Episode 4 – The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

Rating: 3/5

Overall, this episode is the strongest one yet.  There was less Cadet Tilly than Ep.3.  Again the ship is interesting and beautiful.  The CG and special effects in general are great.  I admire all of the work that has gone into the show’s visuals, trying to get small details right, making things look simply outstanding.  I simply wish that the writers would give all of these other people working hard on the show their fair shot.  They continue to write something which flies against the vast majority of Trek canon, and continues to present Trek as a JJ Abrams action flick rather than anything resembling the higher calling of Trek.  So much of this episode didn’t even make sense that my rants on individual scenes are long and twisted.  Killing off Rekha Sharma the way they did was bizarre and meaningless, given that they sacrificed a senior officer aboard a ship to learn that a creature was actually not violent except when the red-shirt shoots it?  Anyway, for some reason I had a more positive overall impression of this episode than the first three. Maybe I’m becoming more tolerant of the fact that they have truly destroyed Star Trek.  Let’s hope not.

Do you accept the EULA?

We get to see the replicator technology here at a microscopic scale, to which I will say “neat.”  Burnham replicates a new uniform for herself, thankfully ending that contrived bit of prisoner nonsense in the last episode where a Starfleet prisoner would be transferred around with standard convicts who apparently all for no reason want to kill her.  But enough of that really, because now we get to see Cadet Tilly again.  Is her only purpose here to be as cloying as possible?  Couldn’t this package have been delivered by some crewman who delivers mail and we could have been spared that whole wasted scene.  Tilly says the first sensible thing she’s ever said which is “less words.”  So instead of being clearly marked, the package asks her if Burnham accepts the last will and testament of Captain Phillipa Georgiou.  Perhaps these types of containers should be properly marked so that you don’t get a shock like that?  Anyway, for dramatic effect she shoves it away under her bed.

Burnham to the Bridge for Five Seconds

Saru was in the turbolift already when Burnham went in.  He is upset that she is on the crew, and she inspires his threat ganglia to wiggle around.

When they get there, there is a combat situation.  It ends in failure, despite having a fully staffed command crew, so for some reason they couldn’t take on two small destroyer sized Birds of Prey (maybe) with a Cruiser or Battleship size and strength vessel.  Did these people never get any combat simulations before being promoted to the ranks of Lieutenant, or Commander?  Anyway, Lorca seems convinced that the reason that they’re bad is that his ship is full of explorers, which he finds rather annoying.  Strange, given that this is the purpose of Starfleet.

Lorca takes Burnham from the bridge to his (secret?) lab where he’s keeping the creature.  He explains he wants Burnham to do scans and figure out what it’s made of because it’s essentially an unstoppable killing machine.

Wait, No One Fixed Their Ship?

We find out that T’Kuvma’s ship has been stuck in the binary star system since the battle, for six months, during which they have salvaged parts from nearby ships.  The two main Klingons on the ship are discussing what to do next.  The female proposes that they salvage from the USS Shenzhou.  Voq disagrees because of some nonsense that Klingons would never even consider.  A Klingon who has died in battle goes to glory in Stovokor, and the spoils of war consist of the property of your defeated enemies.  Instead he seems not to want to board the vessel and take necessary components which would allow him to press the war, secure glory in battle, and overall be Klingon.  Anyway, she convinces him that they need to get the dilithium processor from the USS Shenzhou.

A second and most bizarre point: No one has gone back to the site of the battle?  Starfleet has ships out there!  The Shenzhou probably could be salvaged and repaired.  And the enemy Klingon vessel has been sitting there disabled for six months, and no Federation attack fleet has come in to make sure that they got them all?  This makes absolutely no sense.  Neither side would simply abandon all of their disabled ships out there! Ships are valuable to a war effort, and salvage for the purpose of refitting or even just decommissioning would be extremely important.  Perhaps less for Starfleet, but more for the Klingons with the cloaking device, Starfleet, if they had any sense, would have swept in months ago with twenty ships, captured T’Kuvma’s vessel, now disabled in space and reverse engineered any technologies aboard!  Nothing in this scene makes any sense at all.

Its not a Monster, its a Tardigrade

I know that there’s been recent research on tardigrades, and yes they can survive in the vacuum of space, some species can survive very high temperatures, and low temperatures, 30 years without water, etc.  However, a space tardigrade that somehow out in the insanely large vacuum of space found the USS Glenn?   This is a bunch of crap exploiting new results but with no sense of an explanation of why or how any of it makes any sense.  (They offer explanations later, and I’ll get to them when they get there.)

Yet Another Stametz Argument

Lorca finds out that Corvan 2 is under attack and has exactly 6 hours of shield generator left before they fall to the Klingons.  Apparently Corvan 2 produces 40% of the Federation’s dilithium and yet no Federation ships were assigned to protect this absolutely vital point in their supply line.  Why? Who knows, because Lorca lies to his superior about being ready to make the jump using the drive.  The drive just destroyed the sister ship Glenn, and yet he says that a jump is totally possible and he’s ready to execute it.  What human being would do that?  Operate an experimental technology that seems to have malfunctioned for a reason they cannot even vaguely explain and killed everyone on the other ship and damaged the ship beyond repair.  So the next ship will simply take their technology, without even half the understanding that the USS Glenn probably had from repeated testing, and execute a long distance jump into combat.

So, here we go to Stametz, and here is the first scene where I kind of like him.  He explains the tech that they recovered from the Glenn.  They don’t understand it, and it seems to require a “supercomputer” to operate.  The Captain behaves like a caveman, giving orders and not seeming to even vaguely understand the complexity of the science required.  This is one thing that I hate about the new movies of Trek, and I’ve hated about many new shows and movies.  They simply underestimate the time required to do research, and to understand and solve problems.  Stametz’s behavior makes a lot of sense, telling the Captain that they do not understand the problem well enough and are not capable of doing what he wants.  The Captain seems to be insulted that Stametz is trying to point out reality.

I do like the idea that jumping in this way is probabilistic in terms of the path taken.  This is in my opinion a good use of current quantum theory in Trek.  On the other hand, we have the mention of a Hawking Radiation “firewall.”  What the hell is that?  Hawking Radiation is the process where a black hole can radiate particles because of pairs of virtual particles forming near the event horizon.  Ok, ok, so it’s just technobabble, but they should try harder.

Back to the Klingons

Oh lord.  Kol comes back and claims that he’s going to help out.  No he’s not.  Make Kronos Great Again.

Jump Status: Sporetacular

They engage in a test of their spore based jump drive.  Clearly not ready, they jump.  A star appears, and they’re falling in.  Given the vastness of space, if gravitational fields cause an attractive effect even in the jump, one would have to be extremely careful, and they got hugely lucky that they exited the jump right outside of the star, rather than 40,000 km underneath its surface.  They pull out of its gravitational well and go to warp.

The Sickbay Ultimatum

In sickbay, Stametz has a massively broken and disfigured nose.  A medical officer is fixing it as he moves around, a standard Starfleet problem, keeping patients from wiggling around while their hugely serious injuries are being fixed.

Captain Lorca comes in and the two “catty” officers bat at each other.  The Captain understandably doesn’t care and wonders why the ship didn’t go where he wanted.  Stametz had an opportunity here, and takes it to say “I warned you, Captain, time is an essential component of science.”  Very good, and he’s right.  The Captain is rather insane, their ship isn’t ready for the jump (even though they will magically figure it all out in the next few minutes), but really there is no reason to know that.  Stametz threatens to leave, Lorca says that he’s selfish.

Rippy the Gator

So Ripper the Tardigrade is about to be set free.  Why you ask?  You saw it in the previews and wondered “well why would they do that?”  Now we get to find out.  Commander Landry, a Starfleet officer, and presumably a completely insane person gets fed up that science has taken longer than 2 hours or so to understand some mega-space tardigrade and to reverse engineer all of its properties.  My god, how could Burnham still be working after 2 hours of science?

So, she grabs a phaser rifle and gets ready to cut off a claw of the thing.  She sedates it with a sedative presumably geared towards humans or mammals.  Why would such a chemical work on a space tardigrade?  No idea, but it doesn’t! Burnham thinks its a bad idea, but clearly releasing the thing that killed a dozen Klingon warriors in armor is a great idea.  Not only releasing it, but setting it free in a confined space, with two squishy humans to kill.  Commander Landry of course shoots at it, and it becomes enraged and jumps on her and rips about 80 gashes into her.

