Plan an Inaugurexit That’s Just Right for You

Posted on Jan 13, 2017

By Chris Storm

  Soon-to-be-President Donald Trump. (Rainier Ehrhardt / AP)

If you sat out Election Day by not voting or by voting for a third-party candidate, there is nothing here for you. You’ve made your bed; enjoy lying in it and watching wall-to-wall inauguration coverage.

But if you are still hoarse from making get-out-the-vote calls or your feet still have the blisters you got while door-knocking during the campaign, or if you need to watch the news with your new friend the airsick bag, read on for some things you can do to push back on Inauguration Day.

To avoid permanent retina damage from the sight of 30-foot gold letters spelling out “TRUMP” on the Capitol dome, you have three options: You can protect yourself from it, cleanse yourself of it or correct your world in the wake of it—like a skin care ad for sudden-onset inauguritis.


• Unplug. This is the prime directive: Cut off all media, news and social connections. The last thing you want is to see old friends start to rationalize this with the maybe-it-won’t-be-so-bad-after-all Band-Aid. Inauguration coverage is going to be omnipresent. Whatever you are used to watching will be preempted and soaked with so much bunting and B.S. it will send you back to the airsick bag. So pull the plug on all your devices, or at least disconnect the news sources and alerts on your phone.

• Divert. Do something that occupies you. If you have hobbies or skills, go at them for as long as they distract you, then switch to an alternative below. Knitting can suck up hours, for example. Can you paper-mache a festive cover for your TV screen? It will come in handy for the State of the Union too! The inaugural will be endless, followed by ball coverage, so plan your diversions accordingly.

• Venture out. Make a list of the museums and cultural institutions you have not been to or checked out in a while. Hit them all. Then stop for a wonderful dinner at a place without a TV before taking in a concert, play or film. Wind up the evening with a nightcap. Just don’t head home until after the 11 o’clock news.

• Venture out plus. Why not get on a plane, fly away from media centers and rust-belt states and land at a calming retreat? The inauguration is on a Friday, so you could make it a long warm-weekend escape. Hawaii is now an all-blue state, beaches and mai tais included. If that’s too pricey, jump in your car and drive somewhere out of Wi-Fi range.

• Hunker. Hook up a hose over your bedroom window to simulate rain, lower the shades and repeat your new rainy-day mantra—“must finish book”—over and over. Do not get out of the bed unless it’s for a food delivery or bathroom break. Do not answer the phone unless the call is from a pal who is also inaugurexiting.

• Escape. Queue up some visual favorites, but think through the content. “Judgment at Nuremberg” is a great film but will make you think about Agent Orange, our about-to-be president, in a comparative way. Pull it out of rotation. Obviously, pull “The Manchurian Candidate” (either version) as well. All presidential biography films—yank. And be wary of classics like “Born Yesterday.” I recently watched it but started seeing orange hair on Broderick Crawford and hallucinating Judy Holiday with a Russian accent. Whoa! Way too close for comfort.

• Sustain yourself. Stock up on snacks and a box of wine. Don’t drink the good stuff on this mission; boxes tend to contain more, and it’s going to be a long day—and evening. So pack enough mood enhancers to make sure you don’t awaken to see Agent Orange dancing with Ivanka at the Scott Baio ball, the Ted Nugent Ball or the Alt-Right Ball ‘n Burn.

• Work. If you must go in and someone brings up the inauguration, treat it like a sporting event you want to see later. “Oh for God’s sake, don’t spoil it for me” (swallow the little throw-up that surges up in your mouth.) You should know which co-workers to avoid. If you must leave your cube, keep eyes forward or down.


There’s no way to change what happened now. If you’re thinking you can Harry-Potter it away, you will just magnify the appendix-rupture-like pain you feel. Try these tips instead.

• Couldn’t your social calendar use a good scrubbing? Cleanse it on Inaugurexit Day—a gift that will pay you back all year long!

• Invited to attend a fundraising event where the recipient group is leaving you with a bitter Orange taste? Bet you forgot your uncle’s upcoming operation—he needs you for a few days. These social-event outs will challenge your imagination with excuses that are fun to create and embellish.

• A good primal scream is very cleansing. As soon as they finish the swearing-in, I want you to go to your window and open it, and scream as loud as you can, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Repeat as necessary.


Or as rock legend Warren Zevon wrote, “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Because truly, the shit has hit the fan. We have to play hardball. That means organizing and backing effective organizations that are already lawyered up, because the action is going to be in the courts. Use your safe-and-sane Inaugurexit day to review these organizations. There will be plenty of efforts you can engage in locally, but manage your cash for the big wins.

