Billy Graham, Anti-Semite and Homophobe

Billy Graham, one of the founders of the religious right, died this week. Following are a few views on Graham from people who are not fans of the religious right.

Friendly Atheist writes that Billy Graham’s Body Shouldn’t “Lie in Honor” in the Capitol Rotunda

Evangelist Billy Graham, who died this week at age 99, was known for being an informal advisor to presidents of both political parties as well as one of the most admired people in America for decades.

That’s the white-washed version of his legacy.

He also helped inspire the modern Religious Right, left behind a son who’s best known for making life worse for LGBTQ people and women and minorities, disparaged Jews over their “stranglehold” on the media, and was hardly a champion of civil rights in the 1960s even when his support could’ve helped African Americans.

That’s the full legacy. You can’t talk about Graham without noting those glaring flaws in his life.

And that’s why it’s inappropriate for Republican leaders to honor him by bringing his body to the United States Capitol Rotunda next week so that people can pay their last respects.

The post later cites a letter which the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell protesting the honor. From that letter:

Graham’s career was devoted to revivals, Christian conversions, hellfire preaching and the insertion of his brand of religion into what is supposed to be a secular government governed by a godless Constitution barring establishment of religion or governmental preference for religion, FFRF points out. One of Graham’s dubious accomplishments was to successfully lobby Congress to pass a law declaring an annual National Day of Prayer. This law enacted at Graham’s behest, which FFRF has previously challenged, has entangled religion and government, spawned countless inappropriate prayer breakfasts, prayerful governmental events and prayer resolutions at all levels of government. In doing so, it has sent for generations a message that evangelical Christians are “insiders” and non-Christians and the nonreligious are “outsiders.”

FFRF also highlights how irresponsible it is for the U.S. Congress to venerate and honor a noted anti-Semite. The secret taping system that recorded President Nixon’s conversations and led to his Watergate downfall captured Graham’s anti-Semitic musings with Nixon. “A lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel,” Graham told Nixon. “But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.”

Graham was on the wrong side of the leading issues of his time. The day after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from the Birmingham Jail — a letter addressed to white religious leaders like Graham who were doing little else other than “mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” — Graham mouthed a few more, arguing that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” Graham seemingly never met a U.S. war of aggression he didn’t favor or encourage the occupants of the Oval Office to wage. As columnist and former priest James Carroll observes: “Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”

Graham vociferously opposed gay rights and marriage equality, saying “we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” The Billy Graham Evangelical Association once said that Vladimir Putin was “more right” on LGBTQ rights than then-President Obama. Graham, in his 90s, wrote a full-page ad appearing in several North Carolina newspapers “to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment” in May 2012, which passed, banning gay marriage until later nullified. He belonged to a denomination that refused to ordain women. The “Billy Graham” rule directing a man to not be alone with a woman other than his wife continues to influence evangelicals, including Vice President Mike Pence, isolating career women in the process.

Religion Dispatches protested calling Billy Graham America’s Pastor:

Let’s try this simple test. Would a good pastor suck up to presidents and other powerful people, granting them general absolution despite their known crimes (and yes, here I am thinking primarily of Napalmer-in-Chief Lyndon Johnson and of Tricky Dick Nixon, the president with whom Graham had the closest relationship)?

For that matter, would a good pastor reinforce a parishioner’s Jew-hatred, as Graham clearly did vis-a-vis Nixon (although he later claimed that he forgot saying these appalling things)?

Stephen Colbert Responds To Donald Trump On Guns In Schools

Indictments Today Again Involve Money Laundering And Tax Fraud, Not Altering Election Results

There were more indictments today, and again they have nothing to do with altering the 2016 election results. Politico reports:

Special counsel Robert Mueller turned up the pressure on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates, as a federal grand jury returned a new indictment Thursday charging the two men with tax and bank fraud.

The new 32-count indictment returned by a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia comes after Mueller separately charged the pair in Washington last year with money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents for their work related to Ukraine.

The new indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of dramatically understating their income on federal tax returns filed from 2010 through 2014. The pair is also accused of bank fraud totaling more than $20 million tied to three loans Manafort applied for in connection with various homes he owns.

In all, Manafort and Gates laundered more than $30 million in income, chiefly from their Ukraine work, the new indictment alleges.

None of the charges currently facing the pair appears to relate directly to the core of Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the special counsel has jurisdiction to pursue certain crimes he finds in the course of his probe and appears to have approval from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to pursue some matters the FBI was investigating before Mueller was named last May…

So far most of the indictments have related to either money laundering or obstruction of justice. The only indictments which related to the 2016 election campaign involved indictments of Russians for violation of federal election finance laws and identify theft. The indictments did not involve actions which either altered the election results or which indicated any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Those indictments did involve social media activities which did not appear to have any meaningful impact on the election results.

