Monday, October 31, 2016

Election 2016: Early voting snapshot

SO MUCH ATTENTION’S been paid to Election Day proper — one week from Tuesday, November 8 — as the pivotal day for this election season (and don’t get me wrong it still very much is), it’s easy to overlook or forget the fact that, for millions of Americans, Election Day is in the rear-view mirror. An estimated 19 million Americans have voted so far in the election, according to the University of Florida’s United States Election Project. The AP, citing observer data, says that more than 46 million people are expected to vote before Nov. 8.

For them, it’s all over but juggling Doritos and the remote while watching the returns. And to go by one broad canvass of the national mood, it may all be over but the sizing of the White House drapes. According to the Oct. 30 Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project, polling early voters surveyed over the past two weeks, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump by 15 percentage points.

Early voting has been under way for months in most of the country, including Oregon and Washington state (where voting by mail makes it all relatively painless). In Nevada, a critical Western swing state, Democrats are thought to have amassed a strong early vote tally, The Huffington Post reported on Sunday.

And hold the concession speech in Arizona; an impressive Democratic advantage in ballots requested suggests the Grand Canyon State may well be competitive this time around.

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In late October 2012, John McCormick of Bloomberg Businessweek reported: ““In two of the most competitive states in the U.S. presidential race -- Iowa and Nevada -- Democrats are building a significant advantage in early voting,”

Fast forward four years and not that much has changed. “As of Sunday morning, registered [Nevada] Democrats had established a 7-point lead over registered Republicans in the state’s early vote totals,” HuffPost reported. “That margin is just slightly below the lead Democrats held at the same point in 2012, when President Barack Obama ended up winning the state by 6.6 percent.”

What HuffPost (and its polling arm, HuffPost Pollster) found makes perfect sense, on the basis of party registrations and an increasingly diverse population: The Democratic Party is making the most of a natural edge in Nevada’s registered Democrats (90,000 more Ds than Rs statewide, HP reports) and a campaign-specific edge thanks to the worst Republican presidential nominee in our lifetimes.

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IN IOWA, The Associated Press reported Oct. 22 that Democrats lead early ballot requests, 43 percent to 36 percent for Republicans. And on Oct. 30, CNN noted that “Democrats are winning the turnout battle, and are currently ahead of Republicans by about 39,000 votes. But that's a significant drop from their position at this point in 2012, when they led by 56,000. Democrats enjoyed a similar lead of about 50,000 votes at this point in 2008 as well.”

True enough, the margins for Democratic wins are down from past elections. But it’s a mistake to discount the Obama factor in any early-vote totals in 2008 and 2012, two elections that were caught up in the frisson of the Obama campaigns.

Trying to superimpose those historically profound vote totals on those of the current campaign — and then say Democrats are “underperforming” now by comparison — smacks of historical dishonesty.

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What’s taking shape in 2016 is especially striking in the consistency of this year’s early voting compared to 2012. And the states where that early voting really matters. “Nevada is one of a small handful of swing states where polling aggregates show Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump currently within five points of one another,” according to HuffPost Pollster.

“To understand the state’s importance, consider this: If Clinton wins Nevada, she could lose all of the other swing states ― Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, Georgia ― and still win the presidency, assuming the non-battleground states do not shift.”

In Arizona, Republicans have recaptured the advantage, but only just. CNN reported on Sunday that registered Republicans “took the lead in Arizona this week, edging ahead of Democrats who surprisingly maintained a narrow turnout advantage during the first two weeks of early voting. But it's not all good news for the GOP: Their advantage today is about half the size it was at this point in 2012.”

Consider what the numbers were the week before. Citing figures from Catalist, a data research concern, The Associated Press reported Oct. 22 that in Arizona, “Democrats have a 44 percent to 31 percent lead over Republicans in ballots returned. Another 25 percent were independent or unknown.”

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COLORADO, not so many years ago a Republican bellwether, is up for the taking — by Democrats. Marshall Cohen of CNN reported on Oct. 30: “Registered Democrats continue to lead Republicans in terms of turnout -- an edge they've maintained since ballots started being returned. They're up about 27,000 votes, which is a significant turnaround from this time in 2012, when Republicans were leading by about 19,000 votes.”

A GOP consultant in Nevada offered what may be an accidental assessment of the outcome of the national race.“I think the Clinton campaign is far more organized,” Tom Letizia told McClatchy News. ““Their numbers have gone through the roof in early voting.” Republicans “are going to get their clock cleaned...based on what I’m seeing,” he said.

It’s curious how the GOP seems to love that “clock cleaned” metaphor. Four years ago, Evan Axelbank, a reporter with WPTV, an NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla., got a copy of an e-mail from an adviser to a state GOP campaign. Among its findings was the big one, the overarching generality in the room, the one thing no one could deny.

“Conclusion: The Democrat turnout machine in the county has been very effective and they are cleaning our clock.”

Past performance of early voters is not a guarantee of future results, and your state’s mileage may vary. But as snapshots of voter inclination, they’re a very reliable leading indicator of what’s likely to come.

Image credit: Early voting in Nevada: John Locher/Associated Press.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

'Pure Genius': Cutting-edge vision confronts
overworked ensemble formula

Over its six-season run, Jason Katims’ groundbreaking series “Parenthood” succeeded because it told a universal story inside a small story. Three generations of the Braverman family navigated the headwinds and rocky waters of modern life, and did it in ways that were believable and relatable for millions of viewers.

