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TRUMP + RUSSIA: Spies, Lies & Treason

January 2nd, 2018

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Since His Innauguration, Trump Has Told 1,950 Lies

January 2nd, 2018

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WASHINGTON POST: With just 18 days before President Trump completes his first year as president, he is now on track to exceed 2,000 false or misleading claims, according to our database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. As of Monday, the total stood at 1,950 claims in 347 days, or an average of 5.6 claims a day. (Our full interactive graphic can be found here.)

As regular readers know, the president has a tendency to repeat himself — often. There are now more than 60 claims that he has repeated three or more times. The president’s impromptu 30-minute interview with the New York Times over the holidays, in which he made at least 24 false or misleading claims, included many statements that we have previously fact-checked.

We currently have a tie for Trump’s most repeated claims, both made 61 times. Both of these claims date from the start of Trump’s presidency and to a large extent have faded as talking points. One of these claims was some variation of the statement that the Affordable Care Act is dying and “essentially dead.” The Congressional Budget Office has said that the Obamacare exchanges, despite well-documented issues, are not imploding and are expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future. Indeed, healthy enrollment for the coming year has surprised health-care experts. Trump used to say this a lot, but he’s quieted down since his efforts to repeal the law flopped.

Trump also repeatedly takes credit for events or business decisions that happened before he took the oath of office — or had even been elected. Sixty-one times, he has touted that he secured business investments and job announcements that had been previously announced and could easily be found with a Google search. With the successful push in Congress to pass a tax plan, two of Trump’s favorite talking points about taxes — that the tax plan will be the biggest tax cut in U.S. history and that the United States is one of the highest-taxed nations — have rapidly moved up the list.

Trump repeated the falsehood about having the biggest tax cut 53 times, even though Treasury Department data shows it would rank eighth. And 58 times Trump has claimed that the United States pays the highest corporate taxes (25 times) or that it is one of the highest-taxed nations (33 times). The latter is false; the former is misleading, as the effective U.S. corporate tax rate (what companies end up paying after deductions and benefits) ends up being lower than the statutory tax rate. MORE

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I WAS A TEENAGE SEX PISTOL: Q&A With Legendary Punk Rock Guitarist Steve Jones

December 28th, 2017



EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we will be re-posting choice Q&As from the past year. Today we present this reprise edition of this in-depth interview with Sex Pistols guitarist/songwriter Steve Jones, which originally posted on January 17th, 2017. Enjoy.

meAVATAR2BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR VICE  Steve Jones has been a lot of things in his 61 years: a love-starved bastard, a smooth criminal, a peeping tom, an insatiable man-slut, a master thief, an insufferable prog-rocker, a wouldbe Yacht Rock A&R rep, a SEX shop clerk, Chrissie Hynde’s pre-Pretenders fuck-buddy; a teenage Sex Pistol, a 23-year-old has-been, a sticky-fingered junkie, a shit-hot guitar-slinger-for-hire, Iggy Pop’s muse, a Fabio-haired solo artist, a buff and burnished Hollywood biker, a recovering addict, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a jailhouse motivational speaker, an ascot’d elder statesman of punk, a beloved LA disc jockey and a sexagenarian social media baller.

All of which is confessed in unflinching detail, with a nod and a wink and a pinch of Cockney slang, in Lonely Boy (Da Capo), his painfully honest, just-published must-read memoir, co-written with Ben Thompson. Recently we got Mr. Jones on the horn to discuss the following: Stealing Keith Richards’s favorite coat/Bryan Ferry’s gold record/David Bowie’s bass amp; his cloak of invisibility; his crap childhood; the tens of thousands of “birds” he’s “shagged”; his semi-tragic inability to forge a lasting relationship with a woman; learning how to read, write and spell after 40; an ex-illegal Brit’s perspective on immigrants and Trump; why he can’t stand being in the same room with Johnny Rotten; JonesyJukeboxwatching Glen Matlock shag John Cale’s wife; whether or not Sid Vicious kill Nancy Spungen; why Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is the Dorian Gray of seminal DOA punk rock debuts; the oft-derided virtues of Boston and Journey; and why he pissed on Elvis’ grave.

