SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; The X-Files; Time Travel: Doctor Who, Timeless, and Legends of Tomorrow

With Vaulting Ambition I feel that Star Trek: Discovery has moved on from what was predictable and discussed in previous posts to new surprises. As I, and probably most of the internet, previously guessed, Ash Tyler is Voq, Lorca is from the Mirror universe and caused Discovery to wind up there, and Georgiou is the Emperor. All of this was finally confirmed, additional details provided, and new questions raised.

If you accept the logic of the Mirror Universe, most of the remaining revelations in Vaulting Ambition make total sense. In the Prime Universe Burnham was an orphan, was close to Georgiou, and betrayed her. In the Mirror Universe, the specifics are different, but this basic framework exists. As we learned last week that Sarek was not the one who adopted Burnham, it was not all that much of a surprise to learn that Georgiou was the one who adopted her.

It was already pretty obvious that Lorca had a special need for Burnham considering how he not only arranged for her to be on Discovery, but also acted very protective of her. Their connection was explained. Presumably the Lorca of the Prime Universe and the Mirror Burnham are dead, but having one or the other show up isn’t impossible. The writers sure played with the audience in both surprising us in the dinner scene with the revelations that Burnham was adopted by Georgiou, and subsequently that Burnham had betrayed her with Lorca. They also played with the viewers when Lorca was in the torture booth initially pretending not to know the name of the sister, as would be expected if he was from the Prime Universe. Then he suddenly gave it away.

There were already many clues. While there was already speculation that Lorca was the Mirror version to explain his very un-Starfleet like behavior, including leaving Harry Mudd behind with the Klingons, I became convinced of it in Lethe. The clues included him not remembering details of past actions with Admiral Cornwall and his behavior towards her, including attacking her and sleeping with a phaser. Another clue in this episode was finding that both Georgiou and Lorca eat Kelpiens, after Burhnam picked one out as we pick lobsters. Again this is consistent with Kelpiens being a prey species in the Prime Universe (even if not prey of humans). The clincher for Burnham was finding out about the shared eye problem between Georgiou and Lorca.

The confirmation that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe provides an answer for critics of Discovery who complain that what we have seen is not consistent with Star Trek. Lorca was not acting like a Starfleet Captain because he was from the Mirror Universe. The fact that his actions were found to be suspicious and he was at risk of losing his command shows that the rest of this universe is like the Star Trek universe we are accustomed to.

Burnham, who has frequently made bad decisions from her initial attack on Georgiou in the pilot to going to the planet last week, seems to have made another one in quickly informing Mirror Georgiou both that she is from a different universe and about the spore drive. Georgiou was far better at keeping secrets, including the use of her killer fidget spinner to make sure none of the witnesses to the conversation will talk. Burnham was also easily conned by Mirror Georgiou’s claims of being honorable as the Georgiou she knew was honorable, but the whole point of the Mirror Universe is that we are seeing the evil versions of Federation characters.

Also in the episode, Stamets did get to see Culber again, but it hardly left me optimistic that Culber will actually be seen alive again. The issues in the mycelial network might provide yet another reason why the technology is not being used by the time of the original show.

It was surprising that  L’Rell both revealed so much about her plan with Voq, and gave in to work on him. This still leaves the question open of what she is actually doing, and who will remain when she is done.

There are many remaining questions including the specifics of Lorca’s plan. In a battle between the Mirror versions of Lorca and Georgiou, is one preferable, or are both entirely evil? Will learning about how Lorca got into the Prime Universe provide another way home for Discovery? Regardless of how the battle between Lorca and Georgiou turns out, where does this leave Star Trek: Discovery in the future?

It is hard to see Lorca being Captain in the future, unless the Prime Universe version is locked up in Lorca’s menagerie and will be ready to retake command (after a hiatus between seasons). One of the original ideas discussed for Discovery was for it to be an anthology series. I wonder if it is even a possibility that next season will be an entirely different story with a different ship and crew. That possibility also means that we cannot even be certain that the Discovery will return to the Prime Universe. It might be stuck in the Mirror Universe, wind up in yet another universe, or leave the Mirror universe at a different point in time.

If you only watch one episode of The X-Files this season, watch The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat. The episode was written by Darin Morgan who wrote classic episodes such as Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ and the best episode of last seasonMulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.

