SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Extremis; Agents of SHIELD Season Finale; Legends of Tomorrow; The Flash; Arrow; Star Trek Discovery; Seth MacFarlane’s Spoof, The Orville; Gotham; The Magicians; Twin Peaks

Extremis was the best episode of Doctor Who so far this season, and it is just the first part of a three part story. There was a lot of misdirection in the episode, which is part of what made it so interesting.

The episode appeared to have two different story lines, but the conclusion revealed there were actually three. There were the flashbacks to the execution and the scenes with the Doctor outside the vault. It wasn’t reveled until the end that all of the other events were actually taking place in the shadow world, their version of the Matrix.

Even the execution scene had misdirection, as it was unclear whether the Doctor was intended to be the victim or executioner. Once it finally became clear that it was Missy to be executed, things did not turn out as planned. This gave plenty of opportunity for Missy to be Missy: “Please, I’ll do anything. Let me live. Teach me how to be good. I’m your friend.” She also had some words for her captors: “Get off, I’ve just been executed. Show a little respect” and “Knock yourself out. Actually, do that. Knock yourself right out.”

I am glad that they didn’t drag out the reveal as to who is in the vault any longer as pretty much everyone probably realizes by now that it is one of the versions of the Master. The Doctor is keeping his word to watch over her body, even if he mislead Missy’s captors in not going through with executing her. His decision to spare her life is consistent with the relationship which as developed between the two.

Any episode in which the events are in some way not real is vulnerable to criticism, but I was willing to accept it here. Being only the first part of a three part story helps minimize the problem the events being in the shadow world. There is also a legitimate pay off to the situation in which the Doctor outsmarted the Monks and got out a warning by email to the “real” Doctor. Or as the Doctor in the shadow world put it, “I’m doing what everybody does when the world’s in danger. I’m calling the Doctor.”

This reveal also allowed for some other genre references. This included the second Star Trek reference in two weeks, this time with Nardole saying the shadow world is like “like the Holodeck on Star Trek, or a really posh VR without a headset.” I also liked the explanation of people seeming to commit suicide when they realized the truth: “it’s like Super Mario figuring out what’s going on, deleting himself from the game, because he’s sick of dying.” There was also a reference to Harry Potter and portions of the episode felt like they were out of a Dan Brown novel.

Besides the simulation leading to the Doctor getting the warning about the invasion, it also gave the Doctor reason to encourage Bill to ask Penny out, reassuring her that she is not out of her league, knowing how it worked in the shadow world. While it only happened in the shadow world, presumably this accurately reflected the real world with Bill’s foster mother not realizing she is a lesbian, and therefore not realizing what was going on between the two girls. This included the exchange with Bill’s foster mother telling her “I have very strict rules about men” and Bill replying, “Probably not as strict as mine.”

The shadow world also gave us scenes at the Vatican, briefly at the Pentagon, at CERN, and with a dead president. This led the Doctor to wonder, “Particle physicists and priests–What could scare them both?” Plus there was the Pope in Bill’s bedroom: “Doctor, here’s a tip. When I’m on a date, when that rare and special thing happens in my real life, do not, do not under any circumstances put the Pope in my bedroom.”

There is plenty of additional grounds to nitpick, such as questioning whether a simulation so complex could not come up with a better random number generator. I am far more willing to accept potential plot holes which come up with thinking about an episode as opposed to glaring ones which cause a distraction while watching, such as with Knock Knock.

Continuity was also handled fairly well in this episode. They might have initially had the Doctor regain his vision at the end of Oxygen, but it worked out better to extend his blindness into this episode. This could also play into the upcoming regeneration, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if he encountered the Weeping Angels while unable to see.

The episode also showed how Nardole remained with the Doctor following the events of The Husbands of River Song, with him there at River’s request to prevent the Doctor from taking extreme actions following her death. Nardole even used a passage from her diary to influence the Doctor. While not seen on camera, Steven Moffat has said that one of the stories in his mind that he will not get a chance to tell is of the Doctor having Nardole going to the library after the events of The Forest of the Dead to recover River’s diary. There are also rumors that River will be returning this season. If so, this, along with her pictures on the Doctor’s desk, provides a good set up.

Agents of SHIELD also spent a lot of time in a version of the Matrix this season before the framework was destroyed in the season finale. IGN spoke with the producers about that space cliff hanger and that new role for Coulson:

IGN: Going back to the cliffhanger, that diner scene at first very much reminded me of the shawarma scene at the end of Avengers. Was there ever version of that sequence that didn’t have the cliffhanger, in case for whatever reason you didn’t get picked up?

Bell: It’s what it is. There was not a nice quiet shawarma version of it where they go, “Oh, it’s nice to be together.” It was always supposed to be, “Oh look, we’re finally together. Oh no, something bad happens.”

IGN: Which is sort of how it always goes for these guys, right?

Bell: It is!

Whedon: Man, SHIELD is not the coziest place to work, you know? I think they have a pretty good health plan, but other than that, it’s kind of up in the air all the time.

IGN: Well I hope so. They do keep coming back from the dead or near death at all points. I am excited we’re going back to space, though! Can you say how long it’s been in the show between when the team gets taken and when we pick back up with Coulson at the end?

Whedon: [silence] We can’t say.

Bell: We acknowledge there’s a time jump…

IGN: Going back a little bit, how long have you been planning for Coulson to be the Ghost Rider — and what was Clark Gregg’s reaction to finding out that news?

Bell: To say he was happy, it would be an understatement.

Whedon: I think what he said when we told him was, “I didn’t think I could geek out more,” but he was like, “It seems I can.”

Bell: Yeah, that was what he said.