In Katims’ new show “Pure Genius,” premiering Thursday on CBS, the focus isn’t the nuclear family. In this ambitious but formulaic medical drama, doctors and nurses — a nuclear medicine family — gather around the singular dream of a billionaire to provide health care for those suffering the rarest diseases, and do it free of charge.

It’s a vision that unifies medicine and technology without the middleman, but the show’s tried-and-true format and high-gloss look can’t summon enough actual reality to make this fanciful conjuring ring with the truth it needs, at least not yet. ...

Read the full review at TheWrap

Image credit: Adam Taylor/CBS

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The human race card: New leaders,
old habits and popular culture

FOURTEEN DAYS from today, we’re having an election that will be as much a civic statement about the primacy and impact of race as the issue that dominates our politics, our economics and our national psyche.

That civic statement stems from the conversation we’ve been struggling to have about race and ethnicity: in our tweets and comments, with our hashtags and Instagrams, on our TV talk shows and drive-time radio programs.

A lot of that inchoate conversation misses its real mark; often as not, we discuss that third-rail American issue among like-minded partisans, fellow members of the Church of Either Side of the Debate. On everything from law enforcement to social protest, the depth of our fidelity to one camp or another has hardened us to the prospect of any communication with The Enemy, out there across the uncrossable Rubicon.

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God knows some have tried in their own ham-fisted, hubristic ways. Rachel Dolezal, the white woman outed in 2015 for donning the literal identity of an African American woman, was deeply condemned for really doing nothing more or less than trying to accommodate her life to that which is important, central, crucial to her existence.

Despite outliers like Dolezal, that burgeoning conversation gets hung up in the soundbites and campaign ads and bad online manners that form the basis of that tortured exchange of opinions and facts.

Like with many changes in our distinctly, peculiarly American society, popular culture is taking point in navigating these several shifts of the national life. And consistent with society, outlets of our pop culture are as much a reaction to, and reflection of, society as they are flights of the imagination.

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AS THE language of film and TV begins to more deeply diversify, as we move ourselves (kicking and screaming if necessary) to places and worlds outside our storytelling comfort zones, stories with black and brown faces are resonating with white audiences at every level of our visual culture.

Some certain cynic invented the phrase “the race card” as a way to express a universal disdain for breaking with race-neutral decisions in Hollywood’s casting choices, or a similar disdain for political discourse that invokes race in ... uncomfortable ways. Those whose reflexively complain about “the race card” being “played” would be surprised to find the phrase doesn’t have the charge, the punch that it used to.

African Americans have long been considered the canaries in the coal mines of American social change. Lately their placement in positions of authority in the teleculture has helped solidify that image of blacks as the go-to barometer of diversity’s potential, its impact and its dividends. The elevation of two African American women at a major U.S. network were two quietly seismic events whose impact really hasn’t been fully felt yet.

Channing Dungey’s promotion to head of ABC Entertainment Group, in February, made her the first black president of a major television broadcast network. Jamila Hunter followed earlier this month, when she was tapped to head the ABC Comedy Department, overseeing the development of the network’s comedy pilots.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, directed by Cheryl Boone Isaacs (an African American woman), has undergone an unprecedented internal self-examination to increase its number of women and minorities. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy has provoked change at the Academy, historically one of the more hidebound institutions in Hollywood.

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BUT EVEN being in positions of leverage doesn’t erase the old racial arithmetic. The debate over Nate Parker, actor, co-writer and director of “The Birth of a Nation,” is the latest case in point.

The recent howls for Parker’s metaphorical blood, the demands in the media for him to apologize for an act of rape 17 years ago, a crime that he said and a jury determined he didn’t commit, typify a call not only for justice — some make the case that the legal adjudication of the matter at trial was justice — but also vengeance, a colder retribution, the extrajudicial pound of flesh meant to satisfy our inner Hammurabi: an eye for an eye.

With tragic irony, more powerful as a byproduct of that lust for vengeance than it could have been by intention, the call to bring Parker to “Justice” also feeds into the toxic mythology of the original “Birth of a Nation,” D.W. Griffith’s malignant 1915 epic: the black man as rapist monster.

Parker’s well aware of that irony: Fox Searchlight Pictures, the distributor of his film, released one of the posters to promote “Birth,” a poster showing Parker — presumably in character as Nat Turner but maybe not — with his head and neck in a noose of the American flag.

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But “Birth of a Nation” is just one of the major movies this Oscar-hunting season. Most of the films thought to have the weight and intellectual gravitas to contend for the Golden Dude will be out between now and year’s end. But this is more important than being the contestants in the hunt for Oscar gold.

Those films, and other works for the big screen and television, reflect the growing expression of black and minority filmmakers and creatives, and their evolving ability to do what storytellers do and have always done: tell a universal story in a small one.

Consider the buzz about “Loving,” the much-anticipated story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial Virginia couple whose love required a 1967 Supreme Court ruling to be validated in the Old Dominion — a ruling that effectively reaffirmed a basic constitutional right.

“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’ highly acclaimed film on growing up black and gay, has taken on one of the aspects of black male identity that’s historically been on the downlow in black America. Variety said Monday that the film “could be this year’s indie box office breakout.”

This holiday season, we can expect to see “Fences,” the long-awaited film of August Wilson’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, to be directed by Oscar winner Denzel Washington and starring Washington, and the reliably incandescent Viola Davis.

