26 May 2017

Seth Myers Nails Paul Ryan.

Seth Myers is on fire here.

Greg Gianforte: Symptom of American Failure

Greg Gianforte is by any account, an American success story. He and his wife made a fortune on a tech company, RightNow Technologies. They made a larger fortune selling that company for over a billion dollars. He had an unsuccessful run for governor of Montana, no criticism there. He had a successful run as Congressman, being elected yesterday in a Montana special election.

It was only in the last day when Gianforte became an example of what I am calling American Failure.

A reporter for the BBC asked Gianforte to comment on the Congressional Budget Office’s latest report on the Republican Congress’ American Health Care Act. Not many Republicans in Congress want to discuss the CBO analysis because it fairly damning of the AHCA, and makes the efforts to push it through by Republican held Congress look as cynical as they probably were. This is why Ben Jacobs, of the BBC, thought it would be a good idea to ask Gianforte, then only a Republican contender for Congress, his thoughts on the bill in light of the latest report. Here, courtesy of the Atlantic is a transcript of the attack. If you follow the link you can also listen to the audio.




Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian: ...the CBO score. Because, you know, you were waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill and it just came out...
Greg Gianforte, the congressional candidate: Yeah, we’ll talk to you about that later.
Jacobs: Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious—
Gianforte: Okay, speak with Shane, please.
[loud scuffling noises, an even louder crash, repeated thumping]
Gianforte: [shouting] I’m sick and tired of you guys!
Jacobs: Jesus chri—!
Gianforte: The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!
Jacobs: Jesus!
Gianforte: Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing! You with The Guardian?
Jacobs: Yes! And you just broke my glasses.
Gianforte: The last guy did the same damn thing.
Jacobs: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.
Gianforte: Get the hell out of here.
Jacobs: You’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d also like to call the police. Can I get you guys’ names?
Unidentified third man: Hey, you gotta leave.
Jacobs: He just body-slammed me.
Unidentified third man: You gotta leave.

In the immediate aftermath of the alleged assault, Gianforte spokesmen blamed the “incident” as being the result of an aggressive reporter. Neither the written exchange, nor the actual audio of the attack (I can think of no other word) support the idea that the reporter was aggressive. Nor does the eye witness testimony of a fox news crew. The FoxNew crew describe the event as follows.
"During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte's face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.  
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left."
Most importantly from the Fox News Report, "To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies.  

The American Failure of which I speak is the fact that for too many Americans, Gianfortes frustrated, impulsive action seems like character. No one was surprised when Montanans elected Gianforte to congress. Most news outlets predicted he would likely still win, or at the very least his performance would be unaffected by news of the alleged assault. Indeed Montana Republicans were, according to exit polling, unswayed. Some, in NPR interviews, even suggested that it was good what now Congressman elect Gianforte did. Voters favoring Gianforte thought it showed character. A friend of mine said, Understanding consequences and standing up for what you believe in is a quality behavior. This man has been repeatedly attacked by the alt left media and stood up for himself and his ideology. For that I applaud him and make no apologies for doing so.” My friend further, said, “Play stupid games when stupid prizes.” He isn’t alone in his opinion. Though it is an opinion that seems to be untethered to the facts, so far, in this particular case. The conservative opinion seems to dramatically expand the definition of attack in the process of defending what just ten years ago would likely have been indefensible. Ben Jacobs, simply asked Gianforte, for his position on the AHCA, in light of the CBO report. Gianforte had been hedging on his support until that report. His reaction doesn’t follow citation of principles. The assault doesn’t follow aggressive action by Jacobs. It looks like nothing more than what it was, a frustrated, perhaps tired, man lashing out at a reporter asking him questions.  Lets reflect a moment on what those actions appear to have been. In response to two questions, Gianforte grabbed a BBC reporter by the neck with both hands, forced him to the ground and began punching him. The “stupid game” and the “attack” my friend and his fellow conservatives refer to is the act of a reporter doing his job.

