SciFi Weekend: Homeland Finale; Doctor Who; Sherlock; Victoria; Orphan Black; Sense8; Star Wars The Last Jedi; The Magicians; Supergirl; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Big Little Lies

While not as good as the first season (a very high bar), Homeland finally figured out how to reinvent itself and become an excellent show again this season. When the series had a female president-elect, there was no question that they were playing on the thought that Hillary Clinton would have been elected last November. While the used the idea of a female president, she clearly was not Hillary Clinton. For most of the season it appeared that this was a far better choice for the first female present. Rather than being a warmonger and strong proponent the surveillance state like Clinton, President-elect Keane supported seeking peace in the middle east and was no fan of the Patriot Act. The series also dealt heavily with fake news and influencing public opinion.

The finale had an all too realistic warning. (Spoilers ahead). Shocked by an assassination attempt involving portions of the deep state, Keane snapped (as Dick Cheney may have when carried down to safety during the 9/11 attack). Like Donald Trump, President Keane went to war with her intelligence community, but to a far greater degree. She was no longer the anti-Clinton, expanding the Patriot Act and rounding up innocent people based upon metadata from NSA surveillance, including Saul Berenson. A right wing talk show host spoke of how President Keane broke her promises–somewhat like how real right wing talk shows are now talking about how Donald Trump has broken his promises to them. The name of the episode: America First.

Variety discussed the series with showrunner Alex Gansa. The interview was done before the finale and therefore does not include the surprising conclusion, but does discuss how the season was relevant to real world events:

“Homeland” storylines usually reflect real-world headlines in some way. What surprised you this year about how your show dovetailed with real events?

The most surprising and alarming coincidence was that the very thing we had posited a year ago in February — that is a President-elect in an adversarial relationship with her own intelligence community – actually came to the fore after President Trump got elected was just a coincidence of epic proportions. Frankly that was the biggest surprise second only to the fact that Donald Trump got elected in the first place. That dynamic – a newly elected President at war with her intelligence community was really the fulcrum that the entire season hinged on. The fact that it played out in the real world on the national stage was shocking to witness. There were some other (developments) that made us go back into some episodes to retrofit them.

Can you give an example?

The whole idea of fake news and propaganda – that seemed to take on a much more prominent role as we moved into our story. The one major thing we went back in and changed was introducing our Brett O’Keefe character much earlier than we intended. He was originally scheduled to be introduced in episode eight. But we went back in and did some reshoots and new scenes to introduce him in episode two…

You were clear all along in the lead-up to season six that “Homeland’s” female President-elect was not meant to be a thinly veiled Hillary Clinton. But were you concerned about that choice after Trump pulled off his upset win?

Absolutely. There was a moment we all just slapped our foreheads and wondered if the show was going to be irrelevant from that point forward. However, the story of the President-elect in an adversarial situation with her own intelligence community, that certainly wouldn’t have been Hillary Clinton. She was an establishment candidate. She was front and center of American foreign policy for years. …In a crazy way, the show would have been more irrelevant if Hillary would have been elected. The fact that Donald Trump and his team were in such a contentious relationship made the show feel current and contemporaneous. We lost on the gender but we certainly gained on the dynamic.

There has been a lot of news going into the season premiere of Doctor Who. As it has been sixteen months since a regular episode, Yahoo TV has the above catch-up guide.

Peter Capaldi has already filmed his regeneration scene. Steven Moffat has discussed the regeneration:

“With Matt I had a sort of idea that his entire run should be in the pre-math of a battle he’s having at the end of his life,” Moffat told RadioTimes.com exclusively at the BFI and Radio Times Television Festival this weekend (see video below). “But with Peter I wasn’t quite sure. I wasn’t sure for a long time whether I’d be writing him out or whether he’d be carrying on with [new showrunner] Chris Chibnall.

“That fits his Doctor, though,” the screenwriter went on, before hinting that this less mapped-out path would be echoed in Capaldi’s regeneration.

“His Doctor feels sort of impulsive and in the moment and would do something reckless that you wouldn’t expect. That suits me.

“And I mean, you can overstate the difficulty of planning a finale for a Doctor. In the end, any Doctor Who story has such catastrophe going on in it, that he could be the one that gets the rock on his head.

“But I think I’m really happy with what we’re doing for his finale. I’m just working on it now. It’s quite early. I should be further through it, but there you go.”

