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Trump’s babbling henchmen hit the airwaves

Larry Kudlow and Kevin McCarthy went on TV today and babbled incoherently. And I do mean babbled. And I do mean incoherently:

How about this:

This is what Trump said exactly:

“If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax. I’m going to make them all permanent … In other words, I’ll extend beyond the end of the year and terminate the tax.”

This means he’s terminating the funding stream for Social Security and Medicare.

Hey, all you seniors who love Donald Trump. Not only does he consider you all expendable (practically dead already) to the economy with COVID-19, he’s intent upon ending Social Security and Medicare.

Anyone who gets this “tax relief” had better save the money because they’re going to have to pay it back next year when they do their taxes if Trump loses. If he wins they’d also better save their money because all their older relatives will be moving in with them. Maybe Trump will let you write them off as dependents.

Honestly, I don’t know how serious any of this is. But if the performance of Trump’s henchmen this morning is any guide, neither does the administration. It’s just cray-cray…

The revenge plot against the blue states

It is obvious to me that Trump sent in his henchmen to tank the relief talks so he could hold his little rally yesterday and pretend to save the day.

But there is something more nefarious going on with his absolute refusal to offer state and local relief. He keeps saying that it’s just blue states that have been terrible stewards of their economies and don’t deserve the money (by which he means their state and municipal employees deserve to lose their jobs and their constituents deserve to die of COVID. )“They don’t vote for me anyway…”

Here’s one little data point that proves he is a disgusting liar:

Note the date. That was just pre-COVID. Compare California’s record to Trump’s when it comes to fiscal competence and I think you can see the grotesque hypocrisy of his position.

That surplus is gone and we are now looking at a huge hole and it will be the public employees, education and public safety that’s going to have to be cut. Trump wants to make it worse. In fact, punishing his enemies is all he’s living for at the moment.

The drunken sot Larry Kudlow went on CNN this morning and babbled some incomprehensible bullshit about how states have plenty of money to “match” the federal unemployment and nobody knows what he was talking about. But this is the reality:

The COVID-19 pandemic could swipe roughly $200 billion from state coffers by June of next year, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute‘s State and Local Finance Initiative.

Record-high unemployment has wreaked havoc on personal income taxes and sales taxes, two of the biggest sources of revenue for states. Hawaii’s and Nevada’s tourism industries have crashed, and states like AlaskaOklahoma and Wyoming have been hit by the collapse of oil markets. From March through May of this year, 34 states experienced at least a 20% drop in revenue compared with the same period last year, according to data provided to NPR by the State and Local Finance Initiative.

Those drops directly affect state budgets, so NPR asked member station reporters to fill us in on what’s going on in nearly every state across the United States. Check out your state here.

With dwindling cash, cuts to education, health care and other areas are inevitable in many places. State leaders have described the situation as “unprecedented,” “horrifying” and “devastating.” Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, compared his state’s budget cuts to the Red Wedding scene in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said, “Responding to this crisis has created a multiyear budget crisis unlike anything the state has ever faced before, more than three times worse than the Great Recession.”

For example, so far that state has cut nearly $190 million from higher education. Programs designed to reduce crime in Baltimore also took a hit, as did foster care providers and public defenders.

And state leaders everywhere are getting nervous as the economy shows little signs of a swift recovery.

Some states still seeking federal help

In March, Congress worked quickly to pass an aid package worth $2 trillion — called the CARES Act — which offered relief to state and local governments, individuals, small and large businesses, and hospitals affected by the coronavirus crisis.

But language in the law requires that funds go to expenses related to COVID-19 and not to plug holes in budgets, with few exceptions (though some state leaders have used creative accounting to make the money work the way they want it to).

Republicans and Democrats in states such as Maryland, CaliforniaMichiganIowaGeorgiaNew York and Illinois have asked Congress for additional funds that they say are critical to stay afloat.

Others don’t agree. Last week, more than 200 state lawmakers signed onto a letter from the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of conservative lawmakers, opposing further federal money for states. The letter reads, “The American people are being forced to make difficult but fiscally responsible decisions during the pandemic, and states need to do the same.”

The Democratic-led U.S. House passed a bill to inject more money into states, but many Republican lawmakers say any new money has to be for items directly related to the virus, not to pay down deficits in the states.