Burnham traps the creature back into the force field pen, and transports Landry to sickbay.  The doctors pronounce her dead.  So, the second or third officer in rank, a Commander in Starfleet is killed doing something that is beyond completely insane, and then the whole crew seems to not really care.  Even the Captain seems relatively unfazed by all of it.  This set of scenes makes no sense, and worse, they killed Rekha Sharma by making her character an absolute idiot for no reason, like she was some red-shirt from an Original Series episode.  This is really inexcusable in so many ways.

Skipping the Klingon scene for the next Tardigrade scene, now Saru is down in the lab with Burnham, lured here cryptically for help.  She starts to apologize for her poor treatment of him from the Shenzhou.  But the real reason is that she wants to gauge how he reacts to the creature in the pen.  His threat ganglia don’t activate so she concludes that it is not a predator.  Wow.  How could she figure that?  Maybe his threat ganglia aren’t activated because he feels safe with the force field?  Or maybe, they’re just completely incompatible species, and his threat response shouldn’t be used to judge anything for any reason with such an alien creature?  Any doesn’t it really just measure his own emotional state rather than any innate quality about the creature itself?  So in the current moment with the forcefield, he doesn’t feel threatened, so the creature really poses no threat.  It ends up she’s right but she had no reason to conclude this logically, and many many reasons to conclude the contrary.

Now Tilly comes in and she’s not terribly annoying for once.  She brings Burnham spores to test on the creature.  So she opens the forcefield again and on the same day when it shredded their security chief.  Of course she’s right but logically and scientifically she had no reason to believe it, and far less reason to risk her life and the life of a Cadet just to test the theory.  If you think that’s bad reasoning, get ready for a lot more!

She figures out that the Tardigrade is actually a supercomputer that solves their navigation problem.  She explains all of it, including why they found the thing on the lower decks.  The lower decks having many functions, and not knowing exactly where, they simply agree, oh yes it must be exactly one of the things without any actual evidence.  So the Super-Tardigrade can “converse” with the mushrooms (spores)!  What?  I have spelled out my significant objections to this whole spore nonsense, given that it makes no sense.  Spores from a mushroom exist all over the universe?  How? Why? What? How can spores escape a planet’s gravity?  How can those spores get around the galaxy so easily? Why wouldn’t we find these mushrooms on every planet?  Wormholes, some kind of quantum entanglement, anything would have been a better technobabble explanation than this.  My hatred for this spore idea is significant, perhaps even infinite.

The Battle over Corvan 2

They figure out that they have to hook the Tardigrade into one device, and then they get access to the whole galaxy essentially.  Wait, isn’t that exactly what the USS Glenn did?  And isn’t that exactly how they got inverted?  Does anyone even vaguely know what happened to them and how to fix it?

So they jump to Corvan 2 and take out 2 birds of prey immediately.  They then sit there and let a number of others close in on them as they sit and don’t fire.  Finally they jump out and leave torpedoes behind, which then explode and destroy the rest of the vessels.  But how did he know they wouldn’t evade, or there wouldn’t be survivor Klingons?  They leave the mining base damaged, undefended, and with hundreds dead and wounded.  They never send medical teams down, never offer supplies, never help to get the mines back running, they simply leave.

The Second Mutiny

Now it’s the Klingon’s turn to mutiny.  They haven’t been fed, and their leader wouldn’t do the necessary things to fix their ship and leave the battlefield.  So a Klingon leader finally comes back and overthrows Voq and his second in command by feeding the other Klingons.  This seems very un-Klingon to change allegiances like that, so just like the Starfleet mutiny which was out of character for Starfleet, this seemed way out of character for Klingons who pride loyalty to their Houses and honor above all.   So they strand Voq on the Shenzhou and as they warp out, his second comes to him and tells him that she has a plan for him to become more powerful than you can ever imagine.  But he has to sacrifice everything.  Ok, so that was cryptic.  But we’ll wait until we know anything to deal with that.

The Telescope

Georgiou gives Burnham the telescope that was in her ready room on the Shenzhou.  With her dead, who thought to retrieve it but not the mount that it was attached to (still left on the ship).  She recorded a positive message for her former first officer.  Overall a good scene.

The Androids

I’m curious what is going on.  They have android crew members?  Or some kind of humanoid shaped robots.  What is exactly going on here?  Data was the first android to serve in Star Trek.  And no one seems to notice them or really be bothered that there are androids on their ship.  If this show were placed after TNG-VOY-DS9, then it would make sense that people could start building more androids, but they are before the Original Series, so how can they have androids which seem to have emotions maybe, fully artificially intelligent, before Data?  It doesn’t even seem like anyone watched enough Trek to understand why this is a problem for making sense of canon?

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Episode 3 – Context is for Kings

Rating: 1/5

I think it’s the combination of Tilly and Stamets, their grating personalities, plus the bizarre spore nonsense that is not Trek canon and makes no sense that gets to me the most in this episode and causes the low rating.  The first time I saw this episode I was hoping that perhaps they would work to conform more to Trek style and Trek canon given that they were starting over on a new ship, but to my horror they diverged further for no reason.  They turned trek into a horror movie at one point, and not even a terribly good one.  I think maybe Rekha Sharma’s portrayal of Commander Landry, and even a few moments of Captain Lorca save the episode from a zero out of five.  It is my dashed hopes given what a potential modern Trek could be with this level of budget that crushes me so badly and causes me to be such a harsh critic of this CBS fiasco.

Six Months Later

Burnham is on a shuttle, being used as a prison transport for four prisoners, the other three being non-Starfleet.  The other female prisoner says “my cousin was on the Europa… 8,000 people are dead because of you.”  Burnham knows the exact number, 8,186 Starfleet crew and officers were lost in the battle.  Naturally, the woman seems to blame Burnham for what happened in the battle, even though her mutiny neither caused nor prevented the war, though it may have delayed conflict with the Klingons had they destroyed T’Kuvma’s vessel before the others arrived and were swayed by his arguments.  Either way, these prisoners could simply be misinformed.

In the battle itself, there are maybe 15 Starfleet vessels total that are ever shown warping in, and given that individually they are smaller than an original series Constitution class, which carried a crew of about 400, they should have had maximally 6,000 people aboard all of the vessels.  However, the ships are significantly smaller than the Enterprise (NCC-1701) so perhaps only about 3,500 total people would even be on this entire fleet.  Not all of the vessels were destroyed, and not all of the people aboard the lost vessels were themselves lost.  The Klingons didn’t eradicate escape pods, they withdrew, so presumably Starfleet could have recovered a large number of escape pods, and rescued trapped crew on stricken vessels.  Anyway, the numbers just don’t make sense at all.   At Wolf 359, 11,000 total were lost among 39 vessels, giving an average of 282 crew lost per ship.  The ships by the time of The Next Generation were far larger than their TOS counterparts.

Suddenly, the shuttle is hit by some energy mites of some kind, draining power.  The pilot walks decisively past them and gets ready to blast them off the hull, but almost immediately her tether breaks and she somehow flies forward past the shuttle, presumably moving at warp, and is lost to space.  At the last moment before it appears they’ll drift into space forever, the USS Discovery (NCC-1031) tractors them into their shuttle bay and saves them.

However, no one seems bothered about the pilot.  She’s still alive out there most likely, floating in space.  Did they transport her on board?  Did they just assume she had died somehow and simply left her floating in space?  Thankfully the episode never really ties up that end.

Getting a Bite to Eat

We get to meet the security chief of the Discovery, and you know there’s some good news after all.  Rekha Sharma is playing the security chief aboard the ship, and even though she’s Starfleet, her hostility to the prisoners seems completely understandable given her duties aboard an advanced starship working on secret projects.  She calls Burnham “Starfleet’s First Mutineer.”  Marching through the ship gives a Battlestar Pegasus vibe, a kind of ship which seems to hew very closely to regulations, with a crew that seems drilled to stand up straight.  Naturally it’s time to eat.

