New NSA Director Found Snowden Leaks Not Harmful To National Security

Edward Snowden provided the nation a valuable service in revealing how the government was lying to the American people and Congress about the extent of NSA surveillance. Those opposed to his release of classified information have often claimed that he endangered the country by revealing the information despite lack of any evidence that this is the case. A recent interview with the director of the NSA in The New York Times agrees with previous assessments doubting that Snowden’s revelations have done any serious harm:

The newly installed director of the National Security Agency says that while he has seen some terrorist groups alter their communications to avoid surveillance techniques revealed by Edward J. Snowden, the damage done over all by a year of revelations does not lead him to the conclusion that “the sky is falling.”

In an hourlong interview Friday in his office here at the heart of the country’s electronic eavesdropping and cyberoperations, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who has now run the beleaguered spy agency and the military’s Cyber Command for just short of three months, described the series of steps he was taking to ensure that no one could download the trove of data that Mr. Snowden gathered — more than a million documents…

Notable in his comments was an absence of alarm about the long-term effects of the Snowden revelations. Like former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who urged colleagues in the Obama administration to calm down about the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, Admiral Rogers seemed to suggest that, as technology progressed, the agency would find new ways to compensate for the damage done, however regrettable the leaks.

He repeated past warnings that the agency had overheard terrorist groups “specifically referencing data detailed” by Mr. Snowden’s revelations. “I have seen groups not only talk about making changes, I have seen them make changes,” he said.

But he then added: “You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling.’ I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”

House Votes To Place Limits on Backdoor Searches; Obama Administration Seeks Reauthorization Of NSA Surveillance

Thanks to the revelations in the material on surveillance released by Edward Snowden, the United States is  now taking baby steps towards reforming the system. Late in the week the House did vote to limit “backdoor searches.” The amendment received bipartisan support, showing how opposition to excessive NSA surveillance is an issue which does not fall under usual partisan lines. More Democrats than Republicans did vote in favor, Democrats voting it 158 to 29, with Republicans voting it 135 to 94 in favor.

Vox explained the significance:

What’s a backdoor search?

In 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which expanded the government’s warrantless surveillance powers.

Ordinarily, the Fourth Amendment requires an individualized warrant before the government can engage in surveillance on American soil. But the FAA created an alternative process where a judge can authorize entire surveillance programs without necessarily knowing which specific people will be surveillance targets. The PRISM program, which the NSA uses to obtain private information from companies such as Google and Facebook, was authorized under this provision of the FAA.

The George W. Bush administration argued that it needed this new power to spy on terrorists whose communications passed through the United States. The FAA included a provision barring the government from using the surveillance facilities to “target” Americans. The problem, civil liberties groups argue, is that “targeting” is defined in a way that doesn’t actually protect Americans. There are ways for the NSA to effectively spy on Americans without technically “targeting” them.

One example is what’s known as a backdoor search. In this technique, the NSA engages in wide surveillance of communications that involve both Americans and foreigners. So long as the foreigners are the official “target,” this is permitted under the FAA. The NSA sometimes stores the information it has collected in a giant database. And the agency has taken the position that it can search this database for information about Americans without running afoul of the no-targeting-Americans rule.

What does the amendment do?

Congress is considering a bill to fund the military for the 2015 fiscal year, and that includes funding for the National Security Agency. The amendment offered by Sensenbrenner and his colleagues and Lofgren prohibits the NSA from using any funds provided in the bill to “query a collection of foreign intelligence information” acquired under the FAA “using a United States person identifier.

In other words, it would ban the use of federal funds to conduct backdoor searches. In practice, that would make it illegal for the NSA to engage in backdoor searches during the 2015 fiscal year.

The legislation does allow such searches in cases where another court order has authorized surveillance of the American being targeted.

The legislation also effectively bars the NSA or the Central Intelligence Agency from forcing device manufacturers to install technical “backdoors” in their products.

Is that a big deal?

By itself, the amendment falls short of the kind of sweeping NSA reforms some civil liberties groups support. But the vote represents the first time a house of Congress has voted to curtail the controversial practices revealed by Ed Snowden last year. It will give NSA critics renewed political momentum and may force President Obama to make further concessions to critics of the NSA.

In August, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) offered an amendment to last year’s defense funding bill that would have shut down a different NSA program: the collection of Americans’ phone records. That vote failed in a razor-thin 205 to 217 vote. The surprising closeness of the vote was widely interpreted as a sign of congressional anger over the NSA’s actions.

Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, argues that the vote is a rebuke to the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee. That body is supposed to serve as a watchdog over NSA surveillance, but in recent years it has more often acted as a defender of NSA policies. The vote, Sanchez says, “demonstrates pretty dramatically that the gatekeepers in the Intelligence Committee are out of synch with the sentiment of the broader House.”

Sanchez also notes that similar language was stripped from the USA FREEDOM Act, legislation intended to rein in the NSA that wound up being substantially weakened during the legislative process.

Spencer Ackerman wrote more on why this is important  at The Guardian.

Meanwhile, TechDirt reports: a  group of Senators, Mark Udall, Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich, sent President Obama a letter reminding him that he can live up to his promise to end bulk phone record collection today by simply having the DOJ not seek to renew the court order from the FISA Court getting the phone operators to hand over that data.

We welcome your proposal, announced on March 27, 2014, to end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. We believe as you do that the government can protect national security by collecting the phone records of individuals connected to terrorism, instead of collecting the records of millions of law-abiding Americans. We also believe that you have the authority to implement your proposal now, rather than continuing to reauthorize the existing bulk collection program in 90-day increments.

James Clapper’s office issued a statement that “the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President announced earlier this year.”

TechDirt responded:

Wait. Given what importance of maintaining the capabilities? So far, every analysis of the program has shown that it wasn’t important at all. How could anyone in the administration still claim with a straight face that the Section 215 bulk phone records collection is “important” when everyone who’s seen the evidence agrees that the program has been next to useless in stopping terrorism.

I imagine we will be returning to this in another ninety days to see if there is truly further progress in reforming the surveillance process from the Obama administration. Hopefully by then Congress also passes legislation containing the amendment preventing backdoor searches.

NSA Increases Credibility Gap With Latest Claims About Edward Snowden

The documents released by Edward Snowden have already demonstrated that the government has lied to the American people, and to our representatives in Congress, regarding violations of the law and the Constitution in conducting surveillance of American citizens following 9/11. Just as the attack was used by the Bush administration to launch the war in Iraq based upon lies, the attack was also used to greatly expand government surveillance in an atmosphere where there was too little scrutiny of government actions. There have been a lot of side issues raised to try to distract from these real issues. The latest such side issue raised by the NSA actually casts even more doubt on their credibility.

The government is denying claims made by Edward Snowden since he first became known publicly that he had first tried unsuccessfully to complain about these abuses internally. They are doing this based upon releasing a  single email he had sent in April 2013 which did not raise major concerns. Here is a portion of Snowden’s response:

The NSA’s new discovery of written contact between me and its lawyers – after more than a year of denying any such contact existed – raises serious concerns. It reveals as false the NSA’s claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that “after extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities – such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies – are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.

If the White House is interested in the whole truth, rather than the NSA’s clearly tailored and incomplete leak today for a political advantage, it will require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities. It will not take long to receive an answer.

Ultimately, whether my disclosures were justified does not depend on whether I raised these concerns previously. That’s because the system is designed to ensure that even the most valid concerns are suppressed and ignored, not acted upon. The fact that two powerful Democratic Senators – Ron Wyden and Mark Udall – knew of mass surveillance that they believed was abusive and felt constrained to do anything about it underscores how futile such internal action is — and will remain — until these processes are reformed.

Still, the fact is that I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions – as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied. Just as when the NSA claimed it followed German laws in Germany just weeks before it was revealed that they did not, or when NSA said they did not engage in economic espionage a few short months before it was revealed they actually did so on a regular and recurring basis, or even when they claimed they had “no domestic spying program” before we learned they collected the phone records of every American they could, so too are today’s claims that “this is only evidence we have of him reporting concerns” false.

Considering all the evidence that has been released of dishonesty on the part of the NSA and its defenders, I find Snowden’s statements that he had raised concerns about NSA activities to sound far more credible than the current NSA claim that this suddenly discovered email constitutes his sole complaint.