VICE: Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up to the present. In your pre-Sex Pistols days you were a very prolific and precocious thief. In addition to robbing a lot of unfamous people you also stole Keith Richards’ coat, Bryan Ferry’s gold record, the entire backline of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the middle of their infamous two-night farewell concert at the Hammersmith-Odeon in 1973. You refer to your ability to operate largely undetected in the shadows as “The Cloak.”

STEVE JONES: The Invisible Cloak, yeah.

VICE: Were you really that gifted a criminal? Or were the police so incompetent and security measures so insufficient back in those days?

STEVE JONES: Well it was that, that’s it. There was no security. No one had cameras. Even alarm systems in stores didn’t work that great. It was the perfect time to be a kleptomaniac for sure, but there was also an element of balls that you had to have. That’s where “The Cloak” came from. I would literally go to any high-end department store up the West End of London — Selfridge’s, Harrods, Hamleys — and work my way into the storeroom and convince myself I was meant to be there. And oftentimes people would actually, people who worked there would see me there, but I had this confidence about me that they wouldn’t even question what I was doing there. And I was like, 12 years old, it was remarkable how many times I did that and got away with it.

VICE: So was it as much about the thrill of doing it as it was actually getting free stuff? JonesyJukebox

STEVE JONES: It was all about the thrill, to be honest. I mean, it was fine getting some free stuff that I didn’t need, but it was a survival mechanism is what it was. It was, you know, because of the trauma, I guess, if you want to call it that, after my stepfather fucking about with me. After that happened, I didn’t want to be at home, I didn’t feel safe at home. I had this urge on a daily basis to go out into the world and be on a mission. I couldn’t sit still, so that’s why I became a kleptomaniac.

VICE: Your fear and anxiety about your fucked up home situation aggravated your ADHD and may have been the root cause of a lot of the antisocial things you were doing in your youth?

STEVE JONES: It was grim. My upbringing was grim. I had a mother who didn’t really want to have a kid. I had a stepfather who definitely didn’t want me around. Life was good when I was with my Nan, from a very early age to about six or seven. By the time I was about six or seven we moved into this shithole in Shepherd’s Bush in a basement and that’s when the horrible vibes come, you know, and I just hated it. I couldn’t stand it. You know, I was in the way. I was a burden. That’s the feeling I got, you know, and I didn’t want to deal with it.

VICE: In the book you make a very frank and courageous admission that you were once molested by your stepfather. What advice would you offer to somebody who went through something similar to that as a child, who is now an adult but is still so consumed with shame and humiliation they can’t really confront it, even now.

STEVE JONES: I think that happens quite a lot, to be honest with you. I think not 1 in 100 but maybe 1 in 50, where some kind of weird shit happens to you as a kid. But the worst is when it happens to you when supposedly you’re in a safe place, at home, with your parents and, I mean, in hindsight, you know, the best thing to do is to fucking tell someone because when you’re 10 years old you kind of tell yourself that you had a part in it. You kind of made them do it. You know, and it’s when looking back at it, when you’re 10 years old, how the fuck do you know anything, you know?  Your totally taken advantage of, and the best thing to do is to talk about it. Talk about it one-on-one with someone if you don’t want the whole world to know. It definitely helps because that’s a big burden, that’s a big JonesyJukeboxsecret to carry around and it gives you fucking cancer if you ask me and shit like that, you know?

VICE: Totally. The truth shall set you free. Jumping back to your early life of crime — The Great David Bowie Heist is just hilarious and blows my mind. There’s this iconic moment in rock n’ roll history and there you are in the background sneaking off with everyone’s shit.  For the benefit of readers who haven’t read your book yet could you just give a summary of what happened?

