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FREAK FOLK REVISITED: Q&A With Philadelphia’s Shadow Band, Amabassadors Of Peace & Magic

February 24th, 2017

Shadow Band


JAMIE DAVISBY JAMES M. DAVIS How do you explain the unexplainable? Who knows what darkness lies, hidden deep in the heart of man? The Shadow knows. Or, more accurately the Shadow Band know, but they’re not giving away too much. Although recently signed to Mexican Summer, they have been recording in their South Philadelphia Sanctum Sanctorum for years years. before that individual members could have been witnessed bouncing around Detroit and New Jersey respectively, waiting for winged destiny to descend. The music is primo folk-psyche, conjuring hope in ruined landscapes, evil underground rivers and the ghosts that haunt the New Jersey pines. We interviewed all four of them at once over the phone ahead of their show Saturday the 25th at Baird Mansion Atrium, the second stop on their national tour in support of the new Wilderness Of Love LP on Mexican Summer Records. We talked Sabbath, getting signed, and what being spooky means to them. Goblins, Rosicrucians, and of course, the New Jersey Devil, all make an appearance.

PHAWKER: Stoner rock is huge right now, you guys are almost the flip side of that. Shadow-Band_Paul-Benson
Where those guys are doing “Paranoid,” and you’re doing, like, “Planet Caravan.” Does that sound accurate?

SHADOW BAND: Oh man, yeah. We actually love that song! We played it at the bar we all went to Wednesday.

PHAWKER: You usually have a lot of people on stage, is that still going to be the case going forward?

SHADOW BAND: Well with going on tour, we can really only tour with like four people at once, so that’s gonna be different, yeah. But we’re gonna be doing a fair amount of switching it up on instruments. I’m gonna be playing guitar and singing, and also trying to switch it up with the flute and theremin on tour.

PHAWKER: So you guys just got signed and are going on tour soon. Has being signed to Mexican Summer changed things for you guys?

SHADOW BAND: But honestly I mean not really. To give you some idea we like recorded this album in 2013 so it’s been a long time for us. I mean honestly the biggest difference is that now we’re getting written up online and stuff like. Publicity I guess. Mexican Summer has a studio in Brooklyn and we were lucky enough to go there like two summers ago and record with the dude Jarvis from that band Woods and a few other people. And we did like three and a half songs or something and everyone, like, across the board agreed that the stuff we made in our home was better. I mean it sounded great, everyone did a great job on all of it, but we just kind of thrive in our own recording environment. It was really just too good, too clean and polished. Being in a professional studio is definitely something we’re not really used to. It seems kind of sterile in my opinion and kind of throws off the effect or like the feeling of it. Plus it was more pressure, like time is money. At home you can just, ya know if something doesn’t work out you can just come at it later that day or the next day.a4031440396_10

PHAWKER: Well what about influences, you guys wanna talk about influences? Like, I hear a kind of Brian Jonestown Massacre thing, anything there?

SHADOW BAND: Oh man, yeah. We love that movie, Dig. The part where he’s like rollerblading around this party being really manic and like, being an asshole to everyone, that really stuck with us.

PHAWKER: Yeah, I mean he’s the best. Except for that part where he kicked some dude in the head. . .

SHADOW BAND: What about you? What kind of music do you like?

PHAWKER: Ah fuck, I mean I actually do like you guys a lot, but uh. . . like, Blanche? You guys know Blanche they were from the Detroit garage rock thing in the early 2000’s.

SHADOW BAND: Ah man yeah Scott here is actually a native of Detroit. But they were more country. . .

PHAWKER: Yeah, but it’s like that spooky Americana thing. I love anything like that.

SHADOW BAND: Word yeah, I mean we like anything that’s spooky I guess. But uh, you know the Incredible String Band? They’re like a mutual thing we can all dig on I guess. They’re kind of a collective and we’re a collective so play in that way as well. I believe they have three songwriters and a few others but they’re still a collective. Yeah they’re pretty incredible as per their name. There’s a thing about modern bands with a similar vibe to us. Sun City Girls and the Sunburned Hand of the Man, out of New England I think have a pretty similar vibe to us. We like sun themed bands. Also Sun O)))) Although our music tends towards the quieter I side I think all of us tend towards the kind of doom or sludge. Any sonically abrasive heavy thing.

PHAWKER: Now, your music is spooky- there’s this real rural feeling to a lot of it as Shadow BandCOVERwell. Does any of that come from personal experience?

SHADOW BAND: Oh man, I mean. . . [laughter] Matt is from a very rural area in New Jersey- Yeah that’s not really something I can talk about. I mean, with the people involved and everything, I don’t really think it would be fair to them. I mean I grew up in a rural place, in New Jersey, around a lot of spooky things. But I will say that Philadelphia is quite haunted in my opinion. And just yesterday we were at this photoshoot you know taking some pictures next to a place near the river which is reputed to have some of the only goblin lore in the US.