Words aren’t violence. If the response to uncomfortable words is going to be physical violence, and if we are going to imagine that such violence is virtue, then I think the Enlightenment project that is the US is dead. Physically choking slamming someone who has just asked you a question doesn’t represent manly virtue. At best it represents the unenlightened first impulse of a frustrated tired man, having to address a bad bill on the eve of an election that shouldn’t have been as close as it was. At worst, it represents the first impulse of thug, with naked contempt for the press. There is no evidence of virtue in the assault on Ben Jacobs. Seeing virtue in it is an American Failure.

My friend went on to say, that “The good people of Missoula disagreed with me.” The implication here is that since majority have spoken the right position has been discovered, or the majority makes right.” Strangely this same person would balk at the majority who spoke in the last Presidential election, but I digress. The good people of Missoula may disagree with me, but there is a notable exception to this majority that is perhaps cause of hope-though perhaps hope is premature. Whether hope is premature or not, the exception takes the form of Greg Gianforte himself, who had this to say.

“Last night I made a mistake, and when you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” Gianforte told a supportive crowd in his victory speech. “That’s the Montana way. Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back and I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I’m sorry.”

11 May 2017

The Looming Disaster. The Trump Administration: The Apotheosis of the Worst Trends in American Thinking.

It has been a rough week for the Trump administration, and it’s GOP allies. The cynicism of the Trump/Ryan push on the GOP health care bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) has already had a telling effect on GOP numbers. As reported by the Independent, Republicans who signed off on the AHCA are already seeing re-election chances fall. The hope of the GOP members of Congress is to present the illusion of success, while essentially giving the Senate a land mine. While claiming victory with no major legislation passed, they create an insurance policy they can point to should the Senate fail to do anything with the bill. “Well, we presented legislation, its not our fault the Senate failed to come up with a workable middle ground.” Trump sang the AHCA’s praises, even as its chances to pass, are fairly slim.  The Senate isn’t terribly satisfied with the bill. The Congressional Budget Office  report on the AHCA doesn’t help. Their summary, "CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the American Health Care Act would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the coming decade and increase the number of people who are uninsured by 24 million in 2026 relative to current law, makes a lot of people, lawmakers and constituents alike, uncomfortable. Of course, with Trump, it can get worse, and often does. His firing of James Comes, the sometimes controversial head of the FBI, generated massive, and predictable, except apparently to President Trump alone, backlash. According to the New York Times, some republicans have broken ranks with Trump to express dismay, with the firing of Comey, whom Trump once praised for Comey’s October surprise reveal of a continuing investigation into Clinton’s emails. The President, his press secretary, and various other conservative megaphones, have tried out using the former director Comey’s handling of Clinton’s investigation as a rationale for the firing. It isn’t convincing and, in any event, the rationale continues to evolve. The evolving rationales look more and more like mendacity with each ad hoc permutation.* (SEE ADDENDUM)

The optics of the Comey firing looked worse than it might have, given Trump’s meeting, almost on the heels of Comey’s termination, free of a free press, with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyack, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov. While Western Media may have been barred from the meeting, Russia’s state controlled press was allowed in. It doesn’t even take a paranoid mind to find that kind of move suspicious. In their New York Times article, Sense of Crisis Deepens, as Trump Defends Firing, Michael Shear, Jennifer Steinhauer, and Matt Fledgenhiemer, point out that Kislyack is a central figure in the FBI’s sprawling investigation of Russian meddling, and possible collusion with elements of Trump’s campaign. The pictures, released by Russian media, make the scene in the Oval Office seem almost celebratory. Who knows, maybe it was. We won’t know, because there was no free press present to record the event. If you were an ethical player in US politics, or even just a optics savvy one, would you meet with Kislyack in the absence of reporters? Or at all? And no where is there any of that saber rattling vibe that Trump’s Whitehouse and Moscow, both, seemed to have been trying to sell to the media a few weeks ago after Trump bombed a well warned Syrian air base. And, as if the optics could not get any worse, or the Nixon comparisons any easier, Trump meets with Henry Kissinger.

