SciFi Weekend: Leonard Nimoy, Who Lived Long And Prospered 1931-2015; Parks and Recreation Finale; Sleepy Hollow; Agent Carter; How To Get Away With Murder; Broadchurch; Arrow; 12 Monkeys

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News of the death of Leonard Nimoy dominated the news and blogosphere since Friday. I had previous posts on Friday and Saturday, including  tweets from those who worked with him, those at NASA who were inspired by him, and even from President Obama. Obama also issued this longer statement:

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person. It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.” And after 83 years on this planet – and on his visits to many others – it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that. Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today.

As Vulture pointed out, it is fitting that Obama had such a personal statement considering how often there have been comparisons of Obama to Spock.

Parks and Recreation Finale

The week also featured the series finale of Parks and Recreation along with several season finales. The series started with a weak first season. Probably as a combination of this, initially just seeing it as a spin-off of The Office, and not being excited by the premise of a small town in Indiana, it did make it on my DVR every week, but for a while it was often put off until I finished the other Thursday sit-coms. Then at some point I realized that the show which had me laughing the most was usually Parks and Recreation.

Part of the success of Parks and Recreation was the manner in which over the years many cast members were developed, allowing the show to go in many different directions. The heart of the show was the dichotomy between Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), but there was so much more going on. Both Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza were excellent supporting characters, and their roles become even more terrific with their romance and eventual marriage. Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe followed a similar trajectory. Adam Scott started as a semi-straight man to Rob Lowe, and then fulfilled a similar role, in a way replacing her best friend Ann Perkins, with Amy Poehler after Lowe and Jones left the show. Cast members including Aziz Ansari, Retta, Jim O’Heir, and others further fleshed out the people Pawnee far more than is seen in a typical sit-com. I think the show which came closest in this regard was not a half hour sit-com but was Northern Exposure.

With this diverse cast there was a wide variety of types of humor, not the repeated jokes which are rapidly recycled for laughs on many other sit-coms. Being a blog about politics and often genre, I would point out that both were included on Parks and Recreation. There was Leslie Knope, who was always optimistic about what government could do, even when facing obstacles, contrasted with the libertarian Ron Swanson, who was in government to try to make sure it didn’t do too much. Genre sometimes did sneak in, such as when Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) once said told Leslie,I went back to season one of Fringe to check for plot holes. As suspected, it’s airtight.

The finale, like the finale of Parenthood, followed the Six Feet Under precedent of showing how the characters wind up. They did an excellent job. Instead of putting this at the end, the fate of each major, and some minor characters, were interspersed into a story in which the former employees of the Parks Department got back together for one last task. Although they thought it would be their last time together, their futures did include getting back together at key moments in their lives.

The Hollywood Reporter interviewed showrunner Mike Schur. He left it to our imaginations as to whether in one future scene we are seeing President Leslie Knope with Secret Service protection.

Sleepy Hollow Season 2 Finale

It is not known yet whether Monday’s episode of Sleepy Hollow will be a season or series finale, but after a weak season the show had an excellent episode which would work well as either. Abby’s trip into the past paralleled the series premiere, but this time Abby was in Ichabod’s role. Rather than having cliff hangers like last season, the episode tied up past plot threads, leaving only a vague mention of future battles should there be a future season. The episode ended with the core characters back together, and despite a weak second season I would be quite willing to give them another chance if the writers have figured out what to do with them for a third season.

Agent Carter Finale

Agent Carter concluded a self-contained story, and due to relatively poor ratings it is questionable if it will return. The season ended with Howard Stark exonerated, his inventions rescued, and the prevention of a disaster. Peggy had a moment of closure regarding the loss of Captain America. If the series returns, Dotty did survive to be a formidable ongoing enemy with her Black Widow training. Being Marvel, of course there was also a final scene, tying this into the rest of the Marvel universe. E! News spoke with the show runners:

E! News: Walk me through the decision to bring Dr. Zola onto the show, because as a fan of the Captain America movies, that was such a fun treat to find out what happened to him in between the first and second movie!
Tara Butters: We really wanted to connect Agent Carter to the greater MCU, and when we pitched the series to Marvel, they had brought up using Fenhoff as a way to connect to the Winter Soldier program. We had this idea of how great it would be to bring Toby Jones on for a scene—
Michele Fazekas: But we never thought that would actually happen. We thought we’d have to figure out a different way to make that happen. But then he was available and he was interested! That was really nice since a lot of different things could have gone wrong but it worked out.