The episode appears to be inspired by both The Twilight Zone and Donald Trump. It is about gaps in collective memory, a phenomenon known as the Mandela effect–except in the episode it is also misremembered as the Mengele effect. Examples begin with Mulder finding evidence that his favorite episode of The Twilight Zone, The Lost Martian, doesn’t really exist. When Mulder couldn’t find it anywhere Scully suggested it might have been an episode of The Outer Limits. Mulder was shocked: “Confuse The Twilight Zone with The Outer Limits?! Do you even know me?”

Elsewhere in the episode Mulder set everyone straight as to who he is: “Do you know who I am? I’m Fox Mulder! I was fighting the power and breaking conspiracies before you saw your first chemtrail, you punks! I’m Fox Freaking Mulder, you punks! I’m Fox Mulder! Fox Mulder!”

Much of the episode involved meeting a guy named Reggie in a parking garage, with other faux historical information provided about manipulating collective memory. This included Dr. Thaddeus Q. They, who had worked on making astronauts forget home, but wound up making them think they were chimpanzees. His best scene was siting on top of the Washington Monument (as there were no other seats available) wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. It was mocking Trump’s claims about the inaugural crowd by pretending that the public was manipulated into forgetting how many people actually attended.

This was the perfect episode for the Trump era, called the POCO age in this episode as “We’re living in a post-cover-up, post-conspiracy age.”  This might describe the POCO age:

No one will care whether the truth gets out, because the public no longer knows what’s meant by the truth. No one can tell the difference anymore between what’s real and what’s fake. Take this Mandela Effect. In the old days, I never would have come out and admitted to you that yes, I can change people’s collective memories.

Dr. They gave Trump credit: “Our current president once said something truly profound. He said, ‘Nobody knows for sure.’”

The episode had Mulder attempt to explain discrepancies in memory based upon parallel universes, while Skully explained it by faulty memory. When Mulder’s memory of watching television of a child was shown, there was a child sized Mulder with adult Mulder’s head.

The invasion of Grenada was shown to be a cover-up of an alien visit. We later later learned that, “We’re not alone in the universe, but nobody likes us.” The alien returned to say that a wall, which will be “beautiful, albeit invisible,” will be built around our solar system to keep humans from infecting the rest of the galaxy. The rationalization sounded like one from Donald Trump saying the Earth is  “not sending us your best people. You’re bringing drugs, you’re bringing crime, you’re rapists.” To make up for this restriction, Mulder was given a book entitled All the Answers, which answers all the questions raised by the X-Files. Of course Mulder did not want the book, wanting to continue his search for the truth.

Ultimately the entire series was retconned to include Reggie as a third member of the team, with scenes from classic episodes edited to include Reggie Forrest Gump style. The idea was set up earlier this season in This when Mulder and Scully were flipping through the electronic X-Files and there was a badge for Reggie. Reggie was ultimately taken away in a straight jacket. Skinner then came out asking where they were taking Reggie, adding a question as to how real his story was.

With the recent talk of a secret society in the FBI working to undermine Trump, I do hope that Gillian Anderson reconsiders and returns for another season of The X-Files so that they could do an episode on this. The likelihood that this talk is largely nonsense in no way reduces the possibility that The X-Files could use the idea for an episode.

SyFy.com interviewed Darin Morgan:

With the renewal of The X-Files for a Season 11 and your call back to write another episode, did it start with asking yourself, “What do I want to explore?”

Darin Morgan: Well, you know my last episode [“Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster”] was kind of about coming back to the show, and reflecting back on what did it all mean and how did I feel about that?

 have to say, it was a unique exploration of those themes via comedian Rhys Darby’s out-of-sorts monster.

Yeah, Rhys was great. So this one was more of like, ‘Okay, you’ve reflected, so what’s going on now with the world?” And the whole idea of, if this show’s main thing has been ‘The truth is out there’ and we have a president who…

For him there is no truth.

Right. Or you have Mulder, who’s been a conspiracy nut from the get-go, and now you have essentially his boss [President Trump] is even a bigger conspiracy nut.

Mulder actually looks sane for the first time compared to where the world is right now.

Exactly. So that was the main approach. How would Mulder respond to all that’s going on around him?

David and I talked about that too, in that over the 25-year span of the show, the world has achieved peak surreal. As a writer, how do you distill that into this world?

