Tag Archives: acting

Off-roading, chopped Joshua trees, overflowing toilets: Our national parks during a shutdown

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Ever wanted to cut down an iconic Joshua tree in order to create space for some off-roading? No? Well, we thank you. But during the government shutdown, some fine folks did just that.

National parks are filling with garbage, and not just the kind that comes in trash bags. Since the government shut down 20 days ago, Joshua Tree, which is about the size of Delaware and located two hours east of Los Angeles, has been forced to reduce its number of rangers from 100 to only eight. The lack of staff is making it difficult to keep up with the mayhem that is illegal off-roading and road creation, damage of federal property, overflowing garbage and toilets, out-of-bounds camping, and the chopping down of literal Joshua trees.

And it isn’t just Joshua Tree bearing the brute force of the barbaric human. Reports have been surfacing of human waste and trash pile-up in a number of national parks, from Yosemite to Death Valley.

“I think there are a number of things that are not very obvious to the general public, like the trash and toilets [are], that are pretty consequential when you have a shutdown,” National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis told the the National Parks Traveler.

While the sight of overflowing waste and cut Joshua trees is shocking (and quite frankly repulsive), there is also major damage happening out-of-sight. The longest-running research initiative in the Shenandoah National park — 200,000 acres in the mountains of Virginia — has come to a grinding halt during the government shutdown. The study examines the impact of acid rain in the mid-Atlantic forests, and the research has been used to understand the effects of air pollution on natural systems. No big deal, unless you like breathing clean air.

Earlier this month, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt instructed all national parks to use fee revenues in order to keep parks open during the shut down. Parks that require an entrance fee often save 80 percent of that revenue for ongoing projects such as park maintenance, visitor services, wildlife habitat needs, and law enforcement.

But just as we have knuckleheads, we too have good samaritans: Volunteers across the country are showing up to clean toilets and take out the trash, helping to tidy up the government-made mess.


Off-roading, chopped Joshua trees, overflowing toilets: Our national parks during a shutdown

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EPA chief says Trump administration may reshape next federal climate report

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Wednesday that the Trump administration may step in to change the way the government drafts its next National Climate Assessment.

The suggestion that politicians might influence a report from more 300 federal scientists at 13 agencies came at an event in Washington, where reporters pressed the agency chief on the authors’ dire projections about devastating climate change.

Speaking at a Washington Post Live event, Wheeler accused former President Barack Obama of telling “the report’s authors to take a look at the worst-case scenario for this report.”

“Going forward, I think we need to take a look at the modeling that’s used for the next assessment,” Wheeler said.

It’s an audacious set of statements from the acting EPA administrator, who until last year served as a top coal lobbyist and espouses the industry’s scientifically unsound stance that the link between fossil fuels and climate change remains dubious.

The remarks follow a clear, cynical pattern among those who deny climate science, accusing scientists and researchers of bias.

The announcement is concerning in light of a previous incident of political interference. In 2005, Philip Clooney, a former oil lobbyist working for the George W. Bush administration, was caught altering language in climate science reports to weaken the link between fossil fuels and rising global temperatures.

What Wheeler appeared to suggest Wednesday goes beyond that. He said the administration could take a dangerously optimistic route by developing what the EPA chief called “more realistic projections” incorporating future advancements in “technology and innovation.”

He also said the National Climate Assessment was based on overly pessimistic and outdated models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading United Nations’ research body on global warming.

By contrast, the IPCC warned in October that world governments must halve emissions over the next 12 years to avert catastrophic climate change costing $54 trillion. That cost could, in fact, be on the conservative side, according to a study published in June that found the IPCC relied on economic models that failed to grasp the magnitude of global warming.

Trump, who rejects climate science outright, dismissed the IPCC’s report in October and said he does not believe the results of the latest federal study.

Wheeler put a friendlier face on the administration’s climate change denial after he took over in July following disgraced and scandal-plagued Administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation. He halted some of the EPA’s antagonism of the press and spoke in dry legalese when deploying the same unscientific industry propaganda Pruitt used to justify his doubt over the causes of climate change. But he is pursuing the same aggressive rollback of climate regulations.

In August, Wheeler proposed dramatically weakening fuel economy standards, clearing the way for vehicles ― the nation’s No. 1 source of climate pollution ― to spew an addition 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2030. Weeks later, he moved to gut a signature Obama-era rule on power plant pollution ― allowing for increased pollution that could cause 1,400 premature deaths per year.