The similarities between Peggy talking to Howard as he flies to his certain death and Peggy talking to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he flew to his death were so striking. Did you shape the finale to mirror that final scene in Captain America: The First Avenger, or did that happen organically?
TB: When we broke out the season, we knew that that’s where we wanted to end, a version of that scene, a version of her talking down Howard. There’s been different iterations of it, though. At one point, it was Jarvis [James D’Arcy] talking him down and then Peggy, and then we flew Jarvis in the plane. But it was really lovely how ABC and Marvel gave us a lot of time to break out the eight episodes, so it felt like we really knew where we were going and it was really nice to see all of it pay off in the final episode.

How To Get Away With Murder Finale

How To Get Away With Murder ended its first season by tying up one murder and ending with another. It did seem anticlimactic to go an entire season to only find that the most likely suspect was guilty, even if he called on someone else to do the actual killing. For a while the format of having a season-long mystery on shows such as Veronica Mars, along with a mystery of the week, seemed like something new and refreshing. Now it has been done so many times that the US shows doing this seem much weaker than shows which don’t try to stretch things out for a whole season, or longer, and deal with a single storyline over a shorter season.

Executive producer Pete Nowalk discussed the season finale with E!

Broadchurch funeral

Several British shows have been successful with the more compact formula of a single story instead of interspersing a crime of the week, with season one of Broadchurch being among the best. The second season just concluded in the U.K. and a third season is planned. While not anywhere as good as the first season, the second season did turn out to be worth watching.

The second season of Broadchurch starts on BBC America on March 4 and there are major spoilers in the rest of this section for those planning to watch. The second season dealt with two story lines. The major story line is that Joe Miller recanted his confession to the killing of Daniel Latimer and the case wentto trial. This is the show which could have been named How To Get Away With Murder, as the person the viewer knows to be guilty was found not guilty in court in the season finale. The show has always concentrated on how the people of Broadchurch reacted to the murder, and for a moment it looked like they were going to respond to the faulty verdict with a lynch mob. Fortunately they did not go that far.

The show has a more powerful lesson about the limitations of the justice system with the erroneous acquittal of Joe Miller. It had me thinking that, if it also extended the story this long, how Gracepoint could have been a more significant show than it was by nearly copying everything from Broadchurch. The high profile cases in which the legal system has failed in handling whites who have killed blacks in this country could have provided a more topical influence, while still retaining aspects of Broadchurch.

The B storyline from Broadchurch involving the killings of two girls years ago was by far the weaker, and was tied up very quickly following the more interesting aspects involving Joe Miller. The season might have been better if it was shorter and this was left out.

Arrow Oliver and Ra’s al Ghul

Arrow was not a finale but, going on hiatus for a month, there was yet another cliff hanger on Nanda Parbat. How does Oliver respond to Ra’s al Ghul’s offer and also save both Diggle and Malcolm Merlyn? Marc Guggenheim answered some fan questions, including questions about Felicity sleeping with Ray Palmer, but no clues as to how the cliff hanger will be  resolved.

There are also reports of yet another planned spin-off. It will star Brandon Routh (Ray Palmer/The Atom), Victor Garber (Martin Stein, one-half of Firestorm on “The Flash”), Wentworth Miller (Captain Cold) and Caity Lotz (The first Black Canary). This raises at least two question. If Victor Garber is present, what about Robbie Amell, who plays the other half of Firestorm? As the Black Canary was killed, does this mean that the Canary will return to life, or that she will play a different character?

The other planned show in the same universe, Supergirl, has added a former Superman and Supergirl to the cast,  Dean Cain, who played Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Helen Slater, who stared in the 1984 Supergirl movie. Calista Flockhart has also been added to the cast.

12 Monkeys 2

12 Monkeys had another strong episode in which time travel, along with the relationship between Cole and Cassie, played a big part. There was also a sort of role reversal here like on Sleepy Hollow. With his time jumping, there was a period in which Cassie was ahead of Cole, and realized he could be going to his death but could not warn him. There is no doubt that Cole will return, as was verified by executive producer Natalie Chaidez, but with time travel it is possible that he will not return in the same timeline to the point after this episode concluded for Cassie. He is certainly going to make it back to 1987 at some point. The episode also included an evil version of Edward Snowden, but the CIA was far more evil in unleashing a virus to try to kill him without taking the blame.

