything from spending bills to big ticket items like immigration reform. A Republican majority of ~10, all of whom will have just eked out wins by a couple of points, is going to be a lot more useful to the country than a majority of 20 or more, most of whom cruised to easy victories.

Right now, Cook Political sees a likely net gain of 4 seats for the Democrats, with 17 Republican seats rated as tossups. Larry Sabato thinks the Democrats can count on 6 likely pickups, with 15 Republican tossups. Rothenberg & Gonzalez have 3 likely Democratic pickups, with 10 Republican coin flips. Add those up, and (assuming the Democrats can hold their tossup seats) the maximum number of Democratic pickups each rating house currently predicts is:

Cook: 21
Sabato: 21
Rothenberg & Gonzalez: 13

All of those numbers are smaller than the 30 needed for control, and of the three predictions, only Cook even lists Michigan's 11th, and it's "Likely Republican". The other two consider it a sure thing. Welcome to the gerrymander.

Previous article: The Humiliation of Donald Trump by a Woman

2016 Election Preview Part 1: The Humiliation of Donald Trump by a Woman

Submitted by Charlie on Tue 12 Jul 2016 - 08:11

Projections from FiveThirtyEight, Princeton Electoral Consortium, and 270ToWin

"As you know, we've inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump..." - President Lisa Simpson

NOTE: This is the first of three articles about the 2016 U.S. federal election. This one is about the deceptively humdrum Presidential contest. The next is about the grim realities of the House of Representatives. And the last one will deal with the Senate, which is by far the most interesting and uncertain part of this year's dog and pony show.

Donald Trump is going to lose. You already know this. His poll numbers are historically awful. His campaign infrastructure is largely imaginary. And he himself is an incompetent, fascist buffoon who is loathed by large chunks of his own party. (Good job, Republicans!) Media outlets desperate for ratings and pageviews will continue to hype outlier polls and useless horse race analogies to make it seem close, but it isn't. And while the Clinton campaign has to take him seriously, the rest of us sure don't.

All through 2015, I had terrible visions in my head of Ted Cruz campaigning circles around Hillary Clinton as the economy slowly got worse and Obama's approval rating hovered five-ish points below 50%. Happily, Cruz lost, Obama's above water, and the economy, though *still* not recovered from the crash, doesn't completely suck.

And then there's Trump, whose rise to the nomination was so wildly out of the blue that I'm still not entirely sure we aren't living in an alternate timeline. Maybe someone actually did try to kill baby Hitler, a butterfly saw it, and now we're all here wondering why nothing makes sense and nobody can remember the reason? Except for violating fundamental tenets of physics, that almost makes more sense than none of his Republican opponents bothering to do basic opposition research.

Then again, these are Republicans we're talking about. Their reputation for even minimal competence is long past its sell by date. It's anyone's guess as to why, but it certainly doesn't help that most of the party's higher ups have had so much of their lives handed to them on silver platters. There's a distinctly aristocratic cluelessness to those Gulfstream flights into Boston on Election Night 2012, when all available polling, plus the early ballot numbers, said Romney was going to lose decisively.

Willard, himself the son of a rich governor, was so convinced of his own impending victory that he spent the Sunday before the election in Pennsylvania, trying to run up the score in a state he would lose by five and a half points. The supposedly numerate Karl Rove then humiliated himself on national television because he couldn't understand that one number was bigger than another number. That level of willful denial and outright incompetence is as staggering as it is undeniable.

When Trump's nomination is seen in that light, it makes a little more sense. Sure, he's even more incompetent than they are, but not by nearly as much as the likes of Messrs. Priebus, Koch(s), et al. would care to believe.

The extra kick in the balls for the collection of donors, moguls, lackeys, and elected officials that gets referred to as the Republican Establishment is that, on paper, 2016 looked promising. First, the 22nd Amendment (curse its oily hide!) did its job and got rid of Obama for them. Since World War II, just two incumbents (Carter & Bush the Elder) have lost re-election bids, but only once has the same party won three Presidential contests in a row (1980-1984-1988*). Plus, key states necessary to a Republican victory, notably Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, have all come under unified Republican control and enacted new voting restrictions since 2010.

(*Yes, Gore should have and basically did win in 2000, but high ranking Republicans certainly don't consider it the semi-rigged shambles it was.)

