Clinton’s Firing Of FBI Director Was Not Comparable To Trump Firing Comey

I have criticized much in Bill Clinton’s conservative record, and certainly am not defending Clinton out of any partisan loyalty, but the Republican defense of Trump’s firing of James Comey because Bill Clinton fired an FBI director does not hold up. Clinton acted in a bipartisan manner, basing his actions on an investigation which started under George H. W. Bush. He fired William Sessions over financial improprieties, not because the FBI director was investigating his administration. When the FBI director he appointed began to investigate him, perhaps Clinton wished he could fire him, but he did not.

It remains unprecedented for a president to fire an FBI director while his administration was under investigation, violating principles of justice and of the independence of the FBI.

Vox looks at Bill Clinton’s actions in far greater detail. I discussed the firing of James Comey, including several other opinions, here and here.

Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

The firing of James Comey by Donald Trump is yet another example of Donald Trump varying from Democratic norms. It is a disturbing case of a president working to destroy our system of checks and balances, demanding a pledge of loyalty from someone in a position designed to be independent of such political pressure.  I posted several opinions on this act yesterday, often from the perspective of comparing Trump’s actions to Richard Nixon’s acts to obstruct justice during the Watergate investigation.

There are even more ominous parallels which can be drawn. Donald Trump has already expressed a disturbing degree of admiration for dictators.  Vox looked at the firing of James Comey from the perspective of people who have studies the rise of authoritarian leaders. Some excerpts:

“Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. … This is the first clear warning sign that he’s attempting to [act like one].”

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey…

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

“This is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes,” Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. “Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government.”

Comey’s firing, these political scientists say, fits a pattern that’s very common in democracies that collapse into authoritarianism in the modern era. It’s not that the elected leaders in these countries set out to become an authoritarian, per se. It’s that they care about their own power and security above all else, and do things to protect their own position that have the effect of removing democratic constraints on their power.

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive’s actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration’s foreign ties.

Trump “has what you might think of as autocratic tendencies, which were probably perfectly normal in the business world but are very problematic in the political world,” says Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College. “What he would like to do is eliminate all sources of opposition to him — indeed, even sources of criticism of him — and he’s willing to do pretty much anything to do that.”

When most people think about the collapse of democracy, they think about the Nazis, or maybe a military coup. In both cases, a leader comes to power with the explicit goal of taking a democratic system and replacing it with an authoritarian one. They then immediately pass laws banning dissent and use force to shut down all sources of political opposition.

That actually doesn’t happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we’ve started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world — something that, in the wake of Trump’s recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

Leaders in these kinds of countries — Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela — don’t come into power and immediately dissolve the legislature and get rid of elections. What they do is corrupt those institutions, slowly and over time, rendering legislatures powerless and elections not truly competitive.

“It looks the same from the outside — there’s elections, there’s a judiciary, there’s a bureaucracy,” Berman says. “But the sort of power centers within those things, the people who populate them, have changed dramatically, so that … the substance of true democratic competition, true power competition, no longer exists.”

The vital first step toward this kind of “soft authoritarianism” is unified control over every key part of government. That starts with personnel: You can’t corrupt a judiciary staffed with impartial judges, or suborn election officials who are truly committed to running free and fair contests.

Instead, you need to fire people at key pressure points and replace them with cronies, or weaken the institution’s formal abilities to the point where it can’t really provide effective oversight…

There’s a reason FBI directors don’t get fired. The bureau handles, among many other things, criminal investigations involving the executive branch, so its leader needs to be as nonpartisan and clear of influence as possible. That’s why FBI directors have 10-year terms and are generally asked to stay on by new administrations, even if the director was appointed under a president of the opposing party…

“I don’t think we’ve crossed any bright lines distinguishing authoritarian systems from democratic ones,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies the rise and fall of democracies, tells me.

The issue, instead, is the precedent that this sets for the Trump administration. If Trump’s firing of the man who’s investigating him successfully neuters the FBI and slows down its investigation of the Trump-Russia ties, that’s one less check on his power going forward. If he gets a clear message that the checks on him when he grabs for power are pliable, how far will he end up pushing the envelope?

The article also points out that Democratic institutions in this country are much stronger than in other countries mentioned which have fallen into authoritarianism, although it is of concern that many Republicans in Congress appear willing to go a long with Trump for partisan gain. The degree of protest over Trump’s actions around the country since his inauguration is also a hopeful sign.

Brian Beutler also addressed this topic:

The firing of James Comey has restarted a conversation about the vulnerability of public institutions in America that had gone largely dormant.

Before Tuesday, one of the most remarkable things about Donald Trump’s presidency was how sturdy it had shown competitor institutions, and the larger system of checks and balances, to be. Courts have beat back his power grabs; media, for all its flaws, has been more skeptical of the claims and actions of the Trump administration than of any administration in recent history. Civil society organizations have flourished, and a vital protest movement has both slowed the GOP legislative agenda, and forced some Republicans in Congress to expect a measure of accountability from the White House.

For those who were relieved by this, Comey’s firing should be a frightful awakening from complacency.

The immediate threat of the Trump presidency wasn’t that he would sap the public of its civic-mindedness, or intimidate judges and reporters into submission with his tweets. It was to the institutions under his control—the ones within the executive branch—and particularly those with meaningful independence from political actors in the White House. Because the path to neutralizing or coopting external institutions runs through corrupting internal ones…

If Trump gets away with firing Comey—if Republicans let him nominate any director he wants; if they resist the pressure to insist on appointing a special prosecutor, or to convene an investigative body; if they squash inquiries into the firing itself—he will read it as permission to run amok. As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote, Trump’s “appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.”

