SciFi Weekend: Agents of SHIELD and the MCU; Arrow; The Americans Return For Final Season; Hugo Award Nominees; Trish Walker Music Video From Jessica Jones

 

The last two episodes of Agents of SHIELD have been excellent, tying into the events of last season and fitting into the upcoming events in Avengers: Infinity War. This week’s episode, Rise and Shine, jumped back in time twenty-eight years to further tie HYDRA into the history of the MCU, including the upcoming war. TV Line has summarized Easter Eggs in the episode.

The episode did provide a compelling argument for SHIELD and HYDRA to unite, but I am appalled by HYDRA’s view on dogs. I am glad that General Hale put an end to that when it came to her daughter’s dog.

Earlier in the season I had heard speculation that SHIELD was moved into space and the future this season in order to avoid conflicting with Avengers: Infinity War. Instead they came back prior to the movie’s release, and are now tying into it. At WonderCon the showrunners gave a different reason for going into space:

Jed Whedon: Last year was a real kitchen sink year. We had a lot of stuff going on. We did alt world. We did Ghost Rider. We did LMDs. So we did two different versions of alternate versions of ourselves and so we were thinking ‘Where can we go that’s different.’

Maurissa Tancharoen: Mack’s line sort of reflects what we were thinking in the writer’s room. He turns to Coulson and goes ‘We’re in space. It’s the one thing we haven’t done yet.’ So it was definitely an area that we had been contemplating for a while.

In other words, they went into space as it is something they had not done before. Screen Rant suggests that they venture into alternate dimensions next season.

The future for the series is unknown. The show is on the bubble at ABC, and the season finale was written to be a series finale if the show is not renewed. Besides the usual factors involved in making such a decision, it is possible that the failure of Inhumans will give Disney reason to continue SHIELD with the absence of Marvel on ABC. This might not be enough with Marvel having shows on Freeform, Netflix, and Hulu.

Another factor is that Clark Gregg will be co-staring in Captain Marvel. As the movie takes place in the 1990’s, this will not conflict with his death in the Avengers movies. It does raise the question as to whether filming the movie would interfere with SHIELD returning. While they have been hinting at the possibility of Coulson’s death on SHIELD, which would bring the television show in line with the MCU, I doubt they would bring the show back without Clark Gregg.

The last two episodes of Arrow featured the return of Roy Harper and ended (spoilers) with Thea Queen leaving town with him. Many characters have left the show, and Thea did have a reduced role this year, but it was unexpected that they would eliminate one of the few remaining stars who have been with the show since the start.

Entertainment Weekly discussed the decision with Marc Guggenheim:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What came with the decision to write Thea off the show now and whose decision was it? 
MARC GUGGENHEIM: At the end of season 4, Willa had come to us and basically said that she would like some more time for herself, and would like to reduce her role on the show. And we did, we reduced the commitment that she was making to us in season 5, and carried that over in season 6. Season 6 is the end of her contract, and going into season 6, with all of us knowing it was the end of her contract, Willa expressed the desire to move on, not re-up. She expressed a desire to be written out at a certain time in the season, which is around episode 16, so we accommodated her on that front as well. Look, we love Willa, we love working with Willa, we love the character of Thea, we particularly have always loved Thea’s relationship with Oliver. That relationship is one of the things that we deviated from the comic book early on. It was one of the very first major creative decisions we made in terms of adapting the Green Arrow comic for live action television. So it’s always been an incredibly important, critical part of the show for us.

At the same time, this is what happens when a show goes past five years. Actors start to reach the end of their contracts, they start to look towards greener pastures or new opportunities. I think this is true across all the shows. We never wanna stand in the way of someone wanting to express themselves creatively in a different way, on a different show, or through a different medium. So we took Willa’s request and took it seriously, and decided “Okay, well, if this is the hand we’re dealt, how do we play it as best we can and write off Thea in the most emotional and interesting way possible?”

