Andrea Tantaros’ therapist backs up allegations against Roger Ailes and Fox News

andrea tantaros

(Credit: Fox News/”Outnumbered”)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet


Former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against former-boss-turned-Trump-campaign-adviser Roger Ailes in August. In it, she alleged that in response to complaints made about Ailes’ sexual innuendos and unwanted advances, she was first demoted and then fired. At the time, Fox News responded by calling the suit—which came on the heels of similar allegations from female network stars including Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly—“a smokescreen to obscure her violation of her employment contract” and labeled Tantaros “an opportunist” in court papers. Now the former on-air personality’s legal team says they have mental health records going back to 2014 that solidify Tantaros’ claims.

Counsel for Tantaros released a signed affidavit from her former therapist, Dr. Michele Berdy, who backs up the charges her patient has made toward and Ailes and others.

“Over the course of many months (2014–2016), Andrea relayed to me on multiple occasions instances of Mr. Ailes’ demeaning and overtly predatory behavior, as well as the abusive conduct of Fox News’ public relations department.” The statement goes on to confirm that Tantaros spoke about retaliatory actions taken by various Fox News staffers after she spoke up about Ailes’ behavior. It also notes that Berdy came forward on her own.

“I also want to make clear that Andrea did not reach out to me about her present case against Fox News,” it reads, in a tweet sent by Politico reporter Kelsey M. Sutton. “After reading about it in the media, and also reading reports that Fox News was denying her claims, I emailed Andrea to tell her that I knew that she was telling the truth because she had told me, in a therapeutic setting where she could have had no motive to lie, about the conduct of Mr. Ailes… and others at the time, or very shortly after, the harassment, retaliation, and pervasive hostile and sexualized workplace conditions took place.”

In mid-September, an attorney for Tantaros told various outlets that she had turned down a seven-figure settlement offer from Fox News to drop her case against the network.

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In the Trump Matrix: The GOP nominee is a hopeless narcissist, living in his own fantasy universe — but maybe that’s what Americans want

Donald Trump; The Matrix

(Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Warner Bros./Salon)

Amid the howling vacuum of Donald Trump’s mind and Donald Trump’s damaged personality, there has never been room for other people. That has been obvious all along to anyone who has remotely paid attention, so it’s foolish to claim that Trump’s bottomless narcissism was at last laid bare before the world in Monday night’s presidential debate. Narcissism and vainglory and “braggadociousness” are not incidental by-products of the Trump campaign or the Trump brand; they are its all in all. As has become terrifyingly clear, large numbers of Americans like Trump precisely because he’s a pompous blowhard saying things he doesn’t actually believe about subjects he doesn’t understand.

Even by those standards, the Trump we saw during the Hofstra University debate this week seemed like a man trapped in an airless chamber talking to himself. It was a little like the baffling later scenes in the baffling final film of the “Matrix” trilogy, when the entire population of the movie’s computer-simulated universe becomes an infinite series of copies of Agent Smith, Hugo Weaving’s affectless techno clone.

Trump has more personality than Agent Smith — indeed, he has only personality and nothing else — but he does not necessarily seem more human. Trump’s only plausible audience for his endless self-glorification is, well, himself. His only argument for being president is his own greatness, and his only argument for his greatness is that his greatness is so huge as to be self-evident.

Who else was Trump talking to on Monday night, with his avowal that paying no taxes makes him “smart” or his defense of the fact that he rooted for the real estate collapse of 2008 and profited from it mightily: “That’s called business, by the way.” Was that stuff directed at his supposed demographic of working-class and middle-class white Americans, who feel they have been left behind by economic transformation and demographic change? Were they rooting for the housing collapse, too? Do those people have the option of zeroing out their federal income taxes (as we now suspect Trump has done) or repeatedly filing for bankruptcy, without facing damaging personal consequences? Can they refuse to pay legitimate debts to vendors and contractors, without being dragged through years of draining lawsuits?

Of course even Trump’s most loyal followers — the ones who venerate him as North Koreans supposedly venerate their Dear Leader, to borrow Ann Coulter’s line — can’t do things like that. The unanswered question behind the #TrumpWon anti-pundit backlash that followed the Hofstra debate, I suppose, is whether they wish they could. Whether, in other words, Trump supporters have given up on the real world, and simply want to live vicariously through the onanistic Matrix-universe of Trump’s personality, which is simultaneously so shrunken and so bloated.

Numerous surveys of “undecided” or “independent” voters after Monday’s debate suggested that they were horrified and outraged by Trump’s performance. I don’t think he cares. Trump’s entire campaign strategy, if that’s even the right term, involves injecting his followers with a diluted serum of Trumpian false consciousness and false self-confidence. It sounds stupid and suicidal, in political terms, but it has worked pretty well so far.

Everything about the Trump candidacy except the moronic helium-ooze cocktail of his personality is just metaphorical, especially his so-called positions on so-called issues. Trump’s Great Wall will never be built, needless to say, and there is no imaginable mechanism by which Mexico could be made to pay for it. Furthermore, Trump’s followers understand that, on some reluctant level of consciousness, or at least suspect it. Don’t get me wrong: They love the wall! It remains the greatest hit of Trump’s classic-rock arena tour. But the wall is nothing more than fantasy-game wishcasting; it might be built in some horrible Trumpified version of Minecraft but not in reality.

Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims’ entry into the country (now more or less abandoned) was always illegal, unconstitutional and unimaginable for various reasons. That was a metaphor, too. It’s halfway between a gag and a vicious masturbatory fantasy, as is so much of far-right discourse. Trump fans who have “9/11 Terrorist Hunting Permit” stickers on their Silverado pickups do not really have terrorist hunting permits. They do not actually want us to pry their guns from their cold, dead hands.

How many right-wingers genuinely believed that Barack Obama was born in Mombasa or that Hillary Clinton abandoned the U.S. government employees in Benghazi because she’s a girl and she hates America? And how many simply embraced an opportunity to stir up trouble, sow political confusion and slow the already sluggish operations of government to the pace of frozen molasses?

Still, that shudder you felt going through the right-wing thought bubble on Monday night and Tuesday morning was real: It reflected the widespread sense that Hillary Clinton left Trump stripped naked and looking uglier than ever on that Long Island stage. He speaks for no one and represents nothing, except himself. The only universe in which Donald Trump stands for the economic or cultural interests of working Americans is the dumbed-down Matrix unisphere he and his followers have created together, an imaginary realm of intense ignorance and meanness whose only atmosphere is Trump’s rhetorical brain farts.

Whether the American electorate yearns to breathe those fumes into the indefinite future and would prefer to live in an orange-hued monstrosity’s reflected self-delusion rather than confronting the unsatisfying complications of the real world remains to be seen.

