Clinton Receiving Criticism On Economic And Foreign Policy From Two Potential Democratic Challengers

With Hillary Clinton’s formal announcement that she is running for the Democratic nomination imminent, we now have something resembling a political campaign. Unfortunately (especially considering how Clinton is slipping in the battle ground polls) the race is rather one sided. Politico points out that even many of those who do not support her for the nomination see her as an unstoppable train. The article did look at a few possible challenges to Clinton from the left:

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia senator Jim Webb, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — the trio who have shown the greatest interest in mounting a challenge to Clinton — face a steep path, Democratic operatives say, while the two most famous names mentioned as potential challengers — Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — seem increasingly far from running.

Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island senator and governor, emerged in the last few days to stake a possible claim to be the Clinton alternative, raising Warren-like concerns about Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street. But he’s a maverick whose shift from Republican to independent to Democrat is unlikely to excite the progressive base.

…Clinton aides point to O’Malley as the most viable alternative candidate, believing he will eventually pick up support from many of the liberal activists currently urging Warren to run. The silver lining in his low name recognition is that he has an opportunity to introduce himself to the American people on his own terms.

Warren, meanwhile, repeatedly insists she will not throw her hat in the ring despite an organized campaign put together by progressive groups intended to draft the bank antagonist.

And even though the vice president has run for president twice before — including against Clinton and Obama in 2008 — he has no political operation to speak of. Biden’s supporters insist that he would need little preparation to jump in due to his existing networks and the goodwill generated by his trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina earlier this year. But he shows no signs of seriously considering a run.

MSNBC, which might be expected to be more willing than other media outlets to cover a challenge to Clinton from the left, reported on Martin O’Malley campaigning in Iowa:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley says if he runs for president, he will try to pull the Democratic Party back to its populist roots.

“You know what it’s about? It’s really about calling our party back to its true self,” he said in a wide-ranging MSNBC interview airing Friday. “Our politics has been greatly impacted, for the worse, by big money and the concentration of big money.”

O’Malley, in Iowa this week for meetings and a local Democratic Party event, took a break to talk about his potential 2016 challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Smokey Row Coffee, a bustling coffee shop on the West side of Des Moines. Clinton is expected to begin her presidential campaign as early as this weekend.

Widely known as number-crunching technocrat, O’Malley sounds pretty blunt when criticizing what he calls Wall Street’s growing dominance of campaigns and government – including some members of the Obama administration.

“For 30 years we’ve followed this trickle-down theory of economics that said, ‘Concentrate wealth at the very top, remove regulation and keep wages low so we can be competitive – whatever the hell that means,” O’Malley says.

“What it led to was the first time since the Second World War where wages have actually declined, rather than going up – where almost all of the new income earned in this recovery has gone to the top 1%,” he says, invoking the famous phrase from the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he continues, arguing, “these things are not effects that blew in on a gulf stream or on a polar vortex – these are the products of the policy choices we made over these 30 years.”

O’Malley says the system is rigged “in many ways” – a concern pressed by the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party – and contends middle class priorities should be “at the center of our economic theory.”

…O’Malley freely admits most Iowans he meets haven’t heard of him, but he believes they are receptive to his economic focus – and they aren’t all ready for Hillary.

Many Iowans want to literally “meet every candidate” before they decide, he says, and they don’t accept “the inevitability or the punditry or whatever the polls happen to say.”

O’Malley should know. He got started in politics working on Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign in Iowa, and he believes history shows there’s really no such thing as inevitable candidates.

“There is an ‘inevitable’ front-runner who remains ‘inevitable’ right up until he or she’s no longer inevitable,” he says. “And the person that emerges as the alternative is the person that usually no one in America had heard of before – until that person got into a van and went county to county to county.”

O’Malley is careful not to criticize Hillary Clinton by name, but her presence clearly looms over his possible candidacy.

While O’Malley has avoided criticizing Clinton by name, Lincoln Chafee has no such reservations. The New York Times interviewed Chafee about his intentions to run against Clinton:

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Chafee offered sharp criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq and for accepting foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.

“The donations to the Clinton Foundation are alarming to me,” Mr. Chafee said, arguing that decision making can be compromised when enormous amounts of money change hands.

The Clintons have defended the family foundation’s acceptance of donations from foreign governments, which was mostly suspended when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state and resumed after she left. Last month, former President Bill Clinton said taking money from foreign countries, including those in the Middle East, was crucial to keeping the foundation’s programs running

As Barack Obama did as a senator in 2007, Mr. Chafee argued that Mrs Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq should disqualify her from the White House.

“It’s still relevant,” Mr. Chafee said. “I would argue that the next president of the United States should not have voted for that war.”

Besides Clinton’s vote, Clinton has additional problems on foreign policy. These range from being one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq war, falsely claiming a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, to advocating a more hawkish viewpoint in the Obama administration.

