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Run for the shadows: Top 10 Film Noirs   By Dennis Hartley @denofcinema5

Saturday Night at the Movies

Run for the shadows: Top 10 Film Noirs

By Dennis Hartley

It’s been a dark week here in Seattle. I actually mean that in a good way. Film noir expert/revivalist Eddie Muller brought his “Noir City” mini-festival to town (sponsored here by SIFF), hosting seven days of screenings at local theaters. Muller’s travelling exhibition gives audiences around the country a chance to catch films from the “classic” noir cycle on the big screen. That’s what got me thinking about my favorite genre entries.

And thinking. And thinking.

This is one of the toughest “top 10” lists I’ve tackled, because I could easily do a “top 100”. Out of the 3700 titles in my personal movie collection (I know…it’s an illness), over 800 fall in the noir/neo-noir/mystery categories. One could say I’m a little obsessed.

I had to narrow it down this way: which noirs have I re-watched the most times? That was the chief criteria behind these selections. So note going in that this is not designed to be my definitive assemblage of the most “historically important”, or “classic” noirs of all time (although several of these titles might be considered as such). These are purely personal favorites, so if this compels you to fire off a “You Philistine! I cannot believe you overlooked [insert title here]!!!” response, your indignation is duly noted beforehand.

One more note. I’m fully aware that most film scholar types generally define the “classic noir cycle” as cynical, darkly atmospheric B&W crime dramas produced between 1940 and 1959; consequently any similar entries going forward automatically get tossed into the “neo” noir bin. That said, there are some (like yours truly) who respectfully argue that the Force remains strong, at least through the mid-1970s. And so it goes. Alphabetically:

Ace in the Hole – Billy Wilder’s 1951 film is one of the bleakest noirs ever made:

Charles Tatum: What’s that big story to get me outta here? […] I’m stuck here, fans. Stuck for good. Unless you, Miss Deverich, instead of writing household hints about how to remove chili stains from blue jeans, get yourself involved in a trunk murder. How about it, Miss Deverich? I could do wonders with your dismembered body.

Miss Deverich: Oh, Mr. Tatum. Really!

Charles Tatum: Or you, Mr. Wendell-if you’d only toss that cigar out the window. Real far…all the way to Los Alamos. And BOOM! (He chuckles) Now there would be a story.

Tatum (played to the hilt by Kirk Douglas) is a cynical big city newspaper reporter who drifts into a small New Mexico burg after burning one too many bridges with his former employers at a New York City daily. Determined to weasel his way back to the top (by any means necessary, as it turns out), he bullies his way into a gig with a local rag, where he impatiently awaits The Big Story that will rocket him back to the metropolitan beat.

He’s being sarcastic when he exhorts his co-workers in the sleepy hick town newsroom to get out there and make some news for him to capitalize on. But the irony in Wilder’s screenplay (co-written by Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman) is that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy for Tatum; in his attempt to purloin and manipulate the scenario of a man trapped in a cave-in into a star-making “exclusive” for himself, it’s Tatum who ultimately becomes The Big Story. Great writing, directing and acting make it a winner.

Chinatown - There are many Deep Thoughts that I have gleaned over the years via repeated viewings of Roman Polanski’s 1974 “sunshine noir”.

Here are my top 3:

1. Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.

2. Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.

3. You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but, believe me, you don’t.

I’ve also learned that if you put together a great director (Polanski), a killer screenplay (by Robert Towne), two lead actors at the top of their game (Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway), an ace cinematographer (John A. Alonzo) and top it off with a perfect music score (by Jerry Goldsmith), you’ll produce a film that deserves to be called a “classic”.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle- This vastly under-appreciated 1973 crime drama/character study from director Peter Yates features one of the last truly great performances from genre icon Robert Mitchum, at his world-weary, sleepy-eyed best as an aging hood. Peter Boyle excels in a low-key performance as a low-rent hit man, as does Richard Jordan, playing a cynical and manipulative Fed. Steven Keats steals all his scenes as a scuzzy black market gun dealer. Paul Monash adapted his screenplay from the novel by George P. Higgins. A tough and lean slice of American neo-realism, enhanced by DP Victor J. Kemper’s gritty, atmospheric use of the autumnal Boston locales.

