SciFi Weekend: The 100 Season 5 Finale; Star Trek News; Space Force Humor

The season five finale of The 100 showed why I have had mixed feelings about this series for the last few years.  While the show has its problems, it sure knows how to put together an intriguing season finale. It was the end of yet another cycle of continuing battles, followed by another reset, which I fear will lead to more of the same. Yet the reset in the finale has me interested enough to give the show yet another chance next season.

This season did do some interesting things. Once again the cast was put in a situation in which terrible decisions had to be made to survive. This led to fighting pits and cannibalism, along with a major character developing a drug addition in response to the decisions which were made. However, each season’s enemy and war might be more enjoyable if they didn’t drag on so long and sometimes become so convoluted. Jasper summed up the problem in his suicide note earlier in the season: “There is no light at the end of the tunnel, there is only the tunnel. Another enemy to fight, another war.”  Diyoza showed how convoluted the plots become in saying to Clarke, “It’s hard to keep track of whose side you’re on.”

The time jump and new setting starts Book 2 of the series, and largely resets to being more like early in the series. Instead of a dying earth there will be a new planet. The characters we know, which combines various groups as opposed to the original 100, and at least one new character, will again be trespassers on an inhabited planet. Most likely they will go through yet another tunnel with another enemy to fight and another war. The question will be what interesting things come into play while doing so with a new combination of characters.

TV Line interviewed Jason Rothenberg about the finale:

TVLINE | Let’s start at the very last shot: “End of Book One”? Explain yourself.
As the season was unfolding, we didn’t know that we were going to get another season, which is a difficult position to be in. I assumed we would, but we hadn’t gotten an official order. So I had to write an ending that would be both satisfying as a series finale and would tee up the next adventure. That was my target, which I feel like we hit. Had that been the end of everything, it would have been a bummer not to explore what’s down [on that new planet], but it would have been emotionally satisfying the way Monty’s life passes before our eyes and Bellamy and Clarke weep during his final speech. Thematically, Monty’s speech summed up a lot of what we’ve been talking about for five seasons. As we move into this new world, I really wanted it to be a new book. The first volume is closed and now we get to tell an entirely new adventure with the people we’ve come to love. It’s going to be crazy and amazing and beautiful and very, very different…

TVLINE | How did Christopher Larkin and Chelsey Reist react to finding out that this was their last episode?
It’s always a hard conversation to have. When I called Chelsey about it, she was in her car on the way to work, and she had to pull over because she got upset. But when I pitched her what it was, she immediately embraced it, loved it and saw how beautiful it was and what a satisfying emotional ending it would be for her character and the Monty-Harper relationship. I start from the point of those characters and what they wanted all season. Monty wanted to get back to space. He was happy in space. He did not want the war. So he found a way to live an entire happy, long life with the woman he loves, and to create a family. It felt like something we hadn’t done before, and I knew it was going to be emotionally devastating. I actually wrote the final act of the finale before the rest of the episode. It came out all in one creative burst. On the day we shot it, it was the most emotional anyone has ever been on set. Dean White, who did a fantastic job directing, knew that as soon as Chris [Larkin] started reading his lines, everyone would just burst into tears. So we had our first AD, Ian Samoil, read Monty’s part — and people were still crying. The camera guys were crying, I was crying, Dean was crying. It was crazy! You see it on camera where Bob and Eliza are just … the tears are pouring. I actually had to edit it down, because there was too much crying. I needed to pace it.

TVLINE | As was I. And I’m so thrilled we finally got to meet Shannon Kook’s character! As the son of the people who saved everybody, how important will Jordan be to the survivors in Season 6?
He’ll be very important. And his story is very fascinating. He’s a blank slate. He’s never been off that ship. He’s never known anyone but his mother and father. Everything he experiences is going to be for the first time — he’s never tasted anything other than algae before! It’s going to be a fascinating journey to see if he can keep that innocence and wide-eyed excitement that he’ll enter the season with, surrounded by all these people who are drenched in blood. As for how the other characters are going to feel about him: Murphy will be the uncle who tries to corrupt him, Bellamy and Clarke are the protective aunts and uncles who won’t let him get into danger. Everyone will have a different reaction to the child of Monty and Harper.

TVLINE | Switching gears a bit, many fans were worried that Octavia was becoming irredeemable. Do you think her actions this week (and last) helped, or does she still have a lot of work to do?
She definitely reached a breaking point and had a realization that it was her fault, for lack of a better word. She was willing, in last week’s episode, to try and make good by letting Bellamy, Indra and Gaia escape. Had she been killed saving them, that would have been a redeeming death for her. But she didn’t get that. We see that scene between Bellamy and Octavia at the end of the finale, where he’s putting her into cryosleep, and she’s looking for some sort of emotional connection with her brother, but he doesn’t really give it to her. She’s broken, and when she wakes up 125 years later, she’ll be in the same place where she went to sleep. It’s not like the six-year time jump of last season. She’ll be bringing everything into the new world with her. Her character in Season 6 is going to have to grapple with what she’s done and who she’s become and how everyone looks at her. It’s going to be a fascinating arc; it would have been too easy ending this season by killing her off. I do look forward to some sort of reconciliation in the future between the Blakes.