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the 13 agencies behind the National Climate Assessment, said no political appointees interfered with the contents of the report. But Wheeler has a history of attempting to change the way the federal government analyzes pollution.

In October, he fired a panel of scientific experts responsible for helping the EPA’s review of air quality standards for particulate matter, an issue that has long dogged the coal industry for which the agency chief previously lobbied.

Later that month, Wheeler said he’d delay a decision on how to move forward on the EPA’s controversial “transparency” rule, a proposal that would bar the agency from using critical epidemiological studies when drafting regulations, until next year.

Wheeler once again punted on difficult questions on Wednesday, despite criticizing the nature of the report.

“I haven’t read the entire report yet, but I’ve gone through it,” he said, adding that he wants to “follow up” on the projection modeling methods.

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EPA chief says Trump administration may reshape next federal climate report

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Entire cities evacuate as hellish wildfires whip through California

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A trio of rapidly expanding wildfires are burning in California, marking the latest in a string of harrowing climate-related disasters in America.

The Camp Fire has killed at least five people and destroyed 2,000 buildings in the Northern California city of Paradise. The fire is already the fourth most destructive wildfire in state history, but those numbers are almost certain to increase once officials survey the area more completely.

In Southern California, low humidity combined with strong offshore Santa Ana winds prompted the National Weather Service to issue an “extremely critical” fire weather alert, its highest warning for wildfire risk. Two fires there are rapidly expanding towards the coast causing the city of Malibu to evacuate.

These are firestorms — towering, fast-moving walls of flames hundreds of feet high — the kind of fires that are not only uncontrolled by firefighters, but uncontrollable. In Southern California, fire burning through wind-whipped palm trees on Thursday resembled a hurricane.

“This is the new normal,” Los Angeles County Fire Captain Erik Scott told a local television station. “When we have conditions like this, when it’s such incredible wind, that brings us into a different caliber.” Acting California Governor Gavin Newsom has requested an emergency presidential disaster declaration from Trump to speed the flow of federal aid to victims.

Meteorologists marvelled at the “gut-wrenching” rate of spread Thursday’s fires exhibited. At one point, the Camp Fire was consuming 80 football fields worth of land per minute, fueled by winds of up to 50 mph. That fire grew more than 20-fold in about six hours just before it overtook the town of Paradise, home to about 27,000 people. By nightfall, the fire had expanded in size to 70,000 acres, and was just 5 percent contained. A reporter’s video caught a fire tornado on camera, an exclamation mark on a truly hellish scene:

By all accounts, the scrambled evacuation of Paradise was harrowing. There were reports of people abandoning their vehicles trapped in heavy traffic, clutching children and running for safety under blackened skies. At least one cluster of about 70 people were airlifted from a Walgreens. Video from the exodus is nightmare-inducing, and is difficult to watch. During the height of the blaze, firefighters completely surrendered firefighting duties in order to focus on rescuing people.

On Friday morning, gruesomely burned cars littered the side of the road. “The whole town is gone,” Gianna Wallace, a survivor, told Sacramento Bee reporter Ryan Sabalow. That assessment was echoed by Scott McLean, a spokesperson for CALFIRE, who told the Los Angeles Times that the Camp Fire “has destroyed the town.”

Smoke from the fire drifted in a huge plume and set off smoke alarms as far away as San Francisco, nearly 150 miles away.

In Southern California, two fires burned near the town of Thousand Oaks with towering smoke clouds visible at the site of a mass shooting where a gunman killed more than a dozen people just hours earlier. The Hill Fire caused an evacuation of Cal State University-Channel Islands and about 1,000 homes. More worrying is the Woolsey Fire, which threatens about 75,000 homes in both Ventura and Los Angeles Counties — including the entire city of Malibu. At least one family was grieving both tragedies, losing a loved one in the shooting and being forced to evacuate because of the fire all within 24 hours, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This week’s fires come just months after July’s Carr Fire destroyed large parts of Redding, California, and a little over a year after the Tubbs Fire devastated Napa and Sonoma Counties — the most damaging wildfire on record in California. Six of California’s 10 worst fires on record have come in just the past three years.

After an exceptionally hot and dry summer, the vegetation in Northern California near one of the fires is the driest ever measured so late in the year.

Rapidly expanding wildfires in California are part of a worrying trend across the West and around the world that is attributable to climate change. Two human-related trends are most responsible: More people are moving to areas prone to fire while hotter, drier weather is making fires blossom and spread more quickly. Wildfire seasons are lengthening as temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent. Over the past 40 years, the area burned by wildfire across the West has doubled. Globally, the surge in burning forests is making warming worse, too, expelling nearly half as much as all industrial sources worldwide in the worst years.

