Historian Analyzes The Many Problems With The Russiagate Narrative And Democratic Support For Interventionism

Many partisan Democrats have believed Clinton’s claims that she lost as a consequence of Russian interference in the election, as opposed to her own mistakes, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. Many of those viewing the matter more seriously have expressed skepticism, seeing the current hysteria as reminiscent of claims of WMD in Iraq. Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has an essay on this at the London Review of Books. He looked at subjects including the lack of evidence that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, along with how this narrative distracts from the evidence of corruption in the DNC which was revealed in their email. He noted, as I also provided examples of recently, that many of the claims in the media have been quickly shown to be incorrect. He also discussed how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton. While I would recommend reading his full article, here are some excerpts:

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington…

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical…

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment…

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign…

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

Sanders Seen As Front Runner For 2020 Democratic Nomination

Bernie Sanders is repeatedly topping lists of potential 2020 Democratic candidates for president. The latest is a list at The Fix of The top 15 Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, ranked:

1. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Previous: 1)

must-read story from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti recently showed how Sanders conspicuously seems to be addressing the shortcomings that hampered his candidacy in 2016 — most notably his lack of familiarity with foreign policy and of inroads with powerful pro-Democratic groups, such as the American Federation of Teachers. Sanders has done nothing to diminish speculation that he will run again; the biggest question is, and will be, his age (76) — as it is with Brown (79) and Biden (75).

Complaining of a lack of familiarity with foreign policy is a bit of a stretch considering how Bernie Sanders has a far better track record than Hillary Clinton did when it came down to the decisions they made. I am hoping that greater study of foreign policy might lead Sanders to giving more priority to reducing foreign interventionism in a future campaign.

Joe Biden follows at 2nd, Elizabeth Warren is 3rd, Kirsten Gillibrand is 4th, and Kamala Harris is listed as 5th.

Brent Budowsky, writing at The Hill, wrote yesterday that Sanders would be the instant frontrunner if he runs:

If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) decides to run for president in 2020, he would be the instant frontrunner for the nomination and favored in the general election against Trump or any other GOP nominee. If Sanders decides not to run, there is a strong likelihood that the ultimate nominee will campaign, win and govern as a true progressive in the Sanders mold.

When historians look back on the Sanders campaign in 2016, they will note two fundamentally important and lasting contributions that Sanders and his supporters made.

First, the Sanders platform in the 2016 primaries, which was significantly but not fully included in the Democratic platform at the convention, will provide the policy blueprint for the next Democratic presidential campaign and the next great Democratic president.

The progressive populist policies of William Jennings Bryan evolved into the progressive populist presidency of Teddy Roosevelt. The populist policies of Teddy Roosevelt, when he campaigned to regain the presidency as the progressive candidate after abandoning the Republican Party, were largely incorporated by Franklin Roosevelt into his New Deal.

Similarly, the programs championed by Sanders in 2016 will largely be adopted in the Democratic platform in 2020 and fervently championed by the 2020 nominee, whether it is Sanders or a similar candidate.

The second historic legacy of the Sanders campaign in 2016 was that he challenged, and defeated, the old style campaign fundraising paradigm of previous major candidates. It was revolutionary and historic that Sanders energized a gigantic army of small donors and became a fundraising leader who changed campaign fundraising forever.

The Sanders small-donor paradigm thrives today in the pro-Sanders group, Our Revolution, and in the enormous impact small donors have had since 2016, most recently in the Alabama Senate election.

Repeated polls showing that Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the country (while the favorable ratings of Clinton and Trump continue to decline) is another point in his favor.

While early predictions for presidential nominations are often wrong, it is encouraging that Sanders has been named by so many sources as the likely front runner for several months. For example, as I posted in July, Vox, A Voice Of The Democratic Establishment, Now Realizes That Bernie Sanders Is The Democrats’ Real 2020 Frontrunner.

We certainly cannot count on the Democrats making the wisest decision, considering that they essentially rigged the nomination for Clinton in 2016 despite all the evidence that Clinton would have difficulty winning and lagged about ten points behind Sanders in head to head match-ups against Republicans. There are also many in the Democratic establishment who are more concerned about maintaining their positions than what is best for the party, and for the country.

Mediaite Listing Of Most Influential In Media Shows How Pathetic Our Media Is

Mediaite has presented their list of Most Influential In Media In 2017. It suggests a very sorry state of our mass media if these are really the most influential, especially when looking at the page with their top five.

Leading the list is Fox & Friends Co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade

They top the list because of Donald Trump being such a big fan. Trump, who often repeats what they say and praises them on Twitter, also congratulated them for this today.

They are followed by Jeff Zucker of CNN. While CNN is hardly the strongest source of serious journalism, unless you are interested in the latest plane crash, at least this is better than the biased media in the rest of the top five.

Sean Hannity comes in third followed by Matt Drudge.

There is finally a voice from the left at number five. Unfortunately it is Rachel Maddow, who has jumped the shark and gone full Glenn Beck, with her hysterical coverage of Russia conspiracy theories, going far beyond the evidence. As Norman Solomon wrote, “Joe McCarthy never did it better.”

