Gay US Olympians vs Anti-Gay VP Mike Pence

One of the most exciting contests at the Olympics so far has been the feud between two gay Olympians and Vice President Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed a “religious freedom law” which many fear will encourage anti-gay discrimination. The Hill reports on the latest in this Olympic event:

The first two openly gay male U.S. winter Olympians are doubling down on their feud with Vice President Pence over his record on LGBTQ rights.

Freeskier Gus Kenworthy posted a photo on Instagram of himself and figure skater Adam Rippon with a caption that calls out Pence, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the 2018 Olympics, by name. Rippon was named to the U.S. Olympic team first, making history as the first openly gay man to represent the country in the Winter Olympics. Kenworthy was named to the team a few weeks later.

“The Opening Ceremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way!” Kenworthy wrote. “I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence.”

He also used the hashtag “TeamUSGay,” adding American flag and Pride flag emojis.

Kenworthy earlier in February called Pence a “strange choice” and a “bad fit” to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics.

“To have somebody leading the delegation that’s directly attacked the LGBTQ community, and a Cabinet in general that just sort of stands against us and has tried to do things to set us back, it just seems like a bad fit,” Kenworthy said.

Rippon has been outspoken about his views on Pence and President Trump, saying in an interview earlier this year that he would decline an invitation to the White House because he doesn’t think he would be “welcome” as a gay athlete.

Report Suggests Mueller Investigating Obstruction Of Justice By Trump (But Still No Evidence Of Collusion Altering Election Result)

Following the reports of a plea deal with Michael Flynn earlier this month, NBC News has a new story which might shed some light on possible crimes committed by Donald Trump which Muller might be investigating. According to the report, the investigation is centering on the period between January 26, 2017 and Flynn’s firing on February 13:

Some of those interviewed by Mueller’s team believe the goal is in part to determine if there was a deliberate effort by President Trump or top officials in the West Wing to cover up the information about Flynn that Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, conveyed to McGahn on Jan. 26. In addition to Flynn, McGahn is also expected to be critical in federal investigators’ attempts to piece together a timeline of those 18 days.

Neither McGahn’s lawyer nor the White House responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

When did Trump learn Flynn lied to the FBI?

The obstruction of justice question could hinge on when Trump knew about the content of Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the transition, which were at the crux of Yates’s warning, and when the president learned Flynn had lied about those conversations to the FBI, according to two people familiar with the Mueller probe.

Flynn pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI on Jan. 24, an interview that took place the day after he was sworn in as national security adviser…

Mueller is trying to determine why Flynn remained in his post for 18 days after Trump learned of Yates’ warning, according to two people familiar with the probe. He appears to be interested in whether Trump directed him to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why, the sources said.

If Trump knew his national security adviser lied to the FBI in the early days of his administration it would raise serious questions about why Flynn was not fired until Feb. 13, and whether Trump was attempting to obstruct justice when FBI Director James Comey says the president pressured him to drop his investigation into Flynn. Trump fired Comey on May 9.

Trump denies pressuring Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, and his legal team has disputed any notion of the president obstructing justice.

Trump raised new questions about possible obstruction of justice on Dec. 2 when he wrote on Twitter that he fired Flynn because he had lied to Pence and the FBI, suggesting he already knew Flynn was in legal jeopardy for lying to federal investigators at the time he fired Comey.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump wrote. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

Trump lawyer John Dowd later took responsibility for the tweet, saying he had drafted it for the White House social media director to post.

The guilty plea by Flynn and plea deal appear to center around negotiations which Trump and his incoming administration attempting to conduct  with Russia before Trump took office, followed by Flynn lying to the FBI shortly after Trump and Flynn took office. This could possibly result in obstruction of justice charges against Trump if he did tell Flynn to lie and/or Trump did fire James Comey in order to obstruct the investigation of Flynn.

This aspect of the investigation centers around matters which occurred after the campaign and has nothing to do with claims from Hillary Clinton that she lost the 2016 election due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election results. As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability. While we have evidence of Mueller investigating matters including obstruction of justice and Trump’s personal financial dealings, there has been no evidence of any collusion between Trump and Clinton which altered the election results.

Late Night Comics Speculate On An Early End For The Trump Presidency

I’m picturing Mike Pence sitting in his office trying to decide when Trump has acted just crazy enough that he can invoke the 25th Amendment and be seen as a hero. There are certainly plenty of psychiatrists who would argue Trump is unfit to fulfill the duties of the presidency. I’m not sure what the odds are of Trump being removed, either under the 25th Amendment or impeachment, but humor writers have seen this as likely.

