Blogging In The Age Of Social Media

The blog has been far less active the last several months. This has largely been due to the effects of social media on the blogosphere. Social media has made blogs near obsolete, and has cut tremendously into traffic.  The days are long gone with a small blog like this can regularly draw in traffic exceeding 10,000 viewers, and will probably never return.

For a while social media and blogs could be used together, using Facebook to drive blog traffic to make up for some of the lost viewers. However, thanks to Russiagate-inspired censorship of social media, a Facebook post with a link to a blog post will receive far less viewership on Facebook, leading to a situation where I now get more readers by posting brief items on Facebook as opposed to longer material on the blog. Therefore, as a combination of these realities, and being busy on other matters, I have been using Facebook far more for politics the last several months.

The nature of many of the political disputes of the last few months have also had an impact. Blog posts opposing Trump receive very little attention simply because there is an abundance of anti-Trump material in the mainstream as well as other blogs. Blogs are of greatest value in discussing topics which receive too little attention from the mainstream media.

As we enter the primary battles, this could change. The mainstream media concentrates on the horse race as opposed to the issues, and there will be far more to discuss in comparing the candidates. Blog posts also provide greater ability to utilize longer posts and include multiple links.

I recently thought to try doing matters backwards–instead of posting blog posts on Facebook, primarily posting the links and short comments from Facebook here on the blog, using Facebook’s embed feature. This also enables readers to click through to see the discussions on Facebook. I tried this in the previous post, starting to use a quick blurb as a post, and then proceeded to add some brief additional material.

I am going proceed to add some links back to some other recent Facebook items which remain relevant, and in the future probably continue with a combination of such links as well as posts which are preferable originating on a blog.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery Returns; The Orville; AOC Quotes Watchmen; Donald Trump and Batman; Possible West Wing Revival

Star Trek: Discovery returned last week, following a final Short Trek staring Rainn Wilson reprising his role as Harry Mudd. Brother was more in line with traditional Star Trek compared to the last season, with Christopher Pike making it clear he was not Captain Lorca. Spock was central to the episode, but we only saw young Spock, living in a home inspired by Marie Kondo. Young Spock definitely displayed human emotion in showing jealousy towards a new adopted sibling.

The episode will please some who felt season one strayed from what they see as true Star Trek, but not everyone will be happy. The technology continued to look like it was far beyond what we saw in The Original Series, and possibly Next Generation, which is inevitable for a show produced in the twenty-first century as opposed the nineteen sixties. Another huge break from canon was that the officer in the blue shirt was killed as opposed to the one in the red shirt, but Connelly’s death was clearly foreshadowed.

It took until the second season, but we finally found out that members of the Discovery bridge crew actually do have names. Elsewhere on the ship it is suggested that  Stamets is leaving, but I suspect that we might never see his transfer to teach at  the Vulcan Science Academy actually take place. Whether or not he leaves, a new engineer, Jett Reno (played by Tig Notaro), was introduced, who fits more into the mode of ship engineer who can do miracles.

We have not seen adult Spock yet, but I suspect that this might not come for a while, as the season searches for both Spock and the Red Angel. Nor have we seen Rebecca Romjin as Number One. In an interview with Romjin at TrekMovie.com, she said she is not allowed to say when she will first appear. While it might not be her first appearance, I noted that the picture above was labeled as DSC 204. She also had this to say about the character:

What characteristics did you bring to Number One as a person?

Romijn: Well you know, she was only in that one episode. So as an actor, you want a certain amount of liberty to help a character unfold, obviously. She’s got a vast skill set, she’s obviously Captain Pike’s number one, second in command, he feels comfortable leaving her in charge of the Enterprise when he’s not there. I don’t even think we know how vast her skill set is, I think there’s a lot of exploration to do. She knows her shit. I want her to be a little bit of a fast-talking dame, in a way. It was fun. It was really fun to play her.

Do you have scenes with characters other than Pike?

Romijn: Yes. Yes I do.

Can you tell us which ones?

Romijn: No! I feel so scared to reveal anything, like … the number of letters we’ve gotten and emails, I was scared to post anything on Instagram. I can’t say anything.

More on the relationship between Pike and Number one at TV Guide:  “I think that Captain Pike relies on Number One in a very deep way. I think they’re very close. I think she’s got the skill set that he depends on,” she says. “I think that he would feel confident leaving the ship in her hand if he had to and there’s room to explore it further.”

Alex Kurtzman discussed the episode with The Hollywood Reporter:

Discovery season one seemed like a declarative end of a chapter with the Federation-Klingon war coming to its conclusion. Why did you choose to start the second chapter by bringing in the Enterprise, considering its notoriety?

We discover in season one that Michael has a relationship with Spock. The mystery of why Spock, who we’ve known for over 50 years, has never mentioned his sister, is huge. It felt like there was no way we were going to be able to answer that question in one or two episodes. It was easily going to be the substance of a whole season. This season is a deep-dive into that relationship and what went wrong, their history and where they’re headed. That excited me. It’s the unwritten chapter of how Spock became the character that we meet in the original series. We’ll come to understand that were it not for his relationship with Michael, many of the things we know and love about Spock may not have flowered in the way that they did.

What prompted your characterization of Pike, considering what the audience has seen of him in other depictions?

He’s established as a pretty specific figure in [the original series episodes] “The Menagerie” and “The Cage.” And obviously, I have Bruce Greenwood in my mind from my work on the J.J. Abrams movies. Everybody thinks of Pike as a noble, just and kind captain. It felt right that in the wake of a captain like Lorca who was so manipulative and wreaked havoc on the ship, we needed a captain who was 180 degrees in the other direction. It felt like an interesting and different take, a new flavor for the show.

