July 17, 2017

How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99% By Ted Rall

24_main_new.1483632584I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and girls will be boys”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocked plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

July 16, 2017

HOW YOUTUBE SCAMS CREATORS WITH COLE SMITHEY

Needless to say, I've given up on YouTube. I stopped putting videos up on YouTube a couple of years ago after they insisted on stealing all of the ad revenue from my video coverage of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. By then I was so worn down from YouTube's constant bullying and harassment every single time I uploaded a video that I had no patience to put any more work into my YouTube channel. After more than a year of abstinence from YouTube I went through my channel and deleted 95% of my videos whose revenue was going entirely to someone else. 

After working with Forbes I decided to do an experiment and return to putting videos up on YouTube that had already passed muster with one of the biggest corporate websites in the world. Once again YouTube came at me like strung-out heroin junkie with a switchblade and a bad attitude. YouTube's practices are at best ethically and morally corrupt, and at worst fraudulent. Color me disgusted. 

I am looking to sign on to every single class-action lawsuit brewing against these thieves that go by the name of YouTube. If you are an attorney working on such a case, please get in touch with me. Thanks.

July 12, 2017

THE 2016 DODGE CHALLENGER SXT V6 REVIEW

Cole With Challenger

The biggest drawback to driving the 2016 Dodge Challenger SXT automatic is the blind spots. Blind spot visibility is non-existent with this car. Not being able to check your blind spots in this powerful American muscle car just makes you use the accelerator more aggressively to be sure that you can clear whatever may be lurking nearby.

The Challenger got better than expected gas mileage on the highway — close to the promised 30 mpg. Most importantly this baby hugs the road even when going over big California highway bumps at 75 or 80. Its wide wheelbase makes for very little body roll. Weighing in at a hefty 3,834 lbs, no amount of windy conditions on the Grapevine could make you feel like might be blown over, as is the case with so many lighter cars. This thing is a BEAST. The car is so comfortable that you feel like you're only going 30 when you're doing 60. The base issue SXT has a V6 that contributes to the vehicle's respectable gas mileage with 305 horsepower.

It might not have the 0 to 60 giddy up of its R/T brother (with 372 horsepower), much less the SRT Hellcat (with its scary 707 horsepower), but this car is a blast to drive and looks especially sweet hanging out a a Southern California beach. The trunk is enormous, and the back seats are plenty spacious. Mainly, other drivers take you seriously when you're driving this car; you don't have as many tailgaters in their monster trucks when you're tooling down the highway in the fast lane. The design muscle on display earns respect. 

Cole Charger Original

June 24, 2017

KEN TAYLOR'S 10 FAVORITE MOVIES

My generous longtime pal Ken Taylor pledged his support on Patreon at the MIDNIGHT MOVIES level of $35 per month. In signature Royal fashion, the overachieving Ken went way above and beyond in describing his favorite 10 films. I would argue if I disagreed with any of his picks but I couldn't have done better myself. So here, just in time for Gay Pride Day, are Ken's 10 favorite movies! All bow, or kneel if you will!

Fog-Over-Frisco

Ken says, Fog Over Frisco is a 1934 American Pre-Code Drama film. The screenplay was written by Robert N. Lee and Eugene Solow and was based on the short story "The Five Fragments" by George Dyer. William Dieterle directs. It stars Bette Davis as Arlene Bradford and Donald Woods as Tony Sterling. Part of the Warner Brothers release was filmed on location in San Francisco.

Arlene Bradford is a spoiled, bored, wealthy socialite who lives in a stunning Art Deco Manse on the craggy shores of Seacliff. She finances her extravagant lifestyle by exploiting her fiancée Spencer Carlton's (Lyle Talbot) access to her stepfather's brokerage firm, and using that connection to steal security bonds for underworld crime boss Jake Bellows (Irving Pichel). 

When Arlene disappears, her stepsister Valley (Margaret Lindsay) steps in to investigate with the assistance of society reporter Tony Sterling (Donald) and photojournalist Izzy Wright (Hugh Harbert).

Adolph Spreckels’ Manse — of the C & H Sugar fortune (currently Danielle Steele's home in Pacific Heights on Washington Street directly across the street from the north side of Lafayette Park between Octavia & Gough) was used in scenes that highlighted the comings and goings of automobiles from the manse’s garage through its Octavia Street egress. Eventually that egress was covered over, and the present day garage is accessed at the bottom of the manse’s grounds on Jackson Street, between Octavia & Gough.

Cole says, I can see why this is at the bottom of Ken's list; it wouldn't make its way into my best 1000 films. While I appreciate this film's pre-code application of high-rolling female characters — Bette Davis is the best the movie has going for it, but gets killed off half way through — 'Fog Over Frisco' doesn't come anywhere near 'Baby Face,' a pre-code classic that puts this movie to shame. 

One of the first rules of thumb I learned when I moved to San Francisco in 1986 was that you didn't dare call it 'Frisco.' That's still a big no-no for good reason; it sounds too much like Crisco, a once-popular lubricating substance used in the '70s at 'Crisco Oil Orgies.'

Anyway, give me Delmer Daves's 'Dark Passage' with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall any day of the week over this movie if you're looking for a cool noir set in San Francisco. Clocking in at 68 minutes, I don't think 'Fog Over Frisco' even qualifies as a feature-length movie. Sorry Ken; I calls it like I sees it. 

The-Postman-Always-Rings-Twice

Ken says, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1946 film noir based on the 1934 novel of the same title by James M. Cain. This movie adaptation stars Lana Turner as Cora Smith and John Garfield as Frank Chambers. The film is directed by Tay Garnett.

A hobo, Frank Chambers stops at a rural roadside diner for something to eat, and is mesmerized by Cora Smith’s beauty. He dines along with her much older husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway). Frank ends up working there and senses that Cora is not happy with her current situatio being married to her much older, unattractive alcoholic husband.