Pardons Might Put Trump Cronies At Increased Legal Risk

While the claims of Donald Trump working along with Vladimir Putin to alter the 2016 election results is looking increasingly unlikely after over a year of investigations, people close to Donald Trump are at risk of prosecution related to both financial crimes including money laundering and obstruction of justice.  This could include Donald Trump himself, and CNN reported earlier this week that Mueller is interested in Jared Kushner.

Republicans, who have been utilizing multiple strategies to attempt to undermine the investigations, are recommending that Trump use pardons to presumably eliminate the risk of individuals providing testimony as part of deals to protect themselves. As I noted last summer, Robert Mueller has already been working to eliminate this risk by working with state prosecutors as presidential pardons only apply to federal charges. Ryan Goodman at Just Security argues that accepting pardons would also increase the risk of conviction on state charges:

In a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915, Burdick v. United States, the Justices stated that individuals have a right to refuse a pardon because “acceptance” of one carries with it a “confession of guilt.” Over the years, many federal courts have relied on Burdick for this proposition, the most recent including the Arizona court in upholding President Trump’s pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio.

While I have objected to Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, Goodman also helps with this:

It’s here that Watergate has yet another lesson for our times. Ken Gormley, the author of “Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation,” explained in a lecture in 2014 for the Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation, that Ford’s personal emissary in negotiating the pardon with Richard Nixon shared with Ford and his closest advisers the “extremely important” case of Burdick due to its implications for Nixon’s acceptance of guilt. That emissary was Benton Becker, and he explained, “President Ford had made it very clear. He said ‘don’t just deliver this … I want you to sit down face-to-face with Richard Nixon and I want you to walk through Burdick, walk through the facts, walk through the history, and walk through the holding.’” When Becker flew to California to offer Nixon the pardon, he brought copies of the Burdick opinion with him. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee a few weeks later about Nixon’s taking the pardon, President Ford stated, “The acceptance of a pardon, according to the legal authorities—and we have checked them out very carefully—does indicate that by the acceptance, the person who has accepted it does, in effect, admit guilt.” He made clear this applied to Nixon.

While I still wish that Nixon had faced prosecution, I am happy to see that the pardon was considered an admission of guilt. The possibility of state prosecutions increase the chances that those close to Donald Trump will not get off as easily as Richard Nixon.

The New Republic Warns About Hysteria Over Russia And The Danger Of A New Cold War

To repeat what I said yesterday, with so much of the media feeding into the Russia hysteria, it is good to see that there have been exceptions. Yesterday I quoted the editor of Politico Magazine who gave excellent reasons to be skeptical over the unproven claims from many Democrats that the election results were altered due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. I also noted other examples such as at from The Nation and a historian writing at The London Review of Books. The New Republic has now posted a warning to Stop Inflating The Russian Threat.  Some excerpts from Jeet Heer’s article at The New Republic follow:

…Russia’s interference in the election, at least what’s known thus far, is hardly enough to justify a global struggle comparable to the Cold War or the war on terror. These earlier conflicts consumed trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. The details in the Mueller indictment are troubling, but not an existential threat worth losing a single life over. New Yorker reporter Adrien Chen, who has been following Russian troll accounts for years, tweeted that the election interference waged on social-media was “90 people with a shaky grasp of English and a rudimentary understanding of U.S. politics shitposting on Facebook.”

…“Russia is not working according to a master plan carefully laid-out laid out by President Vladimir Putin,” Henry Farrell, of George Washington University, argued last month in Foreign Policy. “Instead, a loose collective of Russians, with incredibly meager resources, have been working together in a disorganized way to probe American democracy for weaknesses. Instead of persuading people to vote for Donald Trump, and against Clinton, they have wanted to create chaos and paranoia—and they have succeeded in stirring confusion only because there were so many weaknesses for them to exploit in the first place.” Similar Russian attempts to sway elections in France and Germany were much less successful, Farrell notes, because they don’t suffer from he calls a “basic failure of democratic knowledge” in America.

This crisis, which long predates Russian interference, stems from a polarized polity where one party actively encourages its followers to distrust news from non-partisan outlets. It’s enhanced by low voter turnout, active voter suppression, and an electoral system that is constantly manipulated by gerrymandering. The result is a citizenry that does not agree on basic facts, and many of whom distrust the system.

If democratic fragility is the root problem, launching a new Cold War is not going to solve it. Rather, there has to be an active effort to strengthen potential targets, like voting systems (many of which are old and run on outdated technology that’s vulnerable to hackers). The U.S. also needs a comprehensive civics education initiative, for children and adults alike, to instruct Americans on the U.S. Constitution and teach them how to detect propaganda and discount motivated reasoning.