The episode primarily focuses on Pike attempting to solidify his dynamic with the characters aboard Discovery. How did you find the beats of seeking out that trust from both ends of the relationship?

Pike sat out the war. We’re going to learn a lot more about that over the course of the season. He sat out the war because he was ordered to, and that created a big problem for him. He had to sit there and watch many of his friends and colleagues die, and feel entirely helpless in the process. He’s a captain who wants to make up for lost time, who wants to correct an error. It was hard for him to watch all these people die, and that’s a huge part of what drives him. If a character were to caution him to slow down, that would be very difficult for him. I think that’s where we will see him find tension with this crew. It’s not because he’s manipulating him; it’s because there may be a difference in procedure. As a captain, you have to make difficult decisions that may require allowing certain members of your crew to be at risk to save others. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Let’s talk about the introduction of this mystery of the seven signals, as well as the “Red Angel.” These were both featured prominently in the trailers leading up to the premiere and served as a crucial part of the episode as well. How did you come up with these mystical enigmas?

Initially, it started as a conversation about the way in which Trek has dealt with the issue of space vs. science. Gene Roddenberry had a very specific take on religion as it relates to Star Trek. In the original series, religion doesn’t exist. Yet, faith is something that has always been a major topic in different ways. The idea of this mystery that has no answer immediately suggests a presence or force greater than anything anyone has ever known. It was intriguing to us. The other reason for the Red Angel was that it sheds specific light on Spock’s dilemma at that point in his life. Spock has, as we all know, a unique relationship to logic. And logic fails him in dealing with the Red Angel. He doesn’t know whether to turn to logic or emotions to solve the mystery. The only way he can work through it is with his sister, to whom he has a very complicated relationship. It felt like a really wonderful way to get them to have to wrestle with each other over a larger mystery.

CBS All Access confirmed yet another spin-off series earlier this month with Michelle Yeoh to star, concentrating on Captain Georgiou’s role in Section 31. This will also be seen during the second season of Discovery. From the announcement:

CBS All Access today announced plans to further expand the “Star Trek” universe with a newlive-action series in development starring Michelle Yeoh. The series will expand on Yeoh’s current role as a member of Starfleet’s Section 31 division, a shadow organization within the Federation, on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, which debuts its second season Thursday, Jan. 17 exclusively on CBS All Access in the U.S., and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space channel and OTT service CraveTV.

The series will be produced by CBS Television Studios, Secret Hideout and Roddenberry Entertainment. Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, Rod Roddenberry and Trevor Roth will serve as executive producers. Aaron Baiers will serve as co-executive producer along with Bo Yeon Kim, and Erika Lippoldt will also write the series.

“Michelle has shattered ceilings, broken boundaries, and astonished us with her grace and gravitas for decades. As a human, I adore her. As an actor, I revere her,” said Alex Kurtzman. “Erika and Boey are remarkable, exciting writers who bring a fresh perspective to the world of ‘Star Trek,’ and we’re all thrilled to explore the next wild chapter in the life of Captain Philippa Georgiou.”

“I’m so excited to continue telling these rich ‘Star Trek’ stories,” said Michelle Yeoh. “Being a part of this universe and this character specifically has been such a joy for me to play. I can’t wait to see where it all goes – certainly I believe it will go ‘where no WOMAN has ever gone before!’”

Michelle Yeoh is recognized as one of the greatest and the most successful actresses from the east. She can most recently be seen starring in John M. Chu’s romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” and in CBS’ STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. The former Bond girl is best known for her roles in Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and its sequel, Rob Marshall’s “Memoirs of a Geisha,” Roger Spottiswoode’s “Tomorrow Never Dies”and Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine.” Michelle also starred in Luc Besson’s critically acclaimed “The Lady” and voiced a role in the DreamWorks animated hit “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

The development of this new untitled series is the latest expansion of the “Star Trek” franchise. In addition to the hit original series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, returning with season two on Thursday, Jan. 17, and STAR TREK: SHORT TREKS, a series of short stories tied to STAR TREK: DISCOVERY and the overall “Star Trek” universe, CBS has announced a new untitled “Star Trek” series featuring Sir Patrick Stewart, reprising his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard, as well as its first animated series, STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS, developed by Emmy Award winner Mike McMahan (“Rick and Morty”).

The Orville has also returned for its second season, last week returning to tie up a loose end from a first season episode. We are left to wonder if Billy Joel music will help promote peace. Earlier there was an episode centered around Alara, which ended with Halston Sage leaving the show. They did leave room for a future return. Jessica Szohr has been announced to be joining the cast. There is no word if Seth MacFarlane will be dating her, but there was an announcement last week that Scott Grimes and Adrianne Palicki are engaged.

In other genre and media news, following an attack from Joe Lieberman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quoted Rorschach from Watchmen.

On the other hand, last month we learned from Christian Bale that Donald Trump seemed to really think he was Bruce Wayne:

While filming a Batman scene in Trump Tower, Christian Bale got the chance to meet Donald Trump. “We were filming on Batman in Trump Tower and he said, ‘Come on up to the office,’” Bale told Variety at the premiere of the Dick Cheney biopic Vice. “I think he thought I was Bruce Wayne because I was dressed as Bruce Wayne,” he joked.

Bale said he tried to go along with it, but found it odd. “He talked to me like I was Bruce Wayne and I just went along with it, really. It was quite entertaining. I had no idea at the time that he would think about running for president.”

That isn’t the most dangerous delusion which Trump has.

Richard Schiff has spoken about a possible reboot of The West Wing.

Trump Threatens Press

If the White House Press Corps had any balls, they’d all stop showing up for the orchestrated press briefings in response to a threat like this and resort to real reporting to cover Trump in the disrespectful manner he deserves.