Earlier in the year I noted a sequence on The Last Man On Earth in which a plague killed off politicians going through the lines of succession. They started with President Pence, implying that one way or another Donald Trump was already gone. (The video at the link concludes with the death of President Betsy DeVos.)

Late night comedians have had several similar jokes this week:

Vice President Mike Pence denies he’s planning to run for president in 2020. He said, “I’m pretty sure I’ll be president way before then.” –Conan O’Brien

Mike Pence is denying speculation that he wants to be elected president in 2020. Pence was like, “I think you mean re-elected president in 2020.” –Jimmy Fallon

According to The New York Times, Vice President Mike Pence is planning on running for president if Trump doesn’t run for a second term. But he issued a statement strongly denying the article, saying it was disgraceful, offensive to me, my family and our entire team. He said to suggest he is running for president in 2020 is laughable and absurd. Right, why would Mike Pence want to be president in 2020? He’s going to be president much, much sooner than that. –Jimmy Kimmel

Vice President Mike Pence is adamantly denying a New York Times article claiming that he has begun a secret campaign for a presidential run in 2020. He says he has even less interest in being president than Trump does, which is saying something. Pence is like, “This is ridiculous. I’m not focused on being president in 2020, I’m focused on being president after Trump is impeached sometime this year.” –James Corden

Meanwhile in today’s news, Congressional investigators now want to question Donald Trump’s personal secretary, Rhona Graff, in the Russia investigation. If either were still alive, Richard Nixon and Rosemary Woods might tell Donald Trump that bad things can happen after a president’s personal secretary is questioned by such a Congressional probe, even if the specifics were different.

Of course we would have a new set of problems if Mike Pence were to replace Donald Trup. Pence could not honestly say, as Gerald Ford once did, “our long national nightmare is over” should he become president. Hopefully, should Donald Trump be removed from office the Republican brand will be so damaged that Pence won’t be able to do much harm. We can also hope that whatever brings down Trump also brings down Pence. However, unless they are separate events and another Vice President is chosen, Paul Ryan would be next in line.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who, Oxygen; Timeless; Sense8; The Handmaid’s Tale; More Renewals and Cancellations; The Last Man On Earth Season Finale; Artistic Opposition To Donald Trump

Doctor Who began Oxygen with an apparent homage to Star Trek, speaking of the final frontier. Except it led into this week’s episode by saying, “Final because it wants to kill us.” Final frontier might also tie into the return of the Master by referring to the 1973 episode Frontier In Space which was final appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master.

The episode took advantage of the Doctor’s role as professor, and allowed him to use the blackboard again, even if he got off topic in discussing the dangers in space: “What’s this got to do with crop rotation?” This was a combination hard science fiction/space zombie episode, with less of the simple talk between Bill and the Doctor. That does not mean Bill didn’t get a chance to ask pertinent questions such as, “What happens if I throw up in my helmet?”

The best answer of the episode came from the Doctor in response to the question“Who the hell put you in charge?” The response: “I’m here to save lives. Anyone who doesn’t want me to, raise your hand now.”

The episode finally involved Nardole in the story, and got him off earth.

This was one of the more political episodes of the show. It was bad enough to find that the miners were charged for oxygen. They would also pump any excess oxygen out of the station to force the workers to have to purchase the oxygen from them. Making matters even worse, once the algorithms calculated that it was not cost effective to keep the workers alive, they were turned off and the suits took over. They continued to move, looking like space zombies.

A line from the Doctor when he figured out that the next set of people coming were not to rescue the workers, as that would not be cost effective, made this all work: “They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The end point of capitalism. The bottom line where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet … like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits!”

Giving the two meanings to “fighting the suits” fit in so well with this episode.

The Doctor went on to explain that soon after humanity resorted things like selling oxygen capitalism came to an end. However, after this, “the human race makes a whole new mistake.”

The solution to the problem was simple but fit into the story. The Doctor began to bluff in saying, “The nice thing about life is however bad it gets, there’s always one option left – dying well.” He had no intention of actually dying, but he made it look like he would make it more expensive for the corporation, causing the suits to all stop.

Unfortunately this did not come without some costs. The sonic screwdriver was destroyed (once again). The Doctor gave Bill his helmet to keep her alive, and as a result became blind. As the Doctor put it,  “I’ve got no TARDIS, no sonic, about 10 minutes of oxygen left and now I’m blind. Can you imagine how unbearable I’m going to be when I pull this off?”