STEVE JONES: Yeah, I was a massive Bowie fan, specifically a Spiders from Mars fan — as I was Roxy music, or Rod Stewart and The Faces, or Mott The Hoople. That was my time. When I was a teenager that was what I was obsessed with. Glam rock. Good glam rock, not shit glam rock. I went to what wound up being the farewell concert of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars and Hammersmith Odeon where I always used to go and see shows. I used to know that place like the back of my hand, and I went and saw him. I didn’t realize- well no one realized — this was going to be the end of the Spiders from Mars, and they did two nights and after the first night they left all their gear set up on stage, because they were going to play again the next night. The left some guy who was asleep, well he wasn’t meant to be asleep he was meant to be awake looking after the equipment, but he dozed off in about the fifth row and no one else was in this place other than him, me, and my accomplice.

We snuck on the stage started snipping microphones with some pliers, I took the bass amp, I took some of the cymbals. I didn’t take anything from Mick Ronson I don’t know why I didn’t but um, we loaded up my mini-van that I had at the time, dropped it off somewhere, came back for another round and, about to do some more damage, the guy woke up. He didn’t see me. I saw him starting to wake up and I split. I didn’t realize this was going to be such a big deal. I didn’t realize this was going to be the end of that phase of Bowie. It was on the radio the next morning that all their equipment had been stolen. And of course that made you feel a sense of pride and savor the infamy — hey ‘I did that!’ Like the arsonist who sets fire to houses and stands outside when the cops show up, watching it burn. Getting kind of like a “Yeah, that’s me! That’s me!” This nobody has made a little bit of a name for himself and no one knows it.

VICE: You met Bowie years later, did you ever tell him about this? MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A With Johnny Rotten, Anti-Christ Superstar

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THE KING OF COMEDY: Q&A With Judd Apatow

December 27th, 2017



EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we will be re-posting choice Q&As from the past year. Today we present this reprise edition of this in-depth interview with Judd Apatow, which originally posted on February 17th, 2017. Enjoy.

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 kicks off its second season on January 18th]. 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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IN ORWELL WE TRUST: Q&A With Pulitzer Prize-Winning National Security Reporter Tom Ricks

December 26th, 2017


EDITOR’S NOTE: This week we will be re-posting choice Q&As from the past year. We start with this still-timely interview with nat-sec reporter Tom Ricks, which originally posted on May 25th, 2017. Enjoy.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Under the darkening skies of the late 1930s, liberal democracy was on the ropes and fascism and totalitarianism was on the rise, reason and common sense were overwhelmed by racist entreaties, economic misery and nationalist fury, press freedoms were under attack and the facts had become a matter of opinion. Sound familiar? Two less than distinguished men rose to the occasion: a tarnished, boozy politician named Winston Churchill and a sickly, failed novelist named George Orwell. Although they did not know each other, Churchill and Orwell would lay down the intellectual and political framework — in soaring oration and sonorous prose — that turned back the rising tide of illiberalism.

In the process, both would become great men, not just men for their season, but men for all seasons — including the the post-factual age we call the here and now. Which is what prompted Pulitzer prize-winning national security reporter Tom Ricks to make them the dual subjects of his latest book, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight For Freedom. Ricks is currently a contributing writer to Foreign Policy and a security advisor to the Center for the New American Security think tank, prior to that he logged in 25 years as a distinguished Nat Sec reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He’s authored six books, including 2006’s Fiasco, his jaundiced eyewitness account of the Iraq War, which went to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. In advance of his appearance at the Free Library tonight, we got Ricks on the horn to discuss how the writings, orations and actions of Churchill and Orwell impacted the then and how and why they continue to speak to the now.