Frank and Cora start a mad passionate love affair and scheme a way to murder Nick so Cora will inherit the diner and be able to turn the ramshackle dump into a business of her dreams for the adulterous lovers to live happily ever after.

After their first attempt to murder Nick fails, they plan a second attempt which they succeed in, but not before catching the attention of a local prosecutor named Sackett (played by Leon Ames). Sackett deduces what took place but does not have enough evidence to prove any wrong doing. Sexual attraction is a muthafucker.

Sackett devises a plan to turn Cora and Frank against one another by filing murder charges against Cora only. The couple do indeed turn on one another, however Cora's attorney Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn) develops a clever ploy by having Cora not fully confess, a tactic that prevents the prosecution from obtaining any new evidence. Cora plea bargains by pleading guilty to manslaughter and receives probation.

Frank and Cora eventually reconcile their relationship, but Cora ends up in a fatal car crash with Frank behind the wheel. Frank escapes unscathed as Cora is pummeled over and over again as the car ends up at the bottom of a steep ravine. Although it was truly an accident, Frank ends up on death row for the murder of Cora Smith.

With Frank's last reprieve from being executed denied, Frank is incredulous at his cruel fate. However, when the authorities inform him of the irrefutable evidence that they have of his crime, Frank feels that this is his overdue punishment. 

The postman will always ring a second time, and the second ring will invariably be heard. After he and Cora escape legal punishment for Nick's murder; and now with Cora dead, Frank realizes that the postman has rung a second time for both Cora and himself. https://youtu.be/UKhQbwCsqtM

Cole says, John Garfield is at the height of his powers in this beautifully executed noir opposite the incredibly sexy Lana Turner. Rugged handsome meets divine beauty. This film’s seething eroticism always makes me squirm; so wrong and yet so right. You seldom hear director Tay Garnett’s name mentioned but he was a master craftsman. The proof is on the screen.

Sunsetblvd

Ken says, Sunset Boulevard is a 1950 noir co-written by directed by Billy Wilder and produced by co-writer Charles Brackett. It stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond and William Holden as Joe Gillis. https://youtu.be/l77KLoHn6kk

This truly classic movie has faded Silent movie star Norma Desmond hire down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis. Norma draws our Los Angeles everyman into her fantasy world of making a triumphant return to the screen by having him write a movie script for her. Gillis ends up serving as a kept man in Norma's neo-Gothic Sunset Boulevard mansion.

Norma falls for the writer who never writes her comeback script. Still, she lavishes Joe with expensive clothing and gifts. When Joe’s younger girlfriend shows up at Norma's house, Joe ends up floating face down in her swimming pool.

Norma's delusional fantasies are kept alive by her faithful Butler Max,(Eric Von Stroheim) to the very end. Even when the police arrive to arrest Norma to book her for murder; Max leads her to believe that all of the reporters with cameras are actually a film crew there to film her comeback. Gloria Swanson makes her entrance down a grand staircase while uttering the famous line, "Alright Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close up." https://youtu.be/jMTT0LW0M_Y

Cole says, I wouldn’t dare argue with a single film on Ken’s list. This Gothic gem is a film you could take with you on a desert island if you could only watch one movie over and over until your dying day. The tone of Sunset Boulevard is so diabolically fascinating that you get lost in it regardless of how many times you’ve seen it. It is high camp and murder mystery done in a Gothic style with noir trappings. I especially love Eric Von Stroheim’s performance, which clearly informed Richard O'Brien’s inspired role in another movie on Ken’s great list, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Women On The Verge

Ken says, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown is a 1988 Spanish black comedy-drama film written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, starring Carmen Maura as Pepa Marcos and Antonio Banderas as Carlos. This film brought Almodovar to widespread international attention, and rightfully so!

This is a hysterically funny, convoluted script about a jilted lover Pepa, a TV actress in Madrid who starts taking sleeping pills to, you know, mask her pain. Pepa also makes gazpacho with pills as a key ingredient. The setting is mostly Pepa's penthouse overlooking a faux backdrop of Madrid. Pepa’s friend Candela (Maria Barranco) is frantically trying to escape Shiite terrorists that were holding her hostage. She had a mad, passionate love affair with an Arab.

There is an iconic red phone of desire with an answering machine that Pepa rips from the wall and throws off of the balcony, twice. 

There’s a crazy mad chase scene around Madrid involving various modes of transport that has to be seen to be believed.

Be sure to watch this one for the ending.

Musical productions of Women Under The Influence have been performed on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre under direction by Lincoln Center's resident director Bartlett Sher. The show also played at the Playhouse Theatre, in London's West End, also directed by Bartlett Sher. http://top1-movies.com/movie/4203/mujeres-al-borde-de-un-ataque-de-nervios.html

Bitch Slap

Ken says, Bitch Slap is a 2009 Crime film/drama/comedy which serves up some pretty sick, twisted, humorous moments throughout a movie that had me howling!

It’s directed by Rick Jacobson and set out in the middle of the New Mexico desert. It stars Julia Voth as Trixie, Erin Cummings as Hel, and America Olivo as Camero.

The movie involves three REALLY HOT Bad Girls — a stripper, a drug runner, and a power broker. These ULTRA HOT Dominatrix gals arrive in the desert to extort $200 million worth of diamonds from an underworld drug kingpin, but things quickly spin out of control as allegiances change. One chic wields a Samurai sword, another a powerful automatic weapon, and the other carries a thick chain whip in one hand and in the other one a long club with a HUGE knob at the end that could knock someone's head off (and does!).

A sheriff in his patrol car arrives at the trailer hideaway where the three women are holed up. One of the hottest women comes out of the trailer, walks up to the sheriff's car, and comes on to him; he just can't resist. The hottie and the sheriff start making out. A second hottie emerges from the trailer, tells her girlfriend to step aside, and unloads her automatic weapon at the sheriff's head, blowing it off in all directions. Then she unloads on the sheriff's car, blowing it up. The two go back into the trailer and have sex, then when finished, exit the trailer and blow it up sky high as well. I was in sidesplitting laughter!

