SciFi Weekend: Homeland Finale; Doctor Who; Sherlock; Victoria; Orphan Black; Sense8; Star Wars The Last Jedi; The Magicians; Supergirl; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Big Little Lies

While not as good as the first season (a very high bar), Homeland finally figured out how to reinvent itself and become an excellent show again this season. When the series had a female president-elect, there was no question that they were playing on the thought that Hillary Clinton would have been elected last November. While the used the idea of a female president, she clearly was not Hillary Clinton. For most of the season it appeared that this was a far better choice for the first female present. Rather than being a warmonger and strong proponent the surveillance state like Clinton, President-elect Keane supported seeking peace in the middle east and was no fan of the Patriot Act. The series also dealt heavily with fake news and influencing public opinion.

The finale had an all too realistic warning. (Spoilers ahead). Shocked by an assassination attempt involving portions of the deep state, Keane snapped (as Dick Cheney may have when carried down to safety during the 9/11 attack). Like Donald Trump, President Keane went to war with her intelligence community, but to a far greater degree. She was no longer the anti-Clinton, expanding the Patriot Act and rounding up innocent people based upon metadata from NSA surveillance, including Saul Berenson. A right wing talk show host spoke of how President Keane broke her promises–somewhat like how real right wing talk shows are now talking about how Donald Trump has broken his promises to them. The name of the episode: America First.

Variety discussed the series with showrunner Alex Gansa. The interview was done before the finale and therefore does not include the surprising conclusion, but does discuss how the season was relevant to real world events:

“Homeland” storylines usually reflect real-world headlines in some way. What surprised you this year about how your show dovetailed with real events?

The most surprising and alarming coincidence was that the very thing we had posited a year ago in February — that is a President-elect in an adversarial relationship with her own intelligence community – actually came to the fore after President Trump got elected was just a coincidence of epic proportions. Frankly that was the biggest surprise second only to the fact that Donald Trump got elected in the first place. That dynamic – a newly elected President at war with her intelligence community was really the fulcrum that the entire season hinged on. The fact that it played out in the real world on the national stage was shocking to witness. There were some other (developments) that made us go back into some episodes to retrofit them.

Can you give an example?

The whole idea of fake news and propaganda – that seemed to take on a much more prominent role as we moved into our story. The one major thing we went back in and changed was introducing our Brett O’Keefe character much earlier than we intended. He was originally scheduled to be introduced in episode eight. But we went back in and did some reshoots and new scenes to introduce him in episode two…

You were clear all along in the lead-up to season six that “Homeland’s” female President-elect was not meant to be a thinly veiled Hillary Clinton. But were you concerned about that choice after Trump pulled off his upset win?

Absolutely. There was a moment we all just slapped our foreheads and wondered if the show was going to be irrelevant from that point forward. However, the story of the President-elect in an adversarial situation with her own intelligence community, that certainly wouldn’t have been Hillary Clinton. She was an establishment candidate. She was front and center of American foreign policy for years. …In a crazy way, the show would have been more irrelevant if Hillary would have been elected. The fact that Donald Trump and his team were in such a contentious relationship made the show feel current and contemporaneous. We lost on the gender but we certainly gained on the dynamic.

There has been a lot of news going into the season premiere of Doctor Who. As it has been sixteen months since a regular episode, Yahoo TV has the above catch-up guide.

Peter Capaldi has already filmed his regeneration scene. Steven Moffat has discussed the regeneration:

“With Matt I had a sort of idea that his entire run should be in the pre-math of a battle he’s having at the end of his life,” Moffat told RadioTimes.com exclusively at the BFI and Radio Times Television Festival this weekend (see video below). “But with Peter I wasn’t quite sure. I wasn’t sure for a long time whether I’d be writing him out or whether he’d be carrying on with [new showrunner] Chris Chibnall.

“That fits his Doctor, though,” the screenwriter went on, before hinting that this less mapped-out path would be echoed in Capaldi’s regeneration.

“His Doctor feels sort of impulsive and in the moment and would do something reckless that you wouldn’t expect. That suits me.

“And I mean, you can overstate the difficulty of planning a finale for a Doctor. In the end, any Doctor Who story has such catastrophe going on in it, that he could be the one that gets the rock on his head.

“But I think I’m really happy with what we’re doing for his finale. I’m just working on it now. It’s quite early. I should be further through it, but there you go.”

Moffat has also said he will be working on another show with Mark Gatiss.

