Category: Commentary

Trump Impeachment: Making a Case Against a President, and Against Tuning Out

They played video. They brought graphics. They cited Alexander Hamilton so many times, they may owe royalties to Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Democratic House impeachment managers, unfolding their case against President Donald J. Trump, were conducting a TV trial without many of the staples of legal drama, particularly witnesses on the stand. Instead, they relied on multimedia, impassioned speeches and repetition, repetition, repetition — all in a presentation of 24 hours over three days.

If the O.J. Simpson trial was a long-running daytime soap, this was democracy in binge mode.

The trial of Mr. Trump, as the TV pundits reminded us before, during and after, was an unusual one, in that much of the jury was assumed to already have a verdict in mind. This meant a different dynamic from the usual televised trial, in which the prosecution is speaking to the jury first and the viewing audience second, if at all.

Instead, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California and his team were effectively speaking to the court of public opinion — home viewers who might bring pressure to bear on certain swing senators, or turn against them at the ballot box — though they had to do so by at least arguing as if the outcome were not a foregone conclusion.

So there was the case, and then there was the case about the case. If the Republican majority was going to acquit the president, and if it was going to voting against calling witnesses and subpoenaing documents that might weaken his defense, the Democrats would make sure that the viewing audience knew it.

Their arguments often focused on what the audience wasn’t seeing and hearing, because the White House refused it. Wednesday night, Mr. Schiff made a refrain of referencing evidence — a diplomatic cable, a statement attributed to the former national security adviser, John R. Bolton — and turning it into a question to the Senate. Wouldn’t you like to read them? Wouldn’t you like to hear them? “They’re yours for the asking,” he said.

What the three days asked of viewers, largely, was patience. The constitutional stakes were as high as they come. But the dynamics were staid, thanks to Senate rules that limited TV coverage to two cemented-in-place camera vantages that gave the broadcast all the visual verve of a security-camera tape.

The managers’ most effective tool, both to break out of the visual monotony and substitute for live witnesses, was file video, which they used to string together the words of Mr. Trump and his staff into a kind of cinéma-vérité documentary of the often right-out-in-the-open scandal.

There was Mr. Trump at a news conference with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki, dismissing his own intelligence agencies’ findings on Russian hacking. There was his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, regaling Fox News hosts about his Ukraine exploits. There was Senator John McCain, a frequent critic of Mr. Trump, summoned Friday as a posthumous witness.

Certain greatest hits went into heavy rotation. The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, seemed to say “get over it” onscreen as often as his boss said “You’re fired” on “The Apprentice.”

The senators were a captive audience, though some ducked out, unseen by the stationary cameras. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina vanished before managers played a video of him, prosecuting the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, in which he contradicted arguments he’s made to defend President Trump. (Mr. Graham did make himself available to cameras between sessions, as did the Democratic presidential candidates kept off the trail in Iowa by Senate duty.)

If any senators weren’t keen on their duty, a good chunk of their constituents were willing to volunteer. Eleven million viewers watched the trial’s first day — hardly Super Bowl numbers but more than watched the Clinton trial, though the numbers declined the next day. And the three major broadcast networks aired more of the trial during the daytime than in 1999, though they left the evening portion to cable news.

In a way, the Democrats programmed their presentation the way a cable news channel does. They recycled through their arguments and video clips during the daytime, for a home audience watching snippets here and there.

Then in prime time, they brought out their centerpiece programming, delivered by Mr. Schiff. (This was around where Fox News usually cut away, preferring its own prime-time hosts.) At the end of Friday’s session, he stepped back from the specifics of the abuse-and-obstruction cases to argue “moral courage” and putting country over party.

“Give America a fair trial,” he concluded. “She deserves it.”

The tone wasn’t entirely solemn. On Thursday evening, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York told a story about a friend who’d just asked him if he’d heard about “the latest outrage.” Mr. Jeffries assumed this referred to Mr. Trump. Actually, his friend said, “Someone voted against Derek Jeter on his Hall of Fame ballot.”

