The more things change…
I feel sorry for the poor guy working at a desk with a Princess phone.
The more things change…
I feel sorry for the poor guy working at a desk with a Princess phone.
And you thought cell phones were a recent invention…
A little lesson on what not to add to your phone.
The Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos had his mobile phone “hacked” in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message that had apparently been sent from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, sources have told the Guardian.
The encrypted message from the number used by Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world’s richest man, according to the results of a digital forensic analysis.
This analysis found it “highly probable” that the intrusion into the phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from the account of the Saudi heir to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.
Here’s an idea: Don’t add WhatsApp to your phone. The app is notoriously insecure, and besides, it’s very popular with people in the Trump White House, including Jared Kushner. That right there should tell you not to use it.
“Please! I’m on long distance!”
Immunology — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on Trump’s frantic fight to stay out of reach.
Donald Trump, at times when it has served his purposes, has chosen to assume different personae. There was John Barron, an alias he used in the nineteen-eighties when giving false property valuations to a reporter. Later, there was John Miller, a guise he adopted to brag to People about his romances. (“He’s living with Marla and he’s got three other girlfriends.”) David Dennison was his stand-in for a hush agreement with the adult-movie actress Stormy Daniels, which has now led the Manhattan District Attorney to subpoena Trump’s accountant in an effort to get access, at last, to the President’s tax returns.
More recently, Trump has shown an elastic sense of identity in ways that exemplify his Presidential overreach and arrogance. On Halloween, in a case that has major implications for both the impeachment process and the future of executive power, a Justice Department lawyer told Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in a district court in D.C., that Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, was “absolutely immune” from congressional subpoenas because he is “the alter ego of the President.” Apparently, he’s not the only one. The office of the current White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, has told potential witnesses in the House impeachment investigation—from Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to Charles Kupperman, the former deputy national-security adviser—that they, too, are absolutely immune.
The argument is that certain associates work so closely with the President that they are, in effect, an extension of him, and thus free to ignore subpoenas or requests to testify. Others were told that, if they testified, they risked violating additional forms of Presidential privilege. Some witnesses, including Marie Yovanovitch, the former Ambassador to Ukraine, and Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official, showed up anyway, and their testimony is proving devastating for Trump. More than a dozen witnesses, though, have failed to appear.
A prominent absentee was John Bolton, the former national-security adviser. On Friday, his lawyer said that Bolton’s willingness to testify depends on what the courts have to say about immunity. Bolton had a difficult relationship with Trump, who fired him, and a close view of his foreign dealings. (According to Hill, Bolton called the Ukraine scheme a “drug deal.”) His lawyer added that Bolton had new information, all of which could make him a dangerous witness for the President, particularly after this week, when public hearings begin.
But, even beyond the question of who will testify, the fights over immunity, along with a host of related legal battles, are critical, because Trump’s Presidency has been defined by his belief that he cannot be held to account. That conviction is particularly pernicious given that many of the questions at issue—What is executive privilege? Can a sitting President be indicted?—are surprisingly ill-defined in American jurisprudence. In fact, Presidents from both parties have on occasion tried to claim that close aides had absolute immunity. When President George W. Bush tested the assertion, in a case involving the former White House counsel Harriet Miers and the firing of U.S. attorneys, a federal judge ruled that no such immunity existed. But that case was settled, and never made it to even the appeals-court level. This may be the moment to establish some clarity.
The McGahn case is further along than other suits attempting to do so. (Last week, the House Intelligence Committee withdrew its subpoena for testimony from Kupperman, who had brought his own case, to keep the focus on McGahn.) The case arose from the Mueller report, which suggested that McGahn may have direct knowledge of Trump’s alleged obstructions of justice. By most accounts, Judge Jackson was taken aback by the breadth of the Administration’s claims, which included a denial that courts should be allowed to have any say in a fight between the President and Congress. “How will they resolve it on their own, then—sending the sergeant at arms to arrest Mr. McGahn?” she asked, referring to the House’s security guard. The Justice Department’s lawyers have suggested that a better idea might be for the House committees to rely on an “accommodation process”—in other words, if they were nice to Trump he might throw a few witnesses their way.
Similarly, in a case involving the Judiciary Committee’s efforts to get access to some of the Mueller report’s underlying materials, Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the D.C. district court, said that the White House’s arguments that it was going along with normal processes “smack of farce.” (On October 25th, she ruled for the committee, although her order has been stayed.) And Judge Victor Marrero, the district-court judge in the tax-return case, noted that the President’s argument would “potentially immunize the misconduct of any other person, business affiliate, associate, or relative who may have collaborated with the President in committing purportedly unlawful acts.”
Marrero ruled against Trump on October 7th; an expedited appeal was heard two weeks later. In those oral arguments, Judge Denny Chin, of the Second Circuit, asked the President’s lawyer William Consovoy if he was actually arguing that, owing to Presidential immunity, Trump really could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and local authorities would not be able to pursue the case while he was President. “Nothing could be done?” Chin said. Consovoy replied, “That’s correct.”
