SciFi Weekend: Star Wars; Independence Day 2; Jurassic World; The Flash; Arrow; Supergirl; Gotham; Agent Carter; Constantine; Doctor Who; Selfie; Frozen

There has been a lot of news on sequels to classic science fiction movies. The teaser for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (video above) has received considerable attention, and has led to more speculation as to the movie and the future of the Star Wars universe. There might not be that much information, but several people have broken it down scene by scene to see what can be learned. There is discussion of the trailer here, here, here, here, and here.

Other science fiction classics are also being remade, including Jurassic Park which is discussed below. Fox is planning to release Independence Day 2 on July 4, 2016. Of course for those who don’t want to wait a year or longer, many science fiction movies came out this year. What Culture has picked their list of ten best sci-fi movies of 2014. Some like Interstellar are original movies while others like the two Marvel movies (X-Men and Captain America), Godzilla, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are also sequels or remakes of earlier movies.

The trailer for Jurassic World is above. Film discussed the movie (and leaks of the plot) with director Colin Trevorrow. As is the case with many blockbuster science fiction films, liberties are taken with the science. Trevorrow described the premise:

Yes. Jurassic World takes place in a fully functional park on Isla Nublar. It sees more than 20,000 visitors every day. You arrive by ferry from Costa Rica. It has elements of a biological preserve, a safari, a zoo, and a theme park. There is a luxury resort with hotels, restaurants, nightlife and a golf course. And there are dinosaurs. Real ones. You can get closer to them than you ever imagined possible. It’s the realization of John Hammond’s dream, and I think you’ll want to go there…

This film picks up twenty-two years after Jurassic Park. When Derek [Connolly] and I sat down to find the movie, we looked at the past two decades and talked about what we’ve seen. Two things came to the surface.

One was that money has been the gasoline in the engine of our biggest mistakes. If there are billions to be made, no one can resist them, even if they know things could end horribly.

The other was that our relationship with technology has become so woven into our daily lives, we’ve become numb to the scientific miracles around us. We take so much for granted.

Those two ideas felt like they could work together. What if, despite previous disasters, they built a new biological preserve where you could see dinosaurs walk the earth…and what if people were already kind of over it? We imagined a teenager texting his girlfriend with his back to a T-Rex behind protective glass. For us, that image captured the way much of the audience feels about the movies themselves. “We’ve seen CG dinosaurs. What else you got?” Next year, you’ll see our answer.

Flash Arrow Crossover

The crossover episodes of The Flash and Arrow are on this week but these might not be the only crossovers coming up. CBS owns CW and there are hints that their upcoming Supergirl television show will be in the same universe as The Flash and Arrow, allowing for crossover episodes between these DC characters. However, while you might think that having Supergirl in the television universe would lead to at least mention of Superman, as of now this will not be allowed. Neither Metropolis or Gotham City will be mentioned either. From IGN:

Unfortunately for those hoping to see the Dark Knight show up on the shows, Arrow and Flash executive producer Andrew Kreisberg stressed that anything you see referencing Batman on the show is “a tease.”

Explained Kreisberg, “Obviously, they have the Batman movies and there’s [the series] Gotham. DC are amazing partners and Geoff Johns, who’s the chief creative officer [of DC] and one of the developers of Flash and done episodes of Arrow, he’s been with us from the very beginning on both shows. There are things we can do and things we can’t.”

Kreisberg noted, “I’m a huge fan of Nightwing,” and how exciting it was for him on Arrow “Getting to name check Blüdhaven and go there.” However, he said there are still restrictions in place even when it came to mentioning locations, adding, “There’s the cities that we can use and then there’s everything else. I don’t think you’re going to be hearing ‘Gotham’ or ‘Metropolis’ [on Arrow or The Flash] anytime soon.”

We do know that among the many DC-based TV series in development is Titans at TNT, which would feature Dick Grayson in his Nightwing persona. So could that show directly mention Gotham City and Bruce Wayne/Batman – or even go to Gotham and have an appearance by Bruce? Or is the Gotham TV show seen as the only place where a version of Bruce Wayne will be seen on TV right now? These questions and more — including how directly Superman can be mentioned on CBS’ upcoming Suprgirl TV show — are all ones we’ll slowly find out the answers too as DC expands into more TV shows and films.

There has been one tease and one indirect connection between The Flash and Gotham. I did notice a reference to Wayne Tech in a newspaper headline on The Flash. Morena Baccarin did the computer AI voice at STAR Labs on The Flash and will also be playing Dr. Leslie Thompkins on Gotham. Of course this also provides a connection to the multiple other genre shows she has appeared in.

Den of Geek has teasers, interviews, and other information on the upcoming Flash/Arrow crossover episode. Arrow also teased an ATOM suit for Ray Palmer in a recent episode, providing the possibility of yet another superhero becoming involved. There are also questions as to where Caitlin Snow’s character is going on The Flash. In the comics she is a villain named Killer Frost and Danielle Panabaker, the actress who plays here, states her evolution might take place sooner rather than later. Then there is the bigger mystery of what Harrison Wells is up to and whether he is the one who killed Barry’s mother. Theories range from Wells being Barry Allen’s future self to be being the Reverse Flash. With time travel clearly important to the Harrison Wells storyline, it is notable that a recent episode showed that time can be changed.