SciFi Weekend: Hannibal; Orphan Black; Person of Interest; The Blacklist; Arrow; Agents of SHIELD; The Americans; Revenge; Alison Brie; Emelia Clarke; Porn Stars in Game of Thrones; Billie Piper; Nebula and BAFTA Award Winners

Hannibal Mason Face

The penultimate episode of Hannibal for the season, Tome-wan, wrapped up the current Mason Verger storyline and set the stage for next week’s confrontation between Jack and Hannibal, already shown in the season premiere. The scene in which a drugged Mason Verger was feeding his own face to Will’s dogs was among the more gruesome of the series. The episode also included fantasies of Hannibal being fed to Mason’s pigs.

Last week we learned that Will was working with Jack and was not really a murderer under Hannibal’s spell. This week they walked this back a bit, leaving Jack not entirely clear as to whose side Will was really on. I suspect that Will is still interested in helping take Hannibal down, but is not above keeping things from Jack, and was willing to work with Hannibal to see Mason Verger receive the punishment he felt he deserved after what he did to Margot. I also wonder if questions over Will’s loyalties leads to Jack setting himself up as bait and is the reason the two wind up fighting, as opposed to an organized FBI arrest.

The episode also included the brief return of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. Gillian Anderson managed to come in for six hour for filming between plains concluding Crisis and leaving to begin filming on The Fall. As a consequence, it was necessary to only briefly have her tell about her back story in which Hannibal persuaded her to kill a patient (partially in self-defense) as opposed to actually showing this, and it appears she has a much smaller role in the final take down of Hannibal than I previously predicted. While I wish we could see more of her on Hannibal, it was good news that she was finally going to film the second season of The Fall.

Fortunately Hannibal has been renewed for a third season and it won’t be necessary to shop the show around to other networks which might consider it, such as the Food Network.

Bryan Fuller discussed the conclusion of the Mason Verger storyline for this season, and the motivations of the characters involved:

Let’s talk about Mason’s drug trip. How was that conceived?
Fuller: 
It was directed by Michael Rymer, and it was fascinating to sit down and figure out how we were going to film this enhanced state of mind. Michael Pitt’s performance is so infectiously fun. I find it immensely enjoyable and very f—ed up in a thoroughly giddy way. I think the thing that Michael Rymer brought to the scene was a similar infectious sense of fun. He wanted it to be a carnival of sorts. He wanted to light sparklers in the room to create the things your retinas do when you’re under that much chemical oppression. He was the right guy to bring the drug trip to life and has the humor to make sure it is as fun onscreen as it can be.

Mason certainly seemed to be enjoying himself even though he was cutting off his own face!
Fuller:
 [Laughs] Michael Pitt was having the time of his life with this performance. And there’s something between Hannibal and Will in that moment that is very playful, which is perhaps a strange word to use in that context. But there’s a gamesmanship afoot because Hannibal essentially says, “I got him to cut off his face. Your turn.”

However, Will needs Hannibal to commit this murder so they can arrest him, but Hannibal only breaks Mason’s neck. Is Hannibal on to Will or is he keeping Mason alive because of Margot’s financial dilemma?
Fuller:
  Hannibal’s response is all of those things. It’s a gesture toward Margot to give her some control in her life. And also, he doesn’t kill him completely because, as he has said and will say again to Margot, the best therapy for her is to kill her brother.

And I assume Mason doesn’t tell Jack the truth because he too has some of his own twisted plans for Hannibal.
Fuller:
 Mason does not want Jack Crawford to deliver justice to Hannibal. He wants to deliver justice his own way. This is all now a very particular game for Mason, which I am hoping to explore much more of in Season 3. Episode 12 completes the Verger arc for Season 2 and sets up the Verger arc for Season 3.

Orphan Black Sarah Helena

Ipsa Scientia Potestas provided more information on the development of the clones and, as usual for an episode of Orphan Black, raised more questions than it answered. Rachel joined characters on shows including Agents of SHIELD, Revenge, and The Blacklist with presumed dead fathers who are or might be alive. We found that Rachel has a monitor just like the other clones, but she is in a special position giving her more power. Paul, after not being seen much this season, has become more important after Rachel chose him to replace Daniel as her monitor, among other things. While Orphan Black doesn’t compete with Game of Thrones in terms of rape scenes, the scene in which she forced Paul into having sex with her will remain one of the more memorable scenes of the series. Paul does now have three notches in his clone belt. I’m hoping they manage to find a way to get him involved with Alison next (who was totally absent from this week’s episode). Paul’s motivations remain unclear as he is being blackmailed into cooperating. This week he went along with the plan to frame Felix for murder in order to gain control over Sarah but in future episodes it would not be surprising to see him help Sarah against Rachel if the opportunity were to present itself.

You can never be certain as to which side a character is on. Helena has been transformed from crazy murder to crazy murderer who does care about her twin sister Sarah. Leekie looks far more like an ally for the Clone Club, even being at odds with Rachel over some matters, compared to last season. I suspect that he intentionally sent Delphine the email on the stem cell tests to help Cosima, contrary to Rachel’s view of Cosima as expendable. It has become clear that, as suspected, Cal is hiding something after we saw his stash of weapons, cash, and fake ID. However, for the moment I trust Kira’s intuition and if she trusts him I will assume for now that he can turn out to be helpful to Sarah.

On the other hand, the Proletheans are clearly evil. If there was any doubt, this was eliminated when they sewed Gracie’s mouth closed for telling a lie. Now it looks like Gracie will become the surrogate mother following Helena’s escape.

The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Bruce Dylan (Paul) about his character’s motivations and the sex scene with Rachel:

The episode’s big “wow” moment was Rachel and Paul’s sex scene.

When I read it on the page, I had never seen anything like this on television before. It’s amazing how quickly Tatiana [Maslany] jumps into all these different characters and how immersed she is in each character she’s playing. Our director for this last episode, Helen Shaver, she’s very good in the realm of sexuality. She knows how to bring the sexy out of her actors. A lot of the moving parts in that scene were added by her. It’s almost like Rachel’s inspecting Paul like he’s a derby horse — looking at his teeth, making sure that he’s clean and worthy of her. It seems like she has a lot of suppressed sexual energy and very kinky as well. I was anticipating that they’d have whips and chains in the room. (Laughs.) I called her Fifty Shadesof Rachel. I thought she would have some sort of sex room with a swing or something. That scene was absolutely brilliant. It’s very sexy on a completely different level than other sex scenes that I’ve seen on television. It’s weird and sexy at the same time.

How is Paul adjusting to his new role as Rachel’s monitor? Will he be taking advantage of his current position?

He’s in a situation right now where it’s definitely to his advantage. The fact that Daniel is out of the picture, Paul’s not a disposable asset anymore. Now he can become a usable force. That helps him out and helps him progress his own cause. It seems like he’s being blackmailed into doing this, but there is something much bigger that this guy is involved with. That’s about all I can say about that. He would want nothing more than to burn the Dyad corporation to the ground, I think.

There’s an interesting power struggle between Dr. Leekie and Rachel and Paul’s stuck in the middle of it. Out of the two, who does he have more allegiance to?

Neither. This is another great thing for him. He can answer to two masters. That allows him to play both of them at the same time, but it’s a slippery slope. He has to walk that tightrope between the two of them. It’s almost like he’s waiting to see who comes out on top. He’s maintaining that guise where he’s tied to both of them, but in reality, his allegiance is going to lie with the one who wins in the end. He’s not going to pick a losing team, that’s for sure.

Speaking more specifically about the Felix matter. Does Paul have any ounce of guilt over putting him in jail?

When I read [the scene], I thought “Oh my god, this is going to be really hard to play with Jordan [Gavaris]” because I love Jordan so much and I love the character of Felix. The way I was playing it, I was trying to show the least amount of emotion because Paul’s a pretty stoic character. [Paul] was not pleased at all with having to do what he had to do. That was a necessity to do that. When he takes the gun out of the bag and Felix is like “What are you doing Paul?” it was more like an air of disappointment. If Paul didn’t do it, [Rachel] would have gotten rid of him herself.

It was dropped in that Paul has slept with three clones: Beth, Sarah and now Rachel. Is that notable?

When he slept with Beth, he was blackmailed into being her monitor and her boyfriend, or he could have faced military trial or the death sentence or life in prison or who knows what. When he slept with Sarah, she initiated the intimacy and now he sleeps with Rachel, she again initiates the intimacy. So he’s definitely not a prude but he’s definitely not the aggressor in the situation. (Laughs.) I don’t know how much you can say “Paul gets around” because it seems these clones are the aggressor in these situations. It’s so empowering because we have a brilliant female lead and all these brilliant female characters, it’s almost like a role reversal.