Talk about twisted Trailer Trash! At least they burned theirs by blowing it up!!

This is a BLAST of a movie!!

Cole says, while I enjoyed the overall tone of the movie, and especially the super committed performances of its three female stars (Julia Voth, Erin Cummings, and America Olivo), "Bitch Slap" is a mess. Rick Jacobson ("Ash vs Evil Dead" series) is a very skilled director, and his ability to rev up action sequences is impressive, but his screenwriting skills leave much to be desired. Jacobson steals liberally from Quentin Tarantino for this over-the-top sexploitation romp but isn't much for creating a story that sticks. Jacobson's time flipping device of constantly showing what happened six months ago, wears out its welcome quick.

For all of its ostensibly 3D-appropriate use of flying objects and big boobies, "Bitch Slap" doesn't hold a candle to Russ Meyer's truly transgressive "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" — an obvious inspiration for this film. "Bitch Slap" is nonetheless ideally suited for a 3D treatment that would make it even more of a guilty pleasure. I would suggest Ken compare "Faster, Pussycat!" to "Bitch Slap." I think you'll find that Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams create a lot more sexy heat and psycho bitch drama in Russ Meyer's classic sexploitation flick.

Caligula

Ken says, Caligula is an 1979 Italian American erotica historical drama film produced by Bob Guccione (the founder of "Penthouse Magazine"). He hired hired Gore Vidal as the film's screenwriter and softcore maestro Tinto Brass to direct the film.

The movie focuses on the rise and fall of the Roman Emperor (Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus) "Caligula." His father was Germanicus Julius Caesar. It is the only feature film produced by Penthouse Magazine. Guccione's intention was to produce an explicit pornographic film with a feature film narrative and high production values. He also cast Penthouse Pets as extras in unsimulated sex scenes filmed during post-production by himself and Giancarlo Lui. 

Caligula's release was controversial and met with legal issues over its violent and sexual content. It's uncut form (the ONLY one to see!!) still remains banned in several countries. Reviews were overwhelming negative (although Malcom McDowell's performance as the lead character was praised). Caligula is a cult classic and its political content is considered to have historic merit.

Other stars include Teresa Ann Savoy as Drusilla, Helen Mirren as Caesonia, Guido Mannari as Marco, John Gielgud as Nerva, Peter O'Toole as Tiberius, and Giancarlo Badessi as Claudius.

The film's unbridled debaucheries occur between combinations of people of the same sex, as with several men and a few women thrown into a mix of group sex. Huge clustered orgies occur throughout the film that make it difficult to discern between who is doing whatever to whoever as long as there was only another naked body involved. Everyone seemed perfectly content to start having sex with whomever they happened to be next to. 

At the pinnacle of sexual depravity was none other than Caligula himself. When he learns that a young couple are engaged to be married he takes them into a room and convinces them that they are to be honored with a personal wedding gift from their leader. Caligula rams his right fist with a HUGE dome ring on one finger (you know where) defiling the young man as his fiancée is forced to stand and watch in utter horror!

I thought I had witnessed the highest possible type of debauchery, by the goings-ons at various venues in NYC (the Mineshaft and the Anvil to name two of the most notorious) starting somewhere around the mid 70s and into the early 80s. Not even that era of anything goes came close to Caligula's reign of sexual depravity!

Be sure to look for the stationery unicycle bike (in the main orgy room) with "certain attachments" that cover the entire circumference of the bike's wheels that go around at whatever speed a woman (or a man) chooses for pedaling on that particular 'exercise' machine!!! Why didn't we have those back in the 70s?

Caligula's Circus took place on top of "Ager Vaticanos" (The Vatican), and some believe it is where St. Peter was martyred by Nero Augustus Caesar on a cross turned upside down while on public display. St. Peter's remains lie within the Basilica’s catacombs. It makes one wonder if any of Caligula's chambers (catacombs) underneath and throughout Vatican City have ever been used for any of the church's modern day sexual scandals? https://youtu.be/-qB3El5K_Pk

Cole says, Nasty, nasty. I can’t believe you can watch ‘Caligula’ on YouTube these days. When I first saw it at the Ken Cinema in San Diego with my girlfriend Lori, I remember being shocked to my core. Fisting!? What the hell was that? The scene were the soldiers jerk off in a big gold bowl before applying the communal jizz as lotion to the female object of their affection was a revelation of infinite proportions. I love that critic such as Roger Ebert were disgusted and revolted. I recognized the artistry of this instant classic when I was 19. ‘Caligula’ is one badass piece of erotic historic cinema. Yep.

History-of-the-world-part-i

Ken says, History of the World Part 1 — Despite being titled 'Part 1,' there is no sequel; the title is a play on ‘The History of the World, Volume 1’ by Sir Walter Raleigh. Mel Brooks wrote, produced, and directed this 1981 parody. Brooks also stars in the film, playing five different roles no less. The large ensemble cast includes Sid Caesar, Shecky Green, Gregory Hines (in his feature film debut), Charlie Callas, and Brooks regulars Ron Carey, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Andreas Voutsinas, and Spike Milligan. Royce D. Applegate, Beatrice Arthur, Hugh Hefner, John Hurt, Phil Leeds, Phil Levinson, Jackie Mason, Paul Mazursky, Andrew Sachs, and Henny Youngman all make cameo appearances. Orson Wells narrates.

The four main segments consist of stories set in the Stone Age, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution. Other intermediate skits include reenactments of Moses delivering the Ten Commandments, and The Last Super. 