Please Share

Tom Cotton Thinks War With Iran Would Be Quick And Easy

Tom Cotton

After the Cotton letter, which undermines the ability of any American president to negotiate on the behalf of the United States, was written and signed by 47 Republicans, the question raised was whether Republicans really want to see a war with Iran. The same question was raised again with Republicans opposing the deal reached with Iran. Tom Cotton now shows  how delusional he is on war with Iran:

Sen. Tom Cotton says bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would take several days and be nothing like Iraq War.

The Arkansas Republican, who earlier this year upset Democrats and the White House by sending a letter warning the Iranian government to think twice about entering into a deal on its nuclear program with President Obama, said President Obama offered a “false choice” by saying it was his deal with Iran or war…

Cotton said any military action against Iran would not be like the Iraq War and would instead be similar to 1999’s Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq ordered by President Bill Clinton.

“Even if military action were required — and we certainly should have kept the credible threat of military force on the table throughout which always improves diplomacy — the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case,” Cotton said.

“It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions. All we’re asking is that the president simply be as tough as in the protection of America’s national security interest as Bill Clinton was.”

It reminds me of the view held by those in the Bush administration who claimed that the Iraq war would be quick while we would be greeted as liberators.

Even some conservatives are horrified by Cotton’s remarks. Daniel Larison responded at The American Conservative:

One couldn’t ask for a more misleading presentation of the costs and dangers of military action against Iran. First, no one seriously believes that a bombing campaign against Iran would take only a few days. It would very likely take several weeks at least, and that probably underestimates the difficulty. Starting a war with Iran will last longer and cost more than anyone anticipates. That has been true of all other U.S. wars of choice over the last two decades, and there’s no reason to think that a war with Iran would be easier or less dangerous than any of those. Assuming that Iran retaliates, the conflict would escalate and go on much longer than Iran hawks are claiming.

All that Iran hawks promise is that the nuclear program would be set back by a few years. However, the attack would push Iran to acquire the weapons that the hawks don’t want them to have, and it would drive them to make the nuclear program less vulnerable to future attacks. If Iran hawks were intent on destroying Iran’s nuclear program permanently through military action, they probably would have to argue for an invasion of Iran at some point. When the time came, Cotton would probably be among the first to tell us how cheap, quick, and easy that would be, too.

Like most hawks, Cotton minimizes the costs and duration of military action, he ignores the likely consequences, and he treats an attack on Iran as cavalierly as possible. The comparison with Desert Fox is laughable. That operation took place years after the U.S. had already destroyed Iraqi defenses, which clearly isn’t the case with Iran. Cotton further misleads the public to think that the only thing that can qualify as war with Iran is a scenario involving “150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground.” It is the Iran hawks that want the public to think that a major ground invasion is the only thing that can be called war, which allows them to advocate for a different kind of war against Iran while pretending that they don’t favor war. They don’t want to face the potential political cost of warmongering, so they pretend that they are advocating for something that isn’t “really” war. But, of course, war is exactly what they’re demanding.

Please Share

Rand Paul Flip Flopping Away From Libertarianism As He Enters Republican Race

Rand Paul Conservative

Rand Paul has a problem much like Mitt Romney did, even though the details are different. Mitt Romney took many liberal positions when a politician in Massachusetts, and then had to flip flop on them to claim to be have been severely conservative to win the Republican nomination in 2012. Rand Paul has developed his base as sort of being a libertarian, and now is trying to fit more into the Republican mold to campaign for the 2016 presidential nomination.

Much of Rand Paul’s support has come from his opposition to foreign intervention, but he has been sounding more and more like a traditional Republican over the past  several months. and wrote:

…Paul is a candidate who has turned fuzzy, having trimmed his positions and rhetoric so much that it’s unclear what kind of Republican he will present himself as when he takes the stage….

There are at least two areas where Paul has moved more in line with the conservative Republican base, somewhat to the consternation of the purists in the libertarian movement: adopting a more muscular posture on defense and foreign policy, and courting the religious right.

Where he once pledged to sharply cut the Pentagon’s budget, for instance, Paul late last month proposed a $190 billion increase over the next two years — albeit one that would be paid for by cutting foreign aid and other government programs. His tour following the announcement of his candidacy will include an event at Patriots Point in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, with the World War II-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as a backdrop.

BuzzFeed News describes this as Rand Paul’s Bid To Be Everything To Every Republican Voter Politico reported on Paul being confronted on his changing views in a Today Show interview. Time recently described Paul’s new views on defense spending:

Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending…

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

The boost would be offset by a two-year combined $212 billion cut to funding for aid to foreign governments, climate change research and crippling reductions in to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Education.