Mr. Jeffries moved on to connect the American pastime of baseball with the American tradition of the Constitution. But his anecdote made another point. The House managers were not just vying with an opposition party and a truculent defender. They were pitted against every other distraction in the mediasphere, every other shiny enticement and new outrage offering a reason to tune out. READ MORE:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/arts/television/trump-impeachment.html

Pompeo Denounces News Media, Undermining U.S. Message on Press Freedom

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo escalated his clash with a respected NPR journalist on Saturday, lashing out at her and what he called the “unhinged” news media in an extraordinary statement. A day earlier, he abruptly ended an interview with her and delivered what the news outlet described as a profanity-laced rant.

The statement, which used the fiery language to attack the news media that has become a trademark of President Trump’s, ignited outrage online among foreign policy experts, scholars of diplomacy and press freedom advocates.

Mr. Pompeo violated the goals and nonpartisan nature of his office, whose core mission is to promote American values worldwide, including freedom of the press, they said.

The interview between Mr. Pompeo and the reporter, Mary Louise Kelly, circulated widely after it was published on Friday night. Describing a tense exchange after a taped part of the interview, Ms. Kelly said that Mr. Pompeo shouted at her repeatedly using the “f-word” and challenged her to find Ukraine on an unlabeled map that his aides pulled out, which she did.

In his statement, released on Saturday morning by the State Department, Mr. Pompeo said: “It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency. This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this administration.”

He added, “It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.”

Mr. Pompeo also said Ms. Kelly, a veteran reporter who is a host of “All Things Considered,” had lied in “setting up our interview” and in agreeing to have the “post-interview conversation” off the record.

On the program, Ms. Kelly said Katie Martin, an aide to Mr. Pompeo who has worked in press relations, never asked for that conversation to be kept off the record, nor would she have agreed to do that.

Mr. Pompeo’s statement did not deny Ms. Kelly’s account of obscenities and shouting. NPR said Saturday that Ms. Kelly “has always conducted herself with the utmost integrity, and we stand behind this report.” On Sunday, The New York Times obtained emails between Ms. Kelly and Ms. Martin that showed Ms. Kelly explicitly said the day before the interview that she would start with Iran and then ask about Ukraine. “I never agree to take anything off the table,” she wrote.

Mr. Pompeo has occasionally issued statements calling on authoritarian governments to respect press freedoms. But he has insulted journalists and has even cursed at diplomatic reporters in private meetings.

His Saturday statement was notable for the public — and broad — denunciation of the news media.

The fact that it was released by his office, at the head of a department known for its decorum, made it even more galling to many observers.

Five Democratic senators sent a letter on Saturday to Mr. Pompeo denouncing his “irresponsible” comments and the “corrosive effects of your behavior on American values and standing in the world.”

“The unavoidable reality is Pompeo never would have been in contention for a senior-level appointment in a normal GOP administration,” Thomas Wright, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, said on Twitter. “He was promoted beyond his abilities because so many people were ruled out. The delta between what’s required & what he has is now on full display.”

Mr. Pompeo, a hawkish evangelical Christian who is a former Republican congressman from Kansas, tries hard to display loyalty to Mr. Trump and reiterate the president’s positions on issues. Mr. Pompeo has aspirations to run for president in 2024, his associates say, and he ties his political future to Mr. Trump’s support. READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/us/politics/pompeo-mary-louise-kelly.html

Can the Grammys Be Trusted?

When Deborah Dugan took her post as the chief executive of the Recording Academy, which oversees the Grammy Awards, in August, she inherited an organization in meltdown and was tasked with getting it back on track.

The problems were myriad. The Grammys, which have long skewed old, white and male, feel only tangentially in touch with contemporary pop music. Big-name stars have been distancing themselves from the event. Its record on diversity, both behind the scenes and at the winners podium, has been dismal. When faced with questions about the Grammys’ gender imbalance, Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow, said that women needed to “step up.”