You’ve hinted several times that Paul has an agenda. How soon before what he’s been plotting is revealed?

You’ll find out this season tidbits, just snippets of it. That will [lead] to the next season. He’s very mysterious, isn’t he?

Another interview with Bruce Dylan at TV Line gave more evidence of Tatiana Maslany’s acting talents:

TVLINE | What was it like to film that scene? You’ve worked with Tatiana [Maslany] before, but it was as Sarah. Now you’re working with her as Rachel, and she’s this completely different animal.
You’re absolutely right. We all know how brilliant Tatiana is and how great she is. But when she is in these characters, she is firmly immersed in that character. You don’t feel as an actor, acting opposite of her, that she’s Tatiana playing a different character. She is Rachel. She is Sarah. It’s very easy to act opposite her because she is 100 percent into her character at that time. It’s a wonderful thing for an actor to do, because she’s so easy to react off and she’s so spontaneous.

That scene, how it was written on the page was actually different than how we performed it. Our director, Helen Shaver, she’s wonderful and she’s very good at bringing the sexy out of her actors with wonderful notes and directions. There were a lot of moving parts to that scene that she added in for both Tatiana and me. It made the scene a lot creepier than how it was on the page. And it made it a lot steamier at the same time. I’ve never seen a scene like that on television before.

TVLINE | Is it bizarre having love scenes with the same actress, but as two different characters?
She’s so good – that’s the first time anybody’s asked me that question, which is amazing – that has never once entered my mind. She is so into that character, it’s so easy to differentiate between the two. I don’t feel like it’s Tatiana playing a character. I actually feel like “Oh, this is really a person. [Laughs] This is really Rachel.” It wasn’t hard at all.

While Tatiana Maslany deserves most of the credit for making each clone seem like a distinct character, she does get some help. Yahoo interviewed the makeup and hair stylists for Orphan Black who explained how they make each clone seem different. Rachel takes the longest, and they use the most expensive cosmetics on her. As I had expected, it is intentional that Helena’s dark roots show despite her bleached hair.

Deus Ex Machina

There were several season finales last week. Person of Interest has totally changed the character of the show. Instead of achieving a true victory, Root had to settle for creating seven blind spots in Samaritan for herself, Shaw, Reese, Finch, and the three tech nerds. They had to separate, but Samaritan could not identify them. Presumably some of them will find a way to reunite to work together in some way next season. It is more questionable if they will continue to have episodes based upon a number of the week received from the Machine. Carter was already killed off last season when the show became less of a police procedural, and there also appears to be less of a role for Fusco. He was at the center of the stories related to HR, but he is not even aware of the existence of the Machine which drove so many of the cases he was involved with.

I wasn’t completely surprised, but was somewhat disappointed, that Vigilance turned out to have been created by Decima to create a false crisis to convince the government to go ahead with Samaritan. Greer might be deceitful, and his actions dangerous, but his motivations are not totally evil. Rather than seeking power for himself, he seems to truly think that it would be a good thing to place a super computer in charge of humanity. At the end, rather than giving Samaritan his orders, he told Samaritan it was about what it commanded. Clearly nothing good could come out of this.

Over the course of the first few seasons of Person of Interest, the real world caught up with the show as we learned about NSA surveillance. Now the show has leaped ahead of where we currently are, enabling it to provide a warning about where we might wind up.

In an interview with IO9, Jonathan Nolan talked about plans for next season and explained why New York is actually a good place to avoid surveillance:

In the first two and a half seasons of the show, New York and the city’s politics were a big part of the narrative. We had HR and the deputy mayor, and Elias and the gangs. Are we ever going to circle back to that? Are we going to get back to the politics of New York in this new surveillance dystopia you’ve created? Is Elias going to be back?

JN: Absolutely. We’ve always — hopefully in a good way — vacillated back and forth between the more metropolitan storyline and the Machine, or kind of global, storyline. Because the great thing about New York is that it’s both. It’s the kind of center of the world, in so many ways. But it’s also its own rich kind of arena. And Finch and Reese and Shaw, and now Root, and Fusco, are going to continue to be inveigled into local politics, and certainly local crime, every bit as much as they have up to this point. The people they’re trying to save every week. That storyline continues. That Machine still spits out numbers. And it’s going to be spitting out even more of them. So we’re doubling down on both fronts. We’ve always taken with, and fascinated by, the idea that within New York City, you have a bounded infinity of stories. So we never want to step away from that. We just want to keep raising the stakes on both levels.

And in this new A.I.-enabled world, whoever rules the big cities like New York has more power, because the big cities are where the infrastructure and the intelligencia are. So it becomes even more of a microcosm of the global power struggle.

JN: Yeah, absolutely. And ironically, New York, which is the most heavily surveiled place in the world, becomes one of the few places in the world to hide from surveillance. There was this awful but fascinating story from three years ago, when we were shooting the pilot in New York. There was a serial killer operating out on Long Island — in fact, I think this was the same one who was dumping his bodies not far from where we were shooting a stunt sequence. And this is awful, but he was making phone calls to some of the victims’ relatives using their cellphones, but doing it from Times Square. Because he or she, or whoever this villain was, understood that Times Square is one of the few places in the whole wide world where you can make a phone call on a cell phone that’s being trace. And when the authorities try to match up that phone call to surveillance footage to see who made the call — and try to match a person to a phone call, essentially — it’s impossible. Times Square is filled with hundreds of thousands of people on any given afternoon, all of whom have a cellphone. So it’s that hiding in plain sight. New York ironically becomes the only place in the world where you can hide from the surveillance state, even while being the very epicenter of it. So for us, the perfect arena for this fight that’s going to take place.

I was less excited by the first season finale of The Blacklist as it essentially reset the show back to where we were, with a new villain. There was little drama in Lizzie saying she would no longer work with Reddington as I had no doubt that she would not hold to that. Besides, why was she so surprised to learn that Red is a monster when he was telling her that he is one all along? The show is entertaining and worth watching due to the terrific job done by James Spader, which more than makes up for the weak job done by Megan Boone. The scenes with Alan Alda are an additional plus, even if it is not clear who exactly he is and why he was able to order that Reddington be allowed to escape in the finale.

ARROW

Arrow had the spectacular comic book ending that was expected, managing to bring back many of the characters seen over the course of the series. They did add some questionable drama to an already difficult situation by having ARGUS threaten to blow up the city to contain Slade’s army. As there were only fifty of them, and Oliver did ultimately get the cure, it would have seemed more reasonable to guard the exits to prevent any from leaving, and then moving in with enough force to overpower them should the cure fail.

Previously when we learned that Oliver had a cure back on the island, there was speculation that Oliver’s decision to kill as opposed to try to cure Slade might have been the real motivation for his vendetta against Oliver. In the flashbacks it was clear that by the time this occurred Slade’s views were already set, and this really was all about Shado.

The cure did work on Roy in the present, leaving him in a situation to work with the Arrow next season. When he had super powers, even before going insane, I had questioned how it could have worked to have the sidekick be more powerful than the lead. This will no longer be a problem. Sarah left with the League of Assassins. She might return, but she also left her leather jacket with Laurel. Is this the first step in her becoming the Black Canary as in the comics? Their father was restored to the rank of Detective, but it is not clear if he will survive into next season.

The flashbacks on the island seemed to have concluded their story, but the episode ended by showing how this will be handled next season. Oliver woke up in Hong Kong to be greeted by Amanda Waller. This could provide for some interesting stories in flashbacks. Eventually we know that Oliver has to wind up alone on the island to be rescued as on the pilot. Perhaps he really became stranded there again, or perhaps this was set up to allow for him to be rescued without any ties to ARGUS.

Felicity has become a huge favorite among fans since she was added to the show during the first season. The two of them tricked Slade, taking advantage of the cameras he hid in the Queen mansion earlier in the season to have him see Oliver say that Felicity is the one he really loves. Both Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards have told E! Online that they don’t think this was entirely an act. Of course there is little doubt that they will drag this out for a long time before ever having the two get together.

