Third Democratic Debate Showed Sanders’ Strength On Foreign Policy, Health Care, And Social Justice

Third Democratic Debate ABC News

The third Democratic Debate (transcript here) was most significant for Sanders doing his best job yet in the debates of taking on Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. Unfortunately, with the debate airing on the Saturday night before Christmas, The Guardian might have it right in this headline: Sanders outshone Clinton on foreign policy at the debate. But who watched? Both Sanders and O’Malley were also critical of Clinton’s Wall Street ties and economic views. During much of the evening I felt like I was watching a debate between two Democrats and a Republican.

While Sanders was prepared to take on Clinton’s foreign policy views, he did begin with his usual themes in his opening statement:

I am running for president of the United States because it is too late for establishment politics and establishment economics. I’m running for president because our economy is rigged because working people are working longer hours for lower wages and almost all of new wealth and income being created is going to the top one percent. I’m running for president because I’m going to create an economy that works for working families not just billionaires.

I’m running for president because we have a campaign finance system which is corrupt, where billionaires are spending hundreds of millionaires of dollars to buy candidates who will represent their interests rather than the middle class and working families. I’m running because we need to address the planetary crisis of climate change and take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

I’m running for president because I want a new foreign policy; one that takes on Isis, one that destroys ISIS, but one that does not get us involved in perpetual warfare in the quagmire of the Middle East but rather works around a major coalition of wealthy and powerful nations supporting Muslim troops on the ground. That’s the kind of coalition we need and that’s the kind of coalition I will put together.

The breech in security on the DNC’s voter data base came up. Sanders explained the situation, including an open admission of what staffers had done wrong, and then was asked if Clinton deserved an apology:

Not only — not only do I apologize to Secretary Clinton — and I hope we can work together on an independent investigation from day one — I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the type of campaign that we run.

And if I find anybody else involved in this, they will also be fired.

Clinton appeared shocked, as if she didn’t see this coming. Such an honest response to a scandal is so foreign to her.

It didn’t take long for the debate to turn to foreign policy. Sanders criticized Clinton’s interventionist foreign policy views and support for regime change. There was a detour on gun control when Clinton was asked, ” Secretary Clinton, in the wake of the San Bernardino attack, you all emphasized gun control. But our latest poll shows that more Americans believe arming people, not stricter gun laws, is the best defense against terrorism. Are they wrong?”

Clinton stumbled in answering but I do think she was trying to say the right thing here. She finally did say, “Guns, in and of themselves, in my opinion, will not make Americans safer.”

O’Malley took advantage of this to attack the records of both Clinton and Sanders on guns. He is right, as I have discussed here, that Clinton changes her position on this every election year. He is also right that Sanders has had some votes which gun control advocates could rightly criticize, but as has generally been the case when this issue has come up, Sanders’ general history of support for gun control was distorted. Among the issues was that O’Malley raised was that, “Senator Sanders voted against even research dollars to look into this public health issue.”

The problem with citing a single vote against any Senator is that bills contain multiple items, and it is possible that Sanders voted against the amendment based upon details unrelated to the general issue. This vote took place in 1996 and in more recent interviews Sanders has not been able to recall the specifics of why he voted against this at the time. More importantly, Sanders now favors funding for this research. All three candidates are strongly promoting gun control.

Hillary Clinton often seemed to deflect from questions by bringing up criticisms of Donald Trump. Most were valid, but Clinton was wrong on one point:

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

The fact check sites, including Factcheck.org, states that no such video exists. This is apparently as fictitious as the videos which Carly Fiorina claimed to have seen regarding Planned Parenthood at the second Republican debate.

Clinton was confronted with the contradictions in her statements on Syria by Martha Raddatz, who tried to force Clinton to defend her foreign policy failures several times during the debate:

Secretary Clinton, you too have ruled out a large U.S. combat force, yet you support sending in special operations forces to Syria, and sending those 100 to 200 troops to Iraq to do exploitation kill raids.

We’ve already lost one Delta Force member in a raid. It has looked very much to me like we’re already in ground combat on frequent trips I’ve made there.

After a weak answer from Clinton, Raddatz followed up:

Secretary Clinton, I want — I want to follow up on that. You do support sending special operations forces there. You support what the president has done already. One of the lessons people draw from Vietnam and war since is that a little force can turn into a little more and a little more. President Obama certainly didn’t expect to be sending 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan the first year of his presidency.

Are you prepared to run the risk of a bigger war to achieve your goals to destroy ISIS, or are you prepared to give up on those goals if it requires a larger force?

Clinton continued to struggle to defend her foreign policy views. After Clinton mentioned her support for a no-fly zone in Syria, Raddatz asked, “Secretary Clinton, I’d like to go back to that if I could. ISIS doesn’t have aircraft, Al Qaida doesn’t have aircraft. So would you shoot down a Syrian military aircraft or a Russian airplane?”