Framing the election meddling as strictly a matter of outside interference will only encourage the conspiracy-mongering that already makes it hard to form a democratic consensus. “By exaggerating the actual consequences of foreign influence operations, American elites are further undermining the confidence and shared knowledge that American democracy needs to function,” Farrell argued. “They are tacitly encouraging Americans on the liberal left to build their own private universe of facts, in which Russian influence has pervasive political consequences.”

Some Democrats think that launching a new Cold War will solve the problem of polarization by unifying the country against a foreign enemy and isolating Republicans who stand with Trump in appeasing Russia. “The Democrats should and must start using Russia as a way to break through the vicious cycle consuming the parties, Washington, and the whole country,” John Stoehr argued in Washington Monthly in January. “Russia is our enemy. This is a fact. It attacked our presidential election. It continues to attack us in what is emerging as a new Cold cyberwar. In tying the Republicans to an enemy, the Democrats have the potential to break the Republicans.”

The actual history of the Cold War belies this fantasy. While Cold War liberals like President Harry Truman did use anti-communism to promote national unity, this only laid the groundwork for Republican demagogues like Senator Joseph McCarthy. Eventually, in the 1960s, the Democrats were torn apart by internal divisions over the Vietnam War. A foreign enemy is no assurance of unity, and perfectly compatible with more polarization.

Trump is the most divisive American president in at least generation. Reversing the damage he’s done to American democracy, let alone fixing the systemic flaws that predate him, is an arduous task that will require many years of political organization and education. There’s no swift solution to this crisis, and whipping up hysteria about Russia will only make it worse.

There are many dangers from distortions by partisans on both sides regarding “Russiagate.” The risk of playing into the hands of hawks like Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies who see desire resuming a Cold War atmosphere with Russia, if not outright attempts at regime change, is probably the greatest danger. I have previously quoted Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, on 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.

Glenn Greenwald also wrote a column yesterday regarding the dangers of politicians from both parties falsely equating “Russiagate” to an act of war, with some making false comparisons ot Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attack. Greenwald wrote:

All of this underscores the serious dangers many have pointed to for more than a year about why all this unhinged rhetoric is so alarming. If you really believe that Russia — with some phishing links sent to Podesta and some fake Facebook ads and Twitter bots — committed an “act of war” of any kind, let alone one on par with Pearl Harbor and 9/11, then it’s inevitable that extreme retaliatory measures will be considered and likely triggered. How does one justify a mere imposition of sanctions in the face of an attack similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11? Doesn’t it stand to reason that something much more belligerent, enduring, and destructive would be necessary?

The advice in the article above for greater education of Americans is sensible, but such education should include lessons on how we were lied into military intervention including the Iraq war, the regime change in Libya orchestrated by Hillary Clinton based upon lies, and Vietnam. The lack of such knowledge by Americans increases the risk of us being lied into yet another war, this time with a nuclear power.

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

Since the “Russiagate” investigations began, there has been evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes by Donald Trump and his cronies. There has been evidence of attempts to cover this up. There has been evidence of Russians violating federal election laws and even identity theft in the latest indictments. The one thing there has been no evidence of, and some evidence contradicting, have been the claims from many Democrats that the 2016 election results were changed due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia.

There have been multiple false media stories, such as the one discussed here, suggesting that far more has gone on than there is evidence for. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has even criticized MSNBC for their coverage of Russia. There has also been evidence, such as with the Trump Tower meeting that Trump (or at least members of his family) were willing to collude with Russia, but no evidence of actual collusion occurring.

With so much of the media feeding into the Russia hysteria, it is good to see that there have been major exceptions. I’ve previously noted some here and here. Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury, has also been arguing against this conspiracy theory.  Blake Hounshell, editor in chief of Politico Magazine has posted another, entitled Confessions of a Russiagate Skeptic–Why I have my doubts about whether Trump colluded with Moscow. Here is an excerpt:

I keep coming back the slapdash nature of Trump’s 2016 operation, and the chaos and dysfunction that everyone who covered that campaign saw play out each day. Like the Trump White House, the Trump campaign was a viper’s nest of incompetence and intrigue, with aides leaking viciously against one another almost daily. So much damaging information poured out of Trump Tower that it’s hard to believe a conspiracy to collude with Moscow to win the election never went public. If there was such a conspiracy, it must have been a very closely guarded secret.

Then there’s the Trump factor to consider. Here’s a man who seems to share every thought that enters his head, almost as soon as he enters it. He loves nothing more than to brag about himself, and he’s proven remarkably indiscreet in the phone calls he makes with “friends” during his Executive Time—friends who promptly share the contents of those conversations with D.C. reporters. If Trump had cooked up a scheme to provide some favor to Putin in exchange for his election, wouldn’t he be tempted to boast about it to someone?