The crudeness of the Administration’s arguments obscure the delicacy of the constitutional questions. Trump appears unwilling to accept the idea that weighing the President’s powers and privileges against other parties’ rights and interests is essential to a healthy constitutional system. (The Supreme Court performed such a balancing test in ordering Richard Nixon to turn over the White House tapes.) For Trump, it’s all or nothing. But the corollary to any claim of criminal immunity is that the alternative the Constitution provides—impeachment—must not be undermined.
The House isn’t waiting for all the missing witnesses to appear, or for all the cases to reach the Supreme Court. Instead, Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, warned last week that the President’s frantic efforts to sabotage the process could, in themselves, be impeachable offenses. As the list of charges grows, more people will be called to testify before the House, and then, most likely, the Senate—and their names may even surprise Donald Trump.
I Can Drive My Own Car, Thanks — Beth Teitell in the Boston Globe on automated safety features.
Debbie Abdon was driving home to Milton from the Honda dealer, making what should have been a celebratory trip in her new white Accord, only to feel like she’d bought a haunted vehicle.
The wheel vibrated in her hands. It pulled her to the right. “It scared the daylights out of me,” she said. “She freaked,” her husband said.
Once she was off the highway, Abdon would learn that the wheel’s “possessed” behavior was intended to keep her safe, a feature of Honda’s Lane Keeping Assist System.
But when she was driving on I-95, the now-retired food service worker wasn’t thinking about how even entry-level cars now have “active” safety systems that come close to driving for you. She was thinking about how the big truck to her right was too close for comfort, which made her edge slightly leftward, which in turn prompted the safety system to fight her for control of the car by steering it back to the middle of her lane.
Once home, Abdon promptly disabled the feature. “Whoever is driving should be in control of the car,” she said.
For some large fraction of drivers that’s become a call to action. More than one in five drivers have disabled a safety feature, according to a new study by Liberty Mutual Insurance. The top reasons are good old-fashioned annoyance at all those beeps and flashing lights, and distrust of technology.
Millennials, by the way, disable the systems significantly more than other generations — 35 percent compared to 18 percent of Gen X and 10 percent of baby boomers, the study found. (The study was silent on whether the numbers reflect a youthful disregard for safety, or the boomers’ inability to figure out how to shut off the annoyances.)
If you’re still driving an older car, here’s a glimpse into the new world of automotive nagging: systems that can detect when a car is in your blind spot, or a pedestrian is about to step into your path, and even when another vehicle is about to come across behind you when you’re in reverse. Somehow the car can also figure out when a driver may be too tired, and suggests a break.
Many drivers find lane-departure warnings particularly annoying. The system uses a camera to monitor when the car drifts beyond the lane marking, and sets off an audio, visual, or other alert. Particularly aggressive systems, such as the one in Abdon’s car, not only vibrate, but steer a driver back to the center of the lane.
There is so much to these new safety systems that there’s now a website devoted to them: MyCarDoesWhat.org.
Driver-drowsiness detectors, the site explains, typically work by tracking how often a driver departs from the center of the lane over a set period of time.“More advanced versions can ‘learn’ what your normal driving patterns are when you aren’t drowsy,” the site explains. “If you then begin to drive unusually — such as making many sudden maneuvers or stops — the system may suggest you may be drowsy and should take a driving break.”
In Boston, where we’re blessed to have fellow motorists providing roadway guidance — in the form of a raised middle finger, perhaps, or honking — many drivers don’t want input from their cars, too. And they’re showing up at auto repair shops seeking help, unaware they can turn the offending systems off on their own.
George Jr., a co-owner of Brighton Motor Services, who declined to give his last name, said that not only do people use mechanics as therapists — “You wouldn’t believe half the stuff people tell us about,” he said, “their sexual relationships, they’ve got a family member in jail . . .” — but they also want mechanics to silence their cars.
Customers have asked him to disable blind-spot warning systems. “They buzz people’s butts and they don’t like it,” he said.
But there’s no way he’s assuming that kind of liability. “If I disable it and something happens, everything falls on the shoulders of the small auto repair shop,” he said.
Speaking of therapists, maybe drivers should look within themselves for the problem, and learn, for example, to stay within the highway’s painted lines, and not blame safety features, said Jim Motavalli, a freelance auto writer and the author of “High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry.”
He likened attempts to silence safety-related beeping to the irritation some drivers feel about the “check engine” light. “People are more concerned with getting the light off than addressing the circumstances behind why it came on.”
The warnings can be so confusing, in fact, that a driver may not even be sure what the car is trying to say. That’s what happened to Eric Mauro, a local stained glass artist, this summer, when he and his wife rented a car in Madrid and thought that thumping sound they kept hearing was the result of driving over what must have been bumps in the road.
Nope. The thumping was the rental’s way of telling Mauro that he was going over a painted lane marker without using his blinker. Considering how hectic the driving already felt — “people drive like maniacs,” he said — he took the time to figure out, in Spanish, how to disable it.
“The other drivers were already clear on what I was doing wrong,” he said.
Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute have found that many safety features reduce crashes. Cars with lane-departure warning systems had 11 percent fewer single-vehicle, sideswipe, and head-on crashes than those without the technology, for example. Blind-spot detection systems led to a 23 percent decrease in lane changes with injuries.
The technology isn’t foolproof, of course, as per this recent press release: “AAA Warns Pedestrian Detection Systems Don’t Work When Needed Most.”