TVLINE | Even though nearly everyone survived, some of the injured characters are played by actors who are involved with other projects. What can you say about the fates of Kane and Gaia, specifically?
Everybody who went into cryo will come out of cryo. So all the characters who are with us at the end of Season 5 will be with us at the beginning of Season 6. Actors have deals that make things tricky, but we’ll do our best to work around [schedules] as much as we can. It’s a show where characters don’t necessarily get jobs in Cleveland and move away — especially in a world where there is no Cleveland anymore. The business side of it is always tricky, but creatively, I love Gaia and I think there’s a lot still there to explore. And what can you say about Henry Ian Cusick? He’s a legend, he’s amazing. He was great all season, and for the last five seasons. It’s been an honor to have him on the season. And he, too, will continue to play a role in Season 6.

TVLINE | Lastly, I have to ask: What was the significance of Clarke and Bellamybeing the first to wake up.
It was Monty’s plan to wake the two of them. When the two of them are on the same page, things go well. They are the leaders of this show and of the remaining people in the human race — until we find out what may or may not be on the ground of this new planet. [Monty] wanted to wake them and talk to them first and let them decide who to wake next and how to break the news. So that’s where that came from.

There was plenty of additional news coming out of the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention since last week’s post. TrekMovie.com has several quotes from the cast, including Anson Mount on his role as Christopher Pike:

There is “The Cage” and then there is  “The Menagerie,” and those are two very different things. I do kind of play around with this idea that we have this established character and now we are going back, and I am wondering, am I establishing a guy we can see moving forward that ends up making that decision in “The Menagerie,” but in a way that is victorious and self-realizing and not a tragedy. But, that hasn’t really informed me at all.

What has informed me more is growing up and watching The Original Series, and knowing the series and knowing Roddenberry’s work and that if this is Roddenberry’s original guy, he kind of has to be the embodiment of an optimism, the same optimism that Roddenberry had that we are at our most basic, good and curious and adventurous. So, having to put together a guy that covers those bases, but is still not a flat portrait of something that is just a protagonist. Because I am not the protagonist. I am here to augment the protagonist of this show.

It was announced that the Discovery season one Blu-ray and DVD will be released in November, providing an opportunity for those who do not subscribe to CBS All Access another means to view the series. However, unless you really want to own the set, the more economical way to legally view the season for those who do not want to pay every month would be to subscribe for one month and binge. Another option would be to get the seven day free trial and use it to watch quickly. As the price for the Blu-ray is currently $47.77, I personally have no plans to purchase considering that I can rewatch any episodes if desired on CBS All Access.

CBS TV Studios president David Stapf  told Deadline that the planned Star Trek series with Patrick Stewart reprising his role as  Jean-Luc Picard is part of a plan to have “a Star Trek something on all the time on All Access.” As I suggested last week, this should help give fans a reason to continue a subscription to CBS All Access throughout the year. I just hope they don’t dilute the quality of Star Trek as has happened with other franchises. Ron Moore also warned about the risk of franchise fatigue, among other quotes at TrekMovie.com. In this age of peak TV, I also wouldn’t mind if they did take a month or two break between each series. From the interview, after a discussion of other shows planned for All Access:

DEADLINE: How did the idea of bringing back Patrick Stewart’s character come about, and how long did it take to get him to do it?
STAPF: It came to us, as do all things Trek now, through Alex Kurtzman, with the idea of, wouldn’t it be cool to do something Next Gen-oriented, and/or get Patrick Stewart and/or any of those iconic Next Gen characters. As Patrick himself has said, he was of the opinion that “I’ve done that character,” but he got a meeting with Alex and some of the other guys and they won him over. The deal didn’t take that long once he decided to do it.

DEADLINEAny other former Trek franchises you are looking at next?
STAPF: No.

DEADLINESo that’s a definite No on William Shatner?
STAPF: (laughs) I would say, never say never.

DEADLINEIs it certain that one of the new Trek series will be a spinoff from Discovery, and how big a franchise universe are you looking to build?
STAPF: My goal is that there should be a Star Trek something on all the time on All Access. We know it draws an audience, and Discovery has done quite well.
DEBEVOISE: We started well and we’d love to have a second one.
STAPF: Yes, and as we learned, we want to do it right.

We have learned that we will be introduced to a new Spock on Discovery. Not it appears that there might be a new Kirk for the movie series. The Hollywood Reporter says that talks have fallen through with Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth. Apparently the poor box office for Star Trek Beyond leaves Paramount reluctant to pay Pine what previous contracts provided for (or what he can make in the Wonder Woman movies). Chris Hemsworth can also pull in far more as Thor than Paramount is willing to pay for him to reprise the role of George Kirk for the planned time travel story in Star Trek 4.

It is possible that this is all a negotiating tactic which will be worked out. If not, Paramount might come down to a choice of paying more in hopes of long term profits from the movie series versus recasting. If they recast Pine and Hemsworth, this then leaves open the question of a recasting the rest of the crew–which then might include Chekov following the death of Anton Yelchin.

It seems to me that with it coming down to money, another possibility might be to give in to Chris Pine, who is far more important for continuity. It would be far easier to have a different actor play George Kirk, who only appeared briefly in the first movie, unless they were counting on Hemsworth bringing in a larger audience.  If they do want a big name actor to play Kirk’s father, but one who might not be in as much demand as Chris Hemsworth, what about William Shatner? He does currently look like he could be Jim Kirk’s father, but that would have been more feasible if George Kirk had lived to an older age.