High and Low – Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 noir, adapted from Ed McBain’s crime thriller King’s Ransom, is so multi-leveled that it almost boggles the mind. Toshiro Mifune is excellent as a CEO who, at the possible risk of losing controlling shares of his own company, takes responsibility for helping to assure the safe return of his chauffeur’s son, who has been mistaken as his own child by kidnappers.

As the film progresses, the backdrop transitions subtly, and literally, from the executive’s comfortable, air conditioned mansion “high” above the city, to the “low”, sweltering back alleys where desperate souls will do anything to survive; a veritable descent into Hell.

On the surface, the film plays as a straightforward police procedural; it’s engrossing entertainment on that level. However, upon repeat viewings, it reveals itself as more than a genre piece. It’s about class struggle, corporate culture, and the socioeconomic complexities of modern society (for a 50 year old film, it feels quite contemporary).

Kiss Me Deadly – Robert Aldrich directed this influential 1955 pulp noir, adapted by A.I. Bezzerides from Mickey Spillane’s novel. Ralph Meeker is the epitome of cool as hard-boiled private detective Mike Hammer, who picks up a half-crazed (and half-naked) escapee from “the laughing house” (Cloris Leachman) one fateful evening after she flags him down on the highway. This sets off a chain of events that leads Hammer from run-ins with low-rent thugs to embroilment with a complex conspiracy involving a government scientist and a box of radioactive “whatsit” coveted by a number of interested parties.

The sometimes confounding plot takes a back seat to the film’s groundbreaking look and feel. The inventive camera angles, the expressive black and white cinematography (by Ernest Laszlo), the shocking violence, and the nihilism of the characters combine to make this quite unlike any other American film from the mid-50s.

The film is said to have had an influence on the French New Wave (you can see that link when you pair it up with Godard’s Breathless). British director Alex Cox paid homage in his 1984 cult film, Repo Man (both films include a crazed scientist driving around with a box of glowing radioactive material in the trunk), and Tarantino featured a suspiciously similar box of mysterious “whatsit” in Pulp Fiction.

Night Moves – In Arthur Penn’s 1975 sleeper, which you could call an “existential noir”, Gene Hackman delivers one of his best performances as a world-weary P.I. with a failing marriage, who becomes enmeshed in a case involving battling ex-spouses, which soon slides into incest, smuggling and murder. Alan Sharp’s intelligent, multi-layered screenplay parallels the complexity of the P.I.’s case with ruminations on the equally byzantine mystery as to why human relationships, more often than not, almost seem engineered to fail. I think I’ve just talked myself into watching it again.

Strangers on a Train– There’s something that Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, Rene Clement’s Purple Noon (and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 remake, The Talented Mr. Ripley) all share in common with this 1951 Hitchcock entry (aside from all being memorable thrillers). They are all based on novels by the late Patricia Highsmith. If I had to choose the best of the aforementioned quartet, it would be Strangers on a Train.

Robert Walker gives his finest performance as tortured, creepy stalker Bruno Antony, who “just happens” to bump into his sports idol, ex-tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) on a commuter train. For a “stranger”, Bruno has a lot of knowledge regarding Guy’s spiraling career; and most significantly, his acrimonious marriage. As for Bruno, well, he kind of hates his father. A lot. The silver-tongued sociopath Bruno is soon regaling Guy with a hypothetical scenario demonstrating how simple it would be for two “strangers” with nearly identical “problems” to make those problems vanish…by swapping murders. The perfect crime! Of course, the louder you yell at your screen for Guy to get as far away from Bruno as possible, the more inexorably Bruno pulls him in. It’s full of great twists and turns, with one of Hitchcock’s most heart-pounding finales.