Meanwhile, safety is one issue. Art is another. One shudders to think what this all means for Hollywood.
Imagine that famous scene in “On the Waterfront” in a modern vehicle: Marlon Brando playing the washed-up boxer Terry, confronting his brother in the back of a cab outfitted with today’s safety features.
“You shoulda looked out for me a little bit,” he would tell Charley, as Leonard Bernstein’s dirge-like score plays in the background. As Brando winds up for his big line, the cab driver makes the mistake of drifting out of his lane. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a’’ — beep, beep, beep.
Doonesbury — Read all about it.
One of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the election was because Trump and his orcosphere were able to raise a stink about her private e-mail server. It could have been hacked, they cried, and foreign governments could have learned State Department secrets. Augh!
So it comes as no surprise whatsoever that Trump himself is playing with cyber-fire because he’s not following White House protocol with his own cell phone. Oh, yes, he uses one, don’tchaknow.
Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.
The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.
The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.
While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.
The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.
Rest assured, some foreign entity has already hacked his phone; probably turned on the camera and microphone, maybe even played a few games of Candy Crush. So the security of the nation is on the line, so to speak, because this flaming hypocrite finds it “too inconvenient” to follow the rules.
By the way, there’s a story in the Boston Globe that Trump’s aides rough up his Twitter feeds with typos and grammatical errors so that he sounds like one of the commenters on a long blog thread at Fox News.
Presidential speechwriters have always sought to channel their bosses’ style and cadence, but Trump’s team is blazing new ground with its approach to his favorite means of instant communication. Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch.
Or, as John Aravosis notes, people get paid to make Trump look stupid.
Thank you, friends, for all your sage and well-thought out advice.
I went with the iPhone 7. It’s very nice and intimidating with all its helpful little features, but so far the only apps I’ve downloaded is the free one from Miami-Dade Transit so I can see when the train is running late and American Airlines. I switched Siri’s voice to the male one which gives me the illusion that a guy would take an interest in me. The texting auto-correct and fill-in is helpful.
Oh, and it does take great pictures.
My little basic cell phone that does little more than make calls and texts is dying. Final arrangements are being made to relegate it to the dustbin of history after seven years and today I’m going to look for the next step up to an iPhone.
I want something simple and inexpensive so I’m open to suggestion. My tech advisor recommends the iPhone SE or the iPhone 7.
That Fitbit you’re wearing to track your miles is tracking you and telling everyone where you are. If you’re a special ops soldier, that’s not a good thing.
The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity.
Strava says it has 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app. The map is not live — rather, it shows a pattern of accumulated activity between 2015 and September 2017.
Most parts of the United States and Europe, where millions of people use some type of fitness tracker, show up on the map as blazes of light because there is so much activity.
In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around.
Air Force Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Sunday that the U.S. military is looking into the issue.
It’s not just fitness monitors; cell phones — even the antique ones like mine — give off GPS locator signals. That’s good if you’re lost in the Everglades. Not so good if you’re trying to sneak up on the Taliban.
December To Remember — Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on how this next month could make or break Trump’s presidency.
Donald Trump is unique among modern Presidents in that he has no significant legislative accomplishments to show for ten months after taking office. Year one is when Presidents usually make their mark, especially if they came into office with unified control of the government, as Trump and his party did. Presidents in the first year of their first term are often at the peak of their popularity, have the biggest margins in Congress, and are free from the scandals and intense partisanship that start to gather around them later and make governing ever more difficult. By the second year, a President’s legislative agenda becomes complicated by the hesitancy of members of Congress to take risky votes as midterm elections approach, particularly if a President is unpopular. The math is stark: on average, modern Presidents have historically lost thirty House seats and four Senate seats in their first midterm elections.
Trump is governing well below the optimal levels of recent successful first-year Presidents. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, Reagan was so personally popular that he was able to convince a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a major tax cut. In 1993, Bill Clinton used a Democratic Congress to pass a major economic plan, the Family and Medical Leave Act, gun legislation, and NAFTA, though his signature health-care bill eventually failed. (The political cost was high: in midterm elections the following year, Clinton lost his Democratic Congress for the rest of his Presidency and was later engulfed in scandals that slowed his agenda.) In 2001, George W. Bush, who also started with a Congress controlled by his own party, passed a major tax cut and a significant rewrite of federal education policy, two pieces of legislation that came with significant support from Democrats. Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, with large Democratic majorities, high approval ratings, and a massive economic crisis, all of which he leveraged to pass the most ambitious first-year agenda of any President since Lyndon Johnson, including an enormous economic-stimulus package and major reforms of the financial regulatory system and health care. (The final version of Obamacare, after some drama, was actually signed into law in March of his second year.)
Trump’s first year has been different. He has a record low approval rating. He is mired in scandal. And he, so far, has no major legislative accomplishments. He looks like a President in his eighth year rather than one in his first. All of this makes December crucial for the White House.
From now until the New Year, Congress will be jammed with legislative activity that may make or break Trump’s first year in office. Most of the attention has focussed on Trump’s tax-cut legislation, which is deeply unpopular according to public-opinion polls but which Republicans believe is essential to pass in order for them to have something to show for the year. But there are many other politically consequential bills that must be passed in the weeks ahead. On December 8th, the money to fund the federal government runs out. Staff members for the four top Democratic and Republican leaders have been meeting with the White House for weeks to negotiate a deal. On Tuesday, these leaders—Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Chuck Schumer—will meet with Trump at the White House about the issue.
