Why Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to take down Donald Trump


Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Hot off the heels of winning the popular vote in the contentious Iowa caucus, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in the best position of his campaign. He is polling well against, if not ahead of, longtime frontrunner Joe Biden in important early primary states like New Hampshire, Nevada, and California. Rising on a tide of donations averaging around $20 a piece, Sanders has forced the Democratic establishment and the news media to reckon with the real prospect of his nomination.

This is great news for anyone who wants to see Donald Trump evicted from the White House. Sanders’s strengths as an independent populist play perfectly well against Trump’s weaknesses as a corrupt, incompetent billionaire. Trump’s strongest argument, which has been to paint his opponents as Washington insiders, fall flat against Sanders, a sincere outsider whose convictions have held over his long career.

Perhaps Trump’s greatest gift as a politician is his ability to dispatch an opponent using only a single phrase or nickname: “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low-energy Jeb,” or “Crooked Hillary.” It’s childish bullying, but it’s effective. Elizabeth Warren has demonstrated that Trump can bait her into public embarrassment. Biden has no comeback to “Sleepy Joe” or “Where’s Hunter?”; his deteriorating mental state and family corruption are matters of fact. Sanders, on the other hand, owns the “socialist” label and makes it palatable to an America beset by longer hours, harder work, and runaway inequality.

Trump knows that Sanders is his toughest opponent. In leaked audio from April 2018, Trump admits Hillary Clinton would’ve been stronger with Sanders as her vice president, saying, “He was the only one I didn’t want her to pick.” Trump reportedly grapples with the appeal of socialist policies, telling advisers that the cancellation of student debt is “a tough one to run against.” He even offered faint praise for Sanders in his Super Bowl interview, saying, “At least he’s true to what he believes.”

Sanders is fighting for healthcare, a living wage, debt reduction, and tuition-free college for everyone in America. Within the current Washington dynamic, those policies are written off as unrealistic or too extreme despite their popularity across a broad swath of the American people. Even those who support Sanders and his policies often fear that his progressive agenda will never pass through a far-right, obstructionist Congress. In order to overcome gridlock and establishment opposition, Sanders has pledged to govern as an organizer-in-chief, encouraging Americans to keep the pressure up on elected politicians.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Presidential Primary Debate In Des Moines, Iowa

Much of the media have declared Sanders and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg co-winners of the messy Iowa Caucus. Sanders beat Buttigieg by some 6,000 popular votes, but they will likely receive the same number of delegates.

Even if he doesn’t pass his entire legislative agenda, Sanders has gotten the nation talking about it. Moderate Democrats like Pete Buttigieg now have to make their arguments against Medicare for All. In addition to his New Deal-like domestic policies, Sanders is the most antiwar candidate running and the most aggressive on climate change. Dozens of nations outperform America in healthcare, education, housing, labor rights, and/or environmental protection, and Sanders has shifted the national conversation toward doing better.

Sanders’s biggest obstacles may well come from his own party. Hillary Clinton questioned Sanders’s electability and recently said, “Nobody likes him… nobody wants to work with him.” Insider reporting suggests that Barack Obama, John Kerry, and other top Democratic figures desperately want to avoid a Sanders nomination. Billionaire Howard Schultz has threatened a third-party run if Sanders is the nominee and Michael Bloomberg has already spent some $200 million on his own campaign.

The problem isn’t that Sanders is unelectable; he consistently polls well against Trump, and better in many polls than any other Democrat. The problem is that the Clinton wing of the party doesn’t like him. A Sanders presidency may threaten the interests of corporate Democrats even more than a Trump presidency, fraying their close relationships with wealthy donors. So much the better for ordinary Americans, as those relationships have turned the party away from working-class interests.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign is most instructive of all. Her campaign focused more on the evils of Trump than the good she planned to do. Though she won the popular vote, she lost the election. To rally the support and enthusiasm necessary to retake the White House and move America forward requires an inspirational message of your own.

Sanders has no misunderstandings about the danger posed by Trump’s corruption, authoritarianism, and bigotry. But Sanders also knows that Trump cannot be the only focus. The Sanders campaign is centered around class solidarity, environmental innovation, and social supports to guarantee every American a fundamental standard of dignity. That message has made him the Democratic frontrunner. Not only is Bernie Sanders the best choice to stop Donald Trump, he is the best president for this moment.