DISCUSSED: H.L. Mencken, Joseph Stalin, Martin Luther King, T.S. Eliot, Leon Trotsky, General Franco, the Spanish Civil War, Hitler, Mussolini, tuberculosis, booze, Wikileaks, fake news, the Battle Of Britain, alternative facts, Trump, illiberalism, climate change denialism, Lech Walesa, the Invasion Of Iraq, Alger Hiss, Andrei Sakharov, the Katyn Massacre, Letter From A Birmingham Jail, the Second Boer War, John Lennon, Neville Chamberlain, Edward Snowden, The Mitford Sisters, Keith Richards, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, Animal Farm, 1984, and the sun setting on the English Empire.

PHAWKER: Thank you for taking the time to do this. thomas-e-ricks_person_image.original I really love the book and thought it was incredibly timely, which is actually where I want to start. What prompted you to write this book in this time? Clearly you recognized some contemporary resonance.

TOM RICKS: Yeah, well, I was beginning to feel uneasy about three or four years ago about how people talked about free speech. Both on the left and the right it seemed to be less appreciated than in the past. People seemed more accepting of limitations on free speech. And at the same time I was going back and reading 20th century journalists, partly just to look back for my own entertainment and curiosity at who stood up, who’s worth reading now. I started with H.L. Mencken and found him absolutely anachronistic. Then I went to S.J. Perelman and didn’t find him funny at all. I found E.B. White had pretty good prose, but really wasn’t speaking to our times. I found Hemingway irrelevant. And then I picked up Orwell, and his prose style seemed so fresh and so contemporary that it made me stop and think. And the realization came to me as I was writing the book that I think he really invented the modern op-ed style of opinion, which is based on straightforward, clear writing. The statement of an observation of facts. The explication of those facts and then conclusions from those facts, which is the basic 650 or 700 word op-ed piece.

PHAWKER: It’s not only free speech that’s endangered, we’re living in the time when liberal democracy seems to be on the run. There’s a passage here on page 45 where you write that “many people, especially the young and engaged, thought that liberal capitalist democracy was tired and failing. They felt that the only two ways forward were fascism or communism, beckoning from Berlin, Rome, and Moscow, ending the Western way of life.” How does that speak to now?

TOM RICKS: I think it does very much, which is this time of ours is kind of similar internationally to the 1930’s in that, as I wrote in the book, democracy, and especially liberal capitalist democracy, seemed to be faltering and did not seem to speak to the people. In America, to the white working-class, especially. I have to say, related to that, is the sense that facts don’t matter. People can make up their own facts. I think my favorite passage in the whole book is at the end of the chapter on Spain when I quote Orwell talking about how he came back in England, read the newspapers, and saw battles described that had never happened. Heroic acts of soldiers that had never occurred. Just absurd representation by both the left and the right of the facts of the matter, which would have set him on his lifelong course to always put the facts before party. To always insist that you cannot suppress information because it supports your ideological position to do so.

PHAWKER: That’s actually getting to a point I wanted to raise about your Churchill&Orwelldescription of 1984, you write that Orwell asserts that “collecting the facts is a revolutionary act insisting you have the right to do so is the most subversive action possible.” Again, this has a very contemporary resonance in light of Trump’s war on the facts and observable reality. Your old stomping ground, the Washington Post, felt the need to put the motto, “Democracy dies in darkness” on their front page every day.

TOM RICKS: I gotta’ tell you, I hate that motto.
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INCOMING: Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

December 23rd, 2017


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CINEMA: Violent Femme

December 22nd, 2017


I, TONYA (Directed by Craig Gillespie, 119 minutes, USA, 2017)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Much buzzed-about this Oscar season, I, Tonya is an unlikely prestige film about an unlikely Olympian starring Margot Robbie as the notorious Tonya Harding, the disgraced figure skater who conspired to have her rival maimed by her bodyguard right before the 1994 Olympics. This black comedy is constructed like a mockumentary, in the vein of The Big Short, where on-camera interviews with actors in character (“based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews” with the actual people portrayed in the film)  are supplemented by reenactments that often break the fourth wall.