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Inhabitants Of A Class M Planet Say Goodbye To Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy Twitter

Above is the final tweet posted by Leonard Nimoy, who died yesterday. His twitter feed remains open, retweeting messages of condolence.

Among those with tweets in memory of Nimoy were Barack Obama, President of the United States and William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise:

George Takai posted this on Facebook:

Today, the world lost a great man, and I lost a great friend. We return you now to the stars, Leonard. You taught us to “Live Long And Prosper,” and you indeed did, friend. I shall miss you in so many, many ways.

From NASA:

Yesterday night I pulled out the Blu Ray remastered discs of Star Trek: The Original Series. The picture quality is amazing, and for a short time Spock lived. There will be additional material on television this weekend in honor of Leonard Nimoy. Syfy will devote five hours of programing to the memory of Leonard Nimoy with his appearance on The Twilight Zone, the two part story which he appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and his last movie role with the original Star Trek cast. (He also had an appearance in the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.) The following will be on Sunday morning:

9:00AM The Twilight Zone/”A Quality of Mercy” 9:30AM Star Trek: The Next Generation/”Unification: Part I” 10:30AM Star Trek: The Next Generation/”Unification: Part 2” 11:30AM Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country

Epix is running two interviews with Leonard Nimoy:

The premium netowrk will run A Conversation with Leonard Nimoy on Friday, Feb. 27 at 11 p.m. (ET), followed on Saturday at 5:40 p.m. and 10 p.m., as well as Sunday, March 1 at 8 p.m.

Nimoy looks back at his 50-year involvement with one of the sci-fi genre’s more famous franchises with Star Trek Into Darkness on Saturday at 10:15 p.m. and the following day at 8:15 p.m.

The following video is of Leonard Nimoy at Comic Con 2011:

Update: More in SciFi Weekend, our weekly review of science fiction and genre. A longer statement from President Obama on Leonard Nimoy and the comparisons between Obama and Spock.

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Landmark FCC Decision Is A Victory For Freedom Of Expression And Free Enterprise

In what PoltiFact calls ” a significant accomplishment for Obama” and a “Promise Kept,” the FCC has voted for major changes to help guarantee a free and open Internet. Net neutrality is important for freedom of expression, including helping small blogs such as this to continue, important for small business, and important to maintain the lifestyle we are becoming accustomed to, such as streaming video as an alternative to often exorbitant cable rates.

Net neutrality is a tremendous victory for freedom of expression and free enterprise. Not surprisingly, conservatives have been spreading the untrue talking points of the large telecommunications companies which fear seeing their power diminished. Whenever the goals of the powerful conflict with the best interests of the nation, we know which side conservatives will invariably side with.

There are all sorts of false claims being spread by conservatives about net neutrality, such as that it will lead to $15 billion in new taxes and will lead to either Barack Obama or the United Nations (depending upon the source) controlling the Internet. In other words, this sounds like lots of right wing conspiracy theories we have already heard.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler disputed conservative claims that the new regulations are intended to regulate communication on the Internet:

This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept: openness, expression and an absence of gatekeepers telling them what they can do, where they can go and what they can think.

The Fact Checker at The Washington Post called the claims of higher taxes false. Ron Wyden, who wrote the Internet Tax Freedom Act, debunked conservative claims that the FCC’s action would invalidate the law and result in higher taxes. This ban on taxes in will expire in October, but there is nothing stopping Congress from renewing it.

AP’s fact checking included the following:

THE CLAIM: “President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet.” — Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

THE FACTS: It’s a shift for sure, but the FCC hasn’t proposed regulating Internet content or controlling access to websites. The question is how to regulate Internet service so providers don’t block or slow web traffic for financial gain.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the only way to do that is to subject retail Internet service to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. That would expand FCC power significantly by allowing regulators to step in if there were allegations of harm to consumers. But it’s a reach to suggest that these new powers equate to a government takeover.

Also worth noting is that the FCC is independent from the administration. While Obama has put pressure on the FCC to enact tougher regulations, and he appointed Wheeler to head the agency, this is not the president’s call.

After debunking additional claims, the article explained why this change is now needed, and not necessarily a break from previous administrations:

THE CLAIM: The FCC plan “represents a stunning reversal of the policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations.” It will backtrack on “decades of bipartisan agreement to limit Internet regulation.” — Former FCC commissioner Robert McDowell in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal.