Madeline Kahn is at her best as Queen Nympho; she’s one of the most hysterically funny comedians in the entire movie! My favorite scene is when her personal handmaiden brings her to the lineup of frontally nude soldiers for her to pick her numerous escorts for the midnight orgy. https://youtu.be/Gt7U0XycEJE

Cole says, I’m especially glad that Ken put this Mel Brooks classic on his list. I remember watching this hilarious movie at the Campus Drive-In where I got my first job in San Diego (a block from my first apartment there) when I moved there to attend SDSU. I remember watching scenes from ‘History of the World Part 1’ over and over on the gigantic drive-in movie screen like it was last week. What fun!

RHPS-CharlesAtlas

Ken says, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 musical comedy horror film directed by Jim Sharman. The screenplay was written by Sharman and Richard O'Brien, based on the 1973 musical stage production of the same title. (O'Brien stared as Riff Raff, a ‘handyman,’ in both productions). 

The movie is a parody tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the 1930s through the early 1970s, with special inspiration taken from a little-known comedy entitled ‘Kiss Me Quick.’ It stars Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N Furter (a scientist from Transsexual, Transylvania), Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss, Barry Bostwick as Brad Majors, along with cast members from the Original Royal Court Theatre, Roxy Theatre, and Belasco Theatre Productions. It was filmed at Bray Studios and on location at Oakley Court Country Estate, United Kingdom.

Initially, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was critically panned, although it gained popularity as a midnight movie when audiences began participating with the film at the Waverly Theatre in New York City in 1976. Smaller cities across the country followed suit. 

Nothing much more needs to be said except, "Time is fleeting," "so come up to the lab and see what's on the slab! "I see you SHIVER with “antici………PATION." https://youtu.be/jinU-iDxLSk

Cole says, Yes indeedy! I’m thrilled that Ken put this amazing movie on his list. I went for months in high school where I constantly switched between the Rocky Horror soundtrack with Elvis Costello’s first album (‘My Aim Is True’) and the soundtrack from ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.’ The great Lou Adler produced the record, and it is one of the all-time great soundtrack albums ever recorded.

As for the movie, I’ll never forget when I was 14, living at 1124 West Grace Street #7, and my high school pals Anne Kinneman and Jimmy Giddings came over on a Friday night to raid my kitchen for the supplies we needed to take to the movie. I knew nothing about the audience participation aspect of the film, so it came as a big surprise when Anne and Jimmy ran down the list: rice — check, newspaper — check, a spray bottle filled with water — check, a lighter — check, toilet paper — check, playing cards — check. Anne and Jimmy were boyfriend/girlfriend at the time and had been to see it a couple of times before so they were old hands. I had more fun that night than I’d ever had at the movies before or since. Needless to say we returned to the old Biograph Cinema many more times to participate in the fun. ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ probably did more to help people get over queer discrimination than any laws ever written. So there.

Nosferatu

Ken says, Bram Stoker's Nosferatu is a 1922, German Silent movie starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok. Eerily enough, Schreck in German translates to terror.

Bram Stoker's wife Florence sued the German movie production company (Prana Film) for copyright infringement due to film director F.W. Murnau's adapting Stoker's Dracula even after he had been denied permission. Although Murnau told his screenwriter Henrik Galeen to make some location modifications, eliminate several characters, and change Count Dracula's name to Count Orlok, Stoker's heirs proceeded with the suit, which in turn bankrupted the Prana Film Company. "Nosferatu" was the only movie the production company ever made.

Nosferatu was filmed on location in Northern Slovakia, in the High Tatra Mountain Range bordering Poland, and around Transylvania. Indoor scenes were filmed in Berlin studios.

Even though the production of Nosferatu has a complicated legacy due to Murnau’s shameless plagiarizing of Bram's novel; it was received as a seminal movie. Even by modern special effects standards, Nosferatu's 'stop motion technique' (to make it appear that Count Orlok's coffin lid was levitating along with his body) is pure movie magic.

Schreck's makeup was so convincing that many people of that era thought that he was a vampire in real life. 

The only other Dracula movie to precede Nosferatu was titled "Dracula's Death," which was filmed in Hungary in 1921. The now-lost film, was loosely based on Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

Silent Film, with English subtitles:  https://youtu.be/FC6jFoYm3xs

Cole says, I’ll never forget seeing Nosferatu at Saint John the Divine on Halloween with my wife and our friends Ray and Heather to live accompaniment on the Cathedral’s pipe organ (with its 8,514 pipes). This incredibly spooky film was made all the more eerie in this amazing church, where Nosferatu is shown every Halloween. If you’re ever in NYC on Halloween, this is the event to catch.

Swept-Away-1974

Ken says, Swept Away is a 1974 Italian comedy-drama film written and directed by Lina Wertmuller. (Translated Full English Title: Swept Away... by an Unusual Destiny, in the Blue Sea of August).

It stars Mariangela Melato as Raffaella and Giancarlo Giannini as Gennarino.

The story is about a role reversal of the classes. Snooty Raffaella vacations with her husband on their yacht in the Mediterranean with their upper class friends.

Raffaella savors bossing around her underclass deckhand Gennarino.

She chides him for his dedication to Communism while the two are swept far out into the sea in a dingy after she oversleeps.

Naturally Raffaella refuses to listen to Gennarino's advice about how they could be carried out to sea. 

Gennarino slaps Raffaella into submission. A hot steamy, forbidden romance develops with Gennarino as Raffaella’s new master. Forbidden love blossoms on an uninhabited isle. Needless to say I always get hot and bothered throughout most of the movie, whenever I watch it. This is my favorite movie ever! In Italian with English subtitles: https://youtu.be/OzAEF5g35uw

Cole says, Lina Wertmüller’s inspired social satire is wrapped up in political titles, however false, that people identify with or use to paint others with as friend or foe. Italian dogma of communist, fascist, and capitalist ideologies figure prominently into the upper and lower class characters that Wertmüller presents with a take-no-prisoners sense of irreverence and sexual frankness.