Indivisible: A group of congressional staffers has created a how-to guide based on the success tea partiers and others had in disrupting Congress’ and Obama’s agenda. Plan during the inauguration and dive in the next day. Make your group part of something bigger and more effective.

Common Cause: Ever wonder why, as our country becomes more diverse, our Congress doesn’t? That’s because in many states, congressional districts have been configured to spit out same-party candidates forever. The contorted district shapes look like the alien alphabet in the movie “Arrival.” Rigged? More like preordained. This solution will be under the other side’s radar, because it is longer-term and because their leader believes “gerrymander” is the kid in “Leave it to Beaver.” Fortunately, Common Cause is a successful, lawyered-up organization that is already on the gerrymandering case. Follow up with them online and start folding up those airsick bags.

ThinkProgress has started its own Trump Investigative Fund. To fight against fake news, which clearly got us to this point, regularly funding them or Mother Jones and others of their ilk will ensure that the pressure stays on. You’ll feel much better knowing you are shining a flashlight on the little orange cockroaches, exposing lies, financial conflicts and Twitter hypocrisies.

Credo: This is a long-distance provider that donates a percentage of your payments to progressive and charitable organizations you help select. Account setup is easy, and any additional financial donation is always in your control as you help patch the forthcoming congressional shredding of the social safety net.

• The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council: The environment has a large orange target and a harsh way of doing its own “correcting” (bye, bye humans). These two groups have lawyered up and won big victories, so consider signing up and saving the planet.

CharityWatch Top Rated: These guys dive deep to let you know how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.

Resolve to donate to whatever organization fits best with your priorities. You can try to avoid what’s happened, you can shake it off and keep going, but most importantly, fight it.

If none of these tips work for you, you can always volunteer to live fact-check Trump’s inauguration speech. Shouldn’t be too tough. How many lies can you fit into 140 characters?

Chris Storm is a writer who works in marketing in suburban Philadelphia.


Farewell, Carrie Fisher

…a woman whose words were a force for good in the universe

Princess Leia made her a symbol, but Fisher’s writing and unapologetic wit made her real in a way no film could

Farewell, Carrie Fisher, a woman whose words were a force for good in the universe
Carrie Fisher(Credit: Getty/Alberto E. Rodriguez)

Carrie Fisher is my icon. Literally. My Twitter account features graphic artist Leka’s rendering of Princess Leia with a David Bowie lightning bolt across her face, arms crossed and fixed heat gaze staring out at the world above the words “Rebel Rebel.”  To me, it represented a handy cross between two of my great loves, the Star Man and “Star Wars,” and more specifically, its princess who ruined me for all Disney princesses by teaching me that true rulers master their own destiny by saving themselves.

But it’s also meant to be a shout of creative defiance in a world increasingly set on squelching artistic rebellion, an idea linked more to the actress herself than to the character for which she’s beloved. The Imperial Senator from Alderaan may have exposed the world to Carrie Fisher, but her extraordinary writing, represented in novels such as “Surrender the Pink” and “Postcards from the Edge,” and memoirs, including “Wishful Drinking” and her latest, “The Princess Diarist,” revealed a saber-sharp wit and fearless sense of humor no one but the woman herself could accurately script.

“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true,” she famously wrote, “and that would be unacceptable.”

Although Fisher starred in a number of films — her debut was 1975’s “Shampoo,” and she also appeared in “The Blues Brothers,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “When Harry Met Sally” — and went on to ply her writing talents as a script doctor, Fisher is most closely associated with the image of Leia Organa in 1977’s “Star Wars.” She was 19 when she took on the role of a woman we met as a princess. Nearly four decades later, she was still playing Leia, only now as a general of the rebellion in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Where Leia Organa provided the visible pattern for girls who didn’t buy into the idea of waiting for a man’s rescue and validation, Fisher herself inspired writers to be unafraid of digging into the parts of us that ache, to give words and laughter to the universal truths that pain and circumstance can reveal. Writing her way through her life’s darker scenes, including periods marked by heartbreak, addiction and mental illness, made Fisher exist in a fundamentally raw and genuine way that no onscreen role could capture.

“If you have a life like mine, then these experiences eventually accumulate until you become known as ‘a survivor.’ This is a term that I loathe,” she wrote in 2008’s “Wishful Drinking,” which she transformed into a one-woman show and an HBO documentary.

“But the thing is,” she added, “that when you are a survivor, which fine, I reluctantly agree that I am — and who over 40 isn’t? — when you are a survivor, in order to be a really good one, you have to keep getting in trouble to show off your gift.”