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To be a woman in “Westworld”: HBO’s brutality fetish still going strong in presumptive “Game of Thrones” successor


Thandie Newton and Rodrigo Santoro in “Westworld” (Credit: HBO)

Everything in Westworld’s theme park is bespoke – the clothes, the weapons, even the adventure itself caters to the individualized whims of its wealthy customers. The park offers a multitude of possibilities from the moment of arrival, from the second they board the luxurious train that takes them into the park to the moment they step off to enter its central town, Sweetwater.

Sweetwater has fine dining and whiskey, love for sale and shooting practice in the form of its artificial denizens, known as hosts, each of whom have been created to serve every indulgence of these “newcomers.”

Humans cannot be hurt in the park, but the further away that one ventures from Sweetwater, the more dangerous it gets. There’s no orientation, no guidebook, and there are games hidden within adventures, revealing escalating levels of difficulty. Figuring out how the place works is as much a part of the Westworld vacation experience as appreciating the finer details of its props.

Although the park acts as a multiverse to its visitors, “Westworld” the series, premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO,  is a study in duality. Visitors can be wolves or lambs; they can leave their real world personalities behind to go white hat or black hat. Inadvertently “Westworld” also acts as a metaphor for HBO’s premium luxury brand as it holds up a mirror to the network’s troubling habits.

Let’s get one truth squared away: Any viewer who has the slightest interest in this drama is likely to be fascinated by what he or she sees in its opening hour. “Westworld” has a stellar cast led by Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood.

Dazzling cinematography makes the most of the production’s stunning vistas and elaborate sets, from the caramel brown of the desert hills to the jewel-toned silks and satins on the ladies offering comfort in town. As if to wash away memories of “Deadwood’s” grime, Sweetwater is intentionally slick, a place where even the bursts of bullet-riddled violence have a polish to them as well as safeguards.

As such, it is perfectly acceptable to harm, maim or kill the hosts because their memories are wiped after each incident. They’re serviced, reset and sent back out to repeat all the fun and brutality that visitors want to inflict upon them. No harm, no foul.

But as one character in the show’s corporate environment points out, Westworld is one thing to the guests, another thing to the shareholders and something altogether different to the management. Similar notions hold true of the role of the series itself, adding a level of thorny discomfort to its narrative. HBO hopes “Westworld” will grow into a hit that can eventually take the place of “Game of Thrones.” Likewise, viewers evaluating the worth of maintaining their subscriptions in the months that new episodes of “Thrones” aren’t running, might hope for the same.

For now, it’s safe to bet that the premium channel’s imprimatur remains strong enough that most subscribers may be willing to live with or even overlook some of the larger thematic flaws of “Westworld” on faith. “This place seduces everybody eventually,” one of the more odious characters tells another, referring to the park.

What about HBO itself?

The channel still hasn’t kicked its disturbing habit of treating female flesh as a demarcation of brand boldness. It was one of the first channels to differentiate itself by displaying nudity and sexuality in its uncut films and later in its original programming. But somewhere along the way that idea morphed from a marker of edge and freedom into a fetish for savagery and more explicitly savagery in the form of sexualized violence perpetrated against women. (Most disturbing was HBO’s president of programming Casey Bloys’ cavalier admission to reporters a few months ago that that he doesn’t see a difference between rape and murder in his series, viewing both as equally entertaining.)

The first installment of “Westworld” proves that HBO has not evolved away from that penchant; in fact, the park’s synthetic women are part of the getaway package. “All our hosts are here for you, myself included,” purrs the modelesque concierge who greets another visitor, and she’s not joking. The first women that visitors meet when they get to Sweetwater are the whores from the local brothel run by Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). Maeve is an elegant, hard woman who barely blinks when lives are being snuffed out around her, something that occurs with frightening frequency. After all, not only are they just prostitutes; they’re not real either.

We also come to know Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), the sweet farmer’s daughter who fulfills the dream girl archetype. Dolores is an artist made drunk by the beauty all around her. She also is chaste and virginal, the ideal victim in need of heroic intervention.

All the artificial occupants of Sweetwater and the lands beyond, male and female, are dishes in an omnivore’s buffet. But women and their sexuality are prime pieces of fruit here, demonstrated almost immediately upon meeting Harris’ sinister Man in Black. They serve as treats for the taking or as tools enabling men like Teddy (Marsden) or William (Jimmi Simpson) to feel their testosterone surge in the role of the gunslinging knight.

But the hosts also exist to elicit the viewer’s sympathy for their powerlessness, evoked in the shocked, deflated looks on their faces when they realize how defenseless they are.

The horror of these false lives is that nearly every aspect is scripted by a programmer. Maeve has seduction protocols she initiates when a fresh newcomer walks into her establishment, and she also plays a role in a several adventure storylines. Dolores also is locked into her part, some of which is completely innocuous and family friendly. At the end of the day, though, she’s still a woman in “Westworld.” A robot, sure, but one portrayed with such complexity, nuance and grace by Wood, as Newton does with Maeve, that any efforts to use that argument to excuse the viciousness visited upon them soon feel as hollow and flimsy as an old shell. The viewer is not inured to their suffering by knowing these characters are androids; they act and bleed just like people. Watching them die in massive sprees can feel even more sickening.

The writers’ hands aren’t even washed by the dynamics in the park’s adjacent corporate environment, the park’s toy shop, if you will. There, women hold important roles, but their personalities are not adequate counterweights to the maiden/prostitute dichotomy at play in Sweetwater.  One, Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), is an engineer whose career is in ascension and who understands the subtleties of human behavior in a way her co-workers, most of them male, do not. Nevertheless, her abilities and expertise are often questioned.

Then there’s the head of quality assurance, Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is part bean counter and part ball buster. Neither Elsie nor Theresa come across as particularly warm-blooded, which I suppose is part of the point.

Everyone in the factory seems more concerned about endowing their creations with realistic human qualities than behaving that way themselves, none more so than the park’s ambitious, mysterious founder Robert Ford (Hopkins) and his right-hand man Bernard Lowe (Wright).  This is a problem symptomatic to engineers operating from a paradigm that everything can be automated, built and optimized from the smallest iris to artificial emotional affect, from the epidermis to a soul.

But lacking much in the way of humanizing balance in that world behind the curtain, “Westworld” eventually feels cold and cynical and is yet another HBO series peddling violence, marvelous costume design and poet dialogue in the guise of some great philosophical statement about humanity. What that observation may be exactly is unclear.

Though the drama’s co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy set the table for an exploration of the perils of birthing artificial intelligence, perhaps with a side order of a parable concerning the nature fate and destiny, it’s also hard to get past the familiarity of this story structure.