Sunset Boulevard – Leave it to that great ironist Billy Wilder to direct a film that garnered a Best Picture nomination in 1950 from the very Hollywood studio system it so mercilessly skewers (however, you’ll note that they didn’t let him win…the Best Picture statuette went to All About Eve that year). Gloria Swanson’s turn as a fading, high-maintenance movie queen mesmerizes, William Holden embodies the quintessential noir sap, and veteran scene-stealer (and legendary director in his own right) Erich von Stroheim redefines the meaning of “droll” in this tragicomic journey down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Wilder coscripted with Leigh Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr.

Sweet Smell of Success– Tony Curtis gives a knockout performance in this hard-hitting 1957 drama as a smarmy press agent who shamelessly sucks up to Burt Lancaster’s JJ Hunsecker, a powerful NYC entertainment columnist who can launch (or sabotage) show biz careers with a flick of his poison pen (Lancaster’s odious, acid-tongued character was a thinly-disguised take on the reviled, Red-baiting gossip-monger Walter Winchell).

Although it was made over 60 years ago, the film retains its edge and remains one of the most vicious and cynical ruminations on America’s obsession with fame and celebrity. Alexander Mackendrick directed, and the sharp Clifford Odets/Ernest Lehman screenplay veritably drips with venom. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is outstanding. Lots of quotable lines; Barry Levinson paid homage in his 1982 film Diner, with a character who is obsessed with the film and drops in and out of scenes, incessantly quoting the dialogue.

Touch of Evil – Yes, this is Orson Welles’ classic 1958 sleaze-noir with that celebrated (and oft-imitated) opening tracking shot, Charlton Heston as a Mexican police detective, and Janet Leigh in various stages of undress. Welles casts himself as Hank Quinlan, a morally bankrupt police captain who lords over a corrupt border town. Quinlan is the most singularly grotesque character Welles ever created as an actor, and stands as one of the most offbeat heavies in film noir.

This is also one of the last great roles for Marlene Dietrich (who deadpans “You should lay off those candy bars.”). The scene where Leigh is terrorized in an abandoned motel by a group of thugs led by a creepy, leather-jacketed Mercedes McCambridge could have been dreamed up by David Lynch; there are numerous such stylistic flourishes throughout that are light-years ahead of anything else going on in American cinema at the time. Welles famously despised the studio’s original 96-minute theatrical cut; there have been nearly half a dozen re-edited versions released since 1975.

Posts with related themes:

Ride the Pink Horse
Mickey One
They Live By Night
In a Lonely Place
The Night of the Hunter
North by Northwest
Brighton Rock (2010 vs. 1947 versions)
Kubrick’s Noir Cycle: The Killing and Killer’s Kiss
My Obsession with Ida Lupino: Moontide and Road House

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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--Dennis Hartley


The biggest load of pathetic rationalization you will ever read

The biggest load of pathetic rationalization you will ever read

by digby

This is by David Brody, the conservative evangelical TV broadcaster, attempting to explain why he and others like him love that immoral, dishonest piece of garbage Donald Trump. He tells their leaders he loves them.He makes liberal cry. And he delivered their agenda. (But don't call the "transactional" because that makes them sound like the mercenary, self-centered hypocrites they are.)

Of all the questions surrounding the current president, perhaps the most perplexing is this: How could evangelicals get behind a man like Mr. Trump, especially well-known conservative leaders who both treasure and champion morality? Constant news reports paint a picture of an out-of-control, angry, mentally unstable, reckless president who is prejudiced against all of humanity except white people with modest incomes and out-of-date values. But after interviewing scores of evangelical leaders, I have developed a different perspective.

Most of the world, and even most reporters, know only the public side of President Trump. In private, evangelical leaders have come to recognize a more compassionate side.

For example, Mr. Trump took a car ride with Mike Pence along with Billy Graham’s son Franklin and Tony Perkins, a leading figure on the Christian right, during the Louisiana floods of 2016. Impressed by what Franklin Graham’s Christian ministry had done for flood victims, Mr. Trump told him that he was writing it a six-figure check, which Mr. Graham told him to send to Mr. Perkins’s church. Both men were moved by his impulsive kindness, and a bond was formed.