And Kathryn Bigelow’s “Untitled Detroit Project” will feature John Boyega, John Krasinski, Will Poulter and Jacob Latimore in “a crime drama set against the backdrop of Detroit’s devastating riots that took place over five haunting summer days in 1967. The Oscar-winning director plans to release the film next year, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the riots.

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IN RECENT months, we’ve seen stories of modern African American life break through with wider audiences on television, the way their real-life counterparts exploded into the wider consciousness. “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” all but swept the Primetime Emmys in September, winning nine Emmys, including those for best limited series, lead actor, lead actress, supporting actor and writing (The reboot of the “Roots” miniseries, a new interpretation of Alex Haley’s 1977 ABC series, was also nominated).

“Insecure,” the new series co-created by and starring Issa Rae, has taken HBO viewers by storm with a quirky view of a modern black woman’s life in Los Angeles, a storyline that taps into universal emotions and themes of acceptance, discovery and heartbreak.

“Atlanta,” Donald Glover’s brilliant take on what it is to be young, black, poor and living in the Deep South today, is the FX series that’s wowed television critics across the country.

On Netflix, the critically acclaimed “Luke Cage” brings some of the tropes of the superhero down to a human scale. Cage, a black man living in modern-day Harlem, is literally bulletproof — a fact of his existence that’s a resonant creative response to the deeply unsettling number of police-involved shootings in which the victim is an African American male.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Clinton-Trump III: Trump’s green light goes out

AS OF LAST night, Donald John Trump joined other inaction figures from our popular culture, people on a collision course with self-engineered catastrophe: Lonesome Rhodes howling from a Manhattan penthouse; Jett Rink drooling and babbling in an empty hall of his own creation; Daniel Plainview in his own private bowling alley amid a life increasingly one of spares and gutter balls.

And just like all of them ... he’s finished.

With a third disaster of a debate performance — this one recalling Mitt Romney’s epic meltdown in Obama-Romney III in 2012 — Trump has cemented himself into American political history, his name synonymous with bluster without substance, entitlement without enlightenment; a collapse of outsize and historic proportions; a campaign whose pursuit of statecraft is uninformed and half-hearted; a campaign whose empathy and solidarity for and with women is pornographic; a campaign whose appetite for self-destruction approaches the pathological.

And with her second consecutive debate win, each one stronger than the one that came before, Hillary Clinton lays claim to finally attaining a rhetorical comfort zone that’s comfortable. Politicians get puffed up saying the presidency is no place for on-the-job training. Which, of course, makes no sense; unless you’ve been president before, there’s no other way to train for the presidency than to be president.

Last night, Clinton proved again that she’s doing the on-the-job training required before earning the right to do the on-the-job training of the presidency. With command of the topic and the forum that got better debate by debate, Clinton solidified her claim to credibility by reaching beyond the credible.

While Trump laid out a tapestry of grievance and complaint, Clinton laid out a vision of a possible America. While she professed her faith in the American system and the American people for whom that system stands, Trump has pre-emptively refused to accept the results of the election to come in 22 19 days.

In a single statement, and in front of 71.4 million Americans, Trump undid the previous sixteen months of his own campaign. As Dana Milbank of The Washington Post reported, that single defining statement of the Trump campaign was preceded by others, tremors before the major quake, rumblings before the magma hit the fan.

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DONALD TRUMP erupted at 6:30 p.m. local time. And 6:34. And 6:48. And 6:52. And 6:54. And then, at 7:06, the crater blew off, leaving a gaping caldera where Trump’s presidential campaign once stood.

“Fox News’s Chris Wallace, the moderator, asked Trump whether he would ‘absolutely accept the result of this election.’

“ ‘I will look at it at the time,’ Trump said. ‘I’m not looking at anything now. I will look at it at the time.’ ”

“But sir,” Wallace said, “one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner.”

“Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”

“I will tell you at the time,” Trump said. “I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?” It was a stunningly brain-dead, tone-deaf, self-absorbed reaction to a perfectly intelligent question, and it almost certainly, single-handedly cost Donald Trump the election he was working hard to lose anyway. Last night was Trump’s one last unalloyed, unassailed opportunity to be the leader he wants the nation to believe he can be. The Donald blew it, whiffed at the plate in spectacular fashion.

There were signs of things going south early on. Trump kept fiddling with the microphone in front of him; he was peeking at the camera again, like he did in Round 2. And the candidate suffered a relapse of Marco Rubio Dehydration Disease early, with Trump going for the water no fewer than five times.

He was a ... a blinking machine for much of the debate, often doing it twice as fast as Clinton did; he frowned and fidgeted constantly, like a schoolboy sent to the woodshed; and there was more of the sniffling he exhibited in the previous contests.

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It took the third debate, the third strike, for Clinton to truly hit her stride. And it took Trump three strikes to finally be out of a run for the White House he was never really in in the first place. Barring some horrible exigent circumstance, a complete collapse of polling and statistical integrity, or the most extravagant miracle in our national history, Donald Trump will not be president of the United States.

What makes all this even more monstrously ironic, what lifts this train wreck of ego and wealth to Shakespearean levels is the strong suspicion that Trump knew this was coming. Andrew Sullivan understands that: “It seems to me he also has internalized that he has lost this election,” Sullivan wrote in a liveblog of the debate.