The prisoners get escorted not to the brig, but to the crew mess.  Why would they not just be fed in the brig, instead being fed in the open amongst Starfleet crew, who presumably don’t want to be watching their backs as convicts eat at the table next to them?  Who knows, except she gets to see Kayla, one of the bridge officers on the USS Shenzhou who was apparently wounded badly enough to need some form of implant or modification.

I approve of the use of body modifications like the crew seem to sometimes have.  Naturally in 250 years, we’ll probably have significant cybernetic enhancements available to people for many different purposes, both as computer interfaces and cognitive enhancement.

Inevitably, the other inmates decide to fight Burnham.  Of course, she crushes them easily with her Vulcan martial arts.  The Commander Landry, the security chief, then gets involved and deadpans “Captain wants to see you.”  Can I say that my love for Rekha Sharma on Battlestar is definitely biasing my view of her here?

Captain Lorca

Burnham gets dumped into Lorca’s Ready Room, which has a map of the war and a tribble cooing, as well as a bowl of fortune cookies.  Lorca is a military man, so it seems, dark and brooding.  He says that the world is without “hunger, need and want disappeared… of course they’re making a comeback now.”  I find this somewhat troubling, given that the whole point of Trek is that these things have been essentially eliminated.  Lorca talks vaguely and moves closer to recruiting Burnham to work on his projects.  When she refuses, he orders her to do it regardless.  He has no choice in the matter really, unless Burnham’s character is really going to be sent away on a prison shuttle and put into obscurity for 99 years.  My first opinions of Lorca is that he is a Captain Maxwell from TNG rather than a Picard, or Kirk.  Not quite as active himself as Captain Edward Jellico from TNG: Chain of Command, but determined and vengeful, so I think the Maxwell analogy fits fairly well.

Cadet Tilly

After her meeting with the captain, she gets escorted again by Commander Landry to quarters.  She lies in bed and within a few seconds, the show takes a turn for the just plain awful.  Cadet Tilly enters and immediately says she’s got special needs and that she wasn’t supposed to have a roommate, but now she does, and that’s just great, because “a roommate is an automatic built in friend.”  She informs Burnham that she is in her bed, and that she’s allergic to just about everything apparently.  Her far worse sin is that she is intolerably annoying, worse than the worst of Wesley Crusher.  She blathers on and on to someone in a prison jumpsuit, not at all worried that her new roommate is a prisoner for some reason.  She decides that Michael is not a female name, and then suddenly becomes terrified when she finds out that she happens to be Michael Burnham the mutineer.  Overall I find this whole scene mildly intolerable.  It ends with a Black Alert, and water forming, hanging in mid-air, dropping and vanishing.  Tilly the most talkative creature in the universe, suddenly becomes useless, giving no information because that would advance the plot rather than waste time, which is all she does for the rest of the episode.

First Officer Saru

She meets Saru, whom she sees first on the Bridge before meeting Lorca, but they do not speak there.  He leads her down the corridor and they discuss what has happened.  She apologizes to him and so naturally he calls her dangerous.  He seemed to be a very narrow minded officer back on the Shenzhou, and it seems like his character is the same here.  He even now doesn’t realize that she was probably right back then?  He can’t admit that his only purpose was to cower and basically be useless and indecisive at all times on the bridge.  He then says that if she tries anything he’ll do a better job protecting his Captain than she did hers.  The entire point of what Michael did was to protect her ship and crew and of course Captain Georgiou.  Even Captain Georgiou took her on the away mission to the Klingon ship after the mutiny, so even then Burnham was her most trusted officer really.  The captain took her advice, and acted on it, all the while Saru didn’t really do much of anything.  Is everyone in this show convinced of some fiction of the event that happened?  Even those people who were there seem completely wedded to a fictitious version of events where Michael Burnham does somehow start the war rather than Georgiou’s message, and that Burnham is responsible for the defeat of the fleet, which again is entirely nonsense.  Even at the court martials of the HMS Bounty mutineers, context and the events were taken into account far more than at her court martial.

Saru himself is an officer who should be assigned to a safe desk job back at starfleet headquarters.  Maybe he’s a capable scientist, or administrator, but as a line officer in the fleet, he seems absolutely over his head and essentially incapable.  But naturally, Starfleet promotes him to be first officer even given his bad performance.  He also insisted on being called “First Officer” whereas officers would be called by their rank “Commander” not their title in general.  It seems awkward because it’s against Starfleet and other navy’s traditions to do this.  These oddities feel far more in line with the new-Trek, where somehow by being asked to be the officer of the deck somehow makes you Captain of the ship (it does not).

Is this Engineering?

Engineering is behind one of a hundred indistinguishable doors, and seems to have a crew of 4.  An Ensign tells her that Lt. Stamets that he’s in an Engineering lab, then when she goes to find him, tells him that its restricted by breath print.  What nonsense is a breath print?   My objections to the absurdity of that are so numerous that I can’t even go into them.  Why not use iris scans, or DNA prints, or some implanted RFID style futuristic chip that has encryption codes?  No idea, except that it allows her to easily beat the security with Tilly’s drool later, and Starfleet officers have to awkwardly exhale into an identifier thing.  Also, Tilly is here in engineering, working at the very next station to Burnham… great.

Enter Lieutenant Paul Stamets, from the mystery lab.  He’s unhappy that he’s been pressed into service with Starfleet, as we later find, and I suppose that may partially explain his absolutely bizarre behavior throughout the episode.  He’s doesn’t seem to care that she’s a mutineer, but he does just hate her for no reason.  He thought she was Vulcan, and repeats this directly to her, even though he can see that she’s not.  She says “there may be a misunderstanding.”  He says “on my part?” She answers truthfully, and then says “yes…” but then “no.”  Yes is correct, but then she explains that she was trained at the Vulcan Science Academy.  He seems unable to comprehend that this was actually his misunderstanding and says some nonsense about a cover band which is a metaphor, but doesn’t apply.  He gives her two “suites of code.”

The Code!

She works on the code during a time lapse shot and so that means a long time.  As it turns out, this code which is displayed in the episode is the header file for “windows.h” (or one of its subsidiary includes) in the windows API.  It contains function header definitions for all the Windows API functions.  Except that all the code is commented out, so nothing works.  She finds an error, which seems to be a compile error so who knows how it couldn’t have been found automatically anyway.

Ok so let’s pretend that it is what they say it is, though it’s hard for me to pretend given that they stole it so directly.  She says that it has elements of quantum astrophysics, biophysics, and even gene expression!  She finds the mistake, which she just points at.  But she said she had no idea what the equations were really doing, so if the code had a logic error somewhere, how could she find it without understanding the purpose of any of it?  Either way, she proves that she’s a genius and gets dismissed by Stamets.

The USS Glenn Incident

Stamets is worried about the potential failure of sperian-900 levels of displacement or whatever that the USS Glenn is about to attempt.  So of course later we find out that the entire crew has died when they attempted a bizarre and risky maneuver, with the whole ship rather than a test craft, in true Starfleet fashion.  Now they have to go and retrieve the research from their sister ship in order to continue and learn from where they went wrong.

Here, Stamets seems to be openly insubordinate and disrespectful of Captain Lorca.  Normally an officer who behaves like this would be relieved of duty but I assume that because we find out later he was essentially pressed into service that his level of obedience and observance of proper protocol may be attenuated.  Either way, he tries to ask reasonable questions which clearly he should know before going aboard a ship which just had an accident of this time, but this time Captain Lorca rebuffs him.  Stamets is clearly cleared to know anything about the project that he himself is heading, so why not just tell him what you know?  I guess to keep plot details vague.  Lorca orders Stamets to take a team and go and retrieve the science-stuff.

One minor bizarre point: how did they get so close to Klingon space so fast?  The prisoners say “what is a new ship like this doing so far from the front?”  And after about 12-24 hours of travel, they are now on the border of the Klingon empire?  Again they have massively shrunk the universe to new-movie-Trek size.  They also mention jumping from the alpha to beta quadrants in 90 light years.  The galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter so to jump from one quadrant to another unless one is right on the border should be thousands of light years.  It would be nice if they were more careful with their ship’s position and with their uses of distances in the show.