Best of all, from their point of view, Clinton was going to be a uniquely vulnerable nominee. She is loathed by the press and knows it, yet persists in constantly giving them molehill scandals they can effortlessly turn into mountains. She is easy to publicly link to evil Wall Street bankers. And they could blunt the historic nature of her candidacy by putting a woman of their own on the ticket. For chrissake, she would've been the most unpopular nominee in the history of polling! . . . if not for their nominee.

That's got to be frustrating for them. And while I don't doubt that there are still plots being hatched to steal or buy the nomination back from Trump, if they were actually competent enough to stop him they would've done so by now. It's difficult to see how anyone that vainglorious would let anything get between him and a four day media orgy with his name all over it. I don't know if Trump actually wants to be President, but I do know that he wants to win gold at what is essentially the Olympics of reality TV. (Shame it had to be in Cleveland instead of someplace classy, but you can't win them all.)

This has all worked out so fantastically well for Hillary Clinton that the great Billmon used it to create this election's best running joke so far:

https://twitter.com/billmon1/status/730602303674298368

https://twitter.com/billmon1/status/728360748867563520

https://twitter.com/billmon1/status/743084606665166848

These kinds of fractured takes on modern life and Trump's clownball antics are going to have to amuse us, because they're basically all we have. The actual outcome is so overdetermined as to be boring.

Our first woman President is a going to be a former First Lady who's an unmitigated war enthusiast disliked by a majority of Americans. But weirder things have happened, one of which was her falling backwards into an opponent who is grotesquely misogynistic, Patient Zero for foot-in-mouth disease, has never held elective office, isn't nearly as rich as he says he is, looks like . . . well, you know the rest. If Obama was Constitutionally eligible, he might break 400 electoral votes against Trump; Clinton will probably end up somewhere in the 350 range.

For example, if she carried every state Obama did in 2012 plus Arizona (with its very anti-Trump demographics), that would be 343. If she got all those plus North Carolina (which Obama won in 2008 and lost by only 2 points in 2012), she'd get 358. Here in July, either of those maps is very plausible, and who knows how bad things might get with Trump come November? The Electoral College is going to be a slaughterhouse.

The only downside is that we won't get to soak in the spectacle of First Citizen Trump's inauguration. I can't pretend to know what fantasies are already running around inside that hair, but my guess is that they involve a chariot ride from the Capitol to the White House, with two dozen white horses in the lead and dazed prisoners being dragged behind him in chains. Whether the scantily clad Angels of Liberty will be flogging his enemies or merely taunting them would presumably depend on the weather.

Instead, we're all going to have to get used to hearing the words "President Clinton" again. "President Clinton traveled to Country X", "President Clinton used her weekly radio address to discuss Y", "President Clinton ordered airstrikes against Scary Bad Guys Z". Phrases like those will be coming at us a lot. It's going to be weird at first, and kids too young to remember the 90s will probably wonder why the rest of us are staring vacantly at stuff, but it'll pass.

The problem with all of this is that no matter how high her mountain of Electoral Votes, they're not going to do the newly minted President Clinton any good come January, when she is almost as certain to be facing a Republican House as she is to be the President.

Purge 3: Vote Trump

Submitted by Charlie on Mon 04 Jul 2016 - 16:29

Purge3LincolnMemorial 

"Jeeze, Morty, purge it down a little." — Rick Sanchez
"Purge? Don’t purge! You’re sending me mixed messages, Rick!" — Morty Smith

Top Line: Purge 3 is a delightful slice of R-rated cheese. Like its two predecessors, it's got lots of crazy violence, plenty of creepy bad guys, a comfortably adult attitude towards blood and carnage, and an enjoyably dark sense of humor that keeps everything fun. The above trailer is in no way misleading.

Who (probably) should see this movie: People who liked the first two Purge movies.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People who didn't like or haven't seen the first two Purge movies. 

Box Score:

Runtime - 1h:45m - And quick about it. The story moves fast and nothing feels like filler.

Actual Start - Showtime + 21 Minutes - Ugh. Seven trailers is excessive enough, but the trailers themselves didn't even begin until four minutes past the listed start time.

Fourth of July Morning Demographics: ~15 people

Anything After the End Credits: Nope.
MPAA - R - Rated R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language 

What It’s Got:  Pretty much that. Though it's always worth pointing out that the MPAA only ever considers violence "disturbing" (or R worthy) when there's blood. This movie's got a pretty healthy body count, but it's less than a lot of recent PG-13 tentpoles.