IGN: Can you clarify: did Coulson make a deal with the devil to take on the Ghost Rider identity, or will we find out a bit more of the logistics of that deal that’s alluded to soon?

Whedon: We’ll find out more about it, but I think it’s safe to say he made a deal with the Ghost Rider, or the powers behind him. We’ll see what it all means, but it didn’t come for free. It wasn’t like, “Hey bro, can I borrow that? Can I just borrow that Ghost Rider thing for a second?”

Bell: Right, like borrowing a T-shirt.

IGN: Are you leaving the door open for more Ghost Rider?

Whedon: Well, first of all, he’s not dead — not that that means anything in our world. He also has shown that he has the ability to move in and out of realms and dimensions or planets or wherever he’s going. He’s a threat to pop up at any moment. Whether or not he will, I can’t say, but he’s out there…

IGN: I want to talk a bit about Fitz and Simmons. You’ve put them through the wringer over the past couple seasons, and my working theory is it’s because Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge always deliver such fantastic performances of those traumatizing events. Considering what they’ve gone through this year, are you considering them as a couple who will remain rocks for each other, or are you still planning to throw a bunch more terrible things at them?

Whedon: First of all, it’s the nature of the world. I think even this year with the flashbacks of May and Coulson and the rules we’ve stated through many seasons, that there are rules about agents not getting together for this very reason. Your love will be tested. That’s sort of the nature of the business. I think it’s safe to say from these past two episodes that they love each other and won’t love anyone else, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to repair their relationship and all that pain in between. One would hope that they could because everybody roots for FitzSimmons and the fans do and we do. We love the two actors, and so I think that seeing them together is a reward that the audience deserves, but how that happens, we’ll have to wait and see if it does.

Bell: I think the thing is people can have the forever love, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they get to end up together. They might, but you don’t know.

Whedon: But theirs is a forever love.

The CW Network has released a synopsis for the third season of Legends of Tomorrow, including the return of Rip Hunter and establishment of the Time Bureau, after they fractured time in the season finale:

After the defeat of Eobard Thawne and his equally nefarious Legion of Doom, the Legends face a new threat created by their actions at the end of last season. In revisiting a moment in time that they had already participated in, they have essentially fractured the timeline and created anachronisms – a scattering of people, animals, and objects all across time! Our team must find a way to return all the anachronisms to their original timelines before the time stream falls apart. But before our Legends can jump back into action, Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) and his newly established Time Bureau call their methods into question. With the Time Bureau effectively the new sheriffs in town, the Legends disband – until Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell) discovers one of them in the middle of his well-deserved vacation in Aruba. Seeing this as an opportunity to continue their time traveling heroics, Sara (Caity Lotz) wastes no time in getting the Legends back together.  We reunite with billionaire inventor Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), the unconventional historian-turned-superhero [Nate] Heywood (Nick Zano), and Professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh), who together form the meta-human Firestorm. Once reunited, the Legends will challenge the Time Bureau’s authority over the timeline and insist that however messy their methods may be, some problems are beyond the Bureau’s capabilities. Some problems can only be fixed by Legends.

Last week’s episode of The Flash appeared to show that Iris did die in the scene we’ve been seeing all season. It might have been premature for The CW Network to release this synopsis of season four, which appears to have a major spoiler as to  how the season ends (not that I’m all that surprised considering how this show has involved changing timelines, not to mention the imaging tool used):

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) lived a normal life as a perpetually tardy C.S.I. in the Central City Police Department.  Barry’s life changed forever when the S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator exploded, creating a dark-matter lightning storm that struck Barry, bestowing him with super-speed and making him the fastest man alive — The Flash.  But when Barry used his extraordinary abilities to travel back in time and save his mother’s life, he inadvertently created an alternate timeline known as Flashpoint; a phenomenon that gave birth to the villainous speed god known as Savitar, and changed the lives of Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Wally West (Keiyan Lonsdale) forever.  With the help of his adoptive father, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), his lifelong best friend and love interest Iris West (Candice Patton), and his friends at S.T.A.R. Labs — Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), C.S.I Julian Albert (Tom Felton), and an Earth-19 novelist named H.R. Wells (Tom Cavanaugh) — Barry continues to protect the people of Central City from the meta-humans that threaten it.  Based on the characters from DC, THE FLASH is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “Supergirl”), Andrew Kreisberg (“Arrow,” “The Flash”), Sarah Schechter (“Arrow,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”) and Todd Helbing (“Black Sails”).

They have also released the synopsis of Arrow season six:

After a violent shipwreck, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) was missing and presumed dead for five years before being discovered alive on a remote island in the North China Sea.  He returned home to Star City, bent on righting the wrongs done by his family and fighting injustice.  As the Green Arrow, he protects his city with the help of former soldier John Diggle (David Ramsey), computer-science expert Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), his vigilante-trained sister Thea Queen (Willa Holland), Deputy Mayor Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), brilliant inventor Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum), and his new recruits, street-savvy Rene Ramirez (Rick Gonzalez) and meta-human Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy).  Oliver has finally solidified and strengthened his crime-fighting team only to have it threatened when unexpected enemies from his past return to Star City, forcing Oliver to rethink his relationship with each member of his “family”.  Based on the characters from DC, ARROW is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“The Flash,” “Supergirl”), Marc Guggenheim (“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Eli Stone”), Wendy Mericle (“Desperate Housewives,” “Eli Stone”), Andrew Kreisberg (“The Flash,” “Eli Stone,” “Warehouse 13”) and Sarah Schechter (“The Flash,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”).