Sullivan’s right. It’s there and obvious in his body language, the flailing oratory, the willingness to fling more and more rhetorical crap at the American wall just to see what sticks, day after day, week after week.

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IF YOU needed any more graphic proof of this, you only had to look at a two-image photo of Clinton and Trump just after last night’s debate — the shot at the top of this blogpost. It’s there in The Donald’s expression as he stood at the podium he never moved away from. The message on his face says everything.

Trump to the world: “Well ... fuck it, I didn’t really want to be president anyway.”

He’ll keep fighting, of course. By reflex, a drowning man thrashes about, flailing in a way that suggests he’s okay when in fact he’s not. And he’s not. This will persist until the very end, with signs of life, nods to respectability, tiny signals of what might have been if Trump wasn’t Trump.

But they’re illusions, mirages, like the green light Jay Gatsby sees from Daisy’s dock. Donald Trump, secure in the West Egg of his own mind and world, can sit and watch that green light of his presidential dreams vanish forever, in the distance, out of reach, beyond the valley of ashes that starts at his very feet.

Image credits: Clinton and Trump top: via Mashable. Clinton and Trump lower (portraits): Debate pool images. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

‘Psy-ops in the guest box’:
Dueling guests in Debate Round 3

IF YOU want to know who’s behind in a pre-election, three-debate, winner-take-all competition, look at the one who’s doing everything possible to distract the opponent and the public from focusing on what’s important: The issues at hand.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee much beleaguered by his own past as much as by the breathtakingly sorry present, has made diversionary tactics a stock in trade for the last sixteen months. Last time out, in the previous debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Trump brought along four women who had accused Hillary’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, of sexual indiscretion (or worse) back in the day of the 90s.

But for tonight’s Round 3 debate at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, both campaigns are set to deploy their own human campaign memes in a duel of sorts, what NPR’s Scott Horsley perfectly described as “psy-ops in the guest box .”

Clinton will take the more tactically navigable course of inviting two guests whose political identities couldn’t be more different yet, under Clinton’s call, more unified. And The Donald’s choices for debate guests strongly suggest he’ll pull out all the stops in a last-ditch move of imagistic desperation. If Team Trump attempts tonight to make heat synonymous with light, as it has in the past, it likely makes for must-see TV — the way a train wreck is a must-see roadside attraction.

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Because perplexing: The Trump campaign has invited two new people to sit in the Manipulated History Honorary Chairs: One is Pat Smith, the mother of San Smith, one of the four American officials who died Sept. 11-12, 2012, in the attack on the Benghazi embassy. Pat Smith, who’s been a vocal critic of Clinton, spoke with vigor and passion at the Republican National Convention this summer.

The addition of Smith as someone prepared to sit and stare in stony silence at Clinton for the whole debate makes a kind of poisoned, passive-aggressive sense. The fact that Clinton “personally” blames Clinton for the death of her son makes her appearance that much more poignant.

The other guest is more of a head-scratcher.

Malik Obama, the president’s half brother and a Trump supporter, has been invited to attend the debate as a guest of Team Trump. Malik, the president’s half-brother, has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, but not being an American citizen, it’s not clear what purpose or problematic associations he would have at the debate on Team Trump’s side. He can’t vote here, and there’s no one on the ballot named Obama, and his status as a non-citizen support carries the weight of the visitor expressing preference in a contest whose outcome he has no impact on at all.

Clinton's countering with two deep-pocketed players long in the public eye: Republican Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard and a former Republican presidential candidate, who was persuaded to sign on with Team Clinton as a fundraiser and evangelist, certainly on the grounds of expedient political practicality; and Dallas Mavericks owner and “Shark Tank” cutthroat Mark Cuban, a man of seemingly independent mien who’s taken great relish in being a boil on Trump’s ass for months.

That’s your tale of the tape. Tonight may be one of those nights when the audience may be almost as interesting as the debaters themselves. There’s always the unpredictable afoot. It’s the third of three. And don’t forget, after everything else ... it’s happening in Las Vegas. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

Image credit: Clinton-Trump faceoff: Frontline (PBS)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The art of the feel: Trump gropes for credibility
on Twitter as polls plummet

IT'S GETTING ugly, and desperate, for Team Trump. As the cascade of sexual assault allegations against the Republican nominee for president slow down the Trump juggernaut, the Midnight Tweeter and his proxies have stepped up attacks on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, including claims of election “rigging” and a flat-out call for Frankenstein-mob anarchy in the U.S.A.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Clinton pulling away from The Donald, in no small part due to the 2005 Trump/Billy Bush tape in which Trump made insanely unsavory remarks about women. Never mind the numerous claims from former Trump employees and associates who allege Trump’s proclivity for unsolicited kissing, groping and fondling members of the opposite sex was never a one-time thing.

The poll, released Sunday, 23 days before the election, shows Clinton leading Trump by 11 points, with 47 percent among likely voters, compared to Trump’s 37 percent. The poll of 905 likely voters conducted between Oct. 10-13, reflects a big jump in Clinton support from a 6-point lead in a previous poll.

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The survey found that 64 percent of respondents were concerned about the tape — no doubt including some of the college-educated women voters still said to be undecided. About a third of the people responding to the poll said the 2005 tape’s contents should be grounds for Trump exiting the race.