For “Westworld” is a tale that we’ve seen many times before in film and television and read countless times in various books. Hopkins’ Ford comes from the same genre DNA as Eldon Tyrell from “Blade Runner” or Sir Peter Weyland of the “Alien” franchise; his lineage extends all way back to Mary Shelley’s legendary Victor Frankenstein. The hosts have cousins in “Battlestar Galactica,” in Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and the list goes on and on.

We know what happens in these stories, too. The creations free themselves from their masters, if not outright turning against them. Elsie and the head of security, Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), remind us more than once that the only barriers existing between the hosts achieving a level of consciousness and rising up against the humans that keep them are a few lines of code. This makes “Westworld” less of a work inspired by Michael Crichton’s original 1973 film than a cover of a familiar tune, like one of the calculatedly ominous pop songs churning out of the self-playing piano in Maeve’s bar. We know their lyrics; we’ve merrily sung along to their refrains.  So if we know where this ditty leads . . . what then?

Nolan, who created and executive produced CBS’s “Person of Interest,” spent five seasons of that network television thriller playing with the possibilities and perils of emerging artificial intelligence. Knowing this, one may trust and infer that he and Joy plan to exploit our comfort with genre tropes to surprise us in later episodes. But if the writers have aspirations to lead the story into more original territory than the violent end the premiere foretells, it is initially difficult to see what those may be.

Ah, but let’s not forget that element of duality. “Westworld” may be problematic as an original drama but its presentation of a live-action massive multiplayer role-playing game is an interesting experiment. In essence, the park is a gigantic cinematic — those nonplayable animations that add context to a game’s plot and link missions to one another — populated with nonplayer characters with whom a person can do anything. And how a gamer treats an nonplayer character can vary by moment, mission or mood. Some earn our emotional attachment, while others are just cannon fodder or objects of abuse. Most nonplayer characters are conveniently amnesiac as well.

Even that angle is frayed by the nature of the park’s creations and the developing narrative. After the fifth or sixth time that we see a host with whom we connected be brutalized or outright murdered by some laughing, pistol-wielding jerk, it gets a little old, like a programming glitch that freezes the game in an endless loop.

Should “Westworld’s” ultimate purpose be to invite some level of self-examination within the audience, making us contemplate the callousness with which we give free rein to violence as sport, well done, then. That’s achieved by the end of the premiere. Considering the source, though, this idea has a bitter irony to it, making it tough to determine whether the drama’s ongoing investigation of existential concepts and morality is truly worthy of the time it will take to play this game through to the finish.

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Ride the rails with Billy Bragg and Joe Henry: “You never hear anybody talking about a lonesome car alarm, do you, playing in a distance”

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry (Credit: Jacob Blickenstaff)

On Sept. 23, singer-songwriters Billy Bragg and Joe Henry released “Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad.” The pair tackles traditional tunes such as “Rock Island Line,” “In The Pines” and “The Midnight Special” — all of which were once recorded by Lead Belly — and songs popularized by Glen Campbell (“Gentle On My Mind”) and Woody Guthrie (“Hobo’s Lullaby”), as well as originals by Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.

As the title of “Shine A Light” implies, however, Henry and Bragg recorded the album in a unique way: The two hopped on an Amtrak train and recorded these songs acoustically at various stations and junctures around the country. As a result, the tunes are intimate and timeless and boast ambient sounds in the background — everything from the shuffling of the train to chirping birds.

The idea for “Shine A Light” partly came out of research Bragg was doing for an upcoming book examining the social and cultural history of the U.K.’s pre-British Invasion music, when “jazz-based music was replaced by guitar-based music,” he said, and artists such as the skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan had a brief chart run. “Researching that [book], I came over a huge number of train songs — mostly from Lead Belly’s repertoire, that Donegan and his acolytes were playing,” Bragg said.

“That drew my attention to why there were so many train songs,” Bragg added. “In my country, there’s a lot of songs about sailing because we live in an island. When young people wanted to get away from a broken heart or escape from the law, they would join the navy or something like that. Whereas in America it seemed to be it was the train that was the way that people resolved or made things happen.”

Bragg was also asked by Aperture magazine to take part in a photo documentary celebrating the 90th birthday of photographer Robert Frank. Instead of participating in a piece with performance shots, Bragg said he had always wanted to visit Rock Island, located in the Quad Cities. (“I told [project photographer Alex Soth] how boring it would be to follow me around taking photographs of me doing gigs,” he said. “It’s kind of a bit ‘Groundhog Day’ in terms of exciting things.”) That led to a trip to Cummins Prison Farm in Arkansas, which was significant because “in 1934 John Lomax, assisted by Lead Belly, who was kind of working as a roadie for him at the time, first recorded the song ‘Rock Island Line.’ In the context of that, we saw a lot trains.”

The musician was amazed to see trains stop at American stations for 20 minutes because he was used to the way Britain’s trains paused for only a fraction of that time. I “played a couple of songs in the waiting room for people,” he said. “The acoustics in the waiting room were really great, and I kinda thought, ‘You know, if the train stops everywhere for 20 minutes, you would have time to go into the waiting room and perhaps record a song.’” He reached out to his longtime pal Joe Henry — who produced Bragg’s 2013 album “Tooth & Nail” — and explained his idea.

“He’s been a friend of mine for close to 30 years, and I was a great admirer of him as an artist before that,” Henry said in a separate interview. “I’m always inclined to be interested in whatever he’s doing. And, of course, I said yes immediately even before I knew exactly what he was proposing, just because I’m so intrigued by the process. Because it sounded like certainly not a nostalgic project, but something very much driven by real-time engagement, which is certainly what I’m after.”

Henry and Bragg settled on an Amtrak train route that went from Chicago to Los Angeles by taking a path south through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona; it also went west along the U.S.-Mexico border. “We chose that route because it was the longest, so that gave us more opportunities to record, but also because it went right into the heartland of America, which I think is very important that the railroad does that,” Bragg said. “And the second leg follows the border where Donald Trump was talking about building a wall. That was all just happening around the time we were getting the train. That was a stark contrast to travel along through Texas, through New Mexico, Arizona and into California.”

Bragg was also floored by the different purpose of American trains, in the sense that they’re not used for passenger travel quite as much as they are elsewhere. “The paradox is the United States of America puts more freight on rail than any other industrialized nation,” he said. “So it’s not as if the railroads don’t work. They are an absolute crucial part of the distribution of freight in your country. But passengers — forget it.

“It’s not like they’re forgotten and rundown and nobody cares about them any more,” Bragg said. They “are absolutely crucial parts of the American economy.”

Bragg and Henry spoke with Salon about how “Shine A Light” coalesced, what they learned about America from taking the journey and why trains continue to resonate so strongly today.

