Sunday Morning Excellent Read / Open Thread: JOY!

Many of you will have seen this already, but I agree it’s worth sharing. Laura M. Holson, at the New York Times:

In the Trump era, Ms. Reid, the daughter of immigrants, has emerged as a heroine of the resistance to his leadership. And her forceful questioning style, matching that on conservative outlets like Fox, has resonated with MSNBC’s viewers. She is popular on social media with fans who fondly call themselves #reiders. Her morning show on Saturday averages nearly 1 million weekly viewers and, for the last four months, she has bested MSNBC’s competitor CNN, according to Nielsen, which tracks television ratings (granted, her competition then is general newsroom updates rather than another headline personality).

“Our prime directive is to constantly remind people that this is not normal and not to allow it to become mundane,” Ms. Reid said in a recent interview at MSNBC’s studios in Midtown Manhattan, referring to the architecture of the Trump presidency. Each week she makes sure to discuss the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “We feel like one of our duties is to keep that story top of mind because it’s fundamentally about whether we truly choose our own leaders,” she said.

Ms. Reid was born in Brooklyn and raised in Denver alongside two siblings mostly by their mother, a college professor and nutritionist from Guyana; their father left the family when she was a child for his native Democratic Republic of Congo. “He was a phone father,” Ms. Reid said. At 17, she was accepted to Harvard University, where she planned to study medicine.

But her mother died of breast cancer three weeks before school started. “I failed a bunch of classes,” Ms. Reid said. “I was just depressed.” She took a year off, returned to Brooklyn — staying with an aunt and working a temp job at Columbia Pictures — and then switched her major to documentary filmmaking.

“I was thinking Hollywood movies,” she said. “Come to find out Harvard doesn’t do that. So I had to study documentary.”

Ms. Reid had also always been captivated by politics. In the late 1990s she moved to Miami to write for a local television morning show. There, she became a fixture among South Florida lawmakers. She was involved in minority outreach for voter education and blogged. In 2005 she met James Thomas, a longtime disc jockey and radio veteran known as James T, who hired her to produce a talk radio show for listeners in the black community…

Ms. Reid got her television break in 2014 when she was hired by MSNBC to create a daily show called “The Reid Report.” It was short-lived, though, canceled the next year because of poor ratings (along with Ronan Farrow’s). “It was stressful because it was daily,” Ms. Reid said. “There was a lot more management eyes on us. And when it ended, you know, it was not fun. But it did enable me to do something I hadn’t done in my career, which was to actually be a field reporter.”…

In her class for Syracuse, which she teaches in Manhattan, Ms. Reid addresses the precarious definition of what the president calls “fake news,” and why it is a dangerous concept. “Now, something is ‘true’ because you like it,” she said. “If the information is displeasing to you or makes you uncomfortable, or is in opposition to your ideology, then it is ‘fake.’” She is concerned consumers of news will isolate themselves, believing only what makes them feel good. “That’s the problem,” she said…

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Apart from applauding our sheroes, what’s on the agenda for the day / week?



Saturday Morning Open Thread: Adventure Tourism in Glorious Wakanda!

The Spousal Unit and I intend to make one of our rare forays to see this in an actual movie theatre. Just not this weekend, cuz we’re old and not good with crowds. (And there will *be* crowds — quite possibly our local chains are already sold out.) Herewith some links to stuff about the movie that y’all might find interesting.

NO SPOILERS, okay?
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The first movie I remember seeing in a theater had a black hero. Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams, didn’t have any superpowers, but he ran his own city. That movie, the 1980 Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, introduced Calrissian as a complicated human being who still did the right thing. That’s one reason I grew up knowing I could be the same.

If you are reading this and you are white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often. Every day, the culture reflects not only you but nearly infinite versions of you—executives, poets, garbage collectors, soldiers, nurses and so on. The world shows you that your possibilities are boundless. Now, after a brief respite, you again have a President.

Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multi­faceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it…

Derek Robertson, at Politico, “How the Quietly Radical ‘Black Panther’ Took Over Hollywood”:

[I]f you’ve been on the internet at any point over the past 12 months, you’ve likely noticed the intensifying hype around that hero’s upcoming film, the 18th in Marvel Studios’ endless procession of world-beating blockbusters. With a nostalgist in the White House who seems to relish sticking his finger in the country’s open wound of racial grievance, it’s easy to understand why a big-budget, black-directed superhero film featuring an almost entirely black cast would be cause for celebration. But its appeal doesn’t lie solely in backlash. Black Panther may have never sold as many copies as Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk, but the series’ history and politics are as rich and unique as either, if not more so—and they explain how this moment helped poise a formerly second-string hero to shatter box-office records…

The cultural critic Mark Dery coined the term “Afrofuturism” in a 1993 essay, referring to the loosely defined common characteristics of black science fiction in art spanning from Sun Ra’s experimental jazz to the novels of Octavia Butler. Author and UCLA professor Tananarive Due recently described its unique function in the African diaspora as a “reimagining of race, racial constructs, history … and liberation themes, through what we call a speculative lens.” Black Panther, both the comic series and the film, falls squarely on this continuum, as has been noted in several features leading up to the movie’s release. Due, on a recent podcast appearance, discussed Afro-futurism’s galvanizing effect in providing representations of black “power, technological prowess, courage, family [and] community.”

The upcoming film is the most prominent example of the phenomenon thus far, directed and co-written by Fruitvale Station and Creed auteur Ryan Coogler with the full production and marketing strength of the Disney-industrial complex behind him. It pits the Panther, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, against Erik Killmonger (portrayed by frequent Coogler collaborator Michael B. Jordan), an American rival and mercenary who aims to usurp his throne and foment a global revolution…

Zack Linly, in the Washington Post:

The enthusiasm around “Black Panther” isn’t just about finally getting to see a mostly black action blockbuster, a milestone we should have been celebrating decades ago. It’s about being able to go to the movies without feeling like the future of black film is at stake.
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Exactly What Is Special Counselor Mueller Investigating?

This morning Cheryl did a post laying out what James Rosen thinks are the four tracks of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation:

THERE ARE FOUR important tracks to follow in the Trump-Russia story. First, we must determine whether there is credible evidence for the underlying premise that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win. Second, we must figure out whether Trump or people around him worked with the Russians to try to win the election. Next, we must scrutinize the evidence to understand whether Trump and his associates have sought to obstruct justice by impeding a federal investigation into whether Trump and Russia colluded. A fourth track concerns whether Republican leaders are now engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice through their intense and ongoing efforts to discredit Mueller’s probe.

Cheryl provided appropriate caveats regarding Risen, his past reporting, and the editorial bias of The Intercept where he is now employed. Quite simply Risen is wrong. He is wrong because he fundamentally misunderstands what is actually going on with the Special Counsel’s oversight of a dual track counterintelligence and criminal investigation. There are actually five parts to what Special Counsel Mueller and his team are investigating. They are:

1) Russian interference in the election. This includes the hacking and phishing, the troll farms and the bots.  The Russian deployed human and signals and electronic intelligence. Basically the active measures and cyberwarfare campaign to influence the American electorate in order to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected president and to ensure that Donald Trump was elected president. And, perhaps, suppressing enough of the vote by various means to ensure that the Democrats couldn’t flip the Senate and/or the House.

2) What, if any, connections exist between the Trump campaign, including surrogates, as well as other campaigns such as Jill Stein’s, and any other Americans and/or American organizations with the Russians to influence the American electorate in order to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected president and to ensure that Donald Trump was elected president. And, perhaps, suppressing enough of the vote by various means to ensure that the Democrats couldn’t flip the Senate and/or the House.

3) Whether the President and/or others conspired to and/or actually tried to cover up the second item above in order to frustrate both the counterintelligence and criminal investigations.

4) The financial crimes investigation into the President’s, his children’s, his son in law’s, his son in law’s family’s, and many of the President’s associate’s (Felix Sater and Michael Cohen for instance) businesses that have been uncovered as a result of the counterintelligence and criminal investigations.

5) Any other criminality that is subsequently discovered as a result of the investigation.

These five investigatory parts are divided between the counterintelligence and criminal tracks to the investigation. And in the case of much of the counterintelligence portions, the fine line that Special Counsel Mueller and his team are walking is how to build criminal cases out of the counterintelligence investigation. Basically, they have to come up with appropriate evidence that can be used for a criminal prosecution that does not compromise American, allied, and partner nation sources and methods. What Special Counsel Mueller knows as a result of having full access to and oversight of the counterintelligence investigation versus what he thinks he can prove in a court of law are things we all have to wait to find out.

Finally, it is amazing just how well this has held up.

Open thread!



Thursday Morning Open Thread: Heritage & Its Limits

Families tell each other stories to establish their place in the world — even if the story is “We’re just normal, we have no stories.” Because my own parents came from families that believed in putting the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’, they also cheerfully introduced us to the concept of the unreliable narrator about the time we were old enough to go off to school. And even so, the eventual unspooling would prove weirder than any fiction about Irish kingdoms and hidden murders (the real family skeleton would turn out to be a failed trans-Atlantic Romeo-and-Juliet story that didn’t emerge until after the deaths of both participants and their only offspring).