Another story involves Mr. Trump and the televangelist James Robison praying together inside an S.U.V. on the airport tarmac in Panama City, Fla., during a campaign stop. When Mr. Trump exited the car, he gave Mr. Robison a hug, pulled him up against his chest firmly and said, “Man, I sure love you.” A small gesture, perhaps, but heartfelt, real and so unlike the caricature of the president most of us see. And practically every evangelical leader I interviewed has a similar story.

Critics say that the Trump-evangelical relationship is transactional, that they support him to see their agenda carried out. In fact, evangelicals take the long view on Mr. Trump; they afford him grace when he doesn’t deserve it. Few dispute that Mr. Trump may need a little more grace than others. But evangelicals truly do believe that all people are flawed, and yet Christ offers them grace. Shouldn’t they do the same for the president?

This is more than a biblical mandate. The Bible is replete with examples of flawed individuals being used to accomplish God’s will. Evangelicals I interviewed said they believed that Mr. Trump was in the White House for a reason.

Bishop Wayne Jackson, who is the pastor of Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit and calls himself a lifelong Democrat, remembers Mr. Trump’s campaign visit to his church. He told me that the moment Mr. Trump got out of the car, “the spirit of the Lord told me that that’s the next president of the United States.”

Evangelical leaders also see a civic obligation to speak godly counsel to him, on policy and personal matters. He is, after all, the president. And it’s paying off. I’ve watched Mr. Trump through the lens of the faith community for years, and he has delivered the policy goods and is progressing on the spiritual ones.

My reporting suggests Donald Trump is on a spiritual voyage that has accelerated in recent years, thanks to evangelicals who have employed the biblical mandate of sharing and showing God’s love to him rather than shunning him. President Trump told me that he “was exposed to a lot of people, from a religious standpoint, that I would’ve never met before. And so it has had an impact on me.”

This president’s effect on our cultural norms has been shocking. His critics would call it appalling; evangelicals say it’s immensely satisfying: They’ve seen a culture deteriorate quickly in the past decade, and they’re looking for a bold culture warrior to fight for them. Showing that God does indeed have a sense of humor, He gave them Mr. Trump. Yet in God’s perfection, it’s a match made in heaven. Mr. Trump and evangelicals share a disdain for political correctness, a world seen through absolutes and a desire to see an America that embraces Judeo-Christian values again rather than rejecting them.

Finally, why in the world wouldn’t evangelicals get behind and support a man who not only is in line with most of their agenda but also has delivered time and time again? The victories are numerous: the courts, pro-life policies, the coming Embassy in Jerusalem and religious liberty issues, just to name a few. He easily wins the unofficial label of “most evangelical-friendly United States president ever.”

Does Mr. Trump have moral failings? Yes. Critics will suggest a hypocrisy coming from evangelical leaders who are quick to denounce the ethical failings of others who don’t have an “R” next to their name. But the goal of evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate. For evangelicals, voting in the macro is the moral thing to do, even if the candidate is morally flawed. Evangelicals have tried the “moral” candidate before.

Jimmy Carter was once the evangelical candidate. How did that work out in the macro? George W. Bush was the evangelical candidate in 2000: He pushed traditional conservative policies, but he doesn’t come close to Mr. Trump’s courageous blunt strokes in defense of evangelicals.

Evangelicals have found their man. It may seem mystifying to outsiders, but for someone like me, with a front-row seat to an inside view, it makes perfect sense. Maybe they’re taking their cue from Billy Graham, embracing presidents with moral failings rather than rejecting them.

He's all yours guys. And like him you are all empty vessels lacking even the slightest bit of integrity and decency. His legacy is your legacy. I'm sure you'll enjoy each others company in the 9th circle of hell.