Trump Threatens to Retaliate Against Reporters Who Don’t Show ‘Respect’

President Trump said on Friday that he might revoke the credentials of additional White House reporters if they did not “treat the White House with respect,” lobbing another threat at the news media two days after his administration effectively blacklisted the CNN correspondent Jim Acosta.

Asked how long Mr. Acosta’s pass would be suspended, Mr. Trump replied: “As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t made that decision. But it could be others also.”

The president made his comments while speaking with reporters on the South Lawn before boarding Marine One.

“When you’re in the White House, this is a very sacred place for me, a very special place,” Mr. Trump said as he left Washington for a brief jaunt to Paris. “You have to treat the White House with respect. You have to treat the presidency with respect.”

The removal of Mr. Acosta’s credential, after a tense news conference on Wednesday when the CNN correspondent aggressively questioned Mr. Trump, has raised alarms among press freedom groups that say the president is encroaching on journalists’ basic right to cover the government…

Democrats Slap Donald Trump On the Wrist In the Midterms

The midterms were a mixed success for the Democrats in 2018. Most notably the Democrats took control of the House, but unfortunately this probably means Nancy Peolsi returns as Speaker. They also regained about three hundred of the near one thousand seats in state legislatures they lost over the past decade, have a majority of state attorney generals in the nation, and won some key governorship battles, especially in the midwest. On the other hand, despite a Republican president as terrible as Donald Trump, their midterm gains in the House were historically not terribly impressive for the party out of power, and they did poorly in the high profile battles in the Senate. (I’m waiting to hear Rachel Maddow explain why the Russians meddled in the Senate races but not the House races this year.)

This was far more a slap on the wrist than a shallacking for Donald Trump.

The Senate map was undoubtedly very unfavorable for Democrats, but it will be so virtually every year as long as Democrats are unable to come up with a message to win in the smaller states beyond the east coast. The system of giving two Senators to each state regardless of size makes the Senate extraordinarily unrepresentative. Still, don’t be tempted to repeat the memes showing up since the election regarding winning the popular vote. They are misleading as the entire nation did not vote for Senate, and this can be tilted by which states do vote. This was especially true in 2018 as California had two Democrats running for Senate due to a system where the two leaders in the primary get on the November ballot regardless of party. This leads to a tremendous number of Democratic votes if the mythical Senate popular vote is counted, but only one Democratic Senator.

Democrats are always far quicker to list off the problems which make it more difficult to win than to change their strategy. They showed once again that moving to the right in the hopes of attracting Republican votes does not work. Nor did recruiting veterans help them do any better than expected. I would prefer to see Democrats be more consistent in supporting a reduction in  the role of government in the private lives of individuals–an attitude which might make defense of reproductive rights part of a consistent philosophy that might be accepted in the more libertarian minded portions of the country. Taking a rational anti-war line, as opposed to acting as if they are apologizing for appearing weak on national security, might also help in those areas which are hurt by perpetual warfare–and rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016.

This does note mean that the Democrats don’t have many valid complaints, including regarding voter suppression and gerrymandering. Some of the election results will help, including increasing their strength in several state governments before the next redistricting. While the high profile races in Florida did not turn out as hoped (how badly did campaigning with Hillary Clinton hurt Andrew Gillum?), but there was a victory in passing a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time.

While Democrats continued to struggle in Florida and Ohio, their hopes for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin being more blue in 2018 look favorable after Tuesday’s results, including the defeat of Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Besides possibly giving the Democrats their electoral votes again in 2020, there might be an increased number of representatives as the heavily gerrymandered system of drawing Congressional districts will be replaced by an independent redistricting commission in Michigan.

Other ballot proposals passing in Michigan will make it easier to vote and legalized marijuana for recreational use. Newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer is looking at legislation or issuing executive orders to free prisoners convicted for marijuana related charges which will no longer be crimes after the ballot proposal passed. I did hold my nose and vote for Whitmer, despite her reliance on dark money and financing by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Action such as this will make me happier that I did so. A judge has already put some new marijuana cases on hold.

Medicaid expansion passed in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah, and is also expected in Kansas due to the victory for a Democratic governor. While there is no chance of it becoming law imminently, there are also more Democratic supporters of Medicare for All in the House.

There were victories for various groups. The media has covered extensively how there are more women and people of color in the House. In addition, seven more scientists were elected to the House–all Democrats as the Republican war on science continues.

It remains to be seen how some issues will play out now that the midterms are over. Are we still supposed to be terrified by the caravan? Donald Trump quickly took advantage of having control of the Senate by firing Jeff Sessions.  I never would have guessed that I would see this as a bad thing when Sessions first became Attorney General. On the one hand, Sessions might have been the worst Attorney General in history. On the other hand, Sessions was absolutely right in his dispute with Trump in recusing himself from Mueller’s investigation, and his firing could be a sign that Trump plans to take action against Mueller. I suspect that Mueller has prepared for this by being ready to turn over evidence of financial crimes committed by Trump and his cronies to state prosecutors. Congressional Democrats will also be able to take over the investigation if needed. Hopefully they concentrate on Trump’s financial crimes and obstruction of justice, as opposed to the dubious conspiracy theories popular among many Democrats blaming Russia for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Arachnids In The UK; Penny Dreadful Returning; Marvel Television Crossover Hinted; Arrowverse Crossover and News on The Flash

Arachnids in the UK provided both a horror story before Halloween and political satire just over a week before the midterm elections in the United States. These two components were not entirely successful, but there was a third aspect of this episode of Doctor Who which was a success, redeeming the episode.