Good question. I don’t know. This may not directly answer you, but I found the hardest thing was in terms of Trump, every day he does something that you go, “I can’t believe he said that. I want to address that.” But a week later, no one remembers that thing. There were so many things when I first started writing that if I had referenced it I don’t think people would have remembered it now. So I ended up focusing on the wall and his lying. Those two things will always be around as long as he’s president. I sort of focused on those two things.

Having Reggie as the third partner is fantastic. Where did that idea come from, and also Brian’s casting?

Brian was great. He’s a lot of fun. I came across the… I was going to say the Mengele Effect, but it’s The Mandela Effect. (Laughs) From that it was figuring out what I was going to do with that. It’s this idea — and I think this is where the third partner idea came in — was like if someone has never had an experience, like I don’t have a memory other people do, the only way to make them understand what that might feel like is if someone was watching the show, The X-Files, and the someone goes, “There was always another character.” And you go, “Wait, no, no. It was just Mulder and Scully.” And they say, “No, no. There was Mulder and Scully and Reggie something.” That would put them in a position of going, “Oh, how would I react if a memory I have that I cherished of my past, suddenly nobody else believes me?” So that was the way to do it.

Did you come out of the other end of it feeling like the phenomena is something more?

No.

No?

I still think it’s just people misremembering. I have a really bad memory myself. It’s interesting to go, “Oh, try to come up with some theory to explain it.” But it’s just people not remembering. I guess that’s why I probably didn’t do as thorough and in-depth exploration of that phenomenon, because, to me, there wasn’t a lot to run with. Other than that, I get parallel universes, which is one explanation…

Are you doing any episodes in the back part of the season?

No. Once is enough.

After all these years, do you feel like new X-Files stories still come to you easily?

Oh, God no. No. It’s always tough. Writing for the show is so hard because you have to come up with a completely different story and it’s not in an anthology show, which in some ways makes it easier. But it’s also difficult because you have to do Mulder and Scully investigating a story on something completely different. It’s just always difficult. I’ve never had an episode where, “Oh, that one was easy.”

I am glad that the 13th Doctor won her first battle. From Digital Spy:

The BBC gender pay gap was one of the biggest stories of last year, and one person who is not afraid of fighting such inequality is Jodie Whittaker.

The actress told Digital Spy and other media outlets that she made sure that she got paid the same as her Doctor Who predecessor Peter Capaldi.

Speaking backstage at the National Television Awards, Whittaker said: “It’s an incredibly important time and the notion [of equal pay] should be supported.

“It’s a bit of a shock that it’s a surprise to everyone that it should be supported!

“I know I do not speak just on behalf of the women here, I speak on behalf of the men and the women,” she added, stating that people of both sexes believe they should be paid equally.

When asked how she was enjoying working on the iconic sci-fi show, the actress said: “Yeah, it’s great. I love it, I absolutely love it, yeah. It’s amazing! I get to see all the best places!”

Den of Geek looked at the unanswered questions of the Peter Capaldi era.

Radio Times summarized what is known about the first season of the Jodie Whittaker era here.

NBC has announced a return date for Timeless. The second season will  start on Sunday, March 11th at 10 p.m. with an episode entitled, The War to End All Wars. Needless to say, it involves a trip back to World War I. I hope they don’t give away the fact that we call it World War I as the Doctor did on Twice Upon A Time. Spoilers.

On another time travel series, Legends of Tomorrow, Wally West (Kid Flash) is going to become a series regular. Constantine will also appear on the show when it returns February 12. Following is the synopsis of the episode:

After Sara’s (Caity Lotz) encounter with Mallus, the Legends are paid a visit by John Constantine (guest star Matt Ryan), a demonologist detective.

The Legends agree to accompany him to a present-day psychiatric hospital and they are surprised to discover who Constantine is trying to help.

During the exorcism, Sara, Leo (guest star Wentworth Miller) and Constantine go missing, leaving Ray (Brandon Routh) and Zari (Tala Ashe) to try to take care of Constantine’s client.

Meanwhile, Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) and Nate (Nick Zano) once again come face to face with Kuasa. Dominc Purcell also stars.

The CW Network is staggering its superhero shows, having recently started Black LighteningMark Pedowitz, the CW’s president, realizes that there is a limit to how many superhero shows can survive at once, and has placed a limit of four. Good idea, especially considering that other networks also have superhero and comic-based series at present.