He may have to blow up the whole world to teach it a lesson

He may have to blow up the whole world to teach it a lesson

by digby

On Friday Trump said this about North Korea:

“If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go to Phase 2,” Trump replied. “Phase 2 may be a very rough thing. May be very, very unfortunate for the world.”
He had announced new draconian sanctions designed to make Kim Jong Un bow down and prove that Donald Trump has the biggest hands on the planet. If he refuses to denuclearize well then the Trump has no choice but to start a nuclear war.

How else are we going to stop this threat except to do the actual thing we are trying to stop, amirite?

Maybe Kim Jong Un is less crazy that Trump. That seems to be what we are banking on. 


Andrew Sullivan Fights For His Seat On The Lifeboat

"This is your captain speaking.
There is no need for not rush for the lifeboats ...
Women, children, Red Indians, spacemen
and a sort of idealized version of a gay Republican
expatriate Libertarianish papist Renaissance Man
(but definitely not a Liberal) first!"

Now that the Republican Party is fully out and proud as the rootin' tootin' batshit racist shit-show Liberals have always said it was, many of it's most prominent enablers are scrambling for space on the same Both Siderist Lifeboat.

Here is a small sample of that vast scrum of unscrupulous professional Conservative havers-of-opinions from just the last few days. 

Max Boot, infamous Iraq War Pimp:

Joe Scarborough, life-long Republican stooge and Trump waterboy

David French, proud employee of America's White Supremacist Journal of Record:
The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

February 22, 2018 3:27 PM

A rage more personal than political exists on both sides, and poses real danger to the ties that bind us as a nation...
And Andrew Sullivan, America's most famous Gay Catholic Tory True Conservative:
Trump has turned the right into a foul, spit-flecked froth of racist reactionism, and he has evoked a radical response on the left that, while completely understandable, alienates me and many others more profoundly with every passing day.
Sure, Andrew.  One possible theory is that the rank and file of your Conservative movement were all choir boys who spent their days singing Ave Marie and their nights meditating on Burke before Donald Trump showed up and used his Orange Lantern Powers --

to convert them all into foul, spit-flecked froth of racist reactionaries overnight.

Another possible theory -- one based more on "history" and less on a nine-hour weed-and-self-pity bender is that Donald Trump is just one more lump of racist carcinoma to manifest itself out of a political party which has been a shithole of bigots and imbeciles since before Mr. Sullivan came to America and began making his living writing self-flattering soft-core political porn about a Republican Party and a Conservative Movement of Ave Maria-singin', Burke-musin' heroes which never existed anywhere outside of the tiny, well-funded wingnut welfare bubble where Mr. Sullivan lives.

And now that the Left has been proven to have been 100% right about the Right all along -- now that the real Republican Party and the real Conservative movement have Hulksmashed his delusions hard enough to launch them into orbit --  so, like so many of his species, Mr. Sullivan has no place left to go and no alternative but to try to squeeze his ass onto the same Both Siderist Lifeboat between Max Boot and Joe Scarborough.

Continuing with Mr. Sullivan, I can tell you that it is going to come as a huge fucking shock to the adult Sunday school class that Bluegal and I help facilitate, and the faith-directed writing classes that we co-teach, and to all the nice people at the church where I usher every Sunday to learn that --
The left has denounced religion as insane...
But of course, Andrew Sullivan absolutely must lie about Liberals like me and my wife in this way so he can get his Both Siderist Lifeboat Boarding Pass stamped like so:
The left has denounced religion as insane; the right has redefined it into another twist on identity politics.
And like so:
The only antidote to Trump and the politics he has forged and intensified is this kind of self-doubt and self-knowledge. It refutes him while never empowering him. It opens up the possibility, if we let it, that the insanities of today’s right and left will not inevitably ratchet themselves into an ever tighter spiral of vengeance and mutual incomprehension
Then, a little gratuitous, drive-by Hillary-bashing because Mr. Sullivan is an incredibly bitter little man whose movement is in ashes --
 I will vote for a Democrat this fall and encourage everyone else to do so, because it is our only hope against accelerating authoritarianism. But I’ll do so with the same kind of nausea that led me to support Hillary Clinton in 2016...
-- and he can call it a day.