Four upper class couples are out for a day’s adventure on a yacht served by a macho crew whose pique of discontent about their disrespectful overlords comes through Giancarlo Giannini’s hangdog deck hand Gennarino Carunchio. Gennarino is equal parts caricature and flesh. Giancarlo Giannini’s virtuosic performance borders on farce without ever crossing the line into exaggerated pantomime. It’s no wonder that Wertmüller relied on the gifted actor as a muse for other films such as “Seven Beauties” and “Love & Anarchy.”

Mariangela Melato’s rich snot Raffaella cares too much about the environment to be the capitalist devil that Gennarino pins her as. Still, she wears her entitlement on her sleeve. Mariangela slings insults and complaints at the boat crew she considers less than human. When the pasta isn’t cooked al dente she throws a fit befitting a three-year-old with a toothache. Sweaty t-shirts are also a bone of contention for Mariangela whose piercing green eyes closely resemble those of her sworn rival Gennarino.

Tensions between Raffaella and Gennarino reach a primal equanimity after the two become stranded on a remote island where Gennarino proves his ability to provide food and shelter. Wertmüller’s satire pitches and peaks in Gennarino’s demanding process of taming Raffaella into his love slave. The roles of master and slave get reversed. Wertmüller’s forceful transfer of power between man and woman is as truthful and cunning as anything in the films of Catherine Breillat or Luis Buñuel. The scene where Raffaella demurely requests anal penetration is especially hilarious. Gennarino’s purposefully proletariat response speaks volumes.  

“Swept Away” is as relevant today as it was when it was made. The power that lovers wield is as psychologically transient as any political ideology of the day, and just as predictable. It could well be the ultimate date movie for the intellectually and sensuously adventurous.  


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June 20, 2017

THE 25 BEST FILMS OF THE 21ST CENTURY, SO FAR

Earth-from-space

For whatever reason, this is the week that corporate critics are throwing in their hats on the best 25 films of the century so far. Naturally, I thought it best to put forth my choices for just such a list. Enjoy.

DragMeToHell

25. Drag Me To Hell —Sam Raimi is credited with making the best superhero movie of all time (Spider-Man 2), and he also made the most delightfully googly-moogly horror movie ever. ‘Drag Me To Hell’ edges out ‘House Of The Devil’ (also a great scare-fest) because it’s so much fun!

The Hateful Eight

24. The Hateful Eight —Criticized for its stagy presentation, ‘The Hateful Eight’ contains some of the best dialogue you’ll find in America Cinema. There’s a lot of bourbon in Tarantino’s well steeped tea.

AmericanSplendor

23. American Splendor —Here is a unique take on the biopic genre. If you don’t know who Harvey Pekar is, you couldn’t hope for a better way to be introduced.

ManchesterByTheSea

22. Manchester By The Sea —Kenneth Lonergan has the best ear for dialogue around, and his dramatic sensibilities put passion to the pain. What sweet pain he conveys.

Antarctica

21. An Inconvenient Truth —Remember when people didn’t believe in Global Warming? For anyone who still doesn’t think it’s real, here is the whole story from a to z.

Mrturner

20. Mr. Turner —Mike Leigh takes you on a rich trip through art and life that astounds. Wow.

Manderlay.colesmithey.com

19. Manderlay —Lars von Trier is the most rigorous filmmaker in the biz. Allegory and satire sting in this ambitious movie.

Fat Girl

18. Fat Girl —Catherine Breillat creates a trenchant social study of familial and social prejudice that contrasts generational and sexual codes of behavior. The film’s tableau resonates infinitely across all political reality.

Therewillbeblood

17. There Will Be Blood — Embedded in Anderson’s profound adaptation are timeless themes of greed and social oppression that reflect injustices facing America today.

Zodiac.colesmithey.com

16. Zodiac —David Fincher elevated the modern day true-crime thriller to the sublime with this engrossing movie. Style and substance unite.

JesseJames

15. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford —Here is a modern western art film that utilizes the camera’s discreet observations to sculpt a tidal wave of generational zeitgeist from a clash of ideals.

Persepolis

14. Persepolis‘Persepolis’ is an immensely meaningful film because of the cultural gaps that it bridges toward a new kind of adult cinematic dialogue. Marjane Satrapi is a real-life heroine.

George-Clooney-The-American

13. The AmericanHowever clichéd you might imagine the hit man premise for "The American" to be, know that not only does it contain two of the most intriguing female characters to come along in a dog's life, but it is one of the most sophisticated thrillers you will ever see.

Devil's backbone

12. The Devil’s Backbone —Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece of magical realism, horror, and war isn’t ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ it’s ‘The Devil’s Backbone,’ an ingenious film capable of inducing cold-sweat nightmares.

Mulholland-Drive

11. Mulholland Drive —David Lynch’s slow-burn erotic surrealism peaks in this filmic puzzle that contains all of Hollywood’s dark glamorous allure. Think ‘Hollywood Babylon’ as a lesbian sex thriller.

Minorityreport

10. Minority Report —Spielberg doing Philip K. Dick dystopia hit the nail on the sci-fi head. Here is the best sci-film ever made. Everything’s true, nothing is permitted.

Fog of war

9. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From The Life of Robert S. McNamara —Errol Morris’s documentary about lessons learned by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara from colossal mistakes the America military has made is essential viewing. You can’t see this movie only once.   

The-turin-horse

8. The Turin Horse“The Turin Horse” is an existential provocation to its audience, demanding that we consider the effect of man’s judgments against nature and ultimately against ourselves.

Colesmithey.com

7. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan —The funniest movie ever made.

Waking-life

6. Waking Life —Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking film is as close as you can come to experiencing and out-of-body cinematic experience.

Pianist

5. The Pianist —A pure filmic reflection of Polanski’s own wartime experiences as a (Jewish) child refugee during World War II, ‘The Pianist’ is a cinematic achievement that submerges the audience in the experience of its desperate protagonist. 

Blue.is.The.Warmest.Color

4. Blue Is The Warmest Colorencompasses national, familial, political, personal, sexual, intellectual, and artistic themes brings the narrative to an epic level of romantic drama. Still, it never over-stresses its implicit nature as an all-inclusive portrait of love. 