Instead of getting a happy ending, Thea has set out to right her father’s wrongs. Why was this the most fitting ending?
This was something that came out of the writers’ room and it excited us for a variety of different reasons. For one thing, we really like the idea of writing Thea off in a way that suggested a larger story for her. One could imagine us, at some point in some medium, exploring the story of Thea, Roy, and Nyssa working to find these other Lazarus Pits. We tend to, as writers, gravitate toward stories that suggest other stories. As a showrunner, I got enamored with the notion of writing out a series regular in a way that didn’t suggest the end of a story, but rather the beginning of a new one. That’s not something that you typically see. Normally when a character’s written off, a series regular’s written off, it always feels to me like an ending. Sometimes it’s a literal ending and you’re killing off the character, but a lot of other times it’s like, well they’re going off and just living a much quieter life and there’s no more story to tell about them. I really like the idea of actually going the opposite route and suggesting a greater and bigger story for Thea. I just think that’s both interesting and unexpected.

You’ve always said you didn’t want to kill Thea, but was that seriously considered? Were there alternate possibilities for Thea’s exit?
There were. We talked certainly about the low-hanging fruit of “Well, the simplest thing to do is bring Colton back and have her and Roy ride off into the sunset together,” sort of the way they do at the beginning of the episode. That to me was the obvious choice. That’s the thing that you would expect given the story that we’ve told with Roy and Thea since season 1. But because it’s the obvious choice, that was one of the first choices we immediately discounted, because we never wanna do something that’s so patently apparent. Killing her off was never on the table. I’ve always been very sincere and consistent in my view that Oliver just can’t lose his last remaining family member. So that was never even on the table.

Is there a chance we could see her on the show in the future? And will we get an update on the destruction of the Lazarus Pits, whether Thea returns or not?
Really, honestly, it’s totally up to Willa. One of the things that I love about Arrow — and I think this is true for the other superhero shows as well, but I think Arrow‘s really shown a capacity for it — is no one is ever gone. Even the characters who have been killed off are never gone. People can come back in a variety of different ways here. In Thea’s specific example, there’s a whole storyline left to explore. We haven’t started thinking about how to do it in season 7 or beyond. I think we know Willa’s just finished Arrow, she’s looking to see what other opportunities are out there for her. But I love this idea of Thea, Roy, and Nyssa making an unlikely trio, exploring a different part of the Arrow-verse, a different corner of the Arrow-verse. It would be a shame not to revisit it. At the same time, we’ve also shown that we can tell Arrow-verse stories in other mediums: animated, comic books, and prose novels. There are those avenues open to us as well. So I don’t know what the future holds, but there are potentials out there.

It has become commonplace on the show for characters to leave and return, so I would not be surprised if they were to do an arc with Thea returning. They even brought Katie Cassedy back after her character was killed, and now Stephen Amell is teasing that Colin Donnell (Tommie Merlin) will be returning. Supposedly this will not be a flashback, but there are all sorts of ways they could have Oliver imagine the return of people from his past, without even having to resort to either a flashback or Tommie from another earth.

Caity Lotz will also be returning in the season six finale of Arrow, in addition to her regular role in Legends of Tomorrow. There is no word what her role will be, or how she will respond to the earth-2 version of Laurel.

The Americans has returned for its final season, with a jump to 1987. Throughout the series, the speculation was that, assuming there is no happy ending for the main characters, the show might end in the arrest of the Russian agents. The season premier has raised other possibilities. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings might turn on each other. Even worse, Elizabeth’s end could come from the pill she was given now that she is in a position where she cannot be arrested. Philip has left the spy business and Paige has entered. The season premiere also showed the importance that Elizabeth places on her daughter’s safety, suggesting that this might also be the one thing which could lead her to disobey orders from Russia.

Oleg has also returned to the United States. In the past there were jokes of a Stan and Oleg spin off. Now will it be Oleg and Phillip?

No matter how things play out for the Jennings, we know that the Soviet Union is heading towards its end. Their travel agency is also an anachronism, with the internet likely to change it in the near future.

This is all just speculation as the final season can go in a number of directions. Regardless of how it plays out, I am very happy that The Americans is back. It has consistently been among the top network dramas for the last several years. Plus The Americans shows that Russian attempts to influence the United States, and vice versa, are nothing new. This is a long-standing situation which is not about why Hillary Clinton lost an election that any decent Democrat could have won, and not a reason to panic and restrict free speech. We have survived Russian attempts to influence the United States in the past and can continue to do so if we can ignore cable news hysteria.