So how do we know Mr. Sullivan is lying?

Because the alert reader will notice that the graphic at the top of this post is from a remarkably similar piece I wrote about Andrew Sullivan nearly a decade ago.  In other words, years before Donald Trump glided down the Escalator of Doom and magically...
...turned the right into a foul, spit-flecked froth of racist reactionism
Yes, Andrew has been making a living slinging this same Both Siderist bullshit for a very long time now.  Because he has to.  Otherwise, as I noted all the way back in 2009...
...he would instantly lose his place in the food-chain, wouldn’t he? Because like that microscopic number of self-loathing black Conservatives who make their daily bread by serving the interests of the Southern Bigot Party, more than any other single factor, it was always the sheer gawking, oddballness of the brazen self-delusion inherent in being the gay champion of the Christopath Homophobe Party that put Mr. Sullivan in the spotlight.

That was what gave him his unique and lucrative cache.
Same bullshit.

Different decade.

And some of us have the receipts.

Behold, a Tip Jar!


Mueller so far

Mueller so far

by digby

The New York Times has published a nice explainer on the Mueller investigation so far. You'll note in the chart above that of the 19 people charged, four are Trump campaign officials, three of whom were very high up in the organization, two were officially part of the transition and one was a member of the administration. Maybe that's not a big deal. But really, it's a big deal.

The whole article is worth reading just to get a recal on where we are. This is a very deep and complicated story in many ways. But whatever else happens we already know something very important: Trump has proven himself to be a terrible judge of competence and integrity. Which is not a huge surprise since he has none himself.


QOTD: Michael Steele

QOTD: Michael Steele

by digby

Former RNC chair Michael Steele on Friday refused an apology from Conservative Political Action Conference communications director Ian Walters, who said during a dinner earlier in the evening that Steele had only been elected chairman “because he was a Black guy.”

“He did call and tried to explain himself,” Steele told MSNBC’s Joy Reid. “And he related it back to Barack Obama’s election. And he said at one point, I apologize. And I said, that’s not acceptable, that’s not enough.”

Walters was speaking at CPAC’s Ronald Reagan Dinner on Friday night when he told the crowd, “We elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a black guy, that was the wrong thing to do.” According to those in the room at the time, the comment was met with audible gasps.

“Do you think that the Republican Party has a racism problem?” Reid asked.

Steele responded bluntly, “Yes, they do. I think we need to be honest and acknowledge it. I think the fact that people sit here now and say, ‘Well, this has nothing to do with race”… yeah, it does, when you stand on a podium and blatantly speak to race the way Ian did.”

Let's face it. They've always felt this way. It's just that now that they have a blatant racist in the White House they're not even trying to hide it anymore.


16 Companies Cut Ties With NRA @spockosbrain

As my friend Eric Milgram, spokesperson for the Newtown Action Alliance has said, make this an economic issue. Make the firearms industry pay the full costs of the damage their products do.

I've shown in the past with right-wing radio hosts that corporations don't like to be associated with a toxic brand. But they often need a negative news event about the group or person to cut ties.

The Parkland shooting was another occasion for activists to ask corporations, "Do you still want to associate with the NRA brand?"  Today 16 of them said no.

My friend Amanda Gaily, president of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, put it this way.

"It's time to withdraw support from the slaughter lobby." 
It is possible to convince folks in any state to pull away from the NRA.  The First National Bank of Omaha in Nebraska did so this week.

The NRA will respond to corporations withdrawing support, probably by threatening the companies that have left, and the ones who are standing with them.

Some NRA members might be smart and try and entice the companies they still have by buying more of their product, but based on my experience, they prefer to punish and intimidate when they don't get their way.

I always told the people I trained to be polite and not threaten anyone, you don't want to punish your future ally! Just remind them of what they say their values are and ask if they line up with what this person or group is saying. It's their decision.