California has gone as far as preparing a contingency budget: If additional federal money does not come through, the state will have to furlough state workers and slash funding for state universities and courts. It would also mean that K-12 school districts and community colleges won’t receive nearly $12 billion in upfront state payments at a time when costs could be at an all-time high.

“The federal government has a moral, ethical and economic obligation to help support the states,” said California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom.

Moral and ethical aren’t in Trump’s vocabulary.

The Orange God

President Donald Trump arrives for the Independence Day events at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota, July 3, 2020. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Of course he did…

White House aides reached out to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem last year about the process of adding additional presidents to Mount Rushmore, the New York Times reported.

According to a person familiar who spoke with the Times, Noem then greeted Trump when he arrived in the state for his July Fourth celebrations at the monument with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included his face.

Noem has noted before Trump’s “dream” to have his face on Mount Rushmore, the Coolidge-era sculpture that features the 60-foot-tall faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

According to a 2018 interview with Noem, the two struck up a conversation about the sculpture in the Oval Office during their first meeting, where she initially thought he was joking. “I started laughing,” she said. “He wasn’t laughing, so he was totally serious.””He said, ‘Kristi, come on over here. Shake my hand, and so I shook his hand, and I said, ‘Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime. We have Mount Rushmore.’ And he goes, ‘Do you know it’s my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?'”

Trump also toyed with the idea of adding himself to Mount Rushmore in 2017 at a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio.

It’s only a matter of time before he declared himself a god.

Like Caligula.

Why they love him so

St. John's clergy: Trump used church as prop, Bible as symbol of division -  Axios

This NY Times piece about why conservative Evangelicals love Trump is well worth reading. It does provide some insight. Ultimately, it confirms that they believe Donald Trump gives them power and that is apparently all they care about. The question is what that power is used for. And it’s not a mystery.

Here’s one woman’s explanation:

“I do not love Trump. I think Trump is good for America as a country. I think Trump is going to restore our freedoms, where we spent eight years, if not more, with our freedoms slowly being taken away under the guise of giving freedoms to all,” she said. “Caucasian-Americans are becoming a minority. Rapidly.”

She explained what she meant. “If you are a hard-working Caucasian-American, your rights are being limited because you are seen as against all the races or against women,” she said. “Or there are people who think that because we have conservative values and we value the family and I value submitting to my husband, I must be against women’s rights.”

Her voice grew strong. “I would say it takes a stronger woman to submit to a man than to want to rule over him. And I would argue that point to the death,” she said.

She felt freer as she spoke. “Mike Pence is a wonderful gentleman,” she said. “This is probably a very bad analogy, but I’d say he is like the very supportive, submissive wife to Trump. He does the hard work, and the husband gets the glory.”


Here is the more polite version:

It is deep into summer now. The pandemic has killed 160,000 people nationwide. Thousands have taken to the streets to protest the police killings of Black people. In Sioux Center, where the Black population is less than 1 percent, feelings about Mr. Trump remain largely unchanged.

Only three people in the county are reported to have died of the coronavirus. There was an outbreak of cases at the pork processing plant. Churches have mostly reopened. The closest thing to a protest was a walk for justice in Orange City.

“People in my circles, you don’t really hear about racism, so I guess I don’t know too much about it,” Mr. Driesen said of the protests. “When I see the pictures, I thought they all should be at work, being productive citizens.”

“I still think he is going to blow Biden away,” he said of Mr. Trump.

Ms. Schouten remembered a song she taught her children, called “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” She quoted the lyrics, which have been sung in churches for generations but would be considered racially insensitive today: “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.”

“We are making this huge issue of white versus Black, Black Lives Matter. All lives matter,” she said. “There are more deaths from abortion than there are from corona, but we are not fighting that battle.”

“We are picking and choosing who matters and who doesn’t,” she said. “They say they are being picked on, when we are all being picked on in one shape or form.”

These are the ideas that animate the evangelical right. I think is pretty easy to see why they would look at Donald Trump as a great leader for them. He is openly racist and sexist which is their primary political concern. And he is a fraud in every way which makes him one of them much more than any adherence to religious belief could do. After all, their ostenatious piety is obviously phony too.