The news of Fisher’s death at the age of 60 has shaken people on a number fronts as we take stock of the deep chomps this horrible, Satanic sociopath of a year has taken out of our lives. The loss of Fisher feels as profoundly personal as it does universal, an ugly bookend to a year marked by gigantic lights snuffing out, beginning with the death of David Bowie last January.

Bowie’s passing marked the close of a meticulously chronicled story that had countless chapters, parts and guises, one whose resonance would be felt and honored long after its creator’s departure. The artist knew he was in the last stages of succumbing to cancer, though. He carefully planned his farewell statement to the world in the form of “Blackstar,” his final album.

Fisher’s death represents the fragility of expectation.  The actress and author was known for her brash outspokenness, emphasizing the healing power humor and cleverness have over personal tragedy. And she departed suddenly, at the end of what should have been an ordinary flight home from London, where, according to Variety, she had been filming episodes of the Amazon/Channel 4 comedy “Catastrophe.”

Last week, while sailing through the clouds, she suffered a massive heart attack and spent several days on life support before dying on Tuesday morning.

From all appearances, including her final televised visit to “The Graham Norton Show” recorded while she was in Britain, Fisher seemed well and ready to get in a lot more trouble. Her appearances in upcoming “Star Wars” chapters Episode VIII and Episode IX were a given; her demise reminds us not to take anything for granted,

Until this terrible week, she even had a starring role on our short list of 2016’s joys, providing salve for a flaming sphincter of a 365-day span by confirming the fantasy so many nerd girls and boys had hoped for over the years. “Did they?” we wondered, and she let us know that yes, they did.

The actors who played Princess Leia and Han Solo (that would be Harrison Ford, for those of us living under a rock) enjoyed a torrid affair in 1976. Ford was married at the time, but bygones! The story created such delight at a time when so many of us wanted to celebrate something, anything, that very few “tsk-tsked” the revelation. Thank you for that, Carrie.

Fisher’s acceptance of Leia’s pop culture resiliency and that role’s impact on her life and career decades after her work in “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” was not merely an act of submission. In embracing Leia, Fisher also acknowledged her and her character’s role as a figure of feminist empowerment, an impact that shapes the “Star Wars” universe even now.

Had Fisher not given such an indelible performance as Leia (even before and after that awful “Return of the Jedi” gold bikini so popular on the convention cosplay circuit) we would not have gotten Daisy Ridley’s Rey as the inheritor to the Jedi line. Nor would we have Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as the central hero of this season’s box office smash “Rogue One.”

The other side of that coin is that Leia’s enduring popularity forced to Fisher to turn into all the skids she encountered along the way. Between her parentage, her famously tumultuous marriage with Paul Simon, her  battles with substance abuse and her challenges living with bipolar disorder, Fisher’s life was well-chronicled by tabloids.

One might argue that she would have had to contend with paparazzi and prying even if she had never been associated with “Star Wars.” Fisher was born into a specific part that ensured her years would not be marked by privacy and quiet; she was the daughter of actress and performer Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, who died in 2010. Fisher described the duo in “Wishful Drinking” as “the Brad Pitt and the Jennifer Aniston of the last ‘50s, only slightly moreso — because they actually managed to procreate.”

“You’re not allowed to grow up with parents who are famous and then get into one of the biggest movies of all time and run around with famous people — it’s resented after a while,” Fisher observed in a 1983 Rolling Stone interview. “And I would always try to emphasize something really wrong with me, so that people wouldn’t be put off. There are a lot of epiphanies before you get to the satori, you know. And once it was proposed to me that it was all right to be like I am, I finally quit apologizing for it.”

For what? the interviewer, Carol Caldwell, asked. “For being something different. For being strong. Strength is a style. But this happens in acting a lot. If you pretend something over and over, sometimes it comes true.”

Fisher is survived by her brother, Todd Fisher, her mother and her daughter, actress Billie Lourd. Her legacy of strength, her incredible intellect, her emphasis on laughing in the face of despair and her rebelliousness survive her as well. All of that blends into our portrait of her as a heroine, both in a world that devastated by her departure, and the one that exists only in our imagination.

“The Man in the High Castle” season 2: an alternate “then” only slightly removed from our “now”

Watching season 2 of Amazon’s dystopian vision of a Nazi-ruled America feels different and maybe more pertinent

"The Man in the High Castle" season 2: an alternate "then" only slightly removed from our "now"
Rufus Sewell in the Man in the High Castle(Credit: Amazon Studios/Liane Hentscher)

A year ago, when the first season of Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” premiered, people could watch while feeling secure in the notion that its dystopian story was pure fantasy.