When I was researching gun sign policies for private businesses I talked to retail people about the armed men who showed up to talk to managers about "What a mistake she is making by not allowing guns in the store."  Of course he wasn't hoping bad things would happen, but it would be a shame if bad guys with guns showed up and he wasn't there.
This has worked successfully in the past. After the Trayvon Martin shooting, some of my very smart, strategic friends at Color of Change and The Center for Media and Democracy pointed out to corporations the role the NRA had in creating the expanded Castle Doctrine laws that led to Martin's death.

They contacted the right people inside those corporations and said, "Look, the NRA used you.  ALEC used you. That dead black teen and the man who got away with his murder was made possible by the laws ALEC pushed for the NRA. Your financial support made it all possible. Now is the time to leave." Dozens of them left. The first one was hard, but then it became a waterfall.

Now is the time to put into motion other economic leverage actions against the slaughter lobby. 

Losing corporate money isn't going to kill the gun lobby, they will still get multi-million dollar checks from the gun and bullet makers as well as money from Russia. But it's bad PR for the NRA and the start of the waterfall of disassociation from the NRA.

Also, the NRA has bigger PR problems than losing corporate support. As Dr. Z, my public relations professor said, "Dead kids are bad PR. Refusing to do anything about what killed the kids is worse PR."


Caucus-building: Warm butts in seats by @BloggersRUs

Caucus-building: Warm butts in seats

by Tom Sullivan

Laura Moser, Democratic candidate for TX-07. Image from her campaign website.

This week's case of Laura Moser is illustrative of how party campaign organizations work and for whom.

The Texas Tribune reports:

The campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives set its sights on a surprising target Thursday: Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Moser.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posted negative research on Moser, a Houston journalist vying against six other Democrats in the March 6 primary to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson. Democrats locally and nationally have worried that Moser is too liberal to carry a race that has emerged in recent months as one of the most competitive in the country.

Moser's campaign is gaining momentum. That plus the fact that she has raised nearly $150,000 since January 1 makes her a threat to the DCCC's preferred candidate(s). Thus, the opposition research dump by party insiders.

Be they elected officials or career political operatives, call them, well, the establishment. Political parties exist to get them reelected, to support them in electing candidates of their choosing, and to support their careers in and out of elective office, whether in Washington or in state capitals.

More than a few friends still stinging from the 2016 Democratic primary seem convinced that what's needed to change the culture of the Democratic Party is some kind of revolution involving wholesale replacement of top-tier operatives. The Democratic National Committee comes in for special ire, but this comes noticeably from people who have a slim grasp on how party politics actually works.

Swapping out the entire top tier is unlikely to happen and unlikely to change things. Because much of what people object to about party politics is not a function of particularly flawed people holding top jobs. The problem is structural.

Understand, with few exceptions the political judgments made by people who have chosen politics as a career are colored by their need to remain steadily employed. This includes not just consultants and other political operatives, but elected officials as well.

Call it a culture of incumbency.

Something else new activists often fail to grasp is how little leeway the state and national party organizations have in setting their own agendas and spending their own monies.

Their location in the national or state capitols and down the street from the legislative buildings means their organizational priorities are dominated by the priorities of the campaign arms of their legislative caucuses and top elected officials with whom they regularly interact.

The Democratic National Committee, for example, is not the One Ring that rules them all. The DCCC recruits and supports candidates for Congress. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) does the same for the U.S. Senate. A recent memo from the DCCC spelled it out, "The Committee is not an affiliate of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and does not receive regular funding from that organization." That will come as a surprise to many new activists. State-level counterparts operate the same way for both Republicans and Democrats. Their priorities are structural, not a function of who leads them.

Party-building is a tertiary concern of the caucuses' campaign arms. Their primary focus is caucus-building: putting warm butts in seats on their party's side of the aisle. Now. This election. The candidates Democratic campaign organizations support is built upon that prime directive and premised (if that) on the notion that if you elect more Democrats, you will build the party. Grassroots activists come at elections from the opposite direction.