Agents-of-SHIELD-Season-1-Finale-Coulson-Writing-on-Wall

I was glad that there was no redemption scene for Ward, as many feared would occur in the season finale of Agents of SHIELD. While he couldn’t bring  himself to outright kill Fitz and Simmons last week, like he couldn’t kill the dog he was stranded with, he did leave them in a situation which Fitz may or may not survive from. My bet is that Fritz will survive considering how Coulson and Skye came back after being in even worse shape. Their rescue once they got off the bottom of the ocean was too simple, but I doubt that many viewers cared at that point once distracted by the appearance of Nick Fury. There was no explanation as to where Fury got that medical team.

I wonder where the show will go next season with SHIELD disbanded. Nick Fury did  make Coulson the new head with instructions to restore the organization, but it is not clear how much that really means with Fury no longer having any authority (and presumed dead). At least the group has a new base, already supplied with a new Koenig, played again by Patton Oswalt. Is he a twin or a Life Model Decoy?

Much of the back story about TAHATI has now been explained, but there are still mysteries with Marvel fans tying the alien blood into other areas of the Marvel universe including the Kree and Inhumans. We will have to wait until next season to learn the meaning of what Coulson was drawing. Syke’s back story should also be explored more, especially now that it appears her father is alive.

The Americas s02e12

On The Americans, it is not entirely clear why Larrick is after Jared but he is close to finding him. Most likely he knows that the last tie to Emmet and Leanne will either allow him to find those helping him or be useful bait for those he is really after. Regardless of Larrick’s plans, there is no doubt to Elizabeth and Phillp that Jared is in danger because of his parents, potentially placing their own children in the same type of danger.

It is rare to have a show where the storyline involving secondary characters can be every bit as interesting as when the leads are on screen. This is the case with Stan and Nina. Instead of turning to Stan to save her, we learned that Nina was still working with the Russians to trick Stan into turning over the Echo program. If Nina was smarter, and not currently as loyal to Russia, she might have immediately told Stan that he had to get her elsewhere to hide as opposed to allowing Arkady to put on his show. Contrary to how he initially appeared, Oleg has turned out to be the one most concerned with saving Nina. If Stan doesn’t turn over Echo, it is questionable if the Russians would give her an opportunity to get away with the money which Oleg gave her.

Other characters were very perceptive this week. Henry was right to be concerned about how The Wrath of Kahn would turn out after the first Star Trek movie, but he will learn there was nothing to worry about. Two other characters showed that they aren’t completely fooled. Paige questioned what type of emergency Elizabeth could have as a travel agent requiring her to run out at night. It is hard to believe that she won’t eventually figure out what is going on. Will she accept what her parents are doing as Jared has regarding his parents? Martha figured out that Clark wears a toupee, even if she is foolish enough to turn all those documents over to him. Perhaps she will ultimately take the blame for the documents which Stan gave to Oleg, helping Stan to remain above suspicion.

Revenge

Revenge did a reboot as major as that on Person of Interest. It was about time, as they had dragged out the storyline about Emily seeking revenge on the Graysons for framing her father for far too long. Reducing the number of characters should also help as things have become far too convoluted. It will take a good story to explain how Emily’s father has been alive all these years, and it will be interesting to see her reaction to finding that he is alive. He better have a good explanation for not contacting her before now. E! Online has an answer to the bigger question as to where the show is going next season:

That #Revenge finale was INSANITY! Is the show really going to be Victoria as the revenge-seeker now?
From what we know, yes. Emily will be living in Grayson Manor and Victoria will be the one narrating the show and out for revenge, wanting to take down Emily/Amanda and make her pay for everything she lost. Pretty big game-changer! And by the way, we hear another main character will be written out next season. Perhaps the biggest cast departure yet.

Of course Emily will still have reason to see revenge after the murder of Aiden, and it is hard to imagine a bigger departure than Conrad (assuming he is really dead). More on Revenge at The Hollywood Reporter.

Alison-Brie

There is a huge amount of other news this week regarding renewals, cancellations, and new shows in addition to all the finales. I’ll hold off on news related to next season for another week when there isn’t so much other material to write about and end with just a few briefs.

Unless they manage to revive Community for a sixth season on another network, it appears we will not see more of Alison Brie on television now that it appears that Pete Campbell moved on to California without her on Mad Men. Alison Brie will be staring with others better known for their television roles in an upcoming movie Sleeping With Other People:

Former “SNL” star Jason Sudeikis, “Community’s” Alison Brie and “Parks and Recreation’s” Adam Scott are assembling for the upcoming comedy from Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas and Natasha Lyonne will also star in the film from producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell.

“Sleeping” centers on two chronic cheaters — played by Sudeikis and Brie — who attempt a non-sexual relationship in order to conquer their lustful ways. The press release says it’s “in the vein of ‘When Harry Met Sally’…but with assholes.

Update: Pete Campbell made a trip to New York this week and Alison Brie did appear.

Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones and Nicholas Hoult of X-Men: Days of Future Past  will play Bonnie and Clyde in Go Down Together.

A former porn star writing at The Daily Beast gave some reasons why Game of Thrones might like to use porn stars:

1. A porn star is always willing to take off her clothes and there will never be a nudity clause in her contract.

2. They’ve put in their 10,000 hours and know how to fake passionate sex with the best of ‘em.

3. It’s sad but true: porn stars work cheap! Since nude is their norm, they won’t ask to be paid extra to be naked.

4. In a way that mainstream actresses sometimes fail to capture, porn stars always look very comfortable sitting around nude for the duration of a scene.

5. With all of that skin-on-skin action, things, well, pop up. Porn stars aren’t squeamish about their fellow actors getting aroused. They tend to be very understanding.

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In somewhat related news from another premium cable network, former Doctor Who star Billie Piper promises “loads of sex” in Penny Dreadful.

The winners of the 2013 Nebula Award winners have been announced. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won as best novel. Gravity won the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. While Gravity beat The Day of the Doctor for this award, the episode of Doctor Who did win a BAFTA Television Award for Radio Times Audience Award (Voted For By Members Of The Public). Broadchurch won a BAFTA as Best Drama. Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson won awards for their roles in The IT Crowd.

Terra Nova was one of many science fiction shows which did not survive long on Fox (including Almost Human this season). Those interested in dinosaurs in the real world as opposed to the fictional world of Terra Nova might be interested in this report on the biggest dinosaur ever.

Rand Paul Could Shake Up An Election Against Hillary Clinton

Senators Gather To Caucus Over Hagel Nomination

While Ron Paul had a small devoted group of supporters, everyone knew he had no real chance of seriously competing for the Republican nomination. There’s something about being a new face, and being from the Senate instead of the House. People are looking far more seriously at the possibility of Rand Paul becoming the Republican nominee.

Not that long ago, most Republican leaders saw Rand Paul as the head of an important faction who, like his father, ultimately had no shot at becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

Now the question is no longer whether Paul can win the nomination, but whether he can win a general election.

The shift follows a year in which the Kentucky senator has barnstormed the country, trying to expand the party’s base beyond older, white voters and attract a following beyond than the libertarian devotees of his father, Ron Paul. Although the job is far from complete, Paul has made undeniable progress, judging from interviews with more than 30 Republican National Committee members meeting here this week.

That he has struck a chord with this crowd is all the more telling because it is heavy with GOP establishment-types who tend to prefer mainstream candidates.

“I don’t see how anyone could say it’s not possible he’d win the nomination,” Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri said. “His mission is to convince people of what his coalition would be in November” 2016…

At the moment it doesn’t really look likely that Rand Paul could win, but they said the same about Ronald Reagan.

Many of Paul’s views remain at odds with the Republican mainstream, but he now seems less of a pariah among Republicans than Mitt Romney was in many circles. It is possible Paul could win a primary battle with the vote divided between more conventional Republican candidates. He would also benefit from the first contests being a caucus in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. He could conceivable wind up in first place in both and quickly turn into the front runner.

If Paul does win the nomination, Democrats might need to rethink handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. What happens when the Republican candidate starts attacking Hillary Clinton over her support for the Iraq war, drone strikes, NSA surveillance, the Patriot Act, and the drug war? Paul might also turn Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street into a serious liability. Many potential Democratic voters might find that they agree with Paul and disagree with Clinton on several issues.

Of course Rand Paul is also on the wrong side of many issues, but can we count on Clinton to take advantage of this? Republicans already have managed to put Democrats on the defensive on issues such as Medicare and health care–two issues where they have facts and principle firmly on their side.