PHAWKER: What is Goblin Lore? Lore of and relating to Goblins?

SHADOW BAND: Yeah I was reading something from the 16th century about Goblins along the river. Like most people think of them as a European thing but apparently Philadelphia might harbor some goblins, or at least used to. I mean I was definitely feeling a vibe down there, I don’t know about you guys. Were all big fans a part of Philadelphia near the Wissahickon as well, which is creek near Philadelphia, which was inhabited by hermits and mystics in the 17th century. They had a time machine which is apparently not open to the public, which is harbored in Philadelphia. But you can see the leader of that group’s telescope, which I believe was the one he used to discover Uranus. He was apparently also very influenced by the rosicrucians, although he wasn’t a rosicrucian, or at least he didn’t express that. The Rosicrucians are interesting in general because they did not really exist until the lore of them did, after which a bunch of sects opened up.

PHAWKER: Oh, I didn’t know that. I thought the Rosicrucians were legit, you’re telling me they’re not legit?

SHADOW BAND: [laughs] No no, we love the Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucians are cool.a0815498388_10

PHAWKER: You don’t think you could talk a little bit about what was haunted about growing up in New Jersey?

SHADOW BAND: Well I mean to be honest, I’m not sure if I want the attention going into detail about it- But I’ve seen some weird things in New Jersey, some strange paranormal things, and I know a lot of other people have too. I mean I feel somewhat uncomfortable talking in detail about it to protect other people and stuff. But I don’t know, New Jersey is kind of a strange place. I didn’t grow up in the Pine Barrens but I spent some time in the Pine Barrens and also heard that the Pine Barrens and some forest in Africa are statistically the two most haunted places in the world. New Jersey is a strange, fantastic land to me. I actually had a questionable Jersey Devil experience once. I was cat sitting at an old house in the Pine Barrens. I don’t know, unexplained wing flaps. My dad’s hunting buddy tried to give me the most rational explanation, although he is open to the paranormal. And he said it was probably an owl beating like a rabbit or a cat to death on the roof of this house. This house was a very old house, used to be part of the Underground Railroad, it’s just off of Jimmy Leeds’ road. Pretty connected to where the New Jersey Devil was reputedly born. As the thirteenth child.

PHAWKER: The Jersey Devil started as a person?

SHADOW BAND: Yeah I mean legend has it that the Jersey Devil- there was a woman in the pines, Mother Leeds, she did not want the thirteenth child, and in childbirth cursed it. And essentially the story goes that as she gave birth to it it transformed into a devil and slayed the people in the room and flew out the chimney, forever to haunt the pines.


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Q&A: W/ Strand Of Oaks Timothy Showalter

February 23rd, 2017



DISCUSSED: Unspeakable things. Looks for it Monday on a Phawker near you!

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SPOON: Can I Sit Next To You

February 22nd, 2017

The second single from Hot Thoughts, out March 17th on Matador Records.

DOWNLOAD: The Complete Oral History Of Spoon [PDF]

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BOOKS: The Greatest Story Ever Told

February 21st, 2017

Auto Malcom X


My grandfather was born in 1900 and his life followed the historic trajectories and sociocultural contours of America in the 20th century — he weathered two world wars and the Great Depression and lived to tell. He was educated and well-read, a cement company executive who traveled widely on company business, clapping the backs of power in foreign lands — the Shah of Iran gave him an incredible wall-sized Persian rug, the ambassador of Mexico gave my grandmother a sterling silver tea set, etc. He taught Sunday School. Always voted Republican and subscribed to the National Review. He was a gifted raconteur, and hearing him talk about growing up on the endless plains of Kansas at the turn of the last century was like a private audience with Mark Twain. He was a bottomless fount of folksy tales and Capra-esque hijinks and monkey shines from a long-bygone era. He was also, like 99.9% of the white men of that era, racist. Not KKK racist, not even casually-drops-N-bombs-at-the-dinner-table-Archie-Bunker racist. Rather, he was institutionally racist in that the de facto apartheid system that separated the haves from the blacks in this country was invisible to him, or if not invisible, faintly re-assuring. But I will never forget the day he handed me his copy of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, dog-eared and heavily marked-up with underlined passages he revisited often, and told me that it was the greatest book he’d ever read. Four decades later, I still have his copy of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X. One day, I will pass the torch to a new generation, because everyone — black, white, striped — should read that book. In the works for two years and co-authored by Alex Hailey — who would later go on to pen Roots — The Autobiography Of Malcolm X was published a few months after Malcolm was assassinated on this day in 1965 in the middle of a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in New York by rival members of the Nation Of Islam. But as long as this book is in print, and young people — and maybe even some old school racist grandfathers — continue to find it, Malcolm X’s story will never end. — JONATHAN VALANIA

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WORTH REPEATING: 33 Questions About Russia

February 21st, 2017



VOX: Michael Flynn’s resignation — under fire — as national security adviser has the larger question of Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia back in the news. It’s a story that centers on three big, but fundamentally unproven, allegations: that Trump is on the take from Russia, that he is somehow exposed to Russian blackmail material, that his campaign actively collaborated with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign, or some combination of the above.