Speaking of William Shatner:

Except that I don’t think that only having played a Captain on television would change Trump’s mind about hiring him. Space Force has probably been the most popular meme on political sites this week, including one based upon Arrival below. Some more examples:

While this really has nothing to do with the proposal for Space Force, here is an interesting take on the risk of unintentional interplanetary war. While I don’t know enough about the physics to evaluate it, the article seemed worth looking at. If nothing else, it gives a potential science fiction plot. After I posted this on Facebook, I received a response with this article.

Abdul El-Sayed Attempting To Bring Progressive Wave To Michigan In Key Primary This Week

The goal this year must not only be to elect candidates to oppose Trump, but to also reform the Democratic Party (which is responsible for the situation in 2016 which enabled Trump to be elected president). Tuesday provides an opportunity for another progressive upset in Michigan, but it will be a challenge due to the presence of both a real progressive (Abdul El-Sayed) and a faux progressive (Shri Thanedar) who will divide the vote against establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer.

El-Sayed is running on a platform similar to that of Bernie Sanders. Sanders has endorsed El-Sayed, and came to Michigan to campaign for him on Sunday. The previous weekend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was responsible for a major upset over the Democratic establishment, came to campaign for El-Sayed. He was also recently endorsed by The Nation and previously received endorsements from groups including  Justice DemocratsOur RevolutionThe People for BernieOur Revolution, the Progressive Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, and Democracy for America.

El-Sayed is behind in the polls, but victory might be within reach. Progressives are encouraged by the greater enthusiasm seen for his campaign as compared to his opponents. Progressives are also encouraged by the memories of Bernie Sanders coming back from twenty-points behind just prior to the Michigan Democratic primary in 2016 to upset Hillary Clinton. The polls missed support for a progressive alternative to the Democratic establishment then, and could be doing so again.

The front runner, Gretchen Whitmer, is the daughter of a former president and  CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and the recipient of their money. She is also the only Democratic candidate who opposes single payer health care. She has also benefited from dark money contributions, which has become an issue in the race.  When she twisted the facts to respond to El-Sayed, the Truth Squad at a Michigan newspaper called her claims “mostly inaccurate” as she tried to equate contributions from private individuals with her corporate contributions.

The task of upsetting the establishment candidate is made more difficult by the presence of faux-progressive Shri Thanedar, who is running as a progressive for strategic reasons, and has put $10 million of his own money into the race.  Hopefully the efforts of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and several progressive groups will lead to progressives coming out to vote for the true progressive candidate in the race, Abdul El-Sayed.

Keeping Stories About Russia In Perspective

As I noted last week, there has been a lack of understanding of past relationships between world powers, and a lack of perspective, in recent discussions regarding Russia. Some act as if meddling in foreign elections is something new, such as a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency some thought she deserved, as opposed to a continuation of long standing practices (even if updated for modern technology) between world powers.

Some see signs of dirty financial dealings as meaning that the Republicans, and therefore much of our government, is under Russian control. It really is possible for Trump and other Republicans to be corrupt idiots without it being related to a Russian plot. Our politicians, from both parties, have shown plenty of ability to act both corruptly and idiotically without Russia for many years. Some people even seem surprised to hear that an alleged Russian spy used sex to promote her goals. Have they never seen an episode of The Americans? 

Lyle Jeremy Rubin , a former Marine signals intelligence officer who has worked at the NSA, has written about the need for perspective in Commentary. He points out how, “U.S. cyber operations in Russia, across Russia’s periphery, and around the world already dwarfed Russian operations in size, capability, and frequency.”

Furthermore, covert American operations are deeply invested in interrupting democratic processes not only in Russia, but everywhere else. This includes the heart of Europe, where corporate media is now pretending the United States has always respected happy norms and decorum. It is as if the Snowden leaks never happened. The Defense Department’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone never happened. The Obama administration’s spying on the German press, including Der Spiegel, never happened. The same administration’s outing of German government whistle-blowers never happened.

Electoral meddling in particular happens all the time, both to us and by us. The U.S. government rigged the Russian election for Yeltsin in 1996, and then they bragged about it in a cover story for Time. (You can still find the cover online.) This followed the disastrous capitalist “shock therapy” of the early nineties and preceded the rise of the Russian oligarchs. Putin’s brand of nationalist resentment grew out of this moment of extreme collective humiliation. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is happily on record pushing for the tampering of Palestinian elections in 2006.

As the political scientist Dov H. Levin has shown, between 1946 and 2000, the United States government conducted at least 81 electoral interventions in other countries, while Russia conducted at least 36. This does not include the U.S. government’s violent overthrow of dozens of governments during this same period, including democratic governments in places like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973). As recent as 2009, Hillary Clinton’s State Department played a complicit role in the brutal deposition of democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya’s government in Honduras. No other country, including Russia, even approaches this level of wanton disregard for the norms of sovereignty. Around the world, organizations that the U.S. “fund[s], support[s] and direct[s] are openly dedicated to manipulating foreign elections, creating U.S.-friendly opposition movements and even overthrowing governments that impede U.S. interests worldwide.” In 1999, President Clinton sent three advisers to Israel to try to swing the country’s elections for Ehud Barak. The New York Times reported that they were “writing advertisements, plotting strategy and taking polls” for the candidate. Imagine what the reaction would be if Putin had literally dispatched three top deputies to join the Trump campaign.