Significantly, this poll didn’t break before or after a bout of bad news: Most of the bad news is baked into respondents’ beliefs, since it was released after the second presidential debate and release of the Trump/Bush tape. The rest of any nasty polling results could come with the next NBC/WSJ poll, when the full weight of the sexual assault allegations plays a part in poll respondents’ answers.

But it’s all led to twitterverse desperation from the Trump camp. First, on Saturday, David A. Clarke Jr., sheriff of Milwaukee County (Wisc.), one of Trump’s few visible African American supporters and a high-profile campaign water carrier who spoke at the Republican National Convention, tweeted a call to arms.

(Fans of fire safety might be advised to avoid Milwaukee County; there’s apparently no law against open flames in large public crowds.)

Clarke doubled down on his Saturday tweets with one on Sunday:

But Trump remains the winner and still champeen in Twitter posts. Pretty much as the NBC/WSJ poll went public, The Donald took to the twitterverse to claim that the election is “absolutely” being rigged “at many polling places.”

That followed his attack on Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of trump on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”: “Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”

We can expect this twitshow to continue the closer we get to Election Day; the public’s suspicions of Trump having long ago mastered the art of the feel over the 40 years of his public life aren’t going to stop now. Watch this space.

Image credits: Tweets by their respective creators. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Miranda Sings, and art imitates life
imitating art in a LOL Netflix series

With more than 300 hours of videos uploaded to You Tube every minute, the video service can be a great leveler and a great elevator. The culture is rich with stories of John or Jane Doe posting a video seen by millions of people, which usually translates into the evanescent, vanishing stardom of the Internet … but sometimes, it’s something bigger, something more.

Miranda Sings, a gawky, bossy 20-something from Tacoma, Wash., is a legend in her own mind, and in today’s viral, interconnected world, that might just be enough. Miranda – actually a character created by performer Colleen Ballinger – has plotted a course for stardom as a singer, secure in the knowledge that she is a star — whether the rest of the world (or her family) knows it or not.

That’s the premise for “Haters Back Off,” the new Netflix comedy series that debuts on Friday. But don’t be misled by the word “new”; the show’s prime mover has already had a long life in web culture. ...

Read the full review at TheWrap.

Image credit: Ballinger: Netflix.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

This is Donald Trump. This may or may not be
Donald Trump on drugs. This is the media
on Donald Trump on drugs.

AS IF the flailing campaign of Donald Trump didn’t have enough problems, for two weeks now there’s been a sub rosa speculation that The Donald, presumed stalwart of Republican values, could be using cocaine.

The twitterverse and social media generally have been rife with suspicion, but the notion has gotten very little traction in mainstream media, curious given the usual investigative reflexes of journalists on the presidential campaign trail.

With other stories in an election year in which the improbable has been the everyday, the fact that there's apparently no “there” there hasn't stopped reporters from looking for “there” anyway.

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We can thank Howard Dean for setting this off, of course. When the doctor and former Vermont governor observed Trump’s constant sniffling during the first debate, Sept. 26 at Hofstra University, Dean tweeted something, certainly not a diagnosis but a speculation:

“Notice Trump sniffing all the time. Coke user?”

He saw what we saw the night of the first debate:

On MSNBC on Sept. 27, defending himself, Dean said Trump exhibited “grandiosity,” “delusions” and “trouble with pressured speech” and “couldn't keep himself together.”

“You can't make a diagnosis over the television; I would never do that,” he said, but “I just was struck by the sniffing and then by his behavior, which all sort of came together, these four symptoms. ... [D]o I think he has a cocaine habit? I think it's unlikely that you could mount a presidential campaign at 70 years old with a cocaine habit, but it’s striking.”

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IS HOWARD Dean right? There's been ritual full-throated denial from the campaign. In a statement, Team Trump said Dean went “straight to the gutter and was nothing more than a sad distraction in a desperate attempt to stay relevant.” What’s since taken shape in mainstream media, especially in the wake of more Trump sniffling during the second debate, is a situation where some prominent mainstream outlets of journalism have sidelined or shut down debate on the issue — unusual for a disinterested press corps in a raucous election year.

Forbes decided to approach Trump’s sniffling head-on; the magazine web site published a piece on Sunday, a partly humorous report by contributor Bruce Y. Lee that offered a generously panoramic explanation for The Donald’s nasal woes:

The Donald “may have” allergies, sinusitis or past head trauma. Lee, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that sniffing could be caused by medications including blood pressure meds, antidepressants and ED treatments. Sniffling can even be provoked by inhaling glue, use of amyl nitrate or by everyday allergens like perfume, cologne or cigarettes.

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Trump’s doctor, Dr. Harold N. Bornstein of Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, released a medical report last December, a report whose brevity and general praise without specifics raised eyebrows in the media for months.

In the report, Bornstein said Trump’s blood pressure was “astonishingly excellent,” but we can’t know right now if that’s with or without blood pressure meds. Trump has no known history of depression, so that’s probably out.

After 30 or 40 years in the public eye, in a world of serious money amid people with serious money, it’d seem that if he had an allergy to perfume or cologne, any of the Shalimars and Chanels No. 5 of his cloistered, privileged world, we’d have seen and heard sniffling before now. Similarly, if he’d been in an accident causing serious head trauma, it’s not likely he, one of the more visible people of our culture, could keep that (or recovering from that) a secret.

