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Netflix's gory but glorious 'Godless' is the Western we've all been waiting for

By Hank Stuever
Netflix's gory but glorious 'Godless' is the Western we've all been waiting for
Michelle Dockery continues to distance herself from her

A person could spend years and even decades waiting for a Western as immersive and satisfying as "Godless," Scott Frank's seven-part drama for Netflix. True to the genre in almost every way (and yet refreshingly modern in providing strong, vital roles for women), it plays like a seven-hour film without wasting a glorious, gritty, panoramic minute. And as a bonus, not a single character is one of "Westworld's" subservient cyborgs. This here's the real McCoy.

And if "Godless" grips you like a movie, perhaps that's because it began as an idea for one: Frank, whose screenwriting credits are as varied as "Minority Report" and "Marley & Me," shelved this labor of love more than a decade ago - a three-hour Western that never got off the ground. Steven Soderbergh, who has all but forsaken the movie business for TV, persuaded Frank to expand the screenplay into a series.

As such, "Godless," which premiered Wednesday, represents a near-perfect melding of both forms, making good on the boundless promises of the streaming frontier. Though it's tempting to gallop through it in a single binge, "Godless" is worth slowing down and savoring.

The story, set in northern New Mexico in 1884, revolves around a notorious gang of silver thieves led by Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), whose capricious derangement mixes both a violent and spiritual nature. During a raid on a train in Creede, Colorado, Frank is betrayed by his protege, Roy Goode ("Unbroken's" Jack O'Connell), whom Frank adopted as a boy. In a showdown between the men, Frank loses his left arm. After they've massacred the citizens of Creede, Frank and his men set off in pursuit of Roy, seeking revenge.

It's worth noting early on that "Godless" is unsparing in its depiction of violence and murder. Its gore is rarely gratuitous, yet some may find it too grisly to accept. While tormenting a German family of traveling settlers in the second episode, one victim cries out that Frank is "no man of God."

This sets Frank on a brief lecture on the everyday horrors of what we now benignly refer to as the "wild West":

"God? What God?" Frank asks. "Mister, you clearly don't know where you are. Look around. There ain't no higher-up around here to watch over you and your young'uns. This here's the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake. It's the land of the blade and the rifle. It's godless country. And the sooner you accept your inevitable demise, the longer you all are gonna live."

This gets at an essential nature of the Western genre - a dichotomy between the jaw-dropping beauty of the American West and the relentless suffering and greed it took to populate it with nonnative settlers and strivers. Shot on location on an 81,000-acre ranch near Lamy, New Mexico, "Godless" is just stunning to look at. It's true that every Western is accompanied by a few standard-issue sweeping vistas, but Steven Meizler's cinematography lends the series a striking authenticity and instinctive understanding of a high-desert environment and ecosystem. It's refreshing to see New Mexico treated as something other than a backdrop for a Road Runner cartoon.

Wounded and desperate, it's Roy's good fortune to trot up to a horse ranch owned by Alice Fletcher - played by Michelle Dockery, who continues to marvelously distance herself from her Lady Mary days on "Downton Abbey." Alice, a widow toughened by circumstance, is struggling to break a herd of three dozen horses, working with her adolescent son Truckee (Samuel Marty) and her Paiute mother-in-law, Iyovi (Tantoo Cardinal).

The Fletcher ranch sits just outside the town of La Belle, where a recent mining disaster killed nearly every man in town - 83 in all - leaving their widows to figure out what to do next. Losing their husbands and providers has changed them. Mary Agnes McNue ("Nurse Jackie's" Merritt Wever) dons trousers and tweeds, reclaims her maiden name and acts as La Belle's de-facto mayor. Her brother, Bill McNue ("Halt and Catch Fire's" Scoot McNairy), is the town's mopey sheriff, disregarded by the citizenry as a coward and outshot by his rambunctious young deputy, Whitey Winn (Thomas Brodie-Sangster).

"Godless" is exceptionally good in dealing with many characters at once, including Sam Waterston as John Cook, the U.S. marshal based in Santa Fe. Attention is paid to each character's nuances and shortcomings, as an emotional storm builds up to a fine example of a wild West showdown. The cast is phenomenal; Daniels makes a memorably menacing bad guy from start to finish, and O'Connell, as Roy, is convincing as a quiet and flawed hero.

As a way to prove himself to his citizens, Sheriff Bill sets out, somewhat comically, to find Frank Griffin's gang, while an egocentric Taos newspaperman, A.T. Grigg (Jeremy Bobb), stirs up rumors in print, hoping to cover the gunfight of the century.

It is here that the women of La Belle realize that they must rely on themselves, arming up with their late husbands' rifles and pistols to defend their town from the masculine posturing and chaos that's inexorably headed their way. As "Godless" briefly pivots on a strongly feminist note, Netflix once again exhibits its uncanny luck with timing: What could be more affirming right now than a show about women standing together against an invading horde of brutes?


