SciFi Friday: Kristen Bell Joins Heroes This Week; Kirk Cast: Star Wars Comes to Television

Kristen Bell’s first appearance on Heroes will be on Monday’s episode, but this will be followed by two episodes without her before she returns. Kristen Bell and Tim Kring live blogged at The TV Addict and here’s a bit of the information they provided:

Kristen Bell: My character Elle has a lot of information about Peter’s past.

Kristen Bell: Elle has ties to HRG and to Claire and there’s going to be a very interesting dynamic between her and Claire. There’s going to be a deeper relationship than what fans may be expecting. Elle also has ties to Suresh as well. And she’s a little messed up in the head. She doesn’t have many boundaries which I think is what makes her so interesting. Elle very much enjoys her powers and the emotional power it gives her.

Tim Kring: Elle is tied very closely to The Company. And she acts as a cautionary tale to the rest of the HEROES.

SciFI Wire also reports that Bell’s character will be looking for Peter Petrelli and meets up with him in Ireland. She has also expressed a desire to work with Zachary Quinto (pictured with her above), who she has been friends with for several years. Bell has signed to appear in at least thirteen episodes.

Quinto will also be playing Spock and we now have the identities of the other lead characters in the upcoming Star Trek movie. Chris Pine will play James T. Kirk and Karl Urban will play Dr. Leonard McCoy. There continues to be lots of rumors going around that William Shatner will have a role in the movie along with more denials. Those saying he will appear have no word as to how they will get around the problem that they foolishly killed off his character in Generations.

If we might have have Star Trek without William Shatner, why not Star Wars without Luke Skywalker? George Lucas is working on a television version of Star Wars but without the characters of the movies:

Filmmaker George Lucas said Tuesday that he has “just begun work” on a live-action television series rooted in the “Star Wars” universe, which is huge news not just for fans of the science-fiction epic but also for networks looking for a piece of the Lucas magic that has grossed $4.3 billion in theaters worldwide.

There is a caveat, though: The proposed series doesn’t have anyone named Luke or Anakin in it, a story path that Lucas concedes is “taking chances” as far as connecting with an audience expecting the familiar mythology.

“The Skywalkers aren’t in it, and it’s about minor characters,” Lucas said in an interview. “It has nothing to do with Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader or any of those people. It’s completely different. But it’s a good idea, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to do.”

Obama and Clinton Appealing to Different Democratic Voters

The previous post dealt with those of us who do not entirely agree with the orthodoxy of either political party. This year Barack Obama is receiving the support of some voters who fit this description. Ronald Brownstein compares the views of Obama and Hillary Clinton, finding that Clinton’s views are more characteristic of the old New Deal coalition while ironically Obama appeals more to the new Democratic voters who Bill Clinton brought into the party:

Proposal by proposal, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are constructing policy agendas that present their party with mirror-image choices.

On domestic policy, Obama has shown much greater willingness than Clinton to challenge liberal orthodoxy and the powerful Democratic interest groups that defend it. On national security, though, Clinton has pushed against the party’s left-of-center consensus while Obama has embraced it. One candidate offers conformity at home and apostasy abroad; the other, the opposite.

Historical parallels are never exact, but with her tough-minded foreign policy, populist-tinged domestic agenda, and electoral coalition centered on blue-collar voters, Clinton looks like a 21st-century version of such classic New Deal Democrats as George Meany and Henry Jackson. By contrast, with his reformist domestic agenda, generally dovish foreign policy, and appeal to voters with college degrees, Obama recalls brainy neoliberals such as Gary Hart who emerged in opposition to the New Deal vision three decades ago…

Clinton hasn’t dodged all confrontations with Democratic interests. Her carefully constructed universal health care plan would require all individuals to buy insurance — an idea that most labor unions loathe. (Obama’s health plan has no such requirement.) She has also pledged to uphold fiscal discipline. But nothing in her domestic portfolio challenges Democratic sensibilities as much as her husband did by embracing welfare reform in 1992. Obama, even with his recent jab at “triangulation,” has been closer on domestic issues to the spirit of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, when he promised to unite the country by challenging “brain-dead” thinking in both parties…

Ironically, Clinton is speaking primarily to the Democratic coalition that existed before her husband’s presidency, while Obama is closer to the upscale new voters that Bill Clinton attracted to the party.