Glancing through the rest of the list, while we don’t have Jon Stewart around anymore, other late night comedians did relatively well with Jimmy Kimmel at 23 and Stephen Colbert at 24. Unfortunately Bill Maher, who has abandoned his more independent thought and now follows the Democratic Party line, beats them at 20. John Oliver is at 33. Trevor Noah is at 73 and Samantha Bee is 74th.

Right after Kimmel and Colbert is Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks at 25.

I’m surprised that they only ranked Steve Bannon at 45, although the loss by Roy Moore did not help him.

Wikileaks Declared To Be A Media Organization By British Tribunal, Possibly Helping In Defense Against US Government

A U.K. legal tribunal declared last week that Wikileaks is a media organization. From The Guardian:

A British tribunal has recognised Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks as a “media organisation”, a point of contention with the United States, which is seeking to prosecute him and disputes his journalistic credentials.

The issue of whether Assange is a journalist and publisher would almost certainly be one of the main battlegrounds in the event of the US seeking his extradition from the UK.

The definition of WikiLeaks by the information tribunal, which is roughly equivalent to a court, could help Assange’s defence against extradition on press freedom grounds.

The US has been considering prosecution of Assange since 2010 when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of confidential US defence and diplomatic documents. US attorney general Jeff Sessions said in April this year that the arrest of Assange is a priority for the US.

The director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, after leaks of emails from the US Democratic party and from Hillary Clinton, described WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. He added Assange is not covered by the US constitution, which protects journalists.

But the UK’s information tribunal, headed by judge Andrew Bartlett QC, in a summary and ruling published on Thursday on a freedom of information case, says explicitly: “WikiLeaks is a media organisation which publishes and comments upon censored or restricted official materials involving war, surveillance or corruption, which are leaked to it in a variety of different circumstances.”

The comment is made under a heading that says simply: “Facts”.

The 2016 presidential candidates have had mixed views about Wikileaks. While his administration has threatened legal action against Julian Assange, Donald Trump stated that he loved Wikileaks when they were releasing information about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, never a fan of government transparency or accountability, has taken a hard line against Wikileaks and engaged in a typical Clinton smear campaign of misinformation against them.

Hillary Clinton Favorable Rating Falls To A New Low

Gallup has found that Hillary Clinton’s favorable rating has fallen to a new low:

Hillary Clinton’s image has declined since June and is now the worst Gallup has measured for her to date. Her favorable rating has fallen five percentage points since June to a new low of 36%, while her unfavorable rating has hit a new high of 61%.

Clinton’s prior low favorable rating was 38% in late August/early September 2016 during the presidential campaign. She also registered a 38% favorable rating (with a 40% unfavorable rating) in April 1992, when she was much less well-known…

Since losing to Trump, Clinton’s favorable ratings have not improved, in contrast to what has happened for other recent losing presidential candidates. In fact, her image has gotten worse in recent months as Democratic leaders, political observers and Clinton herself have attempted to explain how she lost an election that she was expected to win. Meanwhile, controversy continues to swirl around Clinton given continuing questions about the fairness of the 2016 Democratic nomination process and her dealings with Russia while secretary of state. There has also been renewed discussion of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s handling of past sexual harassment charges made against Bill Clinton in light of heightened public concern about workplace behavior…

Bill Clinton’s image has also slipped over the past year, with his current 45% favorable rating down five points since Gallup last measured Americans’ opinions of him in November 2016. Given his 52% unfavorable rating, more U.S. adults now have a negative than a positive opinion of the former president.

His current rating is his lowest since March 2001, when it hit 39% after his rocky exit from the White House that included a series of controversial pardons as well as the Clintons taking, but later returning, gifts intended for the White House. At that time, 59% of Americans had an unfavorable view of Bill Clinton, his highest in Gallup’s trend. He did have favorable ratings lower than 39%, but those were measured early in his 1992 presidential campaign when a substantial proportion of Americans were not familiar enough with Clinton to offer an opinion of him.

As The Hill points out, “Clinton’s unpopularity rivals Trump’s, whose favorability rating remains around 40 percent, a record low for presidents at the end of their first year.”

In contrast to Clinton and Trump, Bernie Sanders has been the most popular politician in America in polls during 2017.

Establishment Democrats Again Trying To Smear Jill Stein

I have my doubts as to whether the request for material from former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein by the Senate Intelligence Committee will amount to anything, but establishment Democrats cannot contain their glee. Here is the response from one former Clinton aide who was just one of many Clinton supporters to demonstrate their McCarthyism with chants claiming their unproven (and unlikely) assertion that Jill Stein is a Russian agent:

Others responded by pointing out how weak the logic is that being placed at the table as Putin at an event makes one a Russian agent:

Pictures with the tweet show both Hillary and Bill Clinton sitting with Putin.