Of course, a few dozen wrongs don’t make a right, and the fact that U.S. outrage over Russian interference is comically hypocritical doesn’t make tampering with our elections unobjectionable. But anyone who sees the Russian activity as an antidemocratic outrage should be condemning the United States just as loudly, and treating the Russia story as some kind of unprecedented act of covert control is laughable.

That said, just because the United States leads the world in meddling of all kinds, that doesn’t mean we are immune to it. In fact, meddling from abroad comes in many forms. Prominent think tanks in Washington are funded by the Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates contributes generously to the coffers of the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Brookings Institute graciously accepts millions from Qatar. The Atlantic Council and Center for Strategic and International Studies enjoy similar arrangements with other oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. The same can be said for numerous other repressive governments beyond the Gulf. And then there are the defense contractorsWall Street banks, and Silicon Valley behemoths, all of which have joined such governments in capturing intellectual real estate in academia as well.

Our politicians, of course, are being flooded with cash from foreign-related interests. Pro-Israel billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban have bought themselves outsized influence in both parties, with Adelson successfully financing Trump’s rise to power and Saban effectively blocking Keith Ellison’s bid for Democratic National Committee chair. The Turkish lobby, likewise, continues to prove itself another bipartisan force, with everyone from former House leader Dick Gephardt to disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn being enlisted to secure Ankara prerogatives while whitewashing various crimes against the Armenians and Kurds. As for explicit electoral interference, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been implicated in foul play in the 2016 election. Same goes for Ukraine. Same goes for Israel in 2012. And these are just the instances so brazen that they have made their way into Wikipedia.

Peter Beinart also looked at the history of US meddling in other countries. He introduced the article with this argument as to why it is important:

Discussing America’s history of electoral interference has never been more necessary. It’s necessary not so Americans can downplay the severity of Russia’s election attack. It’s necessary so Americans can determine how—and how not—to respond. The less Americans know about America’s history of electoral interference, the more likely they are to acquiesce to—or even cheer—its return. That’s dangerous because, historically, American meddling has done far more to harm democracy than promote it.

After discussing this history, he concluded, “Washington’s current burst of nationalist indignation, like the one that followed 9/11, is both vital and dangerous if not tempered by an awareness of America’s own capacity for misdeeds. When liberals start calling people ‘traitors’ for acknowledging that capacity, they’ve gone badly astray.”

Beinart is right. If you think the greatest threat to our democracy comes from Russia you are totally missing what the Democrats and Republicans are doing (which is exactly what they want). Republican voter suppression is a far bigger threat to democracy than anything Russia has done. The Democratic rigging of the 2016 nomination is a far bigger threat to democracy than anything Russia has done. The actions by both parties to keep out third parties is a far bigger threat to democracy than anything Russia has done.

While Russia might have meddled in our elections, just as the US meddles all over the world, their impact has been minimal. The overreaction and hysteria over this is also far more damaging than anything Russia has actually done.

Perhaps we need a New Rule: American politicians who are upset about Russian meddling in US politics should make it a priority to make the US stop meddling in the affairs of other countries.

Fearmongering like this is commonplace:

Remember when they told us we were in grave danger because of the missile gap?
Remember when they told us that the whole world would go Communist after the first dominoes fell in Southeast Asia?
Remember when they told us that Saddam could hit us in minutes with his WMD?
Now they tell  us that Russian hackers are taking control of our government. As Douglas Adams would say, Don’t Panic.

We need enhanced cybersecurity, and a paper trail, regardless of whether future threats to the voting system come from Russia or elsewhere. While there is zero evidence that any votes were changed in 2016, we cannot take that chance in the future. Republican opposition to enhanced voting security makes no more sense than the Democratic claims that Russia altered the 2016 election results. However, we do not need to panic. We do not need to claim that those who question unverified claims are pro-Putin. We do not need to continue to restrict American speech on social media. We do not need to promote a further deterioration in the relations between nuclear powers.

Establishment Democrats Taking Wrong Lessons From Indictments Of Russian Agents

The announcement of the indictment of twelve Russian agents by Robert Mueller yesterday changes little with regards to what was already known, but establishment Democrats are taking all the wrong lessons, and making claims which they never would have made if not for the perceived political benefits. Finding ways to justify the fact that Hillary Clinton was unable to beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump has become top priority.

Establishment Democrats seem oblivious to the fact that an indictment is not proof. No evidence accompanied the indictments and, as it is unlikely that the Russians will ever appear in court, it is possible that no evidence of these accusations will ever be presented. This provides no further proof than the retracted (but still repeated) claim of seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing that Russia hacked the DNC.

I have remained an agnostic as to whether the email was released by a hack or by a leak, and question if we will ever know for certain considering how the DNC refused to allow the FBI to investigate their servers. My personal opinion has been that a hack was the more likely explanation, but this is not definite. While I personally have never taken the Seth Rich theory seriously, there is nothing new here to disprove the view of those who do believe this.

For the sake of further discussion here, I will assume that the claims in Mueller’s indictment are true, again noting that this is not proven. Assuming that the accusations are true, establishment Democrats are still naively living in a pre-Gary Powers world, ignoring the realities of the situation.

Francis Gary Powers was an American spy who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while engaging in espionage. The United States claimed that he was studying weather patterns for NASA, but it was ultimately made clear that he was a spy. The United States was forced to admit that it had been conducting such spy  missions over the Soviet Union for several years, ending any pretense that the United States did not engage in such actions. It was no longer possible to see the United States as purely the victim of Russian espionage, but Democrats have suddenly returned to this mindset.