Gotham finally had a bigger role for young Bruce Wayne which involved food fights and even a kiss with Selena Kyle. Plus Alfred is practically a superhero on final fall episode.

I am looking forward to Agent Carter but what is the deal with the network promotion of the show with, “Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman.” This is 2014 and just because the show takes place in the 1940’s is not justification for using 1940’s ideas on women to promote the show.

Constantine has not been as successful for NBC as The Flash and Arrow have been for CW and NBC has decided not to go beyond the original thirteen episodes for this season. The producers are still hoping to be renewed, even if limited to thirteen episode seasons (which could be a plus quality-wise).

Doctor-Who-Christmas-Special. 2014

The synopsis for the Doctor Who Christmas special has been released: “The Doctor and Clara face their Last Christmas. Trapped on an Arctic base, under attack from terrifying creatures, who are you going to call? Santa Claus!” There is even more drama beyond the terrifying creatures.

Steven Moffat has never liked spoilers and in the past has said he would like to be able to keep it a secret until an episode in which the Doctor regenerated airs, but this is not possible. At least he is getting the opportunity to surprise fans with the fate of Clara Oswald. The Mirror, which initially claimed prior to the start of the past season that Jenna Coleman was leaving Doctor Who in the Christmas special now states that she had decided to remain, leading to a rewrite. When other sources such as Radio Times tried to get an answer, the BBC just told them they would have to wait for the Christmas episode.

Hulu has picked up the remaining six episodes of Selfie remaining after it was canceled by ABC.

Idina Menzel was interviewed by The Telegraph and it sounds like a sequel to Frozen is in the works.

Totally off topic, but I can’t resist noting that Rudy Giuliani’s comments on race following the events in Ferguson sound the best in the original German.

North Carolina Study Looks At Republican Advantage Due To Gerrymandering

Republicans control both houses of Congress but this does not mean that they represent a majority of the voters. They control the Senate due to small Republican states having the same number of Senators as larger Democratic states. Republicans benefit in the House due to the concentration of Democrats in urban areas, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of seats by larger numbers. The Republican advantage in the House has been increased due to gerrymandering.

North Carolina Public Radio has looked at a study on the effect of gerrymandering in North Carolina:

Back in 2012, more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina’s Congressional elections. But Republicans ended up winning nine out of the state’s 13 seats that year. Those numbers piqued the interest of researchers at Duke, who decided to seek a mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. They recently published a study with their results…

When Mattingly and Vaughn tabulated what would have happened had residents voted the same way but in differently drawn districts, they were surprised. Mattingly turns to his computer to pull up their work, which summarizes how the balance of the congressional seats would have come out under those 100 different maps.

“Right here, if you look at what’s happening,” explains Mattingly, “here we have this bar chart with seven and eight Democrats elected. That happened over 50 percent of the time- and the vast majority of the time we had somewhere between six and nine Democrats elected over 95 percent of the time.”

Mattingly says this chart- and the rest of the study- shows mathematically that the outcome of the 2012 congressional election- with four Democrats elected- was not representative of how people voted.

Gerrymandering currently helps Republicans more than usual because of Republicans taking over the state legislature in several states in the 2010 Republican sweep, taking place in a midterm election year when Republicans have an advantage. Democrats will have an advantage in battles for control of the state legislature in 2020 due to their advantage in general election years.

Republicans Plan To Use Increased Power After Midterms To Restrict Access To Abortion

Remember how the Republicans talked about down playing social issues going into the midterm elections? Now that they are in office, the party of limited government is returning to its agenda of using big government to impose its views upon others. Politco reports on The coming wave of anti-abortion laws–New GOP state legislatures will make access to abortion harder than ever.

The big Republican gains in the November elections strengthened and enlarged the anti-abortion forces in the House and the Senate. But it’s the GOP victories in the statehouses and governor’s mansions that are priming the ground for another round of legal restrictions on abortion.

Arkansas, for instance, already has strict anti-abortion laws. But with a Republican governor succeeding a Democrat who had vetoed two measures that would have banned most abortions beyond a certain stage of pregnancy, lawmakers plan to seek more restrictions — such as barring doctors from administering abortion drugs through telemedicine. Republican gains in the West Virginia Legislature will redouble pressure on Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to accept a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks, which he has previously deemed unconstitutional. And Tennessee voters approved a ballot initiative that removes a 15-year barrier to legislation limiting abortion legislation in that deeply conservative state.

Abortion rights advocates have had setbacks in the states for several years, with a surge of legislative activity since 2011. Women seeking abortions may face mandatory waiting periods or ultrasound requirements. Clinics may face stricter building codes or hospital admitting privilege rules they can’t satisfy. Dozens of clinics have shut down in multiple states. Texas, for instance, has fewer than 10 abortion clinics now. A year ago, it had 40…

Republican leaders who will control the U.S. Senate come January say they want to take up abortion this year, perhaps on a House-passed bill that would limit the procedure after 20 weeks. But the reality is that Senate Republicans will still fall a few votes shy of the 60 needed for controversial major legislation. It’s the states where Republicans can enact more abortion limits.