There’s always been something very romantic about a train. There is that kind of that loneliness, and there’s something about hopping on and traveling on it. It is such an interesting, different method of transportation.

Billy Bragg: It is the romantic things. I’m speaking as a foreigner, but I think in the American imagination, the railroad is probably second to the idea of the West. You know, it has that idea of possibility in it. The idea of the old West and the old railroad — all these songs where the railroad is the thing that brings change.

The interesting thing also is that the railroad probably was the most transformative technology that humans ever invented. I mean, in your country, it simply wasn’t possible to build a city anywhere other than on a river or the coast before the railroad came. You just couldn’t get the fabric of a city into the interior. So railroads changed all that. And the connectivity of the internet is nothing compared to the material connectivity the railroads brought to people.

In my country, if you took someone from the medieval period and dropped ’em into the year 1800, things wouldn’t really look that different to them. People would still be traveling on horses and on boats. Buildings would have been larger scale. You’d be able to drink coffee and tea, which you wouldn’t have before. But fundamentally, you wouldn’t really be that freaked out. Shakespeare, if he turned up in 1800, would’ve been able to deal with it easily, I think.

You take Shakespeare to 1900, he’d have probably been … [Laughs.] It would’ve done his head in. And it’s [the] change that the railroads brought, both to my country and to your country, [that’s] why they still have that huge cultural pull to them.

You know, the arrival of the automobile and the airplane only really harnesses the changes that the railroad wrought initially. The idea that you don’t have to just buy stuff from within a 20-mile radius of where you were born; [it would become common that] you can buy things from 200 miles away from another continent because the train comes every day and bring stuff. That was a huge psychological and emotional leap. That explains why there are so many train songs, because they were so massive in people’s lives.

When you were on your big journey, what insights did you glean about the U.S. that you hadn’t noticed or observed before?

Joe Henry: I suppose a number of things — just how much of our country exists outside of the banner of major cities. We so tend to abbreviate our national experience by thinking in terms of major cities. I live in Los Angeles; I used to live in New York City; my son lives in New York City. We think of ourselves in relation to these grand, communal experiences — and experiments, in fact, as every city is, in a way.

You travel by train [and] you realize just how much of the country exists and imagines its own identity completely separate and out and far away from the cities that give most of us a sense of place. When you’re on a train, you’re skirting through the outskirts of of very small towns.

When the train slows or stops to let a freight train pass — because a freight train has priority in this country over passenger travel — you’re right in somebody’s backyard. You’re snapped right back into recognizing how much living actually happens outside of the parameters of city identity. And not that I hadn’t known that before, but it was shocking to be reawakened to it in my conscious mind.

And that there are moments along the rail there where you look out the window and you think, “This image I’m seeing could be any time in the last one hundred years, and nothing would have to change. I could take this photograph and put it in black and white, and I wouldn’t know whether it was [taken] now or it was 50 years ago, or 90 years ago.” How much of our country does not evolve in the same impatient, rapid scale as those of us who push and pull in major cities daily.

That’s a really powerful realization, how timeless some of these things are and how little some things do change.

Henry: It’s both daunting and affirming to be reminded about how many things really do not change. And we think of ourselves as fairly evolved but evolving so rapidly just because we have made technological advances. We can often forget how much we have in common with ourselves, our ancestry 100 years ago. Even though they’ve been sort of articulated and satisfied in different technological ways, but our desires and our sense of priority is not that different than it was.

It’s important to note that. We think we’ve left our past behind, and we get in trouble when we don’t realize how much of it we carry with us. As Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Bragg: For someone like myself, who’s been traveling in America since 1984, there’s an America that I’m familiar with. One is, you know, the airports and looking at it from 8 miles high, and then the other one is coming into town off of the freeway and going to a hotel and going to a gig. Me, personally, I don’t often get to see in people’s backyards, looking into their back kitchen windows, but that’s where the train tracks are.

And because trains in America tend to travel a little slower, the train would stop at the edge of a town somewhere. And you’d be looking into a trailer park or that weird part of a town where the town’s kind of petering out — you know, with just a few houses and some broken cars and maybe some kids playing. And that part of America I’ve never really seen, so that was an insight there. But also once we got to San Antonio and turned west, there was a contrast between Texas and Mexico [that] was stark.

Henry: You leave El Paso [and] you go through the desert, to Tucson, Arizona, then down to Los Angeles. As we were pulling out of El Paso, it was probably about two in the afternoon. I was standing between cars, where there was a door and window to either side of me, and I was facing forward, and the direction of the train was traveling west. And we were skirting right along the American-Mexican border, and I looked out the right window, and there was the sprawl of contemporary El Paso suburbia. I looked out the left side of the window, and just as close was Juarez, Mexico, and it looked like it was about the middle 1800s, from our vantage point.

And you’re snapped right back into the reality that we as human beings impose these distinctions upon ourselves as them and us. We tend to think that even if we went up into the space, we would look down and we would see that the hand or whatever creator has drawn a line between United States and Mexico, as if that’s a natural border between our actual humanities, as opposed to, you know, a national conceit.

But look how different life is when we’ve decided to imagine that at this particular line, life is different or has a different currency and a different value to the left of me and to the right of me. That’s all decisions. And we are reminded how much of our interactions — some of them beautiful, many of them horrific — between nations are creations. We create these distinctions, and then invest ourselves deeply in pretending that they are not creations but natural wonders.

It was heart-stopping. I knew that that psychically this division existed and there was a completely different character to the lives being led. But the fact that I could witness it just by the swivel of my head to either side — and have it be so vividly remarkable. . . . You couldn’t miss it. It was a 150 years’ difference between the two images I was seeing.

How did your experience as you were soaking up everything really influence your musical performances?

Henry: The best way it influenced us was to encourage us — and this was about the process. Had we gone into a recording studio, you’re in that mind of being focused on recording and how well this recording represents me as an artist, for instance. You can’t get away with that thought when you’re in that environment.

But because we were being directed by the process, because we had a very limited amount of time and we were beholden to circumstances that were changing all the time, the beauty is that you get liberated from thinking about how these songs represent you as an artist, and you think instead about how as an artist you might just wholly disappear into these songs.

It wasn’t about, “How good do I sound?” or “How close is our harmony singing at this moment?” We made a decision to approach these recordings as two people sitting around feeding logs into a fire just to put sparks into the air and thought very little about performance beyond just the idea that does this feel like a living thing when where we hear it back? Not how does it make me sound? But does it sound alive? It’s incredibly liberating to let go of the other, let me tell you.