The evidence for those explosive charges is thin.

What we have instead are a lot of small, unanswered questions. Questions about Flynn’s behavior and the circumstances of his firing. Questions about the behavior of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the circumstances of his firing. Questions about enigmatic remarks made by longtime Trump associate and veteran political operative Roger Stone. Questions about an obscure American businessman named Carter Page who maybe — or maybe not — worked for some time with the Trump campaign.

But there are also longstanding questions about the opaque financing of the Trump Organization, and about why its founder and owner has been so reluctant to engage in normal levels of financial disclosure. And most of all, there are questions about Trump’s highly unorthodox attitudes toward Russia, its government, and its leader, Vladimir Putin.

Here, in convenient list form, are the 30 small questions and three big ones about Donald Trump and Russia. MORE


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THE KING OF COMEDY: Q&A With Judd Apatow

February 17th, 2017



meavatar2BY JONATHAN VALANIA By this point, everyone knows who Judd Apatow is, or at least everyone who’s had even a glancing interface with a cineplex marquee or has a non-delinquent cable account and a functioning funny bone. With writing, producing, directing or acting credits in nearly 40 films and 24 television shows, Mr. Apatow has become the Starbucks of comedy — dark-roasted, fairly-traded, consistently reliable, and blessedly ubiquitous. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Mr. Apatow last Friday when he was in town for The Crashing Comedy Tour‘s stop at the Trocadero to promote his new show Crashing, which premiers on HBO on Sunday. DISCUSSED: Being the Starbucks of comedy, his Gary Shandling documentary, The Larry Sanders Show, Crashing, Love, working for Netflix, Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Lena Dunham, the end of Girls, Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman, T.J. Miller, Bill Cosby, and how to survive The Age Of Trump without gaining 30 pounds and losing your mind.

PHAWKER: I don’t need to read your resume back to you, but you know and I know that you are incredibly prolific. Nearly 40 films and two dozen TV shows that you either wrote or produced or directed or acted in. You’re sort of like the Starbucks of comedy — you can’t go more than a block or two without running into a Judd Apatow joint, and I don’t mean that as a diss. I think Starbucks is a fine brand and I’m very thankful to see them when I pull off the highway in the middle of nowhere. But anyways, getting back to my question, which is basically, how do you juggle all of this? It’s just exhausting to read your CV. What’s the typical day in the life of Judd Apatow?

JUDD APATOW: Well, I think a lot of it is about building a team. You know, when you work LoveNetflix_on a TV show you are working with a group of people and if you have a strong writer and strong leaders and staff, then I’m able to spend time breaking stories, reading scripts and looking at edits. I don’t like to spend a ton of time on sets, I try to hire great directors and not interfere, and then, in editing, watch what they did. If they miss something we might try to re-shoot something at some point, which rarely happens, and be about making sure we close strong. And so, I’m able to jump between shows. I’ll say “why don’t you guys take a run at an outline” and they’ll write the outline and I’ll read the outline, and then I’ll give notes and say “here’s my notes, read and rewrite it” and I’ll come back again, so I can pop around. But with each show I’m helpful in different ways, some shows, like Crashing, I thought directing would be helpful just to set a style. On Love, for Netflix, you know, we’ve hired all these incredible independent film directors like Joe Swanberg, Michael Showalter and Lynn Shelton, so I focus more on the scripts.

PHAWKER: But do you set specific working hours? Like “I’m up at 8 and I’m done at 6”?

JUDD APATOW: Yeah I mean, I drop my daughter off at school at 8 o’clock then I try to be home by 5-5:30 everyday. And then if a couple of nights a week I try to do stand-up or something like that, and every once in a while it completely collapses but that’s what the goal is.

PHAWKER: And do you really work in a high-rise building that says JUDD APATOW’S OFFICE in big letters on the side like in Maria Bamford’s imagination?

JUDD APATOW: We have a small building where we do JuddApatowOffice copyeverything. I only have about eight employees that work for me. But I’m usually editing one of the TV shows in my office as well, but we keep it pretty lean for the most part. I get confused if there are too many people around.

PHAWKER: We’ll get to Crashing in a second, I have a couple preliminary questions I wanted to hit you with first. I hear you’re working on a Gary Shandling documentary. I love Gary Shandling, can you tell me something about Gary Shandling that most people don’t know, or wouldn’t expect?