CBS has released the above trailer for Star Trek Discovery, which is to premiere this fall. Breakdown at TrekMovie. com and at Cult Movie News. Producer Ted Sullivan has reassured fans that it is definitely a prequel to TOS, and not a reboot or re-imagining.

The trailer for Seth MacFarlane’s spoof of Star Trek for Fox The Orville, is far more amusing.

Bruce Wayne’s transition to become Batman finally starts in season four of Gotham.

Trevor Einhorn (Josh) and Brittany Curran (Fen) have been promoted to regulars for the third season of The Magicians.

Twin Peaks returns tonight. The New York Times has a guide to where everyone was left after the original series. There’s another guide at Vulture.

Netflix has confirmed a fifth season of Arrested Development.

A revival of How I Met Your Mother in some form also continues to look possible.

Donald Trump Mocked For Claiming He Is Subject Of Greatest Witch Hunt In American History

Donald Trump, objecting to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his administration, tweeted: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” The claim came after Robert Mueller was appointed to be special counsel after Trump fired James Comey. Comey is also saying that Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe.

This resulted in responses from some of the late night comedians:

President Trump is having one heck of a week. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between his campaign and Russia, which he did not like at all. But sources inside the White House say when he found out about it, he didn’t yell or scream. He told his staff, “We have nothing to hide.” He was calm. He punched Sean Spicer in the stomach a few times. Then this morning at 7:52 a.m. he got on Twitter and wrote: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Even his witch hunts are the greatest in American history. –Jimmy Kimmel

It’s been a wild week for President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate Trump’s connections to Russia. Robert Mueller will be the special counsel. And today, Trump reacted by saying, “No fair, why does that guy get to be called special?” I’m kidding; Trump reacted by tweeting, of course. This morning, Donald Trump tweeted that he is the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” The single greatest — even when he’s whining, Trump still has to be the greatest.–James Corden

Meanwhile, Trump started tweeting again. Today he criticized the Russia investigation, saying, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Then one guy was like, “Do you still want to see my birth certificate?” –Jimmy Fallon

President Trump today called the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Though it didn’t help his case much when he flew away on a broom. –Seth Meyers

But the best response came from The Washington Post, which reprinted this story:

Nixon, Aides Believe Hearing Is Witchhunt

By Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
July 21, 1973

President Nixon and his top aides believe that the Senate Watergate hearings are unfair and constitute a “political witchhunt,” according to White House sources.

Despite apparent bipartisan and public support for the hearings and the manner in which they are being conducted, the sources said that the President in the last weeks has expressed bitterness and deep hostility toward the two-month-old proceedings.

“The President,” one source said, “sees the hearings as an attempt to get Richard Nixon and do it just damn unfairly.” According to four separate sources, the hostility toward the hearings is also pervasive in the White House staff, especially among former assistants to H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, the deposed former top presidential aides…

We know how that “witchhunt” turned out.

Democrats Risk Continued Failure In Denying Reasons For Clinton’s Loss

Aaron Blake shows how Democrats are burying their heads in the sand with their denial as to how terrible a candidate Hillary Clinton was, even when Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have pointed this out:

“I never thought she was a great candidate,” Biden said, according to reports. “I thought I was a great candidate.”

…Biden isn’t the first leading Democratic figure with possible designs on 2020 to apparently slight Clinton. Clinton’s 2016 primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has repeatedly offered some version of this quote: “It wasn’t that Donald Trump won the election; it was that the Democratic Party that lost the election.”

Those comments have definitely rubbed some Clinton supporters the wrong way, and Biden’s are likely to even more so, given how direct they were.

Of course, Biden isn’t saying anything that most every election analyst hasn’t. You can make a pretty objective case that Clinton wasn’t a great candidate, given she lost an election she was expected to win to an opponent who became the most unpopular president-elect in modern history.

…in most situations, a party that lost a presidential campaign wouldn’t so fiercely guard the good name of the candidate who lost — much less one who had just lost a second presidential campaign in eight years. Republicans, for instance, were only so happy to place the blame for their 2012 loss squarely on the shoulders of Mitt Romney and his failure to connect with people. The same goes for Democrats and John Kerry in 2004.

So why not Democrats in 2017? Part of the reason is that they simply don’t feel Clinton really lost. Russia’s hacking, FBI Director James Comey’s late announcement about her emails (and the media’s coverage of that issue) and her popular vote win have combined to create a genuine sense that she was robbed — almost literally so. And Clinton has only fed that beast with her repeated comments dissecting the unfair reasons why she lost.

It’s a delicate dance for the likes of Biden and Sanders right now. They want to emphasize that the party can do better, but in doing so, they risk alienating some very passionate and outspoken Clinton supporters with an almost religious sense of righteousness about 2016.

Perhaps it could be done more delicately, but to pretend Biden is wrong about Clinton not being a great candidate is to bury your head in the sand. And that’s a pretty dangerous thing for Democrats to do right now.

Of course Hillary Clinton was one of the worst candidates ever nominated by a major political party. She unethically used her political career to build a personal fortune and capitalize on the Clinton name after Bill left office, despite how this shaped her reputation. As Matt Taibbi has argued, once she made this decision, she should have left politics. She has spent her career undermining liberal values–a progressive who gets conservative results. Polls showed long before the nomination that she was untrusted by the voters. She polled poorly among independents, liberals, swing state voters, and in the rust belt. Nominating her in the midst of her major scandals would have been as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal had become well known.

Donald Trump might have even bigger negatives than Clinton, but Clinton ran such a terrible campaign that she could not even beat him. Clinton’s own negatives were large enough to negate his. Democrats even allowed themselves to be outflanked on the left by the Republicans on economics and foreign policy with the nomination of Clinton (even if this was based upon incoherent positions held by Trump).