When it is a political opponent, Clinton supporters typically consider any form of an investigation being evidence of guilt. However, when it comes to Clinton, they conveniently forget the recent investigations which showed that Clinton was guilty of highly unethical behavior.  The State Department Inspector General’s report showed that Hillary Clinton violated rules designed to promote transparency as Secretary of State by exclusively using a private server and failing to turn this email over for archiving as required by law until forced to after she left office. The FBI report revealed that Clinton repeatedly lied to the public and press on multiple points regarding the email scandal, and that that Clinton and her colleagues were  “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Clinton supporters have been trying to smear Stein since the election under the mistaken belief that if Stein wasn’t running they would have picked up her votes. In reality, few who voted for Stein would have voted for a corrupt war monger like Clinton. Even if, which I think is unlikely, it turns out that Stein was a Russian agent, and this was revealed during the campaign, I might have voted differently, but still would not have voted for Clinton.

A spokesperson for Stein provided the following statement:

Responding to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence request for documents pertaining to interference in the 2016 election, former Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein said she is cooperating by sharing all communications relevant to the committee’s mission. “We take seriously the issue of potential interference in our elections, as demonstrated by our continuing efforts to investigate the integrity of the 2016 election and examine our voting machines that are widely known to be vulnerable, but which still have not been examined for evidence of interference. To restore trust in our elections and democracy itself, we must safeguard our elections from all potential sources of interference, whether by foreign state actors or domestic political partisans, criminal networks, lone wolves, or private corporations – including those who control voting software.

Our campaign has observed the highest standards of transparency and integrity in our interactions with foreign nationals as well as Americans. Our communications with Russian individuals regarding an invitation to speak on international relations at the RT 10th anniversary media conference will confirm what we stated publicly at that time and since: that we did not accept any payment or even reimbursement for the trip, and that we made the trip with the goal of reaching an international audience and Russian officials with a message of Middle East peace, diplomacy, and cooperation against the urgent threat of climate change, consistent with long-standing Green principles and policies.

We strongly support legitimate inquiry into any illegal activity in our elections – including quid pro quo deals, money laundering, corruption and violation of campaign finance laws. At the same time, we caution against the politicization, sensationalism and collapse of journalistic standards that has plagued media coverage of the investigation. In the current climate of attacks on our civil liberties, with the emergence of censorship in social media and the press, criminalization of protest, militarization of police and massive expansion of the surveillance state, we must guard against the potential for these investigations to be used to intimidate and silence principled opposition to the political establishment.

Stein said that she would release a more comprehensive statement about the investigation in the near future.

Jill Stein was also interviewed by The Intercept:

Stein clearly resents the Senate’s attention vis-à-vis  electoral interference and foreign meddling: “This smacks of the dangerous underbelly of these investigations. The extent to which they exercise overreach, politicizing, and sensationalism is a danger to democracy, especially in the current climate of all-out war on our First Amendment rights. This is not a time to be attacking the rights of political speech and political association.”

…It’s safe to assume the Intelligence Committee is interested in anything pertaining to Stein’s now-infamous attendance of an RT gala in Moscow, at which she was seated and photographed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Stein told The Intercept that as she has routinely appeared on RT and expects to hand over communications related to booking those TV segments and other “administrative” messages between her campaign and the Russian network, as well as “logistical” messages about the Moscow event. Stein also noted that before her Moscow visit, she had “requested to speak with either Putin or [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov, or someone in the Russian government, to be able to discuss our policies, because I was there to advance our agenda for peace and climate action and diplomacy and nuclear weapon abolition.”

Stein says this request was not granted. Stein also maintains that she declined to let RT pay for any portion of her trip to Moscow and further denies requesting or receiving any other assistance, monetary or otherwise, from RT, the Russian government, WikiLeaks, or the Trump campaign, adding that any dialogue or cooperation with Trump “would have been quite contrary to our values.”

When asked why she had attended the gala and sought an audience with Putin, she told The Intercept that “we sought contact with every powerful world leader we had access to,” and that the Russian government was of particular interest because of its involvement in the Syrian civil war. “We don’t have any reason to suspect that there was any backdoor communication,” Stein said. “We were very much focused on the substantive issues of the elections, and we avoid like the plague manipulations and machinations in order to make things happen behind the scenes.”

 Stein also described the dinner, along with how minimal her contact was, in this interview with Jeremy Scahill.

Donald Trump Seeks Confrontation With Eurasia and Eastasia

Donald Trump spoke on his national security strategy today, remaining incoherent on foreign policy. While probably less hawkish, and less likely to get us into further wars, than the policies of Hillary Clinton, the speech was more reminiscent of a Cold War atmosphere than any attempt to improve relations with Russia as he has (inconsistently) advocated in the past. In Orwellian terms, Trump’s previous talk of peace is down the memory hole. We have always been at war with Eurasia and Eastasia.

Trump’s classification of “revisionist powers, such as China and Russia” is also reminiscent of George W. Bush’s axis of evil.

The strategy paper proposes to “preserve peace through strength by rebuilding our military so that it remains preeminent, deters our adversaries, and if necessary, is able to fight and win.” It is rather absurd to speak of preserving peace when the United States is in a state of apparent perpetual warfare around the world, and outright Orwellian to speak of rebuilding our military when it is already so massive.