And there are aspects of the Russia scandal, too, that don’t quite add up for me. Take Flynn’s plea bargain. As Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted after the deal became public, prosecutors usually prefer to charge participants in a conspiracy with charges related to the underlying crime. But Flynn pleaded guilty only to lying to the FBI, which Bharara surmised suggests might mean Mueller didn’t have much on him. It certainly seems unlikely that any prosecutor would charge Flynn for violating the 219-year-old Logan Act, a constitutionally questionable law that has never been tested in court, for his chats with the Russian ambassador. It’s not even clear if the (stupid) idea of using secure Russian communications gear, as Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly considered doing, would have been a crime.

Then there is Papadopoulos, the hapless campaign volunteer who drunkenly blabbed to the Australian ambassador to London that the Russians were sitting on loads of hacked emails. He, likewise, confessed only to lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened. Papadopoulos has been cooperating with Mueller for months, but how much does he really have to offer? He seems like an attention-seeking wannabe—the kind who puts “Model U.N. participant” on his resume.

Speaking of attention-seeking wannabes, Carter Page was another volunteer campaign adviser who was enthusiastic about collaborating with Russia. His writings and comments suggest he has been a Putin apologist for years. But anyone who has seen Page’s TV interviews or read through his congressional testimony can tell that there’s something not quite right about him. He’s apparently broke, doesn’t have a lawyer, and has issued lengthy, bizarre statements comparing himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 2013, when a Russian agent tried to recruit Page, he described him as too much of an “idiot” to bother with. This is the mastermind of the Russia scandal?

As for Manafort and Gates, the charges against them are serious and detailed. They stand accused of failing to register as foreign agents for their overseas work, as well as various offenses related to money laundering. But Mueller has yet to charge them with any crimes related to their work on the Trump campaign. Gates is reportedly working out a cooperation deal with Mueller’s team—perhaps he has stories to tell. And we can’t rule out the idea that Mueller is prepared to file superseding charges against either or both of the two men. But so far, their alleged crimes seem unrelated to 2016.

As Hounshell noted, “Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened.” If Trump and Putin were colluding together, why would there have been the need to arrange such a meeting? Hounshell also noted the attempts by Flynn and Jared Kushner to open back channel communications with Russia after the election. If the Trump campaign and Russia were colluding, wouldn’t there have already been some method for them to communicate before the election?

Elsewhere in the article, in a different context, Hounshell noted when Trump quipped,  “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” While this indicates a rather flippant attitude towards colluding with Russia, this again raises the question of whether Trump would have had a better way to make a request of Putin if the two were already colluding together.

It is impossible to prove a negative, and we don’t know what information will come out in the future. However, over a year since some Democrats started claiming that it was a fact that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to collusion between Trump and Putin, with Clinton denying the legitimacy of the election, no evidence of this has yet to be provided. On the other hand, there is evidence that Hillary Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of the election to blame others such as Russia in an attempt to escape the blame for her loss. It was also revealed that Clinton and the DNC had funded the Steele Dossier, which was previously used as a reason for the investigation, and attempted to cover up their roles.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery Season Finale; Sex Ed On The Magicians; Roswell; Constantine on Legends of Tomorrow; Black Panther

Star Trek: Discovery had the best first season for a Star Trek sequel/prequel series, but the season finale, Will You Take My Hand, was somewhat of a disappointment. Some aspects of the episode did work, but it was an overly simple and unrealistic ending for a season-long arc. While many individual episodes of other Star Trek series have relied on similarly simplistic endings, I had hoped for more with Discovery. On the other hand, Star Trek does have  a history of disappointing conclusions of arcs, such as with the finale of Deep Space Nine.  I wonder if the loss of Bryan Fuller resulted in setting up the season long story line, but if he left before the ending was totally fleshed out.

Last week they set up the ruse that Georgiou was the Prime Georgiou, despite it being unrealistic that the crew of the Discovery would be fooled. This was immediately abandoned this episode when Mirror Georgiou did not act like a Federation officer. It was also unnecessary for the plan initiated in the finale for her to have tried to fool anyone.

While weakly plotted, the scenes on  Qo’noS had multiple treats for fans, including a fourth role for Clint Howard going back to The Corbomite Maneuver. There were Orions, and we learned more about the Klingon penis in a season which previously showed Klingon breasts. (If everything, including the penis, is duplicated in Klingons, shouldn’t they have four breasts?) By the time they revealed that the package was really a bomb and the plan was to destroy or cause major destruction to  Qo’noS, I assume that most viewers had already caught on.