State parties and the DNC have structural obligations that mean much of what they do each year is raising money to pay salaries, keep the lights on, update the required legal paperwork, and to fulfill the party's statutory role in general elections. They have limited budgets and bandwidth for anything else. The best state parties do is give counties some instruction in precinct organization and party mechanics. They give them VoteBuilder logons, teach them to pull poorly targeted voter lists, then pat them on the head and send them on their way. Next year there will be a new crop of activists to run through the same basic training.

Building the brand is not in the mission statement. Advanced training is a luxury for which there is never time or money. If there were more money, it would go towards reelecting incumbents and increasing the head count in the caucuses. Don't dare suggest otherwise.

As DNC chair, Howard Dean wanted to deploy funds for party-building in places the Democratic Party had not been in 25 years. Dean wanted to pursue a long-term strategy for rebuilding a national party. The pushback Dean got from Beltway insiders and the consultant-ocracy was intense.

In my state, a former state party chair suggested disbursing to county committees some monies collected from the state's (now defunct) tax check-off fund for political parties. Top-tier electeds were furious. "Their" money would be wasted on county parties with no plans for spending it wisely or effectively, not as they would on their campaigns, targeted races, and pet consultants.

James Thompson, a congressional candidate in Kansas who barely lost a 2017 special election, is again running for a seat in Wichita in 2018. He told The Intercept last month:

... the DCCC is specific about why it wants candidates to raise money. “They want you to spend a certain amount of money on consultants, and it’s their list of consultants you have to choose from,” he said. Those consultants tend to be DCCC veterans.
The DCCC, the DSCC, and their state-based counterparts are looking to back winners. Winners listen to their advice and hire professionals, former colleagues insiders have on speed-dial. What voters on the ground want and how well candidates represent the Democrat brand and progressive values is secondary. Building the caucus comes first. Warm butts in seats.

Laura Moser, whatever her merits as a candidate, is not party insiders' idea of a winner. Should she win her primary, she can expect no help from House Democrats' campaign arm.

The Intercept adds:

But in 2006, the last time Democrats were washed into the House on a blue wave, the DCCC also worked against a handful of candidates it believed couldn’t win the general election. When they won their primaries, the DCCC walked away, declaring the races un-winnable.

They won anyway.

Caucus-building doesn't get people off their couches and down to the polls. It is not especially inspirational for activists wanting to change the course of local and national politics and make government work more for people again. But caucus-building is not a Democratic establishment thing per se. It is cultural. And not unique to the Democratic Party.

That culture won't be changed with revolution or by swapping out players at the top. The same short-term imperative behind focusing on a few "winnable" races will drive anyone running the caucuses' campaign arms so long as caucuses have campaign arms.

But power at the top might be offset by building power at the grassroots independent of control structures in the capitols whose focus is themselves. After all, that is what Dean wanted to facilitate and what power players found so threatening.

Find a free tool below for building local power.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.


Friday Night Soother

Friday Night Soother

by digby

A sad story with a happy ending for your Friday night:

The dog found tied to a tree in the woods in Prince George County with a heartbreaking note from his owner has found a forever home.

“My name is Zeus,” the note reads. “I am a very good dog. My owner just can’t afford me anymore. She tried to find me a home but nobody would take me.”

The note continues that his owner felt she was left with “no other options” and hated “to do this but I just can not afford him anymore,” so she tied him to a tree with a note attached to his collar.

Prince George County Animal Shelter posted about Zeus’ plight after he was rescued by animal services officers.

“Zeus was completely failed by his last owner,” the shelter posted. “Can you be Zeus’ forever family?”

It was a bad choice to just leave him there like that. She should have dropped him off at a shelter. But you have to feel sorry for her too. She's poor and desperate and doesn't feel like she has anywhere to turn.

The shelter shared the good news that the 2-year-old German Shepherd/Labrador Retriever mix was adopted on Feb. 13.


A new family for Zeus!

Professional Left Podcast #429

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