James Cameron may or may not finally start making Avatar sequels, but will definitely keep talking about making them.

The first Avatar movie (aka The White Man’s Burden 2: Tail Sex Time), which wowed audiences by showing them a flower floating in front of their faces, came out six years ago. While there’s been plenty of talk about sequels, there’s been little progress.

Cameron, appearing at CinemaCon 2016, continued talking about the Avatar sequels, and even added one. While there were previously three planned sequels—which would be released in 2018, 2020, and 2022—Cameron added a fourth sequel, Avatar 5, which will drop Christmas 2023, at the tail end of Trump’s second term.

This is, of course, wishful thinking. But Cameron insisted that progress was being made, saying that he was working with a team on designs and scripts. He added, “The pure imagination is far beyond the first film.”

February 24, 2017

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Trump can’t stop the flood of Russia stories. And it’s driving him nuts.

In the latest chapter of the sordid narrative of Trump’s ties to Russia, CNN reported last night that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked FBI officials to deny stories of the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russian sources—in violation of longstanding regulations regarding White House communications on pending investigations. The FBI rebuffed him.

The president’s response? Enraged tweets.

Last night, Press Secretary Sean Spicer also told CNN: “We didn’t try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth.”

For an administration that got into office thanks in part to FBI actions that kneecapped Hillary Clinton, the Trump White House’s outrage at leaks is a marvelous display of situational morality. But perhaps even worse than that, they don’t understand that their efforts to stop the story make it seem as if they are protesting a tad too much.

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Ed Schultz hits a new low at CPAC.

It wasn’t entirely surprising that the former progressive talk radio host and MSNBC personality agreed to speak at annual conservative conference this year. Once a self-styled “prairie populist,” he signed on last January with RT America, where he anchors the nightly news for the state-run Russian network. He’s changed his tone on President Vladimir Putin, whom he used to deride as “Putie.” “Schultz, who once said on MSNBC that Putin is ‘crippling’ his country, now has a Russo-friendly, or perhaps American-skeptical, viewpoint on any number of issues,” The Washington Post reported in December.

Schultz has done an about-face on Trump, too. After calling him a racist and ridiculing his presidential ambitions in 2011, he praised Trump’s political skills during the campaign and downplayed Russia’s role in his election. Still, none of that quite compares to the praise Schultz heaped on the president on Thursday, talking with reporters on CPAC’s radio row. “I think he’s pragmatic, and I think he wants to win—he wants to win for the little guy,” Schultz said.

Schultz predicted Trump “will go with the people” on healthcare, speculating that the president might slow Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and criticized Democrats’ opposition strategy. “They ought to be focused on saving healthcare,” Schultz said. “They ought to be focused on making sure we don’t privatize Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That’s where the Democrats ought to be. Instead, they’re chasing down scandals or they’re making them up. I’m just—I’m a little disappointed in them right now.”

Rather, Democrats are probably disappointed in Schultz. He used to be a warrior for the working class—cable’s biggest critic of union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who also spoke at CPAC on Thursday. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews even once told Schultz he should run the AFL-CIO. But like a disconcerting number of white-working class Democrats, Schultz found common cause with Trump after supporting Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primaries.

“I don’t agree with Trump on everything,” Schultz said on the radio row. Though he insisted his personal politics haven’t changed, he embraced Trump’s moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia. Asked about the president’s remark to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that America has “a lot of killers” and is “not so innocent,” he said, “I think the president was spot on saying that. I mean, could we say that Barack Obama was a killer? Let me just state the facts. The rest of the world is a little mad at America right now for the civilians that have been killed in drone strikes.”

Schultz praised liberal commentator Alan Colmes, who died Thursday, as “a prince of a person” and “a great radio talent.” He saidthe fact that Fox News had him in prime time was a real statement of how good Alan was and how much he was respected.” Schultz’s apparent opportunism isn’t likely to bring him the same respect. He was a talk-radio conservative before he was a liberal, and his latest political persona is awfully convenient.

Schultz insisted that Russia has never told him what to say on air, and that he’s never even slanted a story to be more favorable to the nation. “The perception is that we’re propaganda, and we simply are not,” Schultz said. Which is worse: that he might be taking direction from the Kremlin, or that he’s doing their bidding freely?

February 23, 2017

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Betsy DeVos seems confused about what “civil rights” are.