While a rather simplistic conclusion for the Klingon war, this provide the opportunity for Burhnam to raise the issue of sticking to Star Fleet principles, and give her reason to mutiny for a second time. The parallels to the start of the season were obvious. Besides returning to the theme from the start of the season, this season was unique in both starting and ending without the main ship’s captain being present.

Burnham came up with a solution preferable to mutiny, but I don’t see how she sold Star Fleet on her plan and returned before Georgiou had time to set off the bomb. Although it was established that L’Rell’s main goal was Klingon unification, there was hardly good reason to be so certain that L’Rell wouldn’t have tried to accomplish this by leading the Klingons to victory after taking over. It is also questionable that Klingons would have believed she could blow up the planet and very likely would have decided to attack her first and think about matters later (if at all).

Even if L’Rell could get the Klingons in the room to give her the power, I also found it unrealistic that Klingon ships on the verge of attacking earth would have turned around. It would have been more realistic that the Klingons would have abandoned the war if, instead of being on the verge of victory, they were engaged in a space version of trench warfare from World War I with no victory in sight for either side. Having the Klingons be so dominant at this stage of the war also makes it less believable that the Federation seemed so dominant again by the time of the original show. Perhaps the resurgence of the Federation will be dealt with over the next few years on Discovery.

With the war over, there was time for a family reunion and an awards ceremony. Many questions already remained open. How will they deal with the spore drive, which now seems fully functional, but which needs to be forgotten within the next ten years? What is the meaning of the spore which landed on Tilly? Georgiou, L’Rell, and Tyler are all around in this universe, providing possibilities for a return. The Prime Lorca and perhaps the Mirror Burnham could also turn out to be alive.

After leaving the awards ceremony, the next question raised was the identity of the new captain. While the captain would be picked up on Vulcan, this may or may not mean that the person will be a Vulcan.

Then came the big surprise. The Discovery encountered another ship. The call letters began NCC17…

By then most fans probably knew what was coming next. They certainly could not tease this and then show the NCC1776, The USS Independence Day, or some other starship. It was NCC 1701, the original USS Enterprise, the flagship of Star Fleet, currently under the command of Captain Pike.

The episode then went into a new rendition of the original Star Trek end credits music, and we will have to wait until next season to see what happens with the Enterprise. This is the type of a cliff hanger I prefer for a series which will not return for months. Conclude the main story arc of the season, and then tease something from the upcoming season, as opposed to leaving the main arc unfinished.

For all but purists, the ship we saw did look like the Enterprise, regardless if there were slight changes. Matters will be more difficult if they show the interior, or the uniforms, considering how much Discovery has been updated. It would be an easy matter to recast Captain Pike, and most of the crew are unknown to us with one notable exception–Spock. While it would be amazing if Zachary Quinto were to play Spock, I doubt this is likely.

There are other difficulties. If Spock and Burnham interact, it would be a little more difficult to believe that Spock never mentioned his half-sister. There would be an even greater contradiction if Sarek and Spock see each other considering that, as established in Journey to Babel, the two were estranged for eighteen years. Of course it is possible that the two could avoid any contact with each other as they are estranged, or Spock could be elsewhere.

TVLine  discussed the episode with  Discovery executive producers Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts

TVLINE | Let’s start at the end, with the Enterprise reveal. What kind of storytelling avenues does that open up for you in Season 2?
AARON HARBERTS
 | I think one of the biggest things it’s going to allow us to do is start to develop how Discovery fits into canon. One of the big things that’s been polarizing for fans is, “We’ve never heard about Discovery! How does it fit? She’s related to Spock?” All those things. And what it’ll allow us to do is hit that straight-on. We see it as an exciting opportunity to say, “This is exactly how Discovery fits into the timeline. This is exactly how we can reconcile the choices we have made.” Because at this period in time, the Discovery and the Enterprise are the crown jewels in the fleet, so they should be face-to-face.

TVLINE | So does that mean Christopher Pike is a full-fledged character next season? Because we don’t know a lot about him, outside of “The Cage” and “The Menagerie.”
GRETCHEN J. BERG | Yeah, we can’t talk about specifics too much, but I think that because we are in canon, we look at things we know, and things we don’t know… and then there are the things we don’t know about the things we know! And there, often, you’ll find great opportunities for storytelling. But it is intriguing. It’s one of the fun things about playing within this box that is the timeline where we are.

HARBERTS | If there ever were to be a captain from canon that one could explore… Christopher Pike would certainly be that one.

TVLINE | So I guess you can’t tell us if we’ll see a ten-years-younger Spock next season, then?
BERG | [Laughs] No, we can’t!