Daniel Larison responded to Trump’s speech:

If the administration is rethinking the wisdom of engagement with Russia and China and inclusion of them in international institutions and commerce, that seems to imply a desire to reverse course. If that’s right, this implies that the administration wants to emphasize confrontation and exclusion in its dealings with the other major powers, and it is hard to see how that leads to anything except a stronger partnership between Moscow and Beijing opposed to the U.S. The danger of this “strategy” is twofold: it likely increases tensions with both major powers in Eurasia at the same time, and it gives them added incentive for them to work together against the U.S.

Trump will probably refer to this “strategy” as the product of “principled realism,” but that won’t make it so. An administration conducting a realist foreign policy would not gratuitously call out the other major powers in the world when the U.S. needs their assistance on a number of international issues, and it would not pit them both against the U.S. at the same time. We didn’t really need more proof that Trump isn’t a realist, but this statement of the administration’s “strategy” gives us exactly that.

While Trump sees dangers around the world, he is intentionally ignoring a real one–altering from established policy in no longer seeing climate change as a threat. From Vox:

The Trump administration is backing away from calling climate change a national security threat, a move that contradicts nearly three decades of military planning.

Conspicuously absent from the National Security Strategy report released Monday is any mention of climate issues critical to national security, like how extreme weather drives conflict or how rising sea levels are a looming danger for coastal military facilities.

Compare this to President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy, which mentioned “climate change” 13 times across 35 pages and had “Confront Climate Change” listed as a security priority…

The softening on climate change as a national security threat is part of an ongoing effort to dismantle climate change efforts across all government agencies. But it is at odds with the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which Trump signed into law earlier this month. The $700 billion law describes climate change as a “direct threat” to US national security.

The military has long considered climate change a “threat multiplier,” with assessments dating back to 1990. In 2014, the US Department of Defense published a climate change adaptation road map, oblivious to the political wrangling on the issue and writing that “[r]ising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.”

SciFi Weekend: Mr. Robot Season Finale; Doctor Who; The Orville; Star Trek Discovery; Outlander Finale; Apple and Disney Moving Into Streaming; The Punisher Renewed; The IT Crowd

Mr. Robot completed its third season and has officially been renewed for a fourth. While I don’t think the third season was able to be as good as the spectacular first season, I did feel that it was something of a comeback after the less successful second. The finale seemed to go full circle with the hack, had revelations for both Elliot and Angela, and put Dom in a new dilemma. Following are excerpts from four interviews with Sam Esmail about the season finale, including the impact of Donald Trump’s election on the show.

Entertainment Weekly:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The season ends with the suggestion that the hack will be undone. Was this the plan from the outset?
SAM ESMAIL: If I’m going to conjure up my original feature plan, this was always part of it. The plan was that basically toward the end of act two, he would reverse what he did, but still kind of be in a position of now pivoting and targeting the real top one percent that orchestrated the 5/9 hack behind his back. That was always a plot point, but as you can see, that kind of gets unwieldy because your main character’s goal is essential reversed as you go through the second act of the story.

Yeah, it’s basically Mad Max: Fury Road, turning back around and going back to where they came from.
Exactly. It’s literally turning the main motivation and main dramatic drive upside down. It’s kind of an Odyssey structure. With Elliot, because the journey is really internal and really about his emotional growth, having the plotline be circular like that lent to that more internal exploration…

I didn’t see the Angela-Price twist coming. What’s exciting for you about that dynamic going forward?
I’ve read this somewhere — though I wasn’t conscious of it when creating the show — that people consider this a family drama. In a weird way, I see the underpinnings of that. Obviously you have Elliot, Darlene, and Mr. Robot being this weird dysfunctional family. But then you throw in Angela, who, because she’s such a close friend, she is sort of part of that family unit that Elliot created growing up. One of the things that I think drives a lot of our characters are those family ties and the history of their families. In fact, that’s how they even know each other — because of Elliot’s father and Angela’s mother going through the same trauma. What I always felt was interesting was to reveal that this whole thing was actually kicked off by another family connection that we had no idea about: Price being the estranged father of Angela. If you peel back the onion and think about it. That caused this chain reaction. It’s because of Price’s connection to Angela that he hired this company that had no business being a cybersecurity company for a major conglomerate, and it’s because Angela worked at Allsafe that Elliot was offered a job there and had the idea to initiate the 5/9 hack. I thought it was interesting that, when you boil this massive global tragedy down, it was really these family connections that motivated and kicked off this whole event. That was always there from the get-go. In fact, that was the one reveal I thought people would most likely guess by the end of the first season, given how close we played Price and Angela together…

Do you intend for White Rose to remain a target for Elliot?
Yeah, I believe that the thing about the show is that we set up Tyrell as the main villain, when in fact, it’s White Rose, and that’s something that comes out this season. The ultimate target is White Rose and the Dark Army. Moving forward, that’s the pivot we’re trying to make. Elliot is going to go after them.

I have time for only one question, so I’m going to make it count. Does the pee tape exist in the world of Mr. Robot?
I think far worse than the pee tape exists in the world of Mr. Robot and our real world.

The Hollywood Reporter:

In the past, you have talked about envisioning Mr. Robot as a five-season arc. Exiting season three and heading into season four, does that plan remain intact?