The drama’s alternate timeline, which provides a look at what America would look like if Adolf Hitler had won World War II, looks enough like the popular visions of 1962 America to be disconcerting, regardless of the times. As someone who hasn’t read the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired the series, season 1 of “Man in the High Castle” struck me as a work of midcentury modernism with the addition of swastikas and stylized SS markers. The repugnant iconography is as ubiquitous in its set designs as product logos in public advertising space, which is the point.

Dick’s central critique was that the racially segregated “land of the free” was only a few shades removed from the European fascism we were so proud of smashing in World War II. In Frank Spotnitz’s TV adaptation, Nazi symbolism, philosophy and values slide right into post-war Americana without too many overt differences. The drama’s past is still a familiar America, albeit one with more sinister uniforms.

Even after the election, when Amazon released the trailer for season 2, some of us could still soothe ourselves with denial. “At least we aren’t ruled by literal Nazis,” a subhead on a Vulture write-up snarked. That story posted on November 15, only a day or two after Donald Trump named Steve Bannon as his chief adviser, and only a few days before white supremacists would convene and throw up sieg heil salutes only blocks away from the White House.

Maybe these parallels come off as alarmist. The second season of “The Man in the High Castle” rolls out today and is still science fiction, for the moment. Few in its audience are likely to be watching it in order to steel themselves for the battles ahead. Given the fearsome direction in which the country is moving, some may see value in that idea. Then again, following that train of thought makes about as much sense as preparing for a boxing match by punching yourself repeatedly in the face.

But a person simply cannot pretend that watching Amazon’s series right now, in this darkest of timelines, is not a different and more dispiriting experience than it was last November. Even then, “Man in the High Castle” wasn’t the most uplifting of diversions. Now, it answers some questions about plot while stretching thinly written plotlines over many more hours than they merit.

The drama’s title refers to a mysterious character behind a series of banned films that portray the version of America we know, the one in which the allies won the war and America solidified its standing in the world as a force for good and justice. At the center of the story are two unlikely and initially unwilling heroes: Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos, delivering a much-improved performance this time around) and her lover Frank Frink (Rupert Evans, matching Davalos’ higher energy).

In season 2, the title character is revealed at last as a slightly crazed man named Hawthorne Abendsen, played by character actor Stephen Root. The shaggy Abendsen offers little in the way of additional clarity as to the true purpose these movies, other than to depict how a person’s actions in each film can change depending on their circumstances. A character shown in the first-season finale executing one of the series’ protagonists may nevertheless be integral to saving the world. Or he may be playing everyone, the audience included, as fools.

In both the fictional America and the actual one, hope for a freer world lies in the proliferation of varied perspectives that inspire, educate and warn. In “Man in the High Castle,” the films started out as magical plot coupons, part of a story that only grows more complicated in season 2.

Amazon will have to take that notion seriously, especially since Spotnitz extricated himself from the series midway through season 2. Season 1 did not make it apparent that the story was headed in a specific direction. The second season hints that it may have a destination in mind . . . perhaps. At the very least we learn that that the mysteriously named reel “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” has a purpose beyond inspiring high-stakes chases and betrayals.

Beyond bolstering resistance efforts, there’s also evidence that the films allow a few people to traverse timelines. Maybe the visualization of a better possibility is enough to alter our collective fates; at the very least, they’re a handy tool to move characters through an expanded, more dangerous world.

Juliana and Frank are torn apart by the totalitarian paranoia of the times during the first season, pulled into the resistance after authoritarian forces kill their family members. The world of “The Man in the High Castle” is an ugly one in which the state-sanctioned cleansing of the terminally ill and the disabled is part of everyday existence, or the near total absence of African-Americans, Latinos, or any citizens of a darker hue in the Japanese-controlled Pacific states or Reich-dominated Eastern seaboard, is just part of life.

Season 2 separates the lovers completely, in part due to Juliana’s faith in the suspicious Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank). Juliana’s decision to save Joe from being assassinated, which she did on the faith that he had changed, makes her an enemy to both the Japanese and the resistance. Joe, meanwhile, is summoned straight back to Berlin.

“The Man in the High Castle” pulls off a number improbable feats as it evolves; it’s hard to think of another series that coaxes the audience to empathize with a devoted fascist, or eventually come to feel some warmth and sympathy for a man who gassed a woman and her children to death at the start of the story.

That’s the sly trick of normalizing evil, I suppose. Spend enough time in a world only a few ticks removed from our own, and the men history painted as unfeeling monsters become human once again, just people rising up to meet the structures and horrors that have risen up around them.