Many episodes this season turn something common into something deadly,  reminiscent of Blink. This week the warning was “don’t panic” as this will lead to breathing faster, using up more oxygen, and death. Next week in Extremis yet another common event, reading a book, might get you killed. The Doctor’s blindness might be what saves him. Is this just a temporary measure for next week’s episode, or is it part of a slow death leading to his regeneration later this season? From the preview, we also see the return of Missy.

There was a lot of news this week regarding final decisions on renewals, largely with shows which were thought to be on the bubble. The announced cancellations included Sleepy Hollow, Timeless, Blacklist: Redemption (with Blacklist renewed), Scandal, PowerlessFrequency, and No Tomorrow. Renewals included New Girl (for one final season), Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, iZombie, American Gods, Thirteen Reasons Why, and A Handmaid’s Tale.

Of the cancelled shows, the only two which I might miss are Sleepy Hollow and Timeless. Sleepy Hollow did recover this season, with its season finale working as either the series finale or as a stepping stone to a new season. Timeless got better as the season went on, and ended with a cliff hanger which did leave me wanting more. Fortunately NBC listened to protests from other fans who felt the same and reversed its decision, giving it ten episodes next spring or summer.

Considering the nature of the show, there is also speculation that time travel was utilized to bring back the show. However, we learned from The Flash that going back in time to change things does have consequences. Reversing the decision at NBC might lead to terrible consequences. Perhaps ER will return for another decade, or worse, Whitney or Sean Saves The World will return to the NBC lineup.

I have no idea how the two new CW shows, Frequency and No Tomorrow, were. I never gave them a chance as there were already more shows on than I had time for, but I know both shows did have their fans. The CW Network has at least released epilogues for both of these shows.

Both Thirteen Reasons Why and The Handmaid’s Tale have been renewed for a second season, adding to the series based upon books which are going on beyond where the book they were based upon ended. The third season of The Leftovers is showing how a series can be better in such a situation. The Handmaid’s Tale has been excellent through the fifth episode, leaving me quite trusting of the producers to continue the story. While based upon the book this season, the show so far is often made stronger when it goes beyond the book. The story feels more realistic and a possible extension of current trends by showing the flashbacks. Mentions of events in Canada and the European Union since I last mentioned the book have further added to this sense of reality.

Now that we have also had additional episodes beyond the first three which were released at once, I further appreciate how good a job they are doing at not only converting a book but presenting episodic television. While it is not necessarily bad, many streaming shows and shows based upon books are more like a multi-hour movie with arbitrary breaks every hour or so. In contrast, each episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, while part of the novel, do tell a separate story.

Sense8, which I have completed since last discussing this, is also stronger in its second season in better handling episodic television while also having a season-long arc. Highlights include a wedding, a shoot out, and a car chase, along with other things I won’t mention to avoid any spoilers.

The Last Man on Earth ended with a change in scenery necessitated by a nearby nuclear power plant being on the verge of a melt down. We also found out that Kristen Wiig’s character, who had appeared in a single episode, has survived. Den of Geek spoke with the writers:

DEN OF GEEK: I sort of like the idea that this finale is all about safety. Did you know that you’d be ending up at this nuclear fallout angle when the season began? There are light references to it throughout the year.

KIRA KALUSH: We were always pretty set on doing a nuclear fallout this season. For a while we thought it could be our mid-season finale. We even toyed around with it being the reason the group leaves Malibu, but ultimately, here it landed, and I think it was the right move.

ANDY BOBROW: When we went in to discuss the season with the network, we pitched this ending, kind of as a “this is something we’re thinking about, not married to it yet.” It certainly scared them financially, since we basically guaranteed we will have to build all new sets next year. So we were mindful of that, what it would cost. And we kept thinking, well, maybe some better idea will come along. As the year progressed, we really couldn’t think of anything stronger. We realize we’re writing ourselves into a corner, but it just seemed so Last Man, I think we had to go for it.

Is that perhaps the direction that the show is moving in?  Where the gang is just trying to avoid nuclear fallout. It’s nice that this material also brings everything back full circle in terms of Pat.

KIRA KALUSH: You can never really say where the show is going until we’re there, but I don’t think the group will be on the run for too long. It’s likely that this is just a way for them to move locations and get out of their element. But who knows? R.I.P. Pat Brown. He was a fantastic misunderstood conspiracy theorist with anger problems, but it was his time to go.