What we do know is this. The FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, and possible collusion between Trump campaign operatives and Russian elements was ramping up. The investigation had already damaged one Trump campaign member, then National Security Advisor Michael T Flynn so badly he was forced to resign. Before Flynn’s departure, Paul Manafort, a long time Republican operator, long time friend of Russian oligarchs, resigned, in part because of his own Russian ties. Manafort worked for the pro-Putin Ukrainian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, amid a swirl of ethical quandaries. From The Atlantic article:
"The Times reports on handwritten ledgers that list $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort from Yanukovych’s political party between 2007 and 2012. While it isn’t clear from the records whether Manafort actually received the money, the documents, obtained by the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau, sketch out some of Manafort’s many ties in the region:
Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin."
As a political advisor, Manafort seems to have gravitated toward less than morally upright candidates. In addition to Yanukovych, Manafort also once worked with Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. If Manafort’s forte is polishing generally terrible people for public consumption, what are we to make of his decision to seek out and aid Trump? That is, perhaps, question for another blog. The fact remains, though, Manafort, has ties, and extensive ones to Putin backed lackeys. In addition to Manafort and Flynn, Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page, has significant financial ties to Russia’s state controlled oil company Gazprom.

Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was caught lying, or at least misspeaking, , under oath about meeting with Kislyack in a way that, in previous, less partisan times, would likely have doomed any other AG candidate. We don’t live in less partisan times. Sessions in response to the revelation that he had, in fact, met with Russians, announced he would recuse himself from the investigation of Russian meddling. Remember that for a bit, it is a subject to which we will return.

Enter President Trump, and his business association. There is no shortage of ties between Trump and numerous Russian, pro-Putin business entities. To be successful in business in Russia is almost by definition to be pro-Putin. Trump once famously tweeted, by way of deflection, “I HAVE ZERO INVESTMENTS IN RUSSIA.” Having never released his tax returns, we of course can’t easily verify this. The statement of course is vulnerable to critical analysis. Is he being tricky with terms? He may personally have no investments in Russia, but what about his businesses? Related entities? Is he just lying? Whatever the answers to those questions are, they say little about how Russian entities might have invested in Trump himself.

As Time Magazine reporter Jeff Nesbitt eloquently puts it: 
"Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work."
Citing the work of a multitude of reporters, Nesbitt asserts, with copious evidence to support him, that while Trump may not have businesses in Russia, many of his business holdings, are deeply entangled with Russian financiers that are "part of Putin’s inner circle.” Several of Trump’s advisors have had or continue to have deep business relationships within Russia. Trump’s brand can no longer get loans from US institutions, owing to his many bankruptcies, and in response sought out Russian investment. Nesbitt quotes, LA Times reporter Max Boot, "Trump has sought and received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, especially after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies.” Many of Trump’s satellite businesses have been financed by a company called Bayrock. The company has been implicated in money laundering, tax evasion and connection to more serious criminal organizations. Trump Soho, was such a complicated mess, even the shady Bayrock was troubled, and its Finance Chief Jody Kriss, sued Trump Soho, because of what Kriss referred to as the magical appearance of funds from Russian sources whenever Trump Soho needed funds, Nesbitt notes.

Trump partnered with two Russian investors on his lavish Toronto hotel. We all, I assume, know how the story of Trump’s Toronto adventure ends, but if you didn’t, the words you are looking for are, disaster, and ignominy. Lawsuits, debt and bankruptcy seem to be Trump’s real business legacy. From NPR,

"Investors bought condominiums in the tower that could be rented out by the hotel. The investors claim they were promised sky-high occupancy rates and returns on their investment.
Toronto lawyer Mitchell Wine says those never panned out. Collectively, the investors lost millions of dollars. Wine represents 27 investors, and many are members of Toronto's Korean community who speak very little English."
Trump has bragged about meeting with Russian Oligarchs.