Paul’s endorsement of increased defense spending represents a change in direction for the first-term lawmaker, who rose to prominence with his critiques of the size of the defense budget and foreign aid, drawing charges of advocating isolationism. Under pressure from fellow lawmakers and well-heeled donors, Paul in recent months has appeared to embrace the hawkish rhetoric that has defined the GOP in recent decades. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February Paul warned of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said. Asked about federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

While Paul is sounding more like a Republican on defense spending and foreign policy, like many Republican “libertarians,” Paul has never been all that libertarian on social issues. While Rand Paul might not share all the faults of Ron Paul, I have discussed at length in the past how this brand of “libertarianism” does not promote individual liberty. The New York Times found that libertarian Republicans are 1) rare, and 2) not all that libertarian:

In one sense, you could argue that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party barely exists at all. According to a large Pew Research survey in 2014 of 10,000 respondents, 11 percent of Americans and 12 percent of self-identified Republicans considered themselves libertarian. They met a basic threshold for knowing what the term meant. But there wasn’t much “libertarian” about these voters; over all, their views were startlingly similar to those of the public as a whole.

The likeliest explanation is that “libertarianism” has become a catchall phrase for iconoclasts of all political stripes. “Libertarian” seems to have become an adjective for the liberal millennials who are more skeptical of regulations and assistance for the poor than their Democratic contemporaries. The same holds for the deeply conservative college students who may want to, for example, signal socially acceptable views about homosexuality. These “libertarians” have little resemblance to the true believers who might scare everyone else out of the room with their views on a flat tax, the Civil Rights Act and a return to the gold standard.

If we take a different tack and use issue positions, rather than self-identification, to identify libertarian voters, we still find only a small number of Republicans who consistently agree with Mr. Paul’s libertarian views. Only 8 percent of self-identified Republican-leaners in the Pew data take the libertarian position on four issues that he emphasizes: disapproval of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program; support for a more restrained American role in the world; skepticism of the efficacy of military intervention; and a relaxation on drug sentencing.

Paul has been especially conservative as opposed to libertarian on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He has been repeating a common line of right wing revisionist historians who deny the establishment of separation of church and state:

Paul also has been trying to find common cause with evangelical Christian voters, who have been skeptical of and even hostile toward the energized libertarian element of the GOP.

“The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government,” he told a group of pastors at a private breakfast on Capitol Hill on March 26.

Many contemporary writers, such as here and here, have already taken Paul to task for botching the meaning of the First Amendment. For further explanation, I’ll turn to someone who not only was around at the time the First Amendment was written, but is also a hero to many libertarians–Thomas Jefferson:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” —Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802

Paul has recently been having difficulty answering questions as to whether he would permit any exceptions in laws he supports prohibiting abortion rights. He tried to throw back the question to the Democratic National Committee, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz quickly responded:

“Here’s an answer,” said Schultz. “I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul. We know you want to allow government officials like yourself to make this decision for women — but do you stand by your opposition to any exceptions, even when it comes to rape, incest, or life of the mother? Or do we just have different definitions of ‘personal liberty’? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond without ’shushing’ me.”

That is a far better response than what we have been accustomed to from Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly undermined liberal proponents of  abortion rights with calls for abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, stigmatizing women who do seek abortions. Still, while many liberals are unhappy with the prospect that the Democrats will nominate someone as conservative as Hillary Clinton, her views (and the likely views of any Supreme Court justices she would appoint) are far preferable to Paul’s views on social issues, while Paul’s views on national security issues are rapidly moving to be as far right as the views of both Clinton and the other Republican candidates. On the other hand, I do welcome seeing Paul challenge Clinton on other civil liberties issues, such as NSA surveillance–assuming he doesn’t also flip flop on this.

Please Share

Calls For War With Iran From The Right

Washington Post War with Iran

There is no question that the letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators was irresponsible. I will leave it to others to argue whether it breaks the law or constitutes treason, but it definitely ignores how foreign policy is conducted in the United States. At very least this was a curious move from the party which claims to be such strict backers of a Constitution which in reality they cite only when convenient. My initial reaction was more basic–why would anyone, regardless of party, want to derail an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to having nuclear weapons in Iran? Yes, there is another election in two years and the United States could change course, but don’t undermine the ability of the current, and every future, president to negotiate on behalf of the United States by suggesting that agreements with the President of the United States are meaningless.

There are many possible explanations, ranging from incompetence (the signers didn’t read the letter) to the theory of many on the left, including Bernie Sanders, that Republicans want to go to war. I certainly would not accuse all Republicans of desiring war. They might even have legitimate concerns, even if this was the wrong way to express them. Fred Hiatt has added considerable credence to the belief that the right desires to go to war in publishing an op-ed from Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Muravchik argues that War with Iran is probably our best option:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal…

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

James Fallows responded:

Right, repeated bombing raids “as necessary.” What could possibly go wrong with that approach? Yes, “surely the United States could best Iran.” Surely we could polish off those backward Viet Cong. Surely invading Iraq would work out great. (I haven’t taken the time to see if the author was a fan of invading Iraq, but I have a guess.) Surely the operational details of these engagements are a concern only for the small-minded among us.

How would we think about a “scholar” in some other major-power capital who cavalierly recommended war? How would we think about some other capital-city newspaper that decided to publish it? The Post’s owners (like those of the NYT and other majors papers) have traditionally had a free hand in choosing the paper’s editorial-page policy and leaders, while maintaining some distance from too-direct involvement in news coverage. Jeff Bezos, behold your newspaper.