"Godless" (seven episodes) is now streaming on Netflix.

No bones about it: Trump continues turkey-pardon tradition

By Jessica Contrera
No bones about it: Trump continues turkey-pardon tradition
President Donald Trump pardons Drumstick at the National Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday. This is the 70th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

The first presidential pardon granted by President Donald Trump went to a sheriff convicted of criminal contempt for failing to heed a federal court order to cease a discriminatory practice of detaining suspected illegal immigrants.

The second went to a turkey named Drumstick.

"Over the past 10 months Melania and I have had the pleasure of welcoming many, many special visitors to the great White House," Trump said in a ceremony in the Rose Garden Tuesday. "We have hosted dozens of incredible world leaders, members of Congress and, along the way, a few very strange birds. But we have yet to receive any visitors quite like our magnificent guest of honor today, Drumstick."

He extended his arm toward the fowl with a grand flourish.

"Hi, Drumstick," he said. "Oh, Drumstick, I think, is going to be very happy."

The president was taking part in one of the White House's longest running holiday traditions: The presentation - and more recently, the pardoning - of a turkey. This year's bird was a 47-pound male raised in Western Minnesota. He was gifted the name Drumstick and, after winning a social media contest against the backup bird named Wishbone, was declared the National Thanksgiving Turkey.

Rather than become Thursday dinner, Drumstick and Wishbone will live out their predictably short lives at a facility at Virginia Tech, along with last year's pardoned birds, Tater and Tot.

"As many of you know, I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor," Trump said. "However, I have been informed by the White House Counsel's office that Tator and Tot's pardons cannot under any circumstances be revoked. So, we're not going to revoke them."

The audience chuckled; Barron Trump, who stood beside his father, did not. When everyone clapped for the young women from the 4-H chapter who helped raise the birds, Barron kept his arms at his sides. Like Malia and Sasha Obama before him, he seemed unimpressed with his father's jokes and with this nonsense entirely.

His father, however, appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

"Wow, wow, big bird! That's a big bird," Trump said as he approached the turkey, perched on a cloth-covered table. "Are we allowed to touch? Wow. I feel so good about myself doing this."

Trump has, in recent days, shown a fondness for not killing animals. On Nov. 17, he halted a decision that would have lifted a ban on importing hunted elephant carcasses as trophies. His administration had already lifted a ban on importing lion carcasses last month - but, well, not a lot of people noticed. The elephants, in contrast, were showered with bipartisan outrage, after which the lifting of the ban was paused. Trump tweeted Sunday that he will make a decision about "this horror show" later in the week.

That decision will apparently be issued from Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club where the Trump family is scheduled to fly later Tuesday. Trump, who is said to prefer his meat well-done and doused in ketchup, will enjoy his turkey in "the Winter White House" on Thanksgiving Day, and will stay in south Florida through the weekend.

The presentation of a Thanksgiving turkey has been a presidential tradition for 70 years. Wars, recessions, elections, natural disasters - no matter the moment in history, the birds have made it to the White House. Until George H.W. Bush made the pardon an official ritual in 1989, the vast majority of the birds succumbed to the fate that some 46 million American turkeys meet every Thanksgiving: They were eaten.

On Drumstick's day in the spotlight, President Trump had plans to speak on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his administration was likely to be reviewing the latest message from North Korea, published earlier in the day, which called Trump "an old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject."

One could envision Drumstick's forefathers looking down from a palatial sawdust pile in the sky, remembering their own places in history: The very first turkey gifted to a president by the National Turkey Federation, which Harry Truman ate in 1947 at the dawn of the Cold War. The turkey that ended up in the stomach of Richard Nixon in 1973, the week after he told America "I am not a crook." The 1995 bird Bill Clinton called "the most multicolored best-looking turkey we've had here since I've been president," the same month his relationship with Monica Lewinsky began.

Could those birds have imagined what was to come?

What does Drumstick know?

For now, he seemed only passingly aware that he was being patted by Tiffany Trump, and then patted by Ivanka Trump. Barron Trump was walking away. Cameras were flashing. Ivanka urged her 6-year-old daughter Arabella to inch a little closer to Drumstick. It seemed, for a moment, as if he was looking her in the eyes. She did not pat him. She did not eat him. And with that, the cameras turned off, and Drumstick was taken away.

Rural Democrats, left for dead, see an opening in Pennsylvania

By David Weigel
Rural Democrats, left for dead, see an opening in Pennsylvania
Conor Lamb reacts to winning the democratic nomination for District 18 congressional representative inside Washington High School gymnasium, in Washington, Pa., on Sunday. MUST CREDIT: Washington Postp photo by Jeff Swensen

WASHINGTON, Pa. - On Sunday, as Democrats drove south from Pittsburgh's suburbs to this city for a nominating convention, a garish billboard reminded them why they were having a special congressional election. Eight-term Republican Tim Murphy, who resigned in October after telling a mistress to terminate a possible pregnancy, has been commemorated on I-79 by the pro-choice group Reproaction.