HARBERTS | I can tell you: All you have to do is look at Michael Burnham and Sarek, and the look they exchange at the end of the show, and ask yourself what that could be about.

TVLINE | Maybe it’s safe to ask you about this: How great did it feel to lay down the old-school theme song over the closing credits?
HARBERTS | That was [executive producer] Akiva Goldsman’s idea. He is a huge Trek fan, and from the very beginning of his involvement in the show, he’s always been the guy who’s like, “And then the Discovery and the Enterprise will meet up!” And we’re like, “OK, Akiva, yes, yes…” [Laughs] It was his ultimate fanboy geekgasm… and it was a great idea. And then it was his idea to do the old theme at the end of the episode. I was at the scoring session, watching [composer] Jeff Russo lay that down. Tons of people were there, and you could have just heard a pin drop, and then there were smiles on everyone’s faces. It was very cool.

TVLINE | Oh, so that was totally re-recorded? That wasn’t just the original theme replayed?
HARBERTS
 | Oh yes, that was re-recorded. We had a vocalist come in. They had a bongo player in an isolation booth to play the bongo part. [Laughs] It was legit…

TVLINE | There’s always a chance she could run into Tyler and Georgiou again, right? It’s a big universe, but not that big.
HARBERTS | Oh yeah. One of our goals was: We wanted to create a universe, and play in that universe. And it’s only fun if you’ve got a cast of characters who can continue to come and go…

TVLINE | You did leave us hanging on who the next captain of the Discovery will be. What kind of personality type are you looking for to fill that spot?
BERG | Well, I don’t think we could bring back a Lorca [type] again, just because he was a captain perfect for wartime. I think the crew would be suspicious of that again. [Laughs] Discussing who’s next in that chair is a big topic in the writers’ room, and we certainly have landed somewhere… but I think we’d like you to stick around and watch and find out who it is, and why.

ET Online also interviewed them:

ET: Why did you want to introduce the USS Enterprise now on Star Trek: Discovery?

Gretchen J. Berg: From the beginning, it was something that we knew that folks who are fans of Star Trek know the Enterprise is out there and it was kind of the elephant in the room. We knew eventually that we would want to address that and deal with it. Even though it’s a giant, giant universe, it’s something that’s on everybody’s minds. So we were glad to be able to take the whole season to get to know our crew because the storytelling is going to be told from the point of view from Michael Burnham and Discovery. Let everybody get to know our characters and our show and what we were doing before we brought in the Enterprise. We knew it would be exciting and provocative, for sure.

Aaron Harberts: We also knew that we couldn’t hold off on this because there are so many questions about Burnham in regards to the notion of Sarek and Spock’s family, which is not to say that we’re introducing Spock at the moment. We don’t want to spoil anything. But it’s certainly time to get the audience understanding that we fully intend to respect the original series and respect where Discoveryfalls in that. To do that, we have to show the Enterprise and at least have these ships cross paths.

What is your intention with establishing the Enterprise in this way? What are you comfortable saying with regards to its place in season two?

Berg: Usually, we like to say sit back and enjoy the ride because it’s one of those things… You know, as a writer, you work on something and work on something, and you’re always like, but wait! We’re working on it and we’re going to show it to you and you’ll see. We’re certainly acknowledging that they exist in the same time. But always, always, always, the story on Discovery will be told from the point of view of Disco and our Disco crew. I think it’s fair to expect something, but we probably couldn’t go too much into detail about what it is.

Harberts: More than anything, it is about what new stories does this provide for our crew, for Michael Burnham, for Saru, for Tilly. Our main interest is Discovery. However, if the presence of the Enterprise can show us new things about our crew, the better.

It’s notable that it’s Captain Pike who sent the distress signal for the Enterprise. Is he a character we could meet in season two, along with Enterprise crew members?

Harberts: The thing to consider about Captain Pike is, from an audience and writer’s point of view, there is something very exciting about a key character from [Star Trek: The Original Series] who’s only been explored in two episodes of the original series — three if you consider how [the rejected pilot for the original series] “The Cage” works into the puzzle in TOS. When we think about the idea of Captain Pike, it opens up some large possibilities. We will never say never to exploring him a little bit more…

Are you suggesting that the nine-month period in Prime during which Michael and crew were stuck in Mirror Universe won’t be revisited?

Harberts: To be honest, Episode 14 [“The War Without, the War Within”] was all about what had happened. With the destruction that was wrought by the Klingons and the Federation during those nine months, we tried to paint the picture of that. I think what’s exciting about moving into season two is we’ve got a fresh new palette. We’ve put the war behind us and we’re excited to move on into some things that Trek fans have been longing for, which is more exploration, more diplomacy, more planets, more away missions. We’re focused on serving up some new stuff.