Nevermind, He’s Just Insane

On the shuttle ride to the Glenn, we see that Burnham has chosen Tilly to come along on the mission.  Why the heck would she do this?  Tilly has annoyed her and me throughout the entire episode.  And of course there is no valid reason she should come.  She wastes another minute of the episode, not advancing her plot or the main plot.  They need engineers, technicians, and more security personnel.  Naturally they are about to board the ship without EVA suits, and given the potential for a “bloom failure” maybe they’d be worried about contamination?  That is standard Trek though, to breathe the air of a potentially infested ship.

During the flight over, we get Stamets backstory.  He was taken out of the lab and put to work in the fleet.  Whether he was in Starfleet before is hard to say, but he’s been given a commission as a Lieutenant and been given a team to work on his research project.  Burnham asks what the project is based on “biology or physics?”  To which, Stamets starts talking about how he has essentially unified physics and biology into some meta-field called astromycology.  He says something about spores being the seeds of energy across the universe, and something about panspermia, and he was going to get to the “veins and muscles that hold the universe together.”  He also says “at the quantum level there is no difference between biology and physics.”  I guess that is sort of true, but mostly irrelevant.  Most biology does not occur at the quantum level, so when I heard this technobabble I got worried.  I hope they are not adding some biological substrate to the universe of Trek, because no such thing exists in the real world, nor should it exist in Trek.  This kind of new age science nonsense should be kept as far away from Trek as possible.  Plus, it becomes clear that the character of Stamets is insane.

Resident Evil?

Once we get to the Glenn, we realize that we’re not watching Star Trek, we’re watching a Resident Evil spin-off.  There’s even a mutant dog-monster running around.  The bodies of the starfleet crew are distorted beyond recognition by whatever the ship did.  They scan for a relationship between the markings on the hull and the wounds on the bodies, and before her tricorder is even deployed, she finds a “correlation.”  It doesn’t matter, because remember, we’re not in Star Trek, this is Resident Evil.

They find a Klingon survivor who tries to quiet them, but he’s immediately attacked and dragged into the darkness.  They all run, and of course the poor red-shirt security officer is killed.  Why a phaser, which can melt rock and burn through metal doors can’t kill a creature made of flesh and blood, in fact why it wouldn’t just melt such a creature, as big and mean as it is, is beyond me.

Burnham gets a phaser, shoots the creature and the climbs into a Jeffries Tube.  The creature is too big to climb quickly, so even though it is so fast that it was hardly visible, now it moves extremely slowly through the tube.  She distracts it and lets the rest of them get away to the shuttle.  Somehow they get back to the shuttle within 10-15 seconds, and then she drops through a hatch into the top hatch of the shuttle.  They burn the engines and depart quickly from the ship of horrors.  Trek is not a horror movie and shouldn’t be treated like one.

Burnham gets Paroled

This is probably the most Trek part of the episode.  Captain Lorca offers an opportunity for her to join the crew and escape her sentence.  Both Tom Paris and Ro Laren are precedence for this, so actually this is the first really Trek scene.  She accuses him of illegal weapons testing, and he takes her on a site-to-site transport to engineering.  Given that there is no reason for this, and that it is explicitly considered dangerous and is not done even 10 years later in TOS means that this is slightly out of sequence, but this is a rather minor infraction against Trek canon.

Here, I find that Lorca gives a pretty decent speech, even a Picard-like speech about atonement and making sure that the “Captain you lost didn’t die in vain.”  He seems to be the only person who is able to understand what happened at the Battle of the Binary Stars.  He clearly sees the actual truth of the matter, which is odd given that essentially no one else seems able to discern it.  He shows Burnham that the spores can take you to distant places, which again I’ve already said how much I find this out of character for Trek physics and the Trek canon.  If such sinews existed everywhere throughout the universe and were accessible with shiny spores, then perhaps such technology would exist at all in any of the future series, and it does not.

Tilly Again? Make it Stop…

Burnham goes back to her quarters and finds Tilly, and explains Alice in Wonderland to her.  Tilly decides to tell her that she’s going to be a captain someday.  I really don’t want to spend more time on Cadet Tilly.

Lorca apparently beamed the monster from the Glenn into a cage aboard the ship, and destroyed the Glenn.  Now, why destroy the Glenn, when it looked structurally intact and could have been salvaged, repaired and returned to service? Let’s just assume it was damaged beyond any hope of repair, or the ship couldn’t be repaired in time to get it away from Klingon space.  At the very end, we get another treat with Rekha’s Commander Landry, who is a Lorca loyalist apparently.  Why would he rescue the creature in secret when it’s so dangerous that its escape could cause the deaths of many of his crew?  He’s the captain, he should simply recover it and post a detail to guard it.  But this is a minor point compared to the rest of the episode.

 

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Episode 2 – Battle at the Binary Stars

Rating: 2.5 / 5

This episode is marginally better than the first.  The Klingon argument vaguely stands up to Trek canon, and the battle makes some degree of sense.  On the other hand, the court martial at the end definitely ruins what otherwise could have been a far better episode.

Captain Georgiou’s (Michelle Yeoh’s) death is a shame, as her character I feel could have been made into a far deeper and more Trekkie style.  She sticks to the Federation ethics and Starfleet rules and provided a good foundation in the short time that we knew her as a Starfleet captain.  I also felt that she was played by a good actor who could have grown into the role.

After watching the first two episode prequel-introduction, it seems that the J.J. Abrams interpretation of Star Trek has dominated.  There is no puzzle to solve or a philosophical question to contend with, nor is there any real wonder in the universe.  An unknown artifact must simply be a prelude to attack.  In fact the artifact never really mattered anyway.  The entire thing could have been replaced simply with the ship de-cloaking in front of them after they discover the destroyed relay.  As others have noticed, they have shrunk the entire galaxy, so that ships can arrive within two hours to a single point on the distant border of Federation space.  This again conforms to the J.J. Abrams understanding of the universe.  The primary question in this case is “do we fire first” and the captain is given only seconds to really consider this anyway before the rest of the Klingon fleet arrives and makes the whole question moot.  A starfleet captain would not simply stay put and wait, nor would they fire first.  They would look for the third option, but this show doesn’t really ever consider that there are any other options than fight or flight.  The Abrams version of Trek is a bastardization of what the intent of the franchise is, and I strenuously object to it.

Joining the Crew

Fresh out of the Vulcan Academy, Michael Burnham is about to join Starfleet.  So when she meets Captain Georgiou for the first time, of course she is explicitly hostile rather than simply stoical.  Refusing to shake hands, why?  Vulcans understand greeting protocol and logic doesn’t prevent two people from simply exchanging hellos.  The captain makes an ‘analogy’ which is a statement of fact, to which a Vulcan would simply say “yes, that is what is happening.”  However, Michael fails to see the situation as hers, perhaps intentionally?  Either way, it shows that she has been indoctrinated into new-movie Vulcan society, where arrogance, and an aggressive lack of courtesy is common.  The whole point of the evolution of the Vulcans in Enterprise is that they would restore themselves to the true Vulcan stoicism that Spock follows in TOS.

The Klingon Council of Houses

The rest of the Klingon houses start whining as the albino Klingon stands there balling his fists.  Then T’Kuvma comes out and gives a speech about Klingon racial purity and how the Federation wants them to join and dilute themselves with Humans, Tellerites, Vulcans, and Andorians.  I won’t complain again too much about the poor choice to modify the Klingons so extensively that it makes it hard for them to move their hands, mouths, and speak through the teeth that they are given.  I think this makes a nimble and savage Klingon warrior into a oafish lug, simply sauntering back and forth, speaking in distorted and bizarre prosody.  However, I would say that this argument may actually work with Klingons, and if given the promise of honor in battle, or glorious death in battle, they may take it regardless of whether they agree totally with T’Kuvma’s philosophy.  What’s missing is the way Klingon’s used to banter, with their testing and alpha-dog like posturing.  T’Kuvma primes his people to hear “we come in peace” as a great lie that will lead to their destruction, and so when Captain Georgiou says the magic words, the Klingon’s attack.

The Battle

Klingon weapons may be pulse weapons since they are disruptors, but starfleet weapons have always been beam phaser weapons.  Why the change? Because the movies in 2009 and beyond have made that change.