But that empathy, if we indeed have it, is amply earned by the cast’s tremendous work. Rufus Sewell’s portrayal of the cunning Obergruppenführer John Smith, the East Coast Reich leader, evolves significantly this season as he taps into the fear and desperation of his character’s paternal side.

Sewell’s leader is still the guy who kicked an underling off the top of a tall building, but he’s also a vulnerable man whose child has a condition that runs afoul of the regime’s eugenics laws. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Joel De La Fuente’s performances remain the standouts among the cast, especially Tagawa’s Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi, a spiritual man whose desire for a better world manages to link him in a meaningful way to a rosier state of being.

And this is where the supernatural elements of “The Man in the High Castle” come in, concurrently challenging the integrity of the piece while giving it a measure of beauty and soul in a land that’s otherwise clammy with intrigue.

Season 2 of “The Man in the High Castle” comes to us at a time when incoming government officials are openly discussing requiring Muslim citizens to register and preventing immigration based on race and religion. When racist movements thought to represent the political fringes have insinuated themselves into mainstream political discourse. When reports of hate crimes targeting Latinos, blacks, Muslims, women and the LGBTQ community are piling up. The heroic image of America as a fount of liberty and benevolence is crumbling. So yes, it could happen here.

But at this moment, the crueler America of the series is still fiction. Worry and self-injury does not protect us from the future. When — if — the matters that have many of us concerned arrive on our doorstep, meeting them with exhaustion helps no one. But maybe the entertainment offered in “The Man in the High Castle” is what’s needed to provoke people to think about what can be done, and what we’re willing to do, to ensure that its version of America remains in the realm of science fiction.


NOVEMBER 11, 2016


If you still believe that Donald Trump was elected because of racism, it is because you have remained willfully ignorant of what has been happening in your country. If you still believe that Trump’s election is indicative of a neo-fascist uprising in America, it is because you have not ventured outside of your self-reinforcing validation loop of fellow Clinton voters and your corporate media echo chamber. If you still, days later, think that Hillary Clinton’s loss is the fault of anyone other than Hillary Clinton, it’s because you haven’t been reading WikiLeaks.

This cannot continue. If the progressive revolution has any hope of mounting a meaningful counteroffensive at any time in the future, the people who supported Hillary Clinton need to stop calling everyone a Nazi long enough to do some actual research into the facts behind where they went wrong in 2016, humble themselves, and admit that they have been completely wrong about everything.

I’m not expecting them to admit it out loud, and I’m not expecting it to happen right away; people will need time to process whatever intense emotions are still ripping through their systems. But at some point, liberals are going to have to put down the bullhorn, stop blaming all their colossal blunders on everyone else, and start getting clear on the facts about the nation they call home and the candidate they voted for. That’s the only way we can begin moving this thing in a healthy direction.

Just so we’re clear, Democrats don’t get to blame the WikiLeaks documents on a subversive Kremlin conspiracy anymore. Julian Assange has confirmed that he didn’t receive the documents from Russia, there will be no more echo-chamber red-baiting now that we’ll be getting a president who has no interest in a conflict with Russia, and the concocted “blame Putin for everything” schtick has already faded into obsolescence now that it has no more place or relevance. It’s time to take accountability for your own understanding of what has been happening in your country’s government and start doing some real research.

I’ve seen people with perfectly good, functioning brains trying to compartmentalize themselves away from the furnace of cognitive dissonance that’s lurking right under the surface by saying completely indefensible things like “This is all because those stupid Bernie supporters wouldn’t support her,” and “The primaries weren’t rigged,” and even “Bernie wouldn’t have been able to win either.”

Right, guys. The candidate with the extremely popular platform and the relentlessly enthusiastic following, who was nearly able to defeat Clinton despite a media blackout and an outright conspiracy against him from the very people responsible for ensuring a fair election, who Real Clear Politics reports was crushing Trump by double digits in head-to-head polling, would not have fared better than the historically unpopular candidate who was under multiple FBI investigations. This is the kind of pants-on-head idiocy that will kill the Democratic party unless it stops.

Bernie, unlike Hillary voters, did his homework. He had his finger right on the pulse of what was happening in his country, and fifteen months ago he predicted the exact outcome of what would happen under an establishment candidacy, precisely as it went down. On August 28th, 2015, Bernie Sanders said the following at the DNC Summer Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Read it and tell me his accuracy doesn’t give you goosebumps:

“Let me be very clear. In my view, Democrats will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate, will not gain the House and will not be successful in dozens of governor’s races unless we run a campaign which generates excitement and momentum and which produces a huge voter turnout.

With all due respect, and I do not mean to insult anyone here, that will not happen with politics as usual. The same old, same old will not be successful.