Bragg: The places where we recorded were the places where the train stopped for 20 or 30 minutes to change a crew. On a 65-hour journey, you know, there’s a couple crew changes. And most of the people in the station by the train were concentrating on getting off or getting on the train. It wasn’t such a big deal that there were a couple of guys with guitars. I mean it’s similar in the U.K.: Guys with guitars in railway stations is not a weird thing. People busk in all sorts of different places. So that didn’t get much attention.

The fact that we were recording — our sound engineer got a bit of attention. But there were, there were two guys filming on small, hand-held digital cameras; that didn’t really get [attention]. The people on the train with us were interested, because obviously we had to talk to the conductor and say, “Look, we’re not getting off here; we’re just getting off to record. We want to get back on. Will you please not leave without us?” We had to keep in visual contact with the train so we didn’t miss the “all aboard.”

But the fact that we were only going to be there for a short time was a huge discipline to us. To be ready when we arrived, everybody be ready to do their thing, and to get the takes one, two, three, if we can get them and get back on the train and worry about what we got afterwards. Not to be too precious. And I kinda liked that aspect.

I mean, Joe is really good at that: He’s a record producer. He’s worked in some fabulous studios, but he also is someone who has made an album in which he left the doors of his studio open and the windows to get the ambient noise of his neighborhood between takes. So I knew he wouldn’t be fussed by the sound the trains make going by and announcements being made while we were singing or anything like that.

I love that aspect of the record. That really adds the ambience of the songs. It’s very subtle, but it really does make a difference.

Bragg: We didn’t want to make a railroad album — you know, singing songs about [the] railroad in a studio somewhere. We wanted to make an album that was not about the railroad, but is actually of the railroad, that actually took you on the journey with us. We actually did use four mics. Joe and I had a mic on our voices and guitars, and then we had two other mics at 90 degrees to our mics so we’re picking up ambient sounds.

Sometimes that was people; sometimes it was engines; some of it was door slamming in Chicago. Also there were birds in Texas, grackles. The dawn chorus at the very end in Los Angeles. We woke up the birds from the dawn chorus. There’s a plaza next to the railway station — it may be part of the railway station there — and we found a quiet spot to sing. At five o’ clock in the morning, we woke up the dawn chorus. Every environment was different [and] represented a different challenge to find a spot and to deliver the songs that we wanted to deliver.

Were there any particular challenges recording these?

Bragg: The only real challenges would have been if [someone] had come out and [said], “What are you doing? You can’t do that here.” I mean, that only happened in Fort Worth. The Fort Worth Amtrak station is very modern. It’s been built in the last 10 years, and it doubles up as a bus station. Consequently, there’s security guards wandering ’round, and they didn’t like us. We had to move back out of their sight, back by the railway, by the other side of the train to play. But other than that, people were, were very, very accepting.

Really the real challenge was, was finding somewhere relatively quiet and delivering the songs in the time that we had and keeping an eye on the train, not missing the train. It would have been unfortunate if we had to spend the last night on the train picking out the songs that we hadn’t managed to record. As it was, we managed to get ’em all the way as and where we wanted to.

How much research and planning went into the song selection, in terms of playing different songs at certain stations? It was obviously very deliberate.

Bragg:  Joe has a great knowledge of American roots music. I have been working on this book about skiffle, and that brought me to a lot of these recordings, a lot of Lead Belly’s early recordings, Woody Guthrie’s recordings, Hank Williams, the Carter Family. People love the railroad. People just love it, so there are enthusiasts out there. You can buy railroad albums online quite cheaply because so many of the songs were recorded over 70 years ago. They’re all out of copyright, so you can pick up railroad songs cheap as chips.

That’s the source of many of these songs. But we did particularly want to choose songs that we felt fit particular aspects of what we were trying to do. Obviously, Lead Belly was a huge influence. Jimmie Rodgers, who himself worked on the railroad, the singing brake man. The Carter Family’s “Railroading on the Great Divide.” We were crossing the Great Divide as we went along between El Paso and Tucson. So there was that aspect as well. But really it made me realize that there are so many train songs out there, and they talk about so many different aspects of a human condition. For me, that’s the real interest about railroad songs.

Car songs tend to be about being in cars. Airplane songs tend to be about, you know, going on a flight, whereas in railroad songs, the train is often is a metaphor. It’s not even physically in the song. If you think of a song like “Folsom Prison [Blues]” by Johnny Cash, that’s actually a railroad song because it’s the train making him feel so bereft of his freedom. It’s the whistle on the train; it’s the image of the people drinking coffee and smoking big cigars that’s killing him. The railroad played such a big role in the lives of ordinary Americans in the period up until the end of the second World War, when you began building the interstate network and the focus changed onto individualism and cars.

Before that the train was a universal experience, so when people wrote about traveling on the train, everybody had some emotional investment in that idea. The notion of the lonesome whistle is so evocative, even for someone like myself from England. You never hear anybody talking about a lonesome car alarm, do you, playing in a distance or anything like that? It just doesn’t have that same emotional weight with it.

Also there was the aspect of what we could sing together and what sounded good. [Laughs.] There was a lot of that, too.

Henry: I wouldn’t have been the least bit interested in this had it been pitched as a nostalgic project: “Let’s go into a studio and record songs that say how much we love trains.” I mean, everybody loves the romantic notion of train travel in this country. It’s really part of our national DNA. But the whole trick was, you know, how do we invite ourselves — and anybody else who might come to this table — to hear these songs as contemporary language, as living vocabulary that still has something to say to us about who we are and why we are?

What really strikes me is how much of the album was an endeavor to figure out how these classic, older songs resonated now, how do they fit in the modern railroad system and what you guys see.

Henry: I think a project like this would have almost had to come from a foreigner, someone looking into this country with an aerial view of our mythology, our evolution and our sense of national identity. For a lot of us, even if we love and respect not only the railroad as a technology — and a transfiguring one — but as part of our cultural vocabulary, many of us love that history and and revere it. But it’s lost on us that it’s still a working element in our daily lives.

It’s so easy for us to place the railroad and its significance and influence into antiquity. And part of what Billy is fascinated about — and I join him there — is waking ourselves up and anybody willing to listen to the fact that not only is the road still an active part of our lives  and stands to be more so if we would seize the opportunity. But it’s a really significant part of our heritage and the way that we understand ourselves and how we relate to each other. I think we need to be awake to that.

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Congress overrides Obama veto for first time, letting 9/11 victims’ families sue Saudi Arabia

Obama concludes a meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the G20 summit at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey

President Obama concludes a meeting with Saudi King Salman at the G20 summit at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey on November 15, 2015 (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

WASHINGTON — Congress voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to allow families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged backing of the attackers, handing Barack Obama the first veto override of his presidency.

Both the House and Senate voted decisively to reverse Obama’s decision to scuttle the legislation. Democrats in both chambers abandoned the president in large numbers despite warnings from Obama and top national security officials that flaws in the bill could put US interests, troops, and intelligence personnel at risk.