"Abortion: Not just for your mistress anymore!" read the sign.

Murphy's shocking fall kicked off this Congress's sixth special election, scheduled for March 13. Local Democrats who did not even bother to oppose Murphy in 2016 believe they are running a strong candidate - Conor Lamb, a 33-year veteran of the Marine Corps and the U.S. attorney's office.

To Democrats' surprise, Republicans passed over some rising stars to nominate a conservative state representative, 59-year old Mike Saccone, who's boasted that he "was Trump before Trump was Trump," and who's crossed swords with the area's powerful labor unions.

The result is a test that neither party expected: A fight in the sort of rural, conservative district that national Democrats gave up on years ago. Local Democrats, who in 2016 watched their party hunt for votes in more liberal suburbs, want in on the "resistance" ahead of 2018.

"The Republicans have nominated their weakest candidate, their most extreme candidate," said Pittsburgh-area Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., in a speech to the convention that nominated Lamb on Sunday. "Think about what it means to be the first in the country to say: We're coming back!"

The 18th district, drawn by Murphy's fellow Republicans to re-elect him without much drama, has never seen a competitive race. Murphy scrambled party loyalties, chairing the congressional Steel Caucus and winning over labor unions - there are 76,000 organized workers in the district - that otherwise tended to back Democrats. In 2016, no Democrat bothered to run against him.

On Sunday, seven Democrats battled for the chance to replace Murphy. Lamb, who has never before run for office, was a quiet favorite who nonetheless had to defeat a pathbreaking female Navy veteran with some national backing, a conservative Westmoreland County commissioner who bucked the anti-Democratic Party tide, and marginal candidates who warned that only a left-wing populist campaign could win rural Pennsylvanians back from Trump.

Lamb, said local Democrats, won them over in part because he did not pander. To win the nomination he had to court a majority of 800-odd Democratic committee members - 554 eligible members ended trekking to the convention. Angela Aldous, a member of the progressive post-2016 group Voice of Westmoreland, said that Lamb courted progressives, but rebuffed calls to endorse universal Medicare until he could be convinced it was cost-effective.

"He listened," said Aldous, 38. "He wasn't going to say, 'hey, I'm the most far left candidate you're ever gonna see,' just because a lot of the people there were far left."

It worked, in part, because left-wing voters made up a tiny sliver of the district's activists. The 18th district is one of dozens, from the Deep South through Appalachia, where Democrats once dominated local politics.

For decades, conservative voters remained in the party, reelecting pro-life, pro-coal Democrats, and rejecting the party's more liberal national nominees. Even that took a while - in 1988, the last election until 2016 in which Democrats lost Pennsylvania, Mike Dukakis won the counties that make up the 18th district by a landslide. In recent elections, its voters cast 55 percent of the vote for John McCain, 58 percent for Mitt Romney and 58 percent for Donald Trump.

Barack Obama's victories changed the Democratic map. By 2016, Democrats had become confident they could win Pennsylvania by cutting lose conservative voters and converting suburban Republicans who agreed with them on social issues.

"For every vote we lose in western Pennsylvania," said former Governor Ed Rendell in 2016, "we'll gain a vote in the Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh suburbs."

Democrats no longer talk like that, though they remain skeptical about competing for rural votes so long as the national party moves left on abortion, environmental issues and gun rights. In the 18th district, Democrats came up with a solution: Don't move left. Lamb and his two strongest rivals all blurred or conceded on some social issues and the Democrats who decided the race were fine with it.

"This region's got a lot of farmers, miners, a lot of conservative-type people," said Tom Murphy, Westmoreland County's recorder of deeds, who backed county commissioner Gina Cerilli over Lamb. "You need to talk to them if you're going to win."

Christina O'Brien, an elected prothonotary in Westmoreland County who came to the convention to back Navy veteran Pam Iovino, said she had watched lifelong Democratic voters grow more hostile since Trump's campaign began. Ahead of Nov. 7, when Pennsylvanians went to the polls in local elections, she met multiple voters who asked if she, too, had supported Trump for president. If she didn't, the conversation was over.

"They put Hillary's face on the mailers against me when Hillary wasn't even running," O'Brien said. "I will tell you, this area is more Republican than it's ever been." Asked which national Democrats might help Lamb if they came to the district, local activists mentioned white party figures far from the party's ideological debates - Former vice president Joe Biden, voting rights activist Jason Kander and Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.

Lamb's pitch to those voters would not start with Trump. It would start with Murphy, and the bills moving through the Congress that he was forced to abandon. In his convention speech, Lamb's only glancing reference to the president was about "fraud and hypocrisy" running rampant as Republicans pushed for an enormous tax cut.

"Tim Murphy and his crowd seem to think we all have amnesia," said Lamb. "They can deliver tax cuts for the one percent, but they can't even produce an infrastructure bill."