Honestly, I’ve always said it’s four or five seasons, and I’ve said that because I think it’s somewhere in between. Whether that means the next two seasons are two short seasons, or it could technically still be two full ten-episode seasons, we’re still kind of figuring that out. It’s something the writers’ room and I take very seriously. We never want to feel like we’re treading water. Hopefully it fits into two more seasons, but we’re trying to figure out that number…

Season three ends with Elliot reversing the Five/Nine Hack, or at least beginning that process. How will that change the show moving forward, tonally?

It brings the show back to its initial promise of Elliot wanting to take down the guys behind the scenes who are manipulating society. The journey between seasons one to three has been about discovering who the real culprits are. The hack was merely a distraction that was coopted by these people, and it’s finally been revealed and exposed to Elliot. In a weird way, the next season will return back to that initial premise of the show and have Elliot be motivated by that, with this new clarity.

In a second story at The Hollywood Reporter:

Elliot and Mr. Robot finally return to each other’s lives, at one of their earliest meeting spots. Can you talk through the different ideas that were in place for how to get these characters back together on the same page after so much time apart, and to have that meeting of the minds at Coney Island, where it all started — at least as far as the show’s depiction of events, that is?

This is funny because so many of our pitches for this moment made their way into the episode in one way or another. When we started to brainstorm ideas for this reunion, we naturally were drawn to those Mr. Robot/Elliot milestones from the pilot and season one. Sam loved the idea of them speaking to each other on the Wonder Wheel again. I was pushing for a callback to that symmetrical shot of them sitting on opposite sides of a subway train. Someone else pitched the subway platform from the pilot. We ended up seeing all of that in this finale. The Wonder Wheel ended up being the initial reunion because of how uniquely tied to Mr. Robot it was. We’ve seen Elliot in all of these other locations already (the arcade, the subway, his apartment). It made sense that Elliot would allow himself to feel safe enough to talk to Mr. Robot on the Wonder Wheel.

It’s a very emotional moment, realizing that as much as Elliot has shades of Mr. Robot, the Mr. Robot side of his personality has his own shades of Elliot. Has that always been a tenant in writing the character, that Christian Slater’s side of Elliot has more in common with Rami Malek’s depiction than he or we realized? Is it something that was discovered in the writing of the character? And how critical is that reveal, moving forward?

The plan was always to evolve the relationship between Elliot and Mr. Robot. We’ve already been through so much manipulation, betrayal, and battling with them. To me, this is finally a beautiful moment of sincerity and honesty. It’s also cool because you, as Elliot’s friend, are able to witness how Mr. Robot is helpful in certain situations and how Elliot really needs him at times. It’s definitely a crucial reveal, as it’s that first step in the healing process — the path toward integration. By the end of this episode, in one of many callbacks to our pilot, we have a heartfelt exchange between Mr. Robot and Elliot. In a way, we’re healing Elliot and resetting him back to his old self. He still wants to take down the men who play god without permission, but he has a clearer view on who those people are now…

Elsewhere in the episode, we have Phillip Price’s Darth Vader moment, revealing himself as Angela’s biological father. Two-fold: was this always part of the character’s design, and do you think this news refocuses Angela? By the end of the finale, it’s hard to tell if she’s fully recovered from the Whiterose experience… do you think it’s fair to say she at least realizes she was being used, even if she still believes in Whiterose’s agenda to some degree?

This wasn’t always part of the character’s design. I think we decided on this about halfway through season two. Initially, we were working toward some kind of twisted, sexual infatuation that Price had with Angela. There actually was a pitch on the table in season two for Angela and Price to sleep with each other, but we ended up changing that to her going for an older dude at the bar. (Maybe she’s just into old dudes?) That sexual infatuation idea still works as a misdirect until the moment of the reveal. Of course, we dropped hints throughout this season that I know you picked up on (the anonymous benefactor, Price’s reaction when Whiterose confronted him about Angela, etc). I think it’s meant to be ambiguous at the end of that scene, but I definitely agree that she realizes she was being used by Whiterose, regardless of how much she still might believe in “the cause.”

Deadline Hollywood:

Let’s talk about what we saw tonight. Elliot is still bent on taking down the 1% of the world, but his dilemma is that he’s now in the pocket of WhiteRose.
The way we are ending the third season is that we’re coming back to the original promise: Elliot’s mission to take down secret organizations who are controlling things behind the scenes. It’s the first time that Elliot has exposed them and seen their true identity in that they’re being led by White Rose and the Dark Army. It’s an interesting predicament: He has leverage of them, but they have leverage over him as well. It’s an interesting Mexican standoff.

Elliot’s decision to reverse the 5/9 hack: Is this just a means to ease his own guilt after blowing up all those E-corp buildings?
Yeah, I think that with the journey of Elliot, we started the series with this guy in an immense amount of pain. Instead of facing that, he blamed it on society and externalized to the world around him what needed to be fixed, when in fact, he was avoiding facing the problem within. That’s what this moment in this season was about: His realization that what he wanted was not co-opted by the very people he was trying to take down; that it was wrong.  There are a few internal struggles he also faces in regards to his relationship with Mr. Robot and its evolution.