Colesmithey.com

3. Elle —Daring, ribald, and scathing on every level of social commentary, Paul Verhoeven’s sly gem is a big middle finger to Hollywood.

I-Daniel-Blake.colesmithey.com

2. I, Daniel Blake —Ken Loach’s social-realist picture discloses the ravaging effects of Britain’s austerity policies, with necessary urgency.

Amour.colesmithey

1. AmourMichael Haneke’s elegiac exploration of an elderly couple’s final days together transcends all definition of the romantic ideal. The film’s cumulative dramatic effect achieves a depth of emotional reward rarely attempted and far less frequently realized in cinema.

June 13, 2017

Democrats’ Obsession with Russian Election Hacking Makes Them Look Dumb

By Ted Rall

Nf1crtngi3iyThey got Al Capone for tax evasion — only tax evasion. It wasn’t very satisfying for his prosecutors. But they couldn’t prove murder or racketeering. So they got him where they wanted him: behind bars. It wasn’t elegant. But they got the job done.

Congressional Democrats need some of that prohibition-era pragmatism. They want Donald Trump impeached. But unlike Capone’s tormentors, Dems are largely ignoring Trump crimes they can prove in favor of those they can’t — Russian “election hacking” that may not have happened at all.

Democrats seem determined to maintain their status as a political version of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Day after day, Democratic leaders and their allies in corporate media have been going on and on about how “Russia hacked the election.” Exactly what they mean by “hacking” been so frustratingly vague, and solid evidence so consistently absent, that it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re making it all up or, à la Bush and the WMDs in Iraq, conflating they suspect with what they know.

This throw-hacking-allegations-at-the-wall-and-hope-they-stick approach has fed a dark alt-right media narrative about an attempted “deep state” coup against a democratically-elected president who won despite the virtually universal contempt of the gatekeeper class.

As the Dems derp around deep in the weeds of their confused and confusing Russia hacking narrative, they’re neglecting the much tastier, low-hanging impeachment fruit they could easily use to hasten the day when D.C. Metro cops frogmarch The Donald out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: straightforward corruption.

Russian hackers may have accessed a U.S. voting machine company. But even the spooks who accuse Russia of “meddling” — whatever that means, no one seems able to articulate — say they didn’t affect the election results. Hillary would have lost anyway. So why is this even a thing? Anyway, there’s almost certainly no tie there to Team Trump. Perhaps not a nothingburger, but useless to Democrats hell-bent on impeachment.

Then there’s the DNC emails posted by WikiLeaks. As I’ve noted before, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange said he didn’t get them from Russia. Also at WikiLeaks, Craig Murray says they were handed to him by a pro-Bernie DNC staffer. So it was a leak, not a hack. Anyway, even if Russia gave them to WikiLeaks — which looks doubtful — we should thank Team Putin for revealing just how venal and corrupt the DNC was when they decided to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination.

Telling the truth about lying DNC scoundrels who belong in prison is “meddling”?

If so, I’ll take more meddling, please.

The Democrats are right about one thing: there’s lots of smoke. They’re wrong about the type of fire.

The real Trump-Russia connection to look into is about a corrupt quid pro quo. It goes something like this: Trump aides tell their Russian contracts in 2016: if our guy wins the election, we’ll drop U.S.-led economic sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea. In return, you let our guy build as many ugly hotels in Russia as he wants. They might also forgive millions of dollars his businesses owe to Russian banks and oligarchs.

By declaring Trump’s election a constitutional crisis from day one, Democrats have been overreaching. Pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative — when there’s still no public evidence it happened at all, much less that Trump had anything to do with it if it did — is getting way ahead of the story.

If Democrats were smart, they’d focus on the corruption angle.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

June 02, 2017

KATHY GRIFFIN'S FIRING PROVES FREE SPEECH IS A LIE

By Ted Rall

We Americans pride ourselves on our supposed respect for free speech. In reality, however, few citizens seem to rally to the cause of freedom of expression when it’s under attack.

The latest major free-speech controversy surrounds the comedian Kathy Griffin, best known for co-hosting CNN’s coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square with Anderson Cooper.

KathyGriffin2

Earlier this week, it came to light that a Griffin photo shoot with the photographer Tyler Shields included an image of Griffin holding up a (fake, obviously) head of President Donald Trump. The image evokes pictures of ISIS members displaying the decapitated heads of their victims:

Reflecting America’s history of four presidential assassinations, there is a long-standing cultural and social taboo here against threats real or implied against a president’s life. Federal law prohibits such threats.

Reaction to Griffin’s Trump head photo was predictably swift and fierce. Politicians of both parties called for CNN to fire Griffin from her NYE gig. Trump himself tweeted: “My children, especially my 11-year-old son Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” (It may be time, Mr. President, to monitor Barron’s access to electronic devices.) After Anderson Cooper threw his “friend” under the bus on Twitter (“completely inappropriate“), CNN fired her.

Foolishly, she felt compelled to apologize too.

Griffin hasn’t gotten much support from the creative community. One exception was the comic actor Jim Carrey. “It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line at all times,” Carrey said. “That line is not real and if you step out into that spotlight and you’re doing the crazy things that (Trump) is doing, we’re the last line of defense. The comedians are the last voice of truth in this whole thing.”

Carrey is right. Satire is a high-wire act. If it’s not dangerous, it’s not funny — it’s Jay Leno at worst, Stephen Colbert at best. Pillorying Griffin for being “inappropriate” is ridiculous. She got fired for trying to do her job. So the image was disturbing and offensive. So what? No one would have paid attention to it if had been safe and bland, like most political satire.

Now, a primer on free speech.

For a creator, there is no “line.” When I work as an editor, I tell cartoonists that it’s their job to create and mine to censor. Pitch anything, go crazy, be wild. If I approve a piece, and all hell breaks loose, the person who should be fired for poor editorial judgement is the editor, not the artist. Artists shouldn’t self-censor.