Both O’Malley and Sanders criticized Clinton’s views, with Sanders putting it all in perspective:

I have a difference of opinion with Secretary Clinton on this. Our differences are fairly deep on this issue. We disagreed on the war in Iraq. We both listened to the information from Bush and Cheney. I voted against the war.

But I think — and I say this with due respect — that I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.

Yes, we could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but that destabilized the entire region. Yes, we could get rid of Gadhafi, a terrible dictator, but that created a vacuum for ISIS. Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow, but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS. So I think, yeah, regime change is easy, getting rid of dictators is easy. But before you do that, you’ve got to think about what happens the day after. And in my view, what we need to do is put together broad coalitions to understand that we’re not going to have a political vacuum filled by terrorists, that, in fact, we are going to move steadily — and maybe slowly — toward democratic societies, in terms of Assad, a terrible dictator. But I think in Syria the primary focus now must be on destroying ISIS and working over the years to get rid of Assad. That’s the secondary issue.

With Clinton lacking any arguments of substance to defend her views, Clinton resorted to her usual tactic of deception. She tried to deflect from such criticism, and deny the substantial difference in their views, by distorting  Sanders’ record in saying, “With all due respect, senator, you voted for regime change with respect to Libya. you joined the Senate in voting to get rid of Qaddafi.” As Politico pointed out after the debate, the vote referred to a nonbinding resolution he voted for, which asked the dictator to “desist from further violence, recognize the Libyan people’s demand for democratic change, [and] resign his position.” This was hardly comparable to the removal of Qaddafi by force which Clinton backed.

O’Malley criticized Clinton’s antiqued thinking, with this not being the only time he contrasted his age to his two older opponents:

During the Cold War — during the Cold War, we got into a bad habit of always looking to see who was wearing the jersey of the communists, and who was wearing the U.S. jersey. We got into a bad habit of creating big bureaucracies, old methodologies, to undermine regimes that were not friendly to the United States. Look what we did in Iran with Mosaddegh. And look at the results that we’re still dealing with because of that. I would suggest to you that we need to leave the Cold War behind us, and we need to put together new alliances and new approaches to dealing with this, and we need to restrain ourselves.

I mean, I know Secretary Clinton was gleeful when Gadhafi was torn apart. And the world, no doubt is a better place without him. But look, we didn’t know what was happening next. And we fell into the same trap with Assad, saying — as if it’s our job to say, Assad must go.

We have a role to play in this world. But we need to leave the Cold War and that sort of antiquated thinking behind.

O’Malley was strong in criticizing Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and pointed how in the second debate she “very shamefully, she tried to hide her cozy relationship with Wall Street big banks by invoking the attacks of 9/11.” Clinton down played her contributions from Wall Street by ignoring her super PAC contributions, while Sanders pointed out, “Secretary Clinton, I don’t have a super PAC. I don’t get any money from Wall Street.” I am even more concerned about the corrupting effects of the contributions to the Foundation and unprecedented speaking fees paid to her husband.

The debate moved to health care with Sanders repeating his support for Medicare for All and Clinton objecting based upon the tax increases this would require. Sanders defended his proposal from Clinton’s attacks:

But Secretary Clinton is wrong.

As you know, because I know you know a lot about health care. You know that the United States per capita pays far and away more than other country. And it is unfair simply to say how much more the program will cost without making sure that people know that, we are doing away with cost of private insurance and that the middle class will be paying substantially less for health care on the single payer than on the Secretary’s Clinton proposal.

Clinton continued to channel right wing attacks on progressive programs by concentrating on their costs while ignoring their benefits in saying, “I don’t think we should be imposing new big programs that are going to raise middle class families’ taxes.”

Sanders responded by once again showing how he supports the economic policies of FDR and LBJ:

Number one, most important economic reality of today is that over the last 30 years, there has been a transfer of trillions of dollars from the middle class to the top one-tenth of one percent who are seeing a doubling of the percentage of wealth that they own.

Now, when Secretary Clinton says, “I’m not going raise taxes on the middle class,” let me tell you what she is saying. She is disagreeing with FDR on Social Security, LBJ on Medicare and with the vast majority of progressive Democrats in the House and the Senate, who today are fighting to end the disgrace of the United States being the only major country on Earth that doesn’t provide paid family and medical leave.

Sanders was the strongest candidate in speaking out for social justice:

Well, this whole issue concerns me. And I agree with much of what the secretary and the governor have said. But let’s be clear. Today in America we have more people in jail than any other country on earth, 2.2 million people. Predominantly African-American and Hispanic.