Moffat has also said he will be working on another show with Mark Gatiss.

Normally when Doctor Who is on, the lead item of SciFi Weekend is quite frequently a review of the current episode. Because of the holiday weekend, I have moved up this week’s post to Saturday, before this season’s premiere episode has been shown. I still might add a full review as a separate post rather than waiting until next week, depending upon both available time and how much the episode warrants it.

The Telegraph ran a story entitled, Steven Moffat talks the future of Sherlock and possible recasting. Of course, while scheduling Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman might be difficult, the show would never be the same with a different cast. Fortunately Moffat agreed:

Speaking at London’s BFI and Radio Times Television Festival, Moffat revealed: “Neither Benedict, Mark or Martin are against doing more Sherlocks. We have a great time making them, it’s a very, very nice bunch of people and we enjoy our reunions very much… [but] we’d never want to do it if we didn’t think we could do it as well as we used to.

“It also means, we’ll come back to it when we feel we’ve got the right idea. It could be off the earth quite a long while now. But I would be surprised, as I’ve said before, if we never made any more Sherlocks.”

Along with concerns over future stories, Moffat and Gatiss also have the busy schedules of their two stars to contend with: both men entrenched in the Marvel universe, as well as their multitudes of additional projects. It lead to Moffat being asked whether he would ever consider a recast.

“Absolutely not,” he was quick to reply. “You can admire great cinematography, a great score, great writing, great direction, great production. You can admire all those things, but you only fall in love with people. And the people you fall in love with are Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

“You cannot replace them. They are the magic, they are the show.”

Speaking of recasting, while The Crown plans to recast Claire Foy and Matt Smith after the second season as their characters age, Victoria will be moving more slowly through the 1840’s. Therefore there are no plans yet to recast Jenna Coleman.

BBC America has released a longer trailer for the fifth and final season of Orphan Black, which returns on June 10.

Netflix has released the above trailer for season 2 of Sense8, which will become available on May 5. The description:

From renowned creative geniuses Lana Wachowski, Grant Hill (“The Matrix,” “Cloud Atlas”) and J. Michael Straczynski (Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,’ “World War Z”), Sense8 is centered around eight characters, from different parts of the world, who experience a violent vision, and soon find themselves mentally connected by the experience. They become connected, able to see and talk to each other as though they were in the same place, with access to each other’s deepest secrets. Not only must the eight adapt to this new ability and to each other, they must figure out why their lives are now in jeopardy. In Season 2, dark forces continue to track the cluster of eight connected characters. The sensates will learn more about BPO, the secret organization searching for their cluster and others like them, and will work to protect themselves from this organization that is out to hunt and kill them.

The above teaser has been released for Star Wars: The Last Jedi which will be released December 15. More at Entertainment Weekly.

Syfy has finally announced that The Magicians will be renewed for a third season. Grace and Frankie has also been renewed by Netflix.

Calista Flockhart will be returning for the final two episodes of Supergirl this season. She was written out of the show after two episodes as a consequence of the show moving production to Vancouver. Tyler Hoechlin will also return as Superman.

Manu Bennett (Slade Wilson/Deathstroke) will be returning for the season finale of Arrow.

Gotham plans to “introduce the idea of Harley Quinn” in the Season 3 finale.

The pilot for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has received excellent reviews, so it is no surprise that Amazon has picked up this series from Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino. The only surprise is that Amazon has already picked it up for two seasons, which could keep Amy Sherman-Palladino busy if the rumors come true of a second season for Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. The summary for her new series:

The series, written and directed by Sherman-Palladino, stars Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a 1958 New York City woman who has everything she’s ever wanted—the perfect husband, two kids, and an elegant Upper West Side apartment perfect for hosting Yom Kippur dinner. But her perfect life suddenly takes an unexpected turn and Midge discovers a previously unknown talent—one that changes her life forever. She charts a course that takes her from her comfortable life on Riverside Drive, through the basket houses and nightclubs of Greenwich Village as she storms the world of stand-up comedy…a course that will ultimately lead her to a spot on Johnny Carson’s couch.

In addition to House of Cards, Rachel Brosnahan also appeared as Abby Isaacs in the WGN series Manhattan.

Big Little Lies completed the events of  novel it was based on in its first season, but that might not keep it from getting a second season. It certainly is plausible–and there is precedent for this. The Leftovers was better in its second season, after its first season completed the novel it was based on, and early reviews suggest the third season might be even better. HBO was certainly not going to stop filming Game of Thrones when it caught up to the published novels.