The people of our country understand that — given the collapse of the American middle class and the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality we are experiencing — we do not need more establishment politics or establishment economics.

We need a political movement which is prepared to take on the billionaire class and create a government which represents all Americans, and not just corporate America and wealthy campaign donors.

In other words, we need a movement which takes on the economic and political establishment, not one which is part of it.”

He got it. Like those of us who supported him, Bernie Sanders understood the spirit of the times; he understood where America is at right now. But the elites of the Democratic party refused to allow us to act on that knowledge, so the American people elected the only other candidate who had his finger on America’s pulse, Donald Trump. Those elites, and every other factor that enabled this colossal political blunder to take place, need to be purged from the Democratic party to prevent such mistakes from repeating themselves.

And the first step is to move out of denial, to cease compartmentalizing so that we can all come out of the fog of cognitive dissonance and begin looking at the reality of what has happened and what is happening. You can’t fix a problem until you recognize and acknowledge it. Unless that happens, Democrats are guaranteed to lose in 2018, and again in 2020, until they lose viability as a political party and are replaced.

So read WikiLeaks. Turn off the TV. Use the New York Times to line your birdcage and start exploring alternative media. Read some of the things actual Trump supporters are saying so you can get a feel for their side of things, like this extremely popular Reddit post which has been “gilded” an extraordinary 38 times as of this writing, wherein the author voices frustration over the ways the political left misunderstands his position.

Hillary voters owe it to their country to finally discover the reality of what’s been occurring right under their noses this entire time in order for a true progressive revolution to become a real possibility and to ensure that the next time a golden opportunity like Bernie comes along, they don’t miss it.


Leaked emails reveal Clinton campaign deception over Flint


By James Brewer
2 November 2016

WikiLeaks’ latest release of Hillary Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails reveals that Clinton was furnished with a question from Flint resident Lee Anne Walters a day before the debate held in the Michigan city that is still enduring the effects of its lead-in-water catastrophe. The location of the March 6 Democratic primary debate between Bernie Sanders and Clinton was selected to make the most political hay out of the Flint crisis.

The emails in question were from then-CNN consultant Donna Brazile, now acting chair of the Democratic National Committee. Brazile sent an email to Podesta, and Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s director of communications, with the subject line, “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash.” The body of the message said, “Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”

After reports emerged in the media yesterday that Clinton had been fed her question in advance, Walters responded on her Facebook account: “This is disgusting and appalling!!! This should be an automatic disqualification! You think she would have answered it better at the very least!”

A March 12 email from Brazile brought to light that her practice of feeding questions in advance to Clinton was not a fluke. The subject line, “Re: From time to time I get the questions in advance,” headed a message in which she referred to questions submitted by Roland Martin, anchor for cable network TVOne, who co-hosted a March 13 Town Hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio featuring Clinton and Sanders.

One of the questions appeared almost verbatim in Brazile’s email to Podesta as it was asked the following day on the televised event. When Brazile was questioned by Megyn Kelly from Fox News about her email to the Clinton campaign, she stonewalled: “As a Christian woman, I understand persecution, but I will not sit here and be persecuted.” She said, “Podesta’s emails were stolen,” and accused Kelly of being “like a thief that wants to bring into the night the things that you found in the gutter.”

Ironically, Brazile actually owes her elevation from vice chair of the DNC to acting chairperson to a previous WikiLeaks release, which exposed the actions of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in favoring the Clinton campaign at the expense of challenger Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, and Brazile was promoted to take her place.

Brazile resigned from CNN on October 14, just two days after the release of the Podesta emails by WikiLeaks. CNN spokesperson Lauren Pratapas said that Brazile had suspended her work with CNN last summer after becoming the DNC chairwoman. Pratapas told the Wall Street Journal, “CNN never gave Brazile access to any questions, prep material, attendee list, background information or meetings in advance of a town hall or debate. We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor.”

A measure of the cynical efforts of the Democratic Party operatives can be seen in a February 19 email to Podesta from campaign strategist Gina Glantz. It had the subject line “From afar – it is not the message; it is the perception of passion.”

Not surprisingly, what is more important to the politicians is not the content of their promises—which will be forgotten as soon as the election is over, but creating the illusion that they care: “I believe the real issue is the perception of passion—hers and her supporters. And it seems like that will just get worse after Nevada. The Bernie phenomenon comes largely from simplistic appeal of his message and from the size of his crowds. I see your work on undermining the former—all things to all people without consequences message.. . I thought the trip to Flint was brilliant. Getting ahead of him around ‘caring’ can be repeated.”