We are spending $80 billion a year locking up our fellow Americans. I think, and this is not easy, but I think we need to make wage a major effort, to come together as a country and end institutional racism. We need major, major reforms of a very broken criminal justice system. Now, what does that mean?

Well, for a start it means that police officers should not be shooting unarmed people, predominantly African-Americans.

It means that we have to rethink the so-called war on drugs which has destroyed the lives of millions of people, which is why I have taken marijuana out of the Controlled Substance Act. So that it will not be a federal crime.That is why we need to make police — and I speak as a former mayor. I was a mayor for eight years, worked very closely with a great police department. And what we did is try to move that department toward community policing, so that the police officers become part of the community and not, as we see, in some cities an oppressive force.

We need to make police departments look like the communities they serve in terms of diversity. We need to end minimal sentencing. We need, basically, to pledge that we’re going to invest in this country, in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration.

Towards the end, Martha Raddatz returned to Clinton’s failed policy on Libya, which Clinton has received considerable criticism for:

Secretary Clinton, I want to circle back to something that your opponents here have brought up. Libya is falling apart. The country is a haven for ISIS and jihadists with an estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters there today. You advocated for that 2011 intervention and called it smart power at its best. And yet, even President Obama said the U.S. should have done more to fill the leadership vacuum left behind. How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed elections?

Clinton tried to deflect and Raddatz followed up:

Secretary Clinton, I want to go back. That — government lacked institutions and experience. It had been a family business for 40 years. On the security side, we offered only a modest training effort and a very limited arms buy-back program. Let me ask you the question again. How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed those elections?

Sanders also showed his disagreements with Clinton on regime change:

SANDERS: Look, the secretary is right. This is a terribly complicated issue. There are no simple solutions. But where we have a disagreement is that I think if you look at the history of regime changes, you go back to Mossaddegh (ph) in Iran, you go back to Salvador Allende who we overthrew in Chile, you go back to overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq, you go back to where we are today in Syria with a dictator named Assad.

The truth is it is relatively easy for a powerful nation like America to overthrow a dictator but it is very hard to predict the unintended consequences and the turmoil and the instability that follows after you overthrow that dictator.

So I think secretary Clinton and I have a fundamental disagreement. I’m not quite the fan of regime change that I believe she is.

After many questions of substance, the final questions were rather lame regarding the role of the president’s spouse. The candidates then gave their closing statements, with Clinton going last and concluding, “Thank you, good night and may the force be with you.”

The force was strong in Bernie Sanders, while Hillary Clinton (and Debbie Wasserman Schultz) have been taken away by the dark side.

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

Edward Snowden We The People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COOPER: Is he a hero?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders Should Pay As Much Attention To Clinton’s Ties To The Military-Industrial Complex As To Wall Street

hillary_clinton_warmonger_460

There’s been considerable concern, for good reason, about Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street ties, but I don’t think this is the biggest problem to be concerned about should she be elected. I am even more worried about her neoconservative foreign policy views, and being a lackey for the military-industrial complex.

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, described the problem, starting with discussion of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps Ted Kennedy even thought of the vast differences between Clinton and his brother when endorsing Obama over Clinton in 2008.

Sachs wrote that, in her speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton “doubled down on the existing, failed U.S. approach in the Middle East, the one she pursued as Secretary of State.”

In rare cases, great presidents learn to stand up to the CIA and the rest of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. JFK became one of the greatest presidents in American history when he came to realize the awful truth that his own military and CIA advisors had contributed to the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The CIA-led Bay of Pigs fiasco and other CIA blunders had provoked a terrifying response from the Soviet Union. Recognizing that the U.S. approach had contributed to bringing the world to the brink, Kennedy bravely and successfully stood up to the warmongering pushed by so many of his advisors and pursued peace, both during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. He thereby saved the world from nuclear annihilation and halted the unchecked proliferation of nuclear arms.

Clinton’s speech shows that she and her advisors are good loyalists of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Her speech included an impressive number of tactical elements: who should do the bombing and who should be the foot soldiers. Yet all of this tactical precision is nothing more than business as usual. Would Clinton ever have the courage and vision to push back against the U.S. security establishment, as did JFK, and thereby restore global diplomacy and reverse the upward spiral of war and terror?

Just as the CIA contributed to the downward slide to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and just as many of JFK’s security chiefs urged war rather than negotiation during that crisis, so too today’s Middle East terrorism, wars, and refugee crises have been stoked by misguided CIA-led interventions. Starting in 1979, the CIA began to build the modern Sunni jihadist movement, then known as the Mujahedeen, to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The CIA recruited young Sunni Muslim men to fight the Soviet infidel, and the CIA provided training, arms, and financing. Yet soon enough, this US-created jihadist army turned on the US, a classic and typical case of blowback.