Obstruction Replaces Collusion As Key Description Regarding Investigation Of Donald Trump

Although Robert Muller’s investigation to date has concentrated on money laundering and obstruction of justice, some in the media such as Rachel Maddow try to make this sound like it is more about collusion which altered the 2016 election result despite lack of evidence of this. It was good to see that this week most of the news media concentrated on talking about obstruction rather than collusion as there is a far stronger case for obstruction of justice.

One example of the conventional wisdom in the political press comes from Politico Magazine which writes, It’s Now Likely Mueller Thinks Trump Obstructed Justice:

Thursday’s explosive New York Times story that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June renewed the public’s focus on the obstruction of justice investigation against Trump, which will soon culminate in Trump’s interview by Mueller. The case against Trump has grown stronger in recent months, and it now appears likely that Mueller will conclude that Trump obstructed justice…

Impeding or influencing an FBI investigation is a crime only if it is done with “corrupt” intent—in other words, the intent to wrongfully impede the administration of justice. In my experience, proving a defendant’s intent without direct evidence—that is, without statements by the defendant that directly reveal his or her intent—is challenging.

One could argue that Trump provided direct evidence when he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he did so. But Trump quickly followed up that comment by indicating that he thought the investigation was bogus, and his defense to obstruction could be that he genuinely believed the Russia investigation was meritless.

Before bringing a case, prosecutors anticipate defenses like that one and gather evidence to rebut potential defenses. We have since learned of very substantial additional evidence that would rebut that defense, or a defense that Trump didn’t understand the consequences of firing Comey. While that evidence is indirect, Mueller could argue that we can infer Trump’s intent from that evidence, which is how prosecutors typically prove a defendant’s intent.

For example, last spring, Trump reportedly asked Sessions if the government could drop the criminal case against former Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, whom Trump later pardoned. According to the Washington Post, Sessions told Trump that would be inappropriate, and Trump decided to let the case go to trial and pardon Arpaio if he was convicted. Mueller could argue that this suggests that Trump is serious about killing investigations of his friends. A pattern of behavior is always a stronger indicator of intent than a one-off action.

We also learned that, according to the New York Times, in March—two months before Trump fired Comey—he ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing himself. When McGahn was unsuccessful, Trump reportedly erupted in anger, saying he needed Sessions to “protect him” and “safeguard” him, as he believed other attorneys general had done for other presidents. These are very odd statements by Trump that Mueller could argue indicate that Trump wanted Sessions to impede or even end the Russia investigation to “protect him.”

…As we learned Thursday in the New York Times, there was indeed a need to protect Mueller back in June, when Trump ordered the firing of special counsel due to “conflicts of interest” that were not actually conflicts and appear to be thinly veiled excuses to get rid of Mueller. Trump also considered firing Rosenstein and replacing him with Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the No. 3 Justice Department official, so she could oversee Mueller. According to the Times, Trump has wavered for months about whether he wants to fire Mueller, which is an “omnipresent concern among his legal team and close aides.”

This is an important piece of evidence because it comes after Trump fired Comey and learned that he was under investigation for obstruction of justice. It should be easy for Mueller to prove that Trump read or viewed legal analysis discussing the possibility that Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey. Trump’s desire to fire Mueller despite knowing that firing a law enforcement official overseeing the Russia investigation could raise obstruction concerns is strong evidence that Trump’s intent was to obstruct the investigation. The excuses offered by Trump also bolster Mueller’s case, because they indicate that the president realized that firing Mueller to impede the investigation would be perceived as wrongful.

While we don’t know all of the evidence, Thursday’s revelation suggests it is likely Mueller will conclude that Trump obstructed justice. Some conservative legal commentators have argued that Trump’s constitutional authority to fire personnel and end investigations is so vast that he cannot obstruct justice as a legal matter. Most legal scholars find that argument unpersuasive, but it is an academic point—not one that is decisive—because Mueller has pressed forward in investigating the firing of Comey as obstruction of justice and the power of Congress to impeach Trump goes beyond the text of any statute.