They understand each other.

The fervent conservative evangelical support for Donald Trump has finally and completely exposed their political involvement for what it is. There will never be any occasion that Americans have to take their phony moralizing seriously again.

All the disinformation that’s fit to share

Whatever happens on November 3, many Americans will distrust the election results. They’ve been primed for it. Donald Trump sees himself both as a winner and a victim. Either way, he will spin the results both as a victory and an attack as he did in 2016, even if only he believes it.

Trump had plenty of help in 2016 from the Russians, the Republican Party apparatus, third-party activist groups, online fake-news entrepreneurs, and the right wing noise machine. With the bully pulpit and the levers of power at his disposal this year, he is actively working to rig the election in his favor in ways he could not have dreamed of four years ago.

The others will still play their parts.

ProPublica and First Draft, a firm that researches misinformation, posted a report last month on the viral quality of social media posts, particularly on Facebook, aimed at delegitimizing the upcoming election. (Read them yourself. No need to repeat them here.)

“We have a long history in this country of voter suppression that goes all the way back to our founding,” said Jessica Gonzalez, the co-CEO of Free Press, an advocacy group focused on media and technology. “This is a new way to suppress the vote, and I don’t know why Facebook wants any part of it.”

Facebook claims to be creating a Voting Information Center for connecting people to authoritative information and to have removed 100,000 pieces of voter disinformation between March and May.

ProPublica and First Draft tracked Facebook posts using voting-related keywords — including the terms “vote by mail,” “mail-in ballots,” “voter fraud” and “stolen elections” — since early April, when Trump began attacking voting by mail. Mentions of these voting-related terms nearly tripled on Facebook, with interest in the topic spiking after Twitter attached a fact-checking label to Trump’s false tweets and directed users to a fact-check page on May 26. Twitter’s intervention prompted Trump to claim that Twitter is “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election” and “stifling FREE SPEECH.” Facebook has refused to take down Trump’s false claims about voting by mail.

Facebook’s inaction on Trump’s posts spurred pushback over misinformation on the site. Gonzalez helped organize an advertising boycott of Facebook that now includes more than 1,000 companies and some of the platform’s biggest advertisers. Among other demands, they’re calling on Facebook to remove voting misinformation.

Breitbart, Fox News are still in the disinfo game along with conservative commentators, Trump surrogates, conspiracy sites, and some left-wing pages.

Most common are overinflated allegations of voter fraud:

Exaggerating the prevalence of voting fraud can backfire. In a study released in June, researchers showed respondents a series of tweets. Some were actual 2018 tweets by Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio that put forth unfounded claims of voter fraud; others were more generic “placebo” tweets. The false claims reduced confidence in elections for everyone, the researchers found, especially Republicans and those who approve of Trump. Those groups “reported significantly lower confidence in elections after exposure to a low dose of voter fraud allegations even when those claims were countered by fact-checks.”

As a result, Trump’s rhetoric may cause fewer Republicans to vote by mail than Democrats, said Brendan Nyhan, one of the authors of the study and a political scientist at Dartmouth College. Still, Nyhan is worried about broader effects of misinformation. “The problem has clearly gotten worse in terms of elite rhetoric,” Nyhan said. “We’ve seen what happens in other countries when there isn’t a shared trust in the rules of the game in democracy and it’s not good.”

Realizing the damage his attacks on voting by mail have done to his own prospects, Trump last week tried reversing himself. He now claims voting by mail in Florida is “Safe and Secure, Tried and True” even as he sues Nevada for automatically sending voters mail ballots.

The pandemic has boards of elections across the country scrambling to retool procedures make voting as safe and secure for voters as possible. This means what you heard last week could be changed next week.

Here in North Carolina, Democrats have been in court challenging Republican voting changes since the GOP gained control of the legislature ahead of the last redistricting. Some of the voting changes the GOP implemented seemed designed not only to suppress the vote but to add to confusion. Others they passed only to have courts overturn them later. Voters here have been whipsawed for a decade.

