Sunday, July 24, 2016

Last Call For Debbie, Done

For better or for worse, I've been calling for the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair since leading the Dems' disastrous midterm efforts in 2014 resulting in the lowest election turnout in modern history and the loss of the Senate to Mitch McConnell and the GOP, and this week's events finally proved too much to save her position.

The controversial chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, announced she would resign at the end of her party’s convention this week, a victim of her toxic relationship with peers and a trove of embarrassing internal emails.

“Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals [of winning the presidency for Hillary Clinton] is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention,” Wasserman Schultz said in a written statement. “As Party Chair, this week I will open and close the Convention and I will address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans.”

Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party stalwart, is expected to run the DNC through the election, according to multiple sources briefed on the plan. Brazile, who briefly served as chair in 2011, is a CNN contributor, and must forgo that contract to take the reins of the DNC. And she's still subject to a party vote this week in Philadelphia.

President Barack Obama paid tribute to her in a statement: For the last eight years, Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has had my back. This afternoon, I called her to let her know that I am grateful."

And that she was fired, of course.

The WikiLeaks story was the last straw in a string of screw-ups.  It's easy to blame the Russians or Assange over this, and yes, it was the mother of all dirty tricks, but Schultz botched the handling of the leak from hour one, and let's not forget that she sandbagged President Obama on the Iran nuclear deal last year, which was when I started calling for her resignation.

Again Donna Brazile will be taking over, and I believe she's infinitely more competent than Schultz at this point (and I think she should stay on.)

This is something that should have happened early last year after the midterms, and now the Dems can correct it and move on.  Not thrilled about Schultz joining the Clinton campaign as an adviser, but I guess that was the price of her stepping down.

We'll see how this goes.

Comic Relief

Marvel rolled out the big guns Saturday at San Diego Comic Con for their Cinematic Universe presentation, focusing on their upcoming 2016, 2017 and 2018 films, including Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and more.

Amid fog and lasers on Saturday, Marvel gave frenzied fans at Comic-Con their first look at a new Black Panther movie cast, the mysterious Doctor Strange, a Spider-Man teen movie and an Oscar-winning actress as the new Captain Marvel.

The 6,500-plus audience, many of whom had queued overnight at San Diego's annual film and pop culture event, were introduced to the lead cast of the "Black Panther" movie, directed by "Creed" filmmaker Ryan Coogler.

Chadwick Boseman plays the titular hero while Michael B. Jordan is his arch nemesis, Erik Killmonger, and Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o plays the warrior Nakia.

"I'm looking forward to kicking some ass," Nyong'o said.

Walt Disney Co-owned Marvel showcased diverse casts for its upcoming films after facing criticism over recent years for a superhero franchise dominated by white male actors.

Oscar-winning "Room" actress Brie Larson was revealed as "Captain Marvel," but no details were given on the 2018 movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch entered amid a cloud of fog to show a scene from "Doctor Strange," out in November, in which neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, who lost the use of his hands in an accident, meets the Ancient One to harness the mysterious world of magic and alternate dimensions.

Director Scott Derrickson said "Doctor Strange" comics brought "a whole new voice" to the Marvel universe.

"It's very, very different and the scale is something else," Cumberbatch said.

All of this plus Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy 2, along with Thor: Ragnarok, all will be leading up to the Avengers: Infinity Wars movies in a few years.  I really can't wait.

Sunday Long Read: Attention To Derail

This week on Sunday Long Reads we have author Laurie Penny's piece in Medium about the "attention economy", the world of professional right-wing social media trolls who only exist to self-aggrandize and cause as much chaos as possible to their own benefit.  Donald Trump has lead the way on monetizing this mindset, and if Trump is king, the Crown Prince is right-wing bomb-juggler Milo Yiannopolous.

This is a story about how trolls took the wheel of the clown car of modern politics. It’s a story about the insider traders of the attention economy. It’s a story about fear and loathing and Donald Trump and you and me. It’s not a story about Milo Yiannopoulos, the professional alt-right provocateur who was just banned from Twitter permanently for sending racist abuse to actor Leslie Jones.

But it does start with Milo. So I should probably explain how we know each other and how, on a hot, weird night in Cleveland, I came to be riding in the backseat of his swank black trollmobile to the gayest neo-fascist rally at the RNC.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the worst people I know. I have seen the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We met four years ago, before he was the self-styled “most fabulous supervillain on the internet,” when he was just another floppy-haired right-wing pundit and we were guests on opposing sides of a panel show whose topic I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up. Afterwards we got hammered in the green room and ran around the BBC talking about boys. It was fun.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuade him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I hate him and everything he stands for, the more he laughs and asks when we’re drinking. I’m a radical queer feminist leftist writer burdened with actual principles. He thinks that’s funny and invites me to his parties.

“Feminism is cancer” is one of Milo’s signature slogans, and yet it took him only seconds after learning we’d both be at the Republican Convention in Cleveland to offer me a lift to his ‘Wake Up!’ rally, billed as the most fabulous shindig at the end of America. This time—god help me and the things I do for journalism—I said yes.

So here we are at the Convention, where howling psychopath Donald Trump has just been confirmed as the presidential nominee, to the horror of half of the party and every remaining moderate conservative in America as well as the 15,000 members of the international press who flocked to see the circus in realtime. Milo is loving every second of it. He lost no time climbing on the back of the clown car of the billionaire demagogue who, with ghoulishly oedipal glee, he calls ‘Daddy.’

These are the nihilists and nutjobs riding the Trump Train, and they're surfing the wave after destroying the dam and flooding the country with chaos and hatred.  Some of Milo's fellow travelers are convinced he'll help them build a new twisted version of America, but Penny is right about Milo himself.

Some people just want to see the world burn.

Putin Together The Pieces

TPM's Josh Marshall constructs a pretty good case that the public relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is more than just being members of a mutual admiration society, rather that the relationship involves a great deal of money and that Trump's closest advisers are at the very minimum doing everything they can to favor Moscow.

Over the last year there has been a recurrent refrain about the seeming bromance between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. More seriously, but relatedly, many believe Trump is an admirer and would-be emulator of Putin's increasingly autocratic and illiberal rule. But there's quite a bit more to the story. At a minimum, Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.
Let me start by saying I'm no Russia hawk. I have long been skeptical of US efforts to extend security guarantees to countries within what the Russians consider their 'near abroad' or extend such guarantees and police Russian interactions with new states which for centuries were part of either the Russian Empire or the USSR. This isn't a matter of indifference to these countries. It is based on my belief in seriously thinking through the potential costs of such policies. In the case of the Baltics, those countries are now part of NATO. Security commitments have been made which absolutely must be kept. But there are many other areas where such commitments have not been made. My point in raising this is that I do not come to this question or these policies as someone looking for confrontation or cold relations with Russia.

Marshall lays out facts here, that Trump has been receiving significant financing over the years from Russian oligarchs as investors., that Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russia policy advisor Carter Page are both on the payroll of Russian interests (in Page's case, Gazprom), and that Trump's convention staff made a huge deal about opposing US military aid to Ukraine and effectively ignored the entire rest of the GOP platform battles.

To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump's direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin's policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He's the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out 'what's going on' as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.

There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. Even if you draw no adverse conclusions, Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That's simply not something that can be waved off or ignored.

So yes, as if we needed yet another reason not to see the man elected president, there's all this somewhat sinister relationship between Trump and Putin.
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