“We came out of Nov. 4th with a lot of momentum,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the research and education arm of Susan B. Anthony List, which is dedicated to electing candidates who oppose abortion. He expects the number of anti-abortion measures proposed in the states to reflect that. “I think we’re about to get another uptick.”

Thirteen states have passed bans on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — so-called fetal pain bills — and a couple have enacted earlier limits tied to when a fetal heartbeat is first detected, which can be six or seven weeks into a pregnancy. Several of these state laws are being contested in court, and the arguments may eventually end up in the Supreme Court. But that hasn’t deterred more states from eyeing such legislation; in Ohio, a House panel approved a fetal heartbeat bill just a few days ago.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards predicts that 2015 will bring more attempts to enact restrictive state laws. She said she expects “state legislative attacks on women’s health, even though the vast majority of the public wants elected officials to protect and expand access to safe and legal abortion, birth control and preventive health care.”

In some states with Republican control of the legislature there remains hope that any anti-abortion legislation will be vetoed. For example, in Nevada  Republican Governor Brian Sandoval supports keeping abortion legal. The Republican capture of control of both chambers of the state legislature in New Hampshire will be countered by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan who backs abortion rights.

While this article dealt with abortion, based upon recent history it is also likely that Republicans will use their power to restrict access to contraception.

More Views On The Injustice In Ferguson

Two recent posts (here and here) deal with how a different system of “justice” was applied in Ferguson in order to protect a police officer from facing trial in a situation where anyone else would be tried. This has also been a trend in other parts of the country, with it being very rare for police officers to face criminal charges in shootings. The posts were also cross posted at The Moderate Voice and the first post has quite a lengthy discussion of this issue. (The second post was cross posted there at approximately the same time as this is being posted so I do not know yet whether the discussion will be extended there.)

As information has come out about the proceedings at Ferguson, many others have also expressed similar concerns that the system was abused to protect Darren Wilson from facing a trial in the shooting of Michael Brown despite their being sufficient evidence to establish probable cause. This includes libertarian as well as liberal sites. At Hit and Run, Jacob Sullum wrote that Darren Wilson Got a Private Trial Run by Friendly Prosecutors:

As I noted yesterday, the likelihood that Darren Wilson would have been acquitted if he had faced a homicide charge in connection with the death of Michael Brown does not mean he should not have been indicted. As you go through the evidence that was presented to the grand jury, two things are clear: There is plenty of room for reasonable doubt as to whether Wilson broke the law when he shot and killed Brown, and there is considerable evidence that he did—surely enough to supply probable cause, the standard for charging someone with a crime. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch managed to obscure the latter point by staging what amounted to a trial behind closed doors—a trial without a judge or an adversarial process. Assuming the jurors were acting in good faith (and there is no reason to think they weren’t), the only explanation for their decision is that they lost sight of the task at hand and considered the evidence as if they were being asked to convict Wilson rather than approve charges that would have led to a real trial.

It is not hard to see how the grand jurors could have made that mistake. McCulloch said he would present all of the evidence collected so far—everything a trial jury would see and hear. The jurors convened on 23 days, hearing testimony that takes up nearly 5,000 pages of transcript, not including the various recorded interviews played for them. Instead of making the case for an indictment, as they ordinarily would do, the prosecutors running the show often seemed to be reinforcing Wilson’s defense, as when they suggested that marijuana-induced psychosis might account for the ferocious attack that Wilson says he suffered at Brown’s hands and for the heedless charge that Wilson says forced him to shoot Brown over and over again.

McCulloch clearly thought an elaborate grand jury process, coupled with public release of all the evidence presented to the jurors, would help keep the peace and mollify critics who feared that Wilson would get away with murder. But a real trial, even one ending in acquittal, would have been much more effective at achieving those goals. A public airing of the evidence, with ample opportunity for advocates on both sides to present and probe it, is what Brown’s family has been demanding all along. McCulloch took extraordinary steps to deny them that trial, thereby reinforcing the impression that the legal system is rigged against young black men and in favor of the white cops who shoot them.

Clive Cook wrote:

A jury may well have found Wilson innocent. Much of the evidence, so far as one can tell, leans in his favor. But there should unquestionably have been a trial. If you ask me, probable cause to indict him for unlawful killing resided in the single word “unarmed” — and that’s to say nothing of the conflicting testimony about whether an already wounded Michael Brown was about to attack Wilson when the fatal shots were fired.

The larger issue — and in this system I see no way to address it — is that in cases such as these, the law-enforcement complex is judging its own conduct. Police and prosecutors seem to get bigger guns and more powers every time policymakers turn their attention to the subject; the trend never seems to go the other way. With this growing and potentially tyrannical power goes the vital necessity of ensuring that officers of the law are held properly to account. And they aren’t. It’s as simple as that.

