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Alan Rickman, who played the villain in Die Hard and Snape in the Harry Potter movies, has died at the age of 69.

The death of the veteran British actor, a scene-stealer in almost every movie he was in, was confirmed by his family on Thursday. He reportedly had been struggling with cancer.

Due to the enormous popularity of the Harry Potter movies, it’s inevitable that Rickman will be best remembered for his performance as Severus Snape, a character that showcased his ability to be both a sinister villain and an empathetic figure. But what was most telling about Rickman was his ability to make even awfully written characters come to life with verve and humor, the best example of which might be his turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The role was so unforgettable for me that when, earlier this month, Chris Christie said Hillary Clinton would cut Marco Rubio’s heart out, I mentally added, “with a spoon.” R.I.P., Alan Rickman.

October 24, 2016

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Donald Trump is nearing Act IV of King Lear.

Trump has been in the wilderness ever since the Billy Bush tape knocked his already off-course campaign far, far off-course. Trump has had moments where he seemed like a classic underdog politician, but they’ve been undermined by Trump’s instability. Saturday’s “Gettysburg Address,” for instance, in which he laid out a plan for his first 100 days in office, was overshadowed by the fact that he spent fifteen minutes railing against the women who accused him of sexual assault. (Trump promised to sue his accusers. He won’t.)

On the one hand, his rallies are more venomous than ever, especially now that Trump himself has embraced the “lock her up” mantra. But on the other, Trump has been increasingly reflective (for him), often asking the audience if he did the right thing by running for president. Here’s Jenna Johnson’s Washington Post report from a rare Sunday Trump rally:

Trump has said he plans to campaign as hard as he can because he does not want to look back and regret not holding “one more rally” in a key battleground state. But on Sunday evening, he seemed unsure about his original decision to run, suddenly halting from reading a teleprompter speech to ask the audience.

“When I’m president, if companies want to fire their workers and leave — Are you okay? Listen. When I’m president, this is to me, like, this is why I started. Are we glad that I started? Are we happy?” Trump said, as the crowd encouragingly cheered him on. “Well, I’ll let you know on the evening of Nov. 8 whether I’m glad.”

Trump continues to insist that he’s winning the election, citing increasingly obscure polls in his defense. But he also appears to be trying to wrap his brain around the prospect of losing the presidential election. And more pathos is yet to come. Trump has always been more Regan than Lear (and his children, at least, seem less shrewd and more loyal than Lear’s), but as he lashes out more and more, these pitiful moments are becoming common.

Of course, it’s also possible that losing will change absolutely nothing. On Sunday, Trump told the audience that he wants to continue having rallies for eight more years, no matter who wins on November 8. God help us all.

October 21, 2016

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Chris Christie is screwed.

On Friday, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, testified that Christie knew and approved of a “traffic study” that would close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge at least a month before the lanes were closed. The lane closures were allegedly political payback against a Democratic rival.

This is very bad news for Christie, who has repeatedly denied knowing anything about the lane closures before they went into effect, despite the involvement of his top aides. Over the last several weeks of a federal trial investigating Bridgegate, however, the dots have been connected. Kelly’s testimony has made clear what was already widely assumed, that Christie was aware of, if not behind, this petty and illegal act of political retribution.

Christie still has one year left to serve as governor, but could very well be impeached before that. He’s already essentially a lame duck, and has spent much of the last six months campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump. Christie’s avid support for Trump has been mystifying to some, but it makes perfect sense: Both politicians never give an inch, Christie is enamored with the rich and famous, and, perhaps most importantly, President Trump represents the only possible salvation for Christie. Riding Trump’s coattails, as Mike Pence has proved, can be a good way to escape being an unpopular governor.

But it increasingly looks like Christie has no escape: Trump is going to lose and Bridgegate is slowly but surely undoing his career.

This is the most moving political ad of 2016.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has released an exceptionally effective video in which Khizr Khan tells the story of his son, Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq while stopping a suicide bomber in 2004.