Should Be Rated: PG-14
Studio: Universal

Production Companies With Fancy, Pre-Credits CGI Logos: 

  • Blumhouse Productions: A creepy room in a creepy house.
  • Platinum Dunes: Just gliding over the sand as usual. Feels like they've had this one for a while.
Three Stars:
  1. Mykelti Williamson: Sgt. Drucker chews his way through all the scenery they give him. It's glorious.
     
  2. Betty Gabriel: A reformed badass who can still fuck people up when she has to.
     
  3. Elizabeth Mitchell: She plays the Presidential candidate on the run, so she's got to do everything from defend herself to comfort other people to get kidnapped, and Mitchell handles all of it well.
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):
  • +2 Genuinely good movie.
  • +2 There's something fun about seeing these movies in a darkened room with your fellow Americans.
  • -1 There's not much that's going to look better on a big screen than a TV.

Final Score: 5

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):
  • +5 if you liked the first two.

Final Score: 5 (if you haven't seen the first two) or 10 (if you did and liked 'em)

 
Bechdel (Baseline: 5):
  • +5 Passes fairly easily and has quite a few memorable female parts (villainous and otherwise)

Final Score: 10

IMDb Sez:

Director:

Writer:

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 54% Top Critics: 65% Audience: 64%

Notes:

  • Fuck those scores. All of them are insultingly low. I'm not terribly surprised at the critics, but I'm shocked that the audience score isn't higher. The first one (just 36%) and the second one (56%) are low as hell, too. Did you people not realize what kind of movie you were going to see?
  • Williamson gets many of the best lines as he plays a cranky deli owner who got sucked into this whole assassination plot, including, "It's Purge night, you don't sneak up on black people!".
  • Her part isn't big enough to include above, but Brittany Mirabile deserves special mention as a psychotic Purge junkie who flips back and forth between sweet and menacing on a dime. This is only her second IMDb credit. Please someone get her some more roles. She's great.
  • C'mon, you don't want to see a person in a giant teddy bear costume get blasted with a shotgun?
  • There's a sword fight!
  • This movie has the best use of "Party in the USA" since Pitch Perfect.
  • The bad guys are rich white people, the NRA, and insurance companies. This is truly a movie for our times.
  • After all seven (7!) trailers comes the little reminder not to look at your phone. That's fine, except that now it's sponsored by Coke. Jebus, the ads are everywhere.

Bottom Line: Purge 3 is a Purge movie. Like the first two, it starts with people preparing for the annual night per year when all crime is legal. Then the Purge starts and those people's carefully laid plans go awry in entertainingly violent ways. Like Purge 2, Purge 3 is more of a "city survival" scenario than a "home invasion" story (there is, of course, still a home invasion), though in this case we're running through the streets of D.C. instead of L.A., and in place of random strangers, one of our little band is a Senator who's running for President as an anti-Purge candidate. Needless to say, the delightfully evil and kooky New Founding Fathers try to kill her on Purge night.

In addition to that, we've got Mykelti Williamson's deli owner, Betty Gabriel driving around in a kind of un-official Red Cross van trying to help people, and a full blown resistance movement there to assassinate the pro-Purge leadership at their annual creepy church human sacrifice ceremony. Against them we've got random Purgers (including South African murder-tourists), a team of mercenaries chasing the Senator, and the rich, white Republican ghouls who started the Purge in the first place. Plus there's the usual assortment of background horror and violence that gives these movies such atmosphere.

In short, if you liked the first two Purge movies, you will probably like this one. The franchise is strong, and Purge 3 is a worthy addition.

 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Purge 3:

The Infiltrator - Bryan Cranston plays an undercover drug cop in the 80s. Worryingly, this is one of those dumb drug war movies that's loosely based on a real story.

The Woods - There's a supernatural evil in the forest. Yawn.

Lights Out - There's a supernatural evil that doesn't like it when the lights are on. Also yawn. This movie is so similar to the one above that both of them feature breathy covers of famous songs. The trailer for The Woods goes with Sting's "Every Breath You Take", this one uses Buffalo Springfield's "Something Happening Here".

Don't Breathe - A horror movie where some kids try to rob a blind guy who turns out to be super strong and a serial killer or something. This looks promising if somewhat one-dimensional.

Before I Wake - A kid has a supernatural power where his dreams come true and some ancient evil stalks him. Feh.

Kevin Hart: What Now? - Kevin Hart did a stand up special at a football stadium. Now you can see it in theaters.