Jeffrey Toobin discussed how grand juries are used:

In Missouri, as elsewhere, grand juries are known as tools of prosecutors. In the famous words of Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich” if he wanted to. This is certainly true, but it is true, too, that grand juries retain at least a nominal independence. They usually do what prosecutors want, but they are not legally required to.

In sending Wilson’s case to the grand jury, McCulloch technically turned over to them the decision about whether to prosecute. By submitting all the evidence to the grand jury, he added to the perception that this process represented an independent evaluation of the evidence. But there is little doubt that he remained largely in control of the process; aggressive advocacy by prosecutors could have persuaded the grand jurors to vote for some kind of indictment. The standard for such charges—probable cause, or more probable than not—is generally a very easy hurdle. If McCulloch’s lawyers had simply pared down the evidence to that which incriminated Wilson, they would have easily obtained an indictment.

The grand jury chose not to indict Wilson for any crimes in connection with Brown’s death. In a news conference following the decision, McCulloch laid out the evidence that he believed supported the grand jury’s finding. In making the case for Wilson’s innocence, McCulloch cherry-picked the most exculpatory information from what was assembled before the grand jury. The conclusion may even have been correct; based on a preliminary review of the evidence before the grand jury, it’s not clear to me that a trial jury would have found Wilson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the goal of criminal law is to be fair—to treat similarly situated people similarly—as well as to reach just results. McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else. Buried underneath every scrap of evidence McCulloch could find, the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved. This is the opposite of the customary ham-sandwich approach, in which the jurors are explicitly steered to the prosecutor’s preferred conclusion. Some might suggest that all cases should be treated the way McCulloch handled Wilson before the grand jury, with a full-fledged mini-trial of all the incriminating and exculpatory evidence presented at this preliminary stage. Of course, the cost of such an approach, in both time and money, would be prohibitive, and there is no guarantee that the ultimate resolutions of most cases would be any more just. In any event, reserving this kind of special treatment for white police officers charged with killing black suspects cannot be an appropriate resolution.

Further coverage from The New Yorker can be found here.

Noam Scheiber also described how St. Louis Prosecutor Bob McCulloch Abused the Grand Jury Process, calling the choice of using the grand jury process to establish Wilson’s innocence” to be deeply unfair:

Why? Because grand juries simply aren’t equipped to adjudicate guilt or innocence. As The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin points out, prosecutors have enormous sway over grand juries. Typically, they cherry pick the evidence that establishes probable cause, helping them obtain indictments in almost every case. But in this case, McCulloch clearly didn’t believe an indictment was deserved. So he used his influence in the opposite directionstacking the deck in favor of a non-indictment. Specifically, he inundated the grand jury with “every scrap of evidence [he] could find,” in Toobin’s words, at which point “the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved.” [UPDATE: This New York Times story goes even further, showing how McCulloch’s team essentially cherry-picked evidence establishing Wilson’s innocence. It describes how they accepted Wilson’s account at face value, even leading him toward exculpatory statements through their questioning, while going out of their way to point out flaws and contradictions in alternative accounts from other witnesses.]

In effect, McCulloch staged a pre-trial trial in order to vindicate his personal view of Wilson’s innocence. But grand juries simply aren’t the proper forum for holding a trial. The most obvious reason is that they’re not adversarial settings. The prosecutor gets to present his or her view, but there’s no one to present the opposing viewa rather key feature of the criminal justice system. This isn’t a problem when the prosecutor believes the defendant is guilty, since the result is an actual trial. But when the prosecutor stage-manages a grand jury into affirming his view of the defendant’s innocence, that’s it. That’s the only trial we get.

Politically, I understand the advantage of this for McCulloch. He gets to wrap his preference for not indicting Wilson in the legitimacy of a trial-like process, whereas simply declining to indict Wilson without the support of a grand jury would have left him badly exposed. It would have triggered an enormous political backlash, rather than the relatively minor uproar we witnessed Monday night. But as a basic matter of justice, it’s outrageous. As I noted yesterday, the only way to earn the legitimacy of a trial is to actually have a trial, in which both positions are given a fair hearing.

The New York Times placed this in perspective, describing what McCulloch did wrong in this case:

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who in August shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, would have generated widespread anger and disappointment in any case. But the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way.

First, he refused to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor who could have been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri. He further undermined public confidence by taking a highly unorthodox approach to the grand jury proceeding. Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing.

Under ordinary circumstances, grand jury hearings can be concluded within days. The proceeding in this case lasted an astonishing three months. And since grand jury proceedings are held in secret, the drawn-out process fanned suspicions that Mr. McCulloch was deliberately carrying on a trial out of public view, for the express purpose of exonerating Officer Wilson.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Mr. McCulloch took a reckless approach to announcing the grand jury’s finding. After delaying the announcement all day, he finally made it late in the evening, when darkness had placed law enforcement agencies at a serious disadvantage as they tried to control the angry crowds that had been drawn into the streets by news that the verdict was coming. Mr. McCulloch’s announcement sounded more like a defense of Officer Wilson than a neutral summary of the facts that had led the grand jury to its conclusion.

For the black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses that they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police. News accounts have strongly suggested, for example, that the police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically target poor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops — partly to generate fines — which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities.