The 2018 Hugo Award nominees are out. Television shows nominated include episodes of Black Mirror, Doctor Who, Star Trek: Discovery, and The Good Place. Following are the nominees for movies and television shows:

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

  • Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Alcon Entertainment / Bud Yorkin Productions / Torridon Films / Columbia Pictures)
  • Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Blumhouse Productions / Monkeypaw Productions / QC Entertainment)
  • The Shape of Water, written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, directed by Guillermo del Toro (TSG Entertainment / Double Dare You / Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson (Lucasfilm, Ltd.)
  • Thor: Ragnarok, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost; directed by Taika Waititi (Marvel Studios)
  • Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films / Warner Brothers)

Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form

  • Black Mirror: “USS Callister,” written by William Bridges and Charlie Brooker, directed by Toby Haynes (House of Tomorrow)
  • “The Deep” [song], by Clipping (Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes)
  • Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time,” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Cymru Wales)
  • The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit,” written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television)
  • Star Trek: Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” written by Aron Eli Coleite & Jesse Alexander, directed by David M. Barrett (CBS Television Studios)

My post on USS Callister is here, Twice Upon A Time is here,  Magic to Make the Sanest Man go Mad here, and Michael’s Gambit here.

The full list of nominees is here.

Netflix has released a pop-up musical video of Trish Walker’s video hit, Want Your Cray Cray. This was seen in season two of Jessica Jones, which both more on Jessica and Trish’s earlier years and foreshadowed Trish’s future.

Politico On “How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries”

While there have been many negatives since the 2016 election, including both the presidency of Donald Trump and the Democratic establishment falling into McCarthyism and Cold War Revivalism, one good result was a weakening of the hold by the Clinton/DLC faction on the Democratic Party. A Clinton victory would have probably meant watching the Democrats pushing conservative candidates who would go down to defeat by even more conservative Republicans. Instead we are seeing a chance for more liberal and progressive candidates to run.

Politico has already declared the left to be the winners this year in an article entitled, How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries. Here are some excerpts (quoting of which, as usual, does not indicate complete agreement):

In state after state, the left is proving to be the animating force in Democratic primaries, producing a surge of candidates who are forcefully driving the party toward a more liberal orientation on nearly every issue.

These candidates are running on an agenda that moves the party beyond its recent comfort zone and toward single-payer health care, stricter gun control, a $15 minimum wage, more expansive LGBT rights and greater protections for immigrants.

In the surest sign of the reoriented issue landscape, they’re joined by some of the most prominent prospects in the 2020 Democratic presidential field—Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris among them—who are embracing the same agenda.

According to data compiled by the Brookings Institution’s Primaries Project, the number of self-identified, nonincumbent progressive candidates in Texas spiked compared with the previous two election years. This year, there were nearly four times as many progressive candidates as in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of moderate and establishment candidates remained flat for the past three elections in Texas.

Even in Illinois, where the Democratic Party holds most of the levers of power, the data tell a similar story: There were more progressive candidates this year, the Primaries Project reports, than moderate and establishment candidates, by a count of 25 to 21…

The party’s ascendant left is coming after everybody, regardless of the outcome in Lipinski’s race. Progressive energy is pulsing through the primaries, most notably in the proliferation of Trump-backlash grass-roots groups like Indivisible, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress that are teeming with activists inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. There’s no comparable counterweight within the establishment…

These progressives aren’t necessarily sweeping races up and down the ballot. But they are winning enough of them—and generating enough grass-roots pressure—to continue driving the party leftward.

In Texas, a greater percentage of the progressive candidates either won or advanced to a runoff than the percentage of moderate and establishment candidates who did. In Illinois, the success rate between the wings was about equal. Five moderate or establishment candidates won their primaries, compared with three progressives.

Many on the left will question whether Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris truly embrace the same agenda, but as politicians they definitely see the need to at least give lip service to a more progressive agenda than Hillary Clinton did, despite her weak attempts to modify some of her conservative positions.