The Senate vote was 97-1. The House vote a few hours later was 348-77.

Lawmakers said their priority was the 9/11 victims and their families, not Saudi Arabia.

‘‘The White House and the executive branch (are) far more interested in diplomatic considerations,’’ said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and a sponsor of the bill. ‘‘We’re more interested in the families and in justice.’’

Speaking at a forum in Washington, CIA Director John Brennan said he was concerned about how Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the Middle East, would interpret the bill. He said the Saudis provide significant amounts of information to the United States to help foil extremist plots.

‘‘It would an absolute shame if this legislation, in any way, influenced the Saudi willingness to continue to be among our best counterterrorism partners,’’ Brennan said.

Brennan, who said he visited lawmakers Wednesday to argue against an override of Obama’s veto, noted that there is a tremendous amount of Saudi investment in the United States. ‘‘Do they want to leave them here so they could potentially be attached by some type of court ruling that is going to award the litigants?’’ he asked.

After senators acted, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the vote the ‘‘single most embarrassing thing’’ the Senate has done in decades and ‘‘an abdication’’ of its responsibility. He accused members of the Senate Judiciary Committee of not understanding the legislation and its impact on the military.

Five weeks before state and national elections, lawmakers refused to oppose a measure strongly supported by 9/11 families who say they are still seeking justice 15 years after attackers killed nearly 3,000 people. Saudi Arabia is staunchly opposed to the measure.

Despite reversing Obama’s decision, a group of senators acknowledged that defects in the bill could open a legal Pandora’s box, triggering lawsuits from people in other countries seeking redress for injuries or deaths caused by military actions in which the United States may have had a role.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Obama said the bill would erode sovereign immunity principles that prevent foreign litigants ‘‘from second-guessing our counterterrorism operations and other actions that we take every day.’’

Reid was the lone senator to side with the president.

But proponents of the bill dismissed Obama’s concerns as unpersuasive. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, and other supporters said the bill is narrowly tailored and applies only to acts of terrorism that occur on US soil.

‘‘This bill is about respecting the voices and rights of American victims,’’ Cornyn said.

Families of the victims and their attorneys dismissed concerns over the legislation as fear-mongering.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, one of the Democrats who broke with Obama and voted to override, said, ‘‘The risks of shielding the perpetrators of terrorism from justice are greater than the risks this legislation may pose to America’s presence around the world.’’

The legislation gives victims’ families the right to sue in US court for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis. Courts would be permitted to waive a claim of foreign sovereign immunity when an act of terrorism occurred inside US borders, according to the terms of the bill.

A group of national-security minded legislators pledged to discuss how to repair problem areas during the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress. But the fact that legislation could pass both chambers of Congress without closer scrutiny left at least a few senators chiding themselves for not examining its ramifications more closely.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act moved to the floor of the Senate in May and was passed by voice vote. The bill cleared the House earlier this month, also by voice vote.

‘‘We didn’t pay much attention to this,’’ said Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. ‘‘And boy is that ever a lesson learned.’’

Obama vetoed the measure last week, telling lawmakers the bill would make the country vulnerable to retaliatory litigation.

In his letter to Reid, the president said other countries could attempt to use law to justify similar immunity exceptions to target US policies and activities that they oppose.

In a separate letter sent Monday to a senior House member, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter described the potential for foreign litigants to seek classified intelligence data and analysis and sensitive operational information to establish their cases in what could be an ‘‘intrusive discovery process.’’

Missing the vote were Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia.

Of the Massachusetts delegation, both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and Representatives Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, Joseph Kennedy III, William Keating, Stephen Lynch, Richard Neal, and Niki Tsongas backed the override of Obama’s veto. James McGovern and Seth Moulton voted to uphold the veto.

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A memo from hell: Donald Trump says I live there, along with every other black and brown American — but here’s the true hell he’ll never understand

Donald Trump

(Credit: Getty/Jewel Samad/Shutterstock/Salon)

I was one of the millions of people who tuned in to the highly anticipated presidential debate on Monday night — and according to Donald Trump, I live in hell, right next door to the Hispanics. A place where any and every person of color will be shot or will shoot someone.

Trump’s black and Hispanic hell is a dirty, trashy, rat-infested neighborhood full of barefoot, unemployed dark-skinned people who are all high off crack and strapped with state-of-the-art automatic weapons. These are very dark places­ — the darkest of the dark. Sunny days don’t exist. Now, there may be fresh watermelon in Trump’s hell, but there are no schools, no churches, no scholars, no grandmas, no block parties, no cookouts, no dessert, no family structure, no success, no love, no hope.

He’d probably say, “These places are worthless, the best at being worthless! And only I can fix them!” But, of course, he has no real plan. Trump’s black and Latino hell has a 100 percent unemployment rate. Everyone is on welfare and a social fabric or mobility don’t exist. Murder defines the state of these African-American and Hispanic hells: Every community of color is the worst neighborhood in Chicago, a “war zone,” as he called it.

We don’t read books, do yoga or eat salads in Trump’s black and Hispanic hell. Hard work is a myth. These people are lazy and incapable of being educated, innovative or inspiring. Their only talents are frying chicken, rolling burritos and making babies whose lives are financed by the taxes he doesn’t pay.

We never started, ran or owned Fortune 500 companies, like Reginald Lewis. Or ran major sports franchises, like Magic Johnson or Bob Johnson. We contributed nothing to art, like Jacob Lawrence or Romare Bearden. Misty Copeland was never born. Charles R. Drew or Vivien Thomas didn’t advance science or medicine. We set zero trends and are not a part of American history or culture because all of us are too busy living in hell.

Contrary to what many people like Trump believe, all black and Latino people don’t live in hell and a few bad news stories can’t define a whole race. Talk to some Morehouse College students about random drive-bys, walk through the offices of Def Jam and 300 Entertainment and ask about welfare handouts, and then finish your trip with the suburban African-Americans of Maryland’s Prince George’s County, where the median-family income is roughly $85,000 a year. Maybe they’ll take you to Crate & Barrel.

Trump’s stereotypical black and Latino hell is a world that only exists to people like Trump — and that’s the real hell we’re living in. That’s the hell that Donald doesn’t understand. A place where African-Americans are nothing more than a political idea. A group to be tossed around during election time. An irrelevant box on a Republican political checklist, next to restricting a woman’s right to choose, denying global warming, cutting taxes for the rich and justifying the death penalty. That’s the hell we live in.

Regardless of what African-Americans accomplish in this country, people like Trump and his brain-dead supporters always try to reduce us to gang-banging stereotypes — like Ronald Reagan, who coined the insulting term “welfare queens” for African-American women, when there were (and are) more white people on welfare.