Paul would face many obstacles. His opposition to abortion rights could limit his ability to win over female voters from the Democrats, perpetuating the gender gap between the parties. His anti-war views would be a negative in many red states, possibly even leading to upsets in some red states by a hawkish Democrat such as Clinton.

Looking at the electoral college, I don’t think Paul could win, a race between Clinton and Paul would shake up many of the current party-line divisions. I could see Paul taking some states such as New Hampshire from the Democrats, but not many with large amounts of electoral votes, with the possible exception of California. Still, with their current disadvantages in the electoral college this might be the best chance for Republicans, and a potential threat for Democrats, especially if looking at shaking up the current Democratic advantage among younger voters. I could see many young males being far more interested in Paul on the issues where he is more libertarian, while not being as concerned about issues such as preserving Medicare. This could destroy what now appears to be a long-term Democratic advantage, considering that people tend to stick with the party they chose when young. Democrats might still win the 2016 battle by running Clinton against Paul, but could suffer long term from such a match up.

The 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner–Full Video And Best Lines

Above is the video of Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Full transcript is here and excerpts follow:

I admit it — last year was rough.  Sheesh.  At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.

Of course, we rolled out healthcare.gov.  That could have gone better.  In 2008 my slogan was, “Yes We Can.”  In 2013 my slogan was, “Control-Alt-Delete.”  On the plus side, they did turn the launch of healthcare.gov into one of the year’s biggest movies.  (Slide of “Frozen”)

But rather than dwell on the past, I would like to pivot to this dinner.  Let’s welcome our headliner this evening, Joel McHale.  On “Community,” Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist.  So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.

I want to thank the White House Correspondents Association for hosting us here tonight.  I am happy to be here, even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia.  The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.  I think they’re still searching for their table.

MSNBC is here.  They’re a little overwhelmed.  They’ve never seen an audience this big before.

Just last month, a wonderful story — an American won the Boston Marathon for first time in 30 years. Which was inspiring and only fair, since a Kenyan has been president for the last six.

We have some other athletes here tonight, including Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Jamie Anderson is here.  We’re proud of her.  Incredibly talented young lady.  Michelle and I watched the Olympics — we cannot believe what these folks do — death-defying feats — haven’t seen somebody pull a “180” that fast since Rand Paul disinvited that Nevada rancher from this dinner. As a general rule, things don’t like end well if the sentence starts, “Let me tell you something I know about the negro.”  You don’t really need to hear the rest of it. Just a tip for you — don’t start your sentence that way.

And speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight.  But as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front.  Hello, Fox News.

Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.

Of course, now that it’s 2014, Washington is obsessed on the midterms.  Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don’t really want me campaigning with them.  And I don’t think that’s true — although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton.a, Bill Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Captain America, Chris Christie, Community, Donald Trump, Facebook, Fox, George Bush, Health Care Reform, Hillary Clinton, House of Cards, Jeb Bush,

And I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the Speaker of the House, as well.  These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.

Look, I know, Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever.  Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder:  What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?

One issue, for example, we haven’t been able to agree on is unemployment insurance.  Republicans continue to refuse to extend it.  And you know what, I am beginning to think they’ve got a point.  If you want to get paid while not working, you should have to run for Congress just like everybody else.

Of course, there is one thing that keeps Republicans busy.  They have tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare.  Despite that, 8 million people signed up for health care in the first open enrollment. Which does lead one to ask, how well does Obamacare have to work before you don’t want to repeal it?  What if everybody’s cholesterol drops to 120?  What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game? Not the old, Donald Sterling Clippers — the new Oprah Clippers.  Would that be good enough?  What if they gave Mitch McConnell a pulse?  What is it going to take?

Joel McHale, star of Community and The Soup, did an excellent job. #sixtimesashostandamovie. He has followed a long line of top comedians who have roasted politicians and the media and previous events. The all time best speakers was Stephen Colbert who roasted George Bush in 2006. The full transcript of his speech can be found here.

Following are some of Joel McHale’s best jokes, with video above and full transcript here.

Good evening, Mr. President — or as Paul Ryan refers to you, yet another inner-city minority relying on the federal government to feed and house your family.

I’m a big fan of President Obama. I think he’s one of the all- time great presidents — definitely in the top 50. Please explain that to Jessica Simpson. You’re right. That was low.

All right, how about the president’s performance tonight, everyone?  It is — it’s amazing that you can still bring it with fresh, hilarious material. And my favorite bit of yours was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was a classic. That was hilarious, hilarious. Still going.

All right, look, I know it’s been a long night, but I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.

It’s a genuine thrill to be here in Washington, D.C., the city that started the whole crack-smoking-mayor craze.

The vice president isn’t here tonight, not for security reasons. He just thought this event was being held at the Dulles Airport Applebee’s. Yes, right now Joe is elbow-deep in jalapeno poppers and talking to a construction cone he thinks is John Boehner. Also true.

Hillary Clinton has a lot going for her as a candidate. She has experience. She’s a natural leader. And, as our first female president, we could pay her 30 percent less. That’s the savings this country could use.

Hillary’s daughter Chelsea is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to “Bad Grandpa.” It also raises the question, when the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?

Jeb Bush says he’s thinking about running. Wow, another Bush might be in the White House. Is it already time for our every-10- years surprise party for Iraq? Yes.

As it stands right now, the Republican presidential nominee will either be Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, or a bag of flour with Ronald Reagan’s face drawn on it.  A bag of flour. All right.

People are asking, will Donald Trump run again? And the answer is, does that thing on his head crap in the woods?  I actually don’t know. I don’t know.I don’t know if that thing on his head has a digestive system.

Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? Because I’ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter.  Now, I get that. I’m sorry for that joke, Governor Christie. I didn’t know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it, just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened, because I was unaware it happened until just now.

I’m appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I’m not responsible for it. Justice has been served. He’s going to kill me.

Mr. President, you’re no stranger to criticism. Ted Nugent called you a subhuman mongrel. And it’s comments like that which really make me question whether we can take the guy who wrote “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” seriously anymore.

Your approval rating has slipped. And even worse, you only got two stars on Yelp.

Mitch McConnell said his number one priority was to get the president out of office. So, Mitch, congrats on being just two years away from realizing your goal. You did it — kind of.

But thanks to “Obamacare,” or, as the president refers to it, “Mecare,” millions of newly insured young Americans can visit a doctor’s office and see what a print magazine actually looks like. That’s awesome.

Now over 8 million people have signed up for “Obamacare,” which sounds impressive until you realize Ashley Tisdale has 12 million Twitter followers. So that’s pretty good.

Sir, I do think you’re making a big mistake with Putin. You have to show a guy like that that you’re just as crazy as he is. He invades Crimea. You invade Cancun.  Russia takes back the Ukraine. America takes back Texas. Something to think about.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is here. Finally I can put a face to the mysterious voice clearing its throat on the other end of the phone.  It was weird.

And CNN is desperately searching for something they’ve been missing for months — their dignity.  Totally. That was just that table. At this point, CNN is like the Radio Shack in a sad strip mall. You don’t know how it’s stayed in business this long. You don’t know anyone that shops there. And they just fired Piers Morgan.

Fox News is the highest-rated network in cable news.  Yeah. I can’t believe your table  — that far.  And it’s all thanks to their key demographic, the corpses of old people who tuned in to Fox News and haven’t yet been discovered.

Former “Inside Edition” host Bill O’Reilly is not here. He did host that. Bill’s got another book coming out soon, so he’s making his ghost writers work around the clock. Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity are the Mount Rushmore of keeping old people angry.

This event brings together both Washington and Hollywood. The relationship between Washington and Hollywood has been a long and fruitful one. You give us tax credits for film and television production, and in return, we bring much-needed jobs to hard-working American cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Vancouver again.

Hollywood helps America by projecting a heroic image to the rest of the world. We just released another movie about Captain America, or, as he’s known in China, Captain Who Owes Us $1.1 Trillion.

There’s a lot of celebrities here tonight. They’re the ones that don’t look like ghouls. Look around. The cast of “Veep” is here. That’s a series about what would happen if a Seinfeld star actually landed on another good show. I like “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” I swear.

I’m not going to spoil the shocking twist on “House of Cards,” but just know that it was so surprising that Nancy Pelosi’s face almost changed expression. Did you like that one, Nancy? I can’t tell.

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, is here. So if any of you congressmen want to cut out the middleman, just show him your penis. Not now! Are you nuts?