Normally when Doctor Who is on, the lead item of SciFi Weekend is quite frequently a review of the current episode. Because of the holiday weekend, I have moved up this week’s post to Saturday, before this season’s premiere episode has been shown. I still might add a full review as a separate post rather than waiting until next week, depending upon both available time and how much the episode warrants it.

The Telegraph ran a story entitled, Steven Moffat talks the future of Sherlock and possible recasting. Of course, while scheduling Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman might be difficult, the show would never be the same with a different cast. Fortunately Moffat agreed:

Speaking at London’s BFI and Radio Times Television Festival, Moffat revealed: “Neither Benedict, Mark or Martin are against doing more Sherlocks. We have a great time making them, it’s a very, very nice bunch of people and we enjoy our reunions very much… [but] we’d never want to do it if we didn’t think we could do it as well as we used to.

“It also means, we’ll come back to it when we feel we’ve got the right idea. It could be off the earth quite a long while now. But I would be surprised, as I’ve said before, if we never made any more Sherlocks.”

Along with concerns over future stories, Moffat and Gatiss also have the busy schedules of their two stars to contend with: both men entrenched in the Marvel universe, as well as their multitudes of additional projects. It lead to Moffat being asked whether he would ever consider a recast.

“Absolutely not,” he was quick to reply. “You can admire great cinematography, a great score, great writing, great direction, great production. You can admire all those things, but you only fall in love with people. And the people you fall in love with are Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

“You cannot replace them. They are the magic, they are the show.”

Speaking of recasting, while The Crown plans to recast Claire Foy and Matt Smith after the second season as their characters age, Victoria will be moving more slowly through the 1840’s. Therefore there are no plans yet to recast Jenna Coleman.

BBC America has released a longer trailer for the fifth and final season of Orphan Black, which returns on June 10.

Netflix has released the above trailer for season 2 of Sense8, which will become available on May 5. The description:

From renowned creative geniuses Lana Wachowski, Grant Hill (“The Matrix,” “Cloud Atlas”) and J. Michael Straczynski (Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,’ “World War Z”), Sense8 is centered around eight characters, from different parts of the world, who experience a violent vision, and soon find themselves mentally connected by the experience. They become connected, able to see and talk to each other as though they were in the same place, with access to each other’s deepest secrets. Not only must the eight adapt to this new ability and to each other, they must figure out why their lives are now in jeopardy. In Season 2, dark forces continue to track the cluster of eight connected characters. The sensates will learn more about BPO, the secret organization searching for their cluster and others like them, and will work to protect themselves from this organization that is out to hunt and kill them.

The above teaser has been released for Star Wars: The Last Jedi which will be released December 15. More at Entertainment Weekly.

Syfy has finally announced that The Magicians will be renewed for a third season. Grace and Frankie has also been renewed by Netflix.

Calista Flockhart will be returning for the final two episodes of Supergirl this season. She was written out of the show after two episodes as a consequence of the show moving production to Vancouver. Tyler Hoechlin will also return as Superman.

Manu Bennett (Slade Wilson/Deathstroke) will be returning for the season finale of Arrow.

Gotham plans to “introduce the idea of Harley Quinn” in the Season 3 finale.

The pilot for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has received excellent reviews, so it is no surprise that Amazon has picked up this series from Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino. The only surprise is that Amazon has already picked it up for two seasons, which could keep Amy Sherman-Palladino busy if the rumors come true of a second season for Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. The summary for her new series:

The series, written and directed by Sherman-Palladino, stars Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a 1958 New York City woman who has everything she’s ever wanted—the perfect husband, two kids, and an elegant Upper West Side apartment perfect for hosting Yom Kippur dinner. But her perfect life suddenly takes an unexpected turn and Midge discovers a previously unknown talent—one that changes her life forever. She charts a course that takes her from her comfortable life on Riverside Drive, through the basket houses and nightclubs of Greenwich Village as she storms the world of stand-up comedy…a course that will ultimately lead her to a spot on Johnny Carson’s couch.

In addition to House of Cards, Rachel Brosnahan also appeared as Abby Isaacs in the WGN series Manhattan.

Big Little Lies completed the events of  novel it was based on in its first season, but that might not keep it from getting a second season. It certainly is plausible–and there is precedent for this. The Leftovers was better in its second season, after its first season completed the novel it was based on, and early reviews suggest the third season might be even better. HBO was certainly not going to stop filming Game of Thrones when it caught up to the published novels.

Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Donald Trump’s attack on the media as an enemy of the American people has received widespread criticism. Carl Bernstein has called Trump’s attacks on the media worse than those which came from Richard Nixon:

“Trump’s attacks on the American press as ‘enemies of the American people’ are more treacherous than Richard Nixon’s attacks on the press,” former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein said Sunday on CNN.

Trump’s comments — made publicly, whereas Nixon attacked his enemies in private — brought to mind “dictators and authoritarians, including Stalin, including Hitler,” Bernstein said.

He immediately walked back a comparison to the Nazi leader, while doubling down on the comparison to Nixon.

Bernstein — whose reporting of the Watergate break-in and coverup helped bring about Nixon’s resignation — said Trump’s rhetoric is potentially more dangerous than Nixon’s attacks on the news media.

“There is no civic consensus in this country like there was at the time of Watergate about acceptable presidential conduct,” Bernstein said on “Reliable Sources.”

“Trump is out there on his own, leading a demagogic attack on the institutions of free democracy,” he said. “We are into terrible authoritarian tendencies.”

“We’re not enemies of the American people,” Bernstein said on CNN. “In fact, we’re the last resort of the American people to a dictatorial and authoritarian-inclined president.”

Even Fox was critical of Trump, with Chris Wallace saying he crossed the line:

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace cautioned his colleagues and the network’s viewers Sunday that President Trump’s latest attack on the media had gone too far.

“Look, we’re big boys. We criticize presidents. They want to criticize us back, that’s fine,” Wallace said Sunday morning on “Fox & Friends.” “But when he said that the fake news media is not my enemy, it’s the enemy of the American people, I believe that crosses an important line.”

The “Fox & Friends” anchors had shown a clip of Trump recounting that past presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, had fought with the press. They then asked Wallace whether Trump’s fraught relationship with the media was a big deal.

In response, Wallace told his colleagues that Jefferson had also once written the following: “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Context was important, Wallace said. All presidents fight with the media, but Trump had taken it a step further in making them out to be “the enemy,” he added.

“Yes, presidents have always had — and politicians have always had — problems with the press. They want good press. The press doesn’t always give it to them,” Wallace said. “But what Jefferson [was saying] is, despite all of our disputes, that to the functioning of a free and fair democracy, you must have an independent press.”

My previous post on this subject quoted John McCain in criticizing Trump, along with other comparisons to Richard Nixon.

John McCain isn’t the only Republican who has been critical of Donald Trump recently. The Wall Street Journal has a story on how Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning Congressman from Michigan, has emerged as “Leading Critic of Fellow Republican Donald Trump.”

President Donald Trump’s “constant fear-mongering’’ about terrorism is “irresponsible and dangerous.’’ He needs to “stop attacking the legitimacy of the judiciary.’’ He picked an attorney general with “anti-liberty” positions on surveillance and police seizure of property…

Mr. Amash says his opposition is based on principle, as a libertarian concerned about government overreach and adherence to the Constitution. While many Republican lawmakers hold similar beliefs, Mr. Amash has been an especially outspoken proponent of smaller government, even on issues—such as reducing surveillance—where his views put him out of step with the more mainstream elements of the GOP.

Alternative Facts, George Orwell, And Doctor Who

The election of Donald Trump appears to be stimulating reading along with protests. The Hill reports a surge in sale of George Orwell’s novel 1984 after Kellyanne Conway said that the White House press secretary gave “alternative facts” after he made false statements about the crowd size at the inauguration. Alternative facts sounds alarmingly like the newspeak and doublethink of 1984.  1984 moved up to the sixth best selling book on Amazon on Tuesday. Sales of 1984 also surged in 2013 in response to the revelations from Edward Snowden regarding NSA surveillance.

1984 is probably the most famous literary criticism of the techniques used by authoritarian regimes, but other sources have also been discussed following the inauguration of Donald Trump. Yesterday I posted about two novels, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. Both novels involved an alternative history in which populist politicians promising to  make America great defeated FDR and established dictatorships.

Doctor Who fans have been giving the show credit for predicting this forty hears ago in an episode in which the Doctor, then played by Tom Baker, said, “You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views.”

Boing Boing used the format of Little Golden Books to make the above mock cover for The Little Golden Book of Alternate Facts. The cover presents all you really need to know as to what alternate facts really are.

Seth Meyers compared Kellyanne Coneway’s statement to a Jedi novice:  “Kellyanne Conway is like someone trying to do the Jedi mind trick after only a week of Jedi training. ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for.’ ‘Yeah, they are, those are my droids.’ ‘No, these are alternative robots.'”