Obviously I’ve sympathized with Senator Warren’s “Pocahontas” problem; she trusted what her parents told her — what her parents, and their community, believed — but the rules about claiming Native American ancestry have pretty much been reversed over the last half-century. I still hope she’ll be my senator for a great many years to come, but it’s good that she’s done her best to clear the deck to campaign for other Democrats as we march towards 2018.

Per the Boston Globe:

Senator Elizabeth Warren made a surprise appearance at the National Congress of American Indians Wednesday, forcefully denouncing President Trump’s use of the name “Pocahontas” to deride her and defending her claims of Native American heritage more expansively than she has before.

The Massachusetts Democrat also made an impassioned pledge to advocate for issues of importance for Native Americans. The speech was a clear attempt to put to rest a sensitive issue that has been used by her enemies to attack her character and another signal of her potential 2020 presidential ambitions.

Warren did not apologize for her undocumented claims that her mother’s family had Cherokee blood — instead, reaffirming: “My mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.”

“The story they lived will always be a part of me,” she said, as tears came to her eyes. “And no one — not even the president of the United States — will ever take that part of me away.”

But she told the gathered tribal leaders from around the country that she drew a distinction between claiming native ancestry and claiming tribal membership. She repeatedly referred to Trump’s insensitivity, not only in calling her Pocahontas but in doing it last year during an event at the White House meant to honor Navajo code-talker veterans of World War II…

Warren — who has been criticized for not advocating more aggressively in the Senate for Native American issues, given her claims to ancestry — also appeared to assert greater common cause with Native Americans than she has in the past.

“For far too long, your story has been pushed aside, to be trotted out only in cartoons and commercials,” she said. “So I’m here today to make a promise: Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities.”…

Rebecca Nagle, the Cherokee activist who wrote the ThinkProgress column, said on Wednesday that the speech was a “giant step in the right direction.”

“It’s a historic moment for Indian country for a senator to make a speech like that,” Nagle said. “That’s exactly what she needed to do.”…

Mr. Charles P. Pierce adds:

Here’s a partial transcript, via The Boston Globe:

… In the fairy tale, Pocahontas saves John Smith from execution at the hands of her father. Except that was probably made up too. In the fable, her baptism as “Rebecca” and her marriage to a Jamestown settler are held up to show the moral righteousness of colonization. In reality, the fable is used to bleach away the stain of genocide. As you know, Pocahontas’s real journey was far more remarkable — and far darker — than the myth admits.

But in her teens, Pocahontas was abducted, imprisoned, and held captive. Oral history of the Mattaponi tribe indicates that she was ripped away from her first husband and child and raped in captivity. Eventually she married another John — John Rolfe. Her marriage led to an uneasy harmony between Jamestown and the tribes, a period that some historians call the Peace of Pocahontas. But she was not around to enjoy it. John Rolfe paraded her around London to entertain the British and prop up financial investments in the Virginia Company. She never made it home. She was about 21 when she died, an ocean separating her from her people. Indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas — the real Pocahontas — for four centuries. A story of heroism. And bravery. And pain. And, for almost as long, her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes.

In the Capitol, right there in the rotunda, there is John Gadsby Chapman’s a massive painting, The Baptism Of Pocahontas. It is a huge and beautiful lie that has been hanging there since 1840, all through the debates over treaties that never were worth the paper on which they were printed, all through the passage of military appropriations that paid for the genocide in the West. And now, Elizabeth Warren works in that same building and, on Wednesday, she tried in her own way to put paid to all of the lies and broken promises. She should not be alone.

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And then there was this *other* Warren-related story, which didn’t get nearly so much ink…



KULCHA! Open Thread: Those Are A Couple of Very Fine Portraits

Yeah, I know Betty beat me to it, but it’s the dead hour so I’m gonna indulge myself. As someone who spent many, many weekends during my childhood investigating all the best public-access museums in New York City, I really like the new Obama portraits. They are, IMO, good art. And they are also good political statements — if you think that art is ever “distinct” from politics, you have not read much art history.

Most presidential portraits, even the “famous” ones, have a strong whiff of Sears Portrait Studio with a sidebar of Thomas Kinkade. They are not meant to inform, or to be a ‘true’ likeness of the president portrayed; they are meant to imitate/immortalize whatever the current power structure’s idea of Respectable Leadership looks like. For our modern era, that’s meant White Guy in Suit At His Office, looking self-consciously charming or vaguely constipated, depending on the whims of the sitter and the artist.