ANDY BOBROW: The thought of doing a whole season on the run is very enticing, but might be cost prohibitive. Just in terms of the production of the show, our model is we build a set and shoot three days on set and two days on location per episode. Location shooting is more expensive, but if there’s a way to do more of it and stay on budget, I’m all for it…

The season seems to end with the only things that are clear being that the gang is on a boat and that Kristen Wiig’s Pamela is along for the ride. Did you ever think of her appearance almost just functioning as like a short film about the end of the world, or was the plan always to circle back to her?

KIRA KALUSH: I actually have a good answer to this one. There was a pitch that always made me laugh, but it’s a giant “fuck you” to the audience. The Wiig episode is so good and so exciting and we knew our fans would be psyched, waiting to see when and how she joins the group. So the pitch was this: In the time jump at Melissa and Todd’s wedding, Tandy is rambling on about everything they’ve been through together as a group. He points to memorials of Phil, Gordon, Lewis, and finally, Pamela — revealing that Pamela met up with the group, lived with them and died, all within those six months. I don’t think we ever would have done it, but it still cracks me up.

ANDY BOBROW: Right right. I mentioned this in the time jump questions, because at one point, rather than Pamela it was going to be Steve Buscemi. Either Steve Buscemi as himself, or just a character Tandy mentions, who is represented by a driver’s license or passport on a tombstone, and you can see it’s Steve Buscemi.

But getting back to Pamela, Will’s initial discussion with Kristen was we’ll take you for as few or as many episodes as you want. So our thought was if we could only have her for one episode, it would be a thing where she interacts with them more, i.e. she shows up at the beginning and leaves them at the end. Since she was game for more than one, we decided this was the way to go. Do a standalone with her, and then have her show up at the end. There were pitches that would have used more of her in the finale, but her availability was limited. She only had a day. As for season four, well once again, we’ll take as much Kristen as we can get.

The first episode of The Last Man on Earth with Kristen Wiig showed the death of the Pence administration, presumably after Trump was gone. While the novel was written in the Reagan era, The Handmaid’s Tale as a television show has been seen as a cautionary tale about Donald Trump.

In another commentary on politics, during the past week we learned that hail-hydra.com redirected to the official White House web site. Bleeding Cool tracked down and interviewed the person responsible for this:

Bleeding Cool: What made you decide to do this? Did you own the domain before you decided to do the redirect or did you buy a while ago? What made you decide to buy it?

Hail-Hydra Owner: I bought the domain in April of 2014. I’d remembered the Senator played by Garry Shandling whispering “Hail Hydra!” in Iron Man 2, then is arrested at the end of Captain America: Winter’s Soldier for being a member of Hydra. His character reminded me of many GOP senators (probably a personal bias there) so I looked to see if I could come up with a good domain to redirect at Republicans. hail-hydra.com was the second I tried. Originally I pointed it at Ted Cruz‘s presidential campaign, then Trump’s campaign and finally (and depressingly) at his White House web page…

Bleeding Cool: What about the current redirect? Was it something you changed recently or was it when he was inaugurated in January? Or was this a reaction to something specific that President Trump did?

Hail-Hydra Owner: I changed it the day of the inauguration. It was the first time I knew I was going to change it and when. All the other times I’d just remembered I owned it and would pick a target based on news at the time, and then tweet a few people to try and get it to go viral. I’m not even sure what set it off this time around.

Bleeding Cool: Finally, how do you want people to react to what you’ve done here? Did you get the type of reaction that you wanted or did you want something more? Less?

Hail-Hydra Owner: Since this seems to be getting some news I’ve kept an eye on twitter reactions, most people are reacting the way I would hope. It’s funny, it’s political satire. Do I think Republicans are literal Nazis? No. Do I think they’re over-authoritarian with a complete disregard for the majority of people in the country that can’t donate a million dollars to them? Yes. Several articles say they contacted the White House for comment, I hope I don’t end up on a terror list in retaliation.

For those who prefer their artistic opposition to Donald Trump to come from music, The Hill reports:

Todd Rundgren, a singer and songwriter, warned fans not to attend his concerts if they are Donald Trump supporters, saying “buyer beware.”

“If I had the power, I’d say: If you’re a Trump supporter, don’t come to my show, because you won’t have a good time,” Rundgren said in a Variety interview released Sunday.

Rundgren collaborated with an array of artists for his new album “White Night,” including Donald Fagen. Together, Fagen and Rundgren produced an anti-Trump song called “Man in the Tin Foil Hat.”

Lyrics include: “He’s coming down the escalator with a girl from east of here, because the man in the tin foil hat is leading like a teenage girl. He put’s the ‘pluto’ in plutocrat, he hasn’t got time for losers, unless they do what he demands.”