As is so often the case with articles which cite issues backed by more progressive candidates, I am also disappointed that nothing is said about Democrats opposing American interventionism and the neoconservative foreign policy which was promoted by their last presidential candidate. Nor was anything said about scaling back the surveillance state, restoring civil liberties lost as a consequence of the “war on terror,” or ending the drug war. It is as if the Democratic Party has stopped trying to dismantle the deleterious policies of George W. Bush.

If the victory is being called a victory by the “Bernie Wing,” in articles such as this, I hope that Bernie Sanders speaks out more on these issues. He has often taken the correct side, even if he has not stressed such issues. Sanders initially ran as an insurgent candidate to raise the economic issues which were more important to him, not expecting to win the 2016 nomination. Now that his wing has a chance of taking over the party, and winning elections at all levels, I hope that he does devote more time to these issues.

Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Understand Why Even Democrats Are Fed Up With Her, So She Again Resorts To Claims Of Sexism

Hillary Clinton never takes responsibility for her actions and will inevitably resort to blaming others, whether it is to blame Russia, James Comey, or sexism. Clinton initially received a lot of negative response from those who disagree with her on both the left and the right. More recently, such as after she demonstrated once again why she lost earlier in March, establishment Democrats, also started advising her to stop saying things which are damaging to the party’s chances for success. Clinton responded by again using the sexism card. The Hill reports:

“I was really struck by how people said that to me — you know, mostly people in the press, for whatever reason — mostly, ‘Go away, go away,’” Clinton said Thursday during an event at Rutgers University.

“And I had one of the young people who works for me go back and do a bit of research. They never said that to any man who was not elected. I was kind of struck by that,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s remarks came in response to a question from Eagleton Institute of Politics director Ruth Mandel about the former Democratic nominee’s reaction to those who say she should “get off the public stage and shut up.”

“I’m really glad that, you know, Al Gore didn’t stop talking about climate change,” Clinton said to applause.

“And I’m really glad John Kerry went to the Senate and became an excellent secretary of State,” the former first lady continued. “And I’m really glad John McCain kept speaking out and standing up and saying what he had to say. And for heavens sakes, Mitt Romney is running for the Senate,” Clinton said.

The 70-year-old ex-secretary of State has taken heat in recent weeks, even among some Democrats, for comments she made about Americans who voted for President Trump in the 2016 race.

Of course this has nothing to do with gender. Al Gore, who had the most cause to complain about the election, avoided the public spotlight after he lost. Mitt Romney also limited political speech until he started to criticize Donald Trump. John Kerry and John McCain returned to the Senate where they did their jobs.

None of the other losing presidential candidates questioned the legitimacy of the elections they lost. When there was concern that Donald Trump would not accept the results of the election, Hillary Clinton called this a “direct threat to our democracy.” Then after she turned out to be the one to lose, Clinton denied the legitimacy of the election. Not long afterwards she tried to rewrite history in a book which attacked the left and blamed multiple others for the loss which she is responsible for. She has been calling for censorship of those who criticize her by calling legitimate criticism “fake news.”

As was revealed in Shattered, Clinton decided to blame others such as Russia for the loss within twenty-four hours of losing. Her claims regarding Russia, which go far beyond the actual evidence, are harmful in many ways. It gives establishment Democrats an excuse to resist reform. It plays into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia, with their claims about Russia being no more truthful than their claims about WMD in Iraq. It is used to justify restrictions on freedom of speech, and has led to McCarthyism from establishment Democrats who claim that criticism stems from support for Putin.

Of course Hillary Clinton has the right to continue to speak publicly, but those of us who disagree with her also have the right to respond–regardless of how much her supporters attempt to suppress criticism of her. It is also understandable that professional politicians in her party, which saw serious losses in the presidential race and down ticket because of Clinton in 2016, do not want Clinton to bring about further losses for their party in 2018.