Other than that the battle itself goes far better for Starfleet than anyone has any right to expect, at least visually.  Starfleet has about 10 ships when the battle starts, to the Klingon’s 24, which one-for-one seem to outgun each Starfleet vessel.  The Klingons also seem to have fighters as well.  Regardless of this massive imbalance and the fact that the Klingons were able to fire the first shots, the Starfleet flotilla is able to stay in combat for quite a while.

The battle itself is fairly well done in terms of pacing, damage, CG and overall Trek-style.

Ensign Connor, wounded by a concussion, wanders to the brig and talks to Burnham.  Then his character becomes essentially irrelevant as he is sucked out into space and lost.  The brig is hit badly and many compartments are blasted apart.  Thankfully, Burnham is behind a force field so she survives the massive destruction of nearly the entire remainder of the brig.  Everything is destroyed, even most of her cell, except for a small portion which is left.  Force fields hold the ship together but flicker on and off.

Sarek uses a long-distance mind-meld to link with Burnham, which really makes no sense unless it is simply a hallucination.  He encourages her to save herself and to continue instead of lying down and giving up as she was prepared to do.  After an ethical debate with the computer, she is able to convince it to allow her to jump through the force-field to another compartment which was intact.  Meanwhile the USS Shenzhou is disabled, with shields, engines, and RCS systems offline.

At the last moment, they are tractored by the USS Europa out from a collision course with an asteroid.

A Thirty Second Cease Fire

Admiral Brett Anderson reverts to standard starfleet admiral status as a pure incompetent.  He gets the Klingons to agree to a cease fire, at which point he says “if we’re fighting we’re not talking.”  Clearly, the Klingons have no use for talking in this version of Star Trek, and they have no interest in stopping the fighting.  Somehow he allows a cloaked ship to literally ram his vessel at a speed of 5 m/s, which somehow cuts his ship in half.  The cloaked ship somehow passes through their shields and comes within meters without detection which just seems absurd.  Cloaked ships are not entirely undetectable, and being within a few meters of one should not result in complete invisibility.

A few more ships on either side arrive and begin firing, and who knows what happens to them because within a few minutes both the Starfleet ships and the Klingon ships withdraw, leaving a number of Federation vessels damaged.

I’m not sure why the Federation, seeing the Klingons moving out would leave their disabled vessels with hundreds of crew probably still alive simply alone with a fully functional Klingon vessel which could destroy them at will.

The Suicide Mission

The Captain plans a suicide mission for herself.  Unlike in the first episode where she plans a suicide mission for her First Officer, here she realizes that she’s beat and this is their last chance.  Burnham comes back on the bridge to explain why blowing up their ship shouldn’t be done.  She knows somehow that T’Kuvma’s death would be interpreted as martyrdom rather than failed prophecy and failed unity.  Given their utter lack of knowledge of the Klingon’s society and politics, it seems unlikely that she could guess this.

Georgiou and Burnham now go to have a heart to heart where Georgiou, rather than admitting that they probably should have fired on the Klingon vessel before he was able to unify the houses, basically pretends like somehow she was proven right.  Instead of seeing the 30-second-mutiny as a desperate attempt to save everyone, which it clearly is now, Captain Georgiou continues to berate her First Officer.  Clearly this was a violation of chain of command and an assault on the captain, but once proven right her behavior doesn’t make much sense.  Then they notice: the Klingons are gathering their dead.

So they revise the suicide plan to plant a warhead on a dead Klingon and blow up part of the ship that way.  Of course this could have killed T’Kuvma, but Burnham now agrees with this plan rather than disagreeing.  The two officers embark on a capture mission to the Klingon vessel to retrieve T’Kuvma.

The Boarding Party

Naturally, as is Star Trek style, instead of boarding on with ten security officers along with them, they board alone, not just going in first, but getting no back up.  A Captain and First Officer of a vessel boarding an enemy ship alone is classic Trek, but also bizarrely stupid.

Naturally they are jumped and their phasers fly across the room in a standard action movie sequence reminiscent of nearly every action movie ever.  The two fight with the two main Klingons, T’Kuvma and the albino Voq son of None.  Klingons, being nearly twice their size and expert warriors should be able to dispatch these officers within seconds, but the two fight hard and eventually Burnham knocks Voq unconsious for a few minutes, and T’Kuvma is nearly defeated, but in a last burst of will stabs the Captain in the chest.

Now, given that wounds like this are generally survivable in the future given Picard’s experiences, even if it results in heart-death.  Presumably their medical officers could heal the captain, but instead Burnham shoots T’Kuvma, mortally wounding him.  She then goes to retrieve the captain’s body and naturally Saru with his need to interrupt and interfere with just about everything in the show so far beams her back before she can get to the captain, mere feet away.

The Drumhead

Starfleet justice has had a varied history over the course of the shows, but even as early as TOS, and definitely into TNG, VOY, and DS9, Starfleet had a definite procedure for courts martial.  The accused were permitted (and probably guaranteed) counsel in matters as important as this.  However, this is the new-action-Trek rather than the true-Trek.  So all due process is eradicated, she stands alone before three officers, shrouded in darkness for some reason, like they are executioners rather than judges.  It feels as if a disembodied voice asks “how do you plead?”  And she feebly answers “guilty” before being asked again and saying “guilty on all counts.”  How is this proper procedure?  Unless this is a literal drumhead trial, which it seems like it is not, then how can a court simply ask for a plea, with no representation for the defendant, and then accept it, and render judgement and punishment in less than 30 seconds.  Did they have the punishment ready?  The episode itself was only 39 minutes, so it’s not like they couldn’t have added a true starfleet court martial scene for five minutes, or really done anything to ensure that it shows canonical Federation justice rather than this almost show-trial.

This reminded me of the 2009 movie Starfleet Academy court martial of Kirk, who again had no representation, but at least they adjourned to discuss his verdict.  In this case, they didn’t even need 15 more seconds to deliberate about whether to send her to a penal colony for life.

 

 

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Episode 1 Review – The Vulcan Hello

Rating: 1.5 / 5

As I watch this episode, I realize the fundamental truth of it, which is that this is the new action-movie style Trek.  The philosophy is gone, dealing with complex issues is thrown out the window in favor of action sequences, and many of those sequences are stolen directly from the 2009 Star Trek.  Sarek the Vulcan acts arrogantly and petulantly, with a wry sense of drama and humor that Vulcans have never had.  The Klingons are now waddling lumbering oafs, barely able to hold their blades.  The quality of the production is huge, the scenery and CG is beautiful in many cases, and sometimes there are hints that the episode is going to take a True-Trek direction.  In the end of course they decide to veer into the easy modern laziness of a transformers movie rather than the thoughtfulness of westworld, or inception.

The Klingon Opening

The series’ first episode opens upon the Klingon’s vessel, with T’Kuvma giving his speech to his followers, ready to engage in a strange plot to unite the Klingon’s houses and engage in a war with the Federation.  He gives his speech that the Federation will say that “we come in peace,” and this is the fundamental lie of the Federation, where they will use this peace to rob them of their warlike nature.

Insofar as believability, this is consistent with the Klingon ethos, where honor is gained through glory in battle.  However, given how close the Klingons are to the Federation, since in Star Trek Enterprise, the NX-01 Enterprise is able to make the trip to the Klingon homeworld in short order, it is hard to believe that there was a hundred year gap in contact between the Klingons and Federation.  In the original series which started in 2265, there was a gap between contact with the Romulans, not the Klingons.

The worst sin here, however, is clearly the redesign of the Klingons appearances.  The prosthetics seem to obstruct their speech, making the prosody of the Klingon language bizarre and stilting.  Their look is even more divergent than the movies, though it does seem like they are somewhat based on the Xindi Reptilians as well as the new-movie-Klingons.  In four of five main series, (Enterprise, the Next Generation, Voyager, DS9), the Klingons appearance is generally fixed.  TOS Klingons were certainly far more human looking, but budget seems to be the main reason there.  There is no reason to change their appearance except to tell fans of the Trek series’ that they will diverge from even the most basic things immediately.  Also, the Klingons were fierce warriors, which they are now awkward and lumbering creatures, certainly labored to move by their prosthetics, so that they cannot even properly or naturally move their fingers.