The film begins with Harding already a skating prodigy at four years old. We witness Harding’s overbearing mother (Allison Janney) bringing her to meet to the coach that would one day take her to Lillehammer before she’s even learned how to talk. From there the film’s trajectory is pretty straightforward, after a few time jumps with various child actors playing pre-teen Harding, Robbie hilariously takes over as the quintessential Bad Girl teenage Harding, replete with big 80’s hair, bad attitude and braces.

Margot Robbie delivers a raw, disarmingly empathetic character study of the widely-despised Harding, who was born into poverty and rose to stardom only to be taken down by those who loved her — namely her her violent and abusive mother and her equally violent and abusive husband Jeff Gilooly, played with hapless white trash aplomb by Sebastian Stan. As Harding rises from trailer park nobody to an Olympic medalist who will become the first woman to land a triple axel, the disturbing cycle of abuse becomes readily apparent. While we all knew Robbie was capable of such a performance in the right hands, it’s Janney’s transformative take on Tonya’s overbearing and sadistic mother LaVona Fay Golden, that hijacks this film every time she’s on screen. Like Robbie’s take on Harding, it’s nothing short of a career defining performance.

To add some light and coal-black humor to an otherwise very dark story, director Craig Gillespie uses the tragicomic absurdity of the bungled attack on Nancy Kerrigan to great effect.  According to both Harding and Gillooly in the film, the attack was originally just supposed to be a series of threatening letters, to throw the skater off her game. In their telling, it was Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), Harding’s mouth-breathing, basement-dwelling “bodyguard,” who went rogue and escalated the plot into a violent physical attack on Kerrigan.
All of this unfolds concurrently with the rise of the voracious 24 hour cable news cycle — and the public’s increasingly  insatiable hunger for celebrity, scandal and sensationalism — that devoured Tonya Harding almost as quickly as it made her a household name.

I, Tonya’s biggest surprise is not how great this film is, but how it doesn’t look to rescue Harding — who was eventually banned from competitive figure skating for life — while providing the heartbreaking backstory behind the outrageous tabloid headlines. I, Tonya was easily my favorite film of the year, with its indelible performances, note-perfect soundtrack (featuring aptly-named artists like Violent Femmes, Supertramp and Dire Straits) and rogue’s gallery of characters — a veritable confederacy of yutzes —  who blundered their way into history and unwittingly paved the way for America’s next tawdry celebrity obsession, the OJ Simpson trial.

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EXCERPT: The Man Who Knew Too Much

December 20th, 2017

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PHILADELPIHA MAGAZINE: Even by the biblical standards of come-to-Jesus moments, the day Wendell Potter got woke was nothing short of miraculous, in the old-school, divine-intervention meaning of the word. The year was 2007, and Potter was the vice president of corporate communications for Cigna, the global health insurance behemoth then headquartered in Center City. As such, he was, in essence, a handsomely paid apologist in a for-profit health insurance system that — in the dark age that preceded the signing into law of the Affordable Care Act — routinely left more than 40 million Americans without coverage, resulting in nearly 45,000 premature deaths annually.

Among Potter’s duties were writing official-sounding white papers meant to minimize the problem and shift blame to the uninsured, and crafting reform-killing talking points for the health-care lobby’s congressional stooges to repeat into the cameras of Fox News and CNN. He was part of the effort to smear Michael Moore and discredit Sicko, the filmmaker’s 2007 gloves-off exposé of the iniquities of the health-care industrial complex. Yet every day, he left the plush confines of his Main Line home, took the R5 into the city, and rode the elevator to the richly appointed executive suites of Cigna’s corporate headquarters on the 16th floor of Two Liberty Place with the firm conviction that he was going to bat for the angels — healing the sick, mending the broken, resurrecting the dying. So it came as quite a shock to learn that he had been playing for the other team all along.