I suspect that the Trump administration might be associated with this meme forever. After he dies, Donald Trump’s tombstone might read: “Alternative Fact: He Was A Really Great President.”

NSA Surveillance Data To Become Available To More Agencies

While civil liberties advocates worry about the incoming Trump administration, with some urging the Obama administration to curtail surveillance prior to Trump’s inauguration, The New York Times report that instead the NSA is being given increased latitude to share intercepted communications:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

The American Civil Liberties Union did not accept the Obama administration’s justification for this change:

…Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

Techdirt comments that “All of this means the NSA is now officially a domestic surveillance agency, even if a majority of its exploration of Americans’ data/communications is being done by proxy.”

The Verge adds:

The change also raises unavoidable privacy concerns. While the relevant data is collected overseas, it inevitably includes phone calls, emails, and other messages between US citizens. Without any form of filtering, the raw data includes everything that passed through a given network switch, without any form of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

The new rule bears on all data collected under Executive Order 12333, which many believe to be responsible for the bulk of the NSA’s collection efforts. Issued by President Reagan, the order did not require a congressional vote, and has been subject to only minimal oversight by the legislature. Collection efforts under the order are not subject to court approval, as long as they occur outside the United States.

Presumably this is one executive order from Obama which Donald Trump will not reverse.

While I doubt he will take me up on this suggestion, as Obama is a centrist who often tries to please both sides, he should at least balance this by doing the right thing before leaving office and pardon Edward Snowden, who we have to thank for letting the American people know about the existence of this surveillance, and how the NSA had been breaking the law.

Julian Assange On The Election Of Donald Trump And Defeat Of Hillary Clinton

Julian Assange and Wikileaks had a significant impact on the Democratic Party. The revelations in the leaked email led to the removal of Debby Wasserman Schultz as chairperson of the Democratic National Committee and very likely had an effect on the results of the general election. La Republica interviewed Assange. This is what he had to say about the United States election:

WikiLeaks published documents on Hillary Clinton and the US Democrats. How do you reply to those who accuse you of having helped to elect Mr. Trump?
“What is the allegation here exactly? We published what the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and Hillary Clinton herself were saying about their own campaign, which the American people read and were very interested to read, and assessed the elements and characters, and then they made a decision. That decision was based on Hillary Clinton’s own words, her campaign manager’s own words. That’s democracy”.

Do you agree with those who say that it was a hit job, because you hit Hillary Clinton when she was most vulnerable, during the final weeks of her campaign?
“No, we have been publishing about Hillary Clinton for many years, because of her position as Secretary of State. We have been publishing her cables since 2010 and her emails also. We are domain experts on Clinton and her post 2008 role in government. This is why it is natural for sources who have information on Hillary Clinton to come to us. They know we will understand its significance”.

So Clinton is gone, has WikiLeaks won?
“We were pleased to see how much of the American public interacted with the material we published. That interaction was on both sides of politics, including those to the left of Hillary Clinton those who supported Bernie Sanders, who were able to see the structure of power within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and how the Clintons had placed Debbie Wasserman Schultz to head up the DNC and as a result the DNC had tilted the scales of the process against Bernie Sanders”.

What about Donald Trump? What is going to happen?
“If the question is how I personally feel about the situation, I am mixed: Hillary Clinton and the network around her imprisoned one of our alleged sources for 35 years, Chelsea Manning, tortured her according to the United Nations, in order to implicate me personally. According to our publications Hillary Clinton was the chief proponent and the architect of the war against Libya. It is clear that she pursued this war as a staging effort for her Presidential bid. It wasn’t even a war for an ideological purpose. This war ended up producing the refugee crisis in Europe, changing the political colour of Europe, killing more than 40,000 people within a year in Libya, while the arms from Libya went to Mali and other places, boosting or causing civil wars, including the Syrian catastrophe. If someone and their network behave like that, then there are consequences. Internal and external opponents are generated. Now there is a separate question on what Donald Trump means”.

What do you think he means?
“Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better”.

In these ten years of WikiLeaks, you and your organisation have experienced all sorts of attacks. What have you learned from this warfare?
“Power is mostly the illusion of power. The Pentagon demanded we destroy our publications. We kept publishing. Clinton denounced us and said we were an attack on the entire “international community”. We kept publishing. I was put in prison and under house arrest. We kept publishing. We went head to head with the NSA getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong, we won and got him asylum. Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed. Elephants, it seems, can be brought down with string. Perhaps there are no elephants”.