The anti-U.S. and anti-Western blowback started with the first Gulf War in 1990, when the U.S. stationed troops throughout the region. It continued with the Second Gulf War, when the U.S. toppled a Sunni regime in Iraq and replaced it with a puppet Shia regime. In the process, it dismantled Saddam’s Sunni-led army, which then regrouped as a core part of ISIS in Iraq.

Next the U.S. teamed up with Saudi Arabia to harass, and then to try to topple Bashir al-Assad. His main crime from the perspective of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia: being too close to Iran. Once again, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia turned to Sunni jihadists with arms and financing, and part of that fighting force morphed into ISIS in Syria. The evidence is that the covert U.S. actions against Assad pre-date the overt U.S. calls for Assad’s overthrow in 2011 by at least a couple of years.

In a similar vein, the U.S. teamed up with France and the UK to bomb Libya and kill Muammar Qaddafi. The result has been an ongoing Libyan civil war, and the unleashing of violent jihadists across the African Sahel, including Mali, which suffered the terrorist blow last week at the hands of such marauders.

Thanks to America’s misguided policies, we now have wars and violence raging across a 5,000-mile stretch from Bamako, Mali to Kabul, Afghanistan, with a U.S. hand in starting and stoking the violence. Libya, Sudan, the Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all cases where the U.S. has directly intervened with very adverse results. Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia are some of the many other countries indirectly caught up in turmoil unleashed by U.S. covert and overt operations…

An election between Clinton and any of the likely Republican candidates would offer no real choice. Clinton’s plan to handle ISIS is unlikely to work. We can only hope that Clinton can be defeated for the Democratic nomination. Sachs ended by contrasting Clinton’s views with those of Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders:

 O’Malley and Sanders wisely and correctly support an America that works with other countries and with the UN Security Council to build peace in the Middle East rather than an America that continues to indulge in endless and failed CIA adventures of regime change and war. While Clinton arrogantly demands that other countries such as Russia and Iran fall squarely behind the U.S., O’Malley and Sanders recognize that it is through compromise in the UN Security Council that we can defeat ISIS and find lasting solutions in the Middle East.

Whether Clinton could ever break free of the military-industrial complex remains to be seen. If she does become president, our very survival will depend on her capacity to learn.

O’Malley and Sanders did criticize Clinton’s foreign policy views in the second Democratic debate, but it is clear that Bernie’s heart is in attaching her Wall Street ties. I wish he would pay as much attention to her ties to the military-industrial complex and her overly hawkish foreign policy views. It could be hard running against those who pander to fear, but it is important to do if we are to avoid perpetual warfare under either Clinton or a Republican president. As the most popular Senator in America, Sanders might be able to pull this off. Iowa has long been a strong state for anti-war movements, and the Democratic primary voters should respond to this issue.

John Kasich Proposes New Government Agency To Spread Judeo-Christian Values Around The World

John Kasich

John Kasich is supposedly the saner sounding Republican, but he isn’t sounding like that today. His response to the terrorist attacks in Paris is to establish a new government agency to promote Judeo-Christian values. From an interview with NBC News:

As part of a broad national security plan to defeat ISIS, Republican Presidential candidate John Kasich proposed creating a new government agency to push Judeo-Christian values around the world.

The new agency, which he hasn’t yet named, would promote a Jewish- and Christian-based belief system to four regions of the world: China, Iran, Russia and the Middle East.

“We need to beam messages around the world” about the freedoms Americans enjoy, Kasich said in an interview with NBC News Tuesday. “It means freedom, it means opportunity, it means respect for women, it means freedom to gather, it means so many things.”

He defended creating a new government agency at a time when fellow Republican presidential candidates discuss eliminating government agencies to making the government smaller.

If he wants to spread American values such as freedom and respect, the United States already has the Voice of America for this. It is a different matter if he wants to spread religious values.

The main problem addressed in most media reports is of establishing a new government agency, in violation of Republican dogma. There are bigger problems. First this violates the First Amendment, although Republicans are generally only concerned with the Second Amendment and have never shown any respect for separation of church and state.

There is also the question of how this will be received in other countries and how they will respond. Trying to spread Judeo-Christian values in  Muslim dominated regions would provide yet another recruitment tool for ISIS.

This would be a surprising proposal if coming from a moderate Republican, but Kasich has never really been all that moderate.

Right Wing Outrage Over Obama Missing A Photo-Op In Paris

The latest lunacy from conservatives like Ted Cruz  is to make a huge fuss about Obama not attending the Paris memorial march, while ignoring the substantive assistance he has been providing to fight terrorism.

Considering the security measures utilized whenever the president leaves the White House, it was not practical for Obama to have attended with such short notice. Even if time permitted, his presence would have been disruptive for such an event.