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign shows how Clinton latched onto the strategy of blaming other for her loss within twenty-four hours of her loss. Partisan Democrats who were foolish enough to nominate a candidate as unfit for public office as Hillary Clinton were also gullible to fall for this.

As I wrote in the previous post on her use of these excuses, The Wikileaks releases of hacked email hurt because it verified criticism that the DNC had violated its own rules in rigging the nomination for Clinton, and in showing Clinton’s dishonesty. There has been absolutely no evidence that anything released by Wikileaks was not accurate information. In blaming Russia, Clinton is admitting that the facts about her and the DNC were sufficient to sink her campaign.

Despite blaming the media, Clinton’s violation of the rules regarding her use of the private server was confirmed to be in violation of the rules in effect in 2009 by the Obama administration State Department Inspector General Report. Fact checkers repeatedly showed that Clinton was lying about the email and Foundation scandals. It was Clinton who grossly violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton, not the press, was responsible for this story.

In blaming James Comey, Clinton ignores the fact that James Comey would not have been investigating her in the first place if she had not grossly violated the rules regarding email and  hadn’t handled classified information in a careless manner. The investigation further hurt Clinton as Comey’s report demonstrated that she had repeatedly lied in her public statements about the matter. This gave further credence to her reputation of both seeing herself above the  law and of being dishonest. She further hurt herself when she repeatedly lied about what James Comey had reported.

Hillary Clinton brought this all on herself. Clinton lost due to both her own flaws, and the foolishness of those in the Democratic Party who supported her for the nomination, even to the point of violating their own party rules to rig the nomination for Clinton.

Democrats need to move on from both the disastrous nomination of Hillary Clinton and the entire DLC strategy of turning the Democrats into a Republican-lite party. Bill Clinton might have won on this strategy, but that was more because of his personal political skills than the wisdom of this conservative philosophy. Democrats have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now 2016 by failing to stand for liberal principles. Instead of learning from their mistakes, the Democrats appear determined to repeat them. This includes recently excluding Bernie Sanders from the “Ideas Conference” held by the Center for American Progress.

The 2016 election might change politics for years to come. Donald Trump could damage the Republicans for many years, and Hillary Clinton could do the same to Democrats. It is not clear yet which party will be hurt the most by the awful choices they made in 2016. If we are lucky, the combination will end the two party duopoly and we will have real choices in the future.

Update: Clinton Now Adds DNC To Long List Of Those She Blames For Losing

Update II: Even Democrats Who Supported Clinton Want Her To Stop Her Blame Tour

Democratic Party Establishment Excludes Bernie Sanders From “Ideas Conference”

The Center for American Progress held an Ideas Conference but The Nation reports that Bernie Sanders was not welcome:

But there was an awkward absence: Senator Bernie Sanders. He was not invited to the “Ideas Conference,” and his exclusion makes clear that, while Democrats are converging around a general set of ideological principles, the party still faces some serious coalition-building problems.

CAP president Neera Tanden explained to The Washington Post that “We were trying to emphasize a new generation,” and a CAP spokesperson told The Nation that nobody who ran for president before was invited.

That’s true as far as it goes, but with any scrutiny it feels more like a post facto justification for not including Sanders. There’s a big difference between Hillary Clinton—now a private citizen with no future electoral plans—and Sanders, a sitting senator who polls as the most popular politician in the country and who has pointedly not ruled out a 2020 presidential campaign. The press materials for the conference proclaimed it would “bring together national leaders of the progressive cause,” and there’s no real way Sanders doesn’t fit that description, or rationally should have been excluded simply because he ran for president last year. (The presence of Susan Rice and Tom Daschle onstage also puts considerable strain on the idea that only new voices were being elevated.)

This division has help to show who has sold out to the establishment and who is really for reform.

Daily Kos founder and self-appointed “granddaddy of the resistance” Markos Moulitsas drove the point home when he huffed during a panel about “that grassroots Bernie thing” and how it was a detriment to the party.

This comes from someone who made the Iraq war his main litmus test in 2004. Now that he is part of the establishment, he backed the candidate who was one of the strongest proponents of military interventionism.

The article concluded with a look at the division between “the elites” and “the grassroots.”

It’s hard to envision a functional political party where there’s such a fissure between the elites and the grassroots. It has already caused the Democrats no shortage of pain, even in the Trump era: The race for DNC chair was also much less about ideology and more about who would get control of the party mechanics—the established hands or the newcomers.

Elbowing Sanders out of the party isn’t going to solve this problem, though many Democrats seem intent on doing it. Politico ran a story on the same day as the Ideas Conference quoting several top Democrats who clearly want Sanders to go away, while blaming him for the party rifts. “He’s a constant reminder. He allows the healing that needs to take place to not take place,” one said.

Meanwhile, being shunned by party bosses is rocket fuel for the Sanders movement. “If you want to understand why establishment Democrats lose, look at CAP. They hold their…grassroots conference at the Four Seasons and don’t invite grassroots progressives,” one progressive strategist affiliated with Sanders but not authorized to speak for him told The Nation. “They charge $1,000 per ticket to attend their ‘Progressive Party’…and eat canapes while wondering why they are out of touch with the rest of the country.”

While there is division in the party between the establishment and reformers, and considerable disagreement over the nomination of Hillary Clinton, at least most Democrats will hopefully agree on opposing Donald Trump. The New York Times noted this aspect of the conference:

In a speech to the liberal Center for American Progress on Tuesday, Representative Maxine Waters of California drew applause and whistles when she reminded the audience of her insistence that Mr. Trump be driven from office. But even more notably, Ms. Waters, a veteran lawmaker, has also been intensifying pressure on her colleagues to recognize the threat she said is posed by a reckless president.