JUDD APATOW: Well, Gary was a very spiritual person so in addition to the comic evolution he went through he was also very interested in Buddhism and Eastern religion and he combined those ideas with his approach to his writing. He talks a lot about getting to the truth of things, letting go of your ego so you could really be yourself and find out who you are, and that’s what The Larry Sanders Show was all about. It was about people whose egos got in the way. He used to say “people love each other, but show business gets in the way” and he lived a very interesting life. I love making documentaries. My friend Michael Bonfiglio and I made a documentary about Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry for 30 for 30, and we have another one coming out at South By Southwest about this band, The Avett Brothers, and we followed them while they recorded their new album with Rick Rubin.

PHAWKER: Oh wow.

JUDD APATOW: And that will be premiering in March. Yeah, so, I like Gary, I like to get closer and closer to the truth, so documentary is very interesting to me.

PHAWKER: Last question on The Larry Sanders Show, which you wrote for. The show portrayed show business as this viper’s den of weaponized narcissism and crippling insecurities and psychological warfare, is that still a fair assessment of the industry?Larry-Sanders1_1

JUDD APATOW: Well, you know, show business is driven by making money, and when you make people a lot of money they like you, and when you make people less money they like you less. And then everybody feels this need to be accepted but there is a natural decay to anyone’s career. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but usually painful, and it’s a very interesting world. You know, if you make a living and a ton of money then your phone rings. My wife and I always laugh about how one Christmas when I had a very successful year I got a lot of Christmas presents from a lot of different people and then this year, at Christmas, I got like one present: my air conditioner guy dropped off a bottle of wine. You know, it’s all ups and downs.

PHAWKER: Final season of Girls. Any thoughts on putting a period on the end of that show?

JUDD APATOW: Well it’s fun to try to land the ship, you know with The Larry Sanders Show we had a year or two to talk about what the conclusion of the story would be. So it was very exciting to try and decide the final spot where you would leave all of them because some of them had matured, some of them haven’t at all; some relationships are thriving some are falling apart, and I’m really happy with how it ends. I think it’s very surprising and very strong.

PHAWKER: And have you and Lena Dunham talked about doing something new going forward?

JUDD APATOW: Lena, Jenni and I would like to do something else, we just get along very well and creatively that’s so rare. But it all depends on the idea. You can’t force it unless you have an idea you are just as enthusiastic about. I’m sure we are going to talk plenty about it.

PHAWKER: Ok, let’s dig into Crashing here, which is ostensibly the reason we are speaking on the phone today. I’ve seen a few snippets but I’ve not actually seen a full episode, for the benefit of readers who have seen none of this, can you explain the premise of the show?

girls-final-picJUDD APATOW: Well, the premise is about a guy whose wife cheats on him and he has dabbled in stand-up comedy but now he has decided to move to New York City and give it a shot. The other interesting part about it is he is very religious, and so a lot of this show is just this person trying to not lose his soul in the dark world of comedy. And it’s about young comedians, it’s about people who aren’t good yet, and how hard it is to survive when you haven’t figured out how to do it. Stand-up comedy is one of the only professions that you learn on your feet. You have to fail in front of crowds to learn and get better.

PHAWKER: And comedian Pete Holmes is the star, and it’s roughly based on his life experiences, is my understanding. Is this accurate?

JUDD APATOW: Well, that’s the seed of inspiration, and, you know, it goes its own way. But when he was first starting out he slept on a lot of comedian’s couches because he couldn’t afford an apartment, and he was from Chicago and there were a lot of great comedians when he started out like John Mulaney and Hannibal Buress and Kumail Nanjiani, and that’s what happens here. He sleeps on Artie Lange’s couch for a few days and he sleeps on Sarah Silverman’s couch for a few days then T.J. Miller, so in addition to seeing his world we see their world. It’s kind of like he is stepping into other people’s shows


PHAWKER: I love Artie Lange, I worry about him, in fact every night I say a prayer for him and I’m not even religious. How is Artie doing these days? I know you are out on the road with him right now. [EDITOR’S NOTE: You can read our 2014 interview with Artie Lange HERE.]

JUDD APATOW: Working with Artie has been great, he hadn’t acted in 14 years when he did the show, and he really is a brilliant actor. He is able to play himself and be honest about his life and his struggles while also being funny and this is a unique opportunity to hear what he thinks about all of this, and we had a great time. We laugh about how reliable he was. We keep telling him he going to get a reputation of a reliable person if he doesn’t watch himself.Artie_Crashing

PHAWKER: You have been a very vocal critic of Bill Cosby who is on trial for sexual assault right now, right here in my backyard, in Philadelphia. Two questions about that: how do you think that is going to play out?

JUDD APATOW: Well, you know, I mean, because I think what is most important is that all of these women were hurt, and just the fact that it is going to trial, and all the evidence hopefully will come out is a very big victory for all of his accusers. He hurt a lot of people and these are the type of injuries that affect people for the rest of their lives. You don’t heal quickly from this kind of assault. And I’ve met a lot of the people who are survivors of [sexual assault], and you can see it, in one second, what it did to them. It’s sad because he’s such a brilliant artist but very sick, who hurt enormous amount of people — we’ll never know how many. I just feel for the people who were hurt that them speaking up will lead to more people speaking up about this kind of crime because if we don’t listen to people they won’t come forward.