“He saw a suicide bomber approaching his camp,” Khizr Khan explains as he walks in living room toward a photo of the fallen soldier. “My son moved forward to stop the bomber. When the bomb exploded he saved everyone in his unit. Only one American soldier died. My son was Captain Humayun Khan. He was 27 years old and he was a Muslim American.” Khizr Khan’s voice starts to break as he says, “I want to ask Mr. Trump, would my son have a place in your America?”

What makes this ad so bracing is not just the story of Khizr Khan, but that last question, which lays out the implications of Trump’s xenophobia in the most basic terms.

Getty/Brooks Kraft

The Trump campaign’s version of “exit polling” sounds pretty scary.

As the campaign continues to stoke fears of a “stolen” election and widespread voter fraud, Trump himself has called on supporters to “go out and watch” the polls. But until now, his appeal for poll monitors wasn’t linked to any organized effort. Enter Roger Stone, the Republican Party’s dirty trickster. Stone will lead a crowd-funded exit poll targeting nine Democratic-leaning cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and Charlotte, encompassing 600 precincts that have large numbers of minority voters. With exit poll volunteers potentially including armed vigilante groups like Bikers for Trump and other groups from the controversial Citizens for Trump coalition, this looks more like a voter intimidation campaign than a watchdog effort.  

While Stone has long trafficked in conspiracies of “manipulated” voting machines by the Clinton campaign, this is a new tactic. Never mind that exit polls, in general, are often not an accurate gauge of how voters actually voted, or that approximately 80 percent of voters will be using paper ballots. 

With Trump’s poll numbers continuing to slide, all signs from his campaign point to an unprecedented wave of dangerous messaging that targets vulnerable voters and districts on Election Day. The Stone-founded organization coordinating the exit poll, Stop the Steal, is also spreading the claim that Clinton plans to “flood the polls with illegals,” which just sounds like code for harassing legitimate Latino and other non-white voters. Which leads us to the question: Who will be watching the poll watchers? 


🎶 “Come gather ‘round children wherever ya roam / it’s high time you learned that Bob Dylan is a troll” 🎶

Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature eight days ago. Since then, nearly everyone in the world has weighed in on the surprising decision, but Dylan himself has stayed quiet. After trying to get in touch with him and his managers for a few days, the Swedish Academy gave up, though it reportedly remains confident that he’ll show up to accept the prize in December.

On Thursday, though, Dylan seemed to inch closer to acknowledging that the Nobel Prize in Literature exists and that he won it—his website added the all-caps addendum WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE to a page about his upcoming book of lyrics. But that addition seems to have been done in error—it was taken down on Friday, presumably at the behest of Dylan or his management. (Dylan’s website is managed by Sony Music, his record label.)

So what does it all mean? Dylan loves playing coy, so who knows. But it’s pretty obvious that he’s having a laugh at the Swedish Academy’s expense. The Academy’s belief that Dylan will come to Stockholm and play nice in two months doesn’t seem to be based on anything. The safe money now, at least, is on Dylan never acknowledging the prize, which would be an oddly fitting response. But then again, I said that Dylan would never win the Nobel Prize in Literature in the first place, so what do I know?

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Hell is working at Wells Fargo.

The Times has published a series of stomach-rolling firsthand accounts of what it was like to work for the bank, which in September was hit with a fine of $185 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for creating millions of fake checking and credit card accounts to bilk customers. At the time, Wells Fargo said it had laid off more than 5,000 employees caught up in the scheme, which suggested that it was rooting out bad apples. But the Times story shows that Wells Fargo employees were victims of merciless pressure across the company to jack up the number of accounts per customer, resulting in as many as five accounts for a single person, including accounts that were supposed to be used on special days like Christmas or a family member’s birthday.

The employees knew that they were robbing these customers, but were intimidated by their superiors if they voiced dissent. In response, one woman developed a hand sanitizer addiction—as in, she drank hand sanitizer around the office to deal with it all, eventually developing a bottle-a-day habit. Another had to go to the emergency room for anxiety attacks. And yet another contracted shingles from the stress. Shingles is painful!