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ARE THERE any other possible causes? Of course. At Mediaite, readers of Carrie Fisher’s frank statement that Trump “ABSOLUTELY” exhibited the behavior of a cokehead, pushed back, fairly commenting that the cause of Trump’s sniffles might just be the recirculated air in his airplane cabin, or even the natural sound of his breathing with the mic close to his mouth.

But ... could coke be off the table as a possible cause? The 70’s and the 80’s were eras in which cocaine was rife among the moneyed class in America, as well as a fixture in the bacchanal popular culture to which Trump affixed himself. In one of the more popular novels of the 80’s , Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” the protagonist avails himself of “Bolivian marching powder” as he navigates the canyons and clubs of Manhattan.

In its heyday, Studio 54, the legendary New York disco raided by New York police in 1978, was awash in nose candy. Trump was a frequent patron, first going there when it opened in April 1977, with then-wife Ivana, The Washington Post reported in June of this year. “His prowling gear at the time included a burgundy suit with matching patent-leather shoes,” Timothy L. O’Brien wrote in his 2005 book “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald.”

Correlation doesn’t mean causation. Still, is it a worthwhile line of journalistic inquiry to pursue?

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It took Chris Cillizza, writer and editor of “The Fix” politics blog in The Washington Post, to clear his throat and weigh in with what could be a party-line rationale for how the MSM will, or will likely, investigate any possible connection between The Donald and the blow:

Dean is a former Democratic governor! He was, at one point, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination! He was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee! And, perhaps most important, he was once a doctor!

Dean alleged — not once, but twice — that the Republican presidential nominee uses cocaine. That's a pretty big allegation, no? Particularly when you offer absolutely no evidence beyond the fact that Trump sniffed a bunch during the debate. That's sort of like insisting a candidate is dying because they have a coughing spell, right?

The pushback against that line of argument is, "Well, everyone was thinking it!" Um, okay. Number one, Democrats on Twitter don't count as "everyone." Number two, thinking something and saying it publicly — especially when you are a former head of the Democratic Party and a physician — are two very different things. ...

Monday, October 10, 2016

Clinton-Trump II: The rage that changes nothing

MARTHA RADDATZ of ABC and Anderson Cooper of CNN did their best to, uh, maintain law and order at last night’s second presidential debate, but the presumptive law-and-order candidate, Republican nominee Donald Trump, was having none of that.

Despite the moderators’ pushback, Trump tried to set both the tone and the agenda for this one, at Washington University in St. Louis, and failed miserably at doing either one.

And by the end of the 90-minute slugfest, with an increasingly game Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, getting more confident, and an increasingly angry Trump working the room like a tent-show evangelist in a one-on-one with the devil, Trump employed antics that probably changed no minds and revealed — in ways Trump never anticipated — how little he really cares about changing any minds a month before the election.

Least of all his own.

◊ ◊ ◊

Some parts of the debate were close to being as respectably spirited a debate as we could ask for, and had any right to expect. Vigorous, reasoned, even smashmouth at times, with both Clinton and Trump willing to maintain the veneer of decorum.

But then, at some point, in fits and starts, The Donald’s id switch kicked in. Realizing he’d probably lose on points, sensing that he’d never win on substance, and with the Billy Bush tape in the side of the back of his mind, Trump doubled down on straight, 90-proof alpha male aggression, bristling with a malign energy. This is what it looks like when a drunk is psyching himself to start a bar fight.

In one context, a certain amount of aggression in a live debate can be interpreted as a reaching out to the audience — a kind of pleading your case to the jury.

But Trump’s aggression was only aggression, with no mitigating qualities. Clinton was the target. It came across on television as bullying, Trump trying to use his ever-increasing girth as an implicit threat against Clinton. Trump did his best to dominate the physical space, glowering, prowling the stage like some bespoke-suited ghoul, standing behind the chair he almost never sat in.

◊ ◊ ◊

TRUMP’S ALPHA-male put a badge on. Playing what seemed like some, uh, trump card when he went after Clinton in a way that dragged presidential campaign rhetoric to a new, Trumpian low in the guise of the pursuit of law enforcement.

“I didn’t think I’d say this,” Trump said, “but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it, but if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation. There has never been so many lies, so much deception, there has never been anything like it, and we’re gonna have a special prosecutor.”

“It’s just awfully good that somebody with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” Clinton said.

Trump’s fiery-fast retort: “Because you’d be in jail.”

It was a staggeringly, blindingly awful expression of unalloyed hatred and a threat (if a probably empty one: you can say crap like that if you don’t think you’ll win, knowing good and well the last thing the American public wants or needs is another partisan witch hunt to get preoccupied about).

Trump brought all the ugly weapons, and the wrong weapons. In some kind of scattershot attempt to smear Hillary Clinton by impugning the past of husband and former president Bill Clinton, Trump brought some of the women who accused Clinton of sexual improprieties years ago, like back in the ‘90’s, to a press conference before the debate.

“Never been anybody in history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women,” he said. “So you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women, and attacked them viciously.” It was more stunningly bad stagecraft from a showman we’ve been led to believe was better than this.

WHAT CAME before and happened after that was more or less classic Trump debate-speak: short on (or absent of) facts, long on finger-pointing and promises. Besides turning almost every question about his policy prescriptions into an answer that was an attack on Clinton, Trump made two costly unforced errors, either of which should resonate with the remaining panorama of undecided voters.