The education secretary, who reportedly opposed President Donald Trump’s reversal of Obama-era federal guidelines for transgender students, defended her eventual support for the move during an appearance at CPAC on Thursday. “This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach,” she said.

And yet, DeVos also cited civil rights protections as a key part of her agency’s mission. “I think the role of the federal government should be as light a touch as possible,” she said, but added that “the areas in which the Department of Education has an important role are really around the needs of special needs students and around some of the civil rights issues.”

LBGT students, under greater threat thanks to the Trump administration, can only hope that reports are true about the education secretary’s private advocacy for their cause. Yet her public remarks on Thursday suggest something less hopeful: that her conservative fealty to “states’ rights” overrides her nominal tolerance.

Why does the alt-right like Depeche Mode?

As you may have heard by now, alt-right leader Richard Spencer on Thursday told a group of reporters at CPAC that “Depeche Mode is the official band of the alt-right.” The news spread so quickly that Depeche Mode responded before the original breaker of the news, Olivia Nuzzi of New York magazine, could even file her story. “That’s pretty ridiculous,” a band representative said. “Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt-right and does not support the alt-right movement.”

Spencer became the umpteenth conservative to feel the scorn of his beloved pop culture idols, joining the company of Chris Christie (diehard Bruce Springsteen fan) and Rand Paul (Rush). He and his kind were subjected to heaps of Depeche Mode–related mockery online, including being told to “enjoy the fucking silence nazis.” Video resurfaced of Spencer being sucker-punched by an anti-fascist protester on Donald Trump’s inauguration day, to the tune of “Just Can’t Get Enough.”

But it also prompted the question: What could be the connection between the racist right and an avowedly liberal synth-pop band that had its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s? According to Spencer, Depeche Mode is an example of “white music,” not merely in the sense that its band members are white, but that its music (allegedly) has no roots in R&B and blues, making it different from the Rolling Stones and other rock bands. The idea seems to be that electronic-inflected music has both a futuristic sheen—very important to those on the transgressive right who view themselves at the cutting edge—and is cleansed of associations with a musically miscegenational past. This penchant for electronica has led to such horrors as “fashwave” music; Spencer has previously described Depeche Mode as one of the “fashiest 80s electropop bands.”

Still, there is something more at work here. Anyone familiar with Depeche Mode at their peak knows they were almost as famous for their look as they were for their music. At the time, David Gahan, Martin Gore, and Co. were considered bold sex symbols. In retrospect, particularly when you watch the videos for “Personal Jesus” and “Policy of Truth,” they look a little Village People. As Nitsuh Abebe wrote of Gahan and Depeche Mode before they reached peak fame: “He looks so young! And shy! And they haven’t even started dressing like leather men yet!”

Part of Depeche Mode’s appeal, in other words, has always stemmed from the very strong suggestion of S&M and kinkiness—transgression of a sexual nature. We might suggest something similar about the supposedly “dapper” Spencer, who matches his tweed vests with a “fashy” high-and-tight haircut and clearly aspires to be a kind of rebellious style icon. When I asked my colleague what the connection between Depeche Mode and Richard Spencer could be, she said they both “let their fans enjoy gay culture without admitting to being interested in gay culture.” Spencer is aware of this aspect of his appeal, but in typical fashion turns it into something bigoted: “The gays love me,” he has declared.

Trump administration: states’ rights for transphobic bigots, federal crackdown on casual pot smokers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions insists he was joking years ago when he said, “I used to think [the KKK] were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” It’s not looking much like a gag today.

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Depeche Mode reject Richard Spencer’s strangelove.

During a press gaggle at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, the alt-right founder said this of the iconic British techno-rock band:

Spencer once posted to Facebook his ranking of all the band’s albums, clearly demonstrating that he just can’t get enough of them. However, he really should try to enjoy the silence while he can. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the band told Gothamist: “That is a pretty ridiculous claim. Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt right and does not support the alt right movement.”

As Gothamist points out, lead singer Dave Gahan just this month compared Trump to Adolf Hitler: “The things that he’s saying sound very similar to what someone was saying in 1935. That didn’t work out very well! The things that he’s saying are cruel and heartless and promoting fear.” In its latest video, “Where’s the Revolution,” the band rips exactly the sort of fascist demagoguery that Spencer and his ilk are spreading.

Spencer was later ejected from CPAC, as part of the conference’s muddled attempt to shake the disease of fascism.

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John Boehner admits Republicans don’t have an ObamaCare replacement—and won’t come up with one, either.