The main story line was fairly weak (as many episodes of Doctor Who tend to be), and its fairly minimal importance was seen in the way it was wrapped up quickly. Rather than being a true monster, the spiders were simply normal spiders who grew to be too big and lacked an ecosystem to exist in. The solution played into the anti-gun sentiments seen earlier this season, but is it really more humane to let them suffocate as opposed to shooting them quickly? I could see earlier seasons solving the problem more humanely by transporting the spiders to a new planet where they could live in peace. While the episode did provide a quick solution for the spiders in the hotel, it also seemed to forget that there were additional spiders around the apartments seen earlier in the episode.

Chris Noth added the political aspect for the episode and, like the spiders, fell short of being the outright villain of the episode. He played an American businessman who aspires to be president, builds luxury hotels around the world, loves to fire people (including Yaz’s mother), sees guns as the solution, uses words such as “fire and fury,” and hates that a woman (the Doctor) is the one in charge. He also hates Donald Trump, whom he is clearly modeled upon, and plans to run against him. I had expected to see Jack Robertson die a horrible death, being eaten by the spiders. Instead this only happened to his poor bodyguard. The episode ended with Jack Robertson seeing himself as the hero, and ready to go on to attempt to become the next president. This would have been the true horror of the story if not for the fact that we already have Donald Trump as president. This does leave open the possibility of Robertson becoming a recurring character, possibly with Chris Noth returning to play the next president sometime in the future.

As political satire, this was fairly weak considering it adds nothing to the vast work satirizing Trump, other than copying some of his obvious characteristics. I suspect that Chris Chibnall did not want to get overly specific so that the episode will still hold up over time. While many future viewers might forget many of the specifics of the Trump years, I doubt anyone will forget the basic outline of Trump as shown in the episode.

The episode works best if seen as the conclusion of a trilogy to establish the Doctor and her new companions, beginning with The Woman Who Fell To Earth and The Ghost Monument. These show the Doctor meeting her future companions, getting to the TARDIS, and ultimately getting home after a series of adventures–with Rosa showing only one of these as a side story to this trilogy. After this series of adventures, the TARDIS made it back to Sheffield.

The revival of Doctor Who has been stronger by showing the families of many of the companions, allowing the companions to be more complete people as opposed to simply people traveling with the Doctor. The episode concentrated on showing Yaz’s family, but also went back to Graham’s loss of Grace and building a relationship with Ryan.

Until they returned to Sheffield, the three were with the Doctor by accident, and the goal was to return them home safely. Now they had a choice, and the Doctor even warned them of the dangers of traveling with her. This especially makes sense considering the fates of many of her recent companions. I imagine that it is easier to write a companion out by having a tragic outcome than showing that someone would just decide that they no longer wish to travel on the TARDIS.

The episode also suggests further expansion of the Doctor’s backstory. Steven Moffat had set up the possibility of a Timelord changing gender, but now we are hearing suggestions that the Doctor has also been a woman, had a family, and had a life we do not know about. Peter Capaldi, speaking of the Master, has said, “I think she was a man back then. I’m fairly sure that I was, too. It was a long time ago, though.” This episode was more explicit. The Doctor said she used to have sisters, and that she herself was once a sister in an aqua hospital, which was a training camp for space assassins. As we know very little of the Doctor’s life before becoming a Timelord, there is no contradiction with the Doctor having had sisters. However, for the Doctor to have once been a woman, this would mean that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor. Older episodes did sometimes hint at previous regenerations before Hartnell, but for this to have been possible it would have been necessary for the Doctor to have been granted additional regenerations in the past. We did see this was possible with Matt Smith.

In other Doctor Who news, it appears that instead of a Christmas special there will be a special on New Year’s Day this year. This does help as they appear to have run out of ideas for a Christmas tie-in for the series. I imagine that for some viewers in the UK, this might not matter much, unless people really care about the tradition. Watching in the United States, I would prefer a special on Christmas Day, and lacking a connection with the holiday would be fine. There is very little new American television around the holidays, and I’ve gotten in the habit of downloading Christmas specials from the UK that day. However, New Year’s Day is taken up by football here.  At least the streaming channels will fill in for the lack of Doctor Who on Christmas Day if my wife and I wind up staying home and watching television.

The Hollywood Reporter has a story on a new version of Penny Dreadful, with new cast and new location:

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels opens in 1938 Los Angeles for a story that Showtime describes as “a time and place deeply infused with Mexican-American folklore and social tension.” Rooted in the conflict between characters connected to the deity Santa Muerte and others allied with the devil, City of Angels will explore a mix of the supernatural and the combustible reality of that period, creating new occult myths and moral dilemmas within a historical backdrop. The series will feature all new characters and storylines.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels will have a social consciousness and historical awareness that we chose not to explore in the Penny Dreadful London storylines,” Logan said Thursday in a statement. “We will now be grappling with specific historical and real-world political, religious, social and racial issues. In 1938, Los Angeles was facing some hard questions about its future and its soul. Our characters must do the same. There are no easy answers. There are only powerful questions and arresting moral challenges. As always in the world of Penny Dreadful, there are no heroes or villains in this world, only protagonists and antagonists; complicated and conflicted characters living on the fulcrum of moral choice.”

There have been hints about a cross-over between Marvel’s Runaways and Cloak & Dagger. Comicbook.com reports:

“It can reference the rest of the world, but it’s true to teenagers — they’re not interested in what Tony Stark is doing this week or what Matt Murdock is doing this week but they might be interested in a couple of kids who live down in New Orleans and what’s going on there.”

That’s fitting because both Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen have been members of the Runaways team at some point along in the Marvel comics mythos. Now that the characters are played by Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt, respectively, that’s a scenario that’s entirely plausible in live-action.

In fact, Cloak & Dagger showrunner and executive producer Joe Pokaski has previously said the powers that be have had conversations on how to make crossovers happen.