Drake gave a speech about not needing awards while picking up his most recent Grammy in 2019. He is not expected to attend the ceremony on Sunday.Credit…Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

In just a few months on the job, Dugan spotted trouble: voting irregularities in the nominating process; improbably hefty payments to lawyers; conflicts of interest among board members; a scheduled board vote to approve a sizable bonus for Portnow, despite the fact that he had been accused of rape by a musician, and the allegation had not been disclosed to all board members. (In a statement, Portnow said “the allegations of rape are ludicrous, and untrue.”) Behind the scenes of what is described as “music’s biggest night,” Dugan found malfeasance and rot. The catch: The Recording Academy didn’t want to change. On Jan. 16, 10 days before this year’s Grammy Awards, Dugan was placed on leave after being accused of bullying by an administrative assistant, and removed from the academy’s Los Angeles offices. Perhaps not coincidentally, Dugan had filed a memo last month detailing her concerns that “something was seriously amiss at the Academy.” After her ouster, she doubled down in a discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Now, on the eve of the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, the legitimacy of the organization that hands out the trophies is in full-fledged crisis. Given Dugan’s allegations of behind-the-scenes misbehavior, it has to be asked: Can the Grammys be trusted?

Or perhaps: Have they ever been trustworthy? The question long predates the current scandal, and what Dugan unearthed seems only to confirm longstanding critiques of the awards show. The Grammys’ claim to authority has been brittle for some time, in large part because it has failed to keep up with the ways pop is evolving. During the 2010s, an era in which hip-hop and its influence have been not just ascendant but dominant, only one nonwhite artist, Bruno Mars, won the Grammy for album of the year; the results in the song and record of the year categories are only slightly better. The academy’s resistance feels willful and hopelessly prejudiced.

Superstars of this generation are taking notice, and taking umbrage. In 2016, Frank Ocean declined to submit his album “Blonde” for Grammy consideration, telling The New York Times that the Grammy process “doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” Last year, Drake diminished the importance of winning awards during his acceptance speech for best rap song, and in 2017, expressed bafflement at winning that same prize for “Hotline Bling,” which was, he pointed out, “not a rap song.” Kanye West — who has won 21 Grammys, but never in a major category — has long made the Grammys a target of his ire.

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The issues with the Grammys extend to the televised show as well. In 2018, Lorde was the only woman nominated for album of the year, and was not offered a solo performance slot. Last year, Ariana Grande publicly clashed with Ken Ehrlich, the show’s longtime executive producer, about why she chose not to perform. (This year will be Ehrlich’s last at the helm after a 40-year run; Grande is scheduled to perform.)

So: several of the most inventive, meaningful and popular musicians of the decade, all expressing dismay with the Grammys. These aren’t mere celebrity quibbles; this is a flaming cross-generational blind spot. Broadly speaking, nonwhite artists, female artists, and artists who come from the worlds of hip-hop and R&B are consistently marginalized, honored in genre categories but shut out in the four major categories (album, song and record of the year, and best new artist). Add it all up, and you get impending irrelevance.

This is bolstered by the peculiar Grammy microphenomenon in which little-heralded artists get nominated in the biggest categories, but typically for music that harks back to the past rather than blazes a path to tomorrow. It can feel that the only way for a newish artist to truly break through is to look backward. (The nominations this year point to a kind of progress: Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X lead the way in the major categories.)

And yet the Grammys remain the most meaningful and respected of the music-industry awards shows, though admittedly there is not much competition. The American Music Awards are based on fan votes, the Billboard Music Awards are doled out based on sales, and the MTV Video Music Awards celebrate artists who still believe MTV is a relevant music medium. (Around 20 million people watch the Grammys ceremony on television, though the last two have had the lowest viewership ever in the coveted 18-49 demographic.)

From the outside looking in, the Grammys are understood to be a meritocracy, the night on which the industry honors its leading lights and passes the torch to deserving newcomers. But the truth has always been more complicated, and more unseemly.