Private companies can censor. The First Amendment is narrow. It only protects us from censorship by the government. But employers like CNN can and do censor. They should be called out when they do, and censorship should always be widely condemned and despised.

CNN blacklisted Griffin. Blacklisting is the practice of firing or refusing to hire a creator for work they did for someone else. Griffin didn’t post her Trump head pic on CNN.com. She didn’t display it on a CNN broadcast. So the Trump head was not CNN’s business. What was CNN’s business was what she did on the air with Anderson Cooper at Times Square, nothing more.

Unfortunately, blacklisting is common. Sports teams have disgusting “morals clauses” that allow owners to discipline athletes for expressing themselves off the playing field; if free speech means a thing, these should be prohibited. Employers have fired employees for the political bumper sticker on their car. Gross! I was fired from a gig drawing cartoons about sex and relationships for Men’s Health by a publisher who didn’t like a cartoon I drew for newspapers about politics — and that I never submitted to MH. Unless you’re born rich, you have to work. No employer should make you think twice about expressing yourself — yes, even if you’re expression is racist or otherwise offensive. Free speech is free speech.

Kathygriffin

The quality of the censored work or artist is irrelevant. I don’t give a shit about Kathy Griffin and never thought she was that funny, though she offered undeniable random charm in her NYE appearances. (Weird randomness is an essential ingredient of successful humor.) I don’t really understand the humor in the Trump head photo. From what I gather from social media, most Americans agree with me.

But what we think of a comedian’s work is completely unrelated to whether she deserves our support.

Remember when my colleague Garry Trudeau criticized the quality and content of the cartoons drawn by artists murdered by gunmen at the office of the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo? The effect of Trudeau’s remarks was to support ISIS against cartoonists, and to partially justify the slaughter. Whenever a value as fundamental as free expression is under attack, people of good conscience must rally to defend it, no matter the content. Though disgusted by Islamophobia, I was appalled by the attempt of two ISIS gunmen to murder right-wing anti-Muslim cartoonists in Texas in 2015. I condemned liberal attempts to get right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger fired, even though Rush has personally slimed me. When I had my radio show in Los Angeles, I took heat from pro-censorship liberals for bringing white supremacist David Duke on the air for a vigorous debate.

Reading this, some readers will say: you can say anything you want, but you don’t have the right to demand that someone hire you (or not fire you) if you do. This is sophistry.

In a capitalist society, you work or you starve to death. So, under our present system — you can be fired for saying stuff your boss doesn’t like, even stuff you say at home, not at work — your employer effectively has the right to kill you if your expression causes him (or his customers) offense. Most people aren’t rich enough not to have to worry about this. So they censor themselves.

By definition, therefore, we do not live in a free society. We are not free to say what we want, to be who we want to be.

Until we come to our senses and elevate freedom of expression to a true inalienable right that cannot be infringed upon by anyone or any entity, the only way to fight for free speech is to condemn censorship when we see it — especially when it’s incredibly clear and obvious.

Griffin’s situation is such a case.

The expression in question was clearly political speech. (Again, whether you thought it was tasteless or not is irrelevant.)

Griffin was fired by one employer, CNN — her highest profile gig — for something she did far away from CNN. This is blacklisting at its most McCarthyist, and must not be tolerated.

Citing Griffin’s Senator and former comic Al Franken said her “real, fulsome apology” means that, eventually, she may be able to recover from the Trump flap. A society in which a long-time professional comedian could be destroyed by one flop of a joke is not one that ought to be lecturing other countries about how it values freedom of speech.

Finally, Trump has this sort of satire coming. I’m not going to recite the President’s litany of disgusting statements and remarks about women, overweight people, Mexicans, and so on. The man is a colossal asshole. Instead let’s address the quaint notion that images of presidents and gruesome death shouldn’t mix.

Like his predecessors, Trump routinely orders airstrikes and drone strikes against countless innocent people. He has already murdered hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in the Middle East and South Asia. Shouldn’t we fire this guy, who actually causes real people to lose their real, actual bloodied heads, instead of Kathy Griffin?

mosul.jpg


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May 31, 2017

JESSICA CHASTAIN WHITELADYSPLAINS THE 2017 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

OH NO SHE DI'ENT. OH YES SHE DI'ID.

Jessica Chastain Dumps On All The Films In Competition At Cannes

Jump to 04:08 to watch Jessica Chastain whiteladysplain how poorly female characters were represented in the films-in-competition this year at Cannes. Sadly, Ms. Chastain is unable to articulate examples from the undisclosed films that she ham-fistedly calls out. As a result, no one has any idea what she's talking about. When Chastain opines about not seeing female characters she "recognizes," it begs the question of who exactly who the wealthy actress imagines — possibly the neighbors in her apartment building next to Central Park. It's a good thing that her refurbished Manhattan apartment only set her back $5.1 million. Refurbishing the 19th century apartment cost more. 

Chastain's dubious intention seems to draw attention to herself, rather than to the matter at hand. It just doesn't pass the BS detector test as the facial expression of female interpreter sitting behind Chastain evinces. This is clearly not Jessica Chastain's finest hour. 

Chastain at Cannes

That Chastain's buzzkill remarks come during a year when two women filmmakers were recognized with major awards at Cannes — Lynne Ramsey took home the Best Script Award for "You Were Never Really Here," and Sofia Coppola won the Best Director Award for "The Beguiled" — further blunts Chastain's point. Perhaps it would have served the press conference better to celebrate the female filmmakers whose (ostensibly) ethical artistic efforts stood in opposition to depictions of women characters Chastain disapproved of in the unnamed films that she cast aspersions on.