Absent consequences, Trump will rightly feel liberated to appoint whomever he wants to run the IRS when the current commissioner’s term expires later this year. More alarmingly, he will know that he can get away with ordering a crackdown on voting rights or investigations of his political enemies. And, perversely, these are the reasons he is more likely to prevail. How many Republicans who entered the devil’s bargain with Trump for policy victories wouldn’t expand the terms to encompass electoral ones? Friends of Trump win elections and everyone else is at his mercy. Trump was reportedly upset that Comey did not pledge loyalty to him, and was charging ahead with an investigation that Trump finds threatening. When loyalty and corruption become job qualifications for political appointees, the president will have the power he needs to stifle protest leaders, judges, the free press, and political rivals. He won’t even have to make threats.

In Abusing Executive Powers By Firing Comey, Donald Trump Has Created A Cancer On His Presidency

Donald Trump, in abusing executive powers with the firing of James Comey, has created a cancer on the presidency the likes of which has not been seen since Watergate. While the president can legally fire the FBI Director, firing James Comey in this manner is unprecedented, violating the intent of the law to have an independent director for the FBI. Such independence does not fit in with Donald Trump’s personality. Few, if anyone believe his claim that firing Comey had anything to do with how he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Trump is believed to have been waiting for a reason to fire Comey, between Comey contradicting Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him, and his investigation of the relationship between members of his staff and Russia.

Partisan differences should be put aside in defending the principle of an independent Director of the FBI. It would have been an abuse of powers if Hillary Clinton had been elected and fired Comey, and it is an abuse of powers that Donald Trump has now done so. The obvious comparisons to Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox , which were previously raised when Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying him on his unconstitutional immigration ban, have been raised again.

Dan Rather, who is very familiar with the abuses of power during Watergate, wrote this about Trump firing James Comey:

Future generations may mark today as one of the truly dark days in American history, a history that may soon take an even more ominous turn.

President Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey is a matter that should deeply concern every American, regardless of party, partisan politics or ideological leanings.

The independence of our law enforcement is at the bedrock of our democracy. That independance, already grievously shaken under the brief tenure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is now shattered by uncertainty.

The firing of an FBI Director is always a very serious matter in normal times. But these times aren’t normal. Far from it. The Bureau is engaged in one of the most important and perilous investigations of this or any other presidency—the investigation of connections between the Trump election campaign and the Russian government.

The questions mount and the shadow grows darker. What were those connections? What did Mr. Trump know about them and when did he know it? How can the President explain the serious allegations against his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? And what is President Trump hiding in this regard? It’s imperative that the nation—We The People—get answers to those questions. It will take time, but the process must start now.

A politicized FBI is the last thing we need as we struggle through the maze of lies, concealment and ever-deepening mysteries. The last time a President fired prosecutors who were investigating him was Richard Nixon during the widespread criminal conspiracy known for short as “Watergate.” We all know how that turned out. In real ways, this potential scandal and coverup are much graver. We are talking about the very security of the United States and the sanctity of our republic.

Thomas Paine famously wrote in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. ”

I see this as having the potential for a similar reflection point in our American story. If there is a cover up, if our nation is at the risk that has certainly been more than suggested, it is incumbent upon everyone who claims to love this nation to demand answers.

We need a special prosecutor. We need an independent investigation. There is, obviously, much we don’t know about what has just happened, why it happened and why now. Just as obviously there is much more, so much more that we need know. We need to damn the lies and expose the truth.

I, and many others, felt a special prosecutor was necessary even before yesterday, not trusting the independence of any investigation from the Trump Justice Department. James Comey, regardless of what one thinks of  him, was independent and nonpartisan, and may have been our last shot of a fair investigation. Of course Congress should also continue their investigations, but in a situation such as this we cannot risk political distractions in Congress, and the subpoena power of a Special Prosecutor is necessary.

Others have presented arguments similar to that of Dan Rather. John Cassidy also compared this to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre:

It amounts to a premeditated and terrifying attack on the American system of government. Quite possibly, it will usher in a constitutional crisis. Even if it doesn’t, it represents the most unnerving turn yet in what is a uniquely unnerving Presidency.

Things like this are not supposed to happen in a liberal democracy, especially in one that takes pride, as the United States does, in safeguards put in place against the arbitrary exercise of power. The F.B.I. is meant to be an independent agency, above and beyond partisan politics and personal grudges. (That is why its directors are appointed for ten-year terms.) The President is supposed to respect this independence, especially when it comes to matters in which he has, or could have, a personal interest.

There is little in American history that compares to, or justifies, what Trump has now done. In recent times, the only possible precedent is the Saturday Night Massacre, of October 20, 1973, when Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox. Arguably, Trump’s Tuesday Afternoon Massacre was even more disturbing. In 1973, the two top law-enforcement officials in the land—the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused to carry out Nixon’s dictatorial order to terminate Cox. It was left to the wretched Robert Bork, who was then the Solicitor General, to do the deed.