Grammy nominations are shaped by a number of committees — for the major categories, and some genre-specific ones — whose composition remains secret. They effectively have override power, and can cherry-pick nominees. It is, in essence, a cabal, Dugan alleges — a system that can be scammed by people with the right connections. (The Grammys deny this.)

The Recording Academy only recently made an aggressive push to invite younger artists to become Grammy voters. That was part of a broader initiative undertaken in the wake of the Portnow “step up” kerfuffle, when the organization hired Tina Tchen of Time’s Up to lead a diversity and inclusion task force. Its final report, released last month, was harsh in its assessment of the academy’s historical lack of commitment to diversity.

Grammy voters skew older, male and white, unlike the musicians pushing pop into the future. Honoring the music of the now via the judgment of the creators of yesteryear is a disaster in waiting, an almost certain guarantee of misrepresentation. Several years of this have built up a climate of mistrust that it’s unclear the enterprise can recover from.

Dugan’s appointment was supposed to disinfect the Grammys, but her removal only reveals how ambitious that task remains. Yet since the statements in her complaint were made public on Tuesday, there has been curiously little outcry from musicians, either because of a lack of genuine interest or concern, or something less obvious. Behind the scenes, artists share labels, publicists, lawyers. Everyone knows someone who benefits from the system as it currently operates, and perhaps believes that if they just keep quiet, they too may someday be on the right side of the swindle.

Or perhaps it is already accepted that the Grammys are more interested in protecting the interests and reputations of its elder members than promoting the innovations of younger generations. The current revelations merely confirm what has long been suspected, or implicitly understood.

Besides, corruption in the music business doesn’t begin and end with the Grammys. The #MeToo movement that swept Hollywood has gained little momentum in pop music. Everything is a little bit fishy — some artists release merchandise bundles with their music to juice sales numbers; others beg fans to stream their music to get good chart placements. Younger artists arrive into a system that’s already rigged against them. And those in power don’t know how to cede it.

If the Grammys don’t rapidly absorb change, its claim to be the standard-bearer music awards platform will be rendered null. Forward-looking musicians will seek out new platforms that are more in touch, leaving the Grammys with scraps, eroding their authority and their allure. Before long, perhaps no one will crave a Grammy at all. SOURCE OF THIS STORY: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/arts/music/grammys-controversy.html

Trap Kitchen Uses Food to Rewrite Compton’s Narrative | The Spirit of Conviction

Matthew McConaughey narrates the story of Trap Kitchen founders Spank and News, rival gang members who used a mutual passion for food to create a successful business in Compton. The episode highlights how the entrepreneurs are rewriting their narrative and what happens when people put their differences aside and come together for the greater good of the community.
“The Spirit of Conviction” is a weekly docu-series narrated by Academy Award-winner Matthew McConaughey that dives into the lives of complex individuals who are constantly creating, disrupting, and challenging norms while remaining authentic to who they are.

The Untold Story of Supreme Style Mary Wilson, a founding member of the rock trio, is ready for her fashion close-up.

Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, is not the only contestant on the new season of “Dancing With the Stars” with a special kind of celebrity wattage.

Mary Wilson, a founding member of the Supremes, is also a competitor — at age 75. Viewers should get ready for liberal lashings of old-school dazzle and a sense of déjà vu. There is barely a black female pop act — Destiny’s Child, Janet Jackson, Janelle Monáe, Solange Knowles — (let alone a white one) that hasn’t taken a page from the Supremes look book.

“Millennials love our style,” Ms. Wilson said during a recent interview in London. For anyone wondering why this younger generation has joined older fans of the group’s look, a new book, “Supreme Glamour,” out just in time for the show, makes it all clear. The volume chronicles how the Supremes in their original incarnation (Diana Ross, Ms. Wilson and Florence Ballard) and in their later form as Diana Ross and the Supremes (or DRATS) became agents of cultural change in the 1960s, breaking the race ceiling by weaponizing fashion and defining the way many women — black women, white women — wanted to look. It has photographs of mannequins in 13 of their designs, plus dozens of concert snaps, promotional portraits and album and magazine covers. It is replete with seed pearls and mushroom pleats.