Such espionage is commonplace, and is rather benign compared to the practice of influencing elections in other countries–along with the outright overthrowing of foreign governments. Despite a long history of the United States meddling in the elections in other countries, establishment Democrats act as if the hack of email from the DNC and Hillary Clinton is somehow a unique attack on the United States, with many even comparing it to an act of war. Russia has meddled in American politics for decades, just as the United States has meddled in Russia, and both have meddled in many other countries. Russia did not suddenly attack the United States for the first time to attempt to stop Hillary Clinton–although that might be understandable considering Clinton’s history of belligerence towards Russia, and her propensity to support war.

While establishment Democrats have increasingly been following the neocon line on Russia, believing claims from the same people who sold the country on going to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, avoiding unnecessary war should be a high priority. Instead many Democrats opposed the recent talks with North Korea, and are now using this as an argument to cancel the talks between Trump and Putin.

There are valid reasons to question these talks, but in a time of escalating tensions with a nuclear power, there is far more compelling reason to continue with summits, including potential talks on nuclear weapons. Trump’s plan to meet with Putin alone is of concern, I think it is far more likely that if Trump has any secretive goals it is more to promote a future Trump Tower Moscow than to engage in any electoral conspiracies. To date there is no evidence of any real collusion occurring, even if the Trump Tower meeting did show a willingness to obtain information from Russia if it existed. While Mueller may or may not present evidence of this in the future, there certainly has been no evidence while establishment Democrats have been trying to pass this off as fact.

While I do not condone the hacking of any Americans by the Russian government, if this was foreign meddling in an election, it was probably the most benign meddling in the history of election meddling. The released email provided the American people with truthful and accurate information which exposed corruption and dishonesty by top politicians in this country.

It certainly makes no sense for Clinton apologists to use the hacked email as an excuse for Clinton losing. If Clinton and the Democratic Party lost because of the American people finding out the truth about their corruption, the blame for the loss falls on the politicians exposed, not those who exposed them. To argue that the email posted by Wikileaks caused Clinton to lose only means that I was right (and Clinton supporters wrong) during all those months I was writing that Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee.

The fact remains that, while Mueller has shown evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes, along with crimes by some Russians, there has been no evidence of any actions which altered the election results. There is no evidence that the voting systems were hacked or that a single vote was changed, despite erroneous reports from Clinton supporters on MSNBC. The evidence obtained in the Congressional hearings showed that Russian ads and other activities on social media were a minuscule amount of traffic,  unlikely to affect the vote.

The actual threat to American democracy comes from the Democratic and Republican Parties. This includes attempt at disenfranchisement of voters by Republicans, and the efforts exposed by the Democratic Party to rig the 2016 nomination and keep out progressive viewpoints. I find the actions by the Democrats especially offensive when the Democratic establishment simultaneously works to restrict the ability of third parties to run, and for those with different viewpoints to effectively run within the Democratic Party. Instead of supporting democratic values and allowing for different viewpoints, many Democrats totally reject opposing views, holding a false belief that differences in opinion with them are based upon falling for Russian propaganda.

To the degree that Russia might be engaging in activities to meddle in our elections, the proper responses are clear. We need to enhance election security, including maintaining a paper trail. If the DNC and other Democrats fell for the hacking attempts described in the indictment, further education is needed to limit this risk in the future.

There are also wrong ways to react. This includes arguing against diplomacy and increasing the risk of war, along with the McCarthyism and support for censorship of opposing viewpoints coming from some Democrats.

Two Candidate Running As Bernie Sanders Style Progressives In Michigan Threaten To Split Vote, With Only One Worthy Of Progressive Support

There has been a lot of talk lately about an anti-establishment fervor in the Democratic Party, largely fueled by both dissatisfaction with the status quo and the manner in which the DNC rigged the rules to block challengers to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Clinton’s inability to beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump cast more doubt on the party establishment’s strategy of promoting moderate candidates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over party insider Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district Democratic primary gave additional hope for progressive and true liberal Democrats hoping to beat the party establishment. In Michigan efforts to beat establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer (who would still be far preferable to GOP front runner Bill Schuette) for the nomination for Governor might be thwarted by two candidates running as progressives in Michigan who are likely to split the vote.  However, only one is a true progressive.

While both Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar are running as Bernie Sanders style progressives, only El-Sayed looks like the real deal. The Intercept has had multiple articles exposing Thanedar as an opportunist. In a new article today, The Intercept shows how they differ on health care, but first recapped the case against Thanedar:

In Michigan, businessperson Shri Thanedar has spent millions of dollars on television ads casting himself as “the most progressive Democrat running for governor,” and promising that he would bring single-payer health care to Michigan.

“Health care is not a privilege; it is our fundamental right. I will bring single-payer health care to Michigan,” Thanedar says in a TV commercial. “Agree? Vote for Shri.”

But there’s reason to be skeptical.

Over the last year, investigations by The Intercept have revealed many facts which cast doubt on Thanedar’s progressive branding. He donated thousands of dollars to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, he was spotted clapping and nodding approvingly at a Marco Rubio presidential rally, and several Michigan political consultants have claimed that Thanedar once consulted them about possibly running as a Republican.