Jonathan Chait described this as a progression of what we have already seen from Trump:

Trump has demonstrated his inability to tolerate any authority that lies beyond his control. He disputes the right of courts to review and overturn his actions; he regards his power as a vehicle for enriching himself and his family, and recognizes no public right to know even the contours of his self-interest. It is fitting that Trump sent his personal bodyguard to hand-deliver Comey’s letter of termination. He sees the federal government as a whole as personally subordinate to himself, exactly like his business. He would no more tolerate independent legal enforcement investigating his potential misdeeds than he would allow his own private security detail to dig up dirt on him.

There is no longer any serious possibility that he will respect the norms of conduct governing his office. The only questions are how far his fellow Republicans, who control all the power in Washington, will let him go before they stop him, or whether the midterm elections will give Democrats the chance.

We do no know the degree to which firing Comey was motivated solely by intolerance of any review of his actions, as opposed to a desire to cover up the actions of himself or associates. Firing Comey when he was not only leading the Russia inquiry involving members of the Trump administration but requesting increased funding does create a strong presumption of guilt. While there is currently no evidence of any collusion between Donald Trump himself and Russians who allegedly tampered with the presidential election, the behavior of members of  his staff do suggest that they, if not Trump himself, do have something to hide.

Trump’s decision to fire Comey is very likely to backfire against him, increasing questions regarding what Trump knew about the actions of his staffers. The immediate effect on the investigation is unknown, even to those within the FBI, but this is not likely to go away. As John Harwood wrote, Trump’s firing of Comey endangers his entire presidency. Such an abuse of power could ultimately lead to impeachment if Trump is found to have been acting to obstruct justice by firing James Comey.

Update: Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

Jimmy Carter Reveals He Voted For Bernie Sanders In The Georgia Primary

During a discussion between Jimmy Carter and Bernie Sanders at the Carter Center in Atlanta Carter said, referring to Sanders,  “Can y’all see why I voted for him?”

While Carter didn’t make this pubic previously, it does not come as a surprise. As The Washington Post reports:

Jimmy Carter and the Clintons have long had a frosty relationship. In 1992, he declined to endorse Bill Clinton, saying “people are looking for somebody who is honest and tells the truth.”

Four years later — when he was the only living Democratic ex-president — he skipped the Democratic National Convention entirely. And when Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008, Carter endorsed Barack Obama, saying at the time she needed to “give it up.”

Carter had predicted that Clinton would win the nomination in July 2015 saying, “There won’t be any problem with Hillary getting the nomination because money dominates, and she has an inside track to the massive amounts that are going to pour into the Democratic Party side.”

I wonder if this is why Carter didn’t make his support for Sanders public. It probably would not have changed the outcome, especially considering how heavily the nomination battle was rigged in Clinton’s favor, but it is possible such a high profile endorsement would have helped. The endorsement of Barack Obama by Ted and Caroline Kennedy, while again not the decisive factor, did help Obama defeat Clinton in 2008. In endorsing Obama, Ted Kennedy had criticized Clinton in saying, “With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.”

Of course Clinton did win the nomination as Carter predicted, with Clinton’s character being one of the factors which led to her loss and the election of Donald Trump. Perhaps if more Democrats had spoken out against Clinton the Democrats might have wound up with a more suitable candidate and prevented the election of Trump.

Carter and Sanders spoke about the rise of authoritarianism at the event:

Asked by the moderator about the rise of authoritarian politics in the United States and elsewhere, both the Vermont senator and former president agreed on a single root cause: political and economic inequality.

“I think the root of it is something that I haven’t heard discussed much,” Carter replied. “I believe the root of the downturn in human rights preceded 2016, it began earlier than that, and I think the reason was disparity in income which has been translated into the average person, you know good, decent, hard-working middle class people feeling that they are getting cheated by the government and by society and they don’t get the same element of health care, they don’t get the same quality education, they don’t get the same political rights.”

“I agree with everything that President Carter said,” Sanders replied.

“Look, here is the situation. You got all over this country tens of millions of people who are extremely angry and they are disappointed. Now we all know as a result of technology workers are producing more today than they did 20 or 30 years ago. Yet despite that you’re seeing people work not 40 hours a week, they’re working 50 or 60 hours a week. Their wages are actually going down!”

37 Out Of 37 Economists Now Agree That Donald Trump’s Economic Plan Is Pure Fantasy

Republicans will say anything to cut their own taxes. Donald Trump has repeated common conservative claims that tax cuts will pay for themselves to justify his planned tax cut for billionaires such as himself. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business had a survey of economists last week in which 35 out of 37 disagreed with Trump’ s tax plan. It now turns out that the two economists who appeared to support Trump’s tax plan had misread the question. Wonkblog reports:

“I screwed up on that one,” said one of those two economists, Kenneth Judd, when asked about his response to Trump’s tax claim. “I meant to say that this is a horrible idea, a bad idea — no chance in hell.”

The other respondent who said that Trump’s tax cuts would pay for themselves was Bengt Holmström of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who confirmed in an email to The Washington Post that he had also misread the question…

In total, there is not one economist in the Chicago poll who believes that Trump’s cuts would pay for themselves, suggesting his administration might not be able to deliver on a crucial promise.

Above graph from The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Knock Knock; American Gods; Sense8; The Flash; Ranking The Rolling Stones Songs

Knock Knock had some good moments but did not really work. Possibly the problem was timing. It attempted to be a plot-driven episode of Doctor Who and depended less on the interplay between the Doctor and Bill, but in doing so partially lost the strongest aspect of the season so far, while still having a plot which was rushed to the point of making little sense.