While not all have explicitly called for war as Muravchik has, opposition to a negotiated settlement is becoming a wide-spread view among Republicans. This includes Mitt Romney:

I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential.An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.

Walking away from all that would be courageous. It would also be right.

As I noted yesterday, this is starting to become an issue going into the 2016 elections. This country rushed into a disastrous war with Iraq based upon the emotions following the 9/11 attack and lies from the Bush administration. During the 2016 election we need to carefully examine the views of the candidates regarding war and peace. This is not limited to the Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s views also need to be reviewed. While she has correctly criticized the Republicans for this letter, her views regarding use of military force must be questioned. Not only was she often among the most hawkish voices in the Obama administration, she was in the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party in urging war with Iraq based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Please Share

The Primary Battles Beyond Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein wrote about how Hillary Clinton is crushing the opposition for the Democratic nomination, primarily due to winning the support of the Democratic elite. He does end with this thought:

The question for the Democratic Party is whether Clinton is going to be as strong in the visible primary — and the visible election — as she is in the invisible one. The skills necessary to win over Democratic Party elites may not be the skills necessary to win the election — and if Hillary doesn’t face serious opposition in the visible primary, Democrats may not find that out until too late.

Her mishandling of both her book tour and her response to the news on her private email server should be enough to suggest to the elites, and everyone else, that Clinton is no more prepared to run now than she was in 2008. Most likely she will win the nomination, but I’m not going to give up hope that the Democrats will nominate a liberal instead of Clinton with so much time to go. Martin O’Malley is a long shot but he does stand out in one way–he says he is running. Joan Walsh interviewed him at Salon. He primarily spoke about economic matters, positioning  himself to go after the Elizabeth Warren backers. He had little to say on issues beyond economics saying, “Let me say that over the course of the next couple of months we’ll be laying out a number of policy speeches, almost certainly on national security and foreign policy.”

Bernie Sanders would also go after Clinton from the left on economic matters but he is sounding less enthusiastic about running.

While Clinton definitely deserves to be challenged from the left on economic matters, I do wish there was a comparable potential challenger on the civil liberties and social issues which I’m more interested in. Ron Wyden’s name sometimes comes up in wish lists of Democratic candidates, and he would be high on my list. Any consideration of Democrats who have been strong on civil liberties issues will naturally turn to Russ Feingold. He is is leaving his current  job as a special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and there has been a lot of speculation that he is planning to run for the Senate in 2016. If Clinton should self-destruct, I wonder if he would aim higher.

Meanwhile over on the dark side, The Politico Caucus believes that the Republicans have harmed themselves with the Iranian letter:

“The Republicans handed the Democrats a perfect issue going in to 2016,” said a New Hampshire Democrat. “No matter what they do from now until November 2016, Democrats have endless editorials to pull devastating quotes from to demolish the Republicans. Truly a gift.”

“I talked to a number of non-political Granite Staters who were, to be blunt, shocked by its appalling lack of respect for the presidency,” said another, “by its undermining of American credibility and by what they felt was essentially an un-patriotic act.”

Far too few people who don’t follow politics closely do not realize how extreme the Republicans are, and the degree to which their actions are contrary to American interests. Can this be the issue which opens more eyes?

Despite how unethical Clinton’s behavior has been, both with the use of her private email server and her dishonest response, I doubt that this will have  any significant impact on the election results. The political meaning isn’t that people will turn against Clinton because of this, but that it shows Clinton’s ability to self-destruct as more controversies come up during the campaign. I did receive a link to one poll which claims, “Majority of Americans believe email controversy will hurt Clinton’s 2016 ambitions.” Being skeptical I checked into Vox Populi, which conducted the poll. It turns out to be a Republican outfit, with Mary Cheney a partner.

Please Share

Doomsday Clock Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight

The Doomsday Clock from The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was more commonly seen during the Cold War but CNN reports that they have moved the clock to three minutes to midnight,  two minutes closer than its previous setting. This was the first move since 2012, precipitated by both nuclear arsenals and the risk to humanity from climate change:

“Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity. And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a news release. “These failures of leadership endanger every person on Earth.”

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board looks at global issues on a regular basis and decides whether to move the minute hand of the clock, with particular stress on the status of nuclear arms and reaction to climate issues.

In recent years, the clock has moved the wrong direction for humanity. After standing at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 — the furthest it’s ever been from the end of the world — it’s gotten closer each time it’s been changed since, with the exception of 2010, when it was pushed back by one minute to 11:54 p.m.

This is the closest the Doomsday Clock has been to midnight since 1984.

They point out that the science is clear on these problems:

The science is clear: Insufficient action to slash worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases can produce global climatic catastrophe. Even a so-called “limited” nuclear weapons exchange will produce massive casualties and severe effects on the global environment … We implore the political leaders of the world to take coordinated, quick action to drastically reduce global emissions of heat-trapping gases, especially carbon dioxide, and shrink nuclear weapons arsenals.