In this context, the police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse.

The case resonated across the country — in New York City, Chicago and Oakland — because the killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African-American life and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast. This point was underscored last month in a grim report by ProPublica, showing that young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk — 21 times greater — of being shot dead by police than young white men. These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.

We get a flavor of this in Officer Wilson’s grand jury testimony, when he describes Michael Brown, as he was being shot, as a soulless behemoth who was “almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.”

Crooks and Liars described How Robert McCulloch Hoodwinked The Ferguson Grand Jury

For the entire proceeding, jurors weighed the evidence in light of a law that was deemed unconstitutional almost 30 years ago. Then they corrected the record at the very end, but by then it was too late.

To me, this invalidates the entire decision. While I believe jurors acted in good faith, the prosecutor did not, and intentionally confused jurors as to the applicable law. Correcting it at the end is not adequate or acceptable.

Unfortunately, there is no way to force Bob McCulloch to prosecute Darren Wilson. But Eric Holder has promised an aggressive investigation of Ferguson police. That’s good, but he might want to broaden that investigation to include St. Louis County prosecutors.

How can anyone believe this Grand Jury proceeding has a shred of integrity? I don’t blame the jurors; I blame the prosecutor.

Wisconsin Man Files Suit After Police Arrest Him For Calling Them Racists On Facebook

This case is something completely different yet fits in with the previous two posts (here and here) which deal with abuse of police powers. A man from Wisconsin is filing suit alleging that he was arrested for comments posted on Facebook accusing policemen of racism. The StarTribune reports:

A man who got arrested after he posted Facebook comments calling a southwestern Wisconsin police department racist has filed a federal lawsuit alleging one of the agency’s officers violated his constitutional rights.

Thomas G. Smith posted profanity-laced comments on Facebook that called police officers in Arena racists in July 2012. He posted the remarks in response to a police Facebook posting several days earlier thanking community members for helping detain two black juveniles who were fleeing officers.

According to the lawsuit filed Monday, an officer named Nicholas Stroik saw Smith’s comments and deleted them, along with comments from two other people who accused police of targeting black people.

Police then called Smith, who was living in Arena at the time, and asked if he had posted the remarks attributed to him. He told officers he wrote the comments and he meant them. Later that night officers arrested him at his home and took him to jail, the lawsuit said.

Prosecutors later charged him with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of computerized communications. They contended his comments amounted to fighting words, defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as utterances that have nothing to do with the exchange of ideas and can incite an immediate breach of the peace.

A jury convicted him and he was sentenced to probation and community service. A state appellate judge, however, tossed his convictions out in July, ruling that the fighting words doctrine doesn’t apply when the speaker and listener aren’t in close physical proximity and that Smith’s comments amounted to protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees from Nicholas Stroik and from the Village of Arena for failing to properly train Stroik on the U.S. Constitution.

More Evidence For A Different System Of Justice For The Police

Yesterday I discussed how the grand jury was used in Ferguson was an example of how justice is different for the police than it is for everyone else.  The Washington Post also reports on unorthodox police practices in handling Darren Wilson after the shooting:

When Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson left the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the officer returned to the police station unescorted, washed blood off his hands and placed his recently fired pistol into an evidence bag himself.

Such seemingly un­or­tho­dox forensic practices emerged from the voluminous testimony released in the aftermath of a grand jury decision Monday night not to indict Wilson.

The transcript showed that local officers who interviewed Wilson immediately after the shooting did not tape the conversations and sometimes conducted them with other police personnel present. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office testified that he opted not to take measurements at the crime scene

Charles Johnson adds, “Perhaps the most outrageous thing: police never tested Wilson’s gun for Michael Brown’s fingerprints. Since one of the main points of Wilson’s story was that Brown grabbed his gun, why wasn’t this done?”

The National Bar Association has also responded to the decision:

 The National Bar Association is questioning how the Grand Jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion that Darren Wilson should not be indicted and tried for the shooting death of Michael Brown. National Bar Association President Pamela J. Meanes expresses her sincere disappointment with the outcome of the Grand Jury’s decision but has made it abundantly clear that the National Bar Association stands firm and will be calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue federal charges against officer Darren Wilson. “We will not rest until Michael Brown and his family has justice” states Pamela Meanes, President of the National Bar Association. 

President Meanes is requesting that the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri not allow this decision to cause an unnecessary uproar in the community that could lead to arrests, injuries or even deaths of innocent people. “I am asking for everyone to remain as calm as possible and to join in solidarity as we continue to support the family of Michael Brown and put our legal plan into full effect” says President Meanes  “I feel the  magnitude of the grand jury’s ruling as Ferguson, Missouri is only minutes from where I reside”, adds President Meanes.

Over the last couple of months, the National Bar Association has  hosted Town Hall meetings informing  attendees of their Fourth Amendment (Search & Seizure) constitutional rights, whether it is legal to record police activity, and how citizens should behave/respond if and when they interface with police officers. “The death of Michael Brown was the last straw and the catalyst for addressing issues of inequality and racial bias in policing, the justice system, and violence against members of minority communities,” states Pamela Meanes.