The story jumped too quickly from students looking for an affordable place to live to the first death. While the general premise of housing being too expensive was realistic, why did Bill suddenly need to find somewhere new to live, and why with these six people she barely knew? I’m sure students don’t read their housing contracts that closely, but I wonder if even a cursory reading might have tipped them off to what they were agreeing to. It is less plausible that not a single student would have looked into cell or internet access before quickly moving in. While I did like how they went from one student joking around to really being killed, it all felt too rushed. The student who hit on Bill this quickly was also acting in too much of a rushed manner.

There were some good scenes, but overall the threat from the bugs and the wood made little sense. Why did they keep Eliza alive, eat some students, and incorporate others into the woodwork? Things just happened without any real answers, or anyone figuring out much. While they did figure out that the Landlord must Eliza’s son and not father, this was not all that tremendous, and had little bearing on the outcome. Suddenly Eliza intervened to help, was able to control the bugs, and opened the shutters in time for the fire works. I was waiting to hear When You Wish Upon A Star as if it was the Magic Kingdom. Everyone turned out to be alive, but why did the insects release them? Presumably those eaten in previous years were too far gone, but it might have been an amusing scene to have groups of students from the past suddenly appear if they were going to show any victims come back to life.

Perhaps more time on the plot could have solved some of these problems, but that would have taken away even more time from Bill and the Doctor. The Doctor did mention regeneration, foreshadowing what we know will come later this season. He also mentioned the Time Lords. It was amusing to see the Doctor use the TARDIS to help Bill move in, but I don’t understand why Bill seemed to be embarrassed to let the others know about her relationship with the Doctor. She did claim he was her Grandfather. Is this somehow related to the pictures of Susan on the Doctor’s desk?

I’m surprised that they did not bring up the inability of the sonic screwdriver to work on wood, or make more use of its sonic abilities considering the importance of sound in controlling the bugs. Of course I don’t blame the Doctor for not being clear as to how that worked as I’m not too clear on it either after watching the episode.

At least the show sort of gets the history right, including Harriet Jones among the Prime Ministers of Great Britain.

This season we have seen a reflection and failing to smile become things to fear, and I wonder if the intent was to do the same with knocking, considering the title. If so, it didn’t work. Of course the classic example of Doctor Who creating fear is Blink, and this episode was filmed on the same property, but in a different house, as where Blink was filmed.

The episode concluded with the Doctor going inside to visit the person in the vault. The interaction we did hear has strengthened suspicion that it is The Master (very likely as Missy) inside. For that matter, is the vault the Master’s TARDIS and how big will it be on the inside?

In other Doctor Who universe news, there is a new design for K-9. There will also be a series five of Torchwood, taking place after Miracle Day, but it will be released as an audio series.

American Gods premiered last week. I wonder if this is the right format. The show is apparently very faithful to the book, while expanding on situations and characters. One review said that the entire first season covers only the first one hundred pages of the book. The show is basically set up for at least the first four episodes, making me wonder if television viewers who aren’t familiar with the book will understand what is going on and stick it out. This could be a situation in which it might not be best to be so faithful to the book. Otherwise it might be better to release this Netflix style and have it available all at once, so people can go through it more like reading a book, as opposed to watching the first episode, being confused, and possibly not returning. At very least it might have been better to release the first few episodes at once, as Hulu did with The Handmaid’s Tale.

Whether or not they understand what is going on, fans of  Bryan Fuller’s work will feel right at home with the visual. The lynching scene at the end felt like something right out of Hannibal. Fuller discussed the scene with TV Guide.

Neil Gaiman explained what the book and series is all about in an interview with Recode:

Many of you who are listening to this know what “American Gods” is because it’s a very popular book. Some of you have not read the book, so Neil, tell us what the book and the show are about.

The book — which was written in 1999, 2000 and 2001, and published in June 2001 — and the show, which is coming up, are both about America. They’re both about a man named Shadow, who is in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit and has been looking forward to getting out and getting back together with his wife, Laura, who he loves very, very much. In a one-two sucker punch, he learns that he’s being let out a few days early, and he is being let out a few days early because his wife was killed in a car crash. He’s on his way back to his wife’s funeral when he meets a peculiar old grifter on a plane, who offers him a job.

The job, which he winds up taking, throws Shadow into the middle of a battle, an oncoming battle, between all of the old gods, all of the things that people who have come to America over the years have brought with them and abandoned, whether it’s leprechauns, or the Golem, or things that people have believed in, come to America, as all of the people who are in America are the descendants of people who came here, or are people who came here, and also the new gods. The new gods are the things that demand our attention, that we give our time and our love and our attention to, whether it be the gods of podcast, or of those small glass and metal and plastic objects that we all stare at in rapt devotion…

This is a book you started writing in the late ’90s. You started making the TV show a couple of years ago, it comes out now, and it is about immigration, in large part?

Yeah.

Race is forefront. There is a lynching scene at the end of the first episode. The beginning of the second episode, it starts off on a slave ship, so obviously there is some timely stuff going on here. Do you figure that would’ve been timely no matter what?

The weird thing for me is that when I wrote the book, I did not see any of this stuff as controversial. When I wrote the book, I thought, okay, this is an immigrant country. Some of the people came here, their ancestors came here 20,000 years ago from Siberia, crossing the Bering Straights and stuff. Some people came here 400 years ago, and some people wanted to come here, and some people were sent as prisoners, sent as slaves …

Right, there’s no question mark at the end of it, it’s a full stop.