The following steps are recommended:

·        Take actions that would cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

·        Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs.

·        Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results.

·        Deal now with the nuclear waste problem.

Please Share

Right Wing Outrage Over Obama Missing A Photo-Op In Paris

The latest lunacy from conservatives like Ted Cruz  is to make a huge fuss about Obama not attending the Paris memorial march, while ignoring the substantive assistance he has been providing to fight terrorism.

Considering the security measures utilized whenever the president leaves the White House, it was not practical for Obama to have attended with such short notice. Even if time permitted, his presence would have been disruptive for such an event.

The French certainly are not offended:

 French President François Hollande’s office also defended Obama. A senior official told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the U.S. president has been “very present” since the attacks, noting that he was one of the first leaders to call Hollande last Wednesday.

The official also pointed to Obama’s visit to the French Embassy in Washington last week. “For us It was an emotional moment of solidarity,” the official said.

They actually would have preferred that Obama and Biden not attend due to the security issues, already having to contend with Benjamin Netanyahu attending when asked not to.

Obama essentially missed a photo op–not a true case of world leaders leading a March, as pictures from the march have demonstrated:

Many on the right repeated their automatic opposition to anything Obama does. We know that if he had gone, the same conservatives would have been the first to attack Obama for grabbing the limelight, the cost of the trip, and disrupting the march with his security measures. We also know that if it had been a Republican president who did not attend they would have had no complaints.

Ron Fournier, not a common defender of Obama, had several points on this faux controversy:

His critics seem to forget a few things.

1. The United States has some 66,000 military personnel deployed in Europe. More than 6,800 U.S. service members have died in post-9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury finance intelligence and military operations across the globe, making the United States the most stalwart enemy of terrorists.

2. The president of the United States doesn’t need to march in the streets of Paris to prove his nation’s commitment.

3. Somebody should find out how many federal agents, spies, and intelligence assets the United States has dispatched to Europe since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Does anybody think the Obama administration hasn’t flooded the zone?

4. Obama’s presence at the rally would have been disruptive. The apparatus that follows the U.S. president is isolating and suppressive – a direct counter to the vibe that organizers achieved in the streets of Paris.

5. Obama and his national security team are rightly worried about the next 9/11. Only hard work and good luck have kept the wolves at bay this long. An attack like the ones in Paris last week keeps U.S. national security personnel awake at night because among their greatest fears are so-called lone wolf attacks on soft targets in the United States. There could have been a copycat.

Here’s my thought process: Had there been an attack on U.S. soil while Obama marched in Paris, I would have wondered whether the president and his team had taken their eyes off the ball. Wouldn’t that be the natural reaction? The conservative Outrage Machine would have demanded impeachment proceedings.

Personally, I’ve got no problem with the U.S. ambassador representing my country in Paris. If it was my call to make, I would have put Biden on a plane.

But did Obama let the world down? Take a breath. After all this country has done for Europe in the last century, let’s not confuse a mistake with something more meaningful.

He wrote this earlier in the day before all the information was in, and the same security issues related to Obama would probably also apply to Biden. Whether it was still a mistake not to send Biden is far more debatable with more facts now in, but regardless Fournier is correct that, even if it was a mistake, it is “no disgrace” and hardly anything meaningful.

Update: Dana Milbanks wrote about the hypocrisy of the Republican attacks. He also pointed out that sending Obama with this little lead time was “never a possibility, for security and logistical reasons.” As most reasonable people (meaning non-Republicans) would, he characterizes the failure to send anyone else of higher rank than the ambassador a faux pas. He also states that, “Officials I spoke to said it was a simple screw-up: They didn’t understand how significant the event would be, with leaders of some 40 countries in attendance.” There was no strategic importance to Obama being there and there was no insult to the French (which until this week would hardly be of concern to conservatives).

The White House admits it was wrong, but again the error was one of public relations, not of anything of real significance or to justify the current attacks from the right, which are more about their usual pattern of attacking anything done by Obama.

Please Share

SciFi Weekend: Person of Interest; The Flash and Other CW Shows; Agent Carter; Agents of SHIELD; The Returned; Mad Men; Star Talk; Neil Gaiman; Robert Crumb on Charlie Hedbo

Person of Interest Simulations

Often middle episodes of a trilogy can be weak, containing neither the set up or conclusion, but Person of Interest had no difficulty with the second part of their current trilogy. A show which deals with showing different versions of the same scenario might also be risky, but they certainly pulled that off well with If-Then-Else. Many viewers were aware that the episode might deal with the death of a character and they played with viewers in showing Finch get killed early in the episode. While the series has had one major character get killed in the past, it is a safe bet that Finch and Reese are safe, so it was no surprise that Harold’s death (along with a later sequence showing Reese get killed) were only a computer simulation as the Machine looked at every possible strategy.

I particularly enjoyed one way they kept the showing of different scenarios from seeming redundant or boring–the use of generic responses to speed up the dialog:

Reese: “Coolly delivered sadistic warning.”