PHAWKER: Knowing what we know about him, how do we deal with his body of work then? Can we still laugh at Fat Albert?

JUDD APATOW: I personally don’t care too much about the issue. I think it’s weird for [TV networks to broadcast re-runs of his work] like none of this happened, but I don’t feel militant about it. I can’t listen to it or watch it without knowing the mind of the person who created it, so it spoils it for me. And when you re-listen to those comedy albums there are a lot of ideas in there that make sense now. You notice how many of the pieces are about some hostility towards his wife or his family, or feeling like he was in a cage and wanting to do what he wanted to do. I mean he has a lot of routines about Spanish Fly.

PHAWKER: Literally, I know. His M.O. with his victims was an early stand-up bit.

JUDD APATOW: There are a lot of dark bits about getting in physical fights with your wife and chasing your wife, but people can still listen to it and separate it. People can do whatever they want to do, as long as we take the time to hear from the people whCosbyRapeFamouso he victimized.

PHAWKER: Two quick questions about Donald Trump. First of all, how are you coping with the onset of the Age of Trump, and are you at all concerned, considering that you’ve been a very vocal and public critic of him, are you at all concerned about any personal blowback or career repercussions? Are you expecting to have your taxes audited?

JUDD APATOW: I just think there are certain moments in history when we are supposed to speak up. And so I wouldn’t know how to not speak up in this moment. That would feel wrong, and there’s not much more to it than that. There are a lot of things happening that are clearly wrong, a lot of things which are clearly illegal, and people need to make some noise, we need to let senators and congressman know that if you support him when he does these things, you know, such as fighting for a travel ban which is clearly against our Constitution, then we are all going to vote you out at the midterm, or the next election. That’s the only thing that is going to change this, is the legislature realizing that they’re all going to lose their jobs for not saying “I agree with some of what Trump believes but he is doing a lot of things that are clearly against what this country stands for.”

PHAWKER: Did you see the videos from the Chaffetz’s Town Hall last night?


PHAWKER: Oh my God, they were vicious, beating all his fraudulent denials and evasions of the truth into the ground. It was beautiful. The woman dying of cancer who depends on Planned Parenthood for treatment asking why he is taking that away from her? Or the little girl asking ‘Do you believe in science? Because I do.’ Ka-boom!

JUDD APATOW: I did. Things only change when these politicians get scared for themselves. Most politicians are very selfish and they are only interested in their careers so they don’t want to go against the Republican Party but there is an enormous amount of Congressman and TImeTrumpNOTHINGTOSEEHERESenators that are terrified right now. [Trump is a very unstable] person dealing with some very complicated domestic and international issues, but how many bizarre things can happen per day? We are all getting numb to it. It is certainly scary times and we all need to fight for what we think is right, whatever that is for each person.

PHAWKER: Last question: As a comedian, what do you make of the fact that he cracks jokes, but I’ve never ever seen him laugh at anybody else’s jokes, or laugh ever.

JUDD APATOW: Well, if you had a bunch of friends and one of them didn’t laugh I wonder what your opinion would be of him. I mean, people who don’t laugh are troubling. Laughing is how we connect, it’s how we say ‘I understand.’ It’s how we say ‘I care about you. I love you.’ It’s how we say ‘What you are telling me is important to me.’ So someone that never laughs — unless it’s chuckling about how you hurt somebody — it scares me. I don’t think it’s normal.

PHAWKER: Very good. Listen sir, thank you very much. That was a great interview, thank for giving me all this time, thanks for all the great stuff you’ve done over the years. I look forward to what’s coming next.

JUDD APATOW: All right, thank you. I look forward to reading it.


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THIS IS FINE: The United States Of Derp

February 16th, 2017



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REALPOLITIK: Who’s Afraid Of Steve Bannon?

February 16th, 2017

Steve_Bannon_Flying Monkey_4th_Reich

Illustration by WMXDESIGN

LAWFARE: My point is that Bannon is not some sui generis political genius. And his supposed vast and arcane intellect is neither vast, nor is it arcane. It’s the regular stuff of the trolling culture of the modestly-educated, pseudo-intellectual hard right.

This brings me to the nonsense that Bannon is some kind of Darth Vader-like figure or the evil master manipulator behind the throne. The alternative and more convincing explanation is that Bannon’s just a clod with delusions of grandeur and that his disrespect for process has come back to bite him, as it will tend to do to people who don’t think through the implications of their actions carefully. It’s that the difficult, bureaucratic, legalistic interagency processes associated with actually putting together national security policy exist for a reason, and that when they’re disregarded, chaos and disorganization tend to result.