THE FACTS: The question of Internet “fast lanes” is far more pressing for Obama than it ever was for Clinton or Bush. In 2000, only 3 percent of American households had broadband access, compared with 70 percent by 2013, according to the Pew Research Center.

It wasn’t until President George W. Bush’s second term, in 2005, that YouTube became available and video services like Netflix became more popular. By the time the FCC voted in 2008 against Comcast for throttling Web traffic, Bush was nearing the end of his presidency.

For those who might find this all boring, here is a more entertaining explanation of net neutrality from John Oliver:

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Seth Meyers Responds To Giuliani and Walker Regarding Obama’s Love For America

It is never good for a politician to become a frequent punchline of the late night comedians. Seth Meyers had the above response to Rudy Giuliani’s false claim that Obama does not love America, along with Scott Walker’s difficulty in responding to a question as to whether he agreed. (Media and graphic below via Mediaite).

Walker is complaining of being hit with gotcha questions but  he has made two major errors which a serious candidate for the presidency should not have made. At this stage in what used to be called the invisible primary, but now is very open, questions serve the purpose of dividing out the serious and not serious candidates. On the one hand a candidate does have to be able to handle difficult questions, including questions which might not be fair. On the other hand, in an era of 24/7 news and Twitter, it is hard for anyone to go for a couple of years without giving a poor response and seeing it spread instantly.

Walker’s problem is that he has recently given two bad answers which shouldn’t have been that difficult. He will face far more difficulty, and potentially unfair, questions if he runs for president. The worst response from Walker, to me, was on evolution. On the other hand, questioning evolution is a common view among Republican primary votes so it might not hurt him. The Democrats are not effective enough politically to capitalize on that in a general election.

The question of whether Obama loves America was also not difficult. Other Republicans have given answers along the lines that Obama loves America but his policies are bad for America. Obviously I disagree, but I see that as a good answer politically for a Republican. Most of the base will not object as they are still critical of Obama, and sane people will not see them as kooks for saying this.

It is still early and I doubt that this will be enough to derail Walker’s campaign. Plenty of other candidates will have bad moments before the first primary. This will only hurt if it is a trend which continues, in which case many Republicans will question whether he is ready for a national presidential campaign. If he continues to make such unforced errors, this will start to become how Walker is known by the general public and the campaign sign made by Seth Meyers will then stick:

Scott Walker I Dunno

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Two Democratic Congressmen Propose Bills To Legalize Marijuana At Federal Level

It is probably only a matter of time until marijuana prohibition ends. Like gay marriage, we will reach a tipping point where conservative opposition loses its impact. Also, like marriage equality, the majority of Democratic politicians will probably lag behind the country in openly adopting more liberal views, but two House Democrats have introduced bills to end marijuana prohibition. Sam Stein reports:

Two congressmen filed separate House bills on Friday that together would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana at the federal level, effectively ending the U.S. government’s decades long prohibition of the plant.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s schedules, transfer oversight of the substance from the Drug Enforcement Administration over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and regulate marijuana in a way similar to how alcohol is currently regulated in the U.S.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, which would set up a federal excise tax for regulated marijuana.

The bills would not force states to legalize marijuana, but a federal regulatory framework would be in place for those states that do decide to legalize it. To date, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana (however, D.C.’s model continues to ban sales), 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and 11 other states have legalized the limited use of low-THC forms of marijuana for medical use.

During the Bush administration, the federal government would often raid medical marijuana facilities which were legal in the states the states where they were legal, and the Obama administration was slow to turn this around. With Obama going to be out of office in a couple of years, it is becoming more important to change federal law. Hillary Clinton has been to the right of most Democrats on this (as well as most other issues) and we cannot trust either Clinton or her likely Republican opponent to continue the liberalization finally seen under Obama. While unlikely to be accomplished in the current Congress, it would be preferable to take this issue out of the hands of either Clinton or a future Republican president.

Last year The New York Times argued for legalization of marijuana. Jeffrey Miron discussed the case for marijuana legalization in op-ed at CNN:

Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana’s legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized…

Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.

As long as marijuana is illegal at the federal level we will continue to have many of the adverse consequences of prohibition, including inhibiting the use of medical marijuana. This includes states where medical marijuana is legal under state law. Besides the previous problems of DEA raids, having medical marijuana illegal under federal law makes many physicians unwilling to treat patients who are legally using medical marijuana under state law.