Chicago, as opposed to Vancouver, will provide the background for Gotham City on the Arrowverse Elseworlds crossover episodes this season. We will be seeing Ruby Rose as Batwoman, and seeing a Black Suit Superman, but it has been confirmed that Batman will not appear.

CBR.com reports that Flash’s most iconic villains might be returning for the 100th episode:

DC World writer Paul Edwards attended an autograph signing at MCM Comic Con London. While there, he talked with actor Tony Todd, who previously provided the voice for Flash villain Zoom. During a conversation about Todd’s acting, the former Candyman star explained that he had just finished filming episode 100 of Flash. When asked if he would be reprising his role as Zoom, Todd replied, “They are all returning, all the speedster villains, and they all want a piece of Barry.”

…Executive producer Todd Helbing teased a big twist for the series at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, so this might be what he was referring to. The eighth episode of Flash Season 5, which will premiere on Dec. 4, will be the series’ 100th episode. Tom Cavanagh, who plays various versions of Harrison Wells on the show, will direct.

You might have noticed that Joe West has not been doing much on The Flash this season, generally sitting in scenes. TVLine has the reason for this:

I’m hearing that Martin suffered a back injury over the hiatus. In fact, a studio rep confirms for TVLine that the actor will be taking a medical leave from the CW hit, adding: “We wish him a full and speedy recovery and look forward to his return as Detective Joe West.” (It’s unclear at this time exactly when and for how long Joe’s absence will be felt on screen, but sources tell me it will be addressed at some point.)

Fortunately it should be easy to have a reduced role for Joe, and write him out for a while, without causing serious problems for the stories.

The Growing Lists Of False Statements And Acts Of Corruption From The Trump Administration

Keeping up with the false statements, repugnant statements, and acts of corruption from Donald Trump in nearly two years of his presidency has become an impossible task for a small blog. While I could successfully cover at least the major lies from the Bush administration, there are far too many from Trump to keep up with–which might be part of his strategy. Instead we must rely on professional journalists who can devote far more of their time to such projects.

Trump has kept the fact checkers very busy. The fact checkers at The Washington Post report that Trump “has made 6,420 false or misleading claims over 649 days.” The rate of false statements has escalated as Trump has been out campaigning for fellow Republicans:

The flood of presidential misinformation has picked up dramatically as the president has barnstormed across the country, holding rallies with his supporters. Each of those rallies usually yields 35 to 45 suspect claims. But the president often has tacked on interviews with local media (in which he repeats the same false statements) and gaggles with the White House press corps before and after his trips…

Put another way: September was the second-biggest month of the Trump presidency, with 599 false and misleading claims. But that paled next to October, with almost double: 1,104 claims, not counting Oct. 31…

The president’s proclivity to twist data and fabricate stories is on full display at his rallies. He has his greatest hits: 120 times he had falsely said he passed the biggest tax cut in history, 80 times he has asserted that the U.S. economy today is the best in history and 74 times he has falsely said his border wall is already being built. (Congress has allocated only $1.6 billion for fencing, but Trump also frequently mentioned additional funding that has not yet been appropriated.)

I’m not aware of any similar counts of repugnant statements from Trump but this number must also be growing. He has always taken advantage of racism and xenophobia, and the refugee caravan has played into this. Yesterday CNN reportedTrump shocks with racist new ad days before midterms:

Trump has repeatedly warned that the caravan is laden with criminals or also includes Middle Eastern terrorists. He has offered no evidence for such claims, however, and even admitted last week there is no proof to support them.

The President has also often used racially suggestive rhetoric in his tweets and launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a tirade against Mexicans. But he accuses the media, which points out his frequent falsehoods and flaming rhetoric, of being to blame for national divides.

Controversy over the new ad is certain to explode across the final days of the election in which polls suggest Democrats could take back the House of Representatives but Republicans could keep or even expand their Senate majority.

The new campaign web video was the culmination of a day on which the President staked out ever more extreme positions.

He took advantage of his role as commander-in-chief to promise to triple the number of troops to 15,000 that he has pledged to send to the southern border to repel the caravan — which is still hundreds of miles away.

He also made a dubious claim of presidential power to reinforce his vow to change the Constitution on his own to end birthright citizenship that is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

If the Democrats do take back the House as expected, this will give Democrats the ability to investigate the vast amount of corruption by Trump, his family, and top members of his administration.  David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick have posted what they bill as Trump’s Corruption: The Definitive List in The New York Times. They began:

They don’t even try very hard to hide it.

President Trump, his family and more than a few of his appointees are using his presidency to enrich themselves. They are spending taxpayer dollars for their own benefit. They are accepting sweetheart deals from foreigners. And they are harnessing the power of the federal government on behalf of their businesses.

There’s a word for this: corruption.

Given how widespread Trumpian corruption has become, we thought it was time to make a list. It’s meant to be a definitive list of self-dealing by the president, his family, his staff or his friends — since he began running for president. To qualify, an incident needs to seem highly credible, even if it remains unresolved, and needs to involve making money.

Compiling the list made us understand why some historians believe Trump’s administration is the most corrupt since at least Warren Harding’s, of 1920s Teapot Dome fame. Trump administration officials and people close to them are brashly using power to amass perks and cash. They are betting that they can get away with it. So far, Congress has let them.

A Welcome Reduction In Hysteria As We Are Hearing Less About Foreign Hacking Of The 2018 Election (For Now)

The New York Times today asks, Where Are The Russians? In other words, they have bought the sensationalized and highly exaggerated media accounts of Russia’s impact on the 2016 election, and are now surprised that they cannot find evidence that Russia is trying to hack the 2018 election.