The fatal flaw of George Clooney’s Catch-22

Episode 102

Christopher Abbott as Yossarian prepares to fly yet another mission.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a classic American novel about World War II, bureaucracy, the illogic underpinning our social charades, and the courageous use of cowardice to do the one thing that really matters: survive. It is long, dense, and nonlinear, with a large cast of characters who represent Heller’s satires of capitalism, incompetence, American exceptionalism, and more.

Previous attempts to translate Catch-22 in motion pictures proved difficult. Mike Nichols’s 1971 film fell flat before critics and audiences, though Heller himself praised it. A 1973 TV series fizzled before it got off the ground. Now, Hulu and George Clooney have produced a six-part miniseries and most reviews contend that Heller’s epic novel has finally been given the treatment it deserves.

On the surface, there’s a lot about this adaptation that works. The actors do a generally fine job of recreating Heller’s counter-logical dialogue, as in the scene where lead protagonist Yossarian is informed he can only visit Major Major in his office when Major Major is out of his office. Everyone looks right for their part, especially Clooney’s deranged Lieutenant Scheisskopf. The scenery, from flak-filled skies to the dirty streets of wartime Rome, all looks great. Many of the book’s most enduring scenes are faithfully depicted, including Yossarian’s impassioned monologue about a bungling, careless God.

Yet the spirit of this series is different from its source material. Nichols’s film does a better job capturing the novel’s frenetic energy, subversion, and maddening hopelessness. Clooney’s Catch-22 tries too hard to make sense of the novel’s capricious cruelty.

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George Clooney’s Lieutenant Scheisskopf chews out Yossarian and Pico Alexander’s Clevinger.

Supporting characters like Clevinger, Orr, and Dunbar are hardly given enough screen time to distinguish themselves from one another. McWatt’s mustache distinguishes him, but when he kills Kid Sampson it is neither as terrifying nor as comical as it is in the novel – it’s just sad, as is much of the series. Scenes are often genuine downers, so that those expecting Heller’s furious interpretation of such tragedies will instead receive somber music and reflective moments.

The biggest problem, though, is with Yossarian. Christopher Abbott is a fine actor but his Yossarian is played too straight, taking most of his abuse with a morose resignation that contrasts with the animated indignation displayed in the novel. Even worse, the series’ writers make Yossarian responsible for much of the carnage that afflicts his friends, including the deaths of Mudd, Nately, and Snowden.

In an early scene, Yossarian sends the newly arrived Mudd to the wrong tent for check-in, and Mudd is immediately sent on a mission that gets him killed. Yossarian realizes his mistake, but only lazily calls out a correction when Mudd is already out of earshot. By turning around during a bombing raid, Yossarian causes the death of his best friend, Nately; the novel kills off a comparatively minor character in this scene. Yossarian embarrasses the gung-ho McWatt in front of Colonel Cathcart, and in the next scene McWatt accidentally flies his plane into Kid Sampson. Worst of all, Yossarian advises Snowden to sit in the fuselage on their mission together, and it’s there that Snowden is hit by flak and dies in Yossarian’s arms.

It’s difficult to understand how the narrative benefits by making Yossarian the source, even if unwitting and well-intentioned, of so much death. It undermines his credibility as a moral authority to the extent that, by the end of the series, there’s no one left to root for. His clumsiness with his friends’ lives stands in stark contrast to the raging star of the novel, who valued the preservation of human life above nationality, religion, bravery, political causes, and anything else.

It’s not all bad – not by a longshot. George Clooney and Hugh Laurie are memorable in their roles. Milo Minderbinder’s satire of capitalism is brought to entertaining life. The relationship between Nately’s whore’s kid sister and Yossarian is worth special mention. There’s a great contrast between this small child, who’s grown up in a world of darkness and war, and the much older but more naïve Yossarian. Their sweet friendship culminates in the show’s most heartbreaking moment.

Each work of art should be judged on its own merits. Heller himself said as much when asked whether he was worried that Nichols’s film might tarnish his novel’s reputation. On its own, Hulu’s Catch-22 is a modestly recommendable miniseries. But Heller’s novel is a tour de force of violence and humor. The show ultimately submits the viewer to its pessimistic outcome, whereas the novel motivates the reader to feel its righteous anger.

The embarrassing futility of ‘principled Republicans’ who attack Trump

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President Trump has repeatedly criticized former Arizona Senator John McCain, seven months after McCain’s passing.