Angela learning that she was Phillip Price’s daughter. Why was this important to establish and was this something you knew going into the season? 

The thing about that revelation is that what I always thought was interesting in regards to the entire chain reaction of things that led to the 5/9 hack and the global catastrophe is that it all started with broken family ties. And really the chain reaction of Price who is estranged from his daughter her whole life, and reaching out in the distance, by hiring this (small) cybersecurity company which has no business representing E-Corp; then because of that, Elliot joins the company to avenge his father’s death — that strategy to attack E-Corp, that spiraling out of control, is in essence about broken family ties. Now (Price and Angela) are trying to heal that tragedy and trauma that comes out of it. We planned this very early on; at the end of the first season Price takes Angela in…

Dom and Darlene, where does this leave them now?
Dom is at a crossroads. She’s the most noble character to her cause in the entire series. She’s now in with the Dark Army in this brutal way and we’re going to see the aftereffects of that. In terms of Darlene, she’s going to have to live and process a lot of guilt of what she’s put Dom through. There’s a genuine relationship there: They did care for one another. It’s going to be interesting though because they’re on opposite sides. We’re going to explore that relationship and whether they survive through that.

The Brave Traveler at the end of tonight’s show, that’s the drug kingpin Fernando Vera who double-crossed Elliot in season one and took girlfriend Shayla’s life. What now?
Well, he’s a crazy person, an egomaniac and hopefully very entertaining to watch. I’ll leave that as my answer. There’s a personal connection here with Elliot and out of all the global chaos that he’s been experiencing on the show, this one narrows the field a bit on a personal level. Shayla was the only true connection Elliot made when we began the series. We’ll definitely explore the blowback from all of that with her murder and how Elliot assisted in breaking Vera out of prison.

Variety:

While Esmail said the current political climate doesn’t influence the plot itself, he noticed it affects the energy writers bring into the room. Esmail called the election “catastrophic not just for the country, but for the world.” Still, he says he is open-minded about politics.

“I never try and tune anything out. I think that’s a mistake,” he says. “You want to bring all the honest stuff that’s going on inside you into your work. Otherwise you’re keeping a lot of authenticity out.”

Following President Donald Trump’s election, Esmail said the writers felt the same apprehension that many others experienced.

“When you’re talking about a man that’s incoherent and inarticulate and unintelligent, egomaniacal, it’s a dangerous thing for the world,” Esmail said of Trump getting elected. “We also felt a little responsibility to it. That we underestimated him, that we underestimated that this can possibly happen,” he explains.

That sense of accountability then loosely paralleled Elliot’s journey this season, he said.

“That indirect responsibility led to a lot of Elliot’s feeling at the beginning of the season of his responsibility in the 9/5 hack, which was a lot more direct, but that energy that we were all feeling and sensing in the room,” Esmail says. “This dread that we have committed this crime by not doing something enough definitely fueled a lot of Elliot’s motivations.”

Mozilla upset some users when they inserted a browser extension which promoted Mr. Robot into their Firefox browser, leading users to think their computer was hacked. There is a similar virtual reality game available on Amazon’s Alexa products, but they handled it in a safer manner. Ads during the show show people asking Alexa for the Daily Five/Nine. For this to work, it is necessary for users to specifically enable the Daily Five/Nine skill. Generally I find it to be a negative for Alexa that some information is not obtainable unless the user knows which skill to activate, but in this case it is for the better that users only receive paranoid news from the Mr. Robot universe if they activate it.

Steven Moffat originally did not plan to have Bill Potts in the Christmas episode of Doctor Who and explained why he changed his mind:

“I was 20 pages in to the script, and I thought, ‘I need Bill here. There isn’t a witness for this. The Captain [played by Mark Gatiss] isn’t quite right as the witness. I want to hear what Bill would say.’ I needed that voice back in the show. I just did.

I missed her terribly. I missed the way Bill reacted to things. Also, if the Twelfth Doctor’s got someone as forthright and irreverent as Bill, you really want the First Doctor to meet her! [Laughs]”

Following a screening of Twice About A Time, Steven Moffat argued that Doctor Who is the greatest show ever made:

“It’s worth saying, because I don’t think it’s ever said enough… the reason Doctor Who is as successful – I mean humanly successful – for so long in such an enduring way – and I’m just gonna say it because I don’t ever say it, but now I’m leaving I’ll say it – it is actually the greatest television show ever made.

“I’m gonna prove it to you. There are probably press here who are ‘No, it’s The Wire’. It’s not The Wire. It’s not I Claudius. It’s not The Office. It’s not even Blue Planet. It’s Doctor Who and I’m gonna prove to whoever is doubting me the hardest that they’re wrong to doubt me.

“How do you measure greatness? Do you measure it by ratings? Do you measure it by reviews? Christ no, of course you don’t.

“Do you measure it by perfection? Is Doctor Who perfect every week? No, it’s not. It really isn’t. It can’t be. Because every episode of Doctor Who is an experiment, and if you experiment every single week, sometimes you get a faceful of soot and you’re blinking the smoke away and you look a bit ridiculous. That happens. Perfection is the refinement of boredom, it’s doing the same thing all the time perfectly. Doctor Who, by always being different, can never be perfect.