While there is potential for significant harm under Donald Trump, bringing down such a tremendous force for evil on the world stage such as Hillary Clinton would be a great victory.  While the revelations from Wikileaks were damaging to Clinton, it is not clear how much they actually affected the election. They primarily acted to verify criticism already being made of Clinton by Sanders supporters and her opponents on the left.

Having Wikileaks as a major news story in October was probably harmful in that this centered much of the discussion in the final days of the election on Clinton’s flaws as opposed to Donald Trump’s flaws. The polls seemed to show signs of limited memory on the part of many voters as Clinton’s lead seemed to grow or diminish based upon which candidate was receiving the most coverage. With Donald Trump staying quieter in the final days of the campaign, it did probably hurt Clinton to have her flaws dominate the news between the Wikileaks revelations, along with further discussion of the FBI investigation of her email.

FiveThirtyEight.com tried to objectively measure the degree of damage done to Clinton by Wikileaks but the answer is not clear to them either:

There just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data. For instance, you might have expected a decline in the percentage of Americans who trusted Clinton after Wikileaks began its releases. As Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out in mid-October, both Trump campaign officials and even progressives said the Wikileaks emails revealed that Clinton would be “compromised” if she became president. But the percentage of Americans who found Clinton to be honest or trustworthy stayed at around 30 percent in polling throughout October and into November.

The evidence that Wikileaks had an impact, therefore, is circumstantial. Trump, for instance, won among voters who decided who to vote for in October 51 percent to 37 percent, according to national exit polls. That’s Trump’s best time period. He carried voters who decided in the final week, when you might expect Comey’s letter to have had the largest impact, 45 percent to 42 percent. (Although, Trump’s margin among those who decided in the final week was wider in the exit polls in some crucial swing states.) And while Clinton’s lead was dropping in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast before the Comey letter was released, the drop accelerated slightly afterward.

Of course, one thing didn’t sink Clinton. The evidence suggests Wikileaks is among the factors that might have contributed to her loss, but we really can’t say much more than that.

Julian Assange also discussed other topics. Among the most interesting was the status of opposition voices in Russia:

“In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum. There are also newspapers like “Novaya Gazeta”, in which different parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it is tolerated, generally, because it isn’t a big TV channel that might have a mass popular effect, its audience is educated people in Moscow. So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian, so for a strong culture which has its own language, you have to be seen as a local player. WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than 800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our publications come from Western sources, though not always. For example, we have published more than 2 million documents from Syria, including Bashar al-Assad personally. Sometimes we make a publication about a country and they will see WikiLeaks as a player within that country, like with Timor East and Kenya. The real determinant is how distant that culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far away”.

The Guardian, in its coverage of this interview, did point out how bleak the situation is in Russia:

Dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia in the past two decades, and Freedom House considers the Russian press to be “not free” and notes: “The main national news agenda is firmly controlled by the Kremlin. The government sets editorial policy at state-owned television stations, which dominate the media landscape and generate propagandistic content.”

Civil Liberties Groups Urge Obama To Curtail Government Surveillance Following Trump Victory

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After the revelations of NSA surveillance my concern, along with others such as Daniel Ellsberg, was not that we were already in an Orwellian totalitarian state, but that the infrastructure for a police state was being developed. In 2013 Ellsberg warned:

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

Civil libertarians now fear another development which risks the progression to a police state–the election of Donald Trump. Even those who trusted Obama with these powers recognize the dangers of abuse under Trump. Politico reports:

Tech and civil liberties advocates are imploring the Obama administration to rein in the government’s massive surveillance apparatus before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, fearful he will carry out his campaign promises to register Muslims, spy on mosques and punish companies that offer Americans unbreakable encryption.

But many national security experts and former administration officials say the effort is almost certainly doomed to fail. “I don’t know how you tie the king’s hands in just the weeks going out,” said Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama.

And some civil libertarians blame Democrats for being too content to allow President Barack Obama to wield the sweeping, post-Sept. 11 surveillance powers he inherited from George W. Bush, rather than rolling them back so that no future president could use them.

“We shouldn’t be relying on the benevolence of the leaders put in power after an election to ensure that people’s privacy and civil liberties are protected,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“You have a situation where the executive branch has control of a surveillance apparatus that is unparalleled in history,” said Trevor Timm, a surveillance critic and head of the activist group Freedom of the Press Foundation. “And because the Obama administration either retained the right to use a lot of these unprecedented powers, or expanded them, they are now in the hands of somebody who many people consider to be a madman.”