Trump is so profoundly disrespectful and so deeply out of touch that he thinks his hateful synopsis of the entire black community and his stupid church visits will win him African-American support. His comments, his rallies, his staff and his overall pattern of actions clearly shows the level of respect he has for African-American and Hispanic voters — reasons why he’ll never receive anything but the racist vote, which is exactly what he deserves. Because the hardworking black and brown people I know would choose burning in hell over voting for Donald Trump.

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#TrumpWon is bogus: A reminder that online polls are mostly meaningless

Donald Trump

(Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Trump won.

That was the number-one trending topic on Twitter this morning following last night’s presidential debate, in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off for the first time at Hofstra University. The 90-minute discussion was the first of three contests between the CEO and former First Lady, one in which the candidates sparred over national security, NAFTA and Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Online polls suggest that Trump claimed a decisive victory over his Democratic rival. Nearly every single survey shows that the billionaire businessman not only beat Clinton, but destroyed her. Trump overwhelmingly came out on top in polls conducted by a vast litany of outlets — including the Time, NBC, The Right Scoop, CNBC, Wired, Buffalo News, ABC, Las Vegas Sun, The Telegraph, Fortune, Roanoke Times, and CBS New York. It’s shockingly difficult to find a single online survey in which Clinton, who went into the debate in a virtual tie with Trump, emerges the winner.

That may be surprising to anyone who was actually watching the play-by-play last night. Trump, clearly unprepared, gave a series of increasingly rambling responses when Clinton provoked him about his climate change denialism, habit of stiffing contractors, and history of sexist attacks on women, including referring to the 1996 Miss Universe as “Miss Piggy.” “Donald, she has a name,” Clinton said, in a moment of defiant outrage. “Her name is Alicia Machado.”

Following the debate, political commentators struggled to make sense of his bizarre performance. Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” called the debate, in which Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times, “a very surreal event.” Both Salon’s Heather Digby Patton and the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman called it the worst showing in debate history — with Fineman remarking that Trump was “incoherent… reeling from blow after blow.” Even Fox News — whose former CEO, Roger Ailes, is serving as an unofficial advisor on the Trump campaign — thought Clinton won. Fox’s Douglas Schoen and William Whalen agreed that she was more presidential and simply better prepared.

“The debate, taken in its entirety, demonstrates how much preparation really matters,” Schoen wrote. “[Clinton] was ready for all of his quips with a litany of detail that may have bored the viewer at points, but showed why she is winning on qualifications, experience and temperament in every poll.”

The CNN/ORC poll appeared to confirm those assessments, handing Clinton a landslide victory. The esteemed survey found that 62 percent of likely voters who tuned into Monday’s debate thought that the Democratic nominee boasted the stronger showing, as opposed to the 27 percent who favored Trump. A separate focus group from CNN indicated an even larger margin of victory for Clinton. Comprised of voters in the crucial swing state of Florida, 18 members of the group thought Clinton won the debate. Just two watchers believed that her Republican challenger performed better.

If the media reported that Clinton destroyed her opponent, while Internet polls suggest Trump triumphed by equal margins, what gives?

The answer is right on the box. The Time poll warns users that the survey is strictly unscientific, relying on those who actually click the button rather than a representative cross-sample of the American public, as is employed in Gallup and Pew surveys. As the website writes, Internet surveys “are not predictive of how the debate outcome will affect the election.” Instead, these attempts at reading the tea leaves “are a measure, however imprecise, of which candidates have the most energized online supporters, or most social media savvy fan base.”

In truth, online polls mean almost nothing. On the Time poll, there’s nothing stopping you from voting multiple times on different browsers. I was able to vote for Clinton three times — once on Google Chrome, another time on Safari, and yet a third time on Firefox. If I were truly passionate about my vote, I could also use my cell phone, iPad, or Kindle to add another tally behind the former Senator’s name. It was easy to do the exact same thing on the Drudge Report, Fox San Diego, Breitbart, The Hill, Shelby Star, and surveys, all of which went handily for Mr. Trump.

To help solve the problem and make these surveys more accurate, pollsters should block users from the same IP address — the numerical code assigned to your computer by its network—from voting more than once. It’s a no brainer.

Even that, however, may prove a fruitless task. On Trump’s subreddit, Reddit users have been sharing links to online polls in a master thread, encouraging each other to go stack the deck in the CEO’s favor. “Get voting,” one user writes. “Let’s correct our record.” Nearly every single one of the surveys mentioned above is cited, allowing Trump’s followers to effectively troll the polls. Unless one were to dismantle social media, there’s no way to ensure that these surveys—no matter how numerous they are — accurately reflect the feelings of the mass public.

Although you may take online polls with a grain of salt, Trump does not. The Republican nominee, has been trumpeting these faulty indexes on his Twitter account as a sign that, despite the poor reviews, he actually did win last night’s historically abysmal debate after all. It must be true. Twitter says so! At 11:47 am, Trump tweeted a screenshot of the Time, Fortune, and CNBC surveys. “Such a great honor,” he wrote. “Final debate polls are in — and the movement wins!”

The only way that statement could be less accurate is if online pollsters were allowing dead people to vote, too.

Throughout the campaign, the businessman has used his trumped-up polls as an indication of his continued lead over his opponents. It has proven enormously effective at drumming up support for Trump’s candidacy, helping to legitimize him to the voting public. Although pundits suggested that effective attacks on the CEO helped Marco Rubio win the CNN-Telemundo debate on Feb. 25, the Florida Senator never gained ground in the polls. In Trump’s case, the appearance of success begets more success. Given that the race is getting down to the wire, allowing him to continue inflating his numbers could have a dangerous impact on the election.

If you need a final word on last night’s debates, check out a focus group from Frank Luntz. Although Trump supporters have been using the discrepancy in gulf between the CNN and online surveys to cry media bias, Luntz is hardly a shill for the Democratic Party. The respected Republican pollster worked for President Bill Clinton’s bitterest foes throughout the ‘90s, including Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich.

During last night’s debates, Luntz surveyed undecided voters in Pennsylvania, one of the most pivotal swing states in the 2016 election. By a margin of 16 to 6, the focus group went for Clinton. She won points on everything from her temperament to handling of difficult questions — including U.S. race relations and Trump’s continued interrogation of Obama’s birth records. Trump, however, scored poorly on his response to why he won’t release his tax returns and his comments on the “small loan” he received from his wealthy father, which actually amounted to $14 million.

Calling her victory “bigger… than almost any debate I’ve done in a long time.” Luntz concluded: “This is a good night for Hillary Clinton. It is not a good night for Donald Trump.”

That may be true, but on the Internet, the truth is whatever you want it to be.