The Starfleet Opening

Wandering in the desert of a lonely alien world, we find two Starfleet officers, Captain Phillipa Georgiou and Commander Michael Burnham.  Commander Burnham knows the way and can even calculate down to the second an estimate to when the storm will strike them, a reference to Spock, or Data.  They have to find a well, in order to penetrate through a layer of rock to a water table below so that the Pusculans can survive.  A standard Star Trek style explanation that “ambient radiation from a meteor drilling accident” caused their water table to somehow evaporate.  What? A meteor drilling? So we’re going to drill an asteroid once it enters an atmosphere?  Presumably they just mean asteroid drilling.  Either way, how does that make any sense?  The amount of radiation necessary to evaporate a water table released in a mining accident, presumably a few AU away would have to be bright enough to be almost a sun in the sky.  Cutting through one water table to free water for one well would mean that only these Pusculans may survive, are there none on the rest of the entire planet?  Anyway, the point of this mission is to show the trust between the Captain and her first officer, and for that purpose it does its job.  One positive note is that the Pusculans themselves are excellently done, and they are truly far more alien than many species that have appeared on Trek before.  If they can’t be seen from orbit, how can their footprints in the desert be seen through all that atmospheric interference and storm activity?  I get it, it’s the Star Trek star, so ‘roll credits.’

The Communications Relay

At last we see the USS Shenzhou.  The ship itself seems to be a pre-Miranda class, though it is not exactly a Miranda, and it looks far more archaic than a ship only 10 years previous to the USS Enterprise, using the early movies as reference.  However, it is a beautiful ship and has a functional looking bridge.  It has more of an NX-Enterprise feel than NCC-1701 or NCC-1701A, but it’s been a long time even since these shows, so liberty is permitted here.

They detect an object of unknown origin and Commander Burnham and Lieutenant Commander Saru debate the proper course of action.  Their debate seems relatively reasonable until Burnham volunteers to take an EVA suit into a radiation field and asteroid belt where the EVA suit is insufficient protection from either.  Saru says “she’ll have 20 minutes until her DNA starts to unravel like noodles.”  Burnham even repeats “Like noodles? I’ll be back in 19.”  This is rather unforgivable.  We have a far better understanding of how radiation works now than even back in the 1960s when the writers of the first Trek were around.  19 minutes of radiation exposure, where 20 minutes is lethal, is let’s just say probably 95% lethal, meaning you will return, then die anyway.  To investigate some unknown object, a captain will send her first officer alone in nothing but a non-radiation hardened EVA suit, to investigate this object.  She won’t be able to communicate, or signal for distress, and radiation exposure will kill her in 20 minutes if there are any accidents or mistakes.  What Starfleet captain would ever order this?  It’s simply a suicide mission, or something epsilon-close to it.  Saru gets volunteered by the captain to go with Michael, but Michael says she doesn’t want him to come.  So even worse, the captain was about to send not just the first officer, but also the second officer out on a suicide mission to take a look at some object.

We Are Anticipating a Smooth Ride

The new EVA suit design feels very Trek, and the maneuvering for the starship is two joysticks for at least the RCS style thruster systems, which I find very reassuring and realistic.  I was pulled back from my horror at the stupidity of the suicide assignment, and I admired the beauty of the way that the binaries were rendered.  Then they commit a cardinal sin: “heart rate 79 and rising BP 130/70, that’s a little elevated for her.”  This certainly triggered my horror reflex because this is the nonsense that the new movies spouted.  Just like in the first 2009 Star Trek, while the captain went over to the Romulan ship, instead of listening in on the captain’s voice, or trying to ascertain other things about him, they read off his bio-monitors.  During an EVA mission, instead of having the helmsman properly monitoring the course she is taking, he reads out her relatively normal bio-monitor information.  Given the un-Trek nature of the new movies, this call-out to them worries me.

Michael surveys the object, and instead of returning, lands on it, causing it to activate and a Klingon to deploy, and of course the Klingon immediately attacks.  Burnham fires her thruster pack and impales the Klingon on his own “Bat’leth.”  Of course this new Bat’leth is not a Bat’leth.  But putting that aside as a relatively minor problem, the Klingons immediately honor him by installing him in a sarcophagus on the hull of their ship.  A Klingon in full EVA battle armor killed by an unarmed human with his own weapon, and yet this is considered a great and honorable death?  These Klingons seem to care about the bodies of their dead, which is somewhat inconsistent with Trek.  Either way, Burnham makes it back to the ship somehow, floating randomly through asteroids which she had to dodge before, moving at a much slower speed, so presumably she would take over the 20 minutes to return.  She survives anyway and we move on.

The Learning Spheres

“Klingon social order rests upon … ”

“…inviolable honor-shame dynamic.”

“Klingon Homeworld Kronos … ”

“…unwelcoming to the Federation.”

“Klingon Political Order …”

“24 Great Houses”

This scene infuriated me.  It is a terrible sacrilege to include this movie-generated bit into the canon of the main series of Star Trek.  In the movies, the spheres were relatively stupid, but compared to the rest of the movie, was forgivable.  But here, the questions and answers don’t even match in any way except for rote memorization.  Vulcans are capable of generating inferences and performing calculations, and understanding large amounts of data, but here we see that the Vulcan children would be required to memorize random series of answers to questions that don’t really fit.  The first main question is alright, but the second answer makes no sense.  The only response to “The Klingon Homeworld Kronos” is that it is unwelcoming to the Federation.  What?  The homeworld itself is unwelcoming, but not the Klingon Empire as a whole?  Is this here just for plot exposition? Even so it makes no sense.  The Klingon political order is not just 24 great houses, there is a Klingon Emperor, or at least there is by TOS and there was in ENT (Enterprise).   Maybe in between there was a schism, but then the proper answer may be “a form of feudalism.”  Either way, this is clearly there just for exposition, but one could ask “how many great houses comprise the Klingon council?”  The response would then match and make sense.  Anyway, I really must say that I absolutely hate the idea of these spheres quizzing students at light speed for no real purpose and giving only short answers using random memorized bits.  Vulcans would never mistake this for learning.  I move that these be abolished from the canon and never again mentioned.

There be Klingons Here

Here we copy a scene directly from the new movies (usually a sin, and in this case it is).  Burnham like Kirk in the 2009 movie are in sickbay, being treated.  They will run to the bridge all the while they are still experiencing the condition.  When they get to the bridge, officers try to restrain them (pointlessly) from getting vital information out.  Then of course with no real evidence, they are both believed by their captains.  With Burnham, she runs to the bridge where Saru pointlessly blathers about how she is still obviously burned by the radiation.  Why would an officer do this?  If someone runs up to you, still burnt from radiation with an important message, wouldn’t you assume they have something important to say instead of interrupting them in order to blather pointlessly about the obvious?  She finally quiets him long enough to tell everyone that she killed a Klingon on the artifact and that they need to prepare.  She tells them to target the ship and then the Klingons decloak.  Georgiou tells her communications officers to signal Starfleet and tell them that “We have engaged the Klingons.”  Yes, a good reference to “We have engaged the Borg” from Next Generation, but it is not true!  They haven’t engaged the Klingons!  Engagement means battle, whereas at this point they only know that they have seen the Klingons.  They should say “We have sighted the Klingons.”

A Starfleet Admiral

Most Starfleet Admirals are evil, or incompetant, or merely rather disinterested in the plight into which they place their ships.  This one displays a moderate amount of concern and proper caution, so that’s a good sign and a good trope to break for Trek.

A Blinding Light and a Talk with Sarek

When the Klingons light their beacon, and the Shenzhou in sympathetic vibration with the emanations, Michael decides its time for a talk with Sarek, who is available on long range communications and somehow has heard about “a new star in the sky.”  Their signal had just been lit, how would Sarek, presumably hundreds of light years away on Vulcan know about the activities around one ship out on the border of Federation space?  Why would a Vulcan use the phrase “How rare to meet one’s own demons in the flesh?”  Throughout every series, that kind of poetic imagery would never been used by any Vulcan.  Then Sarek discerns exactly what is happening.  When the ship calls for help, he knows they aren’t calling just for more ships of one faction, but he predicts that because they are acting against their previous patterns that there is a new leader, trying to unite the houses.  Perhaps a Vulcan can discern this from almost no data.