The French certainly are not offended:

 French President François Hollande’s office also defended Obama. A senior official told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the U.S. president has been “very present” since the attacks, noting that he was one of the first leaders to call Hollande last Wednesday.

The official also pointed to Obama’s visit to the French Embassy in Washington last week. “For us It was an emotional moment of solidarity,” the official said.

They actually would have preferred that Obama and Biden not attend due to the security issues, already having to contend with Benjamin Netanyahu attending when asked not to.

Obama essentially missed a photo op–not a true case of world leaders leading a March, as pictures from the march have demonstrated:

Many on the right repeated their automatic opposition to anything Obama does. We know that if he had gone, the same conservatives would have been the first to attack Obama for grabbing the limelight, the cost of the trip, and disrupting the march with his security measures. We also know that if it had been a Republican president who did not attend they would have had no complaints.

Ron Fournier, not a common defender of Obama, had several points on this faux controversy:

His critics seem to forget a few things.

1. The United States has some 66,000 military personnel deployed in Europe. More than 6,800 U.S. service members have died in post-9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury finance intelligence and military operations across the globe, making the United States the most stalwart enemy of terrorists.

2. The president of the United States doesn’t need to march in the streets of Paris to prove his nation’s commitment.

3. Somebody should find out how many federal agents, spies, and intelligence assets the United States has dispatched to Europe since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Does anybody think the Obama administration hasn’t flooded the zone?

4. Obama’s presence at the rally would have been disruptive. The apparatus that follows the U.S. president is isolating and suppressive – a direct counter to the vibe that organizers achieved in the streets of Paris.

5. Obama and his national security team are rightly worried about the next 9/11. Only hard work and good luck have kept the wolves at bay this long. An attack like the ones in Paris last week keeps U.S. national security personnel awake at night because among their greatest fears are so-called lone wolf attacks on soft targets in the United States. There could have been a copycat.

Here’s my thought process: Had there been an attack on U.S. soil while Obama marched in Paris, I would have wondered whether the president and his team had taken their eyes off the ball. Wouldn’t that be the natural reaction? The conservative Outrage Machine would have demanded impeachment proceedings.

Personally, I’ve got no problem with the U.S. ambassador representing my country in Paris. If it was my call to make, I would have put Biden on a plane.

But did Obama let the world down? Take a breath. After all this country has done for Europe in the last century, let’s not confuse a mistake with something more meaningful.

He wrote this earlier in the day before all the information was in, and the same security issues related to Obama would probably also apply to Biden. Whether it was still a mistake not to send Biden is far more debatable with more facts now in, but regardless Fournier is correct that, even if it was a mistake, it is “no disgrace” and hardly anything meaningful.

Update: Dana Milbanks wrote about the hypocrisy of the Republican attacks. He also pointed out that sending Obama with this little lead time was “never a possibility, for security and logistical reasons.” As most reasonable people (meaning non-Republicans) would, he characterizes the failure to send anyone else of higher rank than the ambassador a faux pas. He also states that, “Officials I spoke to said it was a simple screw-up: They didn’t understand how significant the event would be, with leaders of some 40 countries in attendance.” There was no strategic importance to Obama being there and there was no insult to the French (which until this week would hardly be of concern to conservatives).

The White House admits it was wrong, but again the error was one of public relations, not of anything of real significance or to justify the current attacks from the right, which are more about their usual pattern of attacking anything done by Obama.

Fox Twitter Hashtag Backfires

On Tuesday Fox & Friends asked Twitter users to post things they were over with the hashtag #OverIt2014. They started with Fake Journalist Barbie tweeting, “I’m over attacks against Christianity.” This worked out about how you might expect.  Gawker reported some of the snarky responses, and far more are now up:

You get the idea. The responses are continuing to come in at a rapid rate.

The Interview Available At Limited Theaters And On Video On Demand

The Interview

Sony has gone well beyond the plan under consideration over the weekend to release The Interview on Crackle, which would mean distributing it for free. They subsequently arranged for its release at about three hundred independent movie theaters across the country as well as on paid video on demand. As of this morning, the movie has been available on You Tube and Google Play. It can be rented for $5.99 or purchased for $14.99. Movies rented or purchased on Google Play can be viewed on a television with gadgets including a Roku box and Chromcast. Purchasing a movie through the streaming services means that it can be viewed at any time, while rental movies can only be seen for a limited time.

This will most likely bring in far less revenue that the original full theatrical release planned, but it will bring in more revenue than distributing it for free on Crackle. The unprecedented publicity for the movie should  help increase paid video on demand viewing and subsequent Blue Ray and DVD sales. If nothing else, it feels a lot better than to give in to demands not to show the movie.