And here’s why America is the best country in the world. A guy like me can stand before the president, the press and Patrick Duffy — and tell jokes without severe repercussions. And instead of being shipped off to a gulag, I’m going to the Vanity Fair after-party. That’s right. This is America, where everyone can be a Pussy Riot.

Edward Snowden Explains That His Goal Was To Expose Putin For Lying About Mass Surveillance, Not To Whitewash Him

Yesterday Edward Snowden called into a question and answer show held by Vladamir Putin and asked him about mass surveillance in Russia. The video is above. Putin’s response:

“Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent,” the president replied. “I used to work for an intelligence service. Let’s speak professionally.”

“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” Mr. Putin said. “You have to get a court’s permission first.” He noted that terrorists use electronic communications and that Russia had to respond to that threat.

“Of course we do this,” Mr. Putin said. “But we don’t use this on such a massive scale and I hope that we won’t.”

“But what is most important,” Mr. Putin concluded, “is that the special services, thank God, are under a strict control of the government and the society, and their activities are regulated by law.”

Most likely as a reflection of views they already had about him, some people have since criticized Snowden for giving Putin the opportunity to lie in this manner, as if the only way Putin could lie on Russian television is by responding to a question from Edward Snowden. Think Progress has pointed out some of the ways in which Putin was lying:

Numerous reports lay doubt to Putin’s claims that the collection of information is much more narrowly tailored in Russia. In fall 2012, Russia put into place a system it claimed was to protect children from viewing pornography. The method it decided to enact that goal, however, was one not only puts into place a list of banned websites that could surpress political speech, but also has the ability to track the flow of information across Russian networks. “Logistically, this will require Russia’s [internet service providers] to maintain detailed records of user traffic and would allow the Russian government a potential backdoor into the private lives of Russia’s internet users,” ThinkProgress explained at the time of the network’s launch.

Last October, Reuters also reported that the Russian government was requiring internet service providers to “store all traffic temporarily and make it available to the top domestic intelligence agency.” Under the order drafted in the Communications Ministry, the FSB — the successor to the KGB — would have access for 12 hours to all stored data, “including phone numbers, IP addresses, account names, social network activity and e-mail addresses.” That order is due to take effect this July.

And just this year, Russian officials admit while defending hotels in Sochi built for the Winter Olympics that they were equipped with surveillance equipment that was closely watched. The entire proceedings in the Russian resort town were subject to a massive dragnet of surveillance as a system was put into place to monitor all communications that flowed in and out. This was done using the SORM system that Russia utilizes to listen in to phone conversations and read email threads, which according to Privacy International, “gathers information from all communication media, and offers long-term storage (three years), providing access to all user data.” SORM is deployed year-round and controlled by the FSB.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said he has been on the receiving end of the Russian surveillance program. As a government official, he was a prime target, he told NBC just prior to stepping down earlier this year, but Americans writ large are also subject to having their information spied upon, given Moscow’s espionage abilities. “As we remind all Americans that come to this country,” McFaul said, “the Russian government has tremendous capabilities, and legal by their law, of intercepting phone calls, emails, etc.”

In a post at The Guardian entitled Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama, Snowden explained that “I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him.”

On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?”

I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.

The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden’s question and mine here.)

Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.

In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we’ll get to them soon – but it was not the president’s suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.

I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.

The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as “extremely important for Russia”. According to the Daily Beast, Soldatov said it could lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.

Others have pointed out that Putin’s response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.

In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.

So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

When this event comes around next year, I hope we’ll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don’t have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals’ communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.

I blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.

Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded “will make our nation stronger”. I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then.

I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials’ claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.

This comes a few days after The Guardian and the Washington Post received a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting on the NSA surveillance based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Quote of the Day: Jimmy Fallon On Mark Zuckerberg Complaining About NSA Surveillance

“Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apparently called President Obama directly to complain about NSA and how it spies on ordinary Americans. That’s right, the guy who runs Facebook got mad at the NSA for spying on people. Talk about the pot unfriending the kettle!” –Jimmy Fallon

“Zuckerberg criticized the NSA and called the government a threat to the Internet. Then he went back to running a website where you list everyone you’ve ever met, every place you’ve been, every place you’re going, what you had eat, your ex-girlfriends and your ex-boyfriends, which bands you like…” –Jimmy Fallon

SciFi Weekend: Continuum; Sherlock; Arrow; Person of Interest; The Avengers; Better Call Saul; The Labyrinth; The Fall; Hannibal; Communty; Sleepy Hollow; Almost Human

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Collider spoke with Rachel Nichols about her role in the recently released movie Raze and then got to the third season of Continuum. She has some news here, such as that Season 3 will reveal more about The Freelancers. Beware there are spoilers as she tells what happens with the Season 2 cliff hanger in which Alec traveled through time. She reveals exactly where/when Alec went, which is one of the more common answers which people speculated about after Season 2 concluded. Not surprisingly, it is also clear that Kiera does get out of that cell she was dropped into.

Continuum has really become one of the best sci-fi shows on TV, right now.  What can you say to tease where Season 3 is going, especially with how ripped apart all of the characters were, at the end of last season?

NICHOLS:  We started shooting Season 3 already.  We got three episodes finished before Christmas break.  What I can tell you is that, at the end of Season 2, Alec (Erik Knudsen) clearly betrayed Kiera and went back in time.  At the beginning of Season 3, you learn a lot more about The Freelancers.  I can’t say how, but I can say that Kiera ends up going back in time to the point where Alec went back in time to save Emily (Magda Apanowicz).  So, suddenly there are two Alecs and two Kieras and we can’t run into each other, obviously.  Right off the bat, in Season 3, you’ve got craziness ensuing.  There’s a death.  There’s a description of The Freelancers.  I’m happy to say that Terry Chen is back, in a big, big way.  And overall, for this season, what I’m feeling is that where Kiera was always about getting home before, acknowledging her impact on the world, with everything she was doing in the present day, now I think there’s a part of her that’s going to be relegated to staying here and really setting up life and knowing she’s going to be here for awhile, and maybe even wanting to.  That will be a back change for her, given the fact that her family is in the future. 



Teasers from Showcase and SciFi above.

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Sherlock returns in the United States this weekend, but as the show already completed the season on BBC One I wonder how many fans are still unaware of what happened. I will avoid any spoilers here and have a few comments leading into the series. The first two episodes are written far more than other episodes for the fans, but would not be good episodes to start with for those who are not already fans of the series. Start with the first two seasons. At very least watch last season’s finale and cliff hanger before the first episode of this season, The Empty Hearse.

The second episode, The Sign of Three, is about a very difficult task for Sherlock and doesn’t start out seeming like a typical episode at all. It is the weakest of the three but if you stick with it you will find that there is a mystery, and the events brought up earlier turn out to really matter. Quite often this season, things are not as they seem.

The third episode, His Last Vow, is the best of the three, and some reviewers have called it the best of the series. It is a more conventional mystery. Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal, makes a fantastic villain, and there is a huge cliff hanger. Make sure you watch until the very end. I’ll hold off until it airs in the United States to discuss speculation about the cliff hanger.

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Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim told Entertainment Weekly about upcoming plans for Roy:

After being injected with Mirakuru in the mid-season finale, the first episode back, airing Wednesday night, will explore the benefits — and consequences — of his newfound strength. “We’re going to learn starting with episode 10 that the Mirakuru may give you incredible strength and it really may accelerate your healing, but it comes with some very significant mental downsides as well,” teases executive producer Marc Guggenheim. “And Roy will be experiencing those in the present, and Slade in the past [via flashbacks] will begin to develop those difficulties.”

Guggenheim adds that as everything about Roy’s current predicament becomes clearer, we’re also going to see how it affects the people around him — Thea and Oliver included. “We always said that this year, Roy is going to go through a crucible. And the Mirakuru [storyline] is basically that ordeal and for sure when he comes out the other side — if he comes out the other side — he will be a different person and set on a different path,” he says. “You will start to see that as early as episode 12.”

It’s part of the longer story the writers are telling with Roy, explains Guggenheim, one that shows him going “from being sort of the street urchin we met in episode 15 last year to somebody who could potentially inherit the Arrow’s mantel as Roy Harper did in the comic books. We’re never really driven too much by what we call the comic book destinies of characters, but we’re very much aware of them and we’re very much aware that we’re telling a Batman Begins-style story for all of our characters. And obviously the Mirakuru and what Roy will experience in the wake of episode 9 is a big part of that Batman Begins-like story for him.”