Do The Democrats Have A Death Wish?

The Democratic Party not only lost the fight over who would fill Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat, but they might also be conceding defeat for the future. Talking Points Memo quotes Senator Ed Markey:

“When the Democrats return to the majority and capture the presidency, which we will, that day is going to arrive, we will restore the 60-vote margin,” Markey told MSNBC’s Katy Tur. “We will ensure that, for the Supreme Court, there is that special margin that any candidate has to reach because that is essential to ensuring that our country has a confidence in those people that are nominated, rather than just someone who just passes a litmus test.”

Do Democrats secretly wish to lose?

Assuming that he isn’t saying this for political posturing without any intent to do so, and that his views are representative of the party, this makes no sense. Why allow the Republicans to confirm Justices with only 51 votes, but then go back to requiring 60 votes to confirm liberal Justices to undo the harm caused by the Republicans?

Maybe Markey wants to stand up for principle, but if so there are far more fundamental liberal principles which the Democratic Party has repeatedly compromised on than the view that a Supreme Court Justice should require sixty votes for confirmation. Maybe this could be reconsidered at some future point should the Republican Party return to sanity, but this is not the time to make such a decision. In the meantime, perhaps the Democrats should stick to principles on matters such as defending civil liberties and reversing the surveillance state. Perhaps they should fight to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Bush years in intervening in the middle east. Instead we have Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer supporting Trump’s airstrikes in Syria, and other Democratic leaders including Howard Dean attacking Tulsi Gabbard who has been promoting peace.

Of course we should not be surprised, considering how the Democratic establishment rigged the 2016 nomination for Hillary Clinton, who both was to the right of Antonin Scalia on civil liberties, and favored far more extensive, and dangerous, intervention in Syria than the attack by Donald Trump. Of course that was also another example of the Democrats showing an inability to win, in nominating the worst possible candidate to run against Donald Trump. If you are going to rig a party’s nomination, at least do so for a candidate who can win–unless you have a death wish.

Trump Administration Trying To Find Identity Of Anonymous Anti-Trump Account

Earlier in the week I had a post about the Authoritarianism of Donald Trump. We are seeing another example of the Trump administration’s lack of respect for First Amendment rights in an attempt to seek the identity of an anonymous Twitter account which has been critical of Trump’s immigration policy. As Gizmodo notes, “Obviously, an attempt by the Trump administration to obtain information associated with an anonymous Twitter account critical of the government is a frightening and startling precedent.”

Twitter has filed suit, with the support of the ACLU. The Intercept reports on Twitter’s suit.

Twitter is now asking the court to declare that “the CBP Summons is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.” Esha Bhandari of the ACLU told The Intercept that the group is personally defending the Twitter account owner, and will be filing “in court shortly to defend the user’s rights, focusing on the user’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously.” Although Bhandari would not comment on whether the account is actually run by a federal employee or employees, she noted that “on the face of the summons the government has offered no reason for seeking this information.”

My earlier post on The Authoritarianism of Donald Trump was based upon a series of editorials in The Los Angeles Times this week on Donald Trump. This was followed yesterday with a post on Donald Trump’s War on Journalism. Today The Los Angeles Times wrote about The Conspiracy Theorist In Chief.

Donald Trump’s War on Journalism And The Price Republicans Will Face For His Presidency

The Los Angeles Times is continuing its series of posts on Donald Trump, today addressing Trump’s War on Journalism. Here are some portions:

In Donald Trump’s America, the mere act of reporting news unflattering to the president is held up as evidence of bias. Journalists are slandered as “enemies of the people.”

Facts that contradict Trump’s version of reality are dismissed as “fake news.” Reporters and their news organizations are “pathetic,” “very dishonest,” “failing,” and even, in one memorable turn of phrase, “a pile of garbage.”

…By branding reporters as liars, he apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. By undermining trust in news organizations and delegitimizing journalism and muddling the facts so that Americans no longer know who to believe, he can deny and distract and help push his administration’s far-fetched storyline.

It’s a cynical strategy, with some creepy overtones. For instance, when he calls journalists “enemies of the people,” Trump (whether he knows it or not) echoes Josef Stalin and other despots.