What does this mean for the future of Jason Isaacs, whose Mirror Lorca was killed but the whereabouts of Prime Lorca are still unclear, or Michelle Yeoh, whose Mirror Philippa is still roaming the galaxy?

Berg: If they’re out there, the possibilities are endless. Never say never. That’s the great thing about this universe: there are so many more different ways to go. I can’t confirm or deny anything, but…

Harberts: If we find Prime Lorca, I sort of want to find him making artisan sourdough bread in a bakery in San Francisco. That’s how that storyline could start and we’d just build from there. (Laughter.)

Because it seems the Mirror Universe isn’t a destination you’ll go back to anytime soon, what about Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber’s future? Wilson Cruz told us recently that their story isn’t over.

Berg: Wilson’s correct. We have just begun to tell the love story between Culber and Stamets, so I would just say hold tight.

Harberts: Stamets has got a lot to process that he hasn’t had time to process yet, in terms of not being in charge of the spore drive and having lost Culber. We’ve got to take Stamets on a journey as well and then we’ll see. But Culber is a character who is part of this Star Trek world, no doubt.

You’re already knee-deep on season two planning. What are you looking to achieve thematically and creatively?

Harberts: Chapter 1 of this novel was war, and right now, we’re thinking about Chapter 2. One of the themes we continue kicking around is the conflict between science and spirituality, and that’s something that we’re very interested, particularly after you finish a war. How do you rebuild yourself? What’s required for that? What we’re most excited to do is to continue thematic exploration and philosophical exploration and debate, and these characters are perfectly primed to carry storylines like that. That’s one thing that we’re thinking about. We have a few things up our sleeve, but we’d be lying if we knew everything, because that’s the fun of it is as well. You go into it, you see what’s working and you see what’s interesting, and you build from there.

Berg: The joy is in the journey for us as well in creating it.

This week’s episode of The Magicians was significant for introducing Poppy Kline, played by Felicia Day, but regular Summer Bishil (Margo) certainly held her own. Margo wound up in an undesired marriage to young Fomar, and turned to her version of sex ed to attempt to turn him off to the idea. While she pulled out a thick volume which contained female anatomy, her suggestion of the presence of teeth provided the title for the episode.

As usual, The Magicians did an excellent job of combining such amusement with advancing the plot. While Fumar was knocked out (later to be told he did great), Eliot and Margo found a massive field of the Fairy Queen’s mushrooms, which turned out to be fairy incubators to grow a fairy army. It will be interesting to see what happens now that Margo has taken hostages.

More also happened in this episode, including a look at depression with Felicia Day’s story. Inside The Magicians video below:

The CW Network rivals Syfy in the number of genre shows. They have announced that they will be expanding their programming to six nights a week, adding Sunday. This should increase the chance of their bubble shows returning and provides room for new shows. Next season this includes remakes of Charmed and Roswell.  Jeanine Mason (Grey’s Anatomy) has been cast a the lead for the Roswell reboot.

The highlight of the past week on CW was an appearance by Constantine on Legends of Tomorrow. It has been confirmed that Constantine will return later in March.

The biggest genre news of the week was the record smashing opening weekend of Black Panther.

How Facebook Might Have Actually Helped Trump Win–And It Had Nothing To Do With Russia

As was highlighted in yesterday’s indictment, there is a lot of attention being paid to Russian actions on Facebook, giving a false impression that this was the deciding factor in the election. As I pointed out again yesterday, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding Russian actions on social media showed that their actions, such as purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads were very trivial considering the vast amount of activity on social media and other campaign advertising. The Congressional testimony revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

While the overall influence of Facebook on the election is unknown, if Facebook did influence the election there were factors far more important than the Russian activities. Both sides had many supporters who posted substantially far more on line for their candidate than anything coming from Russia. The Clinton campaign and its allies also utilized an army of paid trolls which were  more prevalent on social media than the Russians. The Trump campaign effectively used social media in a manner which was totally legal and had nothing to do with Russia–Facebook employees embedded in the campaign to instruct them in the most effective way to use social media.

The Guardian looked at how the Trump campaign used the Facebook embeds, based upon a story on CBS News:

The Trump presidential campaign spent most of its digital advertising budget on Facebook, testing more than 50,000 ad variations each day in an attempt to micro-target voters, Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in an interview scheduled to air on Sunday night.

“Twitter is how [Trump] talked to the people, Facebook was going to be how he won,” Parscale said…

Parscale said the Trump campaign used Facebook to reach clusters of rural voters, such as “15 people in the Florida Panhandle that I would never buy a TV commercial for”.

“I started making ads that showed the bridge crumbling,” he said. “I can find the 1,500 people in one town that care about infrastructure. Now, that might be a voter that normally votes Democrat.”