This week’s fires, along with the countless other recent record-breaking weather disasters, send a clear message: The era of climate consequences is here. We should treat this as the emergency it is.

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Entire cities evacuate as hellish wildfires whip through California

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Trump Team Continues to Act Guilty Over Russia Ties

Mother Jones

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One of my complaints about Hillary Clinton during the email affair was the fact that she sometimes acted guilty even when she wasn’t. Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn. Here is the Washington Post today:

The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

….Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The following day, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.

Yates, you’ll recall, was the acting attorney general left over from the Obama administration who Trump fired for refusing to defend his first immigration order in court.

This whole Russia thing is crazy. Whenever I start believing there’s really something there, I feel like I’m turning into a nutball conspiracy theorist. But if there isn’t anything there, it’s plenty odd that the Trump team keeps acting as if there were.

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Trump Team Continues to Act Guilty Over Russia Ties

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Michael Flynn Has Just Resigned As National Security Adviser

Mother Jones

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Embattled National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned in the face of a mounting scandal related to his communications with the Russian government.

The resignation capped a day of political turmoil for Flynn and the White House. Just hours earlier, all 17 Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform signed a letter demanding a full investigation of Flynn’s alleged discussions of sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the US during the month before President Trump took office.

The White House took contradictory positions on Flynn Monday. Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway first insisted that Flynn enjoyed “the full confidence of the president,” but less than an hour later, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, announced Trump was “evaluating the situation.”

But a bombshell news report on Monday night by the Washington Post appeared to finally set Flynn’s resignation in motion. The Post reported that then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the White House in late January that she believed “Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador.” The paper reported that Yates had “warned that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.”

In a resignation letter posted by the White House soon after the news broke, Flynn admitted that he had “inadvertently” provided “incomplete information” to Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his calls to the Russian ambassador.

Flynn’s resignation was accepted late Monday by President Trump who named Lt. General Joseph Keith Kellogg, Jr. as Acting National Security Adviser.

Here’s the full text of Flynn’s resignation, courtesy of the White House:

In the course of my duties as the incoming National Security Advisor, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the President, his advisors and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.

Throughout my over thirty three years of honorable military service, and my tenure as the National Security Advisor, I have always performed my duties with the utmost of integrity and honesty to those I have served, to include the President of the United States.

I am tendering my resignation, honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way.

I am also extremely honored to have served President Trump, who in just three weeks, has reoriented American foreign policy in fundamental ways to restore America’s leadership position in the world.

As I step away once again from serving my nation in this current capacity, I wish to thank President Trump for his personal loyalty, the friendship of those who I worked with throughout the hard fought campaign, the challenging period of transition, and during the early days of his presidency.

I know with the strong leadership of President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and the superb team they are assembling, this team will go down in history as one of the greatest presidencies in U.S. history, and I firmly believe the American people will be well served as they all work together to help Make America Great Again.

Michael T. Flynn, LTG (Ret) Assistant to the President / National Security Advisor

This is a developing story. We’ll update as more news comes in.

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Michael Flynn Has Just Resigned As National Security Adviser

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Liberals Are Heading Down the Path of Fox News. It’s Time to Knock It Off.

Mother Jones

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Over the past few weeks I’ve written five posts making the following points:

  1. The acting Oscars are not really all that white.
  2. Flint is not a public health holocaust.
  3. The 1994 crime bill didn’t create mass incarceration.
  4. Photo ID laws probably don’t have massive turnout effects.
  5. Social welfare spending has gone up a lot over the past three decades, and welfare reform had very little impact on either this or the deep poverty rate.

I’m not really very excited about writing stuff like this. I generally prefer to use my emotional energy fighting conservatives and boosting liberal causes. On the other hand, facts and realism matter. I don’t want to see my side adopt the habits that we mock so mercilessly in conservatives.

One of the things that bothered me in all five cases is that these points could all be made perfectly well with the truth. The non-acting Oscars really have shut out minorities almost completely. Lead poisoning of children really is a serious problem. The 1994 crime bill may not have been responsible for mass incarceration, but it had plenty of other problems—though they turned out have a pretty modest effect in the end. Photo ID laws do have modest but pervasive effects on minority voting, and in a 50-50 country this can make a big difference. And social welfare spending may have gone up a lot, but it still hasn’t made much of a dent in poverty.