Obama has made many statements which at least raise the possibility that he sees beyond the “brain-dead” thinking. Unfortunately another aspect of his limited experience is lack of a track record on many national issues. Political campaigns tend to cause politicians to present more simplistic statements and adjust their views to those expected to play well that year. In 2003-4 I supported John Kerry primarily based upon what I saw in his public statements and record from prior to the race (and I still wonder if he would have had been more successful in the election if the real Kerry as opposed to the version created by the political experts had been out there campaigning). Obama has periodically promised to provide more details on his plans should he be elected. I continue to look forward to seeing this.

Oversimplificaton in Libertarian versus Big Government Choices

Michael Kinsley predicts that libertarians are rising but the more notable aspect of his essay is in showing how dividing politicians along libertarian versus big government grounds is not as easy as it may seem. I would take his arguments further to add that a choice versus libertarianism and big government is an over-simplification as is the belief that libertarian candidates are always those who would bring about more freedom. Kinsley begins:

To oversimplify: Democrats are for Big Government; Republicans are against it.

To oversimplify somewhat less, Democrats aren’t always for Big Government, and Republicans aren’t always against it. Democrats treasure civil liberties, whereas Republicans are more tolerant of government censorship to protect children from pornography, or of wiretapping to catch a criminal, or of torture in the war against terrorism. War in general and Iraq in particular–certainly Big Government exercises–are projects Republicans tend to be more enthusiastic about. Likewise the criminal process: Republicans tend to want to make more things illegal and to send more people to jail for longer. Republicans also consider themselves more concerned about the moral tone of the country, and they are more disposed toward using the government in trying to improve it. In particular, Republicans think religion needs more help from society, through the government, while Democrats are touchier about the separation of church and state.

Many people feel that neither party offers a coherent set of principles that they can agree with. For them, the choice is whether you believe in Big Government or you don’t. And if you don’t, you call yourself a libertarian. Libertarians are against government in all its manifestations. Domestically, they are against social-welfare programs. They favor self-reliance (as they see it) over Big Government spending. Internationally, they are isolationists. Like George Washington, they loathe “foreign entanglements,” and they think the rest of the world can go to hell without America’s help. They don’t care–or at least they don’t think the government should care–about what people are reading, thinking, drinking, smoking or doing in bed. And what is the opposite of libertarianism? Libertarians would say fascism. But in the American political context, it is something infinitely milder that calls itself communitarianism. The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights.

The relationship of these two ways of thinking to the two established parties is peculiar. Republicans are far more likely to identify themselves as libertarians and to vilify the government in the abstract. And yet Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us. Now that the Republican Party is in trouble, critics are advising it to free itself of the religious right on issues like abortion and gay rights. That is, the party should become less communitarian and more libertarian. With Democrats, it’s the other way around.

Very few Democrats self-identify as libertarians, but they are in fact much more likely to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world. And every time the Democrats lose an election, critics scold that they must put less emphasis on the sterile rights of individuals and more emphasis on responsibilities to society. That is, they should become less libertarian and more communitarian. Usually this boils down to advocating mandatory so-called voluntary national service by people younger than whoever is doing the advocating.

There are actually many Democrats who self-identify as leaning libertarian, and few Democrats who would believe that a live-and-let-live attitude towards Islamofascist dictators is an accurate description of their foreign policy beliefs. Beyond these points, Kinsley does describe the dilemma that I, and many other voters face in choosing between Democrats and Republicans. We want a government which is liberal on social issues and respects separation of church and state. On economic issues the choice is less clear as we oppose both the corporate welfare of the Republicans and the big spending special interest politics of many Democrats.

The error in Kinsley’s argument is to assume that the libertarians offer the solution to this dilemma. While the views I describe above lean in a libertarian direction, many who hold such views differ from strict libertarianism in not necessarily opposing all government programs. Libertarians argue that all government is bad, and then ignore any evidence of situations where government action is beneficial. Consistent libertarians would support the total dismantling of all social welfare programs, while many of us do support maintaining a safety net. For us, a realignment along a choice of a libertarian versus a big government party could be beneficial, but not if the only choice is pure libertarianism versus big government.

The choice of a libertarian adds additional complications when the libertarian candidate is not really so libertarian. Ron Paul has been running more as a social conservative than a libertarian on many issues, and many fear that Paul’s beliefs would actually result in a reduction of liberty despite his libertarian rhetoric.