“But yes, how do we measure its greatness?

“There are people who became writers because of Doctor Who. Loads of them.

“There are people who became artists because of Doctor Who.

“There are people who became actors because of Doctor Who. Two of them have played the Doctor.

“There are people, believe it or not, who become scientists because of Doctor Who. That seems improbable given we said the moon was an egg, you’d think they’d have a problem with it.

“But people become scientists, people change their view of the world and what they’re capable of, because of a silly show about a man who travels around in time and space in a police box.

“So, never mind the reviews. Never mind anything. Never mind the ratings. Never mind any of that.

“Count the scientists, the musicians, the scholars, the writers, the directors, the actors, who became what they are because of this show.

“Count, as you might say, the hearts that beat a little faster because of Doctor Who.

 “I do not even know what is in second place, but without doubt, and by that most important measure, Doctor Who is the greatest television show ever made.”
Peter Capaldi also had this to say:

“I’d like to thank all my friends on Doctor Who for sharing their good humour, talent and life with me over the last four years. And particularly, Steven Moffat, who has brought so much to Doctor Who, even more than might be realised today, but will be seen clearly in the future.

“I’d like to thank everyone who loves the show for sharing it with me, and sharing the boundless generosity of spirit that it embodies. I wish Jodie and the new TARDIS team all the best for the future, and the past, and everything inbetween, and look forward to watching them journey to new and wonderful places.

“For me, it’s been an amazing trip. I went to the end of time, I met fantastical creatures… and I blew them up. But now it’s over. Time I was off.”

Last week’s post included additional Doctor Who news including information on a special about the Peter Capaldi era which will air after the Christmas episode, a trailer for the episode, a link to an interview with Steven Moffat, and an article on David Bradley.

For the benefit of those who did not see it because of more problems with Facebook, last week I had a review of  Mad Idolatry, the first season finale of The Orville. Until links from Facebook groups to the post were shut down by Facebook, the link to this video of  Sports Illustrated model Kyra Santoro as the scantily-clad Ensign Turco had a quite a few hits. Hopefully this remains up this week–there is little consistency to Facebook’s censorship.

In an interview with Digital Spy, Seth MacFarlane argued that The Orville filled a void left behind by the classic Star Trek:

Speaking to Digital Spy, the creator and star of The Orville said that he was heavily inspired by the themes and direction of classic Star Trek – aspects which he feels haven’t been replicated much since then.

“I kind of miss the forward-thinking, aspirational, optimistic place in science fiction that Star Trek used to occupy,” he said.

“I think they’ve chosen to go in a different direction which has worked very well for them in recent years, but what has happened is that it’s left open a space that has been relatively unoccupied for a while in the genre.

“In the same way that when James Bond kind of moved into a different area than classic James Bond, Iron Man came along and sort of filled that void.

“So for me, it’s a space that’s kind of waiting to be filled in this day and age when we’re getting a lot of dystopian science fiction, a lot of which is great and very entertaining, but it can’t all be The Hunger Games.”

MacFarlane added: “It can’t all be the nightmare scenario.

While MacFarlane has used a lot of humor in the series, the show did turn out to be more like Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation as opposed to being a parody as many pre-season articles incorrectly described the series. MacFarlane also corrected this misconception in another interview with Digital Spy, saying that The Orville was not influenced by Galaxy Quest.

The titles for the chapter 2 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery have been revealed:

Episode 10:  “Despite Yourself” (January 7)

Episode 11: “The Wolf Inside” (January 14)

Episode 12:  “Vaulting Ambition” (January 21)

Episode 13: “What’s Past Is Prologue” (January 28)

Episode 14: “The War Without, The War Within” (February 4)

Episode 15: “Will You Take My Hand?” (February 11)

Four new character posters, including the one above, have also been released. The full set can be seen here.

Last week I linked to a couple of articles on the fall portion of the season of Star Trek: Discovery. Bleeding Cool also weighs in, arguing that Star Trek: Discovery Absolutely Earns Its Place in the Star Trek Continuity. My review of the fall finale was posted here, and I looked at other aspects of the show, including continuity, here. I will resume weekly reviews of the episodes after Discovery returns.

Wil Wheaton tweeted about wearing his Star Trek uniform to the opening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While I didn’t go until last night, for the record, as I don’t have a Star Trek uniform and it was too cold for either of my Star Trek t-shirts, I wore a Gallifrey swhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/eatshirt and, again as it was cold out, my Tom Baker Doctor Who scarf.

Outlander also had a season finale last week. Deadline talked to Ron Moore about the episode and future plans. Apple has also ordered a science fiction show from Ron Moore, who also was behind the revival of Battlestar Galactica. Deadline reports:

Created and written by Moore, along with Fargo co-executive producers Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi, the untitled series  explores what would have happened if the global space race had never ended. Tall Ship Prods.’ Moore and Maril Davis executive produce with Wolpert and Nedivi.