Fusco: “Self-deprecating inquiry into the time necessary to infiltrate system.”

Root: “Funny, yet insightful retort.”

Finch: “Mildly agitated declaration of mission completion.”

Once the scenarios were evaluated, we had the “real” version of events, with a couple of  surprises. While one simulation had Root kiss Fusco, as it was just a simulation, the real version showed a progression in the relationship between Shaw and Root. It was not entirely clear to what degree Shaw kissed root out of romantic interest versus to startle her so that she could sacrifice herself to get the elevator rising.

Person of Interest Shaw Kiss Root

It is notable that the when the final shot was heard we did not see Shaw’s body, and we know that in the absence of a dead body we should never assume a character has really been killed. The previews suggest that at very least Team Machine believes Shaw is alive. Interviews with the producers and cast reveal some spoilers as to whether Shaw is really dead. From TV Guide:

While debate rages about whether or not Shaw is actually dead, she certainly won’t be appearing on POI in the near future. In fact, this entire storyline was crafted after Shahi informed the show’s producers she was expecting twins.

“Our fans think we’re sadists who like killing off our characters. In this case, we had no choice,” executive producer Jonathan Nolan tells TVGuide.com. “Our hands were tied. The circumstances of Shaw’s character and what she does — being a lethal operative who goes around the world and exterminates people and often puts her life in peril — kind of makes her irresponsible as a maternal figure on the show. Sarah was the first person to say, “There’s no way we can write this into the character,” and we agreed.”

So, is Shaw really dead? “You have to stay tuned,” executive producer Greg Plageman says. “The great part of doing a serialized show is that you have people waiting to find out what happens. We’d hate to spoil that for the audience, but there is a little bit of ambiguity about what happens after those elevator doors close.” As for how long that ambiguity will last, Nolan quips, “What’s the earliest you can put two twins on an airplane?”

Regardless of Shaw’s fate, the producers did give fans a huge moment between Shaw and Root (Amy Acker), as the much-‘shipped duo finally locked lips before Shaw’s heroics kicked in. “I directed their first scene together on the show, and it was abundantly clear to me that there was a great deal of chemistry between those two characters,” Nolan says. “So from the beginning, for me, that tension has always been there. We felt like the fans were invested in that relationship. You don’t feel like you can walk away from something like that without giving some kind of consummation.”

Person of Interest Root Elevator

Initially stories I read about Sarah Shahi leaving the show reported an expected two year absence, but Shahi left this more open in an interview with Entertainment Weekly where she talked about her pregnancy and the kiss with Root:

How did you break the news to the producers?
I just kept hitting them, like one after another. At first it was, “Guys, I’m pregnant,” and they were like, “Woah, okay, this is great, how far along are you?” And then: “Hey guys, just went to the doctor, I’m having twins.” “Woah! What! Oh shit!” So the whammies just kept coming for them. They’ve been wonderful about it, and they’re all fathers themselves so they understand what blessings children are, but it did take some adjusting. As far as the show goes, I do 99 percent of my own stunts all the time, so it took a little re-wiring in terms of what was safe for me to do, what was not safe for me to do. There are things that on paper didn’t seem like a stunt. When you’re carrying two human beings inside your belly, sometimes just walking or standing is a stunt.

Was there any conversation about writing the pregnancy into the show?
There were. Even through creatively I didn’t have anything to do with how Shaw goes, I just kept stressing that I wanted to honor her in every way that I could, and I didn’t want them to write me behind a desk. I didn’t want them to lessen Shaw’s abilities in any way because of my physical inabilities. I just kept stressing to them, please please please let’s honor her the right way. I still want to go balls out. Don’t hold back just because I’m pregnant.

What is the right way to honor her?
Her going out the way she did is pretty perfect for her. I always viewed this character as somebody who had a death wish on her. She’s such an adrenaline junkie and she’s got an appetite for violence. She will definitely put herself in that situation. It’s fun for her. If she doesn’t do that, she’s not living. She looked death squarely in the eye. She had a hint of a smile in her eyes. And then it just went to black. I think for her, that was the perfect ending. If Shaw could pick anyway to go, that’s the way she would want to go.

Tell me about that big kiss between Root and Shaw. Was that purely for the fans?
It’s funny because that was Amy’s first girl-on-girl kiss, whereas I’m incredibly experienced because of The L Word. I’m a veteran at the girl-on-girl! And Amy was kind of getting kissed all over that episode, between me and Fusco. Although I think she’d rather me than Fusco.

But yeah, to be honest, I felt like it was more for the fans. The one thing that the producers and I did kind of disagree on was they felt like Shaw knew she was going to die. She’s against ten Samaritan operatives, there’s no way she’s getting out of this alive, and that kiss was a goodbye kiss. Whereas I didn’t see it like that. I don’t think Shaw goes into any situation going, okay, I’m going to die today. I feel like the stronger choice is to struggle to live, and so I felt like that kiss was just like, “Oh, shut the f–k up already, Root!” I felt like it was more trying to calm down a pestering child, if anything. “Okay, fine, I’ll give you what you want, now be quiet.” Just one of those moments. But again, I also felt like it was more for the fans than anything….