I have seen many individuals who are taking medical marijuana legally under state law discharged from pain clinics which outright refuse to treat anyone using medical marijuana. This is both due to fears of violating federal law and due to personal biases.  I received a consult letter just last month from a pain specialist who opposed giving pain medications to a patient who was using medical marijuana, making arguments which are contradictory to the medical literature which demonstrates that using marijuana as part of a pain management regimen results in decreased opioid use and a decreased risk of overdoses.

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A Day In Conservative Stupidity: Three Examples

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The conservative movement has become totally divorced from reality, often denying science and facts to make their positions. Here’s just three examples from the past day.

Conservatives Hate Historical Facts

Conservatives hate actual American history as the facts contradict so many of their claims. As Joseph Ellis has explained, the Founding Fathers established a secular state with overlapping sources of authority and a blurring of jurisdiction between federal and state power. Conservative claims of states’ rights and claims that the United States was founded as a Christian nation do not hold up. Oklahoma has a unique answer to teaching all those inconvenient facts in Advanced Placement History classes. Republicans there want to eliminate the AP classes and replace them classes which include the Ten Commandments and three speeches by Ronald Reagan.

Some Conservatives Still Think Obama Is A Muslim

The American Thinker is still making the conservative claim that Obama is a Muslim. Their evidence is a picture of Obama with a raised finger:

Is President Obama a Muslim?  A lot has been written about this, but if photographs speak louder than words, then a photo taken at last August’s U.S.-African Leaders’ Summit in Washington D.C. might shed considerable light.

It shows Barack Hussein Obama flashing the one-finger affirmation of Islamic faith to dozens of African delegates.

Steve M. gathered pictures of several other people who are also Muslims by this logic. The pictures include: Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Andrew Breitbart, and Pam Geller. Who knew that the conservative movement was infiltrated by Muslims to this degree.

Conservatives Still Lack Any Actual Facts To Support Their Arguments Against Obamacare

Bill Maher called them Zombie Lies. Conservatives lack any real facts to dispute what a tremendous success Obamacare has become so they tell the same lies over and over, even when repeatedly proven to be lies. They are lies which just don’t die, because conservatives don’t care about facts. Jonathan Chait reviewed the latest claims from Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation. See the full article to see how Chait shows that Moore’s claims are demonstrably wrong and that, “There is not a single substantive claim in this column that appears to be true.”

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Our Muslim Socialist President Cannot Be A Christian If He Speaks The Truth About Christian History

Obama National Prayer Breakfast

With the possible exception of Brian Williams telling tall tales about his adventures in Iraq, the most controversial statement this week appears to be Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. Obama said:

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities – the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.

The right wing blogosphere is very upset–so upset that Erick Erickson writes that, “Barack Obama is not, in any meaningful way, a Christian…” Considering that many on the far right have thought for a long time that Obama is a Muslim socialist from Kenya, this is hardly anything surprising from them.

Despite this outrage, it is hard to see anything all that shocking in what Obama said. Steve Benen writes, ” that the president’s critics aren’t really outraged, but instead are playing a cynical little game in the name of partisan theater. It must be the latest in an endless series of manufactured outrages, because the alternative – that the right is genuinely disgusted – is literally hard to believe.” As he points out, “No faith tradition has a monopoly on virtue or peace; none of the world’s major religions can look back in history and not find chapters they now regret.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t at all subtle in his contempt for the right wing response with a post entitled The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech. Ignorant, but what should we expect from extremists who include people with views such as that the United States was created as a Christian nation, rigging the system to transfer wealth from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy will help the economy, global warming is a hoax, and that intelligent design is a valid alternative to evolution?

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes that Obama Was Right to Compare Christianity’s Violent Past to the Islamic State:

By limiting his criticism of Christian violence to the Crusades and Inquisition, Obama kept his critique of Christian horrors to centuries past. But one need not look back so far to find more recent Christians behaving terribly in the name of Christ. The atrocities of the Bosnian War, including the systematic rape of women and girls, was perpetrated largely by Christians against Muslims; meanwhile, many of the Christian churches of Rwanda were intimately involved in the politicking that produced the genocide of 1994, with some clergy even reported to have participated in the violence.

The degree to which, in retrospect, we are willing to condemn violent perversions of faith often has to do with their proximity to us. Most will now admit, however grudgingly, that the Crusades and Inquisition were efforts to carry out some construal of God’s will, however mistaken and otherwise motivated. With more recent conflicts, such as Bosnia and Rwanda, we are more apt to see Christianity as a single thread in a web of ethnic and political tensions that was ultimately only one cause among the many that ultimately culminated in brutality. And this analysis is probably right.