Study Shows How Ineffective Twitter Bots Are In Changing Political Views

This study is not at all surprising, but provides yet another reason to doubt those who claim that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to Russian trolls or other unfavorable comments on social media. The study looked at people arguing politics on Twitter and, as I could have told them, people do not change their political views based upon arguments on line. Here is the abstract:

There is mounting concern that social media sites contribute to political polarization by creating  “echo chambers” that insulate people from opposing views about current events. We surveyed a large sample of Democrats and Republicans who visit Twitter at least three times each week about a range of social policy issues. One week later, we randomly assigned respondents to a treatment condition in which they were offered financial incentives to follow a Twitter bot for one month that exposed them to messages produced by elected officials, organizations, and other opinion leaders with opposing political ideologies. Respondents were re-surveyed at the end of the month to measure the effect of this treatment, and at regular intervals throughout the study period to monitor treatment compliance. We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative post-treatment, and Democrats who followed a conservative Twitter bot became slightly more liberal post-treatment. These findings have important implications for the interdisciplinary literature on political polarization as well as the emerging field of computational social science.

It is very doubtful that people changed their view of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump based upon Russian bots or anything else they read on Twitter.

I bet that the same would apply to Facebook. Of course there are also multiple other reasons to question the claims that Russian bots or others caused Clinton to lose, as I most recently discussed in this post. Censoring social media, as Hillary Clinton has been suggesting, and Facebook has been practicing, would serve no positive purpose. There are obviously strong reasons to resist such censorship, although establishment Democrats appear oblivious to the impact on civil liberties.

(Hat tip to Salon for link to study).

Bush Said Bolton Not Credible By 2008; Jimmy Carter Calls His Appointment The Worst Mistake Trump Has Made

While George W. Bush initially promoted the career of John Bolton, over time his opinion became closer to Jimmy Carter’s view of him. Max Boot points out that by 2008, George Bush no longer trusted Bolton, pointing to this article from 2008 after Bolton criticized Bush for lifting some of the sanctions on North Korea:

“Let me just say from the outset that I don’t consider Bolton credible,” the president said bitterly. Bush had brought Bolton into the top ranks of his administration, fought for Senate confirmation and, when lawmakers balked, defied critics to give the hawkish aide a recess appointment. “I spent political capital for him,” Bush said, and look what he got in return.

Jimmy Carter calls the appointment of Bolton as National Security Adviser as “the worst mistake” Trump has made:

“I have been concerned at some of the things he’s decided. I think his last choice for national security adviser was very ill-advised. I think John Bolton has been the worst mistake he’s made,” Carter told “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell Monday. Bolton will be Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser since taking office.

Considering all the mistakes Trump has made, that says a lot.

I recently cited Reason magazine’s 5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria. They have another good five entry list this week too, 5 Things About John Bolton That Are Worse Than His Mustache:

  1. Bolton supported the 2002 invasion of Iraq and still thinks it was a dandy idea
  2. Bolton supported the U.S. intervention in the Libyan civil war.
  3. Bolton thinks the U.S. should have intervened in the Syrian civil war sooner and more aggressively.
  4. Bolton agitated for war with Iran.
  5. Bolton favors attacking North Korea

The irony is that these positions differ from many of the statements Donald Trump made on foreign policy during the campaign, although contradictions from Trump occur frequently. Bolton’s record is also more similar to that of Hillary Clinton, who supported the invasion of Iraq, orchestrated the intervention in Libya as Secretary of State, has criticized Obama for not intervening in the Syrian war as she advised, and has threatened to obliterate Iran. While I’m not aware of her outright promoting an attack on North Korea, her actions as Secretary of State have exacerbated the crisis in North Korea.

Five Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria

The claim that the 2016 election was stolen due to the actions of Russian trolls is one of the most absurd political arguments ever made. As I’ve noted previously, the Congressional testimony revealed that Russian Facebook ads and Tweets represented a minuscule amount of their traffic. Material from Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Half of it was not seen until after the election, much of it was not supporting Trump over Clinton, and much of it was hilariously unconvincing and amateurish. Phillip Bump added that, rather than targeting the battleground states, ads were concentrated in states such as New York and Texas which had no impact on the election results.

The claim that Russia stole the election based upon their actions on social media is harmful as it gives establishment Democrats an excuse to resist reform. It plays into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia, with their claims about Russia being no more truthful than their claims about WMD in Iraq. It is also an attack on freedom of speech, and has led to McCarthyism from establishment Democrats who claim that criticism stems from support for Putin.

Reason has produced the above video on 5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria.  They also summarized the arguments:

1) Russian trolling was a drop in the bucket.