The family of Michael Brown requested that District Attorney McCullough step aside and allow a special prosecutor be assigned to the investigation to give the community confidence that the grand jury would conduct a complete and thorough investigation into the tragic shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown. The grand jury’s decision confirms the fear that many expressed months ago — that a fair and impartial investigation would not happen.

“The National Bar Association is adamant about our desire for transformative justice. While we are disappointed with the grand jury’s ruling, we are promoting peace on every street corner around the world. The only way to foster systemic change is to organize, educate, and mobilize. We are imploring everyone to fight against the injustice in Ferguson, Missouri and throughout the United States by banding together and working within the confines of the law,” states President Meanes.

Update: More Views On The Injustice In Ferguson


Two Systems Of Justice: One For Police, One For Everyone Else

The grand jury’s decision in Ferguson not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown demonstrates how we have two systems of justice in the United States. I am not referring only to the differences in treatment based upon race. This is clearly a major factor, but as it has already been discussed at length at many sources I am going instead to highlight another aspect of this problem. The system works different for police officers as opposed to anybody else. Needless to say, blacks are at an even further disadvantage in a case involving blacks and the police.

The grand jury system was originally formulated in an attempt to place a check over the power of prosecutors and protect those who should not be prosecuted. Instead grand juries typically give the prosecutor an indictment when desired in the vast majority of cases. The exception is when a police officer is the one being investigated. In these cases the prosecutor’s office often takes the part of the defense. In a typical grand jury case, Darren Wilson’s side of the story would not have been presented as it was in Ferguson.

FiveThirtyEight has some data on grand jury decisions:

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Wilson’s case was heard in state court, not federal, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable. Unlike in federal court, most states, including Missouri, allow prosecutors to bring charges via a preliminary hearing in front of a judge instead of through a grand jury indictment. That means many routine cases never go before a grand jury. Still, legal experts agree that, at any level, it is extremely rare for prosecutors to fail to win an indictment.

“If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Cases involving police shootings, however, appear to be an exception. As my colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaperaccountssuggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

If the grand jury system was changed so that the defense case was routinely heard, there might be benefits to this. However, it is not fair when one group of people receive this benefit but others do not. The system was essentially designed to protect the police and deny justice to victims such as Michael Brown.

Think Progress posted the above video on this topic by Phillip Johnson. This also explains how under normal circumstances a grand jury would have found probable cause for an indictment.

This does not necessarily mean that Darren Wison would have been convicted. There was a tremendous amount of evidence to be examined, some of it conflicting, and is possible that Wison might have ultimately been acquitted in a jury trial where the standard is not just probable cause but evidence of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  There are legitimate questions to be reviewed as to how much discretion to give to police officers who feel the need to use deadly force in self defense versus the degree to which police should be expected to be able to handle an unarmed attacker without resorting to deadly force. The decision as to whether to indict Wilson should have been made by the same process as would have been used if anyone other than a police officer was the accused, followed by a jury trial to examine all the evidence from both sides.

Update: More Evidence For A Different System Of Justice For The Police

Update II: More Views On The Injustice In Ferguson

Republicans Seek To Block Marijuana Law In Washington D.C.

Republicans, members of the party which claims to support small government, individual freedom, and states’ rights, once again shows that it doesn’t mean a word of this.  The Hill reports on one action planned by Republicans:

House Republicans next year will try to block Washington, D.C.’s, newly enacted law legalizing recreational marijuana.

Rep. Andy Harris said he “absolutely” intends to launch a push to dismantle the new law when Congress returns with an empowered GOP majority in the 114th Congress.

While technically not a states’ rights issue, the same principle should apply to respecting a law to legalize recreational marijuana which a majority in Washington, D.C. voted for.

Presumably other top matters on the Republican agenda will include attempts to restrict access to abortion and contraception, and prevent same-sex marriage.

Of course this is as expected. When Republicans speak of supporting small government, it is of a government “small” enough to intervene in the private lives of the individual. When they speak of freedom, they will defend the freedom of businessmen to evade necessary regulations. Otherwise to Republicans, freedom means the freedom for conservatives to impose their views upon others. Republican support for states’ rights is limited to states which wish to enact laws to discriminate against minorities or restrict marriage equality.

SciFi Weekend: Arrow; The Flash; Gotham; Agents of SHIELD; Natalie Dormer, Zombies, and Nudity on Game of Thrones; Westworld; How To Get Away With Murder; Doctor Who; Sherlock; SNL on Executive Orders

Flash vs Arrow

The Hollywood Reporter has  more information on the upcoming cross over episodes from Arrow and The Flash, along with some other information about Arrow. Among the information revealed (not all of which is new):

  • The title of The Flash portion of the pair of episodes is quite literal, The Flash vs. Arrow. Barry encounters a metahuman who brainwashes him.
  • The Flash episode “will deliver a very big moment for Oliver’s storyline.” It will take Oliver time to learn what the audience has learned.
  • Felicity sees Caitlin to get help from the people at STAR Labs in solving the mystery of the Black Canary’s murder
  • Laurel is mostly missing from the crossover stories but, “Episodes 10, 11 and 12 are a three-part trilogy that are about her. And episode 13 I think I can spoil, is called ‘Canaries.'” As it is Canaries pleural, my suspicion is that the flashback shows Sara while Laural replaces Sara as the Black Canary in the present.
  • Dingle’s ex-wife Lila is in danger.
  • Team Flash learns how dangerous things can be.
  • A future crossover is possible.