While Trump Sr likes to play down any Russian ties these days, Donald Jr., has been decidedly less reserved on the numerous and deep ties to Russian investment. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., bragged. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump has been touting his ties and interest in Russian business, according to the Atlantic, for nearly 30 years. It is only relatively recently that he has been talking out of both sides of his mouth on the Russian Question. I don’t think I’ve even been exhaustive on the links Trump and his businesses have to Russian entities. Click through the links. There is more to see and all of it is troubling.

I bring up all this because it casts a dark shadow over the abrupt firing of James Comey. I’m not here to defend Comey, who seems fairly capable of that on his own. I am not a person who ever called on Comey to resign, or be fired, despite the fact I think he has been, at times (can you say October Surprise constant reader) clumsy. He has had some very good moments too, standing up to politicians of both parties, doggedly pursuing a potentially explosive investigation, to name just a few. Comey has earned both his criticisms and his praise. 

Director Comey asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for more funding to pursue the complicated question of Russian involvement in meddling, and potential collusion with members of the Trump campaign in shaping the 2016 election, among other things. We know that after that request Rosenstein and Sessions both sent word to Trump that he should fire Director Comey. Its hard not to view Sessions recommendation as both self serving (he has himself been implicated as a liar on the Russian question) as well as a violation of his stated recusal from the investigation into Russian infiltration of our politics. We know, that upon receiving these letters, Trump, who was deeply angry with Director Comey, did exactly what Sessions and Rosenstein suggested and he fired Director Comey.

Individually none of these facts would be all that remarkable. The aggregate, though, is more than troubling. It is alarming. The shape of these facts do more than just suggest that powerful people in Washington are trying to stave off a potentially administration shattering scandal, the likes of which we haven’t seen in US politics since June 17, 1972. These facts demand a thorough, and uncompromised investigation.

What scares me, and I think should scare you is this. The partisan era in which we live, and the fact averse society we have created, suggest that exactly what we need -an impartial investigation- will be an extra-ordinarily difficult undertaking. Paul Ryan, and many in the GOP in Congress seem to see Trump, more often than they do not, as useful idiot in producing their brand of ideologically driven policy. There is not, at present, a significant number of Democrats to drive such an investigation forward either. The chance that men like Paul Ryan would happily let things get worse, and American confidence in its government continue to falter, to achieve a very narrow set of political goals, seems very high to me. The righting of this ship, requires that the GOP see the Cyrillic writing on the wall. No. I take that back. They, except for perhaps the most naive among them, already see that writing. What is required is that they act accordingly, with integrity and resolve. Perhaps the truth will even allow them to keep their useful idiot. Or it may not. Regardless, a thorough, transparent examination of the Russian connections is absolutely necessary.

Addendum: 
Shortly after I finished this piece, mere hours, a few new and shocking things came to light. The most damning permutation of President Trump’s rationale for his firing of James Comey came out in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. Michael Schmidt, of the New York Times, closes a long troubling article about Trump demanding loyalty from Comey at a dinner between the two men with the NBC quote.
Mr. Trump said in the NBC interview, “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.” “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Mr. Trump said. I recommend you read the Times’ piece, In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demured. The article is linked in the text above.

But let us focus for a moment on the incredible quote, which must represent the most real rationale for Trump’s decision to fire Comey. There is nothing ethical to be gleaned from Trump’s words. He simply wants the Russian investigation to go away. “ ..Russia is a made-up story” He says. 