Even if Mueller concludes that he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court that Trump was guilty of obstructing justice, I believe he will ultimately present the matter to Congress for potential impeachment instead. After all, according to the New York Times, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr possessed a legal memo concluding that he had the power to indict former President Bill Clinton but did not do so, ultimately choosing to present the matter to Congress. I think Mueller would likely do the same thing, because it’s the more prudential approach given that it’s an open legal question whether a sitting president can be indicted.

Many other publications have similar reports, such as Jeffrey Toobin writing at The New Yorker that The Answer to Whether Trump Obstructed Justice Now Seems Clear.

It has been clear for months that Mueller has been concentrating on money laundering and obstruction of justice based upon his indictments to date and the types of attorneys he has hired. We do know that Donald Trump’s son and son-in-law attended a meeting with Russians after being enticed with promises of information about Hillary Clinton, with no information actually available. This diminishes any claim from Trump that he was above collusion (assuming he was aware of the meeting), but no evidence of any actual meaningful collusion has yet to be presented, while much of the evidence obtained argues against this. Despite MSNBC repeatedly billing the investigation as one into Russian tampering with the election for over a year, Mueller has only hired a single prosecutor who specializes in cyber crimes, and this was not even done until earlier this month.

It would make a major change in the case if it could be proven that the Russians not only hacked the DNC computer but did so with collaboration from the Trump campaign, but there is zero evidence of this to date. Meanwhile, the information obtained through the Congressional hearings has shown that claims about Russian tampering with the election have been highly exaggerated. Similarly multiple media reports of Russian hacking were subsequently retracted as false. We definitely should be talking about obstruction of justice, and money laundering, if interested in a fact-based discussion of Trump’s crimes and the Russia investigation, rather than using Russia as an excuse for Clinton losing the 2016 election.

Sanders Holds Meeting To Consider 2020 Campaign

Politico reports that Bernie Sanders has met with advisers regarding a possible 2020 campaign:

Bernie Sanders convened his top political advisers in Washington on Saturday for a planning meeting that included a discussion of the feasibility and shape of a possible 2020 presidential campaign, half a dozen senior Democrats familiar with the gathering confirmed to POLITICO.

The top-line message the Vermont senator received from the operatives gathered during the government shutdown was a more formal version of the one they’ve been giving him regularly for months: You would be one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination. And if you want to run, it’s time to start seriously planning accordingly…

Sanders regularly speaks with a close group of advisers and periodically brings top allies in to discuss his political maneuvers, but Saturday’s get-together included planning for the rest of 2018 as well as a specifically slated 2020 component, said Democrats familiar with the session, which was scheduled for the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. Part of the discussion included gaming out how the rest of the field might look, since 2016’s landscape — effectively pitting Sanders directly against Hillary Clinton — was far more straightforward than the expected 2020 free-for-all…

The senator, 76, has consistently refused to rule out running when asked over the past year, instead pivoting the conversation to other topics.

“The senator is extremely focused on making sure the Democrats win in 2018 and that is the primary goal right now: to retake the House and retake the Senate so we can stop this horrendous Trump agenda,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager and top political adviser.

As I noted in a post yesterday, Bernie Sanders continues to poll well and, despite a false narrative spread by the Clinton camp, this includes considerable support from women voters and minorities. Sanders has been listed as the front runner by multiple sources including The Fix and Vox. Politico also looked at Sanders’ preparations for a possible 2020 campaign in November.

John Kerry Criticizes Trump On Israel/Palestine And Raises Possibility Of Running For President In 2020

The Jerusalem Post has quoted comments from John Kerry in a conversation with “a close associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hussein Agha, for a long and open conversation about a variety of topics.” (Photo with the article is of Kerry meeting with Abbas while he was Secretary of State in 2016). This included criticism of Donald Trump, and during the conversation Kerry said he was considering running for president again:

During the conversation, according to the report, Kerry asked Agha to convey a message to Abbas and ask him to “hold on and be strong.” Tell him, he told Agha, “that he should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President Trump’s demands.” According to Kerry, Trump will not remain in office for a long time. It was reported that within a year there was a good chance that Trump would not be in the White House.

Kerry offered his help to the Palestinians in an effort to advance the peace process and recommended that Abbas present his own peace plan. “Maybe it is time for the Palestinians to define their peace principles and present a positive plan,” Kerry suggested. He promised to use all his contacts and all his abilities to get support for such a plan. He asked Abbas, through Agha, not to attack the US or the Trump administration, but to concentrate on personal attacks on Trump himself, whom Kerry says is solely and directly responsible for the situation.