Aaron Maté has a more reality-based view at The Nation in writing,With Just Days to the Midterms, Russiagate Is MIA–And that’s a good thing. He wrote, that despite all the “histrionics,” Russia has been found to have done little of consequence:

Russia’s alleged midterm sabotage to date has been disclosed in a newly unsealed criminal complaint against an employee of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian troll farm previously indicted for using fake accounts to spread divisive content on social media. The defendant, Elena Khusyaynova, is not even directly accused of online manipulation. Instead, she is singled out for being the chief accountant for “Project Lakhta,” an IRA initiative that targeted audiences in Russia and around the world, including the United States. The only actions directly ascribed to Khusyaynova concern her “meticulous record-keeping and management” of IRA funds.

As with the initial indictment of 13 IRA employees in February, prosecutors accuse IRA trolls of using social media “to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” including in the upcoming midterms. But reading the fine print, it is difficult to see how that purported aim can be taken seriously. In the first six months of 2018, Khusyaynova submitted expenditures of $60,000 for advertisements on Facebook and $6,000 on Instagram. The only advertising-related activity that gets detailed in the complaint is an alleged IRA employee’s offering to give organizers of an anti-Trump protest $80 for a Facebook ad. (It’s unclear if the proposal was accepted). The IRA’s alleged social-media accounts impersonated both liberal and conservative personas. The complaint shows six images that were posted by Russian trolls to Facebook; the most impactful of the bunch appears to be a thinly disguised anti-Muslim ad that attracted 104 comments.

Some of this content is overtly racist and bigoted; other posts are banal. All are so juvenile or inconsequential that it is difficult to see how they could have vastly greater influence than the millions of other pieces of political clickbait littering the Internet. The IRA’s social-media imprint seems to have as much impact now as it did during the 2016 election. Back then, the IRA spent a reported on $100,000 on Facebook ads, with most of those ads having nothing to do with the election, and more than half of that total spent after the election.

According to Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch, posts generated by suspected Russian accounts between 2015 and 2017 represented “a tiny fraction of the overall [News Feed] content on Facebook.… about four-thousandths of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content.” The widely cited figure that “material generated by the Kremlin had reached a hundred and twenty-six million American Facebook users,” (The New Yorker) is in fact a creative take on Facebook’s own speculation. “Our best estimate,” Stretch testified to Congress in October 2017, “is that approximately 126 million people may have been served one of these [IRA] stories at some time during the two year period.” So the 126 million figure is an “estimate” of how many people “may have been served” one piece of IRA content—most unrelated to the 2016 election—in their Facebook feeds over two years. Over on Twitter, a new analysis by the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab finds that “Russia’s troll operation primarily targeted Russian speakers,” posting “significantly more in Russian than in English.”

Maté went on to further debunk many of the Russiagate claims, seeing them as no more than “fodder for ongoing efforts intent on convincing Americans that unsophisticated social-media trolling could somehow divide and weaken their society.” He showed problems with claims that Russia penetrated state voting systems and the many problems with media coverage of Russiagate, as I, and others, have also done many times in the the past.

Matt Taibbi also discussed the problems with coverage of Russia in an interview with Recode, pointing out, “You see a lot of stories where there are four unnamed intelligence sources all saying something that is totally unverifiable.” He discussed additional problems with some stories:

So recently we had a story that … I’ll give you two. Okay? There was one from pretty early on where the New York Times said, “Trump campaign officials had repeat contacts with Russian intelligence.” All right? And again, it was four current and former officials, none of them named. Now, I knew and anybody who lived in Russia knew that you constantly have contact with intelligence officials there often, whether you know it or not. And the story didn’t specify whether the contract was knowing or unknowing, like what the nature of it was, but the headline was incredibly damning, right?

I was very concerned about the vagueness of it, the inability to verify it. And then, sure enough, James Comey came out months later and said, “Well, that story isn’t true.” All right? And so if I’m the reporters, I’m really pissed about that, right? Like, “you burned me on this.”

Right.

Then later, more recently, we had a story that said, “Oh, all of our informants in Moscow have gone dark.” Now, I get that the sources in that story had to be high level.

Sure.

Of course they were, but how do you confirm that story? Think about it as a journalist. If you get a call, it doesn’t matter to me if the source is the head of the CIA.

It’s not like you can go find those intelligence sources and confirm with them.

Right? I mean, can you look at the string of cables that have suddenly ceased? You can’t, right? I even called the paper and asked about that. I said, “What’s the deal with this?”

Taibbi noted a time when The New York Times fell into a similar trap in reporting unverified intelligence claims: FROM THE EDITORS; The Times and Iraq.

While talk of Russia rigging our elections has calmed down going into the midterms, this might also be a temporary break, with politicians on both sides likely to be searching for people to blame for losses after the results are in. However, if there really should be a threat of election rigging, it is notable that, despite all the hysteria since 2016, The New York Times is right on one thing. Very little has been done to change how our elections are held and to deal with the risks in our electronic voting systems. If politicians (along with journalists who called 2016 incorrectly) really took the risk of election hacking seriously, as opposed to a convenient excuse for why Hillary Clinton could not beat Donald Trump, we might expect a strong movement towards paper ballots and more secure voting systems.

The Halloween Horror Story Of Another Clinton Run For President

As if we didn’t have enough terrible events in the past week, yet another scare before this Halloween is the prospect that Hillary Clinton might run for president again. The last Clinton candidacy scare came when she said she would like to be president when asked about running:

“Do you want to run again?” Recode’s Kara Swisher asked during a Friday night Q&A with Clinton.

“No,” Clinton replied quickly, sparking laughter from the audience. But when Swisher pressed her further, she added: “I’d like to be president.”

By itself, this means little. If they answered honestly, pretty much everyone who has ever run for elected office would say they would like to be president, even if they have zero actual plan of running at the time.