But it’s an effective strategy. Such attacks are politically expedient at a moment when trust in the news media is as low as it’s ever been, according to Gallup. And they’re especially resonant with Trump’s supporters, many of whom see journalists as part of the swamp that needs to be drained.

Trump has been criticized many times before for his attacks on the news media. I included some examples here, including criticism from Fox for the benefit of those who prefer that source, here, and here.

Earlier in the week, The Los Angeles Times criticized the dishonesty of Donald Trump and his authoritarian tendencies.

Even many on the right see how terrible a president Donald Trump is. For example, Jonah Goldberg writes, “the problem is Trump’s personality. His presidency doesn’t suffer from a failure of ideas, but a failure of character.”

Republicans are likely to pay a political price for the presidency of Donald Trump. Jonathan Chait has written about how Donald Trump will do far more harm to the Republican Party than if Hillary Clinton would have won.

Imagine what the political world would look like for Republicans had Hillary Clinton won the election. Clinton had dragged her dispirited base to the polls by promising a far more liberal domestic agenda than Barack Obama had delivered, but she would have had no means to enact it. As the first president in 28 years to take office without the benefit of a Congress in her own party’s hands, she’d have been staring at a dead-on-arrival legislative agenda, all the low-hanging executive orders having already been picked by her predecessor, and years of scandalmongering hearings already teed up. The morale of the Democratic base, which had barely tolerated the compromises of the Obama era and already fallen into mutual recriminations by 2016, would have disintegrated altogether. The 2018 midterms would be a Republican bloodbath, with a Senate map promising enormous gains to the Republican Party, which would go into the 2020 elections having learned the lessons of Trump’s defeat and staring at full control of government with, potentially, a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined. The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.

The converse is also true. Democrats are in a position to be far more successful than they would be if faced with having to defend a triangulating Hillary Clinton in the White House, who very likely would have been more successful than Donald Trump in moving the country to the right. Rather than facing inevitable loses in Congress and in the states, Democrats now have a shot at retaking the House, especially if they present a clear alternative to the Republicans, as opposed to running again as a Republican-lite party.

The Authoritarianism Of Donald Trump

The Los Angeles Times has posted the third in a four part series criticizing Donald Trump. (Update: It now appears to be a six part series.) Yesterday I pointed out the first two parts on Our Dishonest President and Why Trump Lies. Part three is on Trump’s Authoritarian Vision. They started with the authoritarian mindset behind Trump’s campaign promises to unilaterally fix everything:

To Trump’s faithful, those words were a rallying cry. But his critics heard something far more menacing in them: a dangerously authoritarian vision of the presidency — one that would crop up time and again as he talked about overruling generals, disregarding international law, ordering soldiers to commit war crimes, jailing his opponent.

Trump has no experience in politics; he’s never previously run for office or held a government position. So perhaps he was unaware that one of the hallmarks of the American system of government is that the president’s power to “fix” things unilaterally is constrained by an array of strong institutions — including the courts, the media, the permanent federal bureaucracy and Congress. Combined, they provide an essential defense against an imperial presidency.

Yet in his first weeks at the White House, President Trump has already sought to undermine many of those institutions. Those that have displayed the temerity to throw some hurdle in the way of a Trump objective have quickly felt the heat.

Consider Trump’s feud with the courts.

He has repeatedly questioned the impartiality and the motives of judges. For example, he attacked the jurists who ruled against his order excluding travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, calling one a “so-called judge” and later tweeting: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

It’s nothing new for presidents to disagree with court decisions. But Trump’s direct, personal attacks on judges’ integrity and on the legitimacy of the judicial system itself — and his irresponsible suggestion that the judiciary should be blamed for future terrorist attacks — go farther. They aim to undermine public faith in the third branch of government.

The courts are the last line of defense for the Constitution and the rule of law; that’s what makes them such a powerful buffer against an authoritarian leader. The president of the United States should understand that and respect it.

The article went on to discuss other institutions under attack by Trump:

  • The electoral process
  • The intelligence community
  • The media
  • Federal agencies

They concluded with a look at the checks on presidential power, wondering if they will be enough:

Trump betrays no sense for the president’s place among the myriad of institutions in the continuum of governance. He seems willing to violate long-established political norms without a second thought, and he cavalierly rejects the civility and deference that allow the system to run smoothly. He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.