And just to be clear, I don’t mean chaos in the Bannon-as-Rasputin sense, in which the Great Manipulator intentionally tries to “disrupt” the state. I mean chaos of the kind that has rocked the administration back on its heels and injured it before the courts not only in the case at hand but likely in many cases to come involving national security deference. I mean the kind of chaos that causes a broad degradation of this administration’s credibility and ability to function on national security matters.

In short, Bannon’s role as the ideological father of the EO strikes me as an instance of an internet troll coming up against legal and bureaucratic structures of process and accountability, and losing—because he didn’t understand the importance and power of those institutions in the first place.

As an astute acquaintance put it, we can best understand Bannon not as Darth Vader or Rasputin but as an angry blogger sitting in front of his computer tapping out a post on how he would run things if he were in charge. The difference is that, in this case, Steve Bannon actually is in charge. MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: The 1st Rule Of Kremlin Club

February 16th, 2017



THE OBSERVER: Presidential mania on social media isn’t a pretty picture and will do nothing to stop the coming investigations by Congress into what exactly was going on between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin last year. Trump’s bluster and deflections on the campaign trail sufficed to push aside some of those troubling questions, but things have reached a point that the full story, no matter how unpleasant it may be, will come out, eventually.

At a minimum, the House and Senate intelligence committees will be conducting investigations which ought to worry the White House, whose political future will likely depend on how many Republicans are willing to back Trump—and by extension the Kremlin—over fellow Americans. Since several prominent Republican senators, including Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr, have indicated that investigations are going forward, the White House can’t depend on partisan loyalty to protect them for much longer.

Republicans should be advised to put country over party right now and pursue rigorous inquiries into the full extent of Trump’s Moscow links and their impact on the election—and the new administration. Washington is at the precipice of a scandal unlike anything seen since Watergate. Indeed, KremlinGate promises to be much seedier and more troubling than anything proffered by President Nixon.

Here the inevitable comparisons to Watergate fall short. Tricky Dick committed domestic crimes, and paid the price for them, but Nixon was in no way beholden to a foreign power—much less one which has several thousand nuclear weapons pointed at the United States. Neither did Nixon collude with that foreign power’s spies to arrange his own election to the presidency.

We are now discussing things worse than mere impeachment. If members of Trump’s team colluded with Russian intelligence, the Espionage Act comes into play, and we’ve entered uncharted waters, presidentially speaking. MORE

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EXPLAINER: What Is #Flynnghazi?

February 15th, 2017

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History Doesn’t Repeat Itself But It Does Rhyme

February 14th, 2017



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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

February 14th, 2017



FRESH AIR: The late James Baldwin was one of the most influential African-American writers to emerge during the civil rights era. During the late 1950s and 1960s, he traveled through the South and addressed racial issues head on. In the course of his work, Baldwin got to know the civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. He was devastated when each man was i_am_not_your_negro_xlg assassinated, and planned, later in life, to write a book about all three of them. Though Baldwin died in 1987 before that book could be written, the new Oscar-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, draws on his notes for the book, as well as from other of Baldwin’s writings. Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck, who directed I Am Not Your Negro, tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that working on the film allowed him to learn more about an author who had influenced him greatly.”James Baldwin was one of the first authors ever where I felt not only at home, but he was speaking directly to me,” Peck says. “He gave me very early on the instruments I needed to understand and to even deconstruct the world around me.” The audio link above features a 1986 interview with Baldwin, followed by a recent conversation with Peck. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos, aka Dan Buskirk’s review

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KILLING PABLO: Q&A With Retired DEA Special Agent Steve Murphy, Who Brought Notorious Colombian Drug Lord Pablo Escobar To Justice

February 10th, 2017



JAMIE DAVISBY JAMES M. DAVIS Retired DEA Special Agents Steve Murphy and Javier Pena were central players in the takedown of Pablo Escobar, the notorious King Of Cocaine, one of the most ruthless and murderous drug lords of all time. Their white-knuckle on-the-job adventures are the inspiration for Narcos, Netflix’s hugely popular crimes series detailing the rise and fall and ultra-violent demise of Escobar. Murphy [pictured below, in red with the corpse of Pablo Escobar] joined the DEA in 1987 and cut his teeth Miami, where the cocaine trade was metastasizing into a billion dollar industry, leaving a trail of murder and mayhem in its wake. In 1991, Murphy was transferred to Bogota, Colombia, the front line of America’s declared war on drugs. It was there that Murphy and his partner, Special Agent Javier Pena, spent their days tracking the whereabouts of Escobar who was shot to death fleeing across the rooftops of a Medellin barrio in 1993. With its leadership decapitated, the Medellin Cartel, which at the height of its powers was raking in $70 million a day, was dismantled soon thereafter. In advance of the eagerly awaited third season of Narcos, expected later this year, Murphy and Pena are in the midst of a speaking tour that brings them to the Keswick Theater on Saturday. Yesterday, we got Murphy on the phone to talk about taking out MurphyEscobarEscobar, Miami Vice, legalization, Trump’s wall and what it feels like to kill a man.