Rundgren said his shows will contain many insulting jokes about the Republican president, warning that it could be a turnoff for the president’s supporters

“I guarantee that in this show, if you’re a Trump supporter, you will likely be offended. Let the buyer beware! I mean, if you can’t take a joke, or you can’t admit that you’ve made a mistake, you don’t belong with the rest of us,” he said with a laugh, according to the interview.

Rundgren also said he also questions the values of Trump supporters.

“And also, I don’t understand your frickin’ values. Because I’m not singing about that. If you don’t understand that basic thing, you’re just fooling yourself,” he added.

SciFi Weekend: Last Man On Earth Kills Off Pence Administration; SNL Does SciFi Skit On Trump; Riverdale Renewed; Doctor Who; Broadchurch Season 3; Passengers; The Night Manager; The Americans

The Last Man on Earth returned with an episode which barely involved the regular cast. The, staring Kristen Wiig and Laura Dern. goes back to before the virus killed off virtually everyone. In a news report Mike Pence was referred to as the president. Wiig’s character was shocked that there was no vaccine for the virus, arguing that the president must have a vaccine. That led clips from news reports showing a series of funerals for President Pence, followed by President Paul Ryan, President Rex Tillerson, President Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and finally President Betsy DeVos:

There was no explanation as to why Donald Trump was not mentioned, with Mike Pence president at the time. This might suggest that Trump was impeached before the virus struck.

The episode progressed to having Kristen Wiig move to a bunker with only her dog for company. She gradually went crazy, including trying to get the dog to say “milk.” She turned out to be the person who sent out the drone shot down by Melissa (January Jones) in a previous episode. Kristen Wiig might be interacting with the regular cast as she left the bunker to search out the people she saw via the drone. Of course they have all moved on from the home where they were spotted by the drone, and we don’t know if she is immune to the virus.

While Donald Trump was not recognized as president on Last Man On Earth, he was portrayed once again by Alec Baldwin on a science fiction themed cold open on Saturday Night Live (video above). The New York Times recapped this and other political skits on the show:

Sure, “Saturday Night Live” has offered ample criticism of President Trump and his young administration. But in its latest episode, the program expressed confidence that he’ll be in office until at least 2018, long enough to see America decimated by an alien invasion force from the planet Zorblatt 9…

A military officer played by the cast member Kenan Thompson told him, “The aliens are killing us, sir. They have the most advanced weaponized technology we’ve ever seen. What should we do?”

The Trump character responded, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to bring coal back, O.K.? We’re going to have so much coal, you’re going to say, ‘Where did all this coal come from? I never knew there could be so much coal.’”

Informed that the aliens had already vaporized the state of California, Mr. Baldwin answered, “So then I won the popular vote?”

As Mr. Trump, he explained that the aliens had already been secretly living in the United States for hundreds of years. “Look, there’s one right there,” he said, indicating Leslie Jones. “And so is the woman next to her, right there,” he said, pointing at Sasheer Zamata.

Asked where he was getting his information, Mr. Baldwin replied, “From a very reputable source, Infowars. It’s a radio show hosted by Alex Jones. You know he’s legit because he’s always taking off his shirt.”

When the aliens at last overrun the base and learn that Mr. Trump is president, one creature (played by Bobby Moynihan) declares, “Really? This is going to be so easy.”

Riverdale has been renewed for a second season. I wonder if the season finale is already set, or if knowing that there is a second season will  affect when we find out who killed Jason Blossom. Screener looks at the major suspects. On the one hand, viewers might be disappointed if there is not some answer in the foreseeable future after following the show. On the other hand, ending the mystery requires them to come up with something new to hook the viewers.

The series is sort of a Twin Peaks light with its murder mystery in a small town. Twin Peaks quickly went down hill after it revealed who killed Laura Palmer, and we found that they didn’t have much more story to tell. (Hopefully they have come up with more story for the upcoming Showtime revival). There certainly is plenty of potential in Riverdale for additional stories, and not everything going on this season is centered around the murder of Jason Blossom. Perhaps it will be more like Veronica Mars in having a different mystery each season.

The CW Network has also renewed The 100 for a fifth season.

We are down to less than a month until the start of series ten of Doctor Who. The Gallifrey Times has an updated episode guide with what is known so far about every episode. The final two episodes feature the original Mondasian Cybermen seen on The Tenth Planet in 1966. New Who created an alternative time line in which the Cybermen were created on earth.

In other Doctor Who news, Radio Times looks at the question of Time Lords aging, or “why did Matt Smith’s Doctor look so young on his ‘farewell tour’ (the 200 years he lives through in series 6), but become an old man while defending the town of Christmas on Trenzalore for 300 years in The Time of the Doctor?” Plus we learned last week that a CIA hacking tool revealed by Wikileaks is called the Weeping Angels.

Broadchurch was of special interest to Doctor Who fans from the start with a cast which includes David Tennant and Arthur Darvill. It became even more significant when show runner Chris Chibnall was picked to replace Steven Moffat. After two episodes of Broadchurch, it is showing promise to surpass the second season and be more like the first. While the murder of the first season still is having an impact, the second season is concentrating on a different crime, a rape. There are already multiple suspects, and more are likely to be added. Beth Lattimer, a key character from the first season, remains a significant part of the story, having become a rape counselor.

It looks like, as usual, the story is as much about the effect on the town as the crime itself, plus the show has already gotten into other topics including the challenges to the small town newspaper. I would suggest that even those who gave up the show in its second season give it another chance. Broadchurch is currently on Mondays on ITV. BBC America will be carrying the show in the future but has not posted a date yet.

Similarly I would recommend that those who gave up on Homeland give the current season a chance, but beware it does start out slow. The payoff the last few episodes makes it worthwhile.

Nerdist looks at the Easter eggs in the Deadpool 2 trailer (video above). This includes posters for Firefly, presumably due to Morena Baccarin being in both Firefly and Deadpool.

Netflix releases Iron Fist this week, with early reviews not being very favorable.

A premiere date for season seven of Game of Thrones has been announced. The seven-episode season will start on July 16.

Passengers will never become a classic science fiction movie, despite a cast led by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.  It is best to go into in looking for mindless escape and ignore how creepy the actions of the male lead were. Despite its flaws, the movie was actually enjoyable and even good for some unintentional laughs, such as with the resuscitation scene. Look at it more as a rom-com about the dangers of waking up a woman too soon in order to have sex with her. Or, if you are looking for comedy, you could just watch the blooper reel above (which some are arguing is far better than the actual movie).

The Night Manager was one of the top shows of 2016, but the miniseries completed the events of the John le Carré novel. A second season is being written, but has not yet been picked up. There is no information on what it will be about. It might take other elements from le Carré’s books, especially as some of the characters do appear in other novels. I imagine they could also come up with an original story based on elements and characters from the first miniseries. As I posted previously, the producers of The Night Manager are also working on a miniseries based on  The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

The Americans returned last week and is receiving additional media attention due to Russia being in the news recently. This includes articles in USA Today and Entertainment Weekly. The Americans has consistently been one of the best shows on television since it premiered.

Two Down In Trump Administration

Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.

Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.

Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.

Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation.  We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.

There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.

Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:

Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.

When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.

This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?

The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.

We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.

He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.

Chaos In The Trump White House

The chaos continues in the Trump White House.

Michael Flynn is reportedly “on thin ice” after it came out that he spoke with the Russian ambassador about sanctions before Trump took office, and then liked to Mike Pence about having done so. Getting rid of Flynn would be a huge plus.

Reince Priebus’ job also isn’t very secure, with Kellyanne Conway describing his job as her dream job. In this case, I’d prefer Priebus over Conway.

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s anti-labor pick for Labor Secretary, is in trouble now that four Republicans are talking about voting against his confirmation. Another plus if he is blocked.

One member of the Trump administration who isn’t in trouble but should be is Stephen Miller, who sounded Steve Bannon-level crazy in this exchange on Face the Nation:

DICKERSON: When I talked to Republicans on the Hill, they wonder, what in the White House — what have you all learned from this experience with the executive order?

MILLER: Well, I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become, in many cases, a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is — is — is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

Joe Scarborough tore him apart over this:

“No, they are questioned by young little Miller. They will be questioned by the court. It’s called judicial review,” Scarborough said, as his colleagues on set guffawed.

“Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote about it in the Federalist Papers,” Scarborough continued. “It was enshrined in Madison’s Constitution. Andrew Jackson — you go into your president’s office, you know that one, and you look on the walls, and there are all these pictures of Andrew Jackson — he talked of the importance of judicial independence.”

“And seriously, the White House has got to stop embarrassing themselves by putting this guy on,” Scarborough said.

The New York Times had an excellent background article on Miller yesterday.

Update: Michael Flynn has resigned as National Security Adviser.

Two Republican Senators Express Opposition To The Confirmation Of Betsy DeVos

Living in West Michigan, I opposed the political agenda Betsy DeVos long before she hit the national stage. (I also opposed her husband’s candidacy for governor of Michigan in 2006.) I opposed her even before her nomination hearing where she showed insufficient knowledge of education policy, and stood up for guns in schools for protection against grizzly bears. Therefore, while I fear it will not be enough to block her appointment, I am happy to see that two Republican Senators have announced plans to vote against her. The Hill reports:

GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski in back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor announced Wednesday that they would oppose Betsy DeVos’s nomination to be Education secretary…

“I come to the floor to announce a very difficult decision that I have made, and that is to vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to be our nation’s next secretary of Education,” Collins said from the Senate floor.

Collins specifically pointed to DeVos’s “lack of familiarly” with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, saying she was “troubled and surprised.”

Murkowski, speaking after Collins, said she had too many concerns to back DeVos.

“I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of Education … who has been so immersed in the discussion of vouchers,” Murkowski said.

Politico ran the story under the headline DeVos In Trouble but also reported:

But Republicans said privately that Collins and Murkowski waited to announce their opposition once the rest of the votes for DeVos were locked up. They said that the rest of the GOP is firmly behind DeVos.

“She has the votes and will be confirmed,” said a senior GOP aide.

DeVos needs a simple majority on the Senate floor, and there are 52 Republicans. If there is a tie, Vice President Mike Pence will be the deciding vote. That would make history: According to a list provided by a Democratic aide, a vice president has never broken a tie on a Cabinet confirmation vote.

For further background on Betsy DeVos I recommend the article  How Betsy DeVos Used God and Amway to Take Over Michigan Politics from Politico Magazine. Even here in conservative West Michigan, thinking people realize she is the wrong person for the job–even many of her fellow graduates of Calvin College. MLive recently reported on Why 1,000 Calvin College alumni, students oppose Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. A letter protesting her appointment included four main points:

1. No background in education

While many of us were inspired by our time at Calvin College to make education a professional commitment, Mrs. DeVos was not. She has never worked in any educational institution as an administrator, nor as an educator. If the position of the Secretary of Education requires the individual to have an intimate knowledge of the tools used by educators, which we believe it does, Mrs. DeVos does not qualify.

2. Lacks commitment to public education

Many of us entered Calvin College directly from Christian high schools and spent our entire elementary and secondary school years in these institutions, as did Mrs. DeVos. While we appreciate the opportunity to thrive and learn, as provided by these educational systems, we recognize that the vast majority of K-12 students are educated in the public school system. Because of this, we believe that any individual who is nominated to be Secretary of Education should have a strong commitment to public education, which Mrs. DeVos does not.

3. Limited to advocacy, campaign contributions

We believe that Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to education is limited to her advocacy of, and financial contributions to, religious and charter schools. Having the financial resources to promote one’s ideological point of view, and endorse elected officials who share that ideology, is not equivalent to the preparation that comes from being an educator or educational administrator.

4. Unwilling to support public school funding

Finally, in the first day of her confirmation hearing, Mrs. DeVos indicated a lack of support for federal policies regarding educational systems that receive public funding. This is especially concerning given that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title IX, which ensure that all students’ educational experiences are free of discrimination that impedes learning, are not of value to Mrs. DeVos.

“Our undergraduate education prepared us to be engaged and informed citizens who support public servants who seek to serve effectively and competently. This is precisely why we oppose the nomination of our fellow alumna, Betsy DeVos, for the position of United States Secretary of Education,” according to the letter.

Many Americans View The Presidential Transition As Ominous

A large number of Americans are looking at the inauguration of Donald Trump with dread. Beyond ideological differences, there are concerns that Donald Trump does not respect the norms which have maintained our democracy.  E.J. Dionne calls this “the most ominous Inauguration Day in modern history.” He wrote, “Trump’s disdain for the democratic disposition we like our presidents to embrace was on display when he dressed down CNN’s Jim Acosta at that news conference last week. Trump’s tone, style and sheer rage (whether real or staged) brought to mind authoritarian leaders who brook no dissent.”

The Associated Press reports on how the presidency is about the change, also discussing Trump failure to respect established norms:

Polls over the past week show that Trump is poised to enter the White House as the least popular president in four decades. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to him, independents have not rallied behind him and even Republicans are less enthusiastic than might be expected, according to the surveys.

In his typical reaction to poll results he doesn’t like, Trump dismissed them as “rigged” in a Tuesday tweet.

It’s exactly that kind of tweet that worries governing experts, lawmakers and other critics, who argue that traditional practices of the presidency protect the health of the American democracy.