2) Russian trolls were not very sophisticated.

Russian trolls supposedly had the Machiavellian know-how to infiltrate the American political system, but their social media posts don’t look very sophisticated. The posts often featured broken English and puzzling topic choices. A postpromoting a “buff” Bernie Sanders coloring book, for instance, noted that “the coloring is something that suits for all people.” Another post showed Jesus and Satan in an arm wrestling match under this caption: “SATAN: IF I WIN CLINTON WINS! JESUS: NOT IF I CAN HELP IT!” The post generated very few clicks and shares.

3) Russian troll rallies apparently did not attract many participants.

The indictment makes much of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton rallies instigated by Russian trolls, but it does not say how many people participated. The New York Times reported that a Russian-organized rally in Texas opposing Shariah law attracted a dozen people. An anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho drew four people. Attendance at other rallies was similarly sparse.

4) Russian trolling probably didn’t change anyone’s mind.

Broken English aside, the social media posts were not qualitatively different from content created by American activists, and they seemed to be aimed mainly at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs and divisions. The Russians might have gotten a few Trump supporters to show up at anti-Clinton rallies, but that does not mean they had an impact on the election.

5) Russian troll hysteria depicts free speech as a kind of violence.

The Justice Department describes the messages posted by Russians pretending to be Americans as “information warfare.” But while the posts may have been sophomoric, inaccurate, and illogical, that does not distinguish them from most of what passes for online political discussion among actual Americans. The integrity of civic discourse does not depend on verifying the citizenship of people who participate in it. It depends on the ability to weigh what they say, checking it against our own values and information from other sources. If voters cannot do that, maybe democracy isdoomed. But if so, it’s not the Russians’ fault.

Edward Snowden On Putin, Obama, Trump And Questioning Power

With the high level of McCarthyism coming from pro-Clinton Democrats in recent months, it has been commonplace recently for such Democrats to falsely attack those they disagree with as being pro-Russia. They fail to understand that people can be opposed to Clinton, Trump, and Putin–with all three actually sharing many characteristics with their mutual lack of respect for the norms of liberal democracy. This week several blogs on the left have pointed out that Edward Snowden has joined others in posting videos exposing ballot box stuffing in the recent Russian election:

Snowden posted the video with this caption: “The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people. Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter. Take your future back.”

Glenn Greenwald retweeted this and said, “How many days will elapse until we see the next tweets claiming that Snowden never criticizes Putin or Russia – something he in fact does with great vigor and frequency?”

Stefania Maurizi recently interviewed Edward Snowden for La Repubblica. The first question was about the Democrats who joined with Republicans to support mass surveillance:

Five years have passed since you revealed the NSA’s mass surveillance activities, and we have just seen dozens of US Democrats voting with the Trump Administration to renew the NSA’s surveillance powers, we’ve seen Italy approve a law which extends mandatory data retention to six years, but we’ve also seen a UK Court ruling that the UK’s mass surveillance regime is unlawful. The debate is still ongoing and the picture is mixed. In the long run, will mass surveillance be downsized in our democracies, or will it continue to flourish?

“That’s a big question…(he smiles). For one it’s certainly a real shame, I think, for the Democratic party, and unfortunately this has become quite routine, that the party that is presenting itself as a progressive force is so often joining in to limit the rights that the public enjoys. I don’t think this is unique to the Democratic Party, we see this happening even in countries that don’t share the same dynamics. What we are seeing is a new kind of creeping authoritarianism spreading across the globe.

Having said that, we have made some limited progress: in the United States, of course, we had the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which is the first surveillance law in 40 years that limited the powers of intelligence agencies rather than expanding them, but it is not guaranteed that this progress will continue, and in fact we see laws like the section 702 of the FISA [the NSA’s surveillance powers reauthorized by the U.S. Congress]…

He was later asked about Obama and Trump:

We saw that President Obama, who was an outsider to the US military-intelligence complex, initially wanted to reign in the abuses of agencies like the CIA and the NSA, but in the end he did very little. Now we see a confrontation between president Trump and so-called Deep State, which includes the CIA and the NSA. Can a US president govern in opposition to such powerful entities?