PHAWKER: A lot of people from organized crime circles have successfully monetized their life stories, but they are often criticized for being disloyal to the dead and disrespectful of the truth. How much of a concern was this for you?

STEVE MURPHY: Well, I mean we really didn’t make that much money. We were hired by Netflix as consultants for the first two seasons. Basically we just told them our story. But we turned two producers down. One guy wanted to make political thing out of it, and I’m not sure what the other guy wanted. But we basically gave up until Eric called us. I mean initially we blew him off as well. But eventually we met up with a bunch of the writers, and at the end of evening we got along really well and I said I would talk to Javier and recommend we move forward. He said, “Can I just ask you, what’s your biggest concern here? Why are you so hesitant?” And I said, “The last thing we want is for Pablo Escobar to be glorified in any way, because he’s nothing more than a mass murderer. He was the world’s first domestic terrorist He introduced terroristic activity into the narcotics trade. So that was new. But Eric right off the bat said, “I promise you, we will not glorify the man.” Now some people say that watching the show they almost felt sorry for him. But I attribute that to the actor, Wagner Moura, he is that good of an actor. So our loyalties have always been to law enforcement, but also to all the families of innocent people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when a car bomb went off.

PHAWKER: Yeah, it was an amazing performance. But I think the show makes it clear that all of his Robin Hood type activities weren’t simply for the good of the people, but rather increasing his power over them.

STEVE MURPHY: I’m glad you said that, we do a lot of Q&As and interviews, about 70 last year and it looks like even more this year – so that question comes up a lot: “Ya know, he’s got this Robin Hood persona, didn’t he actually do good things for people?” Well, you know what, yes he did. He went into a homeless area in Medellin where people were literally living on the edge of a trash dump. That’s where they got their food, their clothes, building materials for shelter to love in, were all gotten out of that pile. And he went in and he built housing for free, clinics, soccer fields, money to the church and homeless, passed out food. But you’re absolutely right, he wanted something in return. So when he needed new assassins, he would just go in and say “I need a hundred people to work for me and do whatever I tell you.” There might be three or four hundred people that step up. These are teenagers, people in their early twenties. So what we refer to Pablo as is, he’s not a Robin Hood, he’s a master manipulator. Because he manipulated those people into doing his evil deeds and giving up their lives for him.

PHAWKER: Watching the show it seems a large part of your job was that of an intelligence operative. Cultivating informants and conducting surveillance, is that accurate?

STEVE MURPHY: It was a combined effort between intelligence gathering, analysis, and then conducting tactical operations. So we wore several different hats then. One thing we did, “we” meaning us in conjunction with Colombian National Police force, was we initiated an 800 number where people could call in with tips. And when they called in they didn’t want to talk to Colombians, they wanted to talk to Gringos. Plus we were offering a cash reward for information that would help us catch Pablo. So everybody wanted that, it wound up being like five million dollars. That right there had a lot to do with the intelligence gathering. But when the tips came in we would have to follow up, in person with these people to see if it was usable. It wasn’t safe for us to go out by ourselves so the Colombian police would come out with us, all of us in plain clothes. They were our protection. We had weapons, but we wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the Colombian National Police.

PHAWKER: What was the most terrifying thing you ever had to do?NarcosActors [pictured below, Boyd Holbrook, who plays Steve Murphy, and Pedro Pascal, who plays Javier Pena, on the set of Narcos]

STEVE MURPHY: Well, there’s a couple things. What Javier says is the thing he feared most was the car bombs. Because if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you had no recourse, it was gonna kill you. So that was his big thing. But I mean, we were all going out on helicopters on operations, going out to raid places. But honestly that was more exciting than it was scary. You had rounds come up to the helicopter that could get you a little concerned. This is gonna sound silly but one of the things that made me most nervous was, OK you flew into the airport at Medellin, outside of the city. Now Medellin is built into a bowl between two mountains, and the airport is built into one of the mountains. So normally they would bring a gunship over to fly you into the city to the police base. But if all the Helos are out on operations they would send plainclothes guys in three cars, and you had to drive with them on this curvy mountainous road. And I mean riding with these Colombian police officers on that road, they drove like a bat out of hell. They passed on curves they passed going over the tops of hills. Reason being it was so dangerous at that time. But we were in those cars, you would take your weapon out and carry it over your chest to be ready to engage targets if they tried to intercept you. The favorite method of assassination was two guys on a motorcycle. Guy on the front would drive, guy on the back would have a machine gun or a pistol. And they’d shoot you as they drove by. So that was probably the scariest part of being down there. The rest was really exciting, it was a great adrenaline rush.