Update: Democrats Risk Continued Failure In Denying Reasons For Clinton’s Loss

Update II: Democratic Party Stronger Without The Clintons (How Bernie Sanders Has Reshaped The Democratic Party)

A Very Bad Ten Days For Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s presidency appeared to be on a path towards disaster from the beginning, considering his lack of respect for democratic norms and a lack of understanding of the position. What is remarkable is how much has gone wrong in just over a week, and how much of the damage was self-inflicted. If Richard Nixon had used twitter as Donald Trump does, the Watergate investigation might have been wrapped up in half the time.

David Graham has a good chronology at The Atlantic. This is a condensed summary:

May 8: Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates appeared before Congress contradicting White House statements about Michael Flynn’s firing as national-security adviser.

May 9: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey who was investigating his administration.

May 10: The Trump administration changed its account regarding the reasons for firing Comey. Press reports concentrated on Trump firing Comey because of the Russia investigation and because of him contradicting Trump’s claims that Barack Obama had wiretapped him.

May 11: The Economist published an interview with Trump which showed him to be ignorant of economic policy.  Later the same day Trump gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News which directly contradicted the vice president and White House spokeswoman,  and admitted that the Russia probe was a factor in Comey’s dismissal. There were also reports that Trump had previously demanded a pledge of personal loyalty from Comey.

May 12: Trump appeared to threaten Comey, suggesting their conversation might have been taped. Later that day Trump released a letter from his lawyers to claim that he did not have business ties with Russia. The letter was widely mocked for mentioning “a few exceptions,” and tax experts said the letter proved nothing.

May 15:  Politico published a story saying Trump staffers were routinely passing him fake news stories, both to manipulate him and out of fear that the real news would upset him. Later that day a story in The Washington Post reported that Trump had shared highly sensitive classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador which was obtained from an ally.

May 16: The New York Times reported that the the source of the intelligence is Israel. They also reported on a memo previously written by James Comey which quotes Trump as asking him to drop the FBI investigation into Flynn and his ties to Russia.

If matters were not bad enough in this summary as posted, today Robert S. Mueller III,  FBI director from 2001 to 2013, was appointed as as a special council to investigate possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian officials. While Democrats had been speaking of impeachment, and op-ed writers at The New York Times were suggesting that Trump is a criminal president, today also marked the day that the first Republican Congressman, Justin Amash, spoke of impeachment:

Republicans are beginning to talk of the possibility that President Trump could face impeachment after reports that he pressed ousted FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

While Republicans are choosing their words carefully, the fact that impeachment is even being mentioned is notable in Washington’s polarized political environment.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Wednesday said if the reports about Trump’s pressure on Comey are true, it would merit impeachment.

There is reason to be skeptical of the claims of actual collusion between Trump and Russia to interfere with the election. Shattered did show how Hillary Clinton did grasp onto Russia as an excuse for losing the election and to avoid taking personal responsibility.  While there has been no evidence seen so far of collusion to affect the election, we do know that there have been questionable actions involving members or former members of the Trump administration and Russia. Russia does have a history trying to interfere in foreign elections (just as the US does). Regardless of whether there was actual collusion to affect the election, it would be wrong for a president to fire the FBI director for investigating members of his administration, and wrong to demand an oath of personal loyalty.

Poll Shows More Voters Supporting Impeaching Trump; Health Care Puts House In Play

Public Policy Polling’s latest survey shows that only 40 percent of voters approve of the job Donald Trump is doing, which is better than the 36 percent approval in the latest Quinnipiac poll. For the first time PPP shows more voters (48 percent) in favor of impeaching Trump than are opposed (41 percent).

There is also bad news for Republicans as PPP found that health care has put control of the House in play:

Democrats now have a 49-38 lead overall on the generic Congressional ballot, up from 47-41 a month ago. Even more notable though is that among voters who say they’re ‘very excited’ to turn out in the 2018 election, the Democratic lead balloons to 27 points at 61-34. The outcome of lower turnout midterm elections often hinges on which side is more engaged, and Democrats have the clear advantage at this point on that front- 63% of their voters say they’re ‘very excited’ about voting in next year’s election, compared to only 52% of Republicans who say the same.

The American Health Care Act has been a complete disaster politically for Republicans.  Only 25% of voters support it, to 52% who are opposed. Even among Republican voters there’s only 49% support for the measure, while Democrats (76%) are considerably more unified in their opposition to it. Voters say by a 20 point margin that they’re less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the AHCA- just 27% say they’re more likely to vote for a pro-AHCA candidate, compared to 47% who are less likely to vote for one.

The health care debate has left Congress with a 15% approval rating and 68% of voters disapproving of it. Paul Ryan (25/59 approval) and Mitch McConnell (21/55 approval) are both very unpopular individually as well.

The current health care debate is also stoking new found respect for the Affordable Care Act. By a 53/27 spread, voters say they prefer the current ACA to the new AHCA. And just 29% of voters say they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act at this point, to 64% who would prefer to keep it and make fixes as necessary.

In other topics polled, only 37 percent support Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, with 48 percent opposed.

This came before the latest controversy to affect Trump with stories that he divulged classified intelligence to Russian officials. This is particularly embarrassing for Trump after all of his calls to lock up Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified material as Secretary of State.