In July of that year, Potter flew south to visit his parents in Kingsport, Tennessee. It was there that an article on the front page of the Kingsport Times-News jumped out at him: An organization called Remote Area Medical — essentially a U.S.-based Doctors Without Borders that brings pop-up medical clinics to the health-care deserts of rural America — was staging its annual Health Expedition at the nearby Wise County Fairgrounds, just across the state line where Virginia jigsaws into Tennessee and Kentucky. Every year, the article said, thousands of uninsured working poor ventured out of the hollows of Appalachia to receive free medical and dental care. They came from hundreds of miles away, camping in the middle of the night to get a good spot in line to be treated for ailments — in makeshift triage units set up in repurposed livestock stalls — that had been left to fester for upwards of a year. Potter, who theretofore didn’t personally know anyone who didn’t have health insurance, found it hard to believe something like this was necessary in the richest country in the world.

This he had to see.

He borrowed his father’s car and drove the 54 miles to Wise County. For the lion’s share of the trip he drove U.S. Route 23, but he was, for all intents and purposes, on the Road to Damascus. The scene that greeted him at the Wise County Fairgrounds was staggering: hundreds and hundreds of sick and ragged waiting in line for one of the animal stalls to come open so they could get badly needed medical attention for ailments that prayer and faith healers couldn’t fix. It was like a giant MASH unit pitched in the middle of Appalachia, one front in America’s ongoing civil war between the have-everythings and the have-nothings. There were dozens of men and women and children lying on gurneys on the ground in various states of undress, undergoing intimate procedures in the open air, partly veiled by makeshift walls made of bedsheets. Surrendering all dignity was the price of admission. It was a shattering experience for Potter. Tears streamed down his face as he wandered through the carnage. He had no earthly idea it had come to this, that it had gotten this bad. And, as a health insurance executive, he was undeniably complicit. MORE

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

December 20th, 2017



FRESH AIR: Of all the moral subjects and ethical rules elaborated throughout the Bible and the history of Christianity, why have so many American Christians seemed disproportionately obsessed with sex? And how has that obsession divided America? These are the questions that led my guest, R. Marie Griffith, to write her new book, “Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians And Fractured American Politics.” She writes about the battles over women’s suffrage, birth control, interracial marriage, sex education, abortion, sexual harassment and marriage equality. The book ends with the Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration. Griffith grew up in a Baptist family during the rise of the religious right. She’s a professor of religion and politics at Washington University in St. Louis, where she directs the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. MORE

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Win Tix To See An Advanced Screening Of I, Tonya

December 18th, 2017



The 2017 Oscar season continues with I, Tonya, an unlikely prestige film about a felonious but not entirely unsympathetic Olympian’s fall from grace, or something close to it, starring Margot Robbie as the notorious Tonya Harding and directed by Craig Gillespie. This much-buzzed-about black comedy is constructed like a mockumentary, in the style of The Big Short, where on camera interviews with actors in character — based on “irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews” with the people portrayed in the film — are supplemented by reenactments with those same actors often breaking the fourth wall. Check out the official synopsis below:

Based on the unbelievable, but true events, I, TONYA is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Featuring an iconic turn by Margot Robbie as the fiery Harding, a mustachioed Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, a tour-de-force performance from Allison Janney as her acid-tongued mother, LaVona Golden, and an original screenplay by Steven Rogers, Craig Gillespie’s I, TONYA is an absurd, irreverent, and piercing portrayal of Harding’s life and career in all of its unchecked––and checkered––glory.

I, Tonya opens in Philadelphia December 27th and we have 50 pairs of tickets to an advance screening at Wednesday, December 20th at 7:30 PM at the Prince Theater. If you would like to attend, click HERE. No cameras, camera phones, or other recording devices permitted in screening. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis. Theatre capacity is limited and passes won do not guarantee seating. (So please show up early!) Theater is not responsible for overbooking. Ticket holder and guest must enter theater together.