Every now and then, the craven indecency of Donald Trump pushes some members of the Republican Party to stand up and say that this time, the president has gone too far. These are supposedly the GOP’s respectable men of stature. They may agree with virtually all of Trump’s policies, but they can’t abide his dirty language or disrespect of sacred cows. Whenever one of these so-called “principled Republicans” chides Trump in public, though, Trump just mops the floor with them.

The latest example is Trump’s ongoing feud with former Arizona Senator John McCain, a man who’s been dead for seven months. In interviews, tweets, and at rallies this week, Trump has frequently criticized the late senator, saying, “I never liked him much… I really probably never will.” Trump said McCain’s vote to protect Obamacare was “horrible,” accused McCain of spreading fake news with the Steele dossier, and complained that McCain never thanked Trump for the spectacular funeral Trump – apparently falsely – claims he granted him.

In response, Trump has taken some of his harshest criticism to date from fellow Republicans. Former Trump Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci called the attacks “stupid” and “socially unnatural.” Longtime McCain ally Senator Lindsey Graham spoke out. Senator Mitt Romney tweeted, “I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain.”  Establishment Democrats, too, have almost unanimously defended McCain’s honor and called on Republicans to stand up to Trump’s undignified remarks.

If the attempts from high-level Republicans to be part of the “resistance” against Trump are intended to convince movement Republicans to place their support elsewhere, they are ineffective. Among Republicans, support for Trump is at 90 percent. The Republican base might well hate anti-Trump Republicans even more than establishment liberals do. This is another big part of the problem. Every time a “principled Republican” criticizes Trump, establishment media treats it as major news and makes themselves look just as silly in the process.

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Trump famously teased Mitt Romney with an administration position, inviting Romney to dinner and taking this awkward photo.

In January, just days before being sworn in as a senator, Mitt Romney published an editorial in the Washington Post in which he wrote, “As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.” Trump’s leading propaganda rag on the internet, Breitbart, simply responded with a column titled, “Mitt Romney is an idiot.”

Politicians like Romney have next to no sway with Trump’s base, which now makes up the majority of the Republican Party. No one on the left should want Romney on their side, either, nor should they be rushing to defend John McCain, a reliably pro-war senator who once gleefully sang about bombing Iran. Such unsavory alliances with establishment Republicans win over nobody and create further division between establishment liberals and the progressive left – a schism that already helped Trump win one election.

Even the left’s enthusiastic support of Special Counsel Robert Mueller is problematic. Before he started his legitimate investigation into Trump, Mueller served as the head of the FBI under President George W. Bush, a position in which he rounded up, detained, and allegedly abused Muslims. Bush himself has undergone a public rehabilitation in the Trump era, embraced by liberals like Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres. The deeper liberals settle down with these fanatically far-right Republicans, the less value they will be to any truly leftist cause.

When establishment Republicans attack Trump, they are speaking to a small audience of fellow establishment politicians and media figures. Anyone still supporting Trump through the myriad scandals of corruption, adultery and bigotry won’t change their minds because of a stuffy Mitt Romney op-ed. If Trump’s base is savvy enough not to be won over by the more pleasant demeanor of “principled Republicans,” it’s a constant source of embarrassment to see that establishment liberals so frequently are.

Trump rode to victory in the Republican primary, and to a significant extent in the general election, by obliterating the politics of politeness. He is at his best when he fights dirty and keeps his opponents on the defensive. No amount of vulgarity, scandal, or criticism, even from revered party elders like McCain, can turn his political cult. The left could learn a few things from Trump’s political playbook and be unashamed, unapologetic, and bold, rather than pine for a return to the phony, sanctimonious politics of establishment Washington.

Howard Schultz and the billionaire establishment’s preference for Trump over leftist Democrats


Howard Schultz, 65, oversaw the expansion of Starbucks into a global brand and now feels qualified to run the United States.

Whether or not Howard Schultz, the billionaire former CEO of Starbucks, runs for president in 2020 hinges largely on what direction the Democratic Party goes. Schultz, who has no political experience, is concerned that the party has become too left-wing, pushed by prominent congresspeople like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In order to save the country from a choice between socialism and Donald Trump, Schultz may be compelled to run as a “centrist independent.”