Schumer and Pelosi have been maneuvering for this moment all year, and they have significant leverage. The Republican Party, despite unified control of Congress, does not have the votes to pass bills to fund the government in either the House, where many conservatives refuse to support annual appropriations bills, or the Senate, where they need sixty votes but have only fifty-two Republicans. For several years, a coalition of mostly Republican defense hawks, who want higher levels of Pentagon spending, and Democrats, who want higher levels of discretionary spending, have joined forces to provide the votes for the annual appropriations bills. Pelosi and Schumer will not deliver those Democratic votes without extracting a price from Trump and Republicans.
There are three major pieces of legislation that Democrats want: a bipartisan fix for Obamacare, a legislative fix for the Obama-era DACA program that Trump recently ended, and the extension of a popular health-care program for children—SCHIP—that recently expired.
Some liberal Democratic senators have said that they won’t vote to fund the government unless the DACA fix is included, though that is not yet a Party-wide position. As for the Obamacare fix, which is known as Alexander-Murray, after the two senators who negotiated it, the current version of the G.O.P. tax-cut bill includes a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which would hobble Obamacare rather than fix it. The politics for Trump are tricky. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, a shaky vote on the tax bill, has hinted that she wants the bipartisan health-care legislation passed as the price for her vote on any tax bill that repeals the mandate. Schumer has said that passing a mandate repeal would blow up the Alexander-Murray Obamacare fix. In other words, Schumer is not going to help pass the health-care fix as a way to grease the skids for McConnell to secure Collins’s vote on tax cuts. Trump is likely going to have to give ground on one or more of these Democratic priorities.
“Any Republican senator who thinks they can pass the individual mandate [repeal] and then turn around and get Murray-Alexander passed is dead wrong,” Schumer said on November 15th, after McConnell added the Obamacare-mandate repeal to the Republican tax bill.
The last time Trump cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi was in May, when the leftover spending bills from the previous year were negotiated and passed to keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. In fact, this was arguably the most significant piece of legislation of Trump’s first year, and it was widely considered to be an enormous success for the Democrats because it included high levels of discretionary spending opposed by Trump and no funding for the border wall that he requested. Trump was so angry about the coverage that he tweeted that perhaps there needed to be a government shutdown the next time the two sides entered spending negotiations. “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” Trump said in a series of tweets. “We either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ .”
Tuesday’s meeting at the White House between Trump and congressional leaders from both parties is meant to avoid a December 8th government shutdown. How much Republicans are willing to give Democrats may depend on the status of the G.O.P. tax bill. There are at least half a dozen G.O.P. senators with serious policy concerns regarding the tax proposal. And there are three Republican senators—John McCain and Jeff Flake, of Arizona, and Bob Corker, of Tennessee—who dislike Trump so much that they may be looking for reasons to oppose any legislation that empowers his Presidency. Republicans already have a ready-made conservative reason: the proposed tax changes will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion.
If the tax bill is cruising through the Senate—McConnell wants a vote next week—there may be less incentive for Republicans to risk a shutdown. But if it dies next week, or is delayed, Trump will be under intense pressure to avoid ending the year with no major legislative accomplishments—and the chaos of a government shutdown. In order to keep the government running, Trump would have to strike another deal with Pelosi and Schumer and sign a bipartisan spending deal that includes major Democratic priorities.
As a result, Trump would end his first year in office with no Republican legislative accomplishments and two deals with Pelosi and Schumer that boost the Democratic agenda. If that seems likely to happen, it would enrage conservatives and the Republican base. For Trump, December could be the month that makes or breaks his first year in office.
The Dangers Of Losing Net Neutrality — John Nichols in The Nation.
Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet. It guarantees that speech is equal on the network of networks—whether the words come from Walmart, the corporate behemoth that identifies as the largest retailer in the world, or Walmart Watch, the movement that “seeks to hold Walmart fully accountable for its impact on communities, America’s workforce, the retail sector, the environment and the economy.”
Net-neutrality protections assure that the essential democratic discourse on the World Wide Web cannot be bartered off to the highest bidders of a billionaire class that dominates the political debate on so many other media platforms.
Citizens love net neutrality. “The overwhelming majority of people who wrote unique comments to the Federal Communications Commission want the FCC to keep its current net neutrality rules and classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act,” Ars Technica reported in August. How overwhelming? “98.5% of unique net neutrality comments oppose Ajit Pai’s anti–Title II plan,” read the headline.
The media monopolists of the telecommunications industry hate net neutrality. They have worked for years to overturn guarantees of an open Internet because those guarantees get in their way of their profiteering. If net neutrality is eliminated, they will restructure how the Internet works, creating information superhighways for corporate and political elites and digital dirt roads for those who cannot afford the corporate tolls.
No one will be surprised to learn which side Donald Trump’s FCC has chosen.