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BEING THERE: Converge @ Union Transfer

December 17th, 2017



As a Boston kid having come from the same early 90’s punk/hardcore scene that spawned Converge, it’s awe-inspiring to bear witness to a few suburban kids who made a demo back in 1991 slowly evolve into legends. Back then, having a demo, or better yet a split 7-inch, was a huge deal and hearing about local bands that got multi-album deals was not only unheard of but usually meant they would inevitably sell out and/or fail. This was also a time when the straight edge movement was resurgent and dark, metallic hardcore — Converge’s forte — was taking a back seat on the bus to nowhere. Converge stayed on that dark path doing their thing, powering through the macho Boston beefs rival bands got caught up in only to grow up, become dads, tour like crazy and produce nine epic albums, the newest of which, The Dusk Is In Us (Epitaph), is well worth the five year wait. Headlining a dark and packed Union Transfer, Converge had me at “A Single Tear,” just like back in the Boston days. Kurt Ballou’s guitar work still sounds like someone broke into Home Depot and turned all the power tools full blast. Bassist Nate Newton, sporting his trademark INFEST tank top, and drummer Ben Koller laid down a powerful headbanging backbeat. Singer Jacob Bannon , storming around the stage like a mad man, repeatedly expressed his gratitude for the capacity Philly crowd and for the fact that a 41 year old dude has been to be able to do this for most of his life. – MARK LIKOSKY

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CINEMA: It Crawled From The Swamp

December 15th, 2017


THE SHAPE OF WATER (Dir. by Guillermo del Toro, 123 min., 2017, USA)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Easily the strangest film this prestige season is Guillermo del Toro’s eccentric romantic masterpiece The Shape of Water. The film opens today at the Ritz Five and is a rather unique take on a love story that is an unlikely mash-up the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, Amélie) and the Universal Monsters. Shape has del Toro returning to his roots to give us a darkly fantastic fairy tale that has the director at his best and most unrestrained he’s been in years.

Set in Cold War era America circa 1962 the film is the story of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a lonely mute cleaning woman who works in a top-secret government lab. When a mysterious creature is brought in who looks like a hybrid of Abe Sapien from Hellboy and Gill-man from The Creature of the Black Lagoon, Elisa is intrigued and her feelings evolve from pity to love for the monster as the army experiments on him to find out with makes him tick. The reasoning behind Elisa’s interspecies courtship is that the creature is the only one who truly sees Elisa as a whole in their interactions. He doesn’t look down upon her for her handicap, since both do not have the power of speech, but begin to communicate through sign language. When Elisa finds out the gleefully sadistic Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), plans to perform a vivisection on the creature, she puts into motion a plan to save her love and set him free from the facility.

The Shape of Water is a timely fairy tale with political underpinnings that teaches us the scariest monsters are oftentimes in plain sight and sometimes hail from suburbia. Elisa Esposito’s mute immigrant status is no accident and neither is the fact that her only friends are a closeted advertising artist (Richard Jenkins) and a black woman (Octavia Spencer) who are all marginalized and suffer bigotry and prejudice in one form or another throughout the film. The love story at the heart of the Shape does take a bit of a trust from the viewer, but if del Toro has proved anything as a director, it’s been the ability to show us the humanity in almost any creature no matter how grotesque. Thanks to a fearless and captivating performance by Hawkins paired with del Toro’s Monster Muse Doug Jones, we not only take the jump with our heroine, but also find a profound joy in the inspiration her relationship brings to those around her.

The Shape of Water is easily one of Guillermo del Toro’s best. The film is a touching love story that also functions as a scathing commentary on the state of the union. Brilliantly acted and flawlessly executed, the film manages to transcend the fairytale template, since Elisa’s love doesn’t transform the creature into a prince, and this doesn’t falter her love one bit. A love story birthed by a pure love of cinema that’s derivative as it is celebratory of its many inspirations, Shape is a breath of fresh air in this Oscar season that feels cluttered with the usual biopics and period dramas. While dealing in the tropes of horror del Toro has crafted an elegant, sympathetic and very human story; one of outsiders and love and the lengths those without it will go to achieve it.