Trump played the rather tired game of encroachment, strutting into Clinton’s physical space, arrogant and intrusive in a way that won’t endear Trump to the college-educated women voters still thought to be undecided. You needn’t be especially liberal to appreciate not being bullied by your opposite gender. Trump’s little stunt wasn’t original, and it probably won’t even be successful. Clinton could have told him that. Rick Lazio could have told him that too. And more.

And Trump made another hugely damaging imagistic mistake, whether it’s recognized as one or not: More than once, he literally turned his back on the proceedings, walking to or near the rear of the stage, his back facing not just Clinton and the people in the hall, but also the 67 million Americans watching the debate in millions of homes in the several battleground states, and the nation beyond.

On the split screen that’s been a standard feature of the debate format, the visible contrast last night was obviously striking. More than that, it perfectly distilled the character, the essence of the two candidates and their respective campaigns.

Instant meme: Clinton = Talk to me. Trump = Talk to the hand.

In failing to recognize this in real time, or maybe because he just doesn’t care anymore, TRUMP, the master showman, the mandarin of image was nothing less than masterful in his incompetence.

◊ ◊ ◊

By the historical weight placed on leaning in against your opponent (according to classic debate style), Trump acquitted himself better Sunday night than he did in Round 1. But frankly, that’s too low a bar for any meaningful comparison. He couldn’t help but improve on that.

The hunting of the presidency (Part 12):
Trump’s 2005 October surprise and its consequences

YOU GRAB ‘EM BY THE PUSSY.” Those six words spoken in 2005 apparently constitute Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s former approach to securing the romantic attention of women. They’re hardly an 11th-hour outreach to women voters still inclined to sit on the fence over whether or not to endorse him with a vote for the presidency, 28 days from today.

But those six words and more — others in the same brittle, callous, misogynist vocabulary of a man used to getting what he wants when he wants it — are likely to be the political epitaph of an [x]illionaire self-improvement grifter at the helm of the campaign that will be a template for how not to run a campaign ... for generations to come.

In September 2012, and with no fear of contradiction, I called Mitt Romney's White House bid “the most panoramically inept presidential campaign of the modern American political era.”

With the release on Friday of a video from 11 years ago, the torch has been passed to a new conflagration.

◊ ◊ ◊

The new backstory you know by now: In 2005, Trump was hangin’ with “Access Hollywood host” Billy Bush on a bus while on the set of the NBC soap, “Days of Our Lives.” At one point, while they were talking, his inner primal didact coming to the surface over an accidentally live mic, Trump began to discuss Nancy O’Dell, an “Access Hollywood” host now with “Entertainment Weekly,” in sexually subjective and strategic terms.

Showing always beats telling, and excerpting this mess doesn’t do it justice. Witness for yourself:

Witness the unscripted conversational asides of a prospective president of the United States and leader of the free world: “I moved on her like a bitch. ... I did try to fuck her ... she’s got the big phony tits ... grab ‘em by the pussy ... when you’re a star, you can do anything.”

Well, maybe. The one thing this star can’t do is nail down supporters in his own party at a critical juncture in the campaign. The absence of any major newspaper endorsements, and the defection of some high-profile historically conservative papers to the other side — all that’s bad enough.

But then, The Washington Post reported this on Saturday: “Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Deb. Fischer (R-Neb.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah); Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Joe Heck (R-Nev.), Mia Love (R-Utah), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.); and Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada as well as the current and former governors of Utah are among those Republicans who have pulled their endorsements and/or called for him to leave the race. Carly Fiorina and talk-show host and Trump apologists William J. Bennett and Hugh Hewitt dumped him as well.”

◊ ◊ ◊

THIS FOLLOWED what happened earlier in October, when 30! Republican lawmakers past and present signed an open letter calling for the party to drop Trump as its nominee.

“Our party’s nominee this year is a man who makes a mockery of the principles and values we have cherished and which we sought to represent in Congress,” the letter read in part, as reported by The Hill.

The lawmakers who signed on include former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, former Rep. Vin Weber, Reps. Bill Clinger, Jim Leach, Tom Petri, G. William Whitehurst, Sherwood Boehlert, Jim Kolbe and Geoff Davis.

Imagine a poker table at one of Trump’s casinos, a huge circle for a big number of Republican high rollers, placing their bets on Trump as the winning hand ... then, going around the table, one by one, player by player, throwing down their cards in sputtering disgust and shouting “fold!”

That’s what happening for Team Trump right now.

◊ ◊ ◊

Even before the tape surfaced, the Trump campaign was in a nosedive; since then, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, approved cutting off funds to Team Trump, preferring instead to spend that money to down-ticket races — a tacit admission that the RNC thinks the top of the ticket is dead as fried chicken.

If a plurality of recent polls is even remotely accurate, as they often are, the steady descent of the Trump campaign is undeniable and it's likely to continue. The American people are starting to see Donald Trump for what he is: a smug, passive-aggressive attention addict, a 24-karat charlatan, a vampire masquerading as a phlebotomist.

Whether you buy the flash-poll interpretations of who won or lost the second debate, Trump won’t move the needle much regardless of how you score it. There’s a trajectory that’s locked in now. There’ll be no road-to-Damascus moments for this campaign; Team Trump’s had more than one of those opportunities already,  and they’ve ignored them every single time.

◊ ◊ ◊

PRESUMPTIVE conservative cerebral cortex Newt Gingrich gets this. “He can’t learn what he doesn’t know because he doesn’t know he doesn’t know it,” Gingrich said to The Washington Post back in August. Back when there was still hope.