Gotham Penguin

Gotham is probably best viewed as a re-imagining of the Batman stories which is not necessarily connected to other aspects of the DC universe or other Batman series. Showrunner Bruno Heller told Entertainment Weekly about how he plans to establish the canonical Gotham–and then start messing with people’s minds. Killing off characters is not being excluded as a possibility:

Before Gotham premiered there was some discussion about how the show cannot kill any members of its cast of iconic characters, since the story is a prequel. And you had a great reply to that by saying, “It’s sad thing if you can only generate suspense by killing people.” I’m wondering now that you’ve dug more into the season and are juggling all these characters, with some being more interesting than others, whether there’s a part of you that’s like, “You know, what if we did?” Or is it just iron clad that you can’t deviate that far from canon?
I wouldn’t say it’s iron clad. You’d need a damn good reason to do it and a damn good end game to justify it. We’re certainly just learning the ropes at this stage. Not to be modest about it, but we’re still learning how to do a show this big. I’m always deeply reluctant to kill off characters simply for the shock value of killing them off. I’m not averse to cheap tricks. But apart from anything else, this season literally every actor has come through and [performed really strong]. I would hate to lose any of them. Killing off Sean Bean in the first season of Game of Thrones made everyone go, “Oh, what a good idea that is!” But I don’t think it’s a good idea if you’ve got Sean Bean. The bad one was on Deadwood, when they had David Carradine doing that marvelous Wild Bill Hickok, and then he was gone.

I agree on Carradine, it did feel like that character was gone too soon.
I’m going to put you on the spot: Who would you kill?

It’s not that there’s anybody in particular that I would kill off. But I would say the killing of a so-called un-killable character would add a greater layer of suspense when any of those characters are in jeopardy after that—because the message has been sent to the audience that, “You think you know how this story is going to go, but you’re wrong, because we’re not following the train tracks that you already know so well.
That is a very good point, and an actor somewhere is cursing you. You’re absolutely right. One of the things about doing the extra six episodes, and hopefully being successful enough to get a season two, is that once we’re up and running, that kind of narrative playfulness—playing with the audience’s expectations—is going to be much more a part of the show. For instance: Who will turn out to be The Joker? Those kind of games you can only get into once you have the audience’s trust and the train is rolling down the tracks. We want to establish the real deal—that this is the canonical Gotham—and then start messing with people’s minds.

Heller also revealed that Harley Quinn will not appear this season and there will be an episode here we learn how Robin’s parents got together. Ra’s al Ghul could conceivably appear, but at this point in Batman’s life, “He was probably a teenager as well, with Mrs. al Ghul making him sandwiches and sending him off to Ghul school.”

Agents of SHIELD Blue Alien

After dragging for most of the first season while waiting for the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Agents of SHIELD is really moving this season. Recent episodes have dealt with topics including Skye’s background and the meaning of the mysterious writings. TV Guide reports that we will also learn about the blue alien, and how it ties into other aspects of the Marvel universe:

He’s not just any alien. The Dec. 2 episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will finally reveal that its mysterious blue man from outer space — the one whose rejuvenating blood saved the life of Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) — is a member of the humanoid Kree race. Yes, that’s the same alien species that gave us Lee Pace’s character, Ronan the Accuser, in the Marvel movie blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. But all this means bupkis to Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team.

“Our people don’t know anything about the Kree or that there’s a planet full of them,” notes executive producer Jeffrey Bell. “What they do know is that the strange carvings created by Coulson after he was injected with the Kree serum are actually the map of a city, and they need to find that city before Hydra does. But where is it? Here or on another planet?”

The Hydra terrorists have more manpower and resources than S.H.I.E.L.D., and their freaky obsession with the blue alien goes all the way back to the 1940s — the setting for ABC’s upcoming spinoff series Marvel’s Agent Carter. But S.H.I.E.L.D. has Skye. The do-or-die agent with no last name, played by Chloe Bennet, was also injected with Kree serum but, unlike Coulson, suffered no consequences. Similarly, her not-always-trusty cohort Raina (Ruth Negga) — again, no last name — was able to touch the deadly alien obelisk and survive without harm.

ComicVine has more about the meaning of this.

Game of Thrones Natalie Dormer

Matt Smith and Natalie Dormer will fight zombies together in Patient Zero. According to

Patient Zero takes place in a post-outbreak zombie apocalypse and follows the adventures of one man who has the unique ability to speak with the undead and who hopes to use his gift to discover a cure for the plague and his infected wife.

Natalie Dormer was interviewed by The Daily Beast about topics including her role in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and nudity in Game of Thrones:

Speaking of “equality,” I understand HBO has a “boobs mandate,” but lots of viewers of Thrones think the show could use some more dick in there—for symmetry.