That one’s a full stop. This is an immigrant country, and furthermore, I don’t think it’s contentious or controversial to be pro Statue of Liberty, and the poem thereon. You’re going, “I think that is part of the American psyche, the American dream,” nor did it think it was, in any way, controversial or laudable to go, “I am writing a novel about immigration in America, therefore I am going to have a lot of people in my book of different races because there are a lot of different races in America. I will make a mixed-race hero, A) for plot reasons and B) because he embodies America.” That all seemed to me to be very …

Table stakes.

Yeah. It’s not controversial, and I don’t think we thought it was controversial when we were writing the scripts, and I don’t think anybody thought it was really controversial when we were shooting it.

Cut to 2017.

Suddenly, I’m describing the show … There was a point where I was describing the show to … I was on the Empire Film Awards red carpet and somebody put a microphone in my face, and I told them a little bit about the show, and I said, “You know, things have changed. We did not think this stuff was controversial, but now we seem to be occupying political territory. We’re willing to take that, but we didn’t choose it to be.” The headline, when it was published was, “Neil Gaiman, author of ‘American Gods,’ slams Donald Trump.”

I thought, “I didn’t slam Donald Trump.” If I wanted to slam Donald Trump and talk about what a peculiar, narcissistic, ineffectual joke he is, I could’ve done, but I didn’t. I don’t even think I mentioned the poor man’s name.

Empire On Line discussed the making of the show with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green:

So, what’s the story here? Do you guys go out of your way to just get weird with this stuff? Bryan, you did Hannibal, obviously, and that had its own surreal quality to it. It almost seems like you sit there saying, “How can we fuck with the audience’s mind?”

Fuller: No, not really [laughs]. I think our imaginations are fairly vivid and when we’re reading something that is as inspiring as Neil’s novel, it’s hard not to grab the baton and run. If anything, we’ve checked each other a couple of times where it’s, like, “Uh, that may be too big and too weird,” and for us to say that to each other, you know it’s big and weird.

Is this just the way your minds work?

Green: It’s more where we live and we have the opportunity to do it, but it’s also why we were drawn to Neil’s writing and specifically this book is that it allowed us to bring imagination to life, even if it was going to be lavish, difficult, expensive.

Michael, is that something that you’re naturally drawn to, that type of storytelling?

Green: Bryan and I share a lot of taste and style, but I will say as a fan of Hannibal and of Bryan’s in the intervening years when we weren’t working together, I would often get together with him and just ask him, “How do you accomplish these things?” Bryan as a producer has an incredible and enviable track record of taking the ideas in his mind and being able to share them with other people by actualizing them. That is as good a definition of producing as I can muster, where it’s one thing as a writer to take an idea in your head and get it on the page clearly so other people can experience that idea. It’s another thing to be able to do that with visual images.

There were images on the show, sequences on the show, that Bryan described to me when we were in the writing phases and I could imagine very vividly, but the process of being able to actually put that on the screen takes an incredible amount of work, dedication, clarity of purpose. Every idea can continue to get better as more time goes on. I’ve been very much enjoying working with Bryan and learning how he manages to extract from his own mind the best idea and extract from the talented artists we work with the visual representation of those ideas.

Fuller: One of the things that we’ve learned on the show is we needed a long runway, because a lot of these ideas that we’re working on required a certain amount of experimentation to get right, and there were alleys that we went down regarding some visual effects. When we got to the end, we’re, like, “This doesn’t work. We need to back up and try something else, because it’s not holding up to the standards that we have.” Or it was an ambitious idea that we thought we could pull off, but we couldn’t quite, so we had to do something that we could achieve. A lot of our conversations with the visual effects team are about, “What can we pull off? What’s too big for us to achieve in our time and budget?”

The interview went on to discuss several of the characters.

Netflix released season two of Sense8. (Technically the Christmas episode was the first episode of the season). I have a few episodes to go, which might affect my opinion, and I don’t want to say very much to avoid spoilers as this has only been available for a couple of days. Now that the first season established the back story, the plot so far does seem more coherent than in the first season, but that doesn’t matter all that much. I’d enjoy the show even if there was no real plot and we were just seeing that world for several hours. My suspicion is that the Wachowskis come up with great scenes and then J. Michael Straczynski figures out how they can be fit together into a fairly coherent plot. (Maybe the Wachowskis should have brought someone like JMS in to give a better storyline for the Matrix sequels). Like with American Gods and Hannibal, the imagery is important–with a totally different type of imagery here.

Again, avoiding spoilers, the conspiracy element reminds me a bit of Orphan Black. There is the return of Mr. Whispers, and the BPO (Biologic Preservation Organization), with more layers than in the first season, similar to how the conspiracy expanded on Orphan Black. There is more of a biological background given, and there are other clusters. While new characters are introduced, the story does continue to concentrate on the cluster seen in the first season, with their individual stories, both alone and when connected with others, continuing to be the strength of the show.

In other entertainment news, it was announced that both The Handmaid’s Tale and 13 Reasons Why have both been renewed for a second season.

Comicbook.com explains how the reveal of Savatar’s identity on last week’s episode of The Flash plays into the 2056 warning from the Flash previously played on Legends of Tomorrow. They are going to have to do a lot more to convince me that it is plausible to have a future Barry come back in time and kill Iris.