Local Democrats wanted Lamb to stick to that argument and take the openings Saccone would give him. Darrin Kelly, the incoming president of the Allegheny County AFL-CIO, said labor leaders would meet with Lamb this week and there was little chance of them backing Saccone.

Mark Mikus, a political strategist based in the district, said the last Democrat to represent any part of the area in Congress - former Congressman Mark Critz - had secured the backing of the steelworkers' and mineworkers' unions and put their logos in every ad.

"Lamb's a fresh face with a background as Marine and prosecutor, and he's running against someone who is a Harrisburg insider who voted to cut education by $1 billion," said Mikus.

But if Lamb were to make the race competitive, he might present a dilemma for national Democrats and progressive groups. He has bucked the party's consensus on abortion rights and guns, while remaining somewhat slippery on what sort of legal limits he would support.

"I come from a Catholic background, [but] choice is the law of the land," Lamb said at a short news conference after his victory. Asked if he opposed taxpayer funding for abortion - something that the Democratic Party platform endorsed in 2016 - he demurred. "A lot of those issues I think we can get into later."

Lamb, like his party, would prefer to fight the election on the heroin epidemic and on the issues he handled as a prosecutor - including sexual assault. Republicans, growing their numbers in the district, would rather nationalize the race.

In the news conference, Lamb said it was "too presumptuous" to ask if he'd back House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif., for speaker. In their first statement on Lamb's nomination, Pennsylvania Republicans called him "Nancy Pelosi's handpicked candidate" and "a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi." A Pelosi spokesman said she has never communicated with Lamb.

Lorraine Petrosky, the chair of Westmoreland County's Democratic Party, said the first-time candidate could stop Republicans before that message got too much traction.

"He was a marine. That's all we have to say," said Petrosky. "He was a Marine, and he's a Catholic."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

This Thanksgiving, give others a helping of gratitude

By esther j. cepeda
This Thanksgiving, give others a helping of gratitude

CHICAGO -- Let’s be real: Sometimes it’s just plain hard to give thanks.

It may be because of personal issues like a job loss, a death in the family, the end of a relationship or an illness. Or it could be the accumulation of terrible events in the world whether it be natural disasters, mass shootings, the daily drumbeat of sexual assault news or the failings of our political system.

Under such circumstances, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the injustices of life.

And yet, these are the very times when it’s more important than ever to be grateful for all that is going well in our lives.

In fact, gratitude is the best method for combating all the negativity that swirls around us on a daily basis, according to Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis and the author of “The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Well-Being by Giving Thanks.”

“In my research, I have been amazed that the most grateful individuals have often -- from a purely objective level -- lived lives of loss and suffering,” Emmons told me. “How can this be? They’ve had plenty to feel depressed over, and even a sense of victimization wouldn’t have been surprising. This is where it becomes useful to make a distinction between (BEG ITAL)feeling(END ITAL) grateful and (BEG ITAL)being(END ITAL) grateful. Of course, no one ‘feels’ grateful that they have suffered. How could they? But they understood that they could choose to maintain a grateful outlook on life, as a fundamentally enduring orientation that says that amidst the rancor of daily life, an underlying goodness exists in the universe and therefore ‘I will be grateful in spite of the circumstances.’”

Emmons calls this “defiant gratitude,” a term that speaks to the spirit of taking your feelings about a situation into your own hands instead of letting them control you.

Sure, this is easy to say. We’ve all read research about how people with the syrupy-sounding “attitude of gratitude” report feeling healthier, being less depressed, getting a better night’s sleep and having more and better relationships.

But if you struggle with pessimism (and let’s face it, some of us were born into worry-wart families and grew up looking at the storm clouds and not their silver linings), exercising “defiant gratitude” has a certain appeal.

“To offset chronic negativity, we need to continually and perpetually hear good news,” Emmons said. “We need to constantly and regularly create and take in positive experiences, and gratitude is our best weapon, an ally to counter these internal and external threats that rob us of sustainable joy.”

According to Emmons, entitlement is the opposite of gratitude. So if you can’t see yourself as someone who is grateful, try considering whether you’d rather be seen as entitled -- a character trait that usually pairs well with “jerk.”

“An entitlement attitude says, ‘life owes me something’ or ‘people owe me something’ or ‘I deserve this,’” Emmons said. “It comes from a focus on the self rather than others. In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful.”

Yuck, that definitely doesn’t sound like the kind of person any one of us wants to be. Self-absorption is another one -- no one in their right mind would want to be described that way.

To counter this, Emmons says, you must continually think about the people who have done things for you that you would never have been able to do for yourself. Another way to cultivate gratitude is to think about all the people who you take for granted. Make a mental list of all those who take care of you or make your life easier -- and be thankful for them.