Paul’s view of the Constitution radically differs from established views as well the pro-liberty view in a few areas. Paul fails to recognize the profoundly secular nature of the main body of the Constitution as well as the intended meaning of the First Amendment. Paul, as well as many of his supporters, promote the same revisionist history advocated by the religious right which denies the separation of church and state intended by the founding fathers. Paul takes this further in advocating policies which would effectively repeal separation of church and state such as backing Constitutional amendments supporting school prayer. In addition to my recent post on this topic, Ed Brayton raised similar issues yesterday. Ed also points out Paul’s endorsement from Christian reconstructionists such as Gary North, who was previously on his staff. Orcinus has several posts documenting Paul’s relationship with extremist groups.

Paul also ignores the extension the original Bill of Rights to acts of the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, he is inconsistent on this point. He cites states rights as justification for his opposition to abortion rights, however he also voted for the federal ban on so-called partial birth abortions. As you go to smaller levels of government it is more likely that a repressive group can obtain a majority vote in a region to restrict rights. Questions of individual rights must not be determined by majority vote in a region if we are to preserve our liberties.

Paul’s opposition to the principles of separation of church and state, along with his opposition to defending rights on a federal level, make his views highly attractive to the far right and Neo-Nazi groups which have endorsed him. The fact that he often seems to encourage such support also increases skepticism of him. As a blogger at Orcinus who reviewed Paul’s association with extremist groups which are hostile to freedom recently warned:

If America ever becomes a fascist state, it will be Ron Paul’s long-time followers who bring it about. And we — progressives, miniorities, feminists, gays, “intellectuals,” and Jews like Maher and Stewart — with be the first ones to feel their genocidal rage. We cannot overlook his long association with far-right extremists just because he agrees with us that the war is wrong and pot should be legal. If Bush has taught us anything, it’s that we need to hold ourselves and our candidates to much higher standards than that. What we choose to overlook now, we will live to regret later.

Michael Kinsley began his essay by showing the problems of over-simplification of the views of Democrats and Republicans. This applies just as much to those who call themselves libertarians.

Obama Has Learned From Failure of Dean Campaign in Iowa

Yesterday I looked at how John Edwards’ campaign which extends to the rural areas of Iowa leaves him with the possibility of winning in the state. This does not mean that the other candidates are leaving the state wide open for him. I don’t think that anyone would doubt that Clinton is organizing a full scale campaign, and Obama is also working to avoid suffering the same fate as Howard Dean by making his campaign more than an internet movement:

But aides said Obama’s intensive ground operation also fits the strategy of trying to leverage the enthusiasm he has generated among his core supporters. With Obama’s appeal to independents, he also could benefit from expanding the universe of caucus and primary voters beyond the most partisan Democrats. The campaign would especially like to increase participation among historically low-turnout young and minority voters, from whom Obama enjoys strong support.

In Iowa, where anyone who will be 18 by the November 2008 election is eligible for the caucuses, the campaign has set up “Barack Stars” chapters at high schools around the state. The campaign is collecting cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses of supporters in colleges so they can be reached during the run-up to caucus night, which is likely to come while colleges still are on holiday break.

Any scenario for Obama winning the Democratic nomination depends heavily on his performance in Iowa. Michelle Obama, the candidate’s wife, recently said that unless he wins Iowa, the White House bid is no more than “a dream.” And even campaign advisers wary of setting high expectations acknowledge Obama must at least “come close” in Iowa.

Iowa is where the campaign phenomenon of 2004, Howard Dean and the Internet-based movement of orange-hatted “Deaniacs” who flooded into the state during the weeks before the caucuses, collapsed in spectacular defeat. The organizational shortcomings that contributed to Dean’s loss have served as a lesson in what not to do for the Obama campaign.

“There’s been a lot of talk of Barack Obama campaigning as a movement, but it’s also a very organized effort,” said Mitch Stewart, Obama’s Iowa caucus director.

Every morning, Stewart, a lanky, 6-foot-4 South Dakota native, pores over an Excel spreadsheet on his laptop computer, scrolling through daily updates. How many supporters has the campaign identified? How many voters contacted? How many precinct captains recruited? How many trained for caucus night?

The numbers are tabulated county by county, precinct by precinct, field organizer by field organizer, set against goals for each.

“If, for whatever reason, one organizer is struggling, we can get someone in there to help,” Stewart explained.

On a recent evening at the campaign’s Des Moines headquarters, about 50 people gathered in a corner for a training session for caucus precinct captains. A campaign staffer diagramed the layout of a typical caucus room, using a blue marker to draw circles and X’s on white butcher paper.

In the Iowa caucuses, which have none of the electioneering restrictions common to polling places, tricks of the trade include positioning friendly greeters at the front of the room to slap stickers on supporters and guide them to the corner of the room where the candidate’s followers will be counted; distributing baked treats to keep them there; and deploying “corralers” at the edge of the camp to dissuade waverers from wandering.