Just last week, a federal district court in North Carolina ruled that due process demands that those who vote by mail must have the same chance to “cure” mistakes in their ballots that in-person voters receive:

GREENSBORO—Late today, a federal judge ruled in the League of Women Voters of North Carolina’s case that the North Carolina State Board of Elections must provide a notice and cure process for absentee ballots marked for rejection. As the number of voters choosing to cast ballots by mail is expected to surge due to the threat of COVID-19, the decision provides relief for tens of thousands of voters whose ballots would otherwise be rejected without recourse. 

“The establishment of a notice and cure process for absentee ballots is a major victory for North Carolina voters,” said Jo Nicholas, president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. “Now, even amidst all the uncertainty that the pandemic brings, voters can have assurance that their safely cast ballots will be counted in November.” 

Over 282,000 absentee ballots were rejected in North Carolina’s March primary election, 41% of which could have been cured if voters had been notified and given a chance to do so, according to data reviewed by Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The absence of a cure process in that election left 115,000 voters without a way to fix mistakes and ensure their ballots would be counted. 

Now, the state Board of Elections must scramble once again to figure out how to implement the judge’s ruling before local boards begin evaluating early absentee ballots here at the end of September. The rest of us will have to help educate voters once the procedure is in place. So it goes.

For the rest of you, be sure you are extra careful when filling out your by-mail or absentee-by-mail ballots. Here is some quick video advice. Rejection rates are low, but you don’t want to get caught in that small percentage.

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For The Win, 3rd Edition is ready for download. Request a copy of my free countywide GOTV mechanics guide at This is what winning looks like.

Happy end of the world: Top 15 Anti-Nuke Films

Hiroshima: nothing, nothing-
old and young burned to death,
city blown away,
socket without eyeball.
White bones scattered over reddish rubble;
above, sun burning down:
city of ruins, still as death.

-from Ruins, by poet, activist, and Hiroshima survivor Sadako Kurihara (1914-2005)

“The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.”

-J. Robert Oppenheimer

This past Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of mankind’s entry into that “different country”.  So what have we learned since 8:15am, August 6, 1945-if anything? Well, we’ve tried to harness the power of the atom for “good”, however, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, that’s not working out so well (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, et al).

Also, there are enough stockpiled weapons of mass destruction to knock Planet Earth off its axis, and we have no guarantees that some nut job, whether enabled by the powers vested in him by the state, or the voices in his head (doesn’t really matter-end result’s the same) won’t be in a position at some point in the future to let one or two or a hundred rip. Hopefully, cool heads and diplomacy will continue to keep us above ground and rad-free.

Every January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gives the human race its annual physical, to determine the official time on the Doomsday Clock (with midnight representing Armageddon). This year, they have released a special statement regarding this anniversary:

And so, on this awful 75th anniversary, the Doomsday Clock stands at 100 seconds to midnight. The Science and Security Board calls on all countries to reject the fantasy that nuclear weapons can provide a permanent basis for global security and to refrain from pursuing new nuclear weapons capabilities that fuel nuclear arms races. Rather than new weapons for new nuclear missions, new delivery systems such as hypersonic glide vehicles, or a resumption of nuclear testing, the United States, Russia, and the world’s seven other nuclear powers should set their technical sights on achievable milestones along the path toward arms control and eventual nuclear disarmament. […]

The final hurdles on the path toward reducing nuclear arsenals and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons entirely will be political rather than technical. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, solving major global problems requires international cooperation—and national leaders willing to seek it through verifiable global agreements and strengthened international institutions.

Seventy-five years after the first use of nuclear weapons and the founding of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we—all the members of the Science and Security Board—pledge to redouble our efforts to bring about a world in which the use of nuclear weapons is both unthinkable and impossible. On this tragic anniversary, we ask political and military leaders around the world to join us—to demonstrate that nuclear weapons do not create safety or security, but diminish them and threaten humanity’s future. With the fantasy that they are useful dispelled, nuclear weapons may come to be viewed for what they are—a costly and dangerous detour from the path toward real global security.

As the scientists said, the clock ticks and global danger looms. I probably needn’t remind you that an increasingly less than-“stable genius” sits in the White House, with those nuclear codes at his fingertips. With those happy thoughts in mind, here are my picks for the top 15 cautionary films to watch before we all go together (when we go).