SciFi Weekend: Ascension; Person of Interest; Daredevil; Orphan Black; Hannibal; Fargo; Doctor Who Easter Eggs On Gracepoint; The Newsroom; The Fall; The Interview

Tricia-Helfer-in-Ascension

Ascension was billed as  Syfy’s big attempt to return to outer space based, hard science fiction, including the return of Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica. It didn’t exactly do that, but despite some flaws it was mostly a success. Major spoilers here if you plan to watch this at a later date.

The show was billed as sort of Mad Men in space with the advertised premise being of a multi-generational ship sent from earth in the 1960’s. It would have been a lifeboat for the human race during the height of the cold war. The show took place in current time, half way through the ship’s one hundred year journey, with the mission complicated by their first murder. This allowed them to show a culture which did not move beyond the 1960’s, complete with a beach and stewardesses to provide sexual favors for the upper class. It was never clear why such a class difference developed in such a short period of time, but if did make it feel more like the true 1960’s.

During the first episode there were scenes on earth which did suggest that things were not as they seemed, but the big reveal wasn’t until the end of the first two hours. They never left earth with those on board being part of a huge experiment, unaware that they were still on earth and under constant observation. Nobody on board thought it was odd that they never had any jobs to perform outside of the ship.

If this reveal wasn’t until the end of the series it would feel like a cheap cop out, but coming relatively early it did work to provide additional drama for the remaining four hours. I did actually like this development because it was far more plausible than the billed premise. If a science fiction show is set in our future, I don’t mind if they invent technology which is well beyond us such as artificial gravity. However, as the show claimed to have developed this space ship fifty years in our past, I didn’t find it credible for them to have technology which we do not currently have. I could accept them fooling people on board to accept this when they were actually under earth’s gravity.

This twist also allowed for the earth-bound drama to be as significant as the drama on board Ascension, including the well-developed schemes to not only keep this secret but to control those who suspected the plot, or who knew and wanted to take action. While I did like the twist leading to Samantha’s betrayal, I also would have liked to see them succeed in going full Snowden.

I do have mixed feelings about the ending’s almost paranormal nature. However once they did establish that this was an elaborate trick, they did need a big reason for doing it. An experiment as to how people would react to being on a multi-generational space mission would not justify this, but the eugenics experiments which resulted in the creation of someone with Christa’s powers would provide a more plausible reason. Once we saw Christa teleport Gault to an alien world it all made sense. The ability to transport across the galaxy immediately would provide a far better lifeboat for humanity than to send people out on a one hundred year perilous mission in space, in which those who start out would never see the end of the trip. Unfortunately this all ended much too abruptly, and Ascension works better as the first six hours of a series than a self-contained mini-series. I bet that the plan was never to end the story here and those who believed this was a six-hour miniseries were being fooled, just like the crew of Ascension.

The Cold War

The last episode of Person of Interest was far heavier into the show’s mythology. Zap2it discussed Person of Interest, and the trilogy which began before the midseason hiatus, with Amy Acker. Here are some questions from the beginning and end–check out the full post for the rest of the questions:

Zap2it: I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I have been waiting for Samaritan and the Machine to face off all season.
Amy Acker: It was funny because when we got that script everyone was kind of like, “Wait, this is happening now?” It did feel like that’s what this season was about, that Samaritan and the Machine are going to meet. I think that’s what the writers and Jonah [Nolan] and Greg [Plageman] really continuously do with this show is they bring up these things that would be a great season finale and they put them in the middle of the year. It really makes the whole second half of the season go in a different direction. I thought it was kind of cool that they did that when they did.

That scene was so great, and Oakes Fegley, who played the little boy Gabriel that Samaritan speaks through, was amazing.
Isn’t he so good? I have a 9-year-old, almost 10, that’s like the exact same age as him. I just kept looking at him going, “My son would never memorize some of those lines and then be able to deliver it.” [ laughs] He was very impressive. He was so smart and great, and he was excited about doing the scene and had ideas. The director [Michael Offer] was great with him too. He’s just really a special kid, and he was fantastic — and super creepy — as Samaritan.

There’s a little bit of a break until “Person of Interest” returns, so what can you offer as a tease for the next part in this three-part arc?
This is the second part of this trilogy of episodes which we’ve seen the beginning of. I would say this is the most dangerous of the three episodes. It’s a really unique episode. There’s not been a “Person of Interest” like this. When we all got the episode we were like “this is really cool,” and it was a really, really hard shoot. But as they’ve been putting it together, people have been saying this is their favorite episode that we’ve had. I’m excited to see it all together because it was kind of hard as we were shooting it to imagine how it was going to turn out.