Whether he really believes he has done nothing wrong, or understands that he has, is immaterial to the massive ethical violation of his office demonstrated by his reasoning. Whether he is innocent of any wrong doing (can one be held too responsible for incompetence?) he serves the interest of the American people. The commitments to the American people are no less for AG “Mr. Let me recuse Myself” Sessions, and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. Of the people who form the heart of this article the only one who seems to have understood the nature of public service, for all his flaws, seems to have been former Director James Comey. Trump’s firing of Comey is an attempt, naked and contemptible, to close an investigation simply because it may make him look bad. The investigation into Russian meddling is an investigation demanded by the facts, and it is owed to the American people. Richard Dawkins, with an economy I think we all should envy, damned the whole affair in a simple tweet. 

It is nearly impossible to follow Trump, and his loyal tribe, and not make comparisons to Nixon or various Banana Republics. Trump’s own love of autocratic strongmen greases the wheels of  these comparisons. The ease of these comparisons makes the observation that neither Trump, nor his administration care about their duty to the public hard to dismiss.

Whatever Trump may personally think, his dismissal of the Russian story as “made-up” doesn’t align with facts. Even if he himself operated with no intentional collision, that wouldn’t mean members of his campaign did not. Or that he himself, or members of his campaign were not influenced by Russian attempts to influence both the American public, Trump himself, and his staffers. In fact, the Intelligence community has demonstrated that, even sans conscientious efforts at collusion, the Russian efforts to influence Trump and his campaign, and the American public worked to some degree. In what many are calling the most over looked news story of the day, that day being yesterday, the following exchange took place as the Senate continued its own investigation of Russian influence operations in the 2016 election.



Clinton Watts' testimony before the Senate may be the most troubling two minutes of testimony the US has seen in a very long time. Trump’s twitter account was targeted by fake news organizations operated by Russian elements. Both Paul Manafort and Trump and others in his campaign parroted these fake stories. Trump supporters were targeted by these propaganda organs of the Russian state.
This is what we know. I urge you to watch the video. It should unsettle you, and make you want to defend our institutions and our way of life even more.

My final note to this blog post:
I shared this post, in rough form, with several friends. They all offered their own feed back and observations, and various corrections. I want to say thanks to Alexandra, Jason G, and Jason C, and Dan.

One of my friends suggested that “apotheosis" was apt, but seemed to suggest that more accurately, the Trump administration represents the culmination, specifically, of Republican populism stretching back to and beginning in the Goldwater era in 1964 (though Goldwater himself wasn’t a simple populist). This same friend, who can name himself in the comments if he chooses, also suggests a twin culmination. Republican populism has a twin, ineffectualism in governance. I think my friend is on to something here, but I will leave my title as it stands.





24 February 2017

What I am Reading:

I’m almost always reading (at least) two books at once and working on comic books in between. Should you be reading what I am reading? I don’t know, but here is what I am reading currently or have recently finished. If it is finished, each listing will say so and offer a rating ??/10.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
$10.87 at Amazon
This is a book about one of the bigger environmental problems facing humanity today, mass extinction. The problem is intertwined with Climate Change, but climate isn’t the only problem. So far its fascinating if somewhat depressing reading.

Mind Over Muscle: Writings of the Founder of Judo
by Jigoro Kano
$14.60 at Amazon
What did Kano intend for Judo? Well read this book and find out. Kano was an innovator but also something of social activist, and he thought Judo could be a force for good, not just for self-defense and sport minded individuals, but for societies as a whole. 


Comic books:

Patsy Walker, AKA HELLCAT: Hooked on a Feline Vol. 1
by Kate Leth and Brittany Williams
$11.40 at Amazon
Finished 8/10

This I just finished and its a hoot. Not too serious and not silly, It hits all the right notes. Its the story of the former Defender Patsy Walker whose life has been fairly hard knock, but who manages to make the best out of bad situations by having great friends (and being one!).

Dragonball 3 in 1 edtion, Vol 1.
by Akira Toriyama
Finished 10/10

$12.28 at Amazon
I’m an extraordinarily late comer to the adventures of Son Goku, his band of adventurers and their quest to find the seven Dragonballs. Having finished the first volume of the 3-in1edition by VizMedia I can say better late than never. Its interesting having enjoyed some anime and manga that came after,  to see how far reaching Toriyama’s influence has been.