So, the million dollar question once more: Is Shaw gone for good?
This episode is the second episode in a three-part series, and that is going to be the question moving on. That is what the team is going to have to figure out. Is she alive? Did Samaritan capture her? Where is she? The rule in TV is if you don’t see a body, then they’re not dead.

If hypothetically you did return and Shaw wasn’t dead, do you have an idea of your own timeline?
As far as my own timeline, it’s one of those things where you say that you’re having twins and you automatically see the fear of God in people’s eyes. Most people know what it’s like to handle one baby. There’s not a lot of sleep that involves just one baby. Then you add another baby to that equation and it’s just like doomsday. It’s going to be me for the next, like, two years. So to be honest, I have no idea. I’m trying not to think about stuff like that. But there’s no way—I’ve never had experience in this department before, so I can’t say at all, no clue.

SpoilerTV has a spoiler-free advance look at part three in this trilogy, Control-Alt-Delete, which does include the return of Camryn Manheim as Control.

Flash-TV-Reverse-Flash-Theories

There have been a number of teasers on Arrow and The Flash coming out of the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Among items of interest, it does appear that Tom Cavenagh’s character is the Reverse-Flash, as was suggested before the holiday hiatus, but he might not be the only Reverse-Flash:

Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg hinted that another person may be involved in the Reverse Flash mythology — namely Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). Fans have speculated that Eddie (whose name resembles Eobard Thawne, one of the aliases of Reverse-Flash in the comic books on which the series is based) will emerge as Reverse Flash in the series.

“His name is not an accident,” Kreisberg said Sunday. “Eddie’s connection to the Reverse Flash lore is going to pay off big time in the back half of the year.”

The DC universe will also be growing on CW. This includes another spin-off based on The Atom and there are plans for an animated series about Vixen taking place in the same universe.

The DC v. Marvel rivalry didn’t interfere with this discussion between writers and producers of both the DC and Marvel based television shows in this interview at The Hollywood Reporter. It was confirmed in this interview that a crossover between Supergirl (on CBS) with the CW shows is a distinct possibility.

CW has announced the renewal of multiple shows including Arrow, The Flash, The 100, and Jane the Virgin.

While the DC cinematic universe will be kept separate from the television universe, there will be overlap in characters between the movies. Viola Davis is rumored to have been offered the part of Amanda Waller in the Suicide Squad movie, with her character to also appear in other DC movies.  There are also rumors (and a denial) that Batman V. Superman will be split into two parts.

Agent Carter Poster

Agent Carter started out much stronger than Agents of SHIELD, hopefully indicating that Marvel has learned its lesson and will be doing a better job with its future television shows. Although set in the 1940’s, there were plenty of references to the Marvel universe. Besides frequently mentioning Captain America and including Tony Stark’s father, there were multiple other references. What Culture provides a list of 10 Easter Eggs.

Edward James Olmos of Battlestar Galactica will be appearing in a major role on Agents of SHIELD. Reportedly his character will have “massive repercussions” for SHIELD.

A date has finally been announced for the next Marvel television show. Netflix will be releasing Daredevil on April 10. The other planned Marvel shows on Netflix will be released approximately one year apart, with Jessica Jones, staring Krysten Ritter,  next in 2016.

Carlton Cuse is busy working with A&E, although not on original ideas.  One of his shows, Bates Motel, starts its third season on March 9. In addition he has a second show premiering with the network on the same day. He is doing an American adaptation of the French series, The Returned. This has the same basic premise as ABC’s Resurrection with people returning from the dead, but it is a totally different story. The American adaptation will also diverge from the French version after the sixth episode, and the second season will be entirely new as the French version only ran for a single season.

When Amazon included a show from Chris Carter, The After, in their pilots, there was mixed reaction. Some were excited, hoping for great things from the creator of The X-Files, while others remain wary of Carter after the way The X-Files deteriorated over the years. We will not find out whether he learned from his past mistakes on this series as Amazon has decided not to pick it up.

Mad Men Bar

AMC announced that the final episodes of Mad Men will start on April 5. Matthew Weiner has discussed the finale saying, “The last seven episodes, I would say each one of them feels like a finale in the show.”

Following an era filled with very polarizing finales, from Lost to How I Met Your Mother, Weiner says he is very cognizant of finding a balance between giving the audience what they want and best serving the overall story. “I’m extremely interested in what the audience thinks, so much so that I’m trying not to confound them, not frustrate and irritate them,” Weiner said. “I don’t want them to walk away angry. But I don’t want to pander to them. This sounds patronizing, but as the person telling the story, sometimes people have to be protected from what they want to see happen and the story has to have its own organic thing. You can’t just give them everything that they want. That said, part of entertainment can be catharsis. Bad things happening are considered a good thing in entertainment.”