A little preparation for making her point might have served her better. When taken in the context of the daggers being shot by Pedro Almodovar's translator, it seems that such whiteladysplaining isn't everyone's cup of tea. And I'll take Vera Farmiga, as an actress, over Jessica Chastain any day of the week. If you haven't checked out "Bates Motel," I highly recommend it. Farmiga runs circles around Chastain with acting chops that match Naomi Watts, another polished actress who outperforms Jessica Chastain. I could go on. Have you seen what Gina Gershon can do? Whew. I guess it brings us around to Kirsten Dunst, whose performance in "The Beguiled" didn't pass the Bechtel test. 

Agnes Jaoui

Fortunately, Agnes Jaoui took over the baton to reduce the issue to meeting the criteria of the Bechtel Test — wherein in two female characters discuss something other than a male. Admittedly, that's setting the bar pretty low. Wait, Noah Baumbach's movie "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" didn't pass the Bechtel Test? — Shocker. Take it up with Noah.

Will Smith pitched in to clean up Chastain's mess by noting that having a couple of black folks (filmmakers in competition) "wouldn't be a bad thing either." Smith may fill the shoes of a boisterous American abroad, but he nevertheless presented a suave and worldly representative of Global Culture. Cheers to Will Smith as a responsible envoy of cinematic culture to put a pin in Chastain's entitled Trumpian version of truth. 

Will Smith

May 27, 2017

What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows. By Ted Rall

RedBlueIn the 1970s, when I was a kid, I asked my mother to explain the difference between the two major parties. “Democrats,” she explained, “are the party of the working man. Republicans represent big business.”

She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”

The two-party system was easy to understand.

Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.

Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.

So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?

I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.

“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observes New York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”

Yes they do.

Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.

Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.

What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?

As far as I can tell, nada.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.

When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?

They don’t. Even though 58% of American voters want a European-style taxpayer-subsidized single-payer system, the Democratic Party platform does not propose significant reforms to Obamacare.

The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?

Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t much to say.

“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.

Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.

When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?

Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.

Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


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May 18, 2017

Here’s My Current Working Theory of How Republicans Will Ride Trump’s Impeachment to Victory in 2020

By Ted Rall —

This can’t wait until next week’s syndicated column, so…

Back on 24th I wrote a syndicated column explaining that there is a strong chance that Donald Trump would be impeached and that House Speaker Paul Ryan would benefit as a result. This week’s developments confirm my analysis. Bear in mind, this is not a political prediction but rather a musing of how I see things going potentially. Your mileage may vary.

Donald-Trump-Impeachment

First: the almost certain fact that former FBI director James Comey was asked by President Trump to drop his investigation into former national security advisor General Michael Flynn sets up Trump for almost certain impeachment. Here’s why. First, moderate Republicans in the House and Senate are already peeling away and calling for a special prosecutor. Soon even right wingers will be joining them. A special prosecutor is a safe way for politicians to kick problems like Trump down the road. They can’t lose: if the prosecutor finds a lot of dirty stuff about Trump, oh well, not their fault, if anything they can take credit. If not, it’s not like even the radical right will hold them accountable for signing off on a special prosecutor. After all, there’s nothing wrong with getting down to the bottom of things. The problem for Trump is, the prosecutor is going to find out (a) that there’s a strong case for obstruction of justice and (b) all those meetings between Trump’s staff and Russian officials were corrupt quid pro quo transactions promising the elimination of sanctions over Ukraine in exchange for rubberstamping Trump-related business transactions in Russia. (Democrats should stop pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative because there doesn’t seem to be any thee there.)

Second, Republicans are hardly a united front. Yes, they came together to back up Trump when they thought that they would be able to push through their long awaited radical right political agenda. But now the Trump seems weak, ambitious figures like Paul Ryan can’t help but think to themselves “hey, I could become president now.” Because the Democratic Party is a total mess – this is the story no one is paying attention to you right now, but it’s absolutely key – more on that below – the Republican Party stands to benefit most from a Trump impeachment. Here’s how it plays out, perhaps.

Paul Ryan meets with vice president Mike Pence. “Mike,” he says, “let’s face it. You’ll never be elected president. You’re from Indiana, you call your wife mother, you’re creepy, probably a closeted gay. Let’s make a deal: I impeach Trump and you get to be president for the next three years. Schoolchildren have to memorize your name. You get to be on a stamp. Maybe one day on the three cent coin. In 2020, however, you step aside. You endorse me. I’m the Republican nominee.”

Pence goes along. Why wouldn’t he? Sure beats another three years of attending funerals.

After Trump, things turn calm. No more drama. This is very bad for women, gays, blacks. The Republican Congress works closely with Pence to pass a bunch of stuff that makes us look back at Ronald Reagan and wonder if that guy was really a liberal. Pence seems “normal” after Trump. The Republicans get lots of things done. Granted, all bad. But done.

In 2020, as I wrote in my column, Paul Ryan gets to present himself as the courageous man who took on a president from his own party because it was the right thing to do for the country. Powerful stuff. A true profile in BS courage.

Now, about the Democrats.

If you look back at 1976, vice president turned President Gerald Ford was hobbled by Watergate and his pardon of Richard Nixon. Everyone remembers that Jimmy Carter won. What they don’t remember is that it was a  close election. Incumbency really doesn’t matter. Ford wasn’t a very exciting president and he didn’t accomplish much at all. Mostly he just used his veto stamp. Carter was charismatic, young, and incredibly hard-working. He was a great candidate yet he just barely won against forward.

To win against a Republican incumbency in 2020, Democrats need a united party. If anything, the party is even more divided now than it was last year. The big rift between the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton wings of the Democratic Party hasn’t been addressed. It has been swept under the rug, which only makes things worse. Progressives have been denied a meaningful voice within the party. Policy belongs to the corporatist wing. Angry Hillary Clinton supporters continue to beat up Bernie Sanders people for not showing up at the polls, blaming them for electing Donald Trump. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run. That leaves the most likely nominees for 2020 to be people like Cory Booker, former progressives who no longer have any credibility with the left within the party.

It’s a grim scenario. And it certainly going to change. But that’s how I see things right now.


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