The Dumbest Mutiny Ever

Captain Georgiou here repeats general Starfleet ideas that they don’t fire first as Burnham explains exactly how the Vulcans used this method to establish relations.  She’s under orders not to engage first, but she’s not under orders not to fall back upon learning this pivotal information.  If other ships are 2 hours away, and they are ‘hopelessly outgunned,’ and you know the Klingons are almost certain to attack, then why stay?  If they attack, one must defend oneself and thus start a war.  If one retreats and regroups with other ships, then you can choose the place and time of battle.  For a captain who seems to quote Sun Tsu later on, she seems eager to place her ship in the most vulnerable position and wait for a Klingon attack which is at this point inevitable.

Burnham objects strongly on the bridge and they go into the Captain’s ready room.  Burnham says her course is not emotional as she is clearly acting out entirely emotionally.  She then gives the captain a Vulcan neck pinch and proceeds back onto the bridge in order to give the command to attack.  Lieutenant Commander Saru, again the obstructionist here delays until the captain walks back out onto the bridge with a phaser to detain Burnham.  Her mutiny has lasted approximately 30 seconds.  Instead of getting the captain to withdraw, by agreeing with Saru, she insists that their only course is attack, which clearly the Captain won’t do, for general Federation moral reasons and in obedience to orders.  At that moment the rest of the Klingon fleet arrives.  This is the end of Episode 1.

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The Electoral College

After this 2016 election, we have to examine the Electoral College again.  As of writing, Trump’s electoral vote count will be 306 to 232 for Hillary.  This is contraposed with the popular vote count of about 64.4 million – Hillary to 62.3 million – Trump.  In the Electoral College, this gives Trump a 56% victory whereas Hillary won the popular vote 47.9% to 46.4% given third party candidates.  Trump won 30 states + Maine 2nd and Hillary won 20 states + DC.  Here is the open question that I ask:

Should the Electoral College be abolished, modified, or reformed given the results of the 2000 and 2016 elections, or simply in regard to theoretical consequences and pathologies of the institution?

Before this current election, I would have said “no” because of the need to continue democratic institutions and that the Electoral College was merely a feature of our democracy that was buried beneath the surface, a slightly arcane and abstract process upon the democratic one.  Even after 2000, I would have said that the College should continue because this one fluke occurrence should not be sufficient to engage in constitutional amendment and further rule making.  Every rule may have an exception but I don’t believe that every exception needs a new rule.  I believed that if we were to make democracy anew, we ought not include some features of the Constitution, such as the Electoral College and perhaps the 3/5ths compromise (though that is no longer law given amendments).  I would have given the Vice President a real vote in the Senate, and perhaps even made some other modifications.  However, given a system that works most of the time mostly well, one should not advocate for its sweeping overhaul or root-and-branch rebuilding.  So my arguments previously for the preservation of the Electoral College were not its inherent value or validity in the process, but in the value of the Constitution as a whole.  My answer has changed to “yes,” and my arguments that follow will hopefully convince you as well.


Original Intent – The Constitution


For the opinions of the founders, we go to the Federalist Papers.  Federalist 9, 10, and 68 concern themselves with the electoral college.  Hamilton and Madison advance two arguments for the Electoral College, first that the College will be people of “discernment” who can choose on behalf of their states who they want for president.  The second argument is that a Federalist system, where the various states are given votes for offices in the central Federal Government is superior to a purely democratic system in the “petty republics” in ancient Greece and renaissance Italy.

Madison and Hamilton seem to have seen the democratic will of the people to be an encumbrance on the wise governance of the nation.  They see the potential of factionalism as destructive to liberty, since factions will bear animosity to each other, and when in power enforce the will of the majority or perhaps tyranny of the majority upon the minority at the time.  Oscillating between tyrannies, according to them, must be avoided and the way to do this is to make our nation a “confederation” or a union of states.  Thus the democratic processes are averaged by a national republic.  This, and the fact that not every state conducted popular votes during the time of the early presidencies means that the President should be decided by a group of electors, representing each state, a proposition which coheres with the notions of Federalism and the realities of voting at the time.

Unfortunately as we have seen, our system has devolved into factionalism regardless, and liberty to one is oppression to the other.  In hindsight, the Electoral College perhaps could not have prevented factionalism, and it certainly did not.  If anyone thinks that our current Republic has not descended into the perception of tyranny, then ask Republicans about the of violations of the rights of the opposition under Obama and ask the Democrats about not just the promised violations of Trump, but also the great multitude of illegalities and impositions of George W. Bush upon his opposition.

Let me begin the primary argument with an extended quotation from Federalist 68 by Hamilton:

…the appointment of the President will, I presume, agree to
the position that there would always be great probability of having the
place supplied by a man of abilities, at least respectable. Premising
this, I proceed to lay it down as a rule that one man of discernment is
better fitted to analyze and estimate the peculiar qualities adapted to
particular offices than a body of men of equal or perhaps even of superior discernment.

I would say that the sentiment here is more true than false.  However, it is explicitly anti-democratic, and perhaps even anti-republican.  My grandfather would always say the best form of government is a “benevolent dictatorship” or essentially what the founders may call an “enlightened tyranny.”  Here we see that the fewer electors the better perhaps.  But then this argument requires that we understand that the purpose of electors is to act as ‘men of discernment,’ and to decide using classical reason based on empirical evidence.  The modern Electoral College obviously has devolved into a set of automatic votes based on the popular votes of states, essentially eliminating any notion of discernment or wisdom, empirical evidence or reason.  These people are compelled to vote, rather than being given the opportunity to act to prevent a tyranny, which was their essential function.

These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have
been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter,
but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper
ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this than by
raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?

Again I appeal to Hamilton, who implores the electors to ensure that foreign influences would not be able to install a creature of their own to the Presidency.  Clearly our Electoral College cannot prevent this either.  Clearly the Electoral College no longer fulfills its original philosophical goals.  But this doesn’t yet mean that it doesn’t serve a current function, or didn’t function well in the past.


The Early Workings of the College


The Electoral College in the first election in 1788 went rather well.  North Carolina had not yet ratified, New York was deadlocked, and Vermont was acting as a quasi-state and yet the election went rather smoothly, with 81 electoral votes, of which 69 went to George Washington.  Many states didn’t have a popular vote, and when they did often they were electing the electors rather than the President.

However, it is helpful at this point to realize that this is the original disposition of electors (though not all of them took part in 1788-89, so I used 1792 figures as well):

State Population Electoral Votes Ratio of Votes per Elector
Connecticut 237,946 7 33,992
Delaware 59,096 3 19,699
Georgia 82,548 5 16,510
Maryland 319,728 8 39,966
Massachusetts 378,787 10 37,879
New Hampshire 141,885 5 28,377
New Jersey 184,139 6 30,690
New York 340,120 8 42,515
North Carolina 393,751 12 32,813
Pennsylvania 434,373 10 43,437
Rhode Island 68,825 4 17,206
South Carolina 249,073 7 35,582
Virginia 691,937 12 57,661
Total Population 3,582,208 97 33,564

Even here, there is not a fully equal distribution, with Rhode Island and Georgia having “triple representation” to Virginia, the most populated state at the time.


The Election of 1824


The first major defect in the Electoral College occurred in 1824, where John Quincy Adams was elected over Andrew Jackson.  Here, Jackson received 99 electoral votes to 84 for Adams and won the popular vote 151,271 (41%) to Adams 113,122 (30.9%).  However, neither person secured the majority of the electoral votes, 131 being needed, so in a political compromise John Quincy Adams was selected over Jackson.  Yet when put to the House of Representatives to vote by state 13 voted for Adams and only 7 for Jackson.  Henry Clay gave his support to Adams who then appointed Clay Secretary of State, in what Jackson considered to be the “corrupt bargain.”

Jackson as president had many flaws, but the Electoral College voted for him as a plurality, but their rules say that a majority is required, or their vote is not binding.  Passing to the House of Representatives instead of re-voting or having some other system multiplies the error by having the political factions of the time select based on internal machinations rather than the votes of the people or the college.  Arguably John Q. Adams was the man of more sapience and probity, but he was not the will of the people, nor of the College, so the will of democracy is that Jackson should win.