…Hoping to head Trump off, civil liberties, digital rights and watchdog groups are pleading with Obama to take a series of actions to weaken the surveillance state. Those include releasing classified inspector general reports and the secret legal rationales behind the government’s spying efforts, which could help advocates challenge Trump in court. Some also urged Obama’s team to purge the NSA’s databases of some of the information they hoover up, wiping out reams of data that are focused on foreigners but incidentally drag in details on an unknown number of Americans.

Thirty advocacy groups banded together this week in a letter telling Obama to take action, writing: “No less than our shared legacy of a vibrant democratic government is at stake.”

…Obama came into office vowing to “revisit” many of these powers, but privacy advocates believe he has largely failed to do so. While the president has regularly spoken about the need for greater checks and public oversight of the system, he has defended the powers themselves.

“This may go down in history as President Obama’s most consequential mistake,” Timm said.

Civil libertarians have been concerned about the danger of abuses under Donald Trump, but the degree of government surveillance placed civil liberties at risk regardless of whether Trump was elected. Other than for Trump’s xenophobia, Hillary Clinton’s views on civil liberties and the surveillance state are not all that different from those of Donald Trump.

There is one benefit to Trump as opposed to Clinton winning–Democrats will be far more likely to protest abuses under Trump than they would protest abuses from Clinton. Many partisan Democrats have been whitewashing her record and excusing her extremely conservative views on First Amendment rights. Those of us who protested the growth of the surveillance state under both Bush and Obama were often ignored by Democrats when Obama was president and they thought he would be succeeded by Clinton. The election of Donald Trump is opening more eyes to the danger of such powers in the hands of the president.

How About A More Meaningful Pardon–Ed Snowden

obama-pardon-turkey

Barack Obama has fulfilled the tradition of pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving. Before he leaves office he should make a more meaningful pardon and honor the American tradition of individual liberty and privacy. Pardon Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden Calls On Obama To Pardon Him; Jill Stein Supports Request

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Edward Snowden expressed hope that Obama would pardon him before leaving office in an interview with The Guardian:

Speaking on Monday via a video link from Moscow, where he is in exile, Snowden said any evaluation of the consequences of his leak of tens of thousands of National Security Agency and GCHQ documents in 2013 would show clearly that people had benefited.

“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” he said.

“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The [US] Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”

Although US presidents have granted some surprising pardons when leaving office, the chances of Obama doing so seem remote, even though before he entered the White House he was a constitutional lawyer who often made the case for privacy and had warned about the dangers of mass surveillance.

Obama’s former attorney general Eric Holder, however, gave an unexpected boost to the campaign for a pardon in May when he said Snowden had performed a public service.

The campaign could receive a further lift from Oliver Stone’s film, Snowden, scheduled for release in the US on Friday. Over the weekend the director said he hoped the film would help shift opinion behind the whistleblower, and added his voice to the plea for a pardon.

His chances are  not very good, with the Obama administration having a very strict policy towards prosecution in whistle blowing cases. This includes using the Espionage Act more than all previous administrations combined to prosecute those who have leaked information to the press.

Of course the Obama administration’s zeal with regards to protecting classified information did not apply to Hillary Clinton being “extremely careless” with classified information as Secretary of State.

While it is not very likely that Obame will pardon Snowden, his chances are dramatically lower once the next president takes office. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are extremely conservative on civil liberties and are not likely to pardon him. John Cassidy of The New Yorker pointed out that, “From a civil-liberties perspective—and a factual perspective—Clinton’s answers were disturbing” when she was asked about Snowden in a Democratic debate last October. PoltiFact also called her statements about Snowden Mostly False.  Donald Trump has referred to Snowden as a traitor.

Snowden’s chances would be much better if one of the third party candidates had a chance to win. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was equivocal on applying libertarianism here, having said he would consider pardoning him. Green Party Jill Stein has been calling for a pardon for Snowden for quite a while, and has an op-ed in The Guardian repeating this view. She concluded:

Federal judges ruled that such massive collection of citizens’ metadata without any connection to a particular investigation was patently illegal, essentially vindicating Snowden. His goal was to tell the truth about the government spying on all of us, and to create public and judicial pressure on the government to create real changes in the way things are done and to stop the trajectory towards a surveillance state.

Snowden’s whistleblowing was among the most important in US history. It showed us that the relationship between the people of the United States and the government has gone off track and needs a major course correction.