According to the report, referring to the president, Kerry used derogatory terms and even worse. Kerry offered to help create an alternative peace initiative and promised to help garner international support, among others, of Europeans, Arab states and the international community. Kerry hinted that many in the American establishment, as well as in American intelligence, are dissatisfied with Trump’s performance and the way he leads America. He surprised his interlocutor by saying he was seriously considering running for president in 2020. When asked about his advanced age, he said he was not much older than Trump and would not have an age problem.

In a report on the conversation, Agha said that Kerry appears to be “crazy about things,” very energetic, and someone who is yearning to help realize the dream of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry explained, according to the report, that even in the Republican Party they do not know what to do with Trump and are very dissatisfied with him and that patience and breathing time are needed to get through this difficult period.

Considering the ages of other possible candidates including Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, Kerry’s age might not be a problem.

Quotes of the Day: Jimmy Kimmel & Stephen Colbert On The Shutdown

Jimmy Kimmel On The Shutdown:

In Washington, Democrats and Republicans reached a deal. Kind of a deal, to reopen the government for, well, at least three weeks. The Democrats agreed to fund the government through February 8 in exchange for a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they would have a debate and a vote on DACA. In other words, for nothing.

Schumer said negotiating with the president was like trying to negotiate with Jell-O, specifically the orange Jell-O.

Trump was completely removed from the negotiations. It’s funny, he always claimed to be the best negotiator. This was his big selling point, “I’m the dealmaker.” At this point it seems pretty clear he couldn’t even negotiate 20% off at Bed Bath & Beyond with the coupon.

Bonus Quote From Stephen Colbert:

To avoid another shutdown, all that needs to happen is Congress has to agree on how to fix our entire immigration system in 17 days. And once they do that, the pigs that fly will solve world hunger.

Trump’s First Year Was Terrible, But Things Could Have Been Worse

It is fitting that Donald Trump, who claimed that “I alone can fix it,” couldn’t make it through his entire first year without breaking the government. Donald Trump has been among the worst presidents ever. However, while the past year under Trump might have been the worst of times, it was not the worst of all possible times. Trump’s first year has been terrible, but we must also be appreciative all those spared from dying in Hillary’s wars over the past year.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have been terrible on many issues, including health care, race, and immigration. As I had previously predicted, Trump has been totally incoherent on foreign policy. He has escalated a potential nuclear crisis in North Korea, but we also must not forget that Hillary Clinton was largely responsible for the situation and peace would have probably have been impossible if she was in the White House. Clinton’s push to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi based upon lies after he surrendered his nuclear weapons, along with her joining with her neocon allies in lying us into the  Iraq war, have been cited by both Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin as reasons for their nuclear buildup and other foreign policy actions.

Donald Trump’s relations with Russia have been mixed, and evidence has grown of both a history of financial crimes and an attempt at a cover-up over the past year. At least Trump’s financial crimes are under investigation, while Democrats regularly make excuses for the influence peddling of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The irony is that, after the risk of deterioration of relations with Russia and a return to a Cold War atmosphere was feared by many should Clinton become president, Clinton has managed to create hysteria over Russia without even being elected. While Trump is probably guilty of money laundering and a obstruction of justice, the evidence to date has contradicted conspiracy theories which appear to have been fabricated Clinton and the DNC to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia. With Clinton continuing to promote belligerence towards Russia even out of office, using conspiracy theories to get Democrats to embrace her neoconservative interventionism, it is of considerable concern as to how much greater harm Clinton could be doing in the White House.

Donald Trump has been terrible for civil liberties as president, including his attacks on the press. It must not be forgotten that even before the election Clinton had far right wing views on civil liberties which were not all that different from Trump’s.  Donald Trump has ignored the norms of a democratic society, but since the election Clinton has also continued her attack on civil liberties and has attacked the fundamental principles of democracy, including the legitimacy of election results. Both Clinton and Trump have cited fake news, which often means information critical of them, as justification to call for censorship.