Some additional points were discussed:

+ Have they decided what they’re doing with Flash in episode 20?
Not yet. After it was decided that the Flash pilot would stand alone — rather than being part of the 20th episode of the season — plans had to change, said Guggenheim. But the official plan is still in the works. “We’ve had a lot of afferent internal discussions of how episode 20 basically becoming an Arrow episode instead of a backdoor pilot could operate in terms of the connection to Barry. But we haven’t come to a decision yet, so we’re not ready to talk about it yet,” he said.

+ Will Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) continue to have tension over Barry?
Yes. And you will see more of it in Wednesday night’s episode. “One of our pet peeves is when a show does a backdoor pilot and the episode that follows it tends to ignore what happened in the backdoor pilot. And episodes 8 and 9 served as the introduction of Barry Allen, and it struck us as wrong not to acknowledge everything that happened in those two episodes, particularly in regard to Barry’s burgeoning relationship with Felicity,” he says. “So a good chunk of the emotional real estate in episode 10 is spent on Felicity’s reaction to Barry being electrocuted at the end of episode 9 and being struck by lightning.”

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Guggenheim also discussed Slade with The Hollywood Reporter:

In the winter finale, Slade declared that his sole mission was to turn Oliver’s world upside down. Has Slade turned pure evil, or is there some redemption for him?

What a great question. I will say that I don’t think anyone on our show is pure evil. We always try really hard to write according to the axiom that everyone is the hero in their own story. In other words, in real life, even the most evil people think they’re doing the right thing — at least, through their own lens through which they view their world. Slade is taking actions that he feels are very justified and thus in his mind, he’s not pure evil, he’s not even evil. He’s just a man with a very serious vendetta. For us, the advantage of doing it that way are even our antagonists are grounded and realistic, and I think they’re made more compelling when their motivations are made more human than the comic-book trademark “pure evil.” That’s just as true for Slade as for any of the villains on our show.

Hypothetically, if Oliver were to find out about Slade, how do you think he’d take the news?

I can tell you that hypothetically, were he to find out that Slade is alive and kicking in Starling City, Oliver would not take that well. (Laughs.) And I guess I can spoil and say that it is just a matter of matter of time before Oliver discovers that Slade is in Starling City. We actually have a whole episode and a whole storyline devoted to Oliver’s reaction to that news. I won’t tell you what episode that is.

He was also asked about Sara:

Will Sara come back into the fray in the modern day? Will she come face to face with Laurel?
It’s probably not spoiling anything to say that it’s only a matter of time before Sara returns to modern-day Starling City. We’ve already made the decision as to when and how and why exactly all that [Sara coming face to face with Laurel] will happen. When, over the course of the next 13 episodes that happens, I’m not saying.

So, it appears that Oliver will figure out what is going on with Slade, but still not figure out that Sara is not the same girl he last saw on the yacht in the Season one pilot, with Jacqueline MacInnes Wood’s scenes later reshot with Caity Lotz.

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While both series had already been excellent, there are two shows I watch which have become even better this year: Arrow and Person of Interest. In early episodes, Person of Interest was often just a procedural with the machine used as a gimmick to get the leads into the action. Over the last couple of seasons the series has evolved more into a science fiction show about the surveillance state. The Nerdist discussed how the show has become our reality:

Person of Interest is unique in the world of procedural dramas. While plenty of shows have been able to claim they’re ripped from the headlines, POI has the distinction of being able to say it predicted them. As The New Yorker points out, the show predicted Edward Snowden a year in advance with its episode “No Good Deed.”

Is is worth reading the entire article on this show by Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman now that the show has become increasingly relevant. Another passage:

Nolan and Plageman are on the same page as to where this data mining will lead: the singularity. “The cornerstone of the show is that out of this arms race of information technology that we’re now thoroughly engaged in,” said Nolan, “cyber warfare, which was a silly idea, a silly phrase fifteen years ago, is now an absolute reality and quite terrifying in its own way. This is definitely the moment we find ourselves in and our idea was that out of the kind of carnage of this aggressive information arms race you might well see the emergence of something that probably in hindsight we’ll see was an Artificial Intelligence. It’s probably going to emerge out of the NSA or out of a data call center like the one the New York Times profiled. It’s either going to be a sales tool or it’s going to be a spy tool.”

With the audience now fully on board with the Orwellian nature of the show, Plageman says his fake world collides with the real one more than he thought it was going to. “On the show,” Plageman responded, “even though there is this science fiction aspect, there’s a heightened tone to the show – we always try to ground that. We always try to use technology that is in existence. That’s actually here and material. So, I’m always surprised when we talk about something in the writers room, whether we’re talk about AI or Ray Kurtzweil and the singularity. Then all of a sudden he’s hired at Google and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute.’ That’s just ridiculous. We’re talking about this now and you see these things converging and you’re going, ‘Okay, what’s that going to look like?’ [Amy Acker’s] Root is, to a degree, an acolyte of Kurtzweil, and all of a sudden he’s in the hen house. There’s this non-stop drum beat of material coming our way; We’re even struggling to keep up with to a degree.”

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Scarlett Johansson spoke with Parade about Her and about reprising her role as Black Widow in Avengers 2:

“Oh boy! Well, we can expect the Avengers. Joss [Whedon], again, is back, wrote the script, and is directing. I think the script is dark and it’s dry, it’s got this amazing one-liner, glass-cutting sense of humor. Obviously the script is very cerebral. It doesn’t lose that exciting comic book aspect that people enjoyed in the first film, but it’s smart and it feels like the next installment. It doesn’t feel like a rehashing, it feels like these characters are moving forward, plotlines are moving forward. It’s deep and I think that’s why people really respond to the Marvel universe, because the films are fun and exciting and have all that flashy stuff, but there’s a gravity to them. People can expect that gravity this time around.”

Aaron Paul says that both he and  Bryan Cranston are interested in reprising their roles in the Breaking Bad prequel/sequel Better Call Saul.

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The CW Network has obtained the US rights to show The Labyrinth

The CW Network has acquired LABYRINTH, the four-hour event miniseries with a multi-national and award-winning cast, including John Hurt, Sebastian Stan, Jessica Brown-Findlay & Tom Felton, it was announced today by Mark Pedowitz, President, The CW. Premiere night and time will be announced at a later date.

Filmedon-location in the medieval town of Carcassonne in southwest France and Cape Town, South Africa, the historical miniseries jumps back and forth between modern and medieval France as it follows the lives of two women who are separated by centuries, but united in their search for the Holy Grail.

In Carcassonne, France, in the year 1209, 17-year-old Alaïs (Jessica Brown-Findlay, “Downton Abbey,” “Misfits”), is given a mysterious book by her father; a book which he claims contains the secret of the true Grail. Although Alaïs cannot understand the book’s strange words and labyrinth symbols, her father instructs her to protect the book no matter what happens to him. Alaïs realizes that her destiny lies in keeping the secret of the labyrinth safe. Eight centuries later, at an archeological dig in the French Pyrenees, a young volunteer named Alice Tanner (Vanessa Kirby, “The Hour,” “Great Expectations”) discovers two skeletons in a forgotten cave. Puzzled by the labyrinth symbol carved into the rock, she realizes she’s disturbed something that was meant to remain hidden. Somehow, a link to a horrific past – Alice’s own past – has been revealed.

In addition to Brown-Findlay and Kirby, LABYRINTH features a multi-national cast which includes two-time Oscar(R) nominee, three-time BAFTA Award winner and Golden Globe(R) winner John Hurt (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”), Sebastian Stan (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Gossip Girl”), Tom Felton (the “Harry Potter” films, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), Oscar(R), BAFTA and Golden Globes(R) nominee Janet Suzman (“Nicholas and Alexandra,” “Midsomer Murders”), multi-award winner Claudia Gerini (“The Passion of the Christ,” “Under the Tuscan Sun”), Katie McGrath (“Merlin,” “Red Mist”), Emun Elliott (“Game of Thrones,” “Black Death”) and Tony Curran (“The Pillars of the Earth,” “The Adventures of Tintin”).

It would have been better if this was being shown on premium cable so that it wouldn’t be necessary to cut the nude scenes with Jessica Brown-Findlay and Katie McGrath which are in the original version. I wonder how many people will wind up downloading the show as opposed to watching on CW.