The last pro tip Emmons offered was, perhaps, the most important:

“Those who fail to feel gratitude cheat themselves out of their experience of life. And why would we want to cheat ourselves? Why would be want to become victims when we can empower ourselves to choose our own attitudes and thus emotional states? A very wise person once said, ‘If there is any day in our life that is not Thanksgiving Day, then we are not fully alive.’ Gratitude is simply too good to be left at the Thanksgiving table.”

Amen to that.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Giving thanks for, yes, journalism

By e.j. dionne jr.
Giving thanks for, yes, journalism

WASHINGTON -- Thanksgiving is a splendid holiday, but also a useful one. It reminds us that gratitude is a virtue. We owe the most satisfying parts of our lives to others and fool ourselves if we imagine otherwise.

We usually begin, rightly, by thanking our families since they are (if we are lucky) both the original and ongoing sources of love and nurture. But we should also be aware of our debt to institutions and their stewards. This year, a peculiar candidate for acknowledgment kept forcing its way into my thinking: journalism.

Since you are reading this in a newspaper or online at a media site, you might chuckle derisively at my presumption. The guy makes a living from journalism, so of course he’s grateful.

True enough, but the political crisis we confront has encouraged a great many who are neither scribes nor broadcasters to consider why journalism matters to a democracy. Among the many helpful books and articles on this subject, I particularly recommend a 2009 essay by Paul Starr, a Princeton University professor.

One of his central observations, from cross-national studies: The lower the circulation of newspapers in a given country, the higher the level of corruption. Journalism, it turns out, is an essential restraint on abuses by the powers-that-be, and all the more so when the checks and balances inside government are faltering.

Since journalists are human beings, we are by our very natures flawed. It’s not hard to point to our shortcomings. So in the interest of offering a model of what journalism is supposed to be (and, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, to express appreciation to someone I hold dear), permit me to introduce you to Shelly Binn, one of the best editors I will ever know.

Shelly, who died 11 years ago at the age of 83, was The New York Times’ metropolitan political editor back when I covered state and local politics for the paper. One dramatic example will suffice to give you a sense of his devotion to service -- and also of how much he loved politics.

On Nov. 3, 1944, Shelly, an Army anti-tank gunner, was gravely wounded in Holland and lost an eye. He was unconscious for four days, and when he finally came to, his very first question was not about his condition. He wanted to know if Franklin Roosevelt had won re-election.

Shelly believed passionately that an essential journalistic task was to provide citizens with unbiased information so they could influence the decisions that affected them. At one news meeting, he and his colleagues pondered an article for the next day’s paper about a proposed new master plan for development of Manhattan’s West Side.

It was not the most exciting account, and one asked, “Can’t we wait until they decide on it?”

To which Shelly shot back: “What the hell are we, Pravda?”

It’s a question I hope we ask every day. Journalism shouldn’t wait for some powerful “they” to settle things.

The best lesson Shelly ever taught me came when I shared information with him about alleged corruption by a politician. I knew another newspaper had it, too, but I wasn’t sure it all checked out.

Shelly said something more editors should be willing to say in this age of instant publication online: “Sometimes, it’s better to be second.”

He was not trying to quell my competitive instincts. He very much wanted us to be first when we were right. But above all, he didn’t want us to be wrong, especially when someone’s reputation was at stake.

The competing paper published the charges first -- and they turned out to be false.

Shelly had a delightful way of signaling that a seemingly harebrained idea came from above. “This is high church,” he would say. He was telling us that we had to deal with the idea somehow, but that he’d back us up if we reached conclusions the top brass had not expected. And he always did.

It might surprise regular readers that one of my very favorite editors was rather conservative in his politics as he became disillusioned with what he saw as liberalism’s failures.

But his personal politics never shaped his view of what constituted a valuable story. The writer Charles Kaiser, also a Shelly fan, noted that he “was so utterly straight that his judgment was never clouded by ideology” or, more miraculously, by “internal politics.”

This is what day-to-day reporting strives for, and I give thanks that I encountered someone early on who truly took this mission to heart.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

A nod, and a nodding off, to another year of American hilarity

By george f. will
A nod, and a nodding off, to another year of American hilarity

WASHINGTON -- Tryptophan, an amino acid in turkey, is unjustly blamed for what mere gluttony does, making Americans comatose every fourth Thursday in November. But before nodding off, give thanks for another year of American hilarity, including:

A company curried favor with advanced thinkers by commissioning for Manhattan’s financial district the “Fearless Girl” bronze statue, which exalts female intrepidity in the face of a rampant bull (representing (1) a surging stock market or (2) toxic masculinity). Then the company paid a $5 million settlement, mostly for paying 305 female executives less than men in comparable positions. New York’s decrepit subway system took action: Henceforth, gender-neutral announcements will address “passengers” rather than “ladies and gentlemen.” Washington’s subway banned a civil liberties group’s ad consisting entirely of the text of the First Amendment, which ostensibly violated the rule against ads “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions.”