Thinking about the Star Wars Cinematic Universe: The New Canon on the Big Screen?

In the 1970s George Lucas, and his gifted team of writers, actors and other filmmakers introduced us to a galaxy far, far away and full of adventures that took place a long time ago. Since then the Star Wars universe has greatly expanded. To be honest it expanded once in a series of books, then contracted back to the original films (once the shape of Episode 7-The Force Awakens- coelesced), and what we now know to be the prequels (Episodes 1, 2 and 3 if you must ask). Now a new canon is emerging, with new books, movies, TV series and comic books (the comics are some of the best Marvel have produced in any genre) joining the back bone of the Star Wars Galaxy. I know many fans of the original expanded Universe, now published under the heading Legends, have been disappointed that that EU has been largely scrapped. But having read content from both, I have to say that the scrapping is for the best. Many fans won’t admit it, but the original EU produced moderately okay fiction generally, bad fiction often, but maybe only rarely (I think never) great Star Wars content. Not even Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy holds up particularly well. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t entertaining. It didn’t live up, I don’t think, to the promise of Star Wars.

Enter the animated series Star Wars: Clone Wars, (here after SWCW) and Star Wars: Rebels. The first series is a much richer exploration of causes, and players of the prequels, and actually gives sense making context the jumbled, mixed bag of Star Wars: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones, and Star Wars: Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith. SWCW gives us the Anakin that Obi Wan spoke of to Luke on Tatooine all those years ago. Great pilot? Check. Cunning warrior? Check. And most crucially of all, good friend? Big check. Clone Wars the animated series gave us the Anakin the prequels never did.


This blog isn’t really about the glory that is STCW, except to say that if you are a fan of the Star War universe and its ability to produce quality family entertainment that is both, fun and serious you should check it out. I will say it is often realistically violent (within the scope of its space opera rules). It takes war and its cost more seriously than most popular fiction. It constantly addresses the morals of using clones to fight a war, and creates deep characters of them.  So go watch it if you have not.

The deep question of this blog is mostly for fans of Star Wars: Rebels (hereafter SWR). For those who don’t know the show well (you should!) here is a brief fairly spoiler free synopsis. SWR is the saga of one tiny piece of the movement that would become the Galactic Rebellion. It tells the story of close knit group of friendly people trying to do the moral thing in a galaxy governed by gross immorality.  There is the ship’s captain, Hera Syndulla, a rebellion sympathizer, Kanan Jarrus, a former pad wan,  survivor of dread order 66, Ezra Bridger, a force sensitive kid, who has taken up the way of the Jedi under Kanan, even if Kanan insists he isn’t really a Jedi, Zeb a refugee, Wren Sabine, not exactly a refugee, but a Mandolorian outcast. Oh and the delightfully idiosyncratic astromech Chooper. Should any of the characters be featured in the new live action films of Disney? Keep in mind they have been hinted at. We know that the Ghost was at the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. We also know that Mon Mothma asked to see a certain General Syndulla. Many fans, myself among them believe this to be Hera Syndulla formerly captain of the Ghost.
the Ghost is in the bottom center left. 
Photo courtesy of Nerdist and Disney Films.

I think the crew of the Ghost and their story belong on the big screen. What do you think and who should play the stalwart heroes of SWR? I think the Rebels do belong on the big screen, but I confess, I don’t have any clue who ought to play them. Here is what I got (all this could change depending on when producers want to give us a big screen Rebels tale. I would suggest any SWR film should take place between the Rogue One and The Force Awakens.
Hera Syndulla: Tessa Thompson, though an older Hera could be excellent, as the gang at moviepilot.com suggest,  to see Rosario Dawson in the role.
Kanan Jarrus: Tom Hiddleston
Ezra Bridger: Tom Holland
Sabine Wren: Rila Fukushima
Zeb: Moviepilot.com suggested Hugh Jackman, and now that I’ve heard it, its hard to get it out of my head. But I also like Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, or if it is completely CGI, for voice quality, I really like the idea of John Goodman. Goodman could even do the MO-CAP.
Chopper: totally keep who ever is doing the voice for Chopper, but make Chopper, as much as possible a practical effect.
Rex:Temuera Morrison..obvs.