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CINEMA: The New Star Wars Is Really Great

December 12th, 2017


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Directed by Rian Johnson, 152 minutes, 2017, USA)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC With Thursday’s release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi  director Rian Johnson picks up the reigns of the space opera mega-franchise left by J.J. Abrams.  Given the bleakness of Looper and cleverness of Brick, I was more than a bit curious to see what Johnson would do in the Disney® sandbox. Surprisingly enough not only did Johnson make it through making the film without being fired — no small achievement, that — but he turned in a film that feels very much like a Star Wars adventure while adding a much-needed layer of complexity to the characters we met all too briefly in The Force Awakens.

Since the decimation of the Republic’s capital at the end of The Force Awakens, the First Order has established dominance over the galaxy. When we catch up with the final remnants of the Republic — the de facto Resistance — led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), they are on the run from the ominously reptilian Supreme Leader Snoke and his terrifying star fleet of mega-destroyers, who are on the cusp of wiping out the Resistance once and for all. In a plot point that feels cribbed from an episode of Battlestar Galactica, The First Order now has the ability to track the Rebel fleet through their lightspeed jumps making it only a matter of time before the Resistance fleet runs out of fuel and is overtaken by the First Order. It’s a race against time as Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac),  Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) cobble together a plan to sneak onto Snoke’s ship to shut off the tracking device just long enough for the Resistance fleet to slip away. In the meantime, Daisy Ridley’s Rey finds she has a much more daunting task ahead of her, trying to convince Luke Skywalker — who, fed up with intergalactic warfare, has self-exiled to the last redoubt of the Jedi on the oceanic planet Ahch-To —  to help the Resistance and train her in the in the ways of The Force.

It’s very apparent Rian Johnson was having the time of his life here. The film is pure visual spectacle, with bigger space battles, more lightsaber duels and higher stakes; all barbed with a razor sharp humor. I can also see why Mark Hamill probably sat out the first film; he is a formidable presence on screen and here he often eclipses the young Ridley with his darkly humorous take on the exiled Jedi master. This dynamic plays into how we come to see this war between the Rebellion and the First Order and the conflict between Jedi and the Sith. It’s not simply black and white, but shades of gray. And sometimes the good guys do bad things. The film begins with a tragic example as Poe Dameron’s ego leads to the death of hundreds of rebels when he disobeys orders and takes on a massive First Order Dreadnought. These sentiments are later echoed by the career criminal DJ (Benicio Del Toro, who revisists the twitchy incomprehensibility of his breakout performance in The Usual Suspects) who lets our Resistance friends in on a little secret: there are those that have been profiting obscenely off of this war, selling arms to both sides, who have a vested interest in keeping it going as long as possible.

After that aforementioned spectacular opening battle sequence, The Last Jedi stumbles a bit trying to find its footing and advance the narrative all the while tying up all the loose ends left over from The Force Awakens. Once the film digs in however it delivers a story that proves to be more original and satisfying watch than its predecessor. It almost feels like Rian Johnson had most of the same issues with The Force Awakens we did — that it leaned too hard on the fan nostalgia crutch — and nowhere is this more apparent than when Snoke — who looks like a burn ward victim in a fancy bathrobe — berates Kylo Ren (the always excellent Adam Driver) for failing to vanquish Rey in the previous installment, belittling him as a Vader wannabe. J.J. Abrams is slated to direct the final installment in the Star Wars re-boot trilogy but after seeing how impressively Johnson course-corrected the series and cleared the board for the imminent endgame of the Skywalker saga, I’d rather see him finish what he’s started. The Last Jedi isn’t perfect but is easily everything a Star Wars fan could want that expands the SW universe into bold new realms while deftly invoking the films we love and remember from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

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