In a media blitz late last month, Schultz slammed Trump, calling the president “despicable” and accusing him of doing “almost everything possible to discredit the dignity, the civility, the values, the respectfulness of the Oval Office with no degree of any sense of responsibility to the American people.” Schultz’s remarks were notably lacking in specifics. While his most sanctimonious denunciations were of Trump’s demeanor and vulgarity, his strongest policy critiques were directed at Democrats, particularly Ocasio-Cortez. Continue reading

A view of the restraint of President Trump


President Trump has held firm to his position of unilaterally holding the federal government hostage for his border wall, much to the delight of his base.

The presidency of tabloid star, game show host, and brand entrepreneur Donald J. Trump has been a rowdy one. Currently, the federal government of the United States is, like so many of Trump’s former ventures, shut down. As Trump threatens to declare a national emergency and circumvent Congress in order to build his promised southern border wall, commentators are speculating just how far Trump will go to undermine American institutions and empower himself.

Throughout his many decades of public life, Trump has been openly petty, vulgar, racist, conspiratorial, and narcissistic. The presidency hasn’t matured him an iota. As president, he’s continued to lie, flirt with dictators, enrich himself and his family, and show no compunction about stripping away benefits and even disaster relief from vulnerable people. Given how brazenly he’s gotten away with it all, though, it’s almost a marvel that he hasn’t gone even further. Continue reading

The real reason Trump wants a border wall


Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office for the first time as president on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office, telling Americans there is a national security crisis on our southern border that only his wall – or fence, or barrier – can protect us from. The US federal government has been shut down for three weeks as Trump refuses to reopen it without funding for his project. Democrats have largely held firm, issuing a rebuke of Trump’s arguments and refusing to give him what he wants.

In his address, the president described the southern border as a warzone under constant attack by enemies of America. Trump connected America’s heroin epidemic with border crossings and ran down a short, cherry-picked list of Americans killed by undocumented immigrants to imply that none of them can be trusted. He blamed illegal immigration for job loss and stagnating wages. Continue reading

Positives of the Trump presidency


President Trump’s unabashed, unapologetic awfulness could have a few inadvertent positive consequences for American politics.

Every day brings new revelations about the extent of President Donald Trump’s crookedness, the corruption of his administration, and the damage he’s doing to our political system, foreign relations and the environment. The deluge of negative coverage has caused Trump and his supporters to accuse the media of a conspiracy against the president, but the truth is far simpler than that: Trump truly is that awful. In fact, in most ways, he’s even worse than the mainstream media portrays.

Still, it’s worth entertaining some potential positives that could emerge out of Trump’s presidency. None of them justify his presidency but, mostly indirectly and by accident, there are ways in which Trump’s complete lack of convention could lead to a positive jolt to the system. Most of these fall under one of three categories: blundering into a decent foreign policy move, breaking our staid expectations of what a politician should be, and accidental admission of the truth. Continue reading

Stan Lee, major architect of American pop culture, dies at 95

Stan Lee

“Most people retire so they can go do what they want. I’m already doing what I want. I like to write. I like to work with creative people. If I retired, I’d be giving up my fun.” – Stan Lee

Stan Lee was 95 years old, pushing 96, when he passed away on November 12. His wife of nearly 70 years, Joan, died last year. After her death, reports emerged about Lee’s own health issues and troubled personal life, including elder abuse and shady estate finagling. The writing was on the wall: the living legend’s time was coming.

Everyone whose life he touched – and they must number in the hundreds of millions – is affected. By now, the story is well-known. Lee, the editor of Timely Comics – later Atlas, and eventually Marvel – was frustrated with his industry and contemplating a career change. On his way out the door, and with two of the most imaginative artistic storytellers in the field, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, in his employ, Lee transformed a company known primarily for cheap genre comics into the leading innovator in superhero literature. Continue reading

With Saudi defense, Trump’s love of tyrants reaches dismal new low

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Trump stands with the infamous orb in Saudi Arabia on his first trip overseas as president in 2017.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive, corrupt, and militaristic countries on earth. It is also a major ally of the United States, and current US President Donald Trump is a particularly big fan. Now that the Saudi government is believed to have murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, likely on orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pressure is mounting on Trump to stand up for journalists and free speech. Instead, he’s standing up for Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

Brett Kavanaugh’s personal record is bad – but so is his judicial record


Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before Congress.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on President Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, for Friday, September 28 at 9 a.m. Republicans are anxious to hold the vote on Kavanaugh because each day seems to bring new allegations and scrutiny against the 53-year-old, whose appointment would be for life. Over the last two weeks, three women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault at the hands of Kavanaugh in high school and college. Continue reading