Ahsoka Tano: I like Rosario Dawson for this role too, probably more than for Hera. Mila Kunas would be great too. 

Agent Callus: Ralph Feines
Hondo Ohnaka: Wes Studi

Maul: Ray Park for the body, voice give to Sam Witwer, or  just give the whole thing to Witwer.


07 November 2016

Christina Rad seems to be back!

Christina Rad goes after Donald Trump. Enjoy.

28 October 2016

Syrian Refugees too liberal for German mosques?

Click on the title to read the reuters story. Its a bit of an eye opener. It should also ease the minds of many who worry about Syrian refugees, at least somewhat. Many of the Muslims running from Syria, what precisely nothing to do with Islamism. Rather they want Coca Cola, good jobs, art, music etc.

09 September 2016

The Curious Case of Sean Hannity and Julian Assange.

Sean Hannity recently interviewed Julian Assange. In the interview Hannity closed by hoping for the best for Julian Assange. This is all pretty cheeky coming from partisan hack like Hannity.  Here is Hannity from 2010:

SEAN HANNITY: "All right. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will make an appearance before a British judge tomorrow. Now the appearance is related to sexual assault charges that he's facing in Sweden. Now this news comes just as there's word that Assange is apparently not done waging his war against the U.S., at least not yet."

"Revealing their identities, helping us and cooperating with us in our battle against the Taliban. These are real lives that are now in jeopardy and in danger. That was step one."
"Then 390,000 other documents were released. Many of them classified documents. And now we have this. What is -- why? Why didn't they go after this guy and why didn't they arrest him? Why didn't they stop this from being published when we had so much time to do it?"
"Why can't Obama do something about the WikiLeaks? We got this four months ago. You know, we can stop pirating a music and Hollywood movies, but we can't stop this guy from stealing highly classified documents that puts people's lives at risk?" 
During Hannity’s September 6, 2016 interview with Assange, it was all praise and applause. “I do hope you get free one day.” Hannity said moistly. 
Julian Assange must have been chuckling to himself at the spectacle of the now fawning Hannity, and indeed the entire FoxNews machine.  Fox News is built on the idea of American Exceptionalism, America First, provided its Republican lead of course.  Fox News, largely a propaganda are of the worst of US conservative politics champion essentially all the things that the narcissists Assange detests about the US. This isn’t to say that Assange likes much on offer by the Democratic wing of US politics either. Assange’s end game seems to be a destabilized US, or at least not a return to Bush II style politics. Assange likely views Hillary as a hawkish, Bush-lite. Assange is no friend of the US. 

Hannity is probably not the only pundit to switch sides on the issue of the infamous Julian Assange. No doubt many highly liberal democrats are now castigating Assange as an enemy of the state now that Assange has switched ideological targets. I am not one of these. I’ve always distrusted Assange and thought his methods were incredibly dangerous. He may be an ideologue, or a narcissist or some combination, but he is no friend to the idea of a stable US.  

24 August 2016

France’s Burqa and Burqini Ban: Illiberal and counter-productive.