Parscale said the campaign constantly tested minute variations in the design, color, background and phrasing of Facebook ads, in order to maximize their impact. Typically 50,000 to 60,000 variations were tested each day, he said, and sometimes as many as 100,000.

But Parscale’s comments highlight how actively Facebook has pursued election advertising as a business strategy, even as its platform has come under attack as a fertile ground for Russian-backed political propaganda, conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation.

Among other services, Facebook’s elections advertising allows campaigns to take lists of registered voters drawn from public records and find those people on Facebook.

Parscale said he asked the Facebook “embeds” to teach staffers everything the Clinton campaign would be told about Facebook advertising “and then some”…

Parscale told CBS he was told the Clinton campaign did not use Facebook employee embeds. “I had heard that they did not accept any of [Facebook’s] offers,” he said.

While Clinton did not take advantage of this opportunity, there are other ways in which Facebook has been biased towards Clinton which might have offsetted this potential advantage for Trump.

Yesterday’s indictment by Robert Mueller was about violations of federal election laws by Russians. As Rod Rosenstein verified, it was not about altering the election result. It is less clear how much legal activities on Facebook contributed to the ultimate result.

Today’s Indictments Do Not Support Narratives Of Either Republican Or Democratic Partisans Regarding Russia

Once again the objective facts released with regards to the Russia investigation run counter to the narratives of both Republican and Democratic partisans. The details presented in today’s indictment issued by Robert Mueller again contradicts claims from some Republicans that there was absolutely no Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Of course that was an absurd stand from the start. Russian has meddled in our elections for years, as the United States has meddled in their elections, and both countries have meddled in elections in multiple other countries. On the other hand, the indictments provide nothing to back the Democratic conspiracy theories of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign which somehow stole the election from Hillary Clinton.

We have known for some time that Russians have been active on social media. With the long history of both sides meddling in each other’s affairs, and with the growth of social media, those who are shocked by this are astonishingly naive. Nor is it a surprise that such actions violated federal election laws. As the indictment states, “FECA prohibits foreign nationals from making any contributions, expenditures, independent expenditures, or disbursements for electioneering communications. FECA also requires that individuals or entities who make certain independent expenditures in federal elections report those expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.” A far more interesting potential development would be, as I’ve speculated in the past, if there are grounds for a future indictment against Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kusnher for their attempts to obtain information from Russians at the Trump Tower meeting.

We know from the Trump Tower meeting that the Trump campaign had no qualms against colluding with Russia. However, while the Russians enticed them to attend, they had no information to actually offer. The indictment indicates other contacts between Russians and the Trump Campaign, however without the knowledge of the Trump Campaign. As the indictment states, “Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

While it would hardly surprise me if there were to turn out to be some members of the Trump campaign who did knowingly communicate with Russians, at this time there remains no evidence of any collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia, even if members of Trump’s family did show a willingness to collude with Russians. Obtaining the actual facts, as opposed to promoting the claims of partisans on either side, remains the top priority.

As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stressed, “There is no allegation in the indictment on the outcome of the election.” After over a year of investigations, there remains no evidence that Russia had any effect on the election result, no matter how much Hillary Clinton and her supporters wish to claim this.

While the activities of the Russians very well might have violated federal election laws, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding their actions on social media showed that their actions, such as purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads were very trivial considering the vast amount of activity on social media and other campaign advertising. The Congressional testimony revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

The hysteria spread by many establishment  Democrats over Russian actions on social media, along with other false media reports regarding Russia, has had many adverse consequences including providing the Democratic establishment a bogus excuse for not correcting the actual mistakes which cost them the election after giving the nomination to a candidate so weak that she could not beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, increasing Cold War style tensions with a nuclear power, playing into the desires of neocons who have been exaggerating Russian influence on the 2016 election, and increasing censorship of Americans (not Russians) on Facebook. Using Russian activity on social media to censor Americans is a far greater threat to our democracy than any actions done by Russians.

The Explanation For The Number Of Mass Shootings In The United States

The New York Times looked at the question of why there are so many mass shootings in the United States compared to other countries:

When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

There is far more in their full article but the primary factor comes down to the astronomical number of guns. If we agree that school shootings must be stopped, this leaves us with one conclusion. Something must be done about the number of guns. We can debate the specifics, and we can strive to find ways to allow those who use guns for legitimate reasons to still own guns, but any solution is going to require reducing the number of guns. Or do conservatives think that killing children is acceptable?

Conservatives will claim that restrictions on gun ownership violate the Second Amendment. I don’t take their selective adherence to Constitutional rights all that seriously when they are frequently the same people who are willing to see violations of First Amendment rights, with many outright opposing separation of church and state.