Ouija: Origin of Evil - At first I thought this trailer was promising. It starts with a family seance con business. Then the real ghosts show up. I realize most people don't share my general disdain for supernatural horror movies, but seeing trailers for four of them all at once like this really demonstrates how cookie cutter they all are.

The Kids Are Alright (Older People, Not So Much)

Submitted by Charlie on Fri 24 Jun 2016 - 11:41

"I warned you guys. Seniors always vote in record numbers." - Lisa Simpson

The reactions to the surprisingly wide margin by which voters in the UK decided to leave the EU are rolling in. Other than shock (plus pointing and laughing at David Cameron's Upper Class Twit of the Century award), the most salient and undeniable fact is the enormous age gap:

Old People voted Leave, Young People voted Remain
Apparently, British Baby Boomers are just as self-destructive as the American kind.

That is a striking chart, and it's been given emotional heft by, of all things, a newspaper internet comment:

“A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded, and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Michael Gove said, ‘The British people are sick of experts,’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has led to anything other than bigotry?” — Nicholas

That rather devastating paragraph - bleak and despairing of the future for poor people, young people, and democratic politics itself - has gone viral this morning, and there's no mystery as to why. Youthful disappointment and frustration are hardly limited to modern British politics.

They held a referendum on the EU's extortionist "bailout" plan in Greece last year, and after having earlier propelled the Syriza party to power in parliament, young voters went heavily against accepting the plan:

Younger people, however, are far more in favor of "no:" 71 percent of those between ages 18 to 24 support "no," along with 59 percent of those aged 25 to 34, according to polling firm Public Issue.

In Italy, the anti-establishment Five-Star movement is also highly dependent on young people. The same holds true in Spain, where old people tend to vote the past, and young people the future. Nor is this phenomenon limited to the Old World. Here's the age breakdown from the U.S. 2012 election:

Old people vote Republican, Young people vote Democratic (https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/how-groups-voted/how-groups-voted-2012/)
Kinda looks like that Leave-Remain chart above, doesn't it?

That spread isn't quite as wide as the one in Britain yesterday, but it's not far off. And while generalizations are dangerous across countries with different political cultures, electoral mechanisms, and economic situations, there's enough of a pattern there that to simply dismiss it would be naive. 

Broadly speaking, older people (>40ish) across the representative democracies we call The West are voting in more right wing, conservative ways, while younger people (<40ish) are voting in more lefty, liberal ways. The Leave vote was against multi-national cooperation and multi-cultural societies and for nationalism and a return to some kind of idealized past. The referendum in Greece saw old people accept harsh pain as the price of returning to normalcy, while the young rejected the pain for the simple reason that normalcy had been of no benefit to them.

The list goes on, but the complaints are the same. Education grows ever more expensive, but a degree is no longer a guarantee of a dignified existence. Young people who never got a chance at a degree are even more shut out of anything that could be called a middle class (or even working class) life. The old social compact of follow-the-rules and work-hard in exchange for a decent life (i.e. peace of mind on matters of food, shelter, etc.) has broken down not just in Greece or Italy or Spain, but in Britain, France and the U.S. as well.

The causes of this breakdown are, of course, complex. But they're not that hard to list: the 30-year rampage of the financial industry, globalization shipping working class jobs far, far away, neo-liberal budget cuts and endless austerity, and the ever increasing gap between the Haves and the rest.

And, to be sure, all of those vile trends have affected older people as well. Pensions, for example, ain't what they used to be. The difference is in how each group reacts. Older voters go for retrenchment: make the previous system come back. Younger voters, who never experienced economically stable societies, go for change.

The problem is that retrenchment doesn't work. Austerity doesn't work. Banning immigrants doesn't work. Tax cuts for the rich don't work. Older voters everywhere are chasing a mirage, and they're doing so at the expense of their kids and grandkids.

What will work? Who knows? Show me a country that has a sustainable plan for reducing inequality, mitigating climate change, accepting refugees, fighting prejudice, and providing economic security to all its citizens and I will show you an episode of Star Trek.

What is certain - beyond any doubt and clear to anyone who's willing to listen - is that the policies for which the olds keep voting are making things worse. Last night, the youth of Britain got outvoted. This November, I fervently hope the youth of America won't be. But Brexit isn't the end of things, nor will our election be. Until and unless the day-to-day problems of ordinary people get addressed, these harmful and sometimes disastrous age splits will continue.