Quote of the Day: Jimmy Kimmel On Trump’s Low Approval Rating

President Trump’s approval rating has sunk to near-historic lows. According to a new Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating is down to 36 percent. If it gets down to the 20s he might start dating it.–Jimmy Kimmel

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Oxygen; Timeless; Sense8; The Handmaid’s Tale; More Renewals and Cancellations; The Last Man On Earth Season Finale; Artistic Opposition To Donald Trump

Doctor Who began Oxygen with an apparent homage to Star Trek, speaking of the final frontier. Except it led into this week’s episode by saying, “Final because it wants to kill us.” Final frontier might also tie into the return of the Master by referring to the 1973 episode Frontier In Space which was final appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master.

The episode took advantage of the Doctor’s role as professor, and allowed him to use the blackboard again, even if he got off topic in discussing the dangers in space: “What’s this got to do with crop rotation?” This was a combination hard science fiction/space zombie episode, with less of the simple talk between Bill and the Doctor. That does not mean Bill didn’t get a chance to ask pertinent questions such as, “What happens if I throw up in my helmet?”

The best answer of the episode came from the Doctor in response to the question“Who the hell put you in charge?” The response: “I’m here to save lives. Anyone who doesn’t want me to, raise your hand now.”

The episode finally involved Nardole in the story, and got him off earth.

This was one of the more political episodes of the show. It was bad enough to find that the miners were charged for oxygen. They would also pump any excess oxygen out of the station to force the workers to have to purchase the oxygen from them. Making matters even worse, once the algorithms calculated that it was not cost effective to keep the workers alive, they were turned off and the suits took over. They continued to move, looking like space zombies.

A line from the Doctor when he figured out that the next set of people coming were not to rescue the workers, as that would not be cost effective, made this all work: “They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The end point of capitalism. The bottom line where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet … like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits!”

Giving the two meanings to “fighting the suits” fit in so well with this episode.

The Doctor went on to explain that soon after humanity resorted things like selling oxygen capitalism came to an end. However, after this, “the human race makes a whole new mistake.”

The solution to the problem was simple but fit into the story. The Doctor began to bluff in saying, “The nice thing about life is however bad it gets, there’s always one option left – dying well.” He had no intention of actually dying, but he made it look like he would make it more expensive for the corporation, causing the suits to all stop.

Unfortunately this did not come without some costs. The sonic screwdriver was destroyed (once again). The Doctor gave Bill his helmet to keep her alive, and as a result became blind. As the Doctor put it,  “I’ve got no TARDIS, no sonic, about 10 minutes of oxygen left and now I’m blind. Can you imagine how unbearable I’m going to be when I pull this off?”

Many episodes this season turn something common into something deadly,  reminiscent of Blink. This week the warning was “don’t panic” as this will lead to breathing faster, using up more oxygen, and death. Next week in Extremis yet another common event, reading a book, might get you killed. The Doctor’s blindness might be what saves him. Is this just a temporary measure for next week’s episode, or is it part of a slow death leading to his regeneration later this season? From the preview, we also see the return of Missy.

There was a lot of news this week regarding final decisions on renewals, largely with shows which were thought to be on the bubble. The announced cancellations included Sleepy Hollow, Timeless, Blacklist: Redemption (with Blacklist renewed), Scandal, PowerlessFrequency, and No Tomorrow. Renewals included New Girl (for one final season), Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, iZombie, American Gods, Thirteen Reasons Why, and A Handmaid’s Tale.

Of the cancelled shows, the only two which I might miss are Sleepy Hollow and Timeless. Sleepy Hollow did recover this season, with its season finale working as either the series finale or as a stepping stone to a new season. Timeless got better as the season went on, and ended with a cliff hanger which did leave me wanting more. Fortunately NBC listened to protests from other fans who felt the same and reversed its decision, giving it ten episodes next spring or summer.

Considering the nature of the show, there is also speculation that time travel was utilized to bring back the show. However, we learned from The Flash that going back in time to change things does have consequences. Reversing the decision at NBC might lead to terrible consequences. Perhaps ER will return for another decade, or worse, Whitney or Sean Saves The World will return to the NBC lineup.

I have no idea how the two new CW shows, Frequency and No Tomorrow, were. I never gave them a chance as there were already more shows on than I had time for, but I know both shows did have their fans. The CW Network has at least released epilogues for both of these shows.

Both Thirteen Reasons Why and The Handmaid’s Tale have been renewed for a second season, adding to the series based upon books which are going on beyond where the book they were based upon ended. The third season of The Leftovers is showing how a series can be better in such a situation. The Handmaid’s Tale has been excellent through the fifth episode, leaving me quite trusting of the producers to continue the story. While based upon the book this season, the show so far is often made stronger when it goes beyond the book. The story feels more realistic and a possible extension of current trends by showing the flashbacks. Mentions of events in Canada and the European Union since I last mentioned the book have further added to this sense of reality.

Now that we have also had additional episodes beyond the first three which were released at once, I further appreciate how good a job they are doing at not only converting a book but presenting episodic television. While it is not necessarily bad, many streaming shows and shows based upon books are more like a multi-hour movie with arbitrary breaks every hour or so. In contrast, each episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, while part of the novel, do tell a separate story.

Sense8, which I have completed since last discussing this, is also stronger in its second season in better handling episodic television while also having a season-long arc. Highlights include a wedding, a shoot out, and a car chase, along with other things I won’t mention to avoid any spoilers.

The Last Man on Earth ended with a change in scenery necessitated by a nearby nuclear power plant being on the verge of a melt down. We also found out that Kristen Wiig’s character, who had appeared in a single episode, has survived. Den of Geek spoke with the writers:

DEN OF GEEK: I sort of like the idea that this finale is all about safety. Did you know that you’d be ending up at this nuclear fallout angle when the season began? There are light references to it throughout the year.