As Elizabeth Warren told CEO John Stumpf at a Senate Banking Committee hearing in September: “So you haven’t resigned. You haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings. You haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, evidently, your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. It’s gutless leadership.” Stumpf should definitely have been fired for overseeing a massive scam. But what’s the punishment for turning your workplace into a psychological torture chamber?

Bless your heart, Brian Babin.

Babin, a Republican congressman and erstwhile dentist, shared some profound thoughts about Donald Trump’s “nasty woman” comment on the Alan Colmes Show yesterday evening. Via MSNBC:

“You know what, she’s saying some nasty things,” the Texas congressman answered.

Colmes asked again if the comment was appropriate, to which Babin responded, “Well, I’m a genteel Southerner, Alan.”

“So that means no?” Colmes asked.

“No, I think sometimes a lady needs to be told when she’s being nasty,” Babin replied. “I do.”

Let’s pretend, just for a moment, that the archetypal genteel Southerner does exist outside the fevered imaginations of Confederate re-enactors. Calling a woman “nasty” sits far outside the mythological etiquette Babin is trying to invoke. It’s an amusing and ultimately doomed attempt to deploy the self-congratulatory legend of The Southern Gentleman (in defense of a foul-mouthed Yankee, no less).

There’s only one proper response to Babin, and it’s one any real Southerner fears: Bless his heart.

October 20, 2016

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Donald Trump is the candidate the pro-life movement deserves.

In The Washington Post today, Fordham University professor Charles Camosy argues that Trump represents an existential threat to the pro-life movement:

[I]f he is elected president, our opponents on abortion will be able to rightly point out that the anti-abortion movement is led by a misogynist, racist, narcissist who is blinded by his own privilege. Successfully making this case is the only way left for abortion rights activists to stop anti-abortion momentum, but it plays into deeply-held stereotypes of the movement—stereotypes still held by media formed during the culture wars.

Camosy neglects to mention that those “stereotypes” of the single-minded pro-life activist are based on facts. He even writes, We [the pro-life movement] have almost completed the struggle of disentangling ourselves from the toxic, simplistic, binary culture wars of the 1970s.”

This is false. The pro-life movement still frames abortion as murder. That framing makes it a binary issue by default and therefore lends itself easily to hyperbole: Good and moral people hate baby murder. Bad and immoral people don’t.

This is tempting prey for someone like Donald Trump. If there is anything he knows how to do very well, it’s crafting a sales pitch. Trump understood that he simply needed to repeat a few pieces of boilerplate in order to win the bulk of the pro-life vote, despite being famously squishy on the issue. And it worked. Pro-lifers backed him; they campaigned for him; they even joined his advisory committee. By endorsing Trump, prominent pro-lifers proved their critics correct: They really do prioritize the welfare of fetuses over the welfare of everyone else.

Donald Trump just declared he won’t accept the results of the election if he loses, and he is going to lose.

“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election—if I win,” the Republican nominee said at a rally in Delaware, Ohio, on Thursday.

Trump may later claim he was joking about this deadly serious subject—he was smiling broadly as he delivered the line. But he has long claimed that the election is being “rigged” or “stolen” from him, and he spoke without a trace of humor at the rally when he said, “I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.”

A questionable result, as far as Trump is concerned, is any result that shows he lost. If voters’ current preferences hold, then, it seems clear he’ll be contesting the results of next month’s election.

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Jane Sanders does not beg.

Bernie Sanders’s wife lashed out on Twitter Thursday about a WikiLeaks email from Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook last year saying she twice called Peter Shumlin, Vermont’s Democratic governor, “and begged him to change his mind” about endorsing Clinton in the presidential primary. Sanders also slammed Shumlin for the timing of his endorsement, which came just hours after her husband’s campaign announced plans for its kickoff event.

The Sanders campaign’s frustration was understandable. The press cast Shumlin’s move as a “snub” and evidence the democratic-socialist senator was “not getting support from key leaders in his home state.”