Before the Supremes, as Harold Kramer, the former curatorial director of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, notes in the book, no black act “had ever set out to utilize visual signifiers that made them palatable to a white audience.”

Ms. Wilson agreed. “Our glamour changed things,” she said. She was wearing all black — leggings and a stretch top with cold-shoulder cutouts — and one of her many wigs, a dead-straight chestnut number with full bangs. “We were role models,” she continued. “What we wore mattered.”

Her claim is that she and her partners knew exactly what they were doing from the beginning.

Ms. Wilson said that when she, Ms. Ross and Ms. Ballard were signed to Motown Records in 1961, they already had style. “They had a lot to work with,” she said. “As Maxime Powell, who ran the label’s famous finishing school, used to say: ‘You girls are diamonds in the rough. We are just here to polish you.’”

Ms. Wilson remembered that one of the earliest Supremes dresses, with a fitted bodice and stiff balloon skirt, “Diana and I sewed from Butterick patterns.”

When the Supremes broke in 1964, black singers like Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt performed in deliberately seductive evening dresses, but they were older, solo artists. Ms. Wilson and her colleagues were barely out of their teens and wielded the visual power of three, often in grown-up second-skin gowns freighted with beads and sequins.

DRATS maximized the look with increasingly baroque confections, some with improbable wings and trompe l’oeil jewelry, like paste crystals sewn into the neckline. Anyone who saw them live will recall the frisson produced by such young women in such sophisticated designs. Then, just when you thought you had them figured out, they turned up on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1969 in fantastical, swishing ponchos and pants seemingly made of dégradé tinsel.

For Whoopi Goldberg, writing in the foreword of Ms. Wilson’s book, the Supremes “were three of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. These were brown women as they had never, ever been seen before on national television.”

Ms. Goldberg said she was encouraged to think that “I too could be

well-spoken, tall, majestic, an emissary of black folks” who, like the Supremes, “came from the projects.”

Oprah Winfrey had similar memories, as recounted in “Diana Ross: A Biography” by J. Randy Taraborrelli. “You never saw anything like it in the 1960s — three women of color who were totally empowered, creative, imaginative,” she is quoted as saying. As a 10-year-old black girl “to see the Supremes and know that it was possible to be like them, that black people could do THAT …”

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/18/style/mary-wilson-supreme-glamour.html?action=click&module=Features&pgtype=Homepage

How Hustlers Danced Away With America’s Heart—And Box Office

Perhaps the greatest thing about Hustlers is the number of ways it finds to surprise. Yes, Lorene Scafaria’s movie about a pack of scamming strippers led by Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu hits all the expected beats: a pole dance from J. Lo here, a sensuous shower of dollar bills there. But its greatest delights are the moments that defy what audiences are taught to expect from films like these—and from female characters more generally. In fact, one of those delightful tricks happens early on, when Wu’s green dancer character, Destiny, climbs up to the roof of her new place of work to smoke a cigarette and finds Lopez’s intimidatingly talented Ramona already up there, luxuriating in an impossibly voluminous fur coat. Given the competitive environment Destiny has already found inside the club, it’s easy to assume Ramona will give this newbie the cold shoulder—or at least size her up for a moment. Instead she pulls Destiny into the billowy warmth of her coat, wrapping her arms around her in a Madonna-like shot so serene that its warmth almost radiates from the screen.

Hustlers just wrapped up a fantastic weekend at the box office, where it grossed $33.2 million across 3,250 North American theaters. Given the film’s concept—a group of strippers scamming and drugging corrupt Wall Street moguls just after the 2008 recession—it can be easy to see its success as foretold. But that would underrate its artistry. Hollywood has squandered many a genius concept and “sure thing,” and for many a reason. Casting miscalculations, unfocused writing, bad editing… the list of reasons Hustlers could have failed is nearly infinite. Instead every detail of its execution is a triumph. More important, however, is how Hustlers also satisfies a number of cravings that the entertainment industry has been slow to quench—including diverse casting, a subtle and deeply American understanding of money and class, and a distinct examination of female antiheroes.