The Intercept interviewed Thanedar and found that “Thanedar’s much touted single-payer health care ‘plan’ appears to be nonexistent.” In contrast, they found that former Detroit Public Health chief Abdul El-Sayed “has a detailed strategy for how to accomplish it.” However, Thanedar is likely to split the progressive vote due to having spent much more on advertising. The Intercept notes:

Last month, he released a plan to establish “Michicare,” which would levy payroll and business taxes to establish state-funded public coverage for all Michigan residents…

But despite having a more well-developed plan, El-Sayed’s middle-class background means he does not have the same resources to advertise his health care plan as does Thanedar, who, not without controversy, made a fortune in the chemical testing industry.

As a result, there’s a real risk that the public might be misled.

The article also notes how this will impact the race against establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer:

But by coopting a progressive message and splitting the progressive vote, Thanedar has helped Whitmer, an establishment candidate, take a comfortable lead.

Whitmer is the daughter of former Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Richard Whitmer. She’s the only Democratic candidate in the race who does not back single-payer, saying that it’s not “realistic” in Michigan at this time. BCBS Michigan lobbyists threw a fundraiser for Whitmer earlier this year. And she’s currently taking heat from an unidentified group who have paid for ads attacking her from accepting “big money” from insurance companies.

El-Sayed has been endorsed by Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, The People for Bernie, Our Revolution, the Progressive Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, Democracy for America, and after her victory in New York, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whitmer has a long list of establishment endorsements. I am not aware of any significant endorsements for Thanedar but the Grosse Pointe Democratic Club has issued an anti-endorsement for Thanedar warning Democrats NOT to vote for him.

New Book Claims To Reveal “What Really Happened”

This looks like something to check out. An anonymous author has written a book debunking Hillary Clinton’s lies in What Happened. We know Clinton lied through her teeth, as the author says. What we don’t know is if this book is accurate, or if it also resorts to the unsupported criticism of Clinton which is typical of conservative attacks. Its reference to Edward Klein does not help its credibility.

Here is what is claimed about the book (available here):

From beginning to end, What Happened is pure propaganda. And like a seasoned propagandist she repeats her themes over and over for 512 pages! She starts by quoting an unimpeachable historical giant; Harriet Tubman. The intention is to set the stage for her reader. We’re supposed to see her as Tubman’s student, if not her peer. Why Harriet Tubman and not Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “You must do that thing you think you cannot do!” or Fredrick Douglas, “Without a struggle, there can be no progress,” or Abraham Lincoln, “With malice toward none…” What does quoting Harriet Tubman give Hillary that these other great leaders don’t?

According to sources, Bill Clinton begged her not to publish her book. Edward Klein wrote in his book All Out War: The Plot to Destroy Trump, [Bill] told her the book made her look bewildered, angry and confused, and that those were poor qualities in a person who aspired to be a world leader. He hated the title because calling it What Happened would only make people say, “You lost.” And that’s precisely what I’ve done. Her title is such a great set-up for a roast I felt it was my duty to oblige her. I mean the woman asked and answered her own question on the cover! What happened? Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Ironically, Mrs. Clinton was my unwitting accomplice in this. She’s made a career of lying through her teeth, aware that being caught in one lie at a time wouldn’t cost much politically. But I have to thank her for putting her lies in a nice little blue and white bundle with a thin gold ribbon. I doubt she thought anyone would take the time to create an opposing bundle of truth. But here it is Dear Reader, one-stop shopping. You don’t have to wonder if the noise coming out of the Clintons’ mansion Whitehaven is true — I didn’t make that name up. With this handy (unauthorized) companion to What Happened, you can see for yourself What Really Happened.

This is like living in the Darkest Timeline. On the one hand we have Clinton who continues to spread her lies after losing the election, and Donald Trump in the White House using lies as political strategy. The problem with the opposition party accepting the lies of Hillary Clinton is that it prevents them from being a resistance which can be trusted.

Democrats Consider Reforms Over Objections Of Party Establishment

The Democratic National Committee is talking about reforms, but it is not clear how real these reforms will be, and whether the party establishment will really allow them. In response to loss of support after the Democratic Party rigged its 2016 nomination for Hillary Clinton, a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, a unity commission made recommendations for reform. Their recommendations were far too little, such as reducing but not eliminating the role of superdelegates. During a meeting last week, Democrats made some mixed recommendations, with no final decisions made.

The biggest problem with superdelegates in recent years has not been their actual votes but the manner in which they influence the overall race. Inevitability was a major component of Hillary Clinton’s strategy in 2016, which was strongly promoted by news media delegate counts which showed her with a huge lead from the start of the primaries by including the superdelegates.

The most interesting proposal, supported by Tom Perez, would prohibit superdelegates from voting until a second ballot. As the nomination has been settled on the first ballot in recent years, this could be a back-door method of eliminating superdelegates. Many Democratic leaders are upset about this proposal, seeing it as a loss of power. Of course, if they could get beyond their sense of entitlement, they could show more respect for democracy and run to be regular delegates as others do.

Opponents of reform have made a number of irrational arguments, including a claim from DNC member Bob Mulholland that this is a Russian plot, as reported by Huffington Post:

Mulholland, a DNC member and longtime key player in California Democratic politics, sent an email Friday to other DNC members from the Golden State that implied Russian President Vladimir Putin might be behind the reform effort.

The basis for his claim? An activist from West Virginia promoting the changes, who he had seen at two national party gatherings, admitted to him that she was a Green Party member and had voted for its nominee, Jill Stein, in the 2016 election.

“I concluded someone is picking up her expenses but there she and others are, demanding we change our Rules,” Mulholland wrote. “The Putin operation is still active.”