California now can jail certain caregivers who “willfully and repeatedly fail to use a resident’s preferred name or pronouns.” A Massachusetts librarian rejected a donation of Dr. Seuss books because they are “steeped in racist propaganda,” and The New Yorker discovered that “Thomas the Tank Engine” is “authoritarian.” Always alert about planetary crises, The New Yorker also reported: “The world is running out of sand.”

A food truck offering free lunches to workers cleaning up after Hurricane Irma was banished from a Florida town because its operator had no government permit to do that. United Airlines said: Assault? Don’t be misled by your eyes. That passenger dragged off the plane was just being “re-accommodated.”

Even Sen. Bernie Sanders went to Mississippi, to the Nissan plant in Canton, to help the United Automobile Workers with yet another attempt to convince Southern workers of the delights of unionization. The workers, 80 percent of whom are black, voted 2-to-1 against the UAW. A New York Times tweet about the South reported a shooting at a nightclub “in downtown Arkansas.” Louisiana’s Democratic Party joined the virtue-signaling by changing the name of its Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner.

In toney and oh-so-progressive Malibu, the City Council voted to become a sanctuary city. The councilwoman who made the motion for protecting illegal immigrants said: “Our city depends on a Hispanic population to support our comfortable lifestyle.” In more-progressive-than-thou Oregon, where you can get state-subsidized gender reassignment surgery at age 15 without parental permission, the Legislature made 21 the age at which adults can buy cigarettes.

UCLA researchers warned that because Americans’ pets eat meat, they endanger the planet by generating 64 million tons of carbon dioxide. Forty-two years after the government began (with fuel economy standards) trying to push Americans into gas-sipping cars, the three best-selling vehicles were the Ford, Chevrolet and Ram pick-up trucks. A year after a NASA climatologist (from the “settled” science of climate) said California was “in a drought forever,” torrential rains threatened to break dams.

Pierce College in Los Angeles was sued after it prevented a student from giving away Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution because he was outside the .003 percent of the campus designated a “free speech zone.” Two years after social justice warriors convulsed the University of Missouri in Columbia, freshman enrollment was down 35 percent. An Arizona State University professor allowed some students in her human rights class to stage anti-Donald Trump protests in lieu of final exams. The University of Arizona guide instructed instructors to encourage students to say “ouch” when something said in class hurts their feelings. Clemson University’s diversity training washed brains with this idea: Expecting punctuality might be insensitive because in some cultures time is considered “fluid.” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that student snowflakes are not the only victims of academic suffering. It seems that after the nine-month school year, professors endure isolation, solitude and depression during their three-month vacations.

Massachusetts continues to be surprised that the smuggling of cigarettes into the state increased when state cigarette taxes increased. Although San Francisco’s hourly minimum wage has not yet reached its destination of $15, the city is surprised that so many small businesses have closed. McDonald’s probably was not surprised when its shares surged after it announced plans to replace cashiers with digital ordering kiosks in 2,500 restaurants.

Finally, Domino’s Pizza is going to need bigger menus. Government labeling regulations require calorie counts for every variation of items sold, which Domino’s says (counting different topping and crusts) includes about 34 million possible combinations. None, however, have excessive tryptophan.

George Will’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Thank you, George W. Bush and Sally Yates

By dana milbank
Thank you, George W. Bush and Sally Yates

WASHINGTON -- “So this is how it’s going to work today,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed the press corps Monday. She told reporters that “if you want to ask a question,” you should “start off with what you’re thankful for.”

Like good little girls and boys, several obliged. The reporters were grateful for their children, their spouses, their health and the privilege of getting to ask questions at the White House. Then there was John Gizzi of Newsmax, thankful to his wife “for saying yes on the fourth request. My question is about Zimbabwe … “

I prefer to share my thoughts of gratitude with my family at the Thanksgiving table, rather than when commanded to by a Trump mouthpiece. But maybe Sanders was onto something with her infantilizing of the press corps. Maybe in this week of Thanksgiving, we all should speak about what we are grateful for in public life. I’ll start.

Sarah, I am thankful for the checks and balances the Founders put in place, for they are what stand between us and despotism when a demagogic president’s instincts would take us there. And I am profoundly grateful to the many men and women who, often at great personal cost and risk, have stood up to the authoritarian in the White House. President Trump has done much damage, particularly to our international standing and our civil culture, but it would be so much worse without these profiles in courage.

I’m thankful for James Comey, who was fired because he refused to be bullied by Trump into curtailing the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

I’m thankful for Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who after an initial stumble redeemed himself by naming a special counsel to carry on the Russia probe.

I’m thankful for Robert Mueller III, like Comey a veteran of both Republican and Democratic administrations, who is pursuing the probe without yielding to Trump’s trash talk.

I’m thankful for Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and others who are trying to maintain international order and to fill the void in world leadership left by Trump’s retreat.

I’m thankful for Sally Yates, who forced Trump to fire her as acting attorney general rather than enforce his unconstitutional ban on travelers from Muslim-majority nations.