FCC chair Ajit Pai, who does the bidding of the telecommunications conglomerates with the rigid determination and focus of the former Verizon lawyer that he is, has been racing to eliminate net neutrality. Pai plans to have the FCC vote on December 14 to overturn the safeguards that were put in place during the Obama administration. If Pai and the Trump-aligned majority on the five-member commission succeed in gutting the existing Open Internet Order, they will alter the future of communications in America.
That alteration would “rig the internet,” according to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who say, “If [Pai] is successful, Chairman Pai will hand the keys to our open internet to major corporations to charge more for a tiered system where wealthy and powerful websites can pay to have their content delivered faster to consumers. This leaves smaller, independent websites with slower load times and consumers with obstructed access to the internet—a particularly harmful decision for communities of color, students, and online activists. This is an assault on the freedom of speech and therefore our democracy.”
“There can be no truly open internet without net neutrality,” says Copps. “To believe otherwise is to be captive to special interest power brokers or to an old and discredited ideology that thinks monopoly and not government oversight best serves the nation. In this case, I think it’s both. The FCC under Pai is handing over the internet to a few humongous gatekeepers who see the rest of us as products to be delivered to advertisers, not as citizens needing communications that serve democracy’s needs. By empowering ISPs to create fast lanes for the few and squelch alternative points of view, the Trump FCC fecklessly casts aside years of popular consensus that the public needs net neutrality. The tens of thousands of Americans I have talked with, both Republicans and Democrats, fully understand this need.”
Copps says: “This naked corporatism is Washington at its worst.”
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the worst of the Trump agenda is on display in the attack on net neutrality. The stakes are that high.
It’s Still The Same Old Story — Noah Isenberg in Salon on why “Casablanca” is still revered 75 years later.
When a movie is still talked about three quarters of a century after its debut, revered in the kind of hushed tones normally reserved for discussing a nation’s most precious cultural treasures, people often want to know why. In the case of “Casablanca,” that holy grail of classical Hollywood that turns 75 on Sunday, there is no easy answer.
Sure, there are the iconic performances by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and company. There’s also the film’s auspicious timing, appearing as it did just weeks after General Patton’s troops deployed in Operation Torch declared victory in the North African city where it’s set. Then, too, there are its endlessly quoted lines (“Round up the usual suspects!”), crafted by screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein, together with Howard Koch, and the many decades of packed revival screenings at repertory theaters and student film societies, not to mention innumerable television broadcasts and TCM airings.
While we may search in vain for a single reason that accounts for the magic of “Casablanca’s” enduring success, it can’t merely be considered “the happiest of happy accidents,” as critic Andrew Sarris once branded it. Even its theme song, “As Time Goes By,” — a Tin Pan Alley number from the 1930s written by Herman Hupfeld, which composer Max Steiner initially shunned — has in its lyrics a line that almost makes a deliberate claim on a deeper narrative foundation that is at once eternal, an ever-green of sorts: “It’s still the same old story.”
Perhaps this explains why screenwriters, novelists and composers still turn to “Casablanca” for source material. “We drink at the well of ‘Casablanca’ many times,” said television writer and producer Matt Selman, who’s had a hand in creating several of the episodes of “The Simpsons” that offer a satirical wink at the picture, in a phone interview with me in 2016. Today, it’s such an essential part of our cultural lexicon that you don’t even need to have seen the movie to recognize the references.
Last year alone brought us a pair of movies that paid homage to that most quoted of classics. In “La La Land,” a blustery love letter to old Hollywood, writer-director Damien Chazelle made a conscious decision not only to cast Emma Stone as an aspiring actress with an outsize Ingrid Bergman obsession, bedroom poster and all, but to have her work on the Warner Bros. lot at a café directly opposite of the set once used for Bogart and Bergman. There’s even the faint suggestion of a direct quote (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world”), or perhaps more of a thought bubble, delivered by Ryan Gosling’s character, and a recognizable nod to the famous bittersweet ending.
Similarly, in his deeply personal, and comparatively underrated, “20th Century Women,” writer-director Mike Mills incorporated his own mother’s love of Bogart movies of the 1940s into the script. In the film’s opening scene, as the voice-over narration given by the family matriarch Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) describes the various things that she introduces her son to, when she gets to movies, the camera cuts to an iconic still of Bogart and Bergman on the airport tarmac in their trench coats and snap brim hats. This sort of subtle touch confirms a statement made by Umberto Eco in the 1980s: “Casablanca” is not just one movie, it is “the movies.”
This same tendency to draw on “Casablanca,” and to weave strands of its celebrated story into a new plot, can be found in several highly successful recent novels as well. Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer prize-winning “Orphan Master’s Son,” published in 2012 and set in modern-day North Korea, involves a furtive viewing of the contraband DVD on a laptop in Pyongyang. Its story offers inspiration for a daring escape to America in the absence of letters of transit.
More recently, Amor Towles’ enormously popular novel, “A Gentleman in Moscow,” includes a pivotal late chapter in which the novel’s protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, watches the movie with a former Red Army colonel. In addition to adding an extra layer of narrative complexity, the episode allows the novel’s protagonist — and, of course, readers along with him — to indulge in the film (“when the smoke from Rick’s cigarette dissolves into a montage of his days in Paris with Ilsa, the Count’s thoughts dissolved into a Parisian montage of his own”).