Contacted by HuffPost on Sunday, Mulholland conceded he had no evidence the woman, who he did not name, was bankrolled by Putin.

As we have seen far too often since the 2016 election, too many establishment Democrats, anything which limits their own power to subvert democracy is a Russian plot.

For those who claim that superdelegates are needed in order to prevent a fiasco such as the nomination of another Donald Trump,  keep in mind that in 2016 the Democratic  superdelegates overwhelmingly supported a candidate who was both unelectable and as bad as Donald Trump.

There are potential problems with this proposal. Superdelegates would still be able to vote on matters other than the nomination on the first ballot. This could give them a disproportional influence on matters such as convention rules, including seating of delegates, which could influence the winner. The party establishment might be tempted to circumvent this with rules which would increase the chances of a vote going to the second ballot, such as returning to requiring a super-majority to win the nomination. They might also be dissuaded from doing so due to the tendency in the past for candidates who received the nomination following contested conventions to be less likely to win the general election.

Eliminating superdelegates would not solve all of the problems. Superdelegates are just one of many ways in which the Democratic Party rigs who can win the nomination. I would also like to see an end to front loading Southern states to help more conservative candidates. We would also need an end to many of the other actions seen in 2015-6 including restricting debates, giving one candidate effective control of the Party as they did with Clinton, games like Harry Reid played in Nevada, changing fund raising rules to help Clinton, and restricting who can vote or making it hard to register to help the establishment candidate.

Another proposal of concern is one that requires that candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination must be registered Democrats and must “run and serve” as Democrats. Bernie Sanders reportedly would still be allowed to run due to rules in Vermont which treat him as a Democrat on the state and federal level.  Even if this rule does not interfere with Bernie Sanders running, it does narrow the range of potential candidates. While the election of Donald Trump might have soured any desire for a candidate outside of politics, the limited support for true liberal and progressive ideas in the current Democratic Party shows a need to allow new blood.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee has until June 30 to decide upon these recommendations, and a decision is to be made at the next DNC meeting in August.

Former Ambassador To Soviet Union Warns Of The Dangers Of Russiagate Hysteria

Jack F. Matlock Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, writes in The Nation that, “We must end this Russophobic insanity.” Many Democrats continue to spread hysteria about Russia as opposed to accepting the reality that they lost the 2016 election by running a terrible candidate who should never have been a major party candidate for president. Matlock countered the false narrative we are often hearing by reviewing the facts. Matlock had the following seven points:

  1. It is a fact that some Russians paid people to act as online trolls and bought advertisements on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Most of these were taken from elsewhere, and they comprised a tiny fraction of all the advertisements purchased on Facebook during this period. This continued after the election and included organizing a demonstration against President-elect Trump.
  2. It is a fact that e-mails in the memory of the Democratic National Committee’s computer were furnished to Wikileaks. The US intelligence agencies that issued the January 2017 report were confident that Russians hacked the e-mails and supplied them to Wikileaks, but offered no evidence to substantiate their claim. Even if one accepts that Russians were the perpetrators, however, the e-mails were genuine, as the US intelligence report certified. I have always thought that the truth was supposed to make us free, not degrade our democracy.
  3. It is a fact that the Russian government established a sophisticated television service (RT) that purveyed entertainment, news, and—yes—propaganda to foreign audiences, including those in the United States. Its audience is several magnitudes smaller than that of Fox News. Basically, its task is to picture Russia in a more favorable light than has been available in Western media. There has been no analysis of its effect, if any, on voting in the United States. The January 2017 US intelligence report states at the outset, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” Nevertheless, that report has been cited repeatedly by politicians and the media as having done so.
  4. It is a fact that many senior Russian officials (though not all, by any means) expressed a preference for Trump’s candidacy. After all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had compared President Putin to Hitler and had urged more active US military intervention abroad, while Trump had said it would be better to cooperate with Russia than to treat it as an enemy. It should not require the judgment of professional analysts to understand why many Russians would find Trump’s statements more congenial than Clinton’s. On a personal level, most of my Russian friends and contacts were dubious of Trump, but all resented Clinton’s Russophobic tone, as well as statements made by Obama from 2014 onward. They considered Obama’s public comment that “Russia doesn’t make anything” a gratuitous insult (which it was), and were alarmed by Clinton’s expressed desire to provide additional military support to the “moderates” in Syria. But the average Russian, and certainly the typical Putin administration official, understood Trump’s comments as favoring improved relations, which they definitely favored.
  5. There is no evidence that Russian leaders thought Trump would win or that they could have a direct influence on the outcome. This is an allegation that has not been substantiated. The January 2017 report from the intelligence community actually states that Russian leaders, like most others, thought Clinton would be elected.
  6. There is no evidence that Russian activities had any tangible impact on the outcome of the election. Nobody seems to have done even a superficial study of the effect Russian actions actually had on the vote. The intelligence-community report, however, states explicitly that “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.” Also both former FBI director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers have testified that there is no proof Russian activities had an effect on the vote count.
  7. There is also no evidence that there was direct coordination between the Trump campaign (hardly a well-organized effort) and Russian officials. The indictments brought by the special prosecutor so far are either for lying to the FBI or for offenses unrelated to the campaign such as money laundering or not registering as a foreign agent.