At the Flint debate itself, Walters asked both candidates, “After my family, the city of Flint, and the children in DC were poisoned by lead, will you make a personal promise to me right now that, as president, in your first 100 days in office, you will make it a requirement that all public water systems must remove all lead service lines throughout the entire United States, and notification made to the—the citizens that have said service lines?”

Clinton responded, “We will commit to a priority to change the water systems and we will commit within five years to remove lead from everywhere,” referring to all lead sources, including paint and dust.

The Huffington Post reported Walters’ reaction the day after the debate: “I hated Clinton’s answer. To tell a Flint resident that we’ll handle this in five years is no different than what the city was telling us and what the state was telling us.”


AT&T, Time Warner and the Death of Privacy


OCTOBER 27, 2016

By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan

It has been 140 years since Alexander Graham Bell uttered the first words through his experimental telephone, to his lab assistant: “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.” His invention transformed human communication, and the world. The company he started grew into a massive monopoly, AT&T. The federal government eventually deemed it too powerful, and broke up the telecom giant in 1982. Well, AT&T is back and some would say on track to become bigger and more powerful than before, announcing plans to acquire Time Warner, the media company, to create one of the largest entertainment and communications conglomerates on the planet. Beyond the threat to competition, the proposed merger—which still must pass regulatory scrutiny—poses significant threats to privacy and the basic freedom to communicate.

AT&T is currently No. 10 on the Forbes 500 list of the U.S.‘s highest-grossing companies. If it is allowed to buy Time Warner, No. 99 on the list, it will form an enormous, “vertically integrated” company that controls a vast pool of content and how people access that content.

Free Press, the national media policy and activism group, is mobilizing the public to oppose the deal. “This merger would create a media powerhouse unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. AT&T would control mobile and wired internet access, cable channels, movie franchises, a film studio and more,” Candace Clement of Free Press wrote. “That means AT&T would control internet access for hundreds of millions of people and the content they view, enabling it to prioritize its own offerings and use sneaky tricks to undermine net neutrality.”

Net neutrality is that essential quality of the internet that makes it so powerful. Columbia University law professor Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality.” After the Federal Communications Commission approved strong net neutrality rules last year, Wu told us on the Democracy Now! News hour, “There need to be basic rules of the road for the internet, and we’re not going to trust cable and telephone companies to respect freedom of speech or respect new innovators, because of their poor track record.”

Millions of citizens weighed in with public comments to the FCC in support of net neutrality, along with groups like Free Press and The Electronic Frontier Foundation. They were joined by titans of the internet like Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Arrayed against this coalition were the telecom and cable companies, the oligopoly of internet service providers that sell internet access to hundreds of millions of Americans. It remains to be seen if AT&T doesn’t in practice break net neutrality rules and create a fast lane for its content and slow down content from its competitors, including the noncommercial sector.

Another problem that AT&T presents, that would only be exacerbated by the merger, is the potential to invade the privacy of its millions of customers. In 2006, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed that the company was secretly sharing all of its customers’ metadata with the National Security Agency. Klein, who installed the fiber-splitting hardware in a secret room at the main AT&T facility in San Francisco, had his whistleblowing allegations confirmed several years later by Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. While that dragnet surveillance program was supposedly shut down in 2011, a similar surveillance program still exists. It’s called “Project Hemisphere.” It was exposed by The New York Times in 2013, with substantiating documents just revealed this week in The Daily Beast.

In “Project Hemisphere,” AT&T sells metadata to law enforcement, under the aegis of the so-called war on drugs. A police agency sends in a request for all the data related to a particular person or telephone number, and, for a major fee and without a subpoena, AT&T delivers a sophisticated data set, that can, according to The Daily Beast, “determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why.”

Where you go, what you watch, text and share, with whom you speak, all your internet searches and preferences, all gathered and “vertically integrated,” sold to police and perhaps, in the future, to any number of AT&T’s corporate customers. We can’t know if Alexander Graham Bell envisioned this brave new digital world when he invented the telephone. But this is the future that is fast approaching, unless people rise up and stop this merger.

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AT&T-Time Warner merger to expand corporate, state control of media


By Barry Grey
24 October 2016

AT&T, the telecommunications and cable TV colossus, announced Saturday that it has struck a deal to acquire the pay TV and entertainment giant Time Warner. The merger, if approved by the Justice Department and US regulatory agencies under the next administration, will create a corporate entity with unprecedented control over both the distribution and content of news and entertainment. It will also mark an even more direct integration of the media and the telecomm industry with the state.