As Ingrid Bergman once observed of the film late in life: “I feel about ‘Casablanca’ that it has a life of its own. There is something mystical about it. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film.” Many decades later that need does not yet seem to have left us, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
Doonesbury — “It’s Hedley.”
The Big Hack — David Remnick in The New Yorker.
Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, once remarked while on a trip to Berlin in the early days of the Cold War, “The trouble with free elections is that you never know how they will turn out.”
On the morning of November 9th, Molotov’s grandson, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian Duma’s foreign-affairs committee, announced to the parliament, “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the American Presidential elections. And just this second Donald Trump began his speech as President-elect.” The Duma members cheered and applauded.
In the days to come, there were more declarations of acid satisfaction among the Russian élite. Dmitri Kiselyov, the host of “News of the Week,” a popular current-affairs show on state-controlled television, gloated over Trump’s victory and Barack Obama’s inability to prevent it. Obama, he said, was a “eunuch.” Trump was an “alpha male”—and one who showed mercy to his vanquished rival. “Trump could have put the blonde in prison, as he’d threatened in the televised debates,” Kiselyov said on his show. “On the other hand, it’s nothing new. Trump has left blond women satisfied all his life.” Kiselyov further praised Trump because the concepts of democracy and human rights “are not in his lexicon.” In India, Turkey, Europe, and now the United States, he declared, “the liberal idea is in ruins.”
Vladimir Putin did not showboat, but he, too, made his satisfaction plain. His spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters that the similarity between Trump and Putin’s “conceptual approach to foreign policy” was “phenomenal.” Trump’s victory was the basis for Russia’s “moderate optimism”; now both sides could discuss how “to clear out the Augean stables in our bilateral relations.”
All of this is all the more alarming to recall now, in the light of the latest news: according to U.S. intelligence reports, Putin “ordered an influence campaign” to undermine Clinton and work with “a clear preference” to enhance Trump’s prospects. A classified version of this intelligence has now been delivered to both the President and the President-elect. Briefed in New York on Friday by the heads of the C.I.A., F.B.I., and N.S.A., Trump, who earlier in the day called the focus on Russian hacking “a political witch hunt,” finally allowed, if obliquely, that the Russians—and not the Chinese, not “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds”—might have hacked the e-mail accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. A declassified report concluded that Putin ordered a campaign of covert operations, from defamatory “fake news” articles about Clinton to the hack itself. Even as Trump seemed to shift his view of the source of the D.N.C. hack, he did not concede that the operation had helped his campaign. The declassified report, however, said that the C.I.A., F.B.I., and N.S.A. had uniformly “high confidence” that Putin ordered the operation in order to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The N.S.A. had only “moderate confidence” on some details, while the C.I.A. and F.B.I. had “high confidence.” The differences, while vague, seem to be over the degree of Putin’s personal role. The declassified version of the report was unrevealing about how the agencies had come to their conclusions or collected their information.
One should continue to demand even more information from the U.S. government, and one can readily concede that Trump won his Electoral College victory for a variety of reasons, including the disaffection of the white working class in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio; the F.B.I. director’s two letters, late in the campaign, about Clinton’s e-mail server; and Clinton’s deficiencies and tactical errors as a candidate.
And yet how is it possible, if these intelligence reports are true, to count the 2016 Presidential election as unsullied? We are two weeks away from Trump’s Inauguration, and American intelligence agencies, flawed as they are, have declared, publicly and clearly, that they have convincing evidence that Russia, at its President’s direction, interfered in a Presidential election. Congress clearly has a job to do, but it is not alone. No matter how much it may offend Trump’s ego or his sense of self-possession, it will be his responsibility, his duty as President, to order the agencies at his command to dig even deeper, to provide as full a reckoning as possible. Will he resist Congress on this issue? Is he capable of questioning, in a sense, his own election? If he decides to refuse this duty, to just “move on,” as he likes to say, one will have to ask why.
Putin’s resentment of Clinton was always manifest; it is almost as severe as Trump’s. Putin saw the Clinton Administration of the nineties as having taken advantage of Russian weakness after the fall of the Soviet Union, twenty-five years ago. He viewed Hillary Clinton as a foreign-policy hawk who wanted regime change from Baghdad to Kiev to Moscow. In 2011, Putin, who lives in fear of spontaneous uprisings, events like the Arab Spring and the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia, accused Clinton of giving “a signal” to urge thousands of Russians to come out on the streets of Moscow to protest parliamentary-election “irregularities” and Putin’s intention to return once more to the Kremlin as President.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with Russian political experts, and all of them agreed that Putin was certainly pleased, at least initially, with Trump’s victory—and that satisfaction is reflected, too, on countless news and talk shows on television. These analysts added that Putin is undoubtedly cheered that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s appointment to head the State Department, was likely to leave behind American “sanctimony” about human rights and democracy and, following the pattern of his career at ExxonMobil, to concentrate on purely “transactional politics.” Some, however, wondered if Putin will remain enchanted with Trump once he encounters Trump’s inconsistencies, his alarming penchant for surprise pronouncements via Twitter.