Will Congress act as a check on Trump’s worst impulses as he moves forward? One test is the House and Senate intelligence committees’ investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election; lawmakers need to muster the courage to follow the trail wherever it leads. Can the courts stand up to Trump? Already, several federal judges have issued rulings against the president’s travel ban. And although Trump has railed against the decisions, he has obeyed them.

None of these institutions are eager to cede authority to the White House and they won’t do so without a fight. It would be unrealistic to suggest that America’s most basic democratic institutions are in imminent jeopardy.

But we should not view them as invulnerable either. Remember that Trump’s verbal assaults are directed at the public, and are designed to chip away at people’s confidence in these institutions and deprive them of their validity. When a dispute arises, whose actions are you going to consider legitimate? Whom are you going to trust? That’s why the public has to be wary of Trump’s attacks on the courts, the “deep state,” the “swamp.” We can’t afford to be talked into losing our faith in the forces that protect us from an imperial presidency.

These criticisms of Donald Trump are very similar to those I quoted a few weeks ago from Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, and author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy. I have also discussed the increased interest in dystopian novels about falling into authoritarianism, including warnings from Philip Roth.

While Trump is not the only threat to liberty on the political scene, at least Trump is blatant in his attacks, and there is wide-spread understanding of the threat he presents. This has helped to mobilize opposition to him very early in his term.

A (Valid) Media Attack On Trump And A (Nonsensical) Defense Of Clinton

Apparently the 2016 election will never end. The week began with major pieces on both of the awful major party candidates. The Los Angeles Times started a four part series on Donald Trump yesterday, starting with Our Dishonest President. The major points were:

  • Trump’s shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based.
  • His utter lack of regard for truth.
  • His scary willingness to repeat alt-right conspiracy theories, racist memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas.

Part II, Why Trump Lies, was posted today:

Even American leaders who lie generally know the difference between their statements and the truth. Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook” but by that point must have seen that he was. Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” but knew that he did.

The insult that Donald Trump brings to the equation is an apparent disregard for fact so profound as to suggest that he may not see much practical distinction between lies, if he believes they serve him, and the truth.

His approach succeeds because of his preternaturally deft grasp of his audience. Though he is neither terribly articulate nor a seasoned politician, he has a remarkable instinct for discerning which conspiracy theories in which quasi-news source, or which of his own inner musings, will turn into ratings gold. He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes. If one of his lies doesn’t work — well, then he lies about that.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is as terrible as the Times says, but we must not make the mistake of falling into the trap of binary thinking and ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton is not much better–and likely could have done more harm than Trump because she could act with the support of the establishment.

The Guardian has a pathetic attempt to white wash Hillary Clinton by Susan Bordo. It repeats pretty much every bogus argument which we have heard from Clinton apologists, and which I have already debunked in great detail in previous posts, so I will only touch on the highlights here. Bordo learned nothing from the 2016 election, blaming James Comey, sexism, and especially Bernie Sanders for Clinton losing, while showing zero understanding why Clinton was ethically and ideologically unfit for the presidency.

The absurdities of her argument begin the header which says her book “asks how the most qualified candidate ever to run for president lost the seemingly unloseable election.” She botched health care reform as First Lady. She promoted right wing goals in the Senate, including working with The Fellowship to increase the role of religion in public policy, pushed for war in Iraq based upon false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaedda (despite failing to even read the intelligence prepared for Senators), and has consistently supported restricting civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism (and flag burners). She was a failed Secretary of State who continued to promote interventionism, learning nothing from her mistake in Iraq, failed to abide by the ethics agreements she entered into, and used the position to make money from influence peddling. She was a terrible candidate in two presidential elections. She was wrong on virtually every major decision in her career. How does that translate to most qualified or make any honest observers all that surprised that she lost?

The excerpt from her book repeats the usual claims of sexism, ignoring the fact that the left has opposed DLC, Third Way Democrats like both Bill and Hillary Clinton since the 1990’s. We did not want to see any more Bushes or Clintons in office. Both Clintons and the Bushes all represent essentially the same thing, and the opposition was not limited to Hillary. Many of those who voted for Sanders in the primaries initially supported Elizabeth Warren, and some went on to vote for Jill Stein, with gender not being a factor.