“With notable exceptions, we’ve had a political culture in which presidents largely respect a series of unwritten rules that help democracy and the rule of law flourish,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “What’s striking about Trump is he flouts norms that have previously been respected by both parties on a daily basis. He calls things into question that have never been questioned before.”

Since winning the election, Trump has attacked Hollywood celebrities, civil rights icons and political rivals alike. He’s moved markets by going after some companies, while praising others.

He’s questioned the legitimacy of American institutions — appearing to trust the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the intelligence agencies he’ll soon oversee, engaging in personal fights with journalists as he assails the free press and questioning the results of the election, even though it put him in office.

With this backdrop, many Americans are more interested in the massive demonstrations expected for inauguration day than in seeing Donald Trump inaugurated. David Weigel points out that in the past, such as when George W. Bush was inaugurated, demonstrations were “dominated by the political fringe.” Now they being embraced by both the Democratic Party and the left:

Democrats and the broader left, recuperating from an election few of them thought they could lose, are organizing one of the broadest — and earliest — opposition campaigns ever to greet a new president. It began with protests in the hours after Trump’s victory, but it has become bolder since, marked most dramatically by nearly 70 Democratic members of Congress boycotting the inauguration itself…

This year, in his enhanced role as a messenger for congressional Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) successfully encouraged 70-odd rallies last weekend in support of the Affordable Care Act, organized on the ground by Democrats and labor groups. Local branches of the Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders (and de Blasio) in 2016, have organized “Resist Trump Tuesdays,” in which activists have protested inside the offices of Republican legislators or filled the galleries of state legislatures. According to WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin, 450 community planning meetings took place the week before the inauguration.

Donald Trump has made many contradictory statements. While he has given reason to fear he might not respect our political norms, we really do not know yet what he will do. Adam Gopnik warns to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, and offers this advice:

What is to be done? In such a moment of continued emergency, the most important task may be to distinguish as rigorously as possible between new policies and programs that, however awful, are a reflection of the normal oscillation of power, natural in a mature democracy, and those that are not. To borrow from Woody Allen’s distinction between the miserable (something we all are) and the horrible (fortunately suffered by only a few), we must now distinguish resolutely between the sickening and the terrifying. Many programs and policies with which progressive-minded people passionately disagree will be put forward over the next few years. However much or strongly one opposes them, they are, like it or not, the actual agreed-on platform of a dominant national party. On the issue of gun control alone, we’ll get a Supreme Court that won’t reverse the bad decision of Heller, a legislature that will only further diminish sane controls on military weapons in private hands, likely an increase in open-carry laws, and all the murderous rest. All of this will cost kids’ lives and bring much misery.

One may oppose these things—and one should, passionately and permanently—but they are in no sense illegitimate. They are just wrong. They are also reversible by the same laws and rules and norms and judicial and, perhaps most of all, electoral processes that created them. If we want gun control, we need to get more people caring about it and more people in more places voting for it; we cannot complain because people who don’t want gun control don’t give it to us.

Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.

So we need to stiffen our spines and broaden our embrace, grasp tightly but reach out far. The conservatives who see Trump for what he is and are shocked by it—and there are many, though not as many as there should be—should be welcomed. We can postpone arguing about the true meaning of the Second Amendment while we band together to fight for the Constitution that precedes it…

The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.

Turkey of the Day: Trump Ignoring Intelligence Briefings Since Election

trump-golf-club

The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump has been “turning away intelligence briefers since election win.”

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month, a frequency that is notably lower — at least so far — than that of his predecessors, current and former U.S. officials said.

A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, by contrast, has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election, officials said.

Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority.

But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues and was dismissive of U.S. intelligence agencies’ capabilities and findings during the campaign.

A senior U.S. official who receives the same briefing delivered to President Obama each day said that devoting time to such sessions would help Trump get up to speed on world events.

“Trump has a lot of catching up to do,” the official said.

In contrast, George Bush received daily briefings, although they were delayed until December 5 due to the recount. Bill Clinton first started receiving intelligence briefings ten days after being elected, and then received them most working days. Obama also received regular intelligence briefings:

After his election in 2008, President Obama took part not only in regular intelligence briefings but also scheduled “deep dives” on key subjects including Iran’s nuclear program and covert CIA operations, including the accelerating campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan.

“During the transition, President Obama was an avid consumer of intelligence,” said retired Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was CIA director when Obama was elected.

I guess Trump thinks he is so smart that he doesn’t need those briefings–or he plans to have Pence handle all this stuff.