While many Republicans have little respect for civil liberties, in the past year we have seen Democrats engage in McCarthyism as part of their anti-Russia hysteria.  The Democratic Party as a whole turned out to be worthless when faced with a vote to renew and expand warrantless surveillance as many joined with Republicans. If many Democrats were unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump on a fundamental civil liberties issue, I would expect even fewer to resist calls for increased powers by an authoritarian like Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but at least his faults are widely recognized, and his falsehoods are regularly exposed. Donald Trump might have authoritarian tendencies, but if so he is a very weak authoritarian. He has brought about serious damage to the entire Republican and conservative brands, likely doing far less damage than Hillary Clinton would have been capable of.

Donald Trump On Women Working For Him, Foreign Policy, and Medicare For All

At the moment we are waiting in limbo for a couple of big stories to break. We don’t know yet if there will be a government shutdown. (If there is a shutdown, will drone attacks and NSA surveillance be halted? Unfortunately no.) One way to avert a government shutdown would be to tell Trump that McDonald’s will shut down if the government does.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets tomorrow to vote on the recommendations of the Unity Reform Commission–which are very limited and do not do enough. If the DNC rejects these recommendations the Democratic Party will be demonstrating a contempt for democracy which would make Thomas Jefferson, along with FDR, roll over in their graves. It could also be said that they already demonstrated this in 2016.

While waiting for the answers, I decided to go back and quote interesting passages from Michael Wolff’s recent book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I previously noted some selections from the book here. There were further quotations regarding Wolff’s view that the Russia scandal is about money laundering, and not about collusion to affect the election 2016 election results, here. The question of Trump’s state of mind was reviewed here. Here are some additional items of interest.

It isn’t as crude as grabbing them by the pussy, but this aspect of Trump’s views is  rather demeaning to the women working for him:

While Trump was in most ways a conventional misogynist, in the workplace he was much closer to women than to men. The former he confided in, the latter he held at arm’s length. He liked and needed his office wives, and he trusted them with his most important personal issues. Women, according to Trump, were simply more loyal and trustworthy than men. Men might be more forceful and competent, but they were also more likely to have their own agendas. Women, by their nature, or Trump’s version of their nature, were more likely to focus their purpose on a man. A man like Trump.

Prior to the election I often compared the foreign policy views of Clinton and Trump. I noted that while Trump was not interested in neocon foreign interventionism like Clinton, his views on foreign policy were too incoherent to provide a better alternative. Wolff’s description of Trump’s foreign policy views goes along with my characterization of them as incoherent:

If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do. He was against nation building, but he believed there were few situations that he couldn’t personally make better. He had little to no experience in foreign policy, but he had no respect for the experts, either.

While Hillary Clinton campaigned against Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, there was a surprising supporter of the plan in Washington–Donald Trump:

All things considered, he probably preferred the notion of more people having health insurance than fewer people having it. He was even, when push came to shove, rather more for Obamacare than for repealing Obamacare. As well, he had made a set of rash Obama-like promises, going so far as to say that under a forthcoming Trumpcare plan (he had to be strongly discouraged from using this kind of rebranding — political wise men told him that this was one instance where he might not want to claim ownership with his name), no one would lose their health insurance, and that preexisting conditions would continue to be covered. In fact, he probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everybody?” he had impatiently wondered aloud during one discussion with aides, all of whom were careful not to react to this heresy.

Of course this has no practical value, with Trump having no understanding of the details of health care legislation and no interest in really doing the work to promote a plan, allowing Congressional Republicans to push their agenda.

Donald Trump Attacks Free Press With Fake News Awards

Donald Trump has issued his fake news awards. Besides being seen as an attack on the First Amendment, it is rather absurd for Trump to be criticizing anyone for fake news (even in the cases where the media did get it wrong) considering the vast amount of misinformation put out in his speeches and tweets. This is, after all, the administration, which from the start was plagued by alternative facts.

Trump’s first choice was a rather strange one: “The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.” Yes, Trump is right in saying that the Dow has hit a record high, but the credit for much of the economic growth in the past year is due to inheriting a healthy economy. Regardless, even if Paul Krugman was wrong in a prediction in an opinion piece, this is not the same as the media getting the facts wrong in news reporting. Krugman even retracted his own prediction three days later, saying that the problems he predicted would not be immediate.

To be fair to Trump, he is correct about some of the other items he listed. As I (and others) have pointed out, the media has made huge mistakes in its coverage of Russia, and has retracted multiple false reports. Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting has criticized the Russia hysteria at MSNBC more than once (although CNN received the brunt of Trump’s attacks).  I suspect that many journalists who predicted that Clinton would win easily fell for the Russian conspiracy theories spread by Clinton and the DNC, blaming Russia for the loss to rationalize their own erroneous predictions.