“Obama is certainly an instructive case. This is a president who campaigned on a platform of ending warrantless wiretapping in the United States, he said “that’s not who we are, that’s not what we do”, and once he became the president, he expanded the program.  He said he was going to close Guantanamo but he kept it open, he said he was going to limit extrajudicial killings and drone strikes that has been so routine in the Bush years. But Obama went on to authorize vastly more drone strikes than Bush. It became an industry.

As for this idea that there is a Deep State, now the Deep State is not just the intelligence agencies, it is really a way of referring to the career bureaucracy of government. These are officials who sit in powerful positions, who don’t leave when presidents do, who watch presidents come and go, they influence policy, they influence presidents and say: this is what we have always done, this is what we must do, and if you don’t do this, people will die. It is very easy to persuade a new president who comes in, who has never had these powers, but has always wanted this job and wants very, very badly to do that job well. A bureaucrat sitting there for the last twenty years says: I understand what you said, I respect your principles, but if you do what you promised, people will die. It is very easy for a president to go: well, for now, I am going to set this controversy to the side, I’m going to take your advice, let you guys decide how these things should be done, and then I will revisit it, when I have a little more experience, maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years, but then they never do.

This is what we saw quite clearly happen in the case of Barack Obama: when this story [of Snowden exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance] came forward in 2013, when Obama had been president for five years, one of the defences for this from his aides and political allies was: oh, Obama was just about to fix this problem!  And sure enough, he eventually was forced from the wave of criticism to make some limited reforms, but he did not go far enough to end all of the programs that were in violation of the law or the constitution of the United States.

That too was an intentional choice: he could have certainly used the scandal to advocate for all of the changes that he had campaigned on, to deliver on all of his promises, but in those five years he had become president, he discovered something else, which is that there are benefits from having very powerful intelligence agencies, there are benefits from having these career bureaucrats on your side, using their spider web over government for your benefit.

Imagine you are Barack Obama, and you realise – yes, when you were campaigning you were saying: spying on people without a warrant is a problem, but then you realise: you can read Angela Merkel’s text messages. Why bother calling her and asking her opinion, when you can just read her mind by breaking the law? It sounds like a joke, but it is a very seductive thing. Secrecy is perhaps the most corrupting of all government powers, because it takes public officials and divorces them from accountability to the public.

When we look at the case of Trump, who is perhaps the worst of politicians, we see the same dynamic occurring. This is a president who said the CIA is the enemy, it’s like Nazi Germany, they’re listening to his phone calls, and all of these other things, some claims which are true, some claims which are absolutely not.  A few months later, he is authorizing major powers for these same agencies that he has called his enemies.

And this gets to the central crux of your question, which is: can any president oppose this?  The answer is certainly. The president has to have some familiarity going in with the fact that this pitch is going to be made, that they are going to try to scare him or her into compliance. The president has to be willing to stand strongly on line and say: ‘I was elected to represent the interests of the American people, and if you’re not willing to respect the constitution and our rights, I will disband your agency, and create a new one’. I think they can definitely be forced into compliance, because these officials fear prison, just like every one of us.”

He was asked about attacks claiming that he only exposes problems with  the United States:

How do you reply to those critics who attack you for “only” exposing the US mass surveillance and saying that the Chinese and the Russian surveillance complexes are no less threatening?

“This is an easy one: I am not Chinese, I am not Russian, I didn’t work for the Chinese secret services or Russian secret services, I worked for the US ones, so of course my information would be about the US”.

Critics say we should also expose the Russians and the Chinese…

“Yes, if I could, I would. We need more Chinese whistleblowers, we need more Russian whistleblowers, and unfortunately that becomes more difficult to make that happen when the United States is itself setting a precedent that whistleblowers get persecuted and attacked, rather than protected”.

How do you see this serious diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia?
“I haven’t followed it that closely, but the idea that political violence is being used in any form is reprehensible, it needs to be condemned. If the UK allegations are correct, poisoning people, particularly people who are long out of their service, and in a different country, is contemptible”.

Snowden did subsequently have the opportunity to help expose problems in Russia with the video in the tweet at the start of this post.