Kehinde Wiley’s and Amy Sherald’s portraits are so much not that. But of course, President and Michelle Obama were so much not what a lot of people expected from “our” president, either. Like their subjects, both pictures are striking and intelligent and impossible to ignore. And color-ful (you should forgive me saying). I think Wiley’s painting will end up in the (admittedly specialized) pantheon with Gilbert Stuart’s Washington and Matthew Brady’s Lincoln.

Also, the reactions from both Obamas, very cool:


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Open Thread: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s “Anglo-American Heritage”


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We’re gonna have to turn Snopes.com into a public utility, at this rate:

On 12 February 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to the National Sheriff’s Association at their winter meeting, praising state and local law enforcement while advocating for reduced federal interference in their work. In remarks that diverged from the speech as presented on the Justice Department website, Sessions closed by invoking the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement”…

The prepared remarks from which Sessions strayed included an omitted reference to tribal law enforcement, and they did not mention the purported Anglo-American heritage of the Sheriff’s office:

I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement — federal, state, local, and tribal. I want to thank every sheriff in America.

Since our founding, the independently elected Sheriff has been seen as the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and amenable to the people. The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.

Critics have suggested that Session’s use of “Anglo-American” implies that law enforcement is inherently the purview of individuals of white European Christian decent — a perception helped along by the speech’s primary focus on the merits of removing so-called “illegal immigrants” to curb violent crime…



The Devolution Of A Superpower & The End Of The American Century Part II: Levantine Edition

Earlier today MSNBC’s Ali Velshi interviewed Ronen Bergman, the Senior National Security Correspondent for Yedioth Ahronot. Bergman book on Israel’s assassination program has just been published, but the interview never actually got to the book. Rather, it was all about the Israeli Vs Syrian and Iranian fighting over the weekend. The discussion was illuminating, alarming, and discouraging (click across to see the video as it won’t embed).

Bergman is reporting that Israel was preparing a full scale operation against the Syrian military, the Iranian Quds Force, and Hezbullah on Saturday in response to the drone incursion and the downing of the IAF F-16I. The operation was called off when Prime Minister Netanyahu got an angry phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin telling him to stand down as this operation would put Russian military assets and personnel in Syria at risk. Bergman’s conclusion is that the US has now ceded its role in the Middle East to Russia. And that Putin may not have the region’s well being, let alone stability in mind, as he pursues his own agenda. Bergman also reported that when the Israelis went to the US and asked for them to get involved the American responses were a combination of less than reassuring to non responsive. As a result the Israelis, specifically Netanyahu, have concluded that the US is now disinterested and not willing to be engaged at the national and regional strategic level. Therefore the Israelis will make their own determinations about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it without concern for what the US may or may not want.

Bergman’s reporting should be shocking. And not just to national security and foreign policy hawks. There is a legitimate discussion to be had about the US’s role in the world, or in specific regions of it, and how better to balance other states involvement in the 21st Century global system. Essentially a long overdue discussion about what the global system should be, how it should be organized, who should guarantee a basic level of security within it, and who should be the rule maker or rule makers, as the post World War II and post Cold War international orders break down and need to be replaced. These discussions require intelligence, forethought and foresight, nuance, reason, the ability to negotiate in good faith and communicate across cultures to balance competing interests. From long established powers like the US to emerging powers like China to smaller, but regionally significant powers.

What Bergman describes as happening in the Middle East, as well as in other parts of the world, is not this. Rather it is simply an abandonment, a discarding with little to no thought, let alone apparent planning, for what comes next. This is not a recipe for success. It is a recipe for failure. It is a recipe for upheaval, discord, and ultimately more war, more death, and more destruction. It is both the devolution and the dissolution of a superpower as that superpower, the US, abrogates and abandons the responsibilities it has assumed over the past 70 years and the end of the American Century. This is not the result of being eclipsed by the next, rising hegemon. It is not the result of natural disaster or economic collapse. It is solely the result of a President that has no clear strategy or policy beyond “I will be treated fairly or else”. This is the true Trump Doctrine: I will be treated fairly or else. And only I, President Trump, can ensure that America will be treated fairly or else. Unfortunately for the US, for its allies, its partners, for the people that depend on it, Russia, China, Iran, the DPRK, and a whole host of other state and non-state actors don’t really care if the President or the US is treated fairly. And increasingly they don’t seem to be worrying too much about the or else.

Open thread.