France has toyed with the idea of banning the burqa at various times in the last ten or fifteen years. Now a few towns in France have banned the burqini. The burqini is essentially a spandex body suit, with a hijab or hair covering. The idea of bans has always been both appealing to me, and troubling. The weight of my feelings about the idea of a burqa ban in France slanted always toward unease and opposition, though not always intense unease. I’m a fairly sharp critic of Islam, but I often find myself defending Muslims from illiberal polices proposed by conservatives in the US, who seem to not want intense competition in the conservative, woman-hating theocracy game. Understandable given the historical context. Christianity’s collision with modernity has left it largely-though not completely- toothless. It just doesn’t manufacture zealots like it used to. Well, not violent ones anyway. Islam globally doesn’t seem to have this problem, and even in Western Europe Islam can reliably produce radicalized people, willing to get into trucks to drive over people, find firearms to shoot people, or deliver bombs, or be bombs to blow up their neighbors. But that is all on one side. The burqa ban doesn’t really, can’t really address concerns about terrorism.  Muslim women just aren’t often sources of radicalized violence. Any ban of the burqa, or its sibling the burqini can’t really be justified by the idea that such bans would have even a mild effect on radical violence.

I mean I don’t like it, but should
it be banned?


So why has the idea of a burqa ban even kind of appealed to me? Because even if you factor out terrorism, Islam is, from the perspective of a secular humanist, a multifaceted problem. It tends to be conservative in nature, taking a dim view of classical liberal ideas (by liberal I am referring to the ideas of John Stuart Mill, and the civil libertarians- not to be confused with the confusing modern libertarians). The luminaries of Islam seem to look at freedom of speech, of the press, with a bit of skepticism, if not outright derision. The idea of a separation between Church and State seems anathema to many Muslims. Fortunately for the West, Christianity grew up in the shadow of state power, and that guarded that power jealously. As such the framers of Christian doctrine had to thread the needle vary carefully. Christian leaders certainly wanted temporal power, and influence, but they also wanted to avoid being annihilated, and so the bible is replete with face saving ways for the Church and the people it influenced to exist within a State. Islam doesn’t seem to share this evolution. It evolved not in the shadow of another power, but was the power that grew. That is probably an oversimplification readers can correct in the comments section.

In western Europe, perhaps more than the US, Islam tends to toward a conservative view of its scriptures. Women are less than men, must be chaperoned, must be covered. Communities are insular. It is that insularity, coupled with religious conservatism that has always made me question whether or not Muslim women in Western Europe really have much of a choice in the matter of what they wear. If you can be shunned, beaten or in cases that aren’t rare enough, even be killed, and have few avenues of redress if you are bullied or tyrannized by family and community how much choice can you really be said to have in the matter of what you wear? This treatment of women, has very real costs for women in Islamic communities. Being chaperoned means they cannot speak freely with doctors, police, or other care givers. Face covering deprives people dealing with Muslim women of a very key piece of human communication, as well as making it sometimes difficult to know even to whom you are speaking. But really my major concern, above all the troubles the burqa might create in western societies, is the idea that women wearing them may not really want to wear them but feel they have no recourse. The choice to wear a burqa, or even the less restrictive burqini may not really exist. This is largely why I sometimes find myself not as strenuously objecting, while still objecting, to calls for bans. In these moments I wonder if a ban were passed would it not provide Muslim women a breathing space to exercise their own autonomy.

But wait, would you ban this? 

Thinking honestly about a subject means entertaining doubts though, and so I continue to have this debate with myself every time calls to ban burqas come up. To this mix I can now add the burqini which has actually been banned from beaches in some French towns. While I think all these woman hating clothes are awful I can’t support a ban on them because such a policy would necessarily violate a person’s right to practice their religion, while unfairly singling Muslims out. One can’t imagine that the ankle length denim skirts worn by women in hardline Pentecostal  communities represents an overabundance of choice for the women who wear them. Yet, we are largely silent on the matter of those women. It is hard to imagine a way any ban on Muslim dress can  foment meaningful changes in the conservative attitudes about women that seem rife in Islam. Such bans, will only increase insularity, prevent Muslim women from interacting with a broader community, and increase opposition to secular governance, and secular values. It would probably also represent a source of radicalizing propaganda. On top of this bans would necessarily penalize the people I would most like to help, Muslim women. Banning the burqa, and burqini would mean that Muslim women would go out less, enjoy less.