The fourth amendment of the constitution provides that a court must find probable cause that an individual has committed a crime before issuing a warrant, and forbids systematic spying on the American people. The requirement of individualized suspicion should prohibit this type of dragnet surveillance. Spying on whole populations is not necessary, and is actually counterproductive.

If elected president I will immediately pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou for their important work in exposing the massive, systematic violation of our constitutional rights. I would invite them to the White House to publicly acknowledge their heroism, and create a role for them in the Stein-Baraka Green party administration to help us create a modern framework that protects personal privacy while still conducting effective investigations where warranted.

The American people have a right to privacy. My hope is that Obama uses his power to pardon Snowden now. The debate he began must be continued so we find a resolution that protects the freedom of press, association, religion and speech as well as the privacy of people in the United States and around the world.

Down To One Liberal And One Defender Of Civil Liberties In The Presidential Race

Colbert Hungry for Power Games

The number of presidential candidates should drop quickly now that voting has begun. It is not surprising that many of the candidates are waiting to see if they do better than the polls have predicted, which is reasonable considering how poorly polls often are at predicting primary results. Some of the more mainstream candidates are putting their hopes on New Hampshire. For other candidates, a loss in Iowa was enough to tell them that they had no chance.

On the Democratic side, Martin O’Malley announced that he is suspending his campaign while the Iowa caucus was in progress. It has been clear for months that O’Malley had no real chance with the conservative/establishment voters going for Clinton and the liberal/pro-insurgent voters going for Sanders. There was no middle lane for O’Malley, who certainly would be a far better choice than Clinton. He campaigned hard in Iowa, and there was no point in continuing once this failed to result in support at the caucuses. This leaves Bernie Sanders as the only liberal or progressive left in the race from either party.

For the Republicans, the Iowa caucus is the best shot for a candidate from the religious right to win, as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have done in the past. Republicans this year are bucking their usual trend of backing the next in line, with Ted Cruz winning this year. Huckabee at least deserves credit for realizing there is no hope and not dragging it on any longer. I wonder how much longer Rick Santorum and Ben Carson will stay in the race.

Rand Paul dropped out today, realizing it made more sense to work at holding on to his Senate seat, especially when he is increasingly being excluded from the Republican debates. While I disagree with Paul on many things, I did like having Paul criticizing the other candidates for their conservative positions on military interventionism, civil liberties, and the drug war. For that matter, while he has done so at times, I also wish Bernie Sanders would do the same regarding Clinton’s views.

With Paul out, this leaves Sanders as the only candidate opposing unnecessary foreign intervention, the only candidate opposing the surveillance state and other restrictions on civil liberties, and the only candidate who opposes the drug war. By concentrating on economic issues, where he also differs substantially from all the remaining candidates, other issues are receiving too little attention this year.

Stephen Colbert did not do his usual segment on Hungry For Power Games last night, concentrating on the caucus instead. Now he has three candidates to mock tonight.

Update: Rick Santorum is also dropping out.

Edward Snowden Continues To Bring Out Differences Between Civil Libertarians And Advocates Of The Surveillance State

Edward Snowden We The People

The recent vote by the European Parliament calling on member states to protect whistle blower Edward Snowden from extradition and  prosecution, while largely symbolic, demonstrates how the United States government is conservative by international standards. This was seen again in the past week when, with absolutely no evidence to back them, some in the intelligence community used the recent terrorist attack in Paris to make Snowden the scapegoat. Glenn Greenwald has debunked these arguments:

The CIA’s former acting director, Michael Morell, blamed the Paris attack on Internet companies “building encryption without keys,” which, he said, was caused by the debate over surveillance prompted by Snowden’s disclosures. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) blamed Silicon Valley’s privacy safeguards, claiming: “I have asked for help. And I haven’t gotten any help.”

Former CIA chief James Woolsey said Snowden “has blood on his hands” because, he asserted, the Paris attackers learned from his disclosures how to hide their communications behind encryption. Woolsey thus decreed on CNN that the NSA whistleblower should be “hanged by the neck until he’s dead, rather than merely electrocuted.”

The CIA’s blame-shifting game, aside from being self-serving, was deceitful in the extreme. To begin with, there still is no evidence that the perpetrators in Paris used the Internet to plot their attacks, let alone used encryption technology.

CIA officials simply made that up. It is at least equally likely that the attackers formulated their plans in face-to-face meetings. The central premise of the CIA’s campaign — encryption enabled the attackers to evade our detection — is baseless.