Like many nationalist politicians in Europe, Trump has made plain his admiration for Putin, complimenting the Russian leader’s “great control over his country,” while at the same time failing to address the reality that Putin’s regime has instituted wholesale censorship of television, increased repressive measures on ordinary citizens, and unleashed his forces in Ukraine and Syria. (Putin, of course, discounts criticism of his policies as Western hypocrisy and points to everything from the invasion of Iraq, which he opposed, to the eastward expansion of NATO, which he sees as an aggressive act.)
Trump’s argument throughout the campaign, the reason for his compliments for Putin, he has said, is related to his stated desire to ease tensions between Russia and the United States and avoid the ultimate disaster, a nuclear confrontation. But what concerns many seasoned American analysts, politicians, and diplomats is that Trump is deluding himself about Putin’s intentions and refuses to see the nature of Russia’s nationalist, autocratic regime clearly. Trump has spoken critically of NATO and in support of European nationalist initiatives like Brexit to such a degree that, according to one Obama Administration official, “our allies are absolutely terrified and completely bewildered.”
Strobe Talbott, who was Bill Clinton’s closest adviser on Russia, told me recently that the hack of the D.N.C. and Putin’s other moves in Europe—including the annexation of Crimea, the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, and the financial support of nationalists like Marine Le Pen, of France—were part of a larger strategy intended to weaken the E.U. and NATO.
“I try to be careful about superlatives,” Talbott said, “but I cannot think, going back to the Soviet Union or since, that there’s been a Moscow-Kremlin-instigated gambit that was so spectacularly successful as what they have done with our democracy. All of those assets that they tried to use on us over the years were far less by comparison; this was like winning seventeen jackpots all at once.”
Not Gone Yet — David Dayen in The Nation on why Obamacare may be here to stay.
If you confine yourself to the Congressional Record, you would assume that Republicans methodically followed their game plan to dismantle Obamacare in the first week of the new session. The Senate passed the first phase of their repeal bill under a process called reconciliation, a budget procedure that requires only a simple majority in the Senate, without opportunity for filibuster. The Senate should wrap up in the coming weeks with a “vote-a-rama” (where Senators vote on all amendments consecutively for hours on end) and a final vote, and the finished product will move to the House, for likely passage days after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
But Republicans spent more time firming up the process of repeal than on the substance of the bill, which thus far includes no detail on what will be repealed or when, or what will eventually replace the current system. It’s like they practiced how to walk down the aisle over and over without knowing whether they will say “I do.”
This absence of detail has created a vacuum, filled with fear and infighting and jockeying for position. Hard-liners and moderates are consumed with the timeline for delay. But Tom Cotton became the first senator to publicly oppose repeal without a replacement, echoing the sentiments of others in private. Meanwhile, polling for “repeal and delay” is horrendous. And any replacement will have to contend with furious lobbying from insurers and major medical groups.
Furthermore, familiar politics are already tripping up the process. Republicans really want to eliminate Obamacare’s taxes on high-income households, insurance companies, and medical-device manufacturers; repeal should actually be seen as a tax-cut bill in the short-term. But Rand Paul’s concerns about the deficit led him to oppose the bill, and while he has failed to rally conservatives to his side thus far, money for a replacement will likely have to come from somewhere to appease the budget hawks. Separately, in a funhouse-mirror echo of the Stupak amendment, House Republicans want to include defunding of Planned Parenthood in the repeal, like the dry-run repeal bill did last year. But Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have threatened to fight such a measure, making Senate passage less likely. And that’s just the beginning of the knock-down, drag-out fights to come over every line of a replacement bill.
What this shows is that Obamacare really did alter the social contract in America. For all its faults—and they are considerable—Obamacare created an expectation of a definitive federal role in health-care markets. It’s untenable to simply return to a pre-2010 status quo; nobody outside of Iowa lunatic Steve King is calling for that. The public now expects that the government must provide assistance in making health-care markets work, in a way that they didn’t expect a decade ago. The public sees Obamacare as a benchmark, and any service below it will not be tolerated.
And Republicans are actively aiming low. While making public promises that nobody will lose their coverage from repeal, they have conceded that they cannot cover as many Americans as Obamacare with anything they would approve, preferring to use the term “universal access.” The one thing Republicans cannot overturn in reconciliation is the pre-existing condition exclusion, but they can allow insurers to price the stickiest applicants out of the market. This will necessarily create incentives to cherry-pick customers, and leave millions on the sidelines. The types of executive actions Trump could take for an “orderly resolution” of Obamacare all militate toward denying coverage by reducing mandatory insurance benefits and restricting rules on sign-ups.
This wasn’t really a problem in 2004 or 2006. George W. Bush didn’t have a standard to live up to on health care. He simply implemented versions of long-held Republican ideas like tort reform, health savings accounts, and state funding for high-risk pools—the exact same ideas being bandied about today, incidentally. They didn’t succeed in bringing down the uninsured rate or lowering costs. But it didn’t matter. There was no comparison point.
Now Obamacare has become that comparison point. For all the Republican talk of it being a failed experiment in government-run health care, it actually succeeded in institutionalizing a federal role for more than just children, the poor, and the elderly. This is why Bill Kristol famously wrote that memo in the 1990s urging Republicans to fight tooth and nail against Bill Clinton’s health-care reform, because it “would guarantee and likely make permanent an unprecedented federal intrusion into and disruption of the American economy.” Though Obamacare has never achieved the high approval ratings that would seemingly usher in such a guarantee, it did solidify the concept that federal intrusion is necessary. We’re not likely to go back.
Is Obamacare the perfect manifestation of that federal role? No. The subsidies are inadequate and the deductibles are too high, and the combination of consolidation in insurance markets and companies leaving the exchanges has removed the choice and competition thought to be the linchpin to bring down costs. Medicaid expansion has worked well where it has been taken up, but the exchanges are running on fumes. Nobody in the Democratic presidential primary argued for keeping the system the same; the choice was between minor or radical overhaul. Allowing customers to buy into Medicare, using all-payer rate setting to control provider costs, and federalizing Medicaid should be ideas returning to the table if and when Republican policies prove inadequate.
The debate over health care for the next decade will feature both sides trying to live up to a promise made with the American people in 2008. There are a panoply of ideas on how to extend insurance coverage to make it both affordable and useful. The party in power is scrambling to come up with ideas they can live with. The party out of power is fighting among themselves over which ideas will work best. But the biggest political risk lies in going backwards. That’s a new reality in health care that can be exploited.
Over and Out — Garrison Keillor punches out.
So he won. The nation takes a deep breath. Raw ego and proud illiteracy have won out and a severely learning-disabled man with a real character problem will be president. We are so exhausted from thinking about this election, millions of people will take up leaf-raking and garage cleaning with intense pleasure. We liberal elitists are wrecks. The Trumpers had a whale of a good time, waving their signs, jeering at the media, beating up protesters, chanting “Lock her up” — we elitists just stood and clapped. Nobody chanted “Stronger Together.” It just doesn’t chant.
The Trumpers never expected their guy to actually win the thing, and that’s their problem now. They only wanted to whoop and yell, boo at the H-word, wear profane T-shirts, maybe grab a crotch or two, jump in the RV with a couple six-packs and go out and shoot some spotted owls. It was pleasure enough for them just to know that they were driving us wild with dismay — by “us,” I mean librarians, children’s authors, yoga practitioners, Unitarians, birdwatchers, people who make their own pasta, opera goers, the grammar police, people who keep books on their shelves, that bunch. The Trumpers exulted in knowing we were tearing our hair out. They had our number, like a bratty kid who knows exactly how to make you grit your teeth and froth at the mouth.
To all the patronizing b.s. we’ve read about Trump expressing the white working class’s displacement and loss of the American Dream, I say, “Feh!” — go put your head under cold water. Resentment is no excuse for bald-faced stupidity. America is still the land where the waitress’ kids can grow up to become physicists and novelists and pediatricians, but it helps a lot if the waitress and her husband encourage good habits and the ambition to use your God-given talents and the kids aren’t plugged into electronics day and night. Whooping it up for the candidate of cruelty and ignorance does less than nothing for your kids.
We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids and we Democrats can go for a long brisk walk and smell the roses.
I like Republicans. I used to spend Sunday afternoons with a bunch of them, drinking Scotch and soda and trying to care about NFL football. It was fun. I tried to think like them. (Life is what you make it. People are people. When the going gets tough, tough noogies.) But I came back to liberal elitism.
Don’t be cruel. Elvis said it and it’s true. We all experienced cruelty back in our playground days, boys who beat up on the timid, girls who made fun of the homely and naive, and most of us, to our shame, went along with it, afraid to defend the victims lest we become one of them. But by your 20s, you should be done with cruelty. Mr. Trump was the cruelest candidate since George Wallace. How he won on fear and bile is for political pathologists to study. The country is already tired of his noise, even his own voters. He is likely to become the most intensely disliked president since Hoover. His children will carry the burden of his name. He will never be happy in his own skin. But the damage he will do to our country — who knows? His supporters voted for change, and boy, are they going to get it.
Back to real life. I went up to my hometown the other day and ran into my gym teacher, Stan Nelson, looking good at 96. He commanded a landing craft at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and never said a word about it back then, just made us do chin-ups whether we wanted to or not. I saw my biology teacher Lyle Bradley, a Marine pilot in the Korean War, still going birdwatching in his 90s. I was not a good student then, but I am studying both of them now. They have seen it all and are still optimistic. The past year of politics has taught us absolutely nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. The future is scary. Let the uneducated have their day. I am now going to pay more attention to teachers.
Easy for a rich white straight man to say. As for the rest of us…
Doonesbury — Flattery will get you somewhere.
Via the Washington Post:
Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.
The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.
Other key pieces of information gathered by U.S. spy agencies include the identification of “actors” involved in delivering stolen Democratic emails to the WikiLeaks website, and disparities in the levels of effort Russian intelligence entities devoted to penetrating and exploiting sensitive information stored on Democratic and Republican campaign networks.
Those and other data points are at the heart of an unprecedented intelligence report being circulated in Washington this week that details the evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and catalogues other cyber operations by Moscow against U.S. election systems over the past nine years.
The classified document, which officials said is over 50 pages, was delivered to President Obama on Thursday, and it is expected to be presented to Trump in New York on Friday by the nation’s top spy officials, including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and CIA Director John Brennan.
How about that. The Russians beat us not with nukes or tanks or even taking over territory. They did it with a laptop you could pick up at Best Buy for $200.