The interview concluded with Snowden’s being asked for his advice for young and talented people who want to do the right thing:

“Question power. I don’t want people to trust me, I want people to doubt me, but I want them to take that experience and apply that to the real powers of society, not just isolated, exiled whistleblowers. Think about politicians, business leaders, the people who shape your society. Shouldn’t it be that the ones who wield the most power in society are the ones who are held to the highest standard of behaviour?

And look at the way the system works in your country, around you today, and ask if in fact the most powerful people in society are being held to the highest standards, or if you see cases where if the ordinary person breaks the smallest law, they’re going to jail, but if the most powerful people in society are engaged in criminal activity on the grandest scales, they can simply apologize and face no consequences. If that is the case, think about what you can do to fix that. The first step is always to question if this is the way things should be, and if it’s not, it’s time to change it”.

Fifteen Years After Invasion Of Iraq, Americans Still Have Not Learned To Be Skeptical Of Claims From Dishonest Politicians

Fifteen years ago the United States invaded Iraq based on lies. In addition to the lies from the Bush administration, Hillary Clinton lied, claiming that Saddam colluded with al Qaeda.

Clinton lied again seven years ago to orchestrate the disastrous regime change in Libya.

Both Iraq and Libya have turned into disasters.

Now Clinton is lying about collusion between Donald Trump and Russia altering the election result, leading to anti-Russia sentiment from many Democrats. This is playing into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia. Are we going to get into yet another war by believing Hillary Clinton’s lies? Will Americans also believe the lies of the next politician who seeks to lie the country into wars?

Mike Allen Provides Clue Regarding Mueller Investigation Which Further Casts Doubt On Democratic Conspiracy Theories About Election

As was revealed in Shattered, within twenty-four hours of losing the election, Hillary Clinton decided to blame others such as Russia for her loss to Donald Trump. Polls such as a recent YouGov survey show that a strong majority of Democrats continue to believe the claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election despite the lack of any evidence for this after over a year of investigations. The evidence available so far suggests that the investigation is moving in a different direction. Mike Allen of Axios posted A huge clue about Mueller’s endgame:

Axios has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has focused on events since the election — not during the campaign — in his conversations with President Trump’s lawyers. The top two topics that Mueller has expressed interest in so far: the firings of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Why it matters: That suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign. But both sagas are interwoven with Russia: Trump himself has linked Comey’s firing to Russia, and Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

This has actually been clear for quite a while. Mueller’s indictments have primarily involved matters such as money laundering, tax fraud, and obstruction of justice. The only indictments which related to the 2016 election campaign involved indictments of Russians for violation of federal election finance laws and identify theft. The indictments did not involve actions which either altered the election results or which indicated any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Those indictments involved social media activities which did not appear to have any meaningful impact on the election results.

Many others, such as here and here, have also been writing, contrary to the hysteria coming from cable news, that this scandal is primarily about financial crimes and their cover-up, not altering the election results. Michael Wolf, author Fire and Fury, has also said that the scandal is about money laundering, not collusion with Russia regarding the election. It is significant that Axios has added to his. That is because Mike Allen is well-connected, and  his voice will carry weight with many in the mainstream media. This could be the start of a trend towards looking at the scandal more objectively by others in the press.

Throughout the investigation there have been signs of the direction Mueller is going, including in his indictments and the types of attorneys he has hired. Other evidence goes along with Allen’s view that his focus is on “obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign.” While this is still somewhat speculative, I wonder, based upon the recent request for business documents from the Trump Organization, if the focus on events since the election could also include the unprecedented conflicts of interest between Trump’s role as president and his business dealings, including his dealings with Russian oligarchs.

Putin Wins Reelection In Election As Rigged As A Democratic Primary

Vladimir Putin has won reelection for another six-year term as president of the Russian Kleptocracy, with exit polls showing him winning about 74 percent of the vote. The election is widely considered to be as unfair as a Democratic primary in the United States, with allegations of stuffing the ballot box and of busing people in who were ordered to vote. Putin’s top challenger, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the election. Putin also benefited from control of most of the media.

Russia has accused the United States of meddling in their election. If true, it does not appear to have had any more of an effect on the outcome than Russia’s trivial meddling in the 2016 election in the United States.