Even if they had used encryption, what would that prove? Are we ready to endorse the precept that no human communication can ever take place without the U.S. government being able to monitor it? To prevent the CIA and FBI from “going dark” on terrorism plots that are planned in person, should we put Orwellian surveillance monitors in every room of every home that can be activated whenever someone is suspected of plotting?

The claim that the Paris attackers learned to use encryption from Snowden is even more misleading. For many years before anyone heard of Snowden, the U.S. government repeatedly warned that terrorists were using highly advanced means of evading American surveillance…

Greenwald elaborated more on this, and concluded with a general warning about how the government uses terrorism as an excuse to infringe upon civil liberties:

What the Snowden disclosures actually revealed to the world was that the U.S. government is monitoring the Internet communications and activities of everyone else: hundreds of millions of innocent people under the largest program of suspicionless mass surveillance ever created, a program that multiple federal judges have ruled is illegal and unconstitutional.

That is why intelligence officials are so eager to demonize Snowden: rage that he exposed their secret, unconstitutional schemes.

But their ultimate goal is not to smear Snowden. That’s just a side benefit. The real objective is to depict Silicon Valley as terrorist-helpers for the crime of offering privacy protections to Internet users, in order to force those companies to give the U.S. government “backdoor” access into everyone’s communications. American intelligence agencies have been demanding “backdoor” access to encryption since the mid-1990s. They view exploitation of the outrage and fear resulting from the Paris attacks as their best opportunity yet to achieve this access.

The key lesson of the post-9/11 abuses — from Guantanamo to torture to the invasion of Iraq — is that we must not allow military and intelligence officials to exploit the fear of terrorism to manipulate public opinion. Rather than blindly believe their assertions, we must test those claims for accuracy. In the wake of the Paris attacks, that lesson is more urgent than ever.

The controversy over Edward Snowden’s actions has become apart of this year’s election debates. Hillary Clinton’s comments on Snowden in the first Democratic Debate were just one of many falsehoods from Clinton which went unchallenged during the debate. Nick Gillepsie and Amanda Winkler called Clinton’s comments on Snowden her biggest lie of the debate:

What was Hillary Clinton’s biggest lie during the first Democratic debate?

That NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden could have gone through official channels.

“He broke the laws,” said Clinton. “He could have been a whistleblower, he could have gotten all the protections of being a whistleblower.”

More important is the experience of NSA and intelligence whistleblowers who came before Snowden.

“Tom Drake, Bill Binney, Kirk Wiebe, and Ed Loomis did go through the proper channels,” says Radack. “And all of them fell under criminal investigations for having done so.”

Hillary Clinton has a right her own opinion about the value and damage done by Snowden’s revelations, but she’s simply not credible when she argues he could have worked through official channels.

Martin O’Malley also took a hard line on Snowden during the debate. In contrast, Bernie Sanders has called for clemency or a plea agreement for Snowden. He took the most moderate approach towards Snowden during the first debate:

SANDERS: I think Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined.

COOPER: Is he a hero?

SANDERS: He did — he did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that. But I think what he did in educating us should be taken into consideration before he is (inaudible)

Sanders also defended privacy rights against NSA surveillance during the debate:

Well, I would shut down — make — I’d shut down what exists right now is that virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file at the NSA. That is unacceptable to me. But it’s not just government surveillance. I think the government is involved in our e-mails; is involved in our websites. Corporate America is doing it as well. If we are a free country, we have the right to be free. Yes, we have to defend ourselves against terrorism, but there are ways to do that without impinging on our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.

Snowden has received support world wide from civil libertarians and activists against tyranny. The most recent example came from Chinese activist Ai Weiwei:

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has expressed alarm about the growth of state surveillance and praised US whistleblower ­Edward Snowden for speaking out about the “technology monster”.

Ai is due in Australia next month for a show at the ­National Gallery of Victoria, where he will share top billing with the late American pop artist Andy Warhol.

Speaking in Berlin, where he runs a studio in tandem with ­another in Beijing, Ai told The Weekend Australian that Snowden was “one of the great heroes” for sharing information about government control.

Ai carries two iPhones, and a picture of Snowden — the National­­ Security Agency contractor who revealed domestic spying in the US — is printed on the back of both.

“This guy should have a Nobel Peace Prize if anybody ­deserves that,” he said. “But, of course, he could not stop it. He just told the people that’s what’s happening.

“Of course, what happened then is a nightmare, this young guy just had to sacrifice everything for saying that.”