In somewhat related news. the sex scenes in the movie version of Fifty Shades Of Gray are being toned down compared to the books.

Season two of The Fall, starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan starts filming in Belfast in February. The first season of the the BBC mystery, also released simultaneously on Netflix, was excellent. Filming will be delayed a month as Gillian Anderson has been tied up with filming for Season two of Hannibal.

Entertainment Weekly has more news on Season two of Hannibal:

1. Will Graham is in prison and everybody thinks he’s guilty: Fuller brilliantly subverted audience expectations at the end of season 1 by having FBI profiler Graham (Hugh Dancy) framed for Hannibal’s (Mads Mikkelsen) crimes when fans expected the show to follow Thomas Harris’ novels and have the cannibal psychiatrist end up in prison (he’ll get there, we assume, eventually). Graham hasn’t magically been released between seasons and he isn’t going to pop back into his old job after one episode (unlike, for instance, Patrick Jane on CBS’ The Mentalist). Graham is also going to be a much more focused and proactive character this season now that he’s no longer suffering from encephalitis and knows he’s not crazy. He’s going to actively try to get himself released, or at least take down Hannibal.

2. Hannibal has Graham’s old job: With Graham in prison, now the FBI is relying on Hannibal even more to help solve crimes, so we’ll get plenty of scenes of the serial killer working to catch other serial killers. “Hannibal becomes the new Will Graham in many ways,” Fuller teases. “There’s a lot of fun seeing him interact with the FBI.”

3. It’s still surreal, though more clear: Hannibal‘s haunting surreal imagery is a signature of the show and will continue. But with Graham no longer ill, he’s a more reliable narrator, which helps ground the storytelling a bit more.

4. Gillian Anderson is back: Anderson reprises her role as Hannibal’s psychiatrist. Expect this season for her character to grow suspicious of her most mysterious patient. “She’s doing a really fun closer examination of her patient and figuring some things out for herself, and that’s dangerous for anyone,” Fuller says.

5. The opening scene of the premiere. Though I suspect it will be widely reported before airing (Hannibal‘s TCA press tour day is Sunday, where it will probably come up), I can’t bring myself to reveal this. I’ll just say it’s the best scene the show has done to date.

6. The murders are more grotesque than ever: You thought that human mushroom farm was unappetizing? Just wait until you see “the beehive”…

7. Mason and Margo Verger are in this season: Fans of the books know the story of Hannibal’s tragically doomed wealthy patient and his sister from the Hannibal novel. They will be introduced later this season and have not yet been cast. Yet another major character from the canon, Francis Dolarhyde from Red Dragon, will likely not come into play until season 3.

A musical version of Groundhog Day is in the works. I loved the movie but am not sure about a musical. Will we have to sit through the same songs over and over?

Community had one of its better episodes last week with Cooperative Polygraphy, showing what Dan Harmon can accomplish with just the group sitting around the table for the almost the entire episode. The episode also concluded the storyline for Pierce, despite him not appearing, and revealed how Troy will be leaving the series. Plus we had this great line from Britta, after finding that Jeff kept her underpants and made up the story of a hawk stealing them: “You exploited me…and made me believe in a slightly more magical world!”

I’m looking forward to the two-hour season finale of Sleepy Hollow this week. Monday nights on Fox shows the advantage of a genre show having a continuing storyline and a strong mythology. Given the premise of the two shows, I’d expect to be far more interested in the harder science fiction of Almost Human. While I do enjoy it, the lack  of signs (so far) of the story really going anywhere have made Sleepy Hollow the show I more look forward to. Next season Fox plans to run Sleepy Hollow uninterrupted  without dividing the show up as it did this year.

The Surprising Lack Of Scandals In The Obama Administration

The recent scandals released about Chris Christie remind us of how often we expect to find scandals in government. Power does corrupt. We have become so accustomed to scandals at the top levels of government that it almost comes as a surprise that the Obama administration has been so free of scandal. Some observers almost take it for granted that a scandal must happen sooner or later. For example, back in 2011 Brendan Nyhan described this as an aberration, waiting for an inevitable scandal to occur:

Obama has been extremely fortunate: My research (PDF) on presidential scandals shows that few presidents avoid scandal for as long as he has. In the 1977-2008 period, the longest that a president has gone without having a scandal featured in a front-page Washington Post article is 34 months – the period between when President Bush took office in January 2001 and the Valerie Plame scandal in October 2003. Obama has already made it almost as long despite the lack of a comparable event to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Of course when speaking of the Obama administration as being free of scandal, I am speaking of real world facts, not the fantasy world of Fox and the right wing noise machine. They have invented plenty of scandals, but in every case their claims were contradicted by the facts. Just this week we had the Senate Intelligence Committee report which debunked the Republican conspiracy theories regarding Benghazi.

When Paul Waldman wrote about how the Republican claims about Solyndra didn’t hold up, he entitled his post Obama Administration Oddly Scandal-Free, again suggesting how the presence of scandals has become what is expected. Paul Waldman recently reviewed this topic again in a post entitled The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who also provides many of the earlier links in this post). He set up these reasonable conditions for what constitutes a scandal:

So let’s take a look back and see what happened to all these affairs that never turned out to be the scandals conservatives hoped they would be. Just to be clear, when I use the word “scandalous” in this list, I don’t mean “bad.” When you say, for instance, that there has been little evidence of anything scandalous occurring in Benghazi, conservatives often reply, “Four people died!” Indeed they did, and that was terribly tragic, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a scandal. Two hundred and forty-one Americans died in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call that a “Reagan administration scandal,” because while there were some bad decisions made with awful results, there wasn’t any criminality or corruption or cover-up, the things we usually associate with scandals.

To make a truly meaningful administration scandal, you need two things. First, there has to be some kind of criminal or morally atrocious behavior somewhere, which we can put under the general heading of “malfeasance.” People doing their jobs poorly isn’t enough to make it a scandal. Second, you need the involvement of highly-placed administration officials. Only an affair with both features is a scandal. If a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska is found to be running a moose-based prostitution ring, that’s only an administration scandal if people high up in the administration knew about it.

Waldman looked at all those scandals which truly dishonest politicians such as Darrel Issa are wasting tax-payers money with faux investigations on. (I am linking to this in case anyone doubts that this attitude really comes from the Republican Party, and not just the clowns in the right wing media who are making these bogus claims.) Waldman looked at Solyndra, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS, and aggressive leak investigations. In each case, the conservative claims have not held up. He concluded:

So what can we conclude from all this? There are three possible explanations for the lack of a major scandal in the Obama administration. The first is that something truly horrific has gone on, but as of yet it hasn’t been discovered. The second is that the scandals we know about haven’t been fully investigated, and will eventually yield more wrongdoing than we currently understand. And the third is that the administration has not, in fact, committed any horrible crimes. Which seems most likely?

That isn’t to say that they haven’t made plenty of mistakes, because they have. And there are three years left in Obama’s term, so you never know—maybe someone will discover that he’s having an affair with Jennifer Lawrence, or that Valerie Jarrett is a mole for the Yakuza, or that those FEMA concentration camps are real. But there’s also the chance that he’ll end his term without any major scandal, which would be quite something.

A final note: The question of whether we should think of NSA spying as a scandal in these terms is a complicated one that I’m going to have to leave for another day.

And he didn’t even mention the widely held conservative belief of a conspiracy to pass off a foreign-born Muslim Socialist as an American citizen.  Claims of an affair with Jennifer Lawrence from the right are not that far-fetched in light of this. As for NSA spying, I think this falls in the category of policies we disagree with, but not a political scandal.

Regarding the lack of scandal in the Obama administration, the simple explanation might be what Andrew Sullivan previously suggested–that he is not corrupt. I suspect that the explanation might also come down to a difference in how different people see government and where they have come from. Scandals may have become more prevalent in Republican administrations because many on the right oppose the American system of government and do not see it as a force which can be used for good. To them, government is evil and they see nothing wrong for using it for their own ends when in power. In contrast Obama sees the actual functions of government as something worthy of pursuing as an end in itself. Many top government leaders come from positions of wealth and power and seek to increase this as much as possible. Even top positions in government are not necessarily enough for their lust for power. For a former community organizer and someone who not long ago was no more powerful than a member of the Illinois State Senate, the presidency is enough.

This is all quite frustrating for those on the right who seek to attack Obama as corrupt, forcing them to make up a long list of fallacious attacks.