PHAWKER: Well, that leads us to the next question which is: in the show there’s a part where you’re in Miami and it’s the first time you shoot someone, and there’s sort of a moment of reflection…

STEVE MURPHY: That was Hollywood. I mean, I don’t mean to sound cold or anything. And I’m not an overly brave person, I think I’m just a normal person that might have had a bit of an adrenaline jones at one point when I was much younger, but things like that have never bothered me. I mean, you feel bad for people when they die but you know, if they were bad guys I had no remorse for them whatsoever. They got what they deserved.

PHAWKER: Miami Vice was the biggest show on TV around the time you joined the DEA. Is that just a coincidence?

STEVE MURPHY: I was a cop for 12 years before I joined the DEA. And I watched Miami Vice on TV — my favorite shows were that and Hill Street Blues. I mean, you know how Miami Vice is, it was exciting and I’d always been interested in drug work, I’d done a couple just very small cases when I was a city cop and it just always seemed intriguing because you were given opportunities to try to outsmart these guys. You knew what they were doing, and guys who had been doing it for so long got comfortable doing it. And guys like that, the ego thing kicks in and greed kicks in, and all of a sudden they think they’re invincible. So if you’re able to infiltrate that organization working undercover or you’re able to build a case on them when they don’t even know you’re looking at them- I just loved it when you just surprised them and and you’re just there to arrest them whether it’s peacefully or forcefully. I mean, I’m not bragging but my conviction rate was about maybe 96%. I mean, if I was coming for you, I got you. And all the people that ever got off was on plea deals. We were working a case in Miami one time where we seized 500 kilos of cocaine from this Haitian organization, and they were storing cocaine they had offloaded from a coastal freighter into a house. When they brought it out of the house for distribution is when we started arresting people. When we finally went into the house, they had put the 500 kilos of cocaine in a baby’s room. And so one of the traffickers wives who was living in that house, we arrested her because it was obvious she had knowledge of what was going on, and part of the plea bargain for her husband was that charges against her were dismissed. I know she was a very small player, and that’s why I didn’t fight it. But that’s the only individuals that I lost to prosecution, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

PHAWKER: There’s a growing trend in America towards legalization, and a growing sense that prohibition is not working. How do you feel about that? [Below, Steve Murphy and Javier Pena today]Premiere Of Netflix's "Narcos" Season 2 - Red Carpet

STEVE MURPHY: That’s another question we’ve gotten a lot, both in the states and overseas. But my response is always the same. The reason we talk about this, going all over the world to talk about it and so on is to give a lesson in history. What happens whens someone is allowed to illegally amass that much wealth and then gain so much power and control over a country. The man declared war on his own country twice. So we present this as a lesson in history. Why do we study history? Well, we try to learn from our mistakes. Sad truth is, we don’t learn from our mistakes. So, let’s look at legalization. It has been tried in the United States, you know, with the opium dens back in the Wild Wild West, creating the trans-something or other railroad. Trans whatever it was. You look at other countries it’s been tried, everything from weed to heroin and it has never worked. So why is it we think we’re gonna do it better? I mean the other thing nobody wants to talk about is, there are reports that say marijuana changes, over a period of time, effects on the brain. It turns you into a stoner, like we see in the movies that are funny, but can’t function, can’t do anything. The other thing is, you’re inhaling smoke into your lungs. That can cause respiratory problems. So, you take all of that and say, ‘Are we gonna end up with a group of citizens who can’t function properly, can’t take care of themselves, can’t hold a job, so you and me the hardworking taxpayers, should we be held responsible for these people who smoke marijuana and can no longer take care of themselves?’

PHAWKER: Health effects aside, what about the fact that if cocaine had been legal, there would have been no Pablo Escobar?

STEVE MURPHY: Well, I mean aren’t there still moonshiners? I mean, there’s a TV show about moonshiners now that shows them doing it. I mean people still smuggle cigarettes. So even though it’s legal people still want to stop the government from getting their share. I mean, even if you made things legal, people would still do things illegally, because there’s money to be made there. And I mean other than that I think it’s just lowering our morals and our standards to an unacceptable level.

PHAWKER: OK one last one. Trump’s wall. Any thoughts?

STEVE MURPHY: [laughs for a good thirty seconds] I mean, I’m just laughing because when I heard it, I mean it’s just so ridiculous. I mean whatever thoughts you have on our president, I mean he is the president, he is the commander in chief. But, yeah, I’ve been down there. I mean they have a fence between Juarez and El Paso that I’ve seen. But they have to have officers down by the fence anyway, because anywhere it’s not guarded they tunnel underneath, they have special ladders to go over top, they built machines that will throw bundles of drugs over the fence. I mean in some places I’ve even seen, like, they cut holes in the steel links and put in their own doors they can open up whenever they want. I mean it’s just insanity. So no, I don’t not think the idea of a wall is very effective.


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