It’s way worse than that now: Trump doesn’t want to learn what he doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to learn any more about things that distract him from what’s important, which is, now and always, Donald Trump. That’s why all the bogus talk awhile back about a “campaign reset,” all the expectations of the candidate “evolving” beyond his primary-season self were certainly a waste of time. It’s way too freakin late in the day for all that.

The Donald Trump we’ve seen for the last sixteen months, the one we’ve discovered in the last seventy-two hours, the one that stepped on stage last night is the only Donald Trump we’re going to get from here on in. And that’s true for the elegantly, sadly simplest of reasons:

It’s a small part of the only Donald Trump there ever was. That's why given what we know about the candidate, the only thing surprising about Trump's October surprise is that we're surprised by it at all.

Image credits: Trump illustration: via The Nation. The Washington Post nameplate: © 2016 The Washington Post Company. Priebus: CNN.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Kaine-Pence: Style vs. substance
on the undercard

WHEN A vice-presidential debate gets the nickname of “The Thrilla in Vanilla” before a word’s even spoken, you know you’re facing something with the potential to underwhelm. But in Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia both brought the fireworks, and two distinct styles of rhetorical combat, to at the Longwood University campus in Farmville, Virginia.

We got the back and forth between Democrats and Republicans that we’ve had all year, at the lower wattage of a vice-presidential context. Flash polls — notoriously emotional and notoriously unreliable — proclaimed Pence the winner, largely on matters of style.

But count on it, once fact-checkers and analysts check in with the accuracy of what was said, you’ll hear more of what’s bubbling in the social realm right now: that it was a somewhat clumsy, ham-fisted win for Kaine and the Clinton campaign on the facts.

If style’s your thing, Pence was the winner; if it’s substance you’re after, Kaine came out on top.

◊ ◊ ◊

It wasn’t long after the debate started that Kaine went on the offensive, and doing it in a way that was more mildly offensive to Pence. Kaine’s first big shot wasn’t directed at the man sitting beside him, but aimed instead at Donald Trump, whom Kaine said “always puts himself first.”

It was opponent-by-proxy: Kaine stayed on offense, scoring Trump for his midwife role in the Obama birther controversy, his seemingly cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin, and Trump’s naturally elitist mien ... and swiping at Pence for his role as running mate. It was serve and volley: Pence goes after Clinton on the proceeds of the Clinton Foundation; Kaine comes back with issues about the long-promised Trump tax returns.

The moderator, Elaine Quijano of CBS News, ran a tight ship, at least at first, hitting the ball all over the park. Kaine and Pence were grilled on social security, police-community relations, social issues and America’s standing in the world. And mostly it was Kaine who brought his inner Doberman to the game. Maybe too much.

◊ ◊ ◊

DEBATING SOCIAL security, Kaine pledged to “never, ever engage in a risky scheme to privatize social security,” a long-cherished dream of conservatives. “Donald Trump wrote a book and he said Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and privatization would be good for all of us.”

On police-community relations, Kaine opposed the “overly aggressive, more militarized model” of policing common in American cities, and condemned Trump via Pence for statements supporting the unconstitutional practice of stop-and-frisk. “Donald Trump recently said we need to do more stop-and-frisk around the country. That would be a big mistake because it polarizes the relationship between the police and the community.”

Elsewhere in the 90-minute contest, Kaine was similarly forceful, perhaps to a fault. Kaine interrupted Pence 72 times, and his hands were in constant motion much of the time. He may have had a Red Bull I.V. drip before he went onstage.

◊ ◊ ◊

If Kaine went overboard last night as the picture of frenetic energy, Pence did himself no favors coming from the other imagistic direction. The Indiana governor tried to maintain a persona as Mr. Chill, the coolest guy in the room, too laidback by half, calmly shaking his head “no” as Kaine spoke.

But this night there was more to be learned from the guy who wouldn’t sit still. Pence sat reflexively shaking his head “no” despite the fact that much of what Kaine said was true.

Pence probably didn’t help himself with Republican partisans when he found himself agreeing with Kaine — once on community policing (“a great idea,” the Republican said) and once when he gave credit to President Obama “for bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.”

And Pence betrayed the short-sighted longtime Republican obsession with size as strength when it comes to the American military. Consider what he said is necessary for the United States “to exercise strong leadership”:

“[T]he Russians and the Chinese have been making enormous investments in the military,” Pence said. “We have the smallest Navy since 1916. We have the lowest number of troops since the end of the Second World War. We've got to work with Congress, and Donald Trump will, to rebuild our military and project American strength in the world.”

◊ ◊ ◊

COMPARE THAT with what Mitt Romney said in October 2012, in his third debate with President Obama: “Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the — to the low 200s ... That's unacceptable to me.”

“You — you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” the president said. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — because the nature of our military's changed. ... And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's, it's [about] what are our capabilities?”

Romney made an endorsement of strength through giantism, and Obama seized on it. On Tuesday, Kaine didn’t follow through on that. But if Pence had done more homework, he wouldn’t have gone down Romney Road in the first place.

◊ ◊ ◊

Kaine pushed back on Trump’s broad brush of innuendo and attack with a panoramic attack of his own: “Donald Trump during his campaign has called Mexicans rapists and criminals. He's called women slobs, pigs, dogs, disgusting. I don't like saying that in front of my wife and my mother.
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