There’s something distinctly satisfying about watching Lopez and her merry band of scammers do their thing. Hustlers does indeed feature a diverse cast—but more crucially, the women in this group gel seamlessly, and each role feels tailor-made for the person occupying it, from Lopez as a character as underestimated as she has been throughout her acting career (though Hustlers may put an end to that) to Wu, just a few months removed from a Twitter scandal, as a woman with something to prove. Each of these women represents a different kind of female antihero, female Walter Whites who are doing it all for their families…but also, they’re really, really good at it. It’s not often we see a gaggle of female antiheroes traveling as a group and supporting one another as the Hustlers do. Their compassion for one another is almost enough to make you wonder what makes them “anti”heroes—for a moment, until you remember that they make their living drugging people and stealing large sums of money.

These are characters who have spent their lives on the fringes of society, and chose to build a support system all their own, one that includes the families they already have. Ramona frequently beams over her daughter, affectionately describing motherhood as a “mental illness,” while Destiny has an inseparable bond with her grandmother, who gets some of the film’s most unexpected punch lines. What these women seem to find in one another—and in the crimes they commit—is safety. In one of the film’s warmest scenes, all of these women and their various family members gather for Christmas morning, opening lavish presents but also reveling in one another’s company. Yes, Destiny squeals with glee over the chinchilla fur Ramona buys her—a status symbol that also represents just how far Destiny has come. But she seems even more emotional when she sees her grandmother seamlessly blend in with her friends, effectively transforming what was once a small, isolated family unit into one part of a larger supportive whole. Don Draper could never.

The shared communion these women find in one another might be unorthodox; indeed, it literally exists outside the law. But the genius of Hustlers is the number of ways it finds to challenge its audience to think of a better, more legal place its antiheroes could have looked for such connection and stability. Just look at Destiny’s initial struggle to find a job post-recession, as a potential manager scoffs at her GED and previous job experience. In many ways one gets the sense that Destiny is alienated not only from the job market, but from “polite” society as a whole. The film does not judge Destiny’s behavior. Instead it allows her and her friends to express different viewpoints on the untenable situations in which they find themselves. And it seems like no mistake that for all the love she has for Ramona, Destiny can never quite pinpoint exactly how she feels about the criminal outfit they once ran after it comes crashing down. Instead the only thing that’s achingly clear is how much she misses Ramona. Because for all the materialistic euphoria this film contains, its one true love story is between these two women—and it was clear from that first embrace under Ramona’s fur.

Food: What you should be eating right now…

This happens every year: At some point in my travels to find the country’s Best New Restaurants, my anxiety about not being able to find enough to fill my list segues seamlessly into worse anxiety that I won’t be able to include everything worthy—the way the bitter cold of winter often leaps seamlessly into the inferno of summer without any break for spring at all. (I may have had an un-anxious moment in Indianapolis this year, but I can’t be sure.) When that switch happens, I self-soothe by reminding myself that I will also have this list to compile: my yearly cheat.

It is not always the case, but I would have happily had any of the restaurants listed below on my main list of Best New Restaurants. In some ways, this is the more visceral recommendation. Math is not my strong suit, but I’d calculate that if I visited 111 new restaurants during this year’s search, that translates to tasting 500 million dishes, give or take. For a dish to stand out through all of those crowding my mind by the end—to actually bubble up and make me hungry when I’ve been 100 percent sure I’ll never be hungry again—it has to be pretty special. All of these are.

Spicy Cod Roe Spaghetti, Davelle, N.Y.C.: On a quiet afternoon on the Lower East Side, there may be no other café in the world I’d rather be in—or bowl of noodles I’d rather have before me: briny, umami-filled, and perfect.
Friday Fish Fry, Mint Mark, Madison, WI: You’re in Wisconsin. What would you rather eat than a classic basket of perfectly fried bluegill? Almost everything else on the menu, it turns out, washed down with a Wisconsin-style brandy old-fashioned on draft.