In a really ambitious project, Vulture ranked all 373 songs by the Rolling Stones. Number one is You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Lawyers, Guns & Money wants to argue over it. Vulture did point out some areas of potential controversy beyond the ranking of the songs:

The Rolling Stones have multiple songs that are lyrically reprehensible to women and people of color — often both at the same time. If I were questioned about this topic at the Pearly Gates, I’d suggest that the Stones’ offensive attitudes had more to do with a craven desire to be provocative than any fundamental malignant worldview, but maybe I’m a fool. Whatever the true motivation behind them, a handful of the band’s songs have been tarred by Jagger and Richards’s sex and race insensitivity. There’s no getting around it. Then there’s the matter of appropriation. Excepting perhaps Elvis, there is no rock act that benefited more from drawing on black music than the Rolling Stones, who have repeatedly talked with respect and deference about how much they’ve taken from their musical idols. I do think that once the band took flight, its music represents a synthesis of their influences, rather than mere mimicry or theft. That said, I don’t know what you do with all these issues other than acknowledge that they’re a problem.

Shattered Shows How Clinton Quickly Decided To Blame Others For Her Loss

The Democratic Party continues its attempts to figure out what went wrong and how to rebuild. This effort is being sabotaged by Clinton and her supporters who spread false narratives to explain her loss rather than facing the truth or taking the blame for their mistakesShattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign shows how Clinton and her supporters initiated a strategy to place the blame on Russia, James, Comey, and the media within twenty-four hours of her loss:

On a phone call with a longtime friend a couple of days after the election, Hillary was much less accepting of her defeat. She put a fine point on the factors she believed cost her the presidency: the FBI (Comey), the KGB (the old name for Russia’s intelligence service), and the KKK (the support Trump got from white nationalists).

“I’m angry,” Hillary told her friend. And exhausted. After two brutal campaigns against Sanders and Trump, Hillary now had to explain the failure to friends in a seemingly endless round of phone calls. That was taking a toll on her already weary and grief-stricken soul. But mostly, she was mad—mad that she’d lost and that the country would have to endure a Trump presidency.

In other calls with advisers and political surrogates in the days after the election, Hillary declined to take responsibility for her own loss. “She’s not being particularly self-reflective,” said one longtime ally who was on calls with her shortly after the election. Instead, Hillary kept pointing her finger at Comey and Russia. “She wants to make sure all these narratives get spun the right way,” this person said.

That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.

In Brooklyn, her team coalesced around the idea that Russian hacking was the major unreported story of the campaign, overshadowed by the contents of stolen e-mails and Hillary’s own private-server imbroglio. They also decided to hammer the media for focusing so intently on the investigation into her e-mail, which had created a cloud over her candidacy. “The press botched the e-mail story for eighteen months,” said one person who was in the room. “Comey obviously screwed us, but the press created the story.”

Clinton attacked Donald Trump for suggesting that the election was rigged before the election:

“That’s horrifying,” Mrs. Clinton replied. “Let’s be clear about what he is saying and what that means. He is denigrating — he is talking down our democracy. And I am appalled that someone who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that position.”

Mrs. Clinton then ticked off the number of times he had deemed a system rigged when he suffered a setback, noting he had even called the Emmy Awards fixed when his show, “The Apprentice,’’ was passed over.

“It’s funny, but it’s also really troubling,” she said. “That is not the way our democracy works.”

Now it is Clinton and many of her supporters who refuse to accept the results, sticking with a script to blame others which does not hold up to scrutiny.

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.

Of course the problems are not limited to 2016. Democrats also lost badly in 2010 and 2014 by ignoring principles and running as a Republican-lite party. By 2016 their presidential candidate was a major supporter of the Bush/Cheney agenda on interventionism, enlarging the surveillance state, economics, and limiting government transparency. Clinton had largely become the establishment Republican candidate, with support from the neoconservatives,  running against Donald Trump’s outsider campaign.

The Democratic Party will not be able to recover unless it faces the facts as to why it continues to lose. We are seeing this again on health care, with the Democratic leadership running away from support for a single payer plan, as Bernie Sanders promoted during the 2016 campaign.

Counterpunch provides further information as to how Clintonland has continued to spread the myth that Russia was responsible for Clinton’s loss after the election:

A lavishly-funded example is the “Moscow Project,” a mega-spin effort that surfaced in midwinter as a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s led by Neera Tanden, a self-described “loyal soldier” for Clinton who also runs the Center for American Progress (where she succeeded Podesta as president). The Center’s board includes several billionaires

The “Moscow Project” is expressly inclined to go over the top, aiming to help normalize ultra-partisan conjectures as supposedly factual. And so, the homepage of the “Moscow Project” prominently declares: “Given  Trump’s obedience to Vladimir Putin and the deep ties between his advisers and the Kremlin, Russia’s actions are a significant and ongoing cause for concern.”

Let’s freeze-frame how that sentence begins: “Given Trump’s obedience to Vladimir Putin.” It’s a jaw-dropping claim; a preposterous smear.

Echoes of such tactics can be heard from many Democrats in Congress and from allied media. Along the way, no outlet has been more in sync than MSNBC, and no one on the network has been more promotional of the Russia-runs-Trump meme than Rachel Maddow, tirelessly promoting the line and sometimes connecting dots in Glenn Beck fashion to the point of journalistic malpractice.