KIRA KALUSH: We were always pretty set on doing a nuclear fallout this season. For a while we thought it could be our mid-season finale. We even toyed around with it being the reason the group leaves Malibu, but ultimately, here it landed, and I think it was the right move.

ANDY BOBROW: When we went in to discuss the season with the network, we pitched this ending, kind of as a “this is something we’re thinking about, not married to it yet.” It certainly scared them financially, since we basically guaranteed we will have to build all new sets next year. So we were mindful of that, what it would cost. And we kept thinking, well, maybe some better idea will come along. As the year progressed, we really couldn’t think of anything stronger. We realize we’re writing ourselves into a corner, but it just seemed so Last Man, I think we had to go for it.

Is that perhaps the direction that the show is moving in?  Where the gang is just trying to avoid nuclear fallout. It’s nice that this material also brings everything back full circle in terms of Pat.

KIRA KALUSH: You can never really say where the show is going until we’re there, but I don’t think the group will be on the run for too long. It’s likely that this is just a way for them to move locations and get out of their element. But who knows? R.I.P. Pat Brown. He was a fantastic misunderstood conspiracy theorist with anger problems, but it was his time to go.

ANDY BOBROW: The thought of doing a whole season on the run is very enticing, but might be cost prohibitive. Just in terms of the production of the show, our model is we build a set and shoot three days on set and two days on location per episode. Location shooting is more expensive, but if there’s a way to do more of it and stay on budget, I’m all for it…

The season seems to end with the only things that are clear being that the gang is on a boat and that Kristen Wiig’s Pamela is along for the ride. Did you ever think of her appearance almost just functioning as like a short film about the end of the world, or was the plan always to circle back to her?

KIRA KALUSH: I actually have a good answer to this one. There was a pitch that always made me laugh, but it’s a giant “fuck you” to the audience. The Wiig episode is so good and so exciting and we knew our fans would be psyched, waiting to see when and how she joins the group. So the pitch was this: In the time jump at Melissa and Todd’s wedding, Tandy is rambling on about everything they’ve been through together as a group. He points to memorials of Phil, Gordon, Lewis, and finally, Pamela — revealing that Pamela met up with the group, lived with them and died, all within those six months. I don’t think we ever would have done it, but it still cracks me up.

ANDY BOBROW: Right right. I mentioned this in the time jump questions, because at one point, rather than Pamela it was going to be Steve Buscemi. Either Steve Buscemi as himself, or just a character Tandy mentions, who is represented by a driver’s license or passport on a tombstone, and you can see it’s Steve Buscemi.

But getting back to Pamela, Will’s initial discussion with Kristen was we’ll take you for as few or as many episodes as you want. So our thought was if we could only have her for one episode, it would be a thing where she interacts with them more, i.e. she shows up at the beginning and leaves them at the end. Since she was game for more than one, we decided this was the way to go. Do a standalone with her, and then have her show up at the end. There were pitches that would have used more of her in the finale, but her availability was limited. She only had a day. As for season four, well once again, we’ll take as much Kristen as we can get.

The first episode of The Last Man on Earth with Kristen Wiig showed the death of the Pence administration, presumably after Trump was gone. While the novel was written in the Reagan era, The Handmaid’s Tale as a television show has been seen as a cautionary tale about Donald Trump.

In another commentary on politics, during the past week we learned that redirected to the official White House web site. Bleeding Cool tracked down and interviewed the person responsible for this:

Bleeding Cool: What made you decide to do this? Did you own the domain before you decided to do the redirect or did you buy a while ago? What made you decide to buy it?

Hail-Hydra Owner: I bought the domain in April of 2014. I’d remembered the Senator played by Garry Shandling whispering “Hail Hydra!” in Iron Man 2, then is arrested at the end of Captain America: Winter’s Soldier for being a member of Hydra. His character reminded me of many GOP senators (probably a personal bias there) so I looked to see if I could come up with a good domain to redirect at Republicans. was the second I tried. Originally I pointed it at Ted Cruz‘s presidential campaign, then Trump’s campaign and finally (and depressingly) at his White House web page…

Bleeding Cool: What about the current redirect? Was it something you changed recently or was it when he was inaugurated in January? Or was this a reaction to something specific that President Trump did?

Hail-Hydra Owner: I changed it the day of the inauguration. It was the first time I knew I was going to change it and when. All the other times I’d just remembered I owned it and would pick a target based on news at the time, and then tweet a few people to try and get it to go viral. I’m not even sure what set it off this time around.

Bleeding Cool: Finally, how do you want people to react to what you’ve done here? Did you get the type of reaction that you wanted or did you want something more? Less?

Hail-Hydra Owner: Since this seems to be getting some news I’ve kept an eye on twitter reactions, most people are reacting the way I would hope. It’s funny, it’s political satire. Do I think Republicans are literal Nazis? No. Do I think they’re over-authoritarian with a complete disregard for the majority of people in the country that can’t donate a million dollars to them? Yes. Several articles say they contacted the White House for comment, I hope I don’t end up on a terror list in retaliation.

For those who prefer their artistic opposition to Donald Trump to come from music, The Hill reports:

Todd Rundgren, a singer and songwriter, warned fans not to attend his concerts if they are Donald Trump supporters, saying “buyer beware.”

“If I had the power, I’d say: If you’re a Trump supporter, don’t come to my show, because you won’t have a good time,” Rundgren said in a Variety interview released Sunday.

Rundgren collaborated with an array of artists for his new album “White Night,” including Donald Fagen. Together, Fagen and Rundgren produced an anti-Trump song called “Man in the Tin Foil Hat.”

Lyrics include: “He’s coming down the escalator with a girl from east of here, because the man in the tin foil hat is leading like a teenage girl. He put’s the ‘pluto’ in plutocrat, he hasn’t got time for losers, unless they do what he demands.”