What to think of this? Maybe it’s just coincidence that I’ve noticed a bunch of items like this recently. After all, everyone in the political arena, friends and foes alike, has long used hyperbole as a way of marshaling action. Human nature being what it is, people just won’t pay much attention to measured and nuanced debate. You have to hit them over their heads to get their attention, and sometimes that means going overboard on the outrage if you want to make a difference in the world.

And in the end, what’s worse? Generating a lightly misleading meme about acting Oscars being white—because actors are the only part of the film industry that most people know or care about—or doing nothing and gaining no attention for the fact that behind the camera Hollywood remains lily white? That’s not always an easy question to answer.

Still, that’s me talking my book. When this kind of thing starts to define a movement, you end up with Fox News and the tea party. We should be loath to go too far down that road. Being reality-based matters, even if it’s not always entirely on your side.

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Liberals Are Heading Down the Path of Fox News. It’s Time to Knock It Off.

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Raw Data: How #White Are the Oscars, Anyway?

Mother Jones

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The chart on the right shows the trend of black nominees in the four acting categories by decade. In the most recent decade—including the past two years, in which no blacks were nominated—there were 18 black nominees, which amounts to 9 percent of the total acting field. Here’s a comparison (for Americans only) with top positions in other fields:

4-star military officers: 13 percent
Members of Congress: 10 percent
University presidents: ~3 percent
Senators: 2 percent
Nobel Prize winners: 1.1 percent
Fortune 500 CEOs: 0.8 percent
Billionaires: 0.2 percent
Governors: 0

POSTSCRIPT: Most of the #OscarsSoWhite backlash has come in the acting categories, which is why I made this chart. The odd things about this is that the acting categories are a gaudy aurora borealis compared to the paleness of the rest of the awards. With the exception of songwriting, a grand total of eight black artists have been nominated in every single other category over the past decade. Here are the percentages:

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Raw Data: How #White Are the Oscars, Anyway?

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We Can All Breathe a Sigh of Relief: Star Wars Toymakers are Not Agents of the Patriarchy

Mother Jones

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In an apparent effort to prove that you can do data journalism on literally any topic, Leah Libresco examines the merchandising bonanza of the latest Star Wars movie:

The most-recent “Star Wars” Monopoly set did what the villain of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” couldn’t, sidelining Rey, the film’s female protagonist…. Fans signed petitions, wrote letters, and tweeted their outrage using the “#WheresRey” hashtag…. The controversy reached its climax when Hasbro, the maker of the game, said Rey will be represented in new editions.

To see whether Rey’s absence was local to Monopoly or more widespread across all “Force Awakens” toys, I did what any sensible data journalist would do: I went to a toy store. Well, a digital one. Toys R Us lists 256 toys in their online “Force Awakens” store, but only 70 of them include any of the major characters introduced in the new movie. Rey holds her own among this group.

“Rey holds her own”? I guess so. She and Finn are the main heroes of the movie, and they’re pretty close in the toy competition. The real news here is a clear anti-human bias: the biggest toy winners are Kylo and Captain Phasma, who spend most or all of the movie in masks, and BB-8, a droid so calculatingly adorable as to bring back involuntary memories of Ewoks.

Anyway, as long as we’re on the subject, you’ve probably all been waiting on the edges of your seats wondering what I thought of the movie. Well, the first week it was too crowded, so I didn’t go. I’m too old for standing in line. The next week, the kids were still out of school, and a friend was visiting who had no interest in the movie. The next week, my mother’s car broke, so I loaned her mine and had no way to get to the theater. By the time I got my car back, I had come down with a cold and didn’t feel like going. So it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally I saw it.

And I was stunned. I was prepared for anything from bad to pretty good, but it turned out to be stultifyingly boring. There’s nothing “wrong” with SWTFA. The acting is OK. The dialog is OK. The effects are OK. The pacing is OK. The direction is OK. The editing is OK. The characters are OK. As a piece of craft, it’s fine. But when you put it all together it’s two hours of nothing. And yet, the residents of Earth have spent a billion dollars on tickets! What the hell is wrong with you people?

The movie’s big mystery, of course, is “Who is Rey?” The answer is, “Who cares?” Here’s my guess: she’s a clone constructed from a preserved pubic hair of Obi-Wan Kenobi. We’ll find out in the exciting sequel!

Anyway, JJ Abrams has now ruined Lost. He’s ruined Star Trek. And he’s ruined Star Wars. He’s a one-man wrecking crew. But there’s a silver lining: at least I can now say with confidence that I’ll never waste money seeing a JJ Abrams production again.