Yet last year, notably without success, the Clinton campaign devoted plenty of its messaging to the Trump-Russia theme. As the “Shattered” book notes, “Hillary would raise the issue herself repeatedly in debates” with Trump. For example, in one of those debates she said: “We have 17 — 17 — intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election.”

After Trump’s election triumph, the top tier of Clinton strategists quickly moved to seize as much of the narrative as they could, surely mindful of what George Orwell observed: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” After all, they hardly wanted the public discourse to dwell on Clinton’s lack of voter appeal because of her deep ties to Wall Street. Political recriminations would be much better focused on the Russian government.

In early spring, the former communications director of the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign, Jennifer Palmieri, summed up the post-election approach neatly in a Washington Post opinion article: “If we make plain that what Russia has done is nothing less than an attack on our republic, the public will be with us. And the more we talk about it, the more they’ll be with us.”

The inability of top Clinton operatives to identify with the non-wealthy is so tenacious that they still want to assume “the public will be with us” the more they talk about Russia Russia Russia. Imagine sitting at a kitchen table with average-income voters who are worried sick about their financial futures — and explaining to them that the biggest threat they face is from the Kremlin rather than from U.S. government policies that benefit the rich and corporate America at their expense.

Tone deaf hardly describes the severe political impairment of those who insist that denouncing Russia will be key to the Democratic Party’s political fortunes in 2018 and 2020. But the top-down pressure for conformity among elected Democrats is enormous and effective.

I have previously posted excerpts from Shattered  here,  here,  here, and here, and have discussed why Clinton lost in multiple additional posts. Also see the excerpt I have posted from Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus by Matt Taibbi on Hillary Clinton, which provides further insight into why Hillary Clinton should not have run for president in 2016 in light of the manner in which she used her political influence in an unethical manner to make money.

Republicans Vote To Deny Health Care Coverage To Millions But It Is Far From Certain That Democrats Can Take Advantage Of This

The lie of the week is that the Republican-controlled Congress voted to repeal and replace Obamacare. Repeal yes, but the law they passed is too worthless to seriously be called a replacement. Republicans voted to deny health care coverage to millions, and to open the door for insurance companies to deny coverage for preexisting conditions. Doctors, insurance companies, hospitals, AARP, and many consumers groups are unified in opposing this legislation. Fortunately even some Senate Republicans realize that this is a terrible plan and want to start from scratch.

To summarize the effects of the House plan:

  • Tax cuts for the wealthy–always a Republican priority
  • Defunds Planned Parenthood for one year
  • Allows older Americans to be charged more
  • Cuts benefits to Medicaid recipients
  • Cuts school services for disabled children
  • Could weaken employer sponsored health care along with plans sold on the exchanges, including removing coverage for the essential health benefits now in Obamacare, and removing prohibition on annual limits of coverage

The House plan could return us to the days when insurance companies made their profits by taking in premiums but finding ways to avoid paying out money on claims. Only selling insurance to the healthy very well could result in lower premiums, but this defeats the purpose of having health insurance. Republicans claim to be funding high risk pools to care for those with preexisting conditions, but they are only providing funding to cover five percent of those with preexisting conditions.

Of course, this will depend upon what happens in the states, and how many red states actually do opt out of the current requirements. Scott Walker has already stated he might apply for a waiver for coverage of preexisting conditions in Wisconsin.

Democrats are excited that this will help them politically, with some saying that the GOP just doomed itself. Even those who support many of the GOP goals see this plan as being politically damaging for Republicans.

Health care should dominate politics in upcoming cycles, but Democrats cannot count on this by itself being the key to retaking control of the House. Democrats need to keep up the pressure and do a far better job of making their arguments than they did when the Affordable Care Act was initially passed. It is questionable if anything resembling the House plan will ever pass the Senate and become law. (Presumably Donald Trump will sign whatever the Republicans pass, regardless of how much it violates his campaign promises).

Democrats could have the same problem in capitalizing on this as they did in promoting Obamacare. While some might lose insurance coverage immediately, many others might feel safe, not realizing that developing a medical problem could put them at risk of losing coverage in the future. Some will even be happy as young, healthy people very likely could wind up paying less–as long as they remain young and healthy. The adverse effects of this law won’t be fully apparent in 2018.

The Democrats could also lose due to their political cowardice. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton opposed Bernie Sanders’ proposal for Medicare for All. Truthout debunked Clinton’s arguments. Now Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic establishment are refusing to take this opportunity to push for a single payer plan. The Observer’s view of Pelosi and mainstream Democrats is quite close to that expressed previously by Truthout:

Their failure to support a proposal that the majority of their base wants illuminates the growing disconnect between elected officials and their constituents and the massive influence of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Americans want single payer health care, and the obstacles blocking them from the system they want are special interests, which are bought and paid for Democrats in office who avoid taking principled stances on issues. Democrats like Pelosi don’t stand for anything because fighting for something like single payer health care would upset the party’s wealthy donors.

Pelosi’s and other Democrats’ arguments excuse themselves from supporting progressive policies and reaffirm the Democratic Party as a corrupt entity tied to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. On May 1, the Washington Post reported a poll conducted in January among Trump voters who had previously voted for Obama. When those polled were asked what the Democratic Party stands for they gave responses like, “The 1 percent,” “The status quo” and “They’re for the party. Themselves and the party.” One woman, asked whether the Democratic Party is for people like her, flatly declared, “Nope.”