You might have thought that after eight years of endless, one-note messaging to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, opponents would have come up with a plan of their own, or at least formulated some ideas. But maybe that was just never going to happen.

Boehner, who during his time as speaker of the House held an interminable number of votes to repeal the ACA, may have let that cat out of the bag. Politico reports that Boehner, speaking at a health care conference today in Orlando, said that Republicans are instead going to make modest fixes to the law. “I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.

On Thursday, Boehner said the talk in November about lightning-fast passage of a new health care framework was wildly optimistic.

“I started laughing,” he said. “Republicans never ever agree on health care.”

He concluded, “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there.” Good to know!

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CPAC leader: The alt-right is actually alt-left.

Dan Schneider—executive director of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual conservative conference—denounced the white nationalist movement from the stage Thursday. “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks,” he said. “We must not be duped. We must not be deceived.”

It’s tempting to give Schneider credit for distancing CPAC from overt white identity politics. He explicitly condemned an alt-right conference in Washington last year, where movement leader Richard Spencer waxed nostalgic about when America was “a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity” and audience members hailed him with Nazi salutes.

But then Schneider explained who he really blames for the movement that backed Donald Trump’s bigoted campaign: progressives. “They are nothing but garden-variety left-wing fascists,” he said of the alt-right.

Fascism is right-wing by definition, and the modern, multicultural left is precisely the opposite of the alt-right’s white identitarian politics. Schneider was similarly off-base arguing that the alt-right is more akin to socialists than conservatives, and suggesting they’d “hijacked a once-decent term” in calling themselves “alt-right.”

Spencer, who coined the term, was having none of this on Thursday. He was on hand at CPAC, and said Schneider’s comments were “objectively stupid.”

“Total bullshit,” he told reporters. “I wasn’t aware that left-wing fascists were so numerous—such a common persuasion.”

Spencer said Schneider’s remarks were evidence of the alt-right’s growing influence in politics, as it battles the traditional conservative movement. “The fact is, they weren’t talking about the alt-right a year ago, two years ago,” he said. “They now feel the need to talk about us.”

There’s something to that. Despite CPAC’s denouncement, Spencer certainly had fans at the conference:

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Air pollution doesn’t kill people, and other revelations from the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Climate change is “fake news.” Environmentalists’ “only goal is power.” The government “has completely corrupted science.” Recycling is “pretty useless.”

Those were just a few of the claims made at a CPAC panel on Thursday entitled “Fake climate news camouflaging an anti-capitalist agenda—and what President Trump plans to do about it.” It was organized by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E), a coal industry–funded non-profit best known for filing lawsuits against climate scientists. Among the panelists was Steve Milloy, a paid advocate for the tobacco and coal industries, who argued that excessive air pollution is not linked to premature death, and that, in fact, those activists at the EPA are “paying for the science it wants.” Consequently, Milloy said, Trump must completely overhaul the scientific research process at the EPA and other federal agencies. “Our government is lying to us,” Milloy said.

This can’t be dismissed as fringe rhetoric. Trump is listening to people like Milloy. E&E’s legal counsel, David Schnare, is a member of Trump’s transition landing team for the EPA. And Schnare has partnered with Milloy in legal action against the agency.

You can watch the whole panel below.

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Ivanka Trump’s child care plan would mostly benefit people like Ivanka Trump.

In today’s edition of Ivanka Trump Is Not The Progressive You Want Her To Be, Bloomberg reports that her vaunted child care proposal would do little for lower-income parents:

A deduction for child care expenses is both costly and regressive because it would favor wealthier families with two working parents. The deduction would cost the federal government $500 billion in revenue over a decade, according to an estimate by the Tax Foundation, a politically conservative, nonprofit research group.

Two-parent households earning under $500,000 a year would receive the child care deduction; according to Bloomberg, low-income families would simply receive a larger income tax credit. That translates to some savings, but wealthier families would still benefit the most from Ivanka’s proposal. That’s not exactly a surprise: Ivanka is no policy expert. She may be drawing on personal experience, however: Nannies raised her; now she employs nannies of her own.

If Ivanka really wanted to improve American child care, she’d tell her father to spend more money on programs like Head Start. Or she could urge him to veto any bill that reduces the availability of free school meals. If she doesn’t, it’ll be even more obvious that she, like her father, sees the presidency as a means to protect her class’s interests.