Tonight Girls returns and there is the debut of a new comedy on HBO entitled Togetherness. The advance hype for the show has been making a big deal out of Amanda Peet appearing topless considering she is 42 years old. Personally I find seeing Amanda Peet topless, regardless of her age, to be far more desirable than to see more nudity from Lena Dunham.

Neil deGrasse Tyson will be returning to television in a weekly late night talk show entitled Star Talk.

neil-gaiman-trigger-warning

Neil Gaiman has a new book coming out entitled Trigger Warning which includes a Doctor Who short story. It is not clear if this is the same story which was previously only available in an ebook collection for the 50th anniversary.

Speaking of books and ebooks, Time and Financial Times are reporting that ebooks are going “out of fashion” but, even if they are correct, I question how they came to this conclusion. First they cite declining sales for ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. I see three flaws in using sales of these devices to be a meaningful measure of reading ebooks. First of all, while some might upgrade to the newest versions, many people might still be using an ebook reader which was purchased over a year ago and have no reason to buy a new ebook reader. Secondly, tablets have come down in price so much that many people might be using tablets as opposed to dedicated ebook readers. Thirdly, as screens on cell phones have increased in size and screen resolution has increased, cell phones have become much better for reading ebooks. Personally I find myself using my phone more than ebook readers since upgrading to an LG G3.

Their second argument is an increase in sales of physical books, but increased sales of physical books could just as likely mean more people are getting ebooks as mean less are. It could be a sign of an overall increase in reading and book sales, with different people buying more of one or the other along with some of us who buy both. Generally when I read a book I’ll obtain both a hard cover copy for my library and to read when at home along with an ebook copy to have it available for either when away from home or to read on my phone or tablet in night mode should I awaken in the middle of the night and decide to read for a little while.

American cartoonist Robert Crumb gives a

The New York Observer interviewed American cartoonist Robert Crumb, who moved to France in 1991, about the recent killings at Charlie Hebdo:

Charlie Hebdo, they print so many insulting cartoons about Muslim extremists, you know, geez, they just kept at it, you know…but that wasn’t the only people they insulted, they insulted everybody. The Pope, the President of the country, everybody! They were merciless, to everybody. It was a really funny magazine. They just didn’t hold back towards anybody. You know, they didn’t let anybody off the hook, which was good.

What was your reaction inside when you first heard about it?

I had the same reaction I had when 9/11 happened.  I thought, “Jesus Christ, things are really going to turn ugly now.” That kind of thing, just like 9/11, it gives the government the excuse to crack down, to become very much more, like, you know, “Homeland Security” oriented.  And the right wing gets like this kind of like fodder for its arguments. The right wing here is very down on the Arabs. And France has an Arab population that’s like, 5 Million, something like that – huge population of Muslims in this country, most of whom just want to mind their own business and don’t want to be bothered. Those kinds of extremists are a very small minority. We have friends here who are from that background, you know, Moroccan or Algerian. And they just don’t want any trouble, and their kids are mostly even more moderate than they are.

Is there anything in the US in our history that comes anywhere near this tradition – the Hedbo tradition? If so, what would it be?

Underground comics, back in the 70s.  But today, I don’t think there’s anything like that now in the US. The thing about Charlie Hebdo is that it started in 1969. The gang of guys that worked for that magazine, they just kept at that for decades. Those guys are fairly old, you know, older guys most of them. There wasn’t a whole lot of, you know, 20- somethings or 30-somethings in that group. The cartoonists are mostly older guys. There is lots of critique of the left also. They say the left is hypocritical, bullshitters and opportunists, and all that. But generally I would say there’s a leftish sympathy in Charlie Hebdo. But they just came out with that every week. Every week. And people would just look at it and laugh, “Oh, you know those guys, those crazy guys.  They’re outrageous.”

Please Share

Fox Twitter Hashtag Backfires

On Tuesday Fox & Friends asked Twitter users to post things they were over with the hashtag #OverIt2014. They started with Fake Journalist Barbie tweeting, “I’m over attacks against Christianity.” This worked out about how you might expect.  Gawker reported some of the snarky responses, and far more are now up:

You get the idea. The responses are continuing to come in at a rapid rate.

Please Share

The Interview Available At Limited Theaters And On Video On Demand

The Interview

Sony has gone well beyond the plan under consideration over the weekend to release The Interview on Crackle, which would mean distributing it for free. They subsequently arranged for its release at about three hundred independent movie theaters across the country as well as on paid video on demand. As of this morning, the movie has been available on You Tube and Google Play. It can be rented for $5.99 or purchased for $14.99. Movies rented or purchased on Google Play can be viewed on a television with gadgets including a Roku box and Chromcast. Purchasing a movie through the streaming services means that it can be viewed at any time, while rental movies can only be seen for a limited time.

This will most likely bring in far less revenue that the original full theatrical release planned, but it will bring in more revenue than distributing it for free on Crackle. The unprecedented publicity for the movie should  help increase paid video on demand viewing and subsequent Blue Ray and DVD sales. If nothing else, it feels a lot better than to give in to demands not to show the movie.

Please Share