The Atomic Café – Whoopee, we’re all gonna die! But along the way, we might as well have a few laughs. That seems to be the impetus behind this 1982 collection of cleverly reassembled footage culled from U.S. government propaganda shorts from the Cold War era (Mk 1), originally designed to educate the public about how to “survive” a nuclear attack (all you need to do is get under a desk…everyone knows that!).

In addition to the Civil Defense campaigns (which include the classic “duck and cover” tutorials) the filmmakers have also drawn from a rich vein of military training films, which reduce the possible effects of a nuclear strike to something akin to a barrage from, oh I don’t know- a really big field howitzer. Harrowing, yet perversely entertaining. Written and directed by Jayne Loader, Pierce Rafferty and Kevin Rafferty (Kevin went on to co-direct the similarly constructed 1999 doc, The Last Cigarette, a take down of the tobacco industry).

Black Rain– For obvious reasons, there have been a fair amount of postwar Japanese films dealing with the subject of nuclear destruction and its aftermath. Some take an oblique approach, like Gojira or I Live in Fear. Other films, like the documentary Children of Hiroshima and the anime Barefoot Gen deal directly with survivors (who are referred to in Japan as the hibakusha).

One of the most affecting hibakusha films I’ve seen is Shomei Imamura’s 1989 drama Black Rain (not to be confused with the 1989 Hollywood crime thriller of the same title that is also set in Japan). It’s a simple tale of three Hiroshima survivors: an elderly couple and their niece, whose scars run much deeper than physical. The narrative is sparse, yet contains more layers than an onion (especially considering the complexities of Japanese society). Interestingly, Imamura injects a polemic which points an accusatory finger in an unexpected direction.

The Day after Trinity– This absorbing film about the Manhattan Project and its subsequent fallout (historical, political and existential) is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. At its center, it is a profile of project leader J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose moment of professional triumph (the successful test of the world’s first atomic bomb, three weeks before Hiroshima) also brought him an unnerving precognition about the horror that he and his fellow physicists had enabled the military machine to unleash.

Oppenheimer’s journey from “father of the atomic bomb” to anti-nuke activist (and having his life destroyed by the post-war Red hysteria) is a tragic tale of Shakespearean proportion. Two recommended companion pieces: Roland Joffe’s 1989 drama Fat Man and Little Boy, about the working relationship between Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) and military director of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves (Paul Newman); and an outstanding 1980 BBC miniseries called Oppenheimer (starring Sam Waterston).

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb- “Mein fuehrer! I can walk!” Although we have yet to experience the global thermonuclear annihilation that ensues following the wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove’s joyous (if short-lived) epiphany, so many other depictions in Stanley Kubrick’s seriocomic masterpiece about the tendency for those in power to eventually rise to their own level of incompetence have since come to pass, that you wonder why the filmmakers even bothered to make it all up.

It’s the one about an American military base commander who goes a little funny in the head (you know…”funny”) and sort of launches a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Hilarity and oblivion ensues. And what a cast: Peter Sellers (as three characters), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones and Peter Bull. There are so many great quotes, that you might as well bracket the entire screenplay (by Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George) with quotation marks.

Fail-SafeDr. Strangelove…without the laughs. This no-nonsense 1964 thriller from the late great director Sidney Lumet takes a more clinical look at how a wild card scenario (in this case, a simple hardware malfunction) could ultimately trigger a nuclear showdown between the Americans and the Russians.

Talky and a bit stagey; but riveting nonetheless thanks to Lumet’s skillful  knack for bringing out the best in his actors. Walter Bernstein’s intelligent screenplay (with uncredited assistance from Peter George, who also co-scripted Dr. Strangelove) and a superb cast that includes Henry Fonda (a commanding performance, literally and figuratively), Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman, and Fritz Weaver.

There’s no fighting in this war room (aside from one minor scuffle), but there is an almost unbearable amount of tension and suspense. The final scene is chilling and unforgettable.

I Live in Fear-This 1955 Akira Kurosawa film is one of the great director’s most overlooked efforts. It’s a melodrama concerning an aging foundry owner (Toshiro Mifune, unrecognizable in Coke-bottle glasses and silver-frosted pomade) who literally “lives in fear” of the H-bomb. Convinced that South America would be the “safest” place on Earth from radioactive fallout, he tries to sway his wife and grown children to pull up stakes and resettle on a farm in Brazil.