The promo for the next episode makes it look like a lot of characters are in life-or-death situations. The last time “Person of Interest” had a big three-parter Carter died, so can we expect a similar game-changer this year?
Well everyone’s definitely in danger in this episode. With the beginning of the new year and the second half of the season, I think it’s going to really affect everything that happens from this point forward.

“Person of Interest” Season 4 returns on Jan. 6 with “If-Then-Else” on CBS. The synopsis reads: “Samaritan launches a cyber-attack on the stock exchange, leaving the team with no choice but to embark on a possible suicide mission in a desperate attempt to stop a global economic catastrophe.”

DAREDEVIL-NETFLIX

Marvel told Entertainment Weekly that the upcoming Daredevil series will be more about crime fighting than superheroes:

Forget Ben Affleck. Netflix’s Daredevil is ”the exact opposite” of Affleck’s much-maligned 2003 bomb, promises showrunner Steven S. DeKnight. Expect the classic origin story to remain unchanged: Blinded as a child, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a lawyer by day who hunts criminals by night (he apparently doesn’t get much sleep). But this new iteration of Daredevil is more influenced by 1970s mean-street films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver than traditional superhero titles. ”There aren’t going to be people flying through the sky; there are no magic hammers,” says Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb. ”We’ve always approached this as a crime drama first, superhero show second.” There’s also more grown-up content here. ”It’s a little grittier and edgier than Marvel has gone before,” says DeKnight, ”but we’re not looking to push it to extreme violence or gratuitous nudity.” The ‘devil will eventually get his iconic red costume, but first he’ll wear black duds inspired by Frank Miller’s comic Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.

The above trailer for season three of Orphan Black, which returns on April 18, indicates that there will be war. I wonder to what degree it might be between the male and female clones or, probably more likely, between some clones and the groups which try to control them.

 TVOverMind has a round table discussion on season three of Arrow.

Michael Pitt is leaving Hannibal and Joe Anderson will replace him in the role of Mason Verger.

Fargo Season 2

Entertainment Weekly has more information on season two of Fargo:

Fargo is going back in time to 1979 for season two, and EW has a first-look at a page from the season premiere script.

Expect another snow-swept rural crime drama loosely inspired by the Coen brothers’ film, only this time the action is set in Luverne, Minnesota, where humble married couple Peggy and Ed Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons) find themselves caught in an escalating war between a local crime gang and a major Mob syndicate. (A character in season one cryptically described the 1979 case as “savagery, pure and simple,” with a massive pileup of bodies.)

“The scope of the story- telling this season is a lot bigger, it has more of an epic feel to it,” says showrunner Noah Hawley, who adds that the earlier time period and even more rural setting gives the show an almost Western-like quality. “It’s not the ’70s in a Boogie Nights kind of way,” he assures.

Gracepoint Easter Eggs

Gracepoint took advantage of staring David Tennant by including a few Doctor Who Easter eggs. Look at who the messages were from which were left on David Tenant’s desk–D. Noble, Martha Jones, and R. Tyler.

Keifer Sutherland told The Telegraph that he doesn’t see going back to do another season of 24. Obviously this is not the equivalent of a Sherman statement.

The Newsroom ended last week with a mixed series finale. The episode largely contained flashbacks inspired by Charlie’s funeral but the plot did also advance in scenes between flashbacks. Unfortunately much of the plot advancement from this short season came from random events. Previously the storyline with Will in jail for refusing to reveal the identity of a source ended too easily when the source committed suicide. The finale too easily resolved the conflict from the changes made by then owner when scandals, which came out of nowhere, led to MacKenzie being named the new president of ACN. Despite these faults, Sorkin left me wanting to see another season with MacKenzie as ACN president, and even with Jim and Maggie trying to make a long distance relationship work.

The Fall completed its second season with a mixed ending which, like Ascension, ended too abruptly. It did not work completely because of relying on minor characters who have not been seen in recent episodes.  The show would probably work better for those binging on both seasons at once, as opposed to watching the second season over a year later when some key events have been forgotten by most viewers. There is hope of them redeeming themselves as there is talk of a third season. It is not known if Paul Specter survived and whether Jamie Dornan will be returning, but Gillian Anderson has expressed interest.

The top show business story of the week, greatly transcending show business, was North Korea’s hacking of Sony and intimidation resulting in Sony deciding against the release of The Interview. On the one hand, the problems faced by Sony in releasing the movie under the threat of terrorist attacks are obvious, but we hate to such such intimidation succeed. Today on CNN’s  State of the Union, President Obama called this an act of cybervandalism (video above):

President Barack Obama says he doesn’t consider North Korea’s hack of Sony Pictures “an act of war.”

“It was an act of cybervandalism,” Obama said in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley that aired Sunday “State of the Union.”

But he stuck by his criticism of Sony’s decision to cancel its plans to release the movie “The Interview,” which includes a cartoonish depiction of the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after the country threatened attacks against theaters that showed it.

