Celsius 41.11: Citizens United Documentary

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times compared Celsius 41.11 unfavorably to FahrenHYPE 9/11, another documentary film aimed at rebutting the arguments made by Michael Moore. While Dargis felt that the purpose of FahrenHYPE 9/11 was the detailed rebutting of the arguments put forward by Moore’s film, she felt that the purpose of Celsius 41.11 was to “make you afraid — very, very afraid”. She stated that Celsius 41.11 “presents a vision of the world verging on the apocalyptic“. Dargis concluded “finally [the film is] interesting only because it represents another unconvincing effort on the part of conservatives to mount a viable critique of Mr. Moore.”[6]

Criticisms of the production[edit]

The Boston Globe and the New York Times both questioned the reliability of some of the individuals interviewed. The Globe called the experts “occasionally dubious” saying that they “offer[ed] drive-by disses and plain untruths“.[21] Manohla Dargis of the New York Timeswas particularly critical of the film for not detailing the extent of Mansoor Ijaz‘s investments in the Middle East or “just how intimately familiar he was with the nonsense of the Clinton White House”.[6] Both publications, however, spoke well of the contributions of Fred Thompson with the New York Times calling him “thoughtful”[6] and the Globe adding that “with his level head and reflective words, [he] makes partisanship seem dignified.”[21]

Several critics felt that insufficient time had been spent on the film. Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide said that it “bears all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush”,[22] a criticism echoed by Robert Koehler of Variety who called the editing “choppy”.[7]Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe described the film as “a seemingly last-minute series of talking heads and montages”.[21] A number of critics compared the style of the film to that of a PowerPoint presentation.[6][8][21][23]

.[6][8][21][23]

The Catastrophic Performance of Bill Barr

The attorney general misled the public in seven key ways.

was willing to give Bill Barr a chance. Consider me burned.

When Barr was nominated, I wrote a cautious piece for this magazine declining to give him “a character reference” and acknowledging “legitimate reasons to be concerned about [his] nomination,” but nonetheless concluding that “I suspect that he is likely as good as we’re going to get. And he might well be good enough. Because most of all, what the department needs right now is honest leadership that will insulate it from the predations of the president.”

When he wrote his first letter to Congress announcing the principal conclusions of the Mueller report, I wrote another piece saying, “For the next two weeks, let’s give Attorney General William Barr the benefit of the doubt” on the question of releasing the report in a timely and not-too-redacted fashion.

I took a lot of criticism for these pieces—particularly the second one, in which I specifically said we should evaluate Barr’s actual performance in regard to releasing the Mueller report, and thus wait for him to act, rather than denouncing him preemptively.

Barr has now acted, and we can now evaluate his actual, rather than his hypothesized, performance.

It has been catastrophic. Not in my memory has a sitting attorney general more diminished the credibility of his department on any subject. It is a kind of trope of political opposition in every administration that the attorney general—whoever he or she is—is politicizing the Justice Department and acting as a defense lawyer for the president. In this case it is true.

Barr has consistently sought to spin his department’s work in a highly political fashion, and he has done so to cast the president’s conduct in the most favorable possible light. Trump serially complained that Jeff Sessions didn’t act to “protect” him. Matthew Whitaker never had the stature or internal clout to do so effectively. In Barr, Trump has found his man.

The Cowardly Face of Authoritarianism

But in a cult of personality, truth is replaced by belief, and we believe what the leader wishes us to believe. The face replaces the mind.

.. The transition from democracy to personality cult begins with a leader who is willing to lie all the time, in order to discredit the truth as such. The transition is complete when people can no longer distinguish between truth and feeling.

.. Cults of personality make us feel rather than think. In particular, they make us feel that the first question of politics is “Who are we, and who are they?” rather than “What is the world like, and what can we do about it?” Once we accept that politics is about “us and them,” we feel like we know who “we” are, since we feel that we know who “they” are. In fact, we know nothing, since we have accepted fear and anxiety — animal emotions — as the basis of politics. We have been played.

.. The authoritarians of today tell medium-size lies. These refer only superficially to experiences; they draw us deep into a cave of emotion. If we believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Africa (an American lie with Russian support), or that Hillary Clinton is a pedophile pimp (a Russian lie with American support), we are not actually thinking; we are giving way to sexual and physical fear.

.. These medium-size lies are not quite the big lies of the totalitarians, although Mr. Orban’s attacks on George Soros as the leader of a Jewish conspiracy come rather close. They are, however, big enough that they help to disable the factual world. Once we accept these lies, we open ourselves up to believing a whole raft of other untruths, or at least suspect that there are other, vaster conspiracies.

.. We imagine that we make choices as we sit in front of our computers, but the choices are, in fact, framed for us by algorithms that learn what will keep us online. Our online activity teaches machines that the most effective stimuli are negative: fear and anxiety.

.. As social media becomes political instruction, we prime ourselves for politicians who reproduce the same binary: What makes us afraid and what makes us feel secure? Who are they and who are we?

.. The empty heterosexual posturing, the shirtless photo ops, the misogyny and indifference to the female experience, the anti-gay campaigns, are designed to hide one basic fact: A cult of personality is sterile. It cannot reproduce itself. The cult of personality is the worship of something temporary. It is thus confusion and, at bottom, cowardice: The leader cannot contemplate the fact that he will die and be replaced, and citizens abet the illusion by forgetting that they share responsibility for the future.

The cult of personality blunts the ability to keep a country going. When we accept a cult of personality, we are not only yielding our right to choose leaders but also dulling the skills and weakening the institutions that would allow us to do so in the future. As we move away from democracy, we forget its purpose: to give us all a future. A cult of personality says that one person is always right; so after his death comes chaos.

Democracy says that we all make mistakes, but that we get a chance, every so often, to correct ourselves. Democracy is the courageous way to have a country. A cult of personality is a cowardly way of destroying one.

 

President Trump seems to be saying more and more things that aren’t true

Since Saturday, Trump has tweeted false or misleading information at least seven times on the topic of immigration and at least six times on a Justice Department inspector general report into the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. That’s more than a dozen obfuscations on just two central topics — a figure that does not include falsehoods on other issues, whether in tweets or public remarks.

.. in June, Trump has been tweeting at the fastest rate of his presidency so far, an average of 11.3 messages per day. 

.. The president often seeks to paint a self-serving and self-affirming alternate reality for himself and his supporters. Disparaging the “fake news” media, Trump offers his own filter through which to view the world — offering a competing reality on issues including relationships forged (or broken) at the Group of Seven summit in Canada, the success of the Singapore summit with the North Koreans, and his administration’s  “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

..  “As far as I can tell, the best way to understand anything he says is what will best serve his interests in the moment. It’s irrespective to any version of the truth.”

.. Trump had made 3,251 false or misleading claims in 497 days — an average of 6.5 such claims per day of his presidency.

.. Trump’s use of repetition is a particularly effective technique for convincing his supporters of the veracity of his false claims, in part because most people have a “truth bias,” or an initial inclination to accept what others say as true.

.. “When liars repeat the same lie over and over again, they can get even more of an advantage, at least among those who want to believe them or are not all that motivated either way,”

.. “So when people hear the same lies over and over again — especially when they want to believe those lies — a kind of new reality can be created. What they’ve heard starts to seem like it’s just obvious, and not something that needs to be questioned.”

.. While Congress could pass a legislative fix, Republicans control both the House and the Senate — making it disingenuous at best to finger the opposing party, as the president has repeatedly done.

.. Trump again falsely painted the humanitarian crisis as a binary choice. “We can either release all illegal immigrant families and minors who show up at the border from Central America, or we can arrest the adults for the federal crime of illegal entry,” he said. “Those are the only two options.”

.. twice in the past four days has singled out Germany as facing an increase in crime. “Crime in Germany is up 10% plus (officials do not want to report these crimes) since migrants were accepted,” Trump wrote. “Others countries are even worse. Be smart America!”

.. In fact, the opposite is true. Reported crime in Germany was actually down by 10 percent last year and, according to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the country’s reported crime rate last year was actually at its lowest point in three decades.

.. The president has also falsely claimed that the inspector general report “exonerated” him from Mueller’s probe, when the report did not delve into the Russia investigation.

.. On a conference call Tuesday morning, for instance, a senior Health and Human Services official said the new policy was focused on deterrence and was working — contradicting the public comments of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who has publicly said that family separation is not a policy, is not new and is not about deterrence.

.. the past week may mark an “inflection point” in how both the media and the public treat Trump’s mistruths.

.. “The lies have been so bald and discernibly false, I think people have felt license to challenge him and use the word ‘lie’ more freely than they have in the past,”

How Trump Corrupts the Rule of Law

We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming.

But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing.

.. In the case, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has made the up-is-down claim that a Democratic law — the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Act and statutes criminalizing illegal entry — requires him to separate families to protect the children.

.. The administration’s legal mumbo-jumbo attempts to use laws that are meant to protect vulnerable children as a screen to terrorize them and to deter immigrants from coming to the United States border.

.. The laws that Mr. Trump’s Justice Department cites — which apply to unaccompanied children, not children with parents — require no such thing.

.. Instead, the Homeland Security law, a statute governing the Office of Refugee Resettlement, gives custody of unaccompanied minors to that department, and very clearly not to the Department of Homeland Security, to address the challenges that children without parents face in the immigration system.

.. The statute that addresses child trafficking — part of the Trafficking Victims law — is designed to reduce the risk that children who are alone will fall victim to human trafficking. The administration is arguing that the laws do the opposite — that they make children more vulnerable to human trafficking and place children at greater risk in the immigration system — and so require the D.H.S. to separate families that would otherwise be together.

.. This is a specious use of law: It inverts the laws governing child immigration and uses them to exacerbate the very evil the law was designed to address.

.. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department is thus lying about what the tax bill did, and about Congress’s intent in passing it. And the department, like the president himself, is doing so as part of a transparent effort to rid the country of a law that Mr. Trump and his Republican caucus do not like but could not repeal through normal channels.

.. Lawyers, including at the Department of Justice, sometimes make aggressive arguments. But there is a difference between aggressive and preposterous, and between truths and untruths. The rule of law depends on these distinctions — to hold governments officials to the law, we need to be able to acknowledge what the law says.

.. The administration is simultaneously insisting that it must enforce a law that does not exist, but is refusing to defend a law that actually does exist, and jeopardizing the law in the process.

.. More likely, the administration will not persuade the current Supreme Court with these arguments. But it may be playing a long game that shifts expectations about legal arguments, and what falls within the bounds of reasonable — to make the law seem as manipulable, and therefore as easy to write off, as the facts.

This is a test for the courts. The executive and legislative branches have in too many ways capitulated to the president’s post-factual world. Will the legal system allow a post-legal one as well?

 

Evangelicals continue to apply moral relativism in dealing with Trump, but at what cost?

When MSNBC’s Alex Witt interviewed the Rev. Franklin Graham Saturday about many conservative Christians’ silence about the reports, the son of evangelical icon Billy Graham said, “I can promise you he is not President Perfect, and I don’t think I’ve seen a ‘President Perfect’ yet [ . . .] But I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values.”

.. When she asked: “Do you think with all of the evidence out there and the fact that this president has not always been entirely truthful about everything, do you think he’s telling the truth about this to begin with? Doesn’t he have a lot to lose by telling the truth about this affair?”

Graham replied: “I found the president to be truthful with me. And when he says he’s going to do something, he does it and that is what I appreciate about him. Now, did he have an affair with this woman? I have no clue. But I believe at 70 years of age the president is a much different person today than he was four years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago whatever. We just have to give the man the benefit of the doubt. But we just have to think of our country. We’ve got to move this country forward.”

.. For a group of people who regularly view themselves as soldiers in a culture war, there is some belief that evangelicals could wind up losing the overall fight for moral authority over the country and the world.

.. “At the Family Research Council’s recent Values Voter Summit, the religious right effectively declared its conversion to Trumpism.

.. Who would now identify conservative Christian political engagement with the pursuit of the common good? Rather, the religious right is an interest group seeking preference and advancement from a strongman — and rewarding him with loyal acceptance of his priorities. The prophets have become clients. The priests have become acolytes.”

‘The Russians Have Succeeded Beyond Their Wildest Expectations’

Former intelligence chief James Clapper says President Trump is dead wrong about Russian interference in America’s elections. And they’re going to get away with it again, he warns.

.. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”

“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”

.. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”

.. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”

..  a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”

.. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”

.. what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.

.. more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that

.. appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.

.. He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”

.. worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”

.. he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.

The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.

.. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”

.. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”