I’m thankful for Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush appointee, who blocked the travel ban and endured taunts from Trump of being a “so-called judge” who should be blamed if violence occurred.

I’m thankful that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld Robart’s ruling.

I’m thankful for Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), whose outspoken criticism of Trump derailed their political careers, and to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), fighting Trump’s “half-baked, spurious nationalism” even as he fights brain cancer, and to GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) for resisting Trump’s excesses.

I’m thankful to Republican Govs. John Kasich (Ohio), Brian Sandoval (Nev.), Charlie Baker (Mass.) and others who fought Trump-backed efforts to repeal Obamacare without an adequate replacement.

I’m thankful to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for maintaining some international stability while Trump spreads chaos, and to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for reportedly calling Trump a “moron” and national security adviser H.R. McMaster for reportedly calling Trump an “idiot” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner.”

I’m thankful for George W. Bush, who spoke out against the “nativism,” “casual cruelty,” “bigotry” and “conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” that have risen with Trump.

I’m thankful for my colleagues Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin, George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer and for many other conservative intellectuals who routinely denounce Trump’s betrayal of conservatism and decency.

I’m thankful for my many colleagues in the Washington Post newsroom and elsewhere (even at the failing New York Times) who have exposed the administration’s abuses, and for the fearless editors and owners who let them do that work.

I’m thankful for the many civil servants in the federal government who refuse to bend the facts to suit this administration’s whims, and for the whistleblowers and, yes, the “leakers” who reveal Trump’s abuses.

I’m thankful to the voters of Virginia and elsewhere, who gave us a first sign that Trump’s scourge of nationalism and race-baiting can be repelled.

And I’m profoundly thankful that Trump and so many of his appointees have turned out to be incompetent, unable to implement some of his most dangerous ideas.

In short, Sarah, I am thankful that a combination of brave people, brilliant Framers and dumb luck have prevented your boss from doing much worse.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Because Sarah sez so, that’s why

By kathleen parker
Because Sarah sez so, that’s why

WASHINGTON -- When White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asked the press corps Monday to preface their daily briefing questions with a statement of thankfulness, reporters obliged.

Or, should we say, obeyed.

For this, no doubt, Sanders was grateful.

Yet again, she controlled the crowd, though this time by candy-coating her usual condescension with faux fellowship.

I’m thankful I wasn’t in the room.

My first impulse when someone asks me to share is to not-share. This isn’t because I’m not a sharing person -- you can have my cake and eat it, too -- but because sharing, like charity, should be voluntary. For a press secretary to require professional journalists to essentially beg for their supper, surrendering their adversarial posture like a dog commanded to Drop The Bone, is an infantilizing tactic. The effect is to neutralize the opposition.

Yes, I said opposition. The press, by definition, is oppositional. As Mr. Dooley, the turn-of-the-century fictional bartender created by columnist Finley Peter Dunne is often paraphrased: “The newspaper’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Yet, from the interplay between the media and the Trump administration, one would think reporters were supposed to be taking dictation. Seen and not heard. Sanders, whose persistently arched brows convey an air of constant disapproval, routinely brushes reporters’ questions aside. During any given press briefing, one is likely to hear words to these effects:

“I think he addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday,” she’ll say. Or, “We don’t have any announcement on that.” Or my personal favorite, which came in response to a query about chief of staff and retired Gen. John Kelly’s controversial remarks about Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.”

One peers into Sanders’ fantasy movie, where the reporter, abashed, shrinks into the folds of his trench coat, muttering, “What an impudent, incompetent fool am I!”

If Sanders isn’t evading, she’s scolding. Like a parent weary of her 3-year-old’s constant “why?,” her tone and expression telegraph: “Because I say so, case closed.”

Sanders’ sudden shift from press secretary to minister’s daughter a few days before Thanksgiving coincides with her apparent image evolution of being more-carefully coiffed, couture-d and contoured with appropriately professional makeup. One can almost hear the hive of consultants discussing how to imperceptibly adapt this no-frills brainiac to the shallower requirements of a visual medium.

If one were Sanders’ employer, meanwhile, one surely would be pleased. She’s everything a terrible person -- or, say, an unpopular president -- could hope for in a public relations artist. She says nothing; gives away nothing; looks fierce and dutifully repeats falsehoods as required. Her resistance to flinching or blinking is state of the art.

Yet, even as Sanders declines to enlighten the press corps, she manages to inspire admiration for her toughness and effectiveness -- from a certain perspective. To Donald Trump’s base, she’s the (BEG ITAL)a la mode(END ITAL) on a slice of apple pie, the pompom and confetti at a freedom rally, or, perhaps, the elfin princess who can read and direct a person’s thoughts by hypnotizing them with her magic pearls. Her daily humiliation of the press, making them seem like churlish children, is a booster shot of “fake news” animus that also inoculates against viral truths.