One could argue on the other hand that this was not a fundamental flaw in the College since they didn’t decide the eventual outcome.  However it was the College which by its failure to reach a majority caused the candidate who received fewer of both types of votes to win.  The people resolved this in 1828 with the election of Jackson, showing that he was the will of the people through the College.


The Election of 1876


The first major defect in the College itself occurred in 1876 with the election of Rutherford Hayes, who as it turned out lost the popular vote by a substantial amount, 4,288,546 for Samuel Tilden, a Democrat from New York, against Hayes’ 4,034,311 votes.  At this point there were 38 states of which Hayes carried 21, though many were rural western states like Kansas, California, and Nebraska with relatively limited populations.  Interestingly, this election also featured the highest voter turnout of any presidential election in US history, comprising about 82% of eligible voters.  Tilden unlike Jackson’s spoils system had sent Boss Tweed to jail and put to an end the Tammany Hall corruption.

In this election, Democrats marked ballots misleadingly to confuse illiterate voters in the south.  In all, twenty electoral votes from Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon were contested.

In Florida, Hayes was ahead by 43 votes before a recount which left Tilden ahead by 94.  When Republicans disqualified about a thousand ballots, they were able to declare Hayes the winner.  In a popular vote system, these thousand votes wouldn’t have made a difference given the large margin for Tilden nation-wide.  Similar ballot disqualifications occurred in South Carolina by Republicans, giving the election to Hayes.

In Louisiana, the Republican disqualification campaign was the worst, as they disqualified over 13,000 Tilden votes and 15,000 votes overall, which flipped the result of the election there, as the margin was only about 6,000 votes.  Again in a popular vote system, this problem wouldn’t have affected the results of the overall election.

Because of all of the problems, an Electoral Commission was formed to resolve these electoral votes.  The electoral commission itself is of questionable constitutionality, and again given over to political machinations which countermanded the will of the people.  Here the electoral college, supposedly an group of discerning people coming to individual conclusions that are unbiased by factional politics again gives way to an internal factional political process driven by those people who cannot be electors by constitutional law.

Beyond the constitutional disaster and electoral quandaries, the negotiation that was done allowed Hayes to become president in exchange for the end of reconstruction, which has had its effect, giving our nation nearly 90 years of Jim Crow, segregation, and brutality. Perhaps a longer Federal involvement would have only embittered the southern Democrats and worsened the political and racial backlash, but after the removal of Federal troops, black elected members of the Senate and House declined to zero.


The Election of 2000


We are brought now to our penultimate case of the 2000 election.  Back in the familiar territory of modern history, we recall that Gore won the popular vote by about 500,000 votes; 50,999,897 for Gore versus 50,456,002 for Bush.  Conversely, the Electoral College voted for Bush 271 to 266.

Florida, being the deciding factor this time, 537 votes between the two candidates out of a total of 5,960,082 from the state,  meaning that 0.009% of voters or about one in 10,000 Florida voters decided the results of the election for the whole nation.  Worse yet, this accounts for approximately 0.00051% of the nation’s voters in 2000.

In the end the US Supreme Court engaged in a partisan and political act of sabotage by over-ruling the recounts which should have been allowed to continue.

Justice Scalia writes:

The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner, and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election.

If we believe political scientists, legitimacy is measured by the will of the people, as assessed through a poll or an election.  If that is the case, Gore should have won the election to produce a “legitimate” result, or a result supported by the majority of people. But worst of all, Scalia seems to openly claim here that as long as someone claims to have won an election, they have a right to win, even if cast votes that would be counted would actually reverse the result.  Scalia continues:

Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.

Of course this is precisely what the Rehnquist Court did.  Allowing the recount would have been permitting the actual results of the vote to come in before one rules on the legality.

Justice Scalia voted on equal protection grounds to deny voters the chance for their votes to be counted, given over 70,000 votes which were rejected from voting machines but which demonstrated “the intent of the voter.”  The rejection of a vote is itself a violation of equal protection, though the voters would never know if their ballot was one that the machines later rejected.  Even with Florida’s insane butterfly ballots and their terrible systems of reporting, counting, and recounting ballots, at least their law made clear that if the intent of the voter was discernible, then it is a legal vote.  The US Supreme Court therefore stepped in and in an act of ultimate partisan politics in a court supposedly beyond it, voted to put George W. Bush into the White House, against the will of the majority of Americans, and potentially even against the majority of the electors if the votes had been properly recounted.

Justice John Paul Stevens writes:

Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.

I respectfully dissent.

Justice Stevens dissent is perhaps the most quoted but Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Souter all wrote excellent and correct analyses of the issue, showing that perhaps in contradiction to Hamilton, a small group of people may not make a better decision than a larger group, even if that smaller group is arguably more erudite than the people at large.

The consequences of the Bush administration are well known.  His incompetence and being so easily manipulable in my belief led him into Iraq under the influence of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and the other “neo-cons” who manipulated intelligence, deceived and lied to the American people.  His refusal to regulate bank malfeasance allowed the 2008 financial crash.  His failure to ensure FEMA was operational under competent leadership ended in the deaths of a thousand Americans.  When his intelligence agencies published a memo “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” nothing was done, and he had no interest in terrorism or Al Qaeda until September 11th, 2001.  And to complement this failure, Bush instituted the beginnings of the NSA programs which continue to deprive citizens of their 4th amendment rights.  Having 9-11 as an excuse, and the fear of the people, he sacrificed the liberty of the people protected by the constitution.  This is the worst of his offenses because he has started us on a path which leads to authoritarianism, oppression, and the denial of fourth and first amendments to the people, which means the end of political freedom in the United States.  President Obama, for all of his good aspects, has entirely failed to push back against the surveillance state, which now will be under control of Donald Trump.  It is fitting that someone who was first elected by totally undemocratic means would put us on the path to end democracy.  The Electoral College is the institution which has provided this great service to the nation.


The Election of 2016


Now to the present day, with the context of history, let us examine what has happened.  Here as I said at the top of the article, Hillary Clinton currently has about 64.4 million votes to 62.3 million for Donald Trump, whereas in the electoral college, Donald Trump has 306 electoral votes to Hillary’s 232.

I want to examine the failures of Hillary Clinton separately, so here I will merely say that this was her election to win.  She had the support of celebrities, politicians, the Democratic and parts of even the Republican parties, and most importantly she received the majority of votes.  So how did she lose the presidency?  From a political standpoint, she lost for innumerably many reasons, where she had the opportunity to earn a decisive advantage and instead squandered it.  I want to examine all of those reasons systematically but apart from my electoral arguments.  Here I merely want to examine the numerical results, and understand how the Electoral College’s primary defect contributed to the result here.

States Electoral Votes Margin Clinton Votes Clinton Pct Trump Votes Trump Pct
Michigan 16 10,704 2,268,839 47.36% 2,279,543 47.59%
Wisconsin 10 27,506 1,383,926 46.94% 1,411,432 47.87%
Pennsylvania 20 57,588 2,843,707 47.74% 2,901,295 48.70%
Florida 29 112,911 4,504,975 47.82% 4,617,886 49.02%
Iowa 6 148,143 650,780 41.71% 798,923 51.21%
North Carolina 15 175,739 2,169,496 46.14% 2,345,235 49.88%
Ohio 18 456,087 2,320,596 43.51% 2,776,683 52.06%

A simple glance at this current chart, drawn from the numbers as posted on Wikipedia, Hillary’s loss different than Gore.  With Al Gore, he nearly won the popular vote in the crucial state of Florida.  Here, Hillary lost by about 96,000 votes in the top three states.  Had she been able to win those votes in those states, she would have had 278 electoral votes and would be President Elect.

Here, the true modern function of the Electoral College is made plain.  One cannot win a majority of votes nationally, but must win particular states in the popular vote or lose the election.  Even those 96,000 votes are 0.072% of the vote total, whereas she will win the popular vote by at least 1.5%.

The problem here is not that there was backroom dealing like in 1824 or open corruption like 1876, but more like 2000, we are finding that there are voting conditions where the national popular vote and electoral college vote do not agree, 40% (or 2/5ths) of the time.  We must therefore ask ourselves if this is the result that