This comes shortly after a former aide Philippe Reines raised the question of her running: “It’s curious why Hillary Clinton’s name isn’t in the mix—either conversationally or in formal polling—as a 2020 candidate.” Reines was asked about the likelihood of her running: “It’s somewhere between highly unlikely and zero,” he said, “but it’s not zero.”

Fortunately the chances of someone winning the nomination after losing the general election are very remote. Nobody has successfully done so since Richard Nixon. There are additional circumstances around her loss which must be kept under consideration. Clinton lost to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, being possibly the only politician whose own negatives were high enough to balance out Trump’s. Clinton’s approval ratings remain below those of Donald Trump.

Clinton also won the nomination under unusual circumstances in which the Democratic National Committee did everything possible to rig the nomination in her favor, and yet she still faced a stiff challenge from Bernie Sanders.

If Clinton has any desire to run, there remains the possibility she might convince Democrats to nominate her after losing as a solid majority of Democrats believe the story she fabricated after the election blaming Russia for her loss, despite the evidence failing to support her claims. This helps blind many Democrats to how terrible a candidate she was, and helps her cover up the actual reasons she could not even beat Donald Trump.

Clinton has gone on a series of tours to promote her book, and herself, since losing the election. The Clinton tours have received the expected criticism from the right, along with criticism from the left. Interest in paying to see the Clintons might be higher if the Clintons could convince people that Hillary has a future in politics (at least among those who might see this as something they could support).

One reason Clinton has managed to survive politically has been a lack of awareness by many Democrats of the amount of damage Clinton has done around the world, including causing the development of slave markets along with the casualties in Libya. We might soon receive another reminder–if Americans were only more aware of Hillary Clinton’s role in the coup which destabilized Honduras–creating the conditions under which some have fled to come to the United States.

Hillary Clinton says she would like to be president. I would like to see her brought to justice for all the people around the world who have died and suffered as a result of her policies. Neither of us are likely to get what we would like.

New York Times Reports, “Democrats Embrace Liberal Insurgents, Demanding New Face for Party”

The Democratic Party establishment has desired to nominate more moderate candidates, even in safe Democratic areas where they could not use their questionable arguments that more moderate candidates are more electable. Earlier in the year we saw examples of how the party establishment has attempted to suppress insurgent candidates. The New York Times notes how the Democratic Party establishment is having problems this year:

…Democratic voters and activists have increasingly succeeded at transforming their party into a more ambitious liberal force. In key races, they have also replaced elected leaders with newcomers who look and sound like the diverse, youthful base that the party relies on in presidential elections but that asserts itself sparingly in midterm elections and down-ballot primaries.

Should that mood of insurgency prevail on Election Day, it could set the stage for an even more tumultuous phase of redefinition next year: A liberal base that feels validated after November may be unlikely to heed calls from party leaders to pick their battles in the new Congress, or to approach the 2020 race with sensitivity to more conservative sections of the country. The next presidential primaries could become a climactic test for the awakened Democratic base, with women and candidates of color holding an appeal others might struggle to match.

Martin T. Meehan, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, a state rocked on Tuesday by primary upsets, said Mr. Trump had helped fuse once-fractious Democratic constituencies into a powerful alliance for primary season. Mr. Meehan, now the president of the University of Massachusetts, likened it to earlier moments of political realignment, when ethnic groups like Italian-, Irish- and Greek-American voters learned to work together in the middle of last century…

The most dramatic upsets have come in New York, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old activist and former bartender, defeated Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democratic boss in Queens and Washington, in a June primary; and Massachusetts, where Ayanna Pressley, a 44-year-old member of the Boston City Council, on Tuesday wrested the nomination away from Representative Michael Capuano, a 10-term progressive she branded as passive and conventional. Both women channeled liberal alarm at Mr. Trump and at social inequality in their own communities, and promised an unyielding fight for change…

In some revealing open-seat races, Democratic voters have also flouted the directives of party leaders and embraced inspiring activists. They nominated Jahana Hayes, an African-American educator, for Congress in Connecticut over a candidate approved by the state Democratic Party, and picked Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee, for governor of Florida over a field of better-funded candidates that included the scion of an imposing dynasty.

…Democratic insurgents predict that the party’s shifting attitude toward primary elections is more likely to intensify than recede. As Republican power brokers have found in recent years, once-potent instruments for enforcing partisan hierarchy have diminished in value: Political newcomers have deftly used online fund-raising and social media-based campaign tactics to replace the access to big donors and television airwaves that party leaders can more easily control.

And in Washington, as the number of Democratic upstarts elected to Congress grows, party leaders may face new pressures in navigating primary elections..

In keeping with Massachusetts political convention, Mr. Capuano mobilized a set of muscular institutions behind him, drawing endorsements from labor unions and influential Democrats including Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh; Deval Patrick, the state’s first African-American governor; and black congressional leaders like John Lewis and Maxine Waters.

All that support was not decisive, and Ms. Pressley won by 17 points.

Sam Yoon, a former member of the Boston City Council, said Ms. Pressley’s victory had exposed a momentous cultural transition in the party. Mr. Yoon, 48, mounted a campaign nearly a decade ago against the legendarily iron-fisted former mayor, Thomas M. Menino, attempting unsuccessfully to energize young progressives and minority communities in a movement for change.

“I think the dynamic is just wide-open now,” Mr. Yoon said. “The establishment doesn’t have the hold that it used to.”

While we are undoubtedly seeing a reaction against Donald Trump, the changes in the Democratic Party are likely to be more a reaction to how the party leaders forced a candidate as conservative as Hillary Clinton on the party in 2016–and the excitement created by the campaign run by Bernie Sanders. The winners this year also make a mockery of the bogus “Bernie Bros” smears used by Clinton supporters against the left. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Jahana Hayes, and Andrew Gillum are certainly not the stereotypical white male Bernie Bros which Clinton supporters falsely claimed made up their opposition.