Matlock agrees that the election of Trump was a disaster, but also criticizes the false narrative as to why he was elected. He discussed both the problems with blaming Russia, and noted that the Democrats most likely would have won if they had nominated anyone other than Hillary Clinton:

I did not personally vote for Trump, but I consider the charges that Russian actions interfered in the election, or—for that matter—damaged the quality of our democracy ludicrous, pathetic, and shameful.

“Ludicrous” because there is no logical reason to think that anything that the Russians did affected how people voted. In the past, when Soviet leaders tried to influence American elections, it backfired—as foreign interference usually does everywhere. In 1984, Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader then, made preventing Ronald Reagan’s reelection the second-most-important task of the KGB. (The first was to detect US plans for a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.) Everything the Soviets did—in painting Reagan out to be a warmonger while Andropov refused to negotiate on nuclear weapons—helped Reagan win 49 out of 50 states.

“Pathetic” because it is clear that the Democratic Party lost the election. Yes, it won the popular vote, but presidents are not elected by popular vote. To blame someone else for one’s own mistakes is a pathetic case of self-deception.

“Shameful” because it is an evasion of responsibility. It prevents the Democrats, and those Republicans who want responsible, fact-based government in Washington, from concentrating on practical ways to reduce the threat the Trump presidency poses to our political values and even to our future existence. After all, Trump would not be president if the Republican Party had not nominated him. He also is most unlikely to have won the Electoral College if the Democrats had nominated someone—almost anyone—other than the candidate they chose, or if that candidate had run a more competent campaign. I don’t argue that any of this was fair, or rational, but then who is so naive as to assume that American politics are either fair or rational?

Matlock added that falsely blaming the election on Russia is also dangerous:

I should add “dangerous” to those three adjectives. “Dangerous” because making an enemy of Russia, the other nuclear superpower—yes, there are still two—comes as close to political insanity as anything I can think of. Denying global warming may rank up there too in the long run, but only nuclear weapons pose, by their very existence in the quantities that are on station in Russia and the United States, an immediate threat to mankind—not just to the United States and Russia and not just to “civilization.” The sad, frequently forgotten fact is that, since the creation of nuclear weapons, mankind has the capacity to destroy itself and join other extinct species…

We must desist from our current Russophobic insanity and encourage Presidents Trump and Putin to restore cooperation in issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, control of nuclear materials, and nuclear-arms reduction. This is in the vital interest of both the United States and Russia. That is the central issue on which sane governments, and sane publics, would focus their attention.

Related:

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

Federal Judge Rules That Trump Blocking Users On Twitter Is A Violation Of First Amendment Rights

Our ideas about freedom of speech and First Amendment rights need to evolve in this social media age. Almost a year ago I wrote about a lawsuit against Donald Trump for banning people from his Twitter feed. Usual ideas about a private Twitter account did not seem to apply in this case with Trump making frequent public proclamations on Twitter. Sean Spicer, while White House press secretary, had stated that Trump’s tweet’s should be considered official statements. A federal judge has issued a ruling that it is a violation of the First Amendment for Trump to ban people from his Twitter feed. The Hill reports:

A federal district court judge on Wednesday ruled that President Trump can’t block people from viewing his Twitter feed over their political views.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said President Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum and blocking people who reply to his tweets with differing opinions constitutes viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment.

The court’s ruling is a major win for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of seven people who were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account because of opinions they expressed in reply tweets.

Buchwald, who was appointed by former President Clinton, rejected Trump’s argument that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the president’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of the plaintiffs.

She suggested in her 75-page opinion that Trump could have ignored his opponents’ reply tweets.

“No First Amendment harm arises when a government’s ‘challenged conduct’ is simply to ignore the [speaker], as the Supreme Court has affirmed ‘that it is free to do,’ ” she wrote. “Stated otherwise, ‘a person’s right to speak is not infringed when government simply ignores that person while listening to others,’ or when the government ‘amplifies’ the voice of one speaker over those of others.”

Buchwald explained that blocking someone on Twitter goes further than just muting them.

“Muting preserves the muted account’s ability to reply to a tweet sent by the muting account, blocking precludes the blocked user from ‘seeing or replying to the blocking user’s tweets’ entirely,” she said…

Josh Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said the court’s ruling is a critical victory in preserving free speech in the digital age.

“The court’s thorough decision recognizes that the President’s use of @realDonaldTrump on Twitter makes it the type of public forum in which the government may not, under the First Amendment, silence its critics,” he said in a statement.

While this might help preserve free speech in the digital age, there are many other threats. While Facebook has come under intense scrutiny for its violations of the privacy of its users, I’ve considered the censorship of political views on both the left and right to be an even more serious threat to civil liberties in an era when communication on Facebook has become the digital equivalent of the old fashioned town square.

Conan O’Brien and James Corden on Donald Trump

Porn star Stormy Daniels is suing President Trump for defamation for something he said in a tweet. When they heard this, Muslims, African-Americans, gays, and Hillary Clinton said, “You can do that?” –Conan O’Brien

Trump skipped the correspondent’s dinner on Saturday night, and instead hosted a rally in Michigan. Trump said he’d rather be around people who loved him, so he went to Michigan and left behind the White House press corps and Melania. –James Corden

This morning, President Trump made a special phone call to his favorite television program, “Fox & Friends.” Trump and the hosts talked about lots of things, and at one point, he was asked to grade his presidency. Take a look at what he said. [Trump clip] “I would give myself an A-plus.” An A-plus! From where — Trump University?  –James Corden