His children, who have families of their own and rely on their father’s factory for income, are not so hot on that idea. They take him to family court and have him declared incompetent. This sends Mifune spiraling into madness. Or are his fears really so “crazy”? It is one of Mifune’s most powerful and moving performances. Kurosawa instills shades of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” into the narrative (a well he would draw from again in his 1985 film Ran).

Ladybug, Ladybug– I didn’t have an opportunity to see this chilling 1963 drama until 2017, which is when Turner Classic Movies presented their premiere showing (to my knowledge, it has never been available in a home video format). The film marked the second collaboration between husband-and-wife creative team of writer Eleanor Perry and director Frank Perry (The Swimmer, Last Summer, Diary of a Mad Housewife).

Based on an incident that occurred during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the story centers on how students and staff of a rural school react to a Civil Defense alert indicating an imminent nuclear strike. While there are indications that it could be a false alarm, the principal sends the children home early. As teachers and students stroll through the relatively peaceful countryside, fears and anxieties come to the fore. Naturalistic performances bring the film’s cautionary message all too close to home.

Miracle Mile- Depending on your worldview, this is either an “end of the world” film for romantics, or the perfect date movie for fatalists. Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham give winning performances as a musician and a waitress who Meet Cute at L.A.’s La Brea Tar Pits museum. But before they can hook up for their first date, Edwards stumbles onto a fairly reliable tip that L.A. is about to get hosed…in a major way.

The resulting “countdown” scenario is a genuine, edge-of-your seat nail-biter. In fact, this modestly budgeted, 90-minute sleeper offers more heart-pounding excitement (and much more believable characters) than any bloated Hollywood disaster epic from the likes of a Michael Bay or a Roland Emmerich. Writer-director Steve De Jarnatt stopped doing feature films after this 1988 gem (his only other feature was the sci-fi cult favorite Cherry 2000).

One Night Stand – An early effort from director John Duigan (Winter of Our Dreams, The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting, Sirens, etc.). This 1984 sleeper is a worthwhile entry amidst the flurry of nuclear paranoia-themed movies that proliferated throughout the Reagan era (Marshall Brickman’s The Manhattan Project, John Badham’s War Games, et. al.)

Four young people (three Australians and an American sailor who has jumped ship) get holed up in an otherwise empty Sydney Opera House on the eve of escalating nuclear tension between the superpowers in Eastern Europe. In a concerted effort to deflect their collective anxiety over increasingly ominous news bulletins droning on from the radio, they find creative ways to keep their spirits up.

The film is uneven at times, but Duigan capably juggles this mashup of romantic comedy, apocalyptic thriller and anti-war statement. There are several striking set pieces; particularly an eerily affecting scene where the quartet watch Fritz Langs’s Metropolis as the Easybeats hit “Friday on My Mind” is juxtaposed over its orchestral score. Midnight Oil performs in a scene where the two women attend a concert. The bittersweet denouement (in an underground tube station) is quite powerful.

Special Bulletin– This outstanding 1983 made-for-TV movie has been overshadowed by the nuclear nightmare-themed TV movie The Day After, which aired the same year (I’m sure I will be raked over the coals by some readers for not including the aforementioned on this list, but frankly I always thought it was too melodramatic and vastly over-praised).

Directed by Edward Zwick and written by Marshall Herskovitz (the same creative team behind thirtysomething), Special Bulletin is framed as a “live” television broadcast, with local news anchors and reporters interrupting regular programming to cover a breaking story.

A domestic terrorist group has seized a docked tugboat in Charleston Harbor. A reporter relays their demand: If every nuclear triggering device stored at the nearby U.S. Naval base isn’t delivered to them by a specified time, they will detonate their own homemade nuclear device (equal in power to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki). The original airing apparently panicked more than a few South Carolinian viewers (a la Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938). Riveting and chilling. Nominated for 6 Emmys, it took home 4.

Testament- Originally an American Playhouse presentation, this film (with a screenplay adapted by John Sacred Young from a story by Carol Amen) was released to theaters and garnered a well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Jane Alexander. Director Lynne Littman takes a low key approach, but pulls no punches; I think this is what gives her film’s anti-nuke message more teeth and makes its scenario more relatable than Stanley Kramer’s similarly-framed but more sanitized and preachy 1959 drama On the Beach.