This is is the third original scripted series ordered by Apple via its recently formed worldwide video programming division headed by former Sony TV presidents Jamie Erlicht & Zack Van Amburg, joining a morning show drama series project, executive produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, which has a two-season pickup, and Amazing Stories, a reimagining of the classic anthology from Steven Spielberg and Bryan Fuller.

It looks like Apple is working hard to make a credible entry into original programming with such orders. Of course they will have very tough competition from not only the established sources, but from Disney when they launch their planned streaming service.  Assuming the deal goes through, their acquisition of much of Fox will give them an incredible library, including many major genre franchises, along with a controlling stake in both Netflix and Hulu.

Netflix has renewed The Punisher for a second season. Last week’s post included the trailer for season two of Jessica Jones, which will be released March 8.

HBO has renewed Larry David’s show Curb Your Enthusiasm for a tenth season.

NBC is trying yet again to have a US version of The IT Crowd. Maybe they will have better luck this time as Graham Linehan, who created the original, is going to be the writer and executive producer. Besides being an excellent comedy, the show teaches the most important lesson you will ever need to fix computer problems (as explained in the video above).

Forbidden Words At CDC Is Just Latest Orwellian Result Of The Republican War On Science

The war on science from the Trump administration includes Orwellian restrictions on which words can be used. As The Washington Post reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was given a list of words which are now forbidden including “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

This is not the only situation in which government scientists have had to worry about which words they can use under Trump and other Republican presidents. In November NPR’s Morning Edition reported on how Climate Scientists Watch Their Words, Hoping To Stave Off Funding Cuts:

Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term “climate change” in public grant summaries.

An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase “climate change” in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term’s use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as “extreme weather” appears to be rising slightly.

The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration’s open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the President’s 2018 budget proposal singled out climate change research programs for elimination.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been systematically removing references to climate change from its official website. Both the EPA’s leader, Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have said they do not accept the scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to get warmer…

“Scientists I know are increasingly using terms like ‘global change’, ‘environmental change’, and ‘extreme weather’, rather than explicitly saying ‘climate change’,” Jonathan Thompson, the senior ecologist at the Harvard Forest, wrote in an email to NPR. Thompson has been the lead investigator on multiple research projects funded by the NSF in recent years. “This seems to be born out of an abundance of caution to limit their exposure to any political landmines in what is already an extremely competitive process,” he wrote…

This is not the first time scientists have resorted to euphemism to protect their research. Early studies of human sexuality referred to “fertility-related behavior.” Stem cell research was referred to by some Bush-era researchers as “therapeutic cloning.”

The web of alternative language can be confusing to policymakers and frustrating for universities and other institutions that support science. Some are concerned that the language scientists use to describe climate change research may lead to similar problems. And, anecdotally, some scientists worry that political pressure may be driving young scientists away from climate studies.

A Defeat For Trump And The Religious Right In The GOP Tax Bill

This week has seen some good with the defeat of Roy Moore, some bad with the ending of net neutrality, and we appear to be closer to the Republicans passing a “tax reform” package designed to greatly increase the wealth of the ultra-wealthy. There is a one piece of good news related to the tax bill today. As the Republicans are forced to pass this through budget reconciliation, there are limits on what can be included. The  Senate parliamentarian has ruled that the repeal of the highly popular Johnson Amendment cannot be included.

The Hill reports:

The Senate parliamentarian has blocked language repealing the Johnson Amendment and allowing churches and 501(c)3 nonprofits to endorse candidates and engage in partisan politics from inclusion in the tax bill.

Sen. Ron Wyden‘s (D-Ore.) office confirmed to The Hill on Thursday night that the Senate parliamentarian had determined the inclusion of the Johnson Amendment repeal did not meet Senate rules that require elements of the tax bill to have something to do with the budget.

The Senate is seeking to move a House-Senate conference report under special budgetary rules that prevent Democrats from using a filibuster. To use those rules, all parts of the bill must have a budgetary effect, and the parliamentarian ruled the Johnson language did not meet that standard…

The proposal was a major priority for President Trump, who vowed to repeal the amendment during his 2016 presidential campaign, saying it would “give our churches their voice back.”

Specifically, the House bill would have temporarily allowed nonprofits to engage in political speech in the ordinary course of its activities, so long as the organization didn’t incur significant expenses while doing so.

The Johnson Amendment, named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas), has been part of the tax code since 1954. It prohibits churches and other tax-exempt organizations from participating in some political activity.

This is another political setback for Trump, who has (fortunately) failed at getting through much of his agenda or fulfilling most of his campaign promises. To put it in language which Donald Trump would understand, he is a loser.

While a defeat for Trump and the religious right, most Americans should be pleased by this development. A poll earlier this year showed that 72 percent of Americans want to keep the Johnson Amendment. Many church leaders also agree in supporting the Johnson Amendment.

The Washington Post also notes that repeal would have allowed a further increase in dark money in politics:

There were concerns that a repeal would create a new dark-money channel for powerful donors to quietly funnel funds to political candidates. Under the House plan, both the Clinton Foundation and Trump Foundation would be able to openly get involved in U.S. political campaigns, for example.