Rundgren said his shows will contain many insulting jokes about the Republican president, warning that it could be a turnoff for the president’s supporters

“I guarantee that in this show, if you’re a Trump supporter, you will likely be offended. Let the buyer beware! I mean, if you can’t take a joke, or you can’t admit that you’ve made a mistake, you don’t belong with the rest of us,” he said with a laugh, according to the interview.

Rundgren also said he also questions the values of Trump supporters.

“And also, I don’t understand your frickin’ values. Because I’m not singing about that. If you don’t understand that basic thing, you’re just fooling yourself,” he added.

Dutch Documentary Looks At Donald Trump’s Ties To The Russian Mafia

While we need the results of a full investigation to be certain, I have suspected that investigating Trump and Russia from the perspective of influencing the election results is a simplistic explanation. It is also simplistic to blame Russia for Clinton’s loss and ignore both how weak a candidate she was and how poorly the campaign was run. Certainly Russia meddled in our election, as it has been doing for decades, and we have been doing in other countries, but I suspect that there are other reasons for all the suspicious behavior involving Russia and members of the Trump administration. A Dutch television report on Trump’s ties to Russian mobsters might provide the explanation for such behavior, along with Trump’s unwillingness to release  his tax returns.

The video is available on You Tube:

Alternet provides some background:

Donald Trump’s business partners have included Russian oligarchs and convicted mobsters, which could make the president guilty of criminal racketeering charges.

That’s one of the eyebrow-raising takeaways from a 45-minute Dutch documentary that aired last week, titled The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part 1: The Russians. The first installment of the investigative reporting series, produced by Zembla, does what no American TV network has yet dared to do—take a deep look at the organized crime links and corrupt international business strategies used by Trump and his partners in his properties…

The documentary shows how Trump not only helped hide the identity of his mobster business partner, prompting an ongoing lawsuit accusing Trump of criminal racketeering, but also how Trump used that internal company crisis to demand more money. It goes on to show how Russian oligarchs saw Trump’s properties as a way to get their money out of Russia, and describes the international financial networks that are akin to a pyramid scheme for money laundering. It also notes how the law firm of Trump’s political adviser, former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani, helped set up a money-laundering account in the Netherlands used by Bayrock.


The following description is given for the video:

Although still in its early days, Donald Trump’s presidency is coming under fire. The Russians are alleged to be in possession of sensitive information about Trump. And that exposes Trump to blackmail. Fake news, tweets Trump: “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing!” Trump swears he has no ties with the Russians. But is that actually the case?

For months, the FBI have been investigating Russian interference in the American presidential elections. ZEMBLA is investigating another explosive dossier concerning Trump’s involvement with the Russians: Trump’s business and personal ties to oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. Powerful billionaires suspected of money laundering and fraud, and of having contacts in Moscow and with the mafia. What do these relationships say about Trump and why does he deny them? How compromising are these dubious business relationships for the 45th president of the United States? And are there connections with the Netherlands? ZEMBLA meets with one of Trump’s controversial cronies and speaks with a former CIA agent, fraud investigators, attorneys, and an American senator among others.

Trump’s ties to the Russia mob were also verified by PolitiFact last year, but they also noted that “these connections were not atypical in the real estate and casino businesses in the 1980s.”

A Failed Administration: Both President And Attorney General May Have Committed Impeachable Offenses

With Donald Trump facing considerable criticism for the firing of James Comey (along with multiple other faults), we must also keep in mind that there are other terrible people in  his administration. Among them is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Hill reports that Democrats are questioning his role in the firing of Comey:

The top Democrats on two powerful House committees are calling for a report on possible disciplinary actions against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his role in FBI Director James Comey’s firing.

The Democrats say Sessions may have violated his pledge to recuse himself from any investigations involving Russia’s effort to influence U.S. elections.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) pressed the Justice Department to explain Sessions’ role in President Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

“Federal law sets forth as a penalty for recusal violations removal from office, and the Attorney General’s violation in this case appears to be particularly grave,” the letter reads.

This criticism isn’t limited to Democrats. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has a similar opinion:

Refusing to recuse oneself from a conflict or breaking the promise to recuse from a conflict is a serious breach of legal ethics. “Someone could file a bar complaint, and/or one with DOJ’s office of professional responsibility, if Sessions had a conflict of interest when it came to the firing decision, and  if he did not follow the ethics rules, including those of DOJ by acting when he had a conflict of interest,” legal ethics expert Norman Eisen tells me. “The fact that he broke his recusal commitment, if he did, would be relevant context, and violating an agreement can sometimes in itself be an ethics violation.” In sum, Sessions has risked his law license, whether he realized it or not. He needs to testify immediately under oath; if there is no satisfactory explanation, he must resign. The alternative could be impeachment proceedings.

Yes, impeachment. The Attorney General appears to have committed grounds for impeachment. In addition, Donald Trump firing Jame Comey because he refused to pledge loyalty to him may be worse than firing him to obstruct the Russia investigation. Either way, it is grounds for impeachment, not that we can count on the Republicans to act on this.

But back to Jeff Sessions, he is also showing that he is a problem with regards to policy, seeking to escalate the failed drug war by increasing sentences for violations of current drug laws. Former Attorney General Eric Holder responded by calling Sessions’s policy “dumb on crime.”

“It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”

In the memo, Sessions told federal prosecutors to “pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” that by definition “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums.”

Holder also said, “Abandoning this evidence-based progress and turning back the clock to discredited, emotionally motivated, ideological policy also threatens the financial stability of the federal criminal justice system.”