To the media, she (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) the wall Trump promised to erect and, increasingly, it seems, we are the swamp he seeks to drain. Out with the media, out with free speech, out with facts! For these purposes, Sanders is perfectly cast. Where there is the prolonged car alarm of “fake news,” there is bound to be a fake news officer. Such is not always the case. In fact, the most successful press secretaries were journalists first.

Jay Carney, formerly of Time magazine comes to mind, as does Tony Snow, previously of Fox News. Both men were well-known, respected and liked by their media peers before crossing over to the Dark Side. They also understood what reporters needed and tried to provide it. When they couldn’t, they were at least self-effacing and seemed sincere in regretting limitations imposed by the job. Most important, they fully understood and appreciated the sanctity of the First Amendment, without which all freedoms fail.

To this testament, a note of personal gratitude. Today, not just on our national feast day, I’m thankful for the freedom to speak without (undue) fear of retribution.

Let’s not let the turkeys whittle it away.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

A beleaguered Tillerson is still at the table

By david ignatius
A beleaguered Tillerson is still at the table

WASHINGTON -- A funny thing happened to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the way to the exit door: He didn’t leave. He may be “Dead Man Walking,” as many Washington analysts assume. Yet he’s still pursuing the same list of quiet but mostly correct diplomatic goals as when took the job 10 months ago.

Tillerson has had a catastrophically bad encounter with official Washington. The White House disdains him; the State Department resents him; the press corps mostly scorns him. Tillerson presses on as if he doesn’t care. Many officials claim they don’t give a damn about “inside the Beltway” opinion; Tillerson seems to mean it.

The latest instance of Tillerson clashing with his subordinates, according to Reuters, was a dissent memo from about a dozen foreign-service officers accusing him of giving Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan a pass on a federal law opposing the use of child soldiers. That’s just one example of internal criticism from the unhappiest State Department I’ve seen in more than 30 years of covering Foggy Bottom.

Tillerson often seems out of sync with President Trump on major issues including North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon. And White House insiders have been predicting for months that this marriage can’t last. Yet it not only continues, but on many areas of supposed disagreement, Trump has ended up adopting, more or less, the diplomatic course that Tillerson recommended.

Tillerson has one secret survival weapon: He’s running a three-legged race, figuratively speaking, alongside Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who respects Tillerson’s judgment and stays aligned with him through all the palace intrigue. Trump may not be a soulmate with his secretary of state, but he’s not going to pick a fight with Mattis.

Two policy areas where Tillerson’s approach seems to have the president’s support, despite noise to the contrary, are dialogue with China on the North Korea crisis, and cooperation with Russia to stabilize Syria. Administration policy could change at any moment, given the “iron whim” of the man in the Oval Office. But the persistence of diplomacy is one of the little noted facets of this most undiplomatic president’s first year.

U.S. engagement with China was the centerpiece of Trump’s Asia trip this month. But observers overlooked one of Tillerson’s signature initiatives: During the Beijing visit, the U.S. continued a high-level, secret dialogue with China about how to secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons if the regime implodes.

Tillerson lobbies China to encourage talks with the Kim Jong Un regime, even as the administration keeps escalating pressure. Two more turns of the screw came this week: On Monday, Pyongyang was added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism; on Tuesday, the U.S. applied new sanctions to Chinese and North Korean companies. But Tillerson cautioned that even as the U.S. seeks more pressure points, there’s no “silver bullet.”

Asked how the Chinese are helping, a U.S. official noted last weekend’s visit to Pyongyang by a high-level Chinese emissary. The message was that the administration is still pursuing the Sino-American diplomatic track, along with sanctions and military options.

Trump and Tillerson also share the unpopular but probably inescapable view that the U.S. must work with Russia to stabilize Syria. Russia’s centrality in the miserable Syrian war was dramatized anew by President Vladimir Putin’s meeting Monday with President Bashar Assad, who thanked the Russian leader for “saving our country.” Putin will enhance his leverage as regional broker when he meets Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani.

Putin has emerged as a dominant player in Syria, and he wants to play the peacemaker there now, but he doesn’t hold all the cards. U.S. allies control big swaths of Syrian territory, and they’re the missing pieces of Putin’s peace process. Tillerson, working with America’s allies, has pushed for a resumption of U.N.-organized peace talks in Geneva. A meeting there is now scheduled for Nov. 28, followed by a gathering in Sochi on Dec. 2. These talks aren’t a cure-all; but they can help reduce Syria’s violence and begin a gradual political transition.

Trump made the Russia connection personal with an hour-long phone call Tuesday with Putin, discussing Syria, Ukraine and North Korea. Trump may get hammered for it, but the conversation was sensible, and it capitalized on Tillerson’s patient spadework.

Tillerson is famously a former Boy Scout. He talked in 2014 about the character-building value of suffering in silence, during a “frog-strangler” downpour as a 12-year-old scout. Trump has tested Tillerson’s determination and dignity, but at Thanksgiving, the secretary of state is still at the table.

David Ignatius’ email address is

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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