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Inside the GOP’s playhouse: Behold, the most important place in all of Republicandom

The Beltway Bible

The following is adapted from “The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide to Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing and Sometimes Hilarious Government,” published on September 27 by St. Martin’s Griffin.

When we think of the modern Republican party, a handful of locales tend to flicker into our minds: George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch, the main stage at CPAC, Kennebunkport, Dick Cheney’s undisclosed bunker and Scott Brown’s finished basement where he’s been studiously building the world’s largest beeramid for several decades.

OK, maybe not that last one, but we often overlook what is arguably the right’s most important gathering place: the Capitol Hill Club. The Capitol Hill Club — a posh, Republican-only establishment one block from the Capitol — is where your most cynical prejudices about Washington come true. For decades, it has served as a retreat for GOP lawmakers, lobbyists, businessmen, and fellow travelers seeking to escape the media’s glare and the daily grind of legislating. It’s no mistake that the Capitol Hill Club sits right next door to the Republican National Committee. This place is where thousands of awful Hollywood treatments of Washington are born . . .

Scene opens on a luxurious restaurant filled with well-besuited men and elegant women. The sound of a string quartet is heard above the din of hushed conversations and clinking silverware. Servers in starched shirts and black vests scurry to and fro. Cut to two men seated at a table in the corner.

LOBBYIST: Well, Congressman, do we have a deal? [Lobbyist places metallic briefcase on table and opens it with two audible clicks. The briefcase is filled with money.]

CONGRESSMAN: [Lifts wine glass.] Sir, you have yourself a golf course!

LOBBYIST: [Lifts wine glass.] I guess the rare-spotted heron will have to find a new home!


[A server appears, pushing a cart with an ornate silver cloche atop it. He removes the cloche to reveal a steaming rare spotted heron with an apple in its mouth.]

CONGRESSMAN: Excellent! Dinner is served!

OK, it’s not that bad, but it’s not that much of a stretch, either. In his excellent 2008 dispatch from the club in Harper’s, Ken Silverstein described being approached by a decidedly relaxed John Boehner, who proceeded to tell the author’s companion about meetings he had held with officials from the Kazakh government.

Truly, few locales in the political world serve so many disparate factions of the GOP the way the Capitol Hill Club does. When rapprochement was sought between Donald Trump and congressional Republicans wary of his populist bluster, a meeting was held at the Capitol Hill Club. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address to Congress over the objection of the White House, Lindsey Graham whisked casino magnate and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who had attended the speech, to the Capitol Hill Club for a fundraiser benefitting his short-lived presidential campaign.

Indeed, the Capitol Hill Club is also one of the most popular spots for hosting fundraisers, both for lawmakers and candidates who pilgrimage to Washington. Its calendar is filled with shindigs like “Happy Hour for Congressman Steve Scalise,” “Beer and Popcorn End-of-Quarter Happy Hour in Support of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick,” and “Oil and Gas Industry Breakfast with Congressman Lee Terry.”

The Club also plays host to a number of community events each month, like screenings of major sporting events, wine tastings, holiday parties, dances, and pumpkin-carving contests. Particular favorites were, “Single-Malt Scotch Class: A Tasting” and “The New Lobbying and Ethics Law: Know Enough NOT to Be Dangerous.”

Club boosters can purchase Capitol Hill Club-branded merchandise, like Capitol Hill Club mouse pads, Capitol Hill Club baby clothes (“ONESIES for Future Members!”), and Capitol Hill Club golf polos. Also for sale are luxury items like a Capitol Hill Club broad clutch and a Capitol Hill Club silk scarf, which is advertised as being made in France (one would assume that it would be rebranded a “freedom muffler,” but alas).

The Club was founded in 1950 by New Jersey congressman James C. Auchincloss who, along with a hundred other members, opened the first clubhouse in 1951, several blocks away from its current location. The club relocated once before settling on its current location at 300 First Street SE. Members with questions about appropriate club behavior are advised to consult the Club’s rules, a sample of which is listed below (really):

RULE: “IV. Employees shall not be sent out of the Club on private business.”

TRANSLATION: Like your interns, the staff is young, frightened, and dressed in cheap button-down shirts, but it doesn’t mean they’ll fetch your laundry.

RULE: “No gratuity of any kind shall be given to an employee by any member or guest.”

TRANSLATION: “Listen”— [looks at name tag]— “Jose. I graduated HBS and made it to senior vice president at Caldwell and Griswold Capital Management without getting tipped once. Suck it up.”

RULE: “No member shall carry on or transact any business or indulge in the practice of any profession in the Club at any time.”

TRANSLATION: “Just kidding, totally ignore this rule.”

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QUIZ: Which presidential candidate said it?

Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan

ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, SEPT. 5 AND THEREAFTER -FILE – In this Oct. 28, 1980 file photo, President Jimmy Carter shakes hands with Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan after debating in the Cleveland Music Hall in Cleveland. The fall debates are always a big part of any presidential campaign. But with many 2016 voters underwhelmed by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, this year’s debates could well be more influential than usual. In 1980, a cheerful Reagan shone in his debate against Carter, scolding him with a gentle “There you go again,” and posing a pointed closing question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” (AP Photo/Madeline Drexler, File) (Credit: AP)


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On climate change, Mike Pence suddenly veers left of Trump and the GOP

Mike Pence

Mike Pence (Credit: Getty/Mark Ralston)

Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, appear to be taking opposing stances on the nature of climate change.

“Well, look, there’s no question that the activities that take place in this country and in countries around the world have some impact on the environment and some impact on climate,” Pence told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

In Monday night’s presidential debate, Hillary Clinton criticized her Republican rival’s repeated claims that climate change is a hoax “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Pence’s acknowledgement of human contribution to climate change is not only at odds with his running mate, but contradicts statements he’s made in the past.

In 2001, Pence wrote an essay entitled “Global Warming Disaster” on his congressional campaign website. The first paragraph reads, “Global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster. There, I said it.”

On its website, Organizing for Action — a nonprofit closely tied to President Obama and the Democratic Party — declares Pence a “climate change denier,” citing an MSNBC interview in which he argues that global warming isn’t “a resolved issue in science today …. Just a few years ago we were talking about global warming. We haven’t seen a lot of warming lately. I remember back in the ’70s we were talking about the coming ice age.”

A recent poll by Yale and George Mason universities found that 47 percent of conservative voters recognize the existence of climate change, a 19-point increase from the midterm elections of 2014. The poll didn’t ask whether or not respondents believed climate change is caused by humans.

Despite conservative voters’ shifting stance on the matter, the Republican National Convention passed a platform in July that, according to Scientific American, “doesn’t explicitly question the science behind climate change … [and] calls for reduced funding for renewable energy.”

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