Bordo complains that Sanders branded Clinton as “establishment,” even though Hillary Clinton was the strongest proponent of the Bush/Clinton establishment, and biggest opponent of change, around. She complains about Bernie running against her, ignoring the fact that this is a part of living in a democracy. She complained about how Bernie campaigned against Clinton, while failing to provide any real examples of improper conduct on his part. She ignored how dishonest Clinton’s campaign against Sanders was, from her repeated lies about his record in debates, to her lies about the email scandal and FBI investigation.

Bordo tried to claim Clinton is a progressive and minimize the difference in ideology between Clinton and Sanders supporters, despite rather vast differences of opinion on many issues.  Clinton’s record on corporate influence on public policy received the most publicity during the campaign, as this is what Sanders concentrated on, but those who opposed Clinton also disagreed with her on many other issues, including foreign policy and interventionism, civil liberties, many social/cultural issues, the drug war, and health care (especially with Clinton attacking Medicare for All with bogus claims).

Clinton’s negatives eliminated any advantage other candidates would have had against Donald Trump. Her dishonesty and influence peddling destroyed any advantage in running against the dishonesty and corruption of Trump. Clinton was out-flanked on the left by Trump during the election on foreign policy and economics, despite how incoherent his policies were. Her views on civil liberties were not all that different from what was expressed by Trump. The Clinton record on mass incarceration and immigration further negated Trump’s negatives.

Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, failing to give any reasons to vote for her beyond gender and claims that it was her turn. It is a mistake for Bordo to blame Sanders. Even if Sanders had not run, those of us who opposed Clinton would have still opposed her candidacy. I opposed Clinton in 2015/6 for the same reasons I opposed her eight years previously, and frequently for the same reasons I opposed George Bush. This was because of her dishonesty, her corruption, and how she has spent her career undermining liberal viewpoints. My opposition to Clinton had nothing to do with her gender and did not come from Bernie Sanders.

Update: Some Clinton apologists (including Peter Daou) have moved on from the bogus claims of sexism to adopting McCarthyist tactics in claiming that opposition to Clinton’s policies and support for Bernie Sanders were plot of a Russian plot.

Late Night Comedians On Republicans & Internet Privacy

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to get rid of internet privacy rules. Members cast their vote, then immediately ran home to delete their browser histories. –Conan O’Brien

I guarantee you there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America who asked for this. No one in America stood up in a town hall and said, ‘Sir, I demand you let somebody else make money off my shameful desires. Maybe blackmail me someday.’ –Stephen Colbert

Aren’t we passed this point now? Our phones are already spying on all of us. Today I just looked at a bowl of fruit and two minutes later my Facebook page was covered with ads for Banana Republic–James Corden

This bill has been passed by the House and the Senate and will now go to Trump for signing. And Trump says he is going to sign it, because remember, privacy only matters when we are talking about his tax returns. –James Corden

United States Fails To Attend Human Rights Hearing

The United States government refused to attend a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as it was planning to raise questions regarding the Trump administration’s actions including its travel ban. The American Civil Liberties Union posted the above picture of the empty chairs where the US delegation would sit, and issued this statement:

The United States has pulled its participation from hearings planned for today by a regional human rights body that has enjoyed the support of every U.S. administration since its founding.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is meeting in Washington, D.C., for a regular session covering human rights issues spanning North and South America. The hearings today are scheduled to cover the Trump administration’s attempt to ban immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries, its immigration enforcement and detention policies, and its approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ACLU is testifying on Tuesday at hearings that can be livestreamed here.

In the past, when U.S. governments have sought to express displeasure at having their records scrutinized, they have occasionally protested by sending lower-level officials. But today’s refusal to engage the commission at all is a deeply troubling indication of its disrespect for human rights norms and the institutions that oversee their protection…

The Trump administration’s refusal to engage with an independent human rights body, which has played a historic role in fighting impunity and barbaric military dictatorships in the region, sets a dangerous precedent that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them. It is a worrying sign that the administration, which has also said it would review future engagement with the U.N. Human Rights Council, is not only launching an assault on human rights at home. Rather it’s upping the ante and weakening the institutions that hold abusive governments accountable.

Just Security received a response from the Trump administration stating they did not attend as matters were under litigation (an excuse which sounds a lot like Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns because he was being audited):

The Trump administration said it didn’t attend two Tuesday hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because the topics being discussed are related to matters currently in litigation, according to the U.S. State Department. The Commission, which is meeting in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss human rights issues in North and South America, planned to discuss on Tuesday, the new U.S. travel ban, the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement and detention policies, and the administration’s approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“The two thematic hearings held today related, directly or indirectly, to matters currently in litigation,” and “participants at both thematic hearings included parties to such ongoing litigation,” a State Department official said in a statement to Just Security. “We note that our decision not to participate in these hearings does not have any bearing on current or future U.S. engagement with the Commission.”