Obama said in a Friday news conference that Sony made “a mistake,” and that he wished the company had called him first. That led Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton to tell CNN that Obama and the public “are mistaken as to what actually happened.” He blamed movie theater companies that opted not to show the film, saying they forced Sony’s hand.

Obama shot back, saying: “I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make. Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was.”

The President told Crowley that his problem wasn’t with Sony specifically, but with the precedent the company’s decision set.

Ideally the movie will be released in some way to ensure that North Korea is not successful in preventing the release of a movie they dislike. Many solutions have been discussed. There are now reports that Sony might release it for free on Crackle. Such a free release, along with all the publicity this has received, would probably lead to The Interview being seen by far more people than it would with a conventional theatrical release.

24 And Torture

24 torture

Matt Bai has discussed the “24 Effect” on how terrorism is viewed:

In a sense, “24” became a kind of virtual universe in which all of us could role-play — even if we happened to know more about the roles than the actors did. I recall a conversation with Bill Clinton in 2007 during which he brought up the show and spent the better part of a half hour dissecting the strengths and flaws in its portrayal of real-time decisions.

There was something comforting, too, about the portrayal of intelligence agencies in “24.” Even with the insipid station chiefs who cycled in and out of the show, CTU itself remained amazingly high-functioning and high-tech. State-of-the-art computers gleamed in brilliant new offices of steel and glass. Satellites saw everything, everywhere, and beamed it all flawlessly to Jack’s phone during the commercial break.

That false portrayal of our counterterrorism agencies was demolished by the 9/11 commission report in 2004, with its accounts of missed clues and outdated technology. And what we now also know, thanks to the new Senate report, is that it wasn’t the bureaucrats back in Washington who were balking at torture while the real Jack Bauers jettisoned the rules, but often the other way around entirely.

In truth, a lot of the operatives were apparently sickened by immoral tactics they knew weren’t working, but their bosses insisted on believing that the world was like TV, and the bad guys would break just as they did for Jack, if only our agents would do what they had to do. If the Senate’s investigators can be believed, those bosses were wrong — both morally and tactically.

Another view  from Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian:

This week the writer Matt Bai made the intriguing argument that the success of 24 might have shaped America’s whatever-it-takes approach to terrorism, at the very least allowing policymakers to believe that a US public that was cheering on Jack Bauer would have little objection to US agents engaging in similar behaviour in real life. It’s a thought I had – and worried about – at the time. But it misses something crucial.

It’s true that 24 struck a chord in that post-9/11 period. It channelled our collective id, ourdeepest, darkest urges. Caught up in the story, we wanted Bauer to, say, sever the head of the villain with a hacksaw. But that is not necessarily what we wanted from our governments. The state cannot be the sum of our collective impulses and instincts, no matter how base. It has to be better than that. It has to listen to cooler demands: the rule of law, basic rights and common human decency. Reality may outstrip fiction, but it has to behave better too. The alternative is the horror laid bare this week — and whose legacy we live with still.

I had also made a recent comparison to 24, and another source of fantasy as opposed to the reality of torture:

Howard Dean Is Ready For Hillary, But Does Anyone Still Care About What Howard Dean Says?

Howard Dean writes that he is ready for Hillary. He mentions some of her attributes but the most obvious thing in his article is the absence of mention of her support for the Iraq War. Maybe this is not a major factor for everyone (although I think that ones position on one of the major blunders in recent times should be). I just find it more amazing that Howard Dean doesn’t care, considering how he used the Iraq war in his 2004 run for the Democratic nomination.

Although Howard Dean and John Kerry had essentially the same view on Iraq, Dean distorted the issue to give the appearance of a difference. He turned the Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq into far more of a litmus test than it ever should have been. While Kerry, as he later admitted, made a mistake in trusting Bush not to misuse the authorization, the major difference was that Kerry was in the Senate and had to cast a vote while Dean did not. Listening to the statements from the two, both actually had the same position. Both thought that force should be authorized if we were legitimately threatened by weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Both argued at the onset of the war that no such threat existed and that Bush was wrong to go to war.

If, although having the same position, Kerry’s vote made him subject for constant attacks on the war from Dean, what about Hillary Clinton? Unlike both Kerry and Dean, Hillary Clinton not only voted in favor of the war, but she was enthusiastically supporting going to war at the time. She was on the far right of the Democratic Party, with people like Joe Lieberman, in claiming that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

Of course Howard Dean’s reputation on the left has already become tarnished since he sold his soul and became a K-Street lobbyist defending the interests of Big Pharma. Yes, I guess this Howard Dean could be expected to support Hillary Clinton, regardless of her views on Iraq.

Update: Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses