"Tonight, John Kasich is the story coming out of New Hampshire," John Sununu, a former US senator from the state, declared as he introduced the Ohio governor to a packed ballroom of supporters here in Concord. The crowded risers at the back of the room, lined with TV cameras and photographers, attested to the shifting narrative created by Kasich's surprise second-place finish in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.
Kasich himself seemed slightly shell-shocked by how well he had performed, after initially laboring in "totally obscurity" as he criss-crossed New Hampshire to introduce himself to voters. "There's something that's going on that I'm not sure that anybody can quite understand," he said when he took the podium. "There's magic in the air with this campaign. Something big happened tonight." The question for the Kasich campaign, which has focused its resources heavily on New Hampshire, with the candidate holding nearly 190 events in the state, is what comes next? South Carolina, with its base of religious conservative voters, is not considered Kasich country. And more than a month will elapse between his strong New Hampshire finish and the contest in his native Ohio.
Kasich has run a positive if deeply introspective campaign. "We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical," he said, adding, "Tonight the light overcame the darkness." His message of hope and healing—he has repeatedly urged his supporters to "just slow down" and listen to others—has seemed out of place in a race that has been dominated by a candidate, Donald Trump, who has thrived on divisiveness.
"There are many people in America who don't feel connected," he said tonight. Out on the campaign trial, hearing the stories of others experiencing pain and loss had changed him, Kasich said. "I'm going to go slower."
Yet even the plaintive Kasich seems to understand that slowing down might not be an option if he hopes to extend the New Hampshire storyline into additional victories. "Tonight, we head to South Carolina," he said. "There's so much that's going to happen; if you don't have a seatbelt, go get one."
After a big loss to Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire Democratic primary Tuesday, Hillary Clinton used her concession speech to shift the focus to the South Carolina and Nevada contests and beyond, and tout her progressive credentials on issues thathave dominated Sanders' rising campaign—namely campaign finance reform and the power of Wall Street.
"We're going to fight for real solutions that make a real difference in people's lives," she said. "That is the fight we are taking to the country. What is the best way to change people's lives so we can all grow together? Who is the best change-maker? And here's what I promise: I will work harder than anyone to actually make the changes that make your lives better."
Clinton recalled that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was instigated by a conservative group attempting to air an anti-Hillary Clinton film in 2008—a point she hasn't yet incorporated into her stump speech or raised in debates. "So yes, you're not going to find anyone more committed to aggressive campaign finance reform than me," Clinton told the cheering crowd, her voice hoarse from campaigning.
In New Hampshire, an angry populist who calls for a revolution and assails the Washington establishment, special-interest lobbyists, big-money politics, and rapacious corporations won an election in a historic move that could shake up and remake American politics.
And Bernie Sanders did, too.
Donald Trump triumphed in the GOP primary, bagging about a third of the vote. He lapped the rest of the pack, while John Kasich placed second with about 16 percent, and Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio clumped together at about 11 percent. Trump's conquest of the GOP came after the xenophobic tycoon and reality-show star honed his populist message in a manner that echoed Sanders' approach. Sanders, the democratic socialist who only recently identified as a Democrat, bested Hillary Clinton, the poster child for the Democratic establishment, by about 20 points. This was a commanding showing for Sanders, after the Clinton campaign tried mightily—with Bill Clinton deriding Sanders' supporters—to close the gap to single digits. Sanders achieved this win by sticking to his trademark lines: Enough is enough, the banks have to be broken up, the billionaires cabal must be busted so it cannot buy elections, and a "revolution" is needed to smash corporate power, tax "Wall Street speculation," and deliver universal health care, a living wage, and tuition-free college to the citizenry. He roused young voters and apparently fared well among white working-class men, who presumably share Sanders' fury regarding what he calls a "rigged economy" that generates income inequality. (These blue-collar voters backed Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was declared the winner of the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary as soon as polls closed at 8 p.m. EST on Tuesday night. Results are still trickling in at the moment—some polling locations are still open to accommodate people in line at the cutoff time—but it looks like Sanders will likely defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by double digits.
President Obama has called Flint, Michigan's water crisis "inexplicable and inexcusable." But his administration's proposed 2017 budget, released today, cuts the Environmental Protection Agency's water infrastructure funding by roughly a quarter billion dollars.
The EPA's State Revolving Fund (SRF) provides loans to improve state and local water quality and is the primary source of federal funding for water infrastructure improvements. The 2017 budget proposes a $158 million increase to the Drinking Water SRF, which would help municipalities replace pipelines, fix water main breaks, and generally improve aging water infrastructure—the type of changes that could help places that, like Flint, have an aging water infrastructure. But the budget also proposes a $370 million cut to the Clean Water SRF, which goes toward projects making water sources cleaner overall, from reducing urban runoff pollution and improving wastewater treatment to researching how unregulated chemicals in our water supply affect human health.
In light of the disaster in Flint, the proposed cuts have provoked criticism from both sides of the aisle: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he was "grossly disappointed" by the proposal, while Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) accused Obama of prioritizing climate change over water. Overall, federal water infrastructure spending has been relatively stagnant for years:
Mae Wu, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, equates the proposed budget with "robbing Peter to pay Paul." "Cutting funds that help keep pollution out of our water (CW SRF) and moving the money to remove pollution once it's already in our drinking water (DW SRF) is no solution at all," she wrote in an NRDC blog post. "At best it is a short-term band-aid approach to addressing the chronic levels of underinvestment in our water infrastructure by local, state, and federal government."
The bigger problem, says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, is that the nation's water challenges overall continue to be woefully underfunded. "We're talking about a hundred million here, a hundred million there," says Gleick, who notes that the single F-35 fighter costs roughly $100 million. "Overall, our budget priorities are still distorted."
It's hard to get too lost on your way to Pittsburg, New Hampshire (pop. 869). You just drive north for a while. And then you keep driving north for a while longer. Pittsburg is New Hampshire's largest town by land area, covering nearly 300 square miles of North Country mountains and lakes and spanning the entire length of the state's international border with Canada. It's also one of the only corners of the nation's first primary state where candidates never go.
In a year in which Republican candidates have made the Rio Grande a mandatory stop on the presidential campaign trail, trekking to McAllen, Texas, to stare grimly into the Mexican desert, the far vaster northern border—the one terrorists have actually tried to come across—is a much different story. Of the hundreds upon hundreds of town halls and meet-and-greets in the 2016 election cycle, only one happened in Pittsburg. And it was held by Lindsey Graham.
(It's not just candidates who have a tendency to overlook Pittsburg; in the 1830s, it was excised from the United States by a vaguely written treaty, and it hummed along for three years as the independent republic of Indian Stream before the boundary was clarified.)
"[People] certainly can sneak through here, there's no doubt about it," said Laurie Urekew, braving the snow flurries on Saturday afternoon outside Young's general store, an all-purpose grocery and gas station that features a punching bag of President Barack Obama by the register. "But it's very vast here, so chances are someone from the southern area wouldn't survive too much."
Tim Murphy / Mother Jones
Urekew is a Republican ("the only good Democrat is a dead one," she joked), who was torn between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, provided the latter is ruled eligible. "I like Trump because we need somebody like him—he's strong and yet he's not afraid to be politically incorrect," she said. But she trusts Cruz more than Trump to shut down the border—the southern one.
Although Trump is popular in the North Country, his warnings about a Canadian senator usurping the American government has hit with a thud—it's just not that big of an issue. Canadian flags fly with American ones outside some houses, road signs are in French and English, and there's a Quebecois radio station. The compelling local issue up north is not the border; it's the proposed Northern Pass transmission line, which would cut through the North Country to bring hydroelectric power from Canada to the Northeast, but would require the use of eminent domain to acquire land for the project. For that reason, it's deeply unpopular in northern New Hampshire. (The slogan that Northern Pass opponents have come up with is "Live Free or Fry," which you have to admit, is pretty good.) Trump was asked about the Northern Pass at Saturday's debate and gave it his seal of approval.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was widely mocked after briefly entertaining the idea of building a fence on the Canadian border last summer; he dropped out soon after. To the extent that Canada has played a determinative role in the New Hampshire primary, the concern has been what's leaving the United States, not what's coming in. Opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the subsequent loss of lumber jobs to Canada, helped propel Republican Pat Buchanan to victory in 1996. (Some Buchanan supporters did believe Russian tanks would invade the United States by way of Canada.)
When I asked Cal DelaHaye, who was working on a piece of funnel cake at Grampy's diner in Pittsburg, if he thought more candidates should make the trek up north, he was emphatic. "No," he said. "I'd tell them they're wasting their time."
There was one group of New Hampshire Republicans that was particularly concerned about the Canadian border threat. In 2006 and 2007, the New Hampshire branch of the Minutemen Civil Defense League made a few weekend trips to West Derby, Vermont, and Pittsburg, to draw attention to the great northern threat.
"One time we saw a guy who actually parked his car in the New Hampshire side and then backpacked, and it looked like he was hiking the Long Trail, and he headed north toward Canada, and we looked at his car later and it turned out he was from Canada," said Ron Oplinus of Exeter, New Hampshire, who lead the chapter before it disbanded a few years back. "So we don't know exactly what was going on but we didn't see him again."
Other than that, he conceded, "there wasn't much" to see.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order Tuesday that creates a Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, which will "make detailed recommendations to strengthen cybersecurity in both the public and private sectors" and deliver a report by December 1. The administration also wants to increase the federal cybersecurity budget by a third next year, asking Congress for an additional $5 billion to upgrade old computer systems, strengthen defenses, and help recruit cyber professionals.
These two actions are part of the "Cybersecurity National Action Plan," a new large-scale effort to tackle a series of internet security problems that became major issues in 2015. In addition to the attacks on the Office of Personnel Management, in which hackers stole the background check records of more than 20 million federal workers, the government and private sector fought over law enforcement's ability to read encrypted messages—something tech companies say weakens both security and civil liberties—and the ability of terrorist groups like ISIS to plan online and recruit new members through social media. The administration had already announced the creation of a new federal agency to run background checks, and also sent top national security officials to meet with tech executives in California last month.
To allay privacy concerns, the president also announced the formation of a Federal Privacy Council that would help federal agencies share and standardize rules for handling personal data. "The proper functioning of Government requires the public's trust, and to maintain that trust the Government must strive to uphold the highest standards for collecting, maintaining, and using personal data," Obama wrote in a second executive order issued on Tuesday.
In a dramatic vote to override the governor's veto, the Maryland state Senate on Tuesday voted to restore voting rights to felons on probation or parole, giving approximately 40,000 felons the right to vote.
The right of former felons to vote has become an increasingly partisan issue in recent years. Democrats have pushed to rollback restrictions on ex-felon voting rights, while Republicans in states such as Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky have recently made it harder for ex-felons to regain their voting rights. Felons are disproportionately likely to be minorities and Democratic voters. But not every Republican is opposed to rights restoration. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for instance, has pushed for restoring rights after incarceration. In some states, such as the swing state of Florida, nearly 20 percent of voting-age African Americans cannot cast a ballot due to the state's permanent ban on felon and ex-felon voting.
But in Maryland, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly was able to narrowly override the veto of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in order to expand voting rights.
The hype machine singled out some clear, if tragic, winners from the lineup of this year's Sundance Film Festival. For instance, there was Other People, SNL writer Chris Kelly's heartfelt, semi-autobiographical film starring Molly Shannon as a mother with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Not to mention Birth of a Nation, a film about the Nat Turner Rebellion that won Sundance's domestic drama category—and then sold to Fox Searchlight for an unprecedented $17.5 million.
But some of the most difficult films to watch from this year's crop are among the most important. Reflecting the intensity of the national conversation, the festival included an impressive four entries on the topic of gun violence in the United States. With Republican legislators—and plenty of Democrats—quavering before the NRA, afraid to broach even the most modest changes to save American lives in the middle of a true national emergency, these four films are exactly what we need.
Under the Gun
Courtesy of Atlas Films
Under the Gun, the latest from Fed Up director Stephanie Soechtig, delivers a masterfully crafted, well-researched look at the Second Amendment debate from a (mostly) measured gun control perspective. Narrated by Katie Couric, the film's viewpoint is supported by interviews with leading researchers and experts (including Mother Jones' National Affairs editor Mark Follman) who make the case for reasonable checks on gun freedoms. We also hear from gun owners and guns rights activists. But if it's not obvious enough where the producers are coming from, the film ends with a call to action, urging legislators to enact universal background checks and other "common-sense" measures.
Which is not to say Under the Gun lacks emotional impact. Soechtig spends time in Newtown, Connecticut—she was raised in neighboring Brookfield—with families who lost children at Sandy Hook, and she chronicles the painstaking recovery of Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman shot in the head in 2011 by a deranged gunman. All of this makes for some very heartrending scenes.
But Soechtig takes her case beyond Newtown and Aurora and Isla Vista to tackle the epidemic of street killings in Chicago, a problem she argues is just as important, and as preventable, as the mass shootings, given proper legislation.
The film is nothing if not comprehensive. Under the Gun also delves into the innocuous roots and notorious progression of the National Rifle Association. We learn how gun control laws passed in the 1960s were repealed in 1986 and how Congress neglected to pass universal background checks after Newtown—or since. We also learn how, to this day, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is prohibited from computerizing its records; thus hobbled by Congress, the ATF has literal shipping containers full of paper files—the 1,400 gun-trace requests it receives daily must be processed by hand. And then there's the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had the temerity to declare gun violence a public health issue and is now prohibited by Congress from using federal money for research on gun violence.
Informed viewers will already be familiar with a lot of this stuff, but the details are mind-boggling. As the mother of an Aurora victim puts it to the politicians, "I don't want your 'I'm sorrys' and I don't want your prayers. I want your action."
To sum up the documentary Newtown in two words: heartbreaking and effective. The film doesn't address the politics of gun control directly but focuses instead on three families who lost children at Sandy Hook, the second-deadliest mass shooting in American history. These grieving parents have been unyielding in their fight for common-sense gun legislation, speaking to Congress, traveling with President Barack Obama, and pleading with legislators to close legal loopholes and pass even the most basic limits—all to little avail.
But beyond this, director Kim Snyder sidesteps the political to focus on the personal, documenting the trials of a community still in mourning years after the national media has lost interest. "I still dread that every day I live, I'm one day farther away from my life with Daniel," says the father of a dead first grader. Will their bucolic small town ever regain a sense of normalcy? Seventeen composers, moved by Snyder's concept, signed on to deliver a beautiful score. As a native of Fairfield County, where Newtown is located, this moving film rendered me speechless and tearful.
Directed by Tim Sutton (Pavilion, Memphis), Dark Night is fictional film that draws on the 2012 Aurora shooting for inspiration. There's an art house feel to the cinematography that, combined with minimal dialogue—and the unearthly vocals of Maica Amata—contribute to a series of eerie, parallel narratives about strangers who will ultimately attend a late-night screening that ends in tragedy. We meet myriad characters, all played by nonactors, going about their monotonous days in suburban Florida, where inactivity seems to breed violence. At first, it's not clear who the shooter will be. The socially outcast homebody? The skater with hair dyed orange (like the Aurora shooter)? The college student eager for revenge on the girl who rejected him?
The beautiful composition of the film, paired with the jarring looks into the lives of its characters, creates a feeling of unease that pervades the film—and the real Aurora and Lafayette theater shootings make an appearance as TV news and radio broadcasts.
There's no call to action here, no appeal to viewer pathos, just a story of what happens when a disturbed youth in a state notorious for its lax gun laws decides to act on his delusions. As with Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler's film about the fatal police shooting on a Bay Area light-rail platform, Dark Night opens with the climactic event and then flashes back to the beginning of the day. You don't see the shooting itself, but that in no way diminishes the horror.
Speaking Is Difficult
Director AJ Schnack has created a bone-chilling short (14 minutes) that is neither fiction nor documentary, exactly. Speaking Is Difficult chronicles mass shootings in 25 American cities, starting with the recent ones in San Bernardino, California, and Colorado Springs and moving backward in time to the 2011 shooting in the parking lot of a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona, that left six people dead and Rep. Gabby Giffords critically wounded. Schnack superimposes spine-tingling 911 tracks over footage shot at each scene.
The title comes from Giffords' moving appeal to Congress in January 2013, two years into her recovery. "Speaking is difficult," Giffords told her former colleagues. "But I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you." Indeed.
Hours before voters go to the polls in New Hampshire, Donald Trump turned to the topic of waterboarding at a rally in Manchester. As he began to recount how Ted Cruz had squeamishly addressed the issue during Saturday's debate, a shout came from the audience. Trump froze with a slight grin. And then this happened.
"She just said a terrible thing, you know what she said? Shout it out because I don't want to say," Trump said, clearly amused. As the woman repeated it, Trump pretended to be offended. "Psshh…you're not allowed to say that, and I never expect to hear that from you again." And then:
Another 1st in US political history. After Trump mocks Cruz on torture he repeats what woman shouts: "She said, 'He's a pussy." Yes, he did
His exact quote: "You're not allowed to say, and I never expect to hear that from you again, she said, 'He's a pussy,' that's terrible."
As chants of "Trump! Trump! Trump!" broke out, the real estate mogul returned to the podium.
"What kind of people do I have here?" he said, to laughter, and then recalled getting flak for not condemning supporters who said offensive things about President Barack Obama. "The press got very angry because I didn't defend the president, and I didn't reprimand the person who said it. So, I just want to tell you, ma'am, you're reprimanded, okay?"
So, that's part of the political conversation now.