How Donald Trump Has Hurt American Democracy, And How The ACLU Plans To Fight Back

Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, and author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy, has written about five ways in which President Trump has already hurt American democracy — in just 50 days These include Trump’s attacks on the integrity of voting, the integrity of his own election, flouting ethics guidelines without consequence, attacks on the independent judiciary, causing tens of millions of Americans to further lose faith in basic institutions of American government, and his attacks on the free press. More on the final point:

Trump has attacked a cornerstone of every democracy: the free press. He has called legitimate media organizations “fake news” no fewer than 22 times on Twitter in the first 50 days — and many more times in speeches. Worse, Trump called the press the “enemy of the American People,” language that echoes Mao and Stalin rather than Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy.

Trump only views the press as a legitimate player in American democracy insofar as it is willing to affirm his narrative. To Trump, negative polls are fake. Unfortunately, his attacks are working. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 81 percent of Republicans agree that the media is “the enemy of the American people.” Eighty-six percent of Republicans trust Trump to tell the truth rather than the media (up from 78 percent just two weeks earlier). Throughout history, the blurring of the line between fact and fiction has been a critical precursor to the breakdown of democracy and the creeping advance of authoritarianism.

Klaas concluded:

The Constitution and checks and balances are not magical guardians. Documents don’t save democracy — people do. American democratic institutions are only as strong as those who fight for them in times of duress. This is one of those times, and this is just the beginning. It will be a long fight. To win it, Democrats and Republicans must set aside policy divides and unite in the defense of democracy.

The American Civil Liberties Union is preparing to engage in this defense of democracy, including learning from tools used by Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Reuters reports:

The American Civil Liberties Union is launching what it bills as the first grassroots mobilization effort in its nearly 100-year history, as it seeks to harness a surge of energy among left-leaning activists since the November election of Republican Donald Trump as U.S. president.

The campaign, known as PeoplePower, kicks off on Saturday with a town hall-style event in Miami featuring “resistance training” that will be streamed live at more than 2,300 local gatherings nationwide.

It will focus on free speech, reproductive rights and immigration and include presentations from legal experts, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and “Top Chef” television star Padma Lakshmi.

Membership in the civil rights organization, which was founded in 1920, has tripled to more than 1 million since Trump’s election, the group says…

Suggested tactics, like the use of text messages as a mass mobilization tool, will mirror some of those employed by the insurgent presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who mounted a surprisingly robust challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

“It’s completely unprecedented,” Romero said of the response since Trump’s victory. “People are wide awake right now and have been since the night of the election.”

Discussing Obamacare Replacement With A Republican Congressman

House Republicans have finally released their plan to replace Obamacare. I have a lot of concerns about the plan, such as whether the tax credits will be sufficient for low income families to afford health insurance, and their attack on Planned Parenthood.

I am going to wait until I have a chance to look at the details of the plan to discuss it in depth, but for other reasons I have found it a good day to blog about health care. Hours prior to the release of the plan, I met with my conservative Republican Congressman, Bill Huizenga, along with a few colleagues, to discuss health care. I figured it would be futile to change the mindset of a conservative Republican, but when I received the invitation I also thought I should make the attempt to try to explain how health care really works. After all, there is zero chance of changing anyone’s mind if no attempt is made to persuade them. I was also appreciative that he was willing to meet with a group which strongly disagreed with him on the issue, while many Republicans around the country are reportedly hiding from their constituents.

The first time I spoke today I made a point of explaining how I am self-employed and have purchased health care on the individual market for my entire life. Therefore I could definitely state that high premiums and high out of pocket expenses, often cited as a failing of the Affordable Care Act by Republican, have always been a characteristic of the individual market–and are not something created by Obamacare.