There were also errors by the media on other matters, including some which were quickly retracted. How many of Trump’s errors have been retracted? Vox went through the awards and pointed out where the media made mistakes in the Russia coverage and elsewhere.

The more serious problem is the attack on the press and First Amendment rights. As I noted in December, the number of journalists in prison around the world is at a historical high. The Committee To Protect Journalists has attributed the increase to Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.

Two Republican Senators criticized Trump for his attacks on the press. Jeff Flake gave a Senate floor speech comparing Trump to Stalin with his attacks on the press as being enemies of the people:

It was a year in which a daily assault on the constitutionally protected free speech was launched by the same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. The enemy of the people was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader. This alone should be the source of great shame for us in this body.

Especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements and of course the president has it precisely backward. Despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.

When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press. I dare say that anyone who has had the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas all around the globe encounter members of US-based media who risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

John McCain had an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled Mr. President, stop attacking the press:

…While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression…

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Collaborators, Not Resistance: Eighteen Senate Democrats Vote To Support Restrictions On Civil Liberties

After the House, with the support of fifty-five Democrats including Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, blocked attempts to reform the FISA Act, Rand Paul and Ron Wyden attempted to filibuster FISA renewal in the Senate. They wrote this letter describing the civil liberties violations in the bill to renew and expand the FISA act for six years. The vote was close, with sixty votes required for the cloture vote. Cloture passed on a vote of 60 to 38, with  Democrat Claire McCaskill casting the deciding vote. Once again several Democrats voted to betray the Constitution and vote against civil liberties.

Eighteen Democratic Senators, along with independent Angus King of Maine, vote for cloture. The Democrats voting for cloture were: Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

The following Republican Senators voted to support the filibuster, which would have provided an opportunity to debate and offer amendments to reform the law: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, Dean Heller, Jerry Moran, and Lisa Murkowski. Yes, Ted Cruz was on the right side of this while eighteen Democrats were not.

The American Civil Liberties Union Tweeted this response: “Members of both parties who voted in favor of this legislation should be sharply rebuked for supporting a bill that is in flagrant violation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

The final bill is expected to pass the Senate this week.

Reason described how the bill expands violations of civil liberties in the FISA Act:

This bill doesn’t just renew Section 702 for six years; it also codifies permission for the FBI to access and use data secretly collected from Americans for a host of domestic federal crimes that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats. It has added some unusually worded warrant requirements that will protect some people—but only when they’re actually suspected and are being investigated for criminal activities.

Furthermore the bill will give the NSA permission to attempt to restart what are known as “about” searches, access to communications that merely reference a foreign target, not just communications to and from that target. The NSA voluntarily ended these types of searches once it became clear they were gaining access communications that they had no authority to be viewing. This bill will allow them to attempt to restart it unless Congress acts separately to stop it.

Once again many Democrats have acted as collaborators rather than as the resistance. Democrats who claim that Trump is a tyrant in cahoots with Putin have not been able to unite to oppose giving him increased powers to spy on Americans. Although they are a minority in both Houses of Congress, the presence of some Republicans supporting privacy rights, along with the requirement for sixty votes in the Senate, provided Democrats with the power to force changes.  A swing of one vote in the Senate or twenty-six Democrats in the House could have forced reforms to the law which allows warrantless surveillance of Americans as well as foreigners.

Does Donald Trump Have Dementia Or Psychiatric Problems?

I have been wondering for quite a while whether Donald Trump’s primary problem is dementia or psychiatric. He has shown some signs of possible dementia, but they were hardly definitive. Psychiatrists have also been questioning Trump’s mental health. We probably now have an answer to the question of whether Trump’s problem is dementia versus psychiatric. Reportedly Donald Trump scored a 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. The test is a pretty reliable indicator of dementia and with a score of 30 and, assuming the report of Trump’s score is factual, it is now doubtful that he has dementia.

With dementia ruled out, Trump should have thorough psychiatric testing, but it is unlikely that he will ever consent to this. The only way to force him to would by trying to remove him from office under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, and this is unlikely to happen unless there is a very clear deterioration .