Among those now excited by the successes of the left are Barack Obama, who has returned to public life this week in a speech praising Medicare for all: “Democrats aren’t just running on good, old ideas like a higher minimum wage. They’re running on good, new ideas like Medicare for all,” Obama said. Perhaps Obama should have backed Sanders in 2016 over the Clinton, who campaigned against the plan. At very least, someone who had become president with promises of hope and change should have realized that a candidate as conservative and corrupt as Hillary Clinton was a poor choice in a year when voters demanded change.

Donna Brazile Shows How The Democratic Party Establishment Has No Respect For Democracy

Much has been written accurately demonstrating the authoritarian tendencies of Donald Trump, but a consequence of our two-party system is that far too many people ignore a similar lack of respect for democracy by leaders of the Democratic Party. Donna Brazile showed how the Democratic Party rigged the nomination for Hillary Clinton in a book last fall. In recent statements she inadvertently adds additional evidence of the lack of respect for democracy among the Democratic leadership.

The Democratic Party recently voted to reduce the power of superdelegates by not allowing them to vote on the first ballot as long as the nomination was contested. The real benefit of this is that it it will probably eliminate the tendency of the news media to include superdelegates in their counts early in the nomination process. In 2016 this helped Clinton tremendously, when added to the other mechanisms used by the party to essentially rig the nomination for her, by having counts showing her substantially ahead of Sanders. This played into her strategy of making her nomination appear to be inevitable. Superdelegates will still be able to vote on other matters, such as convention rules, enabling them to play a major role should there be a contested convention even prior to a hypothetical second ballot.

Donna Brazile reminded us that the Democratic Party leadership has many other ways of getting the results they want when she tweeted: “Democrats voted to removed automatic delegates from the first round of voting. But we still have seats at the table. We are still in the room and very much capable of setting the menu.” It is rather shocking that she had no reluctance to admit this, countering the desires of Tom Perez to at least give the illusion that the Democratic Party’s nomination process is fair and honest.

Of course Brazile is correct, with the party using methods as such front-loading southern states, along with superdelegates, to increase the chances that a more moderate, ideally southern, candidate would be chosen. The party greatly increased their actions to hand Clinton the nomination in 2016 with tactics including limiting debates, the deal described in Brazile’s book to essentially give Clinton control of the party, changing fund raising rules during the campaign to help Clinton, making it harder for Sanders supporters to vote in some states, and Harry Reid’s games in Nevada. The party establishment will continue to be able to limit democracy by limiting our choices.

Brazile went further in showing contempt for democracy in an op-ed today in USA Today. I do not believe it is a stretch to assume that this represents the attitudes of others in the party establishment. Brazile complained about the loss of her power, writing as if she and other superdelegates are entitled to decide the nominees and override the decisions of the voters:

According to the new rules, we superdelegates won’t be able to vote on the first ballot at the convention. Or on any ballot, unless there’s a tie or some other sort of deadlock in the process.

So, we superdelegates are now what? Merely the mechanism you default to in case of a tie? Great. I’ve fought for the Democratic Party my entire life, and now I’m one notch above a coin toss.

She argued that the “party faithful” deserve their power to override the decisions of elected delegates for the work they have put into the party, failing to understand that in a democracy power should go to those who receive the votes. She claimed that, “the superdelegates aren’t the infamous ‘smoke-filled room’ full of ‘old white men’ deciding the fate of everybody else.” Having greater racial and gender diversity does not change the fact that having decisions made by the superdelegates are just as undemocratic as the smoke-filled rooms. She argues that “I earned my place at this table,” but in a democracy the table should be made up of those who have been elected to be there.

It would be different if we had a multi-party democracy, or if we were talking about a minor party. I would not mind if those who have built the Libertarian Party limited their nominees to those who have a roughly libertarian philosophy as that would not limit our overall choices. However, in the current duopoly, the system is rigged so that the either the Democratic or Republican Party nominee will win virtually all elections. Supporters of the major parties certainly make that point clear when they insist that this is the case and try to guilt us into voting for their candidates.

They don’t even allow other parties to participate in debates, with participation controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates, controlled by the Democratic and Republican Parties. As a result, the two-party duopoly limits views which are considered. The parties essentially differ on reproductive rights, some differences in taxation rates, and on how much is spent on social programs. The elections rarely offer a choice on matters such as continuing our state of perpetual warfare, mass surveillance, or the drug war and mass incarceration.

The Democratic Party remains stuck in the past, seeing current elections as filtered by the 1972 loss by George McGovern. For Democrats to say that they should not nominate a candidate of the left because McGovern lost badly back in 1972 would be like Republicans saying they should not nominate a conservative because Barry Goldwater lost badly in 1964.

A better parallel for Democrats to think about would be fifty years ago when the party leadership rigged the nomination for Hubert Humphrey, instead of allowing an anti-war candidate supported by the party’s base to be the nominee. This resulted in the Democrats losing to Richard Nixon, comparable to how the Democratic Party lost to Donald Trump after the party leadership rigged the nomination for pro-war candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Our most realistic chance of having a real choice in elections is to have the ability for candidates outside of the system to have a fair shot at the major party nominations. It is not fair for Democrats to both support a system which only allows those they consider to be true Democrats to run, and to simultaneously support a system which intentionally makes it extraordinarily difficult for outsider candidates to win outside of the two-party system.

The reality is that the rules changes by the Democratic Party were far too limited. Superdelegates should be entirely abolished. Our entire electoral system also needs to be overhauled, included rank-choice voting and proportional representation. These are necessary so that people like Donna Brazile can no longer set the entire menu of which people we can vote for and which issues are considered during elections.