But it is also probably true of the terrorism perpetrated by ISIS, which has been roundly denounced as contrary to the principles of Islam by a host of Muslim leaders and clerics, most recently after the murder of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. Like war crimes and individual acts of brutality committed within the Christian world, the pattern of tensions that has produced ISIS, in all its unthinkable cruelty, seems to be broader and deeper than its self-proclaimed religious convictions. For those not searching for a source of personal offense, this is the only point Obama’s remarks on the religious violence enacted by Christians really conveys.

And it is, at last, a hopeful point: If we in the Christian world are capable of owning the monstrosities of our past, identifying their sources as multivalent and contrary to our faith, and holding one another accountable for the behavior we exhibit moving forward, then so are the members of the faiths we live alongside in the world. But accountability requires honesty, and pretending that Christians have never attributed violence to the cause of Christ is a disservice to modern peacemaking and to the victims of the past. Obama was right to take a clear-eyed view of the years that have come before, and to look hopefully to what we can do together as a multi-faith nation in the years to come.

Ed Kilgore first responded to the right wing attacks here, and then had a follow-up post responding specifically to Erick Erickson:

I also hate to break it to ol’ Erick, but there’s pretty ample scriptural support for the idea that Jesus Christ was a bit of a “moral relativist” himself—you know, the beam and the mote , “Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged,” “the Sabbath is for man,” the woman by the well, the good Samaritan, the Two Great Commandments, etc. etc. I don’t think Erickson’s disposition has been improved by his recent matriculation at a conservative Calvinist seminary. But then again, I’m not denying the authenticity of his faith, he’s denying the authenticity of mine—and Barack Obama’s.

This likely does fall under the category of attacking anything that Barack Obama says. I’m still waiting for the conservative response should Obama every tell them not to eat yellow snow. In reality, conservatives have far more to worry about than Barack Obama making some quite obvious comments in an era when even the Pope is now taking the opposite position on several issues.

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Will The State Of The Union Address Matter After This Week?

Obama SOTU

I certainly liked Obama’s State of the Union Address while listening to it. In a room dominated by Republicans, Obama was once again the adult in the room–the sensible one interested in governing and not bogged down in extremist ideology. His economic numbers provided real evidence of success, despite Republican obstructionism, and Obama was right in addressing the need to extend the benefits of economic recovery to more in the middle class.

The question is whether the speech, and Obama’s aggressiveness on policy matters, will make a difference matters beyond this week. David Corn summed up some of my concerns:

Barack Obama is very good at getting elected president (two for two!) and pretty darn good at policy (Obamacare; the stimulus; the auto industry rescue; Wall Street reform; ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Cuba; immigration reform executive action; dumping DOMA; middle-class tax cuts; new EPA limits on emissions that cause climate change; banning torture; downsizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and killing Osama bin Laden). But there’s one key piece of the job description where he’s fallen short: shaping the ongoing political narrative of the nation.

The president is the country’s storyteller in chief. And despite his inspiring powers of oratory (see Campaign 2008) and his savvy understanding of the importance of values in political salesmanship (see Campaign 2012), Obama, as his aides concede, has not effectively sold the nation on his own accomplishments, and, simultaneously, he has failed to establish an overarching public plot line that explains the gridlock in Washington as the result of GOP obstructionists blocking him on important issues where public opinion is in his favor. With his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Obama had one last chance to take a swing at forging this narrative. Though he did adopt a muscular stance in presenting a forceful and vigorous vision—going on offense in the fourth quarter of his presidency, as his advisers have put it—the president let the Republicans off easy.

Throughout his presidency, as the GOP has consistently sought to block him, Obama has responded inconsistently. He often has pleaded for reason and looked to craft a deal—frequently (and justifiably) to prevent a hit to the economy. (This was the adult-in-the-room strategy.) At times, he has praised House Speaker John Boehner, while pointing to Boehner’s tea party wing as the cause of the partisan paralysis. And then he has occasionally—but not too often—flashed anger and slammed Republicans for being irresponsible and reckless (the debt ceiling scuffle, the assorted government shutdown showdowns). He has not presented a steady and stark tale in which he stars as the fighter for the middle- and lower-income Americans who are stymied repeatedly by always-say-no Republicans aligned with plutocrats, the gun lobby, corporate polluters, and other foes of progress. Consequently, he has often borne blame for the sluggish economy and the mess in Washington, with the Democratic Party paying the price for the dips in his approval rating.