Alexander, her husband (William DeVane) and three kids live in sleepy Hamlin, California, where afternoon cartoons are interrupted by a news flash that nuclear explosions have occurred in New York. Then there is a flash of a different kind when nearby San Francisco (where DeVane has gone on a business trip) receives a direct strike.

There is no exposition on the political climate that precipitates the attacks; this is a wise decision, as it puts the focus on the humanistic message of the film. All of the post-nuke horrors ensue, but they are presented sans the melodrama that informs many entries in the genre. The fact that the nightmarish scenario unfolds so deliberately, and amidst such everyday suburban banality, is what makes it very difficult to shake off.

As the children (and adults) of Hamlin succumb to the inevitable scourge of radiation sickness and steadily “disappear”, like the children of the ‘fairy tale’ Hamlin, you are left haunted by the final line of the school production of “The Pied Piper” glimpsed earlier in the film… “Your children are not dead. They will return when the world deserves them.”

Thirteen Days– I had a block against seeing this 2000 release about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, for several reasons. For one, director Roger Donaldson’s uneven output (for every Smash Palace or No Way Out, he’s got a Species or a Cocktail). I also couldn’t get past “Kevin Costner? In another movie about JFK?” Also, I felt the outstanding 1974 TV film, The Missiles of October (which I recommend) would be hard to top. But I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be one of Donaldson’s better films.

Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp make a very credible JFK and RFK, respectively. The film works as a political thriller, yet it is also intimate and moving at times (especially in the scenes between JFK and RFK). Costner provides the “fly on the wall” perspective as Kennedy insider Kenny O’Donnell. Costner gives a compassionate performance; on the downside he has a tin ear for dialects (that Hahvad Yahd brogue comes and goes of its own free will).

According to the Internet Movie Database, this was the first film screened at the White House by George and Laura Bush in 2001. Knowing this now…I don’t know whether to laugh or cry myself to sleep.

The War Game / Threads– Out of all of the selections on this list, these two British TV productions are the grimmest and most sobering “nuclear nightmare” films of them all.

Writer-director Peter Watkins’ 1965 docudrama, The War Game was initially produced for television, but was deemed too shocking and disconcerting for the small screen by the BBC. It was mothballed until picked up for theatrical distribution, which snagged it an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1967. Watkins envisions the aftermath of a nuke attack on London, and pulls no punches. Very ahead of its time, and it still packs quite a wallop.

The similarly stark and affecting nuclear nightmare drama  Threads debuted on the BBC in 1984, later airing in the U.S. on TBS. Director Mick Jackson delivers an uncompromising realism that makes The Day After (the U.S. TV film from the previous year) look like a Teletubbies episode. It’s a speculative narrative that takes a medium sized city (Sheffield) and depicts what would likely happen to its populace during and after a nuclear strike, in graphic detail.

Both  productions make it clear that, while they are dramatizations, the intent is not to “entertain” you in any sense of the word. The message is simple and direct-nothing good comes out of a nuclear conflict. It’s a living, breathing Hell for all concerned-and anyone “lucky” enough to survive will soon wish they were dead.

When the Wind Blows– This animated 1986 U.K. film was adapted by director Jimmy Murakami from Raymond Brigg’s eponymous graphic novel. It is a simple yet affecting story about an aging couple (wonderfully voiced by venerable British thespians Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft) who live in a cozy cottage nestled in the bucolic English countryside. Unfortunately, an escalating conflict in another part of the world is about to go global and shatter their quiet lives.

Very similar in tone to Testament (another film on this list), in its sense of intimacy amidst slowly unfolding mass horror. Haunting, moving, and beautifully animated, with a combination of traditional cell and stop-motion techniques. The soundtrack features music by David Bowie, Roger Waters, and Squeeze.

Previous posts with related themes:

This Corner of the World

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

Until the End of the World


Seven Days in May

Criterion reissues Dr. Strangelove (essay)

Pandora’s Promise

The Atomic States of America

More reviews at Den of Cinema

— Dennis Hartley