Well, during the first season Alfie, Richard, and several of the men got naked—although not all the way. I suppose it’s just the rules of broadcast television, isn’t it? I think Thrones has been better than your average show with the equality, but they could definitely ramp it up! Absolutely.

Did you base the character of Margaery Tyrell on anyone in particular?

It was based on the media circus that surrounds Kate Middleton. It’s the Princess Diana effect. Whether you’re talking about the royal family in our country, or the first lady obsession in this country—Michelle Obama, or Hillary Clinton before her. Because Margaery is very politically savvy and our royal family tries to keep out of politics, it’s a hybrid of that statesmanship between the royal family and the first lady.

There was a particularly awkward sequence last season on Thrones where your character is forced to seduce the boy-king, Tommen Baratheon.

That scene was altered because I phoned Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] and said, “I’m not comfortable doing this.” It’s the nature of the beast that I’m four years into playing Margaery Tyrell and the big plot points of the book are in stone. You can’t change them. George R.R. Martin wrote a particular plot line, so on the specifics of Margaery and Tommen getting married, there’s nothing I can do. On the show, we had to find a way to navigate that in a sensitive way. There’s more of it next season too, and we’re trying to handle it with intelligence, and integrity.


When I first heard about plans for a series based upon Westworld I was skeptical, but it sounds like HBO is bringing quite a bit of talent into the project:

The drama, based on Michael Crichton‘s 1973 film and written by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, stars Anthony Hopkins in his first series-regular role as an inventor who runs an adult amusement park populated by lifelike robots. HBO made the announcement Monday via Twitter, with the series coming in 2015.

The drama hails from J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk‘s Warner Bros. Television-based Bad Robot Productions, with the duo exec producing alongside Jerry Weintraub, Nolan (who directed the pilot) and Joy. Kathy Lingg will co-EP and Athena Wickham is a producer on the drama. Susie Ekins is set as a co-producer. Westworld hails from Bad Robot, Jerry Weintraub Productions and Kilter Films.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the show’s androids — played by castmembers including James MarsdenEvan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton — can be killed off and return with completely different personas, allowing actors to play many characters. That creative device, one top talent agent said, helped HBO attract a premier cast (which also includes Ed HarrisMiranda Otto and Jeffrey Wright). And unlike the actors on such anthology series as FX’s American Horror Story and HBO’s own True Detective, which reboot themselves every season, the cast of Westworld is signing multiyear deals.

“This is built as a series and, in terms of storytelling, I think the rules are definitely being broken,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told THR in August of the sci-fi Western from executive producers J.J. AbramsJerry Weintraub and Bryan Burk. “The promise of the show, in terms of where it’s going, is exciting to actors, and they want to be a part of this.”

While watching How To Get Away With Murder I was a little disappointed in how Sam’s murder was played out–until the revelation in the final moments. Entertainment Weekly discussed the mid-season finale and the second half of the season with showrunner Pete Nowalk.

It has been officially announced that Peter Capaldi will be returning to Doctor Who but no word yet on Jenna Coleman. There have been rumors since before the past season began that Coleman would be written out of the show on the Christmas episode (which have been denied), and the series has teased Clara leaving a few times. My bet is that Steven Moffat actually knows what is planned, but they are keeping this secret so that viewers will not know what might happen with Clara while watching the Christmas episode.

Series four of Sherlock will be a single episode, possibly airing on Christmas Day, 2015. Mark Gatiss has told Radio Times that the mystery about the apparent return of Moriarty at the end of season three will  will be solved “completely.”

BBC America will be showing a seven part series based upon Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Saturday Night Live began with a skit this weekend hitting Barack Obama on executive orders. Medialite summarizes:

Finally, the first biting political spoof from Saturday Night Live in a while: the Bill from Schoolhouse Rock explains to a student how he becomes a law, only to be violently beat up by Barack Obama and his new best friend, “Executive Order.”

Even then, the poor Executive Order still thinks he’s used for simple things, like declaring holidays and creating national parks, until Obama informs him that he’s going to be used to grant amnesty to 5 million undocumented immigrants. His reaction: “Whoa.”

While Ted Cruz found reason to cite this on Fox News Sunday, the skit actually is not accurate. Obama did not grant amnesty, and the executive action was used because the Republicans failed to pass a bill, not as an attempt to act in place of a law. Previous Republican as well as Democratic presidents have issued many executive orders in the past with both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush having had executive orders regarding immigration in the past. (Clarification: Fox News Sunday is the name of show and my use of this term does in any way suggest that Fox presents actual news. Generally I do not use the term “Fox News” as that is an insult to all real news networks. )

Seventh Investigation Debunks Republican Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

Yet another investigation has debunked the Republican claims about Benghazi, this one run by House Republicans. AP reports:

House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May…

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

Of course it was the Republicans who cut funding for embassy security, denying requests from Democrats for increased funding.

Despite seven investigations which failed to provide evidence to support the Republican conspiracy theories, an eight is underway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to follow in the Republican-controlled Senate. The party which already voted over fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and which exists in a fact-free bubble, will not hesitate to continue engage in the same irrational behavior.