For this to have meaning, Obama must stick to pushing his views, and the Democratic Party must be there behind him. The reaction of the Democratic Party has been even more inconsistent than Obama’s. Here’s what I thought during the speech:

Of course the general election is an entirely different ballgame than the midterms, and Democrats who thought there was benefit in running as Republican-lite in a midterm election where the big contests were in the red states might act more boldly. Or maybe not.

On the other hand, maybe we should just be happy that Obama had a good speech, the positive results from his policies are real, and that the speech was well accepted. Beyond that, I’m not sure that a State of the Union address ever really matters all that much.

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Obama Approval Now Rises To Reagan-Levels As Economy Improves

president-obama-in-the-white-house

An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama’s approval reaching 50% on the eve of his State of the Union Address:

Obama’s overall approval rating now stands at 50 percent, the highest in a Post-ABC poll since the spring of 2013. His standing is nine points higher than in December and seven points higher than in October, just before Republicans captured control of the Senate, increased their House majority to its highest level in eight decades and recorded advances in the states.

The Post-ABC survey puts the president’s approval rating slightly higher than some other recent public polls. But most have shown improvement since the November elections as the president has moved aggressively and unilaterally on issues such as immigration and climate change.

A breakdown of the poll also shows greater support for Obama than for Republicans on the issues, which could be significant now that Obama will be facing a Republican-controlled Congress. These numbers put him well on course to exceed Ronald Reagan’s approval at this point in his presidency, which is quite an improvement after the many comparisons to George Bush’s approval ratings last year.

It is far too early to predict where his popularity will be at the time of the 2016 election. Nate Cohn, looking at his average improvement and not this specific poll, wrote on the political impact Obama’s popularity might have on the 2016 election:

There is a well-established relationship between the pace of economic growth and a president’s approval ratings, and Mr. Obama is clearly benefiting from signs of accelerating economic growth. For the first time since the start of the recession, more Americans believe the economic conditions are good or excellent than poor. Consumer confidence rose to an 11-year high last week, according to the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index…

Only a handful of modern elections have not had an incumbent president on the ballot. In these contests, the president’s approval ratings are unsurprisingly less important than when a president is running for re-election. So Mr. Obama’s approval ratings will matter in 2016, but it is hard to say exactly how much.

The balance of evidence suggests that the break-even point for the presidential party’s odds of victory is at or nearly 50 percent approval. If the only thing you knew about the 2016 election was Mr. Obama’s approval rating on Election Day, you might guess that the Democrats had a 37 percent chance of holding the White House with a 46 percent rating — rather than a 23 percent chance with a 41 percent rating. The difference between 41 and 46 might be worth between one and two percentage points to the Democratic candidate in 2016 — the difference between a close race and a modest but clear Republican victory.

Mr. Obama’s surge among Hispanic voters might be particularly telling. It is a sign that Democratic-leaning voters dissatisfied with Mr. Obama’s performance might not be so disillusioned that they can’t be lured back to the Democrats by the issues and messages that brought them to the party in the first place. The president’s ratings among liberals and Democrats remain mediocre — perhaps only in the low 70s and low 80s, respectively — suggesting that there are additional, low-hanging opportunities for Mr. Obama and his party’s next nominee.

 

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Potential Conservative Attacks On Obama If He Had Attended Paris March

I recently discussed why the right wingers attacking Obama regarding the recent rally in France are wrong as it was both impractical and noted why it would have been inappropriate for Obama to have attended. If he had gone there is no doubt he would have been attacked by the right for multiple reasons, including:

  • The cost of the trip
  • The security risks in appearing at such an event with inadequate time to prepare
  • Hogging the limelight, making the trip about him
  • The disruption his security measures would have caused in Paris if he attended
  • Ignoring the request of the French government that he not attend because of the disruption it would have caused
  • Wearing the wrong color suit
  • Having the wrong skin color (more implied than said out loud)
  • Not being in Washington at a time when there would have been a greater risk of terrorist attacks
  • Just for going to France, because conservatives usually hate France
  • For allowing his kids to remain home without parental supervision where they might listen to Beyoncé (and they would be even madder when this led to Jimmy Carter defending him)

On the other hand, if a Republican president had not attended, they would have had no complaints and would have praised him for not going to France.

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