Discussion got bogged down for quite a while over philosophical issues, especially when someone referred to health care as a right. Congressman Huizenga disagreed. While I managed to get out most of what I wanted to say today, in a conversation with multiple people present, sometimes the topic changed before I got a chance to speak. I didn’t get a chance until after the meeting while speaking to a colleague that I can understand a Republican’s position in not seeing health care as a Constitutional right in the same way as civil liberties specifically expressed in the First Amendment. After all, the Founding Fathers would have never conceived of health care being as expansive, and expensive, as it is now. However, regardless of whether you want to call it a right, access to affordable health care is both highly desirable, and something which is expected in a modern, advanced, industrialized society such as the United States. We should do it regardless of whether you want to label it a right.

The limited nature of assured coverage in the United States, compared to the rest of the world, was an underlying thought in many of our comments. It did come up that 1) the sick can show up to the Emergency Room and will not be turned away and 2) a significant portion of the Medicare population consists of the disabled. In typical Republican dodging of the issue, the Congressman at one point tried to claim that this does provide some form of basic health care as people can go to the Emergency Room. I pointed out that it is one thing to receive coverage in the Emergency Room, but this does not mean that people will receive necessary follow up medical care, especially for the types of chronic medical conditions I typically treat, such as diabetes, heart failure, and emphysema. Initial stabilization in an Emergency Room is both costly and not adequate health care. Plus an Emergency Room physician present pointed out that being seen does not mean patients do not receive large bills, which could be well beyond their ability to pay.

Congressman Huizenga responded that the disabled can receive coverage on Medicare, but I pointed out that people with chronic medical problems are not necessarily disabled, especially if they receive adequate medical treatment. Someone with diabetes, for example, can live and work for many years with the condition. However, without adequate care, twenty years down the road they are far more likely to develop problems such as heart attacks, strokes, and renal failure.

The Congressman’s philosophy on limited government (which, like most Republicans, is terribly selective, ignoring everything from infringements on reproductive rights to today’s revised anti-Muslim travel ban), also influenced his responses. Before his arrival I had discussed with others how market solutions have not worked well, with insurance companies having developed a business strategy based upon collecting premiums and then finding ways to deny care. Congressman Huizenga brought up irrelevant matters such as restrictions on choice present in Canada and other countries which Americans might not tolerate. The typical Republican scare stories. My response was simply that we do not have to adopt the restrictions which he mentioned, regardless of what other countries have done. One point I did not manage to get in was that in the United States, private insurance plans are often far more restrictive on the choices which patients and physicians can make than the government Medicare program is.

The physicians present generally saw Obamacare as an improvement over the previous system, but not going far enough, with Medicare for All being seen as a preferable solution. As a couple of us discussed afterwards, this is a far easier sell for physicians, who see first hand the amount of time and money wasted in having to deal with multiple different insurance companies, with  multiple different sets of rules. Plus this has the huge advantage of taking the astronomical profits received by the insurance industry, and using that money to actually provide health care. (Medicare for All was promoted by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 nomination battle, leading to politically-based opposition from Hillary Clinton.)

If Medicare for All is too hard a sell immediately, I, and others, suggested phasing it in. I also mentioned ideas such as the public option and the Medicare buy-in which were considered when the ACA was being written, but died when the two most conservative Senators voting with the Democrats (Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson) opposed the ideas. Either would help with the high costs on the individual market.

The  higher cost for caring for older individuals, with some of that cost spread to the premiums of younger purchasers, is a major problem in health care coverage.  I doubt insurance companies even want to cover their older customers, who are responsible for the bulk of their costs. Either outright lower the Medicare age (even if gradually, such as initially to 50 or 55, and ultimately to around 40) or allow a Medicare buy-in.

After the Congressman left, his Legislative Director remained for a brief time and suggested that Americans would not go for expanding a government program such as Medicare. While a typical Republican thought, it does not hold up. I pointed out that we all do wind up on a government program, with most people going on Medicare at age 65. Not only are Americans failing to rebel at the though of going on Medicare at age 65, many look forward to the opportunity. Remember all those tea party protests with signs like “Keep Government Out Of My Medicare.”

My parting comment to Congressman Huizenga before he left was that Republicans must move beyond their anti-Obama rhetoric and actually address the problem. I related how for the past eight years I have often heard patients blame Obama for anything wrong with the health care system, even if it was over matters not even related to the Affordable Care Act. However, in early January, before Donald Trump even took office, I started to hear patients blame Trump for their healthcare problems. Republicans now “own” healthcare and must deliver.

I have my doubts as to whether the plan released today does deliver, but I do want to take a look at the details beyond what is in the initial news stories I have read.