As Donald Trump has learned, health care is complicated. You cannot reduce costs without reducing coverage, unless you make fundamental changes in the system. The most obvious way would be a single payer plan which both removes the huge profits of the insurance industry and places everyone in the same risk pool. In hiding from this reality, Democrats show why they tend to lose and Republicans have been winning. Republicans did not care that their ideas have been far out of the mainstream. They pushed their ideas until they won over enough people to win, even if it has been on fallacious arguments. The party which stands for something, regardless of what it stands for, has an advantage over a party which stands for nothing. Thus we have seen the Democratic losses in 2010, 2014, and now 2016.

American Association for Public Opinion Research Casts Doubt On Clinton’s Claims That James Comey Cost Her The Election

Yesterday I looked once again at Clinton placing the blame on James Comey for losing an election against Donald Trump. Besides the problems with this claim which I already reviewed, the American Association for Public Opinion Research cast further doubt on this. In looking at why the polls were predicting a Clinton victory, they looked at the late-deciding voters who chose Trump:

In its effort to explore reasons for the large percentage of late-deciding voters who chose Trump, the report examines a central Clinton claim: that FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress on Oct. 28 of last year, stating that the bureau had discovered additional evidence related to Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, might have tipped the race.

The report does not find evidence the Comey letter was determinative.

“The evidence for a meaningful effect on the election from the FBI letter is mixed at best,” the report states, citing polls that showed Clinton’s support beginning to drop in the days leading up to the letter. “October 28th falls at roughly the midpoint (not the start) of the slide in Clinton’s support.”

As I noted yesterday, James Comey would not have been investigating Clinton 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.

As I also discussed yesterday, Clinton made major mistakes throughout the campaign, including in the final days.

Regardless of how much of an effect Comey’s later had on the results, Clinton and those who supported her nomination despite all the evidence against her are to blame for Donald Trump being elected president.

Clinton Continues To Blame Others And Claims To Be Part Of The Resistance

Hillary Clinton continues to blame James Comey and the Russians for her loss saying, “If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president.”

In an election this close, it is certainly possible that changing anything which hurt Clinton could have changed the outcome, but that misses the point that Clinton put herself in this situation. She made many mistakes, which Nate Silver acknowledged when he said that the Comey letter probably cost her the election. More importantly, the letter and Wikileaks only harmed Clinton because of her actions.

James Comey would not have been investigating Clinton 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.

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.

Hillary Clinton should never had been nominated by a major political party considering the scandal she was involved in, and her refusal to answer questions about it honestly. If the scandal exploded shortly before the election, which could have happened in a number of other ways if not for the Comey letter, don’t blame the messenger. The fault belongs to Hillary Clinton and those who supported her for the nomination.

David Axelrod responded to Clinton’s excuses:

“It takes a lot of work to lose to Donald Trump,” Axelrod told CNN on Wednesday. “Let me tell you, he was the least popular presidential candidate to win in the history of polling.”

…Axelrod called the 2016 race a “miserable slog” and said nobody in America wants to relive it “except the combatants who keep going back to it.”

“She has a legitimate beef because Comey’s letter was instrumental I think in her defeat, so in a narrow sense she is right about it,” Axelrod said.

“But Jim Comey didn’t tell her not to campaign in Wisconsin after the convention. Jim Comey didn’t say don’t put any resources into Michigan until the final week of the campaign,” he continued.

“And one of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server.”

Axelrod then offered a piece of advice for Clinton.

“If I were her, if I were advising her, I would say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t go back and appear as if you’re shifting responsibility.’ … She said the words ‘I’m responsible,’ but the — everything else suggested that she doesn’t really feel that way,” he said.

“And I don’t think that helps her in the long run, so if I were her I would move on.”

Even if Comey did cause a drop for Clinton in the polls, she is responsible for how she campaigned, including in the final days of the campaign. For example, Clinton made serious mistakes in Michigan, as I have previously discussed. Plus, in the final days, when both candidates advertised heavily, Clinton was outsmarted yet again by Trump. I saw ads from Trump with promises (regardless of how dishonest) that he could create jobs. The ads I saw from Clinton were based on personal attacks against Trump, but gave no reason to vote for her. Her negative campaign against Trump, even if generally factually true, backfired against her. Hillary Clinton very well could have blown the election in the final days without Comey’s letter or Wikileaks.

Clinton has also received a lot of criticism over this interview on social media. Williams Rivers Pitt mocked Clinton’s assertion on Facebook:

“If the election was on October 27th, I would be your president.”

— Hillary Clinton, today.

And if we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs. Apologies for the pesky constitutional Tuesday-in-November requirement, or that your own glaring weaknesses as a candidate came forcefully to bear in their most effective moment. Worked out great for all of us.

Go away.

I subsequently responded to another statement made by Clinton in the same interview:

“I am now back to being an activist citizen and part of the resistance.” –Hillary Clinton

No Hillary, 2016 was all about Americans forming a resistance to you. This includes the economic issues which dominated the campaign, and the Bush/Clinton policies which have put this country into a state of perpetual warfare and accelerated the growth of the surveillance state.

Donald Trump was elected because the two party duopoly only gave him as an alternative to you. While defeating the Bushes and Clintons was important, Trump was the wrong answer. Now we need a resistance to both Trump and Clinton.

Update: American Association for Public Opinion Research Casts Doubt On Clinton’s Claims That James Comey Cost Her The Election