AT&T, the largest US telecom group by market value, already controls huge segments of the telephone, pay-TV and wireless markets. Its $48.5 billion purchase of the satellite provider DirecTV last year made it the biggest pay-TV provider in the country, ahead of Comcast. It is the second-largest wireless provider, behind Verizon.

Time Warner is the parent company of such cable TV staples as HBO, Cinemax, CNN and the other Turner System channels: TBS, TNT and Turner Sports. It also owns the Warner Brothers film and TV studio.

The Washington Post on Sunday characterized the deal as a “seismic shift” in the “media and technology world,” one that “could turn the legacy carrier [AT&T] into a media titan the likes of which the United States has never seen.” The newspaper cited Craig Moffett, an industry analyst at Moffett-Nathanson, as saying there was no precedent for a telecom company the size of AT&T seeking to acquire a content company such as Time Warner.

“A [telecom company] owning content is something that was expressly prohibited for a century” by the government, Moffett told the Post.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in keeping with his anti-establishment pose, said Saturday that the merger would lead to “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” and that, if elected, he would block it.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Saturday. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, speaking on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” on Sunday, said he had “concerns” about the merger, but he declined to take a clear position, saying he had not seen the details.

AT&T, like the other major telecom and Internet companies, has collaborated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its blanket, illegal surveillance of telephone and electronic communications. NSA documents released last year by Edward Snowden show that AT&T has played a particularly reactionary role.

As the New York Times put it in an August 15, 2015 article reporting the Snowden leaks: “The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.”

The article went on to cite an NSA document describing the relationship between AT&T and the spy agency as “highly collaborative,” and quoted other documents praising the company’s “extreme willingness to help” and calling their mutual dealings “a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”

The Times noted that AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs based in the US, provided technical assistance enabling the NSA to wiretap all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a client of AT&T, and gave the NSA access to billions of emails.

If the merger goes through, this quasi-state entity will be in a position to directly control the content of much of the news and entertainment accessed by the public via television, the movies and smart phones. The announcement of the merger agreement is itself an intensification of a process of telecom and media convergence and consolidation that has been underway for years, and has accelerated under the Obama administration.

In 2009, the cable provider Comcast announced its acquisition for $30 billion of the entertainment conglomerate NBCUniversal, which owns both the National Broadcasting Company network and Universal Studios. The Obama Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission ultimately approved the merger.

Other recent mergers involving telecoms and content producers include, in addition to AT&T’s 2015 purchase of DirecTV: Verizon Communications’ acquisition of the Huffington Post, Yahoo and AOL; Lionsgate’s deal to buy the pay-TV channel Starz; Verizon’s agreement announced in the spring to buy DreamWorks Animation; and Charter Communications’ acquisition of the cable provider Time Warner Cable, approved this year.

The AT&T-Time Warner announcement will itself trigger a further restructuring and consolidation of the industry, as rival corporate giants scramble to compete within a changing environment that has seen the growth of digital and streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu at the expense of the traditional cable and satellite providers.

The Financial Times wrote on Saturday that “the mooted deal could fire the starting gun on a round of media and technology consolidation.” Referring to a new series of mergers and acquisitions, the Wall Street Journal on Sunday quoted a “top media executive” as saying that an AT&T-Time Warner deal would “certainly kick off the dance.”

The scale of the buyout agreed unanimously by the boards of both companies is massive. AT&T is to pay Time Warner a reported $85.4 billion in cash and stocks, at a price of $107.50 per Time Warner share. This is significantly higher than the current market price of Time Warner shares, which rose 8 percent to more than $89 Friday on rumors of the merger deal.

In addition, AT&T is to take on Time Warner’s debt, pushing the actual cost of the deal to more than $107 billion. The merged company would have a total debt of $150 billion, making inevitable a campaign of cost-cutting and job reduction.

The unprecedented degree of monopolization of the telecom and media industries is the outcome of the policy of deregulation, launched in the late 1970s by the Democratic Carter administration and intensified by every administration, Republican or Democratic, since then. In 1982, the original AT&T, colloquially known as “Ma Bell,” was broken up into seven separate and competing regional “Baby Bell” companies.

This was sold to the public as a means of ending the tightly regulated AT&T monopoly over telephone service and unleashing the “competitive forces” of the market, where increased competition would supposedly lower consumer prices and improve service. What ensued was a protracted process of mergers and disinvestments involving the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs, which drove up stock prices at the expense of both employees and the consuming public.

Dallas-based Southwestern Bell was among the most aggressive of the “Baby Bells” in expanding by means of acquisitions and ruthless cost-cutting, eventually evolving into the new AT&T. Now, the outcome of deregulation has revealed itself to be a degree of monopolization and concentrated economic power beyond anything previously seen.