At Obama headquarters recently, volunteers and paid campaign staffers worked phone banks set up on folding tables.

Laptop computer screens displayed information on voters as they were called. For Obama supporters, the screens often showed 10 or more lines, each indicating a separate attempt to reach them. Each time a campaign worker speaks to a voter, he or she is supposed to enter a fresh reading of the voter’s inclinations.

Among the mistakes of the Dean campaign that the Obama operation is determined not to repeat is an unrealistic count of supporters. The Obama camp’s policy is to try to check in with each supporter once every three weeks.

And that’s not the only way the campaign is testing its operation. It is planning to host precinct-level house parties for supporters across the state, all on the same evening, a month before the caucuses—essentially a dry run for the big night.

As we saw in 2004, advanced polls out of Iowa mean very little and the candidate with the strongest ground game can greatly surpass expectations.

Dodd Places Hold on Telecom Immunity

TPM Election Central reports that Chris Dodd is placing a hold on the telecommunications immunity bill. Glenn Greenwald provided background:

Let’s just describe very factually and dispassionately what has happened here. Congress — led by Senators, such as Jay Rockefeller, who have received huge payments from the telecom industry, and by privatized intelligence pioneer Mike McConnell, former Chairman of the secretive intelligence industry association that has been demanding telecom amnesty — is going to intervene directly in the pending lawsuits against AT&T and other telecoms and declare them the winners on the ground that they did nothing wrong. Because of their vast ties to the telecoms, neither Rockefeller nor McConnell could ever appropriately serve as an actual judge in those lawsuits.

Yet here they are, meeting and reviewing secret documents and deciding amongst themselves to end all pending lawsuits in favor of their benefactors — AT&T, Verizon and others. Let me quote again from that 1998 Foreign Affairs essay by Thomas Carothers helpfully outlining the steps required to install the “rule of law” in third-world, pre-democracy countries:

Type three reforms aim at the deeper goal of increasing government’s compliance with law. A key step is achieving genuine judicial independence. . . . But the most crucial changes lie elsewhere. Above all, government officials must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making and accept the judiciary as an independent authority.

The question of whether the telecoms acted in “good faith” in allowing warrantless government spying on their customers is already pending before a court of law. In fact, that is one of the central issues in the current lawsuits — one that AT&T has already lost in a federal court.Yet that is the issue that Jay Rockefeller and Mike McConnell — operating in secret — are taking away from the courts by passing a law declaring the telecoms to have won (“Senators this week began reviewing classified documents . . . and came away from that early review convinced that the companies had ‘acted in good faith’ in cooperating with what they believed was a legal and presidentially authorized program”). They are directly interfering in these lawsuits and issuing a “ruling” in favor of AT&T and other telecoms that is exactly the opposite of the one an actual court of law has already issued…

Just think about what is really happening here. AT&T’s customers sued them for violating their privacy in violation of long-standing federal laws and for violating their Fourth Amendment rights. Even with the most expensive armies of lawyers possible, AT&T and other telecoms are losing in a court of law. The federal judge presiding over the case ruled against them — ruled that the law is so clear they could not possibly have believed that what they did was legal — and most observers, having heard the Oral Argument on appeal, predicted that they will lose in the Court of Appeals, too.

So AT&T and other telecoms went to Washington and — led by Bush 41 Attorney General (and now Verizon General Counsel) William Barr, and in cooperation with their former colleague, Mike McConnell — began paying former government officials such as Dan Coats and Jamie Gorelick to convince political officials to whom they give money, such as Jay Rockefeller, to pass a law declaring them the victors in these lawsuits and be relieved of all liability — all based on assertions that a court of law has already rejected. They are literally buying a judicial victory in Congress — just like Carothers warned that third-world countries must avoid if they want to become functioning democracies under the “rule of law” (“Above all, government officials must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making”).

Dodd caught my attention towards the end of the New Hampshire debate when he mentioned restoring our Constitutional rights as a top priority and I was hoping to hear more from him on this subject. I can’t help but wonder if this is an election year ploy, including the increasingly common web site petition or if he does have a longer history on Constitutional issues. I will need to take a closer look at his record, including when he was not a running for the presidential nomination. Glenn Greenwald did write that , “Chris Dodd has been, by far, the most vocal Democratic presidential candidate on the issues of executive power abuses and restoring our constitutional framework.” Hopefully I can find more evidence of this.