And now for the worst part. I never thought it was possible I’d say this, but I have marginally more respect for George Lucas’s prequels now. They may have sucked, but at least he tried.

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We Can All Breathe a Sigh of Relief: Star Wars Toymakers are Not Agents of the Patriarchy

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VW Tries to Blame Engine Emissions Fraud on Low-Level "Engineers and Technicians"

Mother Jones

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I guess it was just a few bad apples. That’s a relief:

Volkswagen has blamed its emissions scandal on a “small group” of people and has suspended a number of staff as Matthias Müller was unveiled as its new chief executive.

….Berthold Huber, the acting head of VW’s supervisory board, called the crisis a “moral and policy disaster”….“The test manipulations are a moral and political disaster for Volkswagen. The unlawful behaviour of engineers and technicians involved in engine development shocked Volkswagen just as much as it shocked the public.”

This is ridiculous. What incentive do low-level engineers and technicians have to do this on their own? Hell, they couldn’t even take on a project like this unless their managers OKed the time to do it, and their managers wouldn’t do it unless they were being pressed by higher-ups. Anybody who’s ever worked at a big corporation knows this perfectly well. And according to Bloomberg, that’s exactly what happened:

Volkswagen AG executives in Germany controlled the key aspects of emissions tests whose results the carmaker now admits were faked, according to three people familiar with the company’s U.S. operations.

….Their accounts show the chain of command and those involved in the deception stretched to Volkswagen headquarters…. Ulrich Hackenberg…. Wolfgang Hatz are among those who will leave the company in the wake of Winterkorn’s resignation two days ago, two people familiar with the matter said. The two previously ran units at the heart of the affair — Hackenberg, a Winterkorn confidant, was responsible for VW brand development from 2007 to 2013, while Hatz ran the group’s motor development from 2007 to 2011.

Will it go even higher? Stay tuned. However, I’ll call BS on UBS, which apparently thinks this scandal “could signal the eventual end of the combustion engine.” Please. There’s no difficulty “amassing accurate data” on engine emissions, as one of their analysts suggests. VW amassed very precise data. They just chose to hide it by means of a calculated, premeditated, multi-year fraud. Anyone who hasn’t done the same should be in fine shape.

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VW Tries to Blame Engine Emissions Fraud on Low-Level "Engineers and Technicians"

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Native American Actors Walk Off Set of New Adam Sandler Movie Over Racist Jokes

Mother Jones

About a dozen Native American actors quit the set of a new Adam Sandler film, produced by Netflix, to protest the script’s portrayal of Apache culture and what the actors claim are racist jokes about native women and elders.

According to a report by Indian Country, the actors of “The Ridiculous Six,” a spoof of the classic western flick “The Magnificent Seven,” complained to producers about the offensive stereotypes, which include the naming of female characters as Beaver’s Breath and No Bra. One scene also has a native woman “squatting and urinating while smoking a peace pipe.”

Allison Young, a Navajo Nation tribal member and student, said the actors talked to the producers and told them what they found offensive. “They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave,'”she said. “I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way.”

Loren Anthony, another tribal member and actor, told Indian Country that while he initially had reservations about appearing in the film, producers had assured him the jokes would not be racist. But from the very beginning, he said, things “started getting weird” and what were supposed to be jokes were simply offensive.

On set, going to brawl out with Nick Nolte. #TheRidiculousSix #NickNolte #NMfilm #NM #film #SAGfilm #LasVegasNM #movies #NativeActor #Acting #Actor #hollywood #Comedy #NativePride #NativeAmerican

A photo posted by Loren Anthony (@lorenanthony) on Apr 21, 2015 at 7:31am PDT

Netflix defends the film as a supposed satire. “The movie has ‘ridiculous’ in the title for a reason: because it is ridiculous,” the company said in a statement. “It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of—but in on—the joke.”

“The Ridiculous Six” follows a string of flops for Sandler, whose recent films include the 2012 movie “Jack and Jill,” which succeeded in winning every single category at the Razzies that year. His latest production stars Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, Will Forte, and Vanilla Ice. A preview of what that looks like below:

Awesome time with all my fellow Native’s – Navajo, Apache, Comanche, Choctaw. Cherokee.

A photo posted by Vanilla Ice â&#156;… (@vanillaiceofficial) on Apr 23, 2015 at 8:14pm PDT

“Nothing has changed,” Young says. “We are still just Hollywood Indians.”

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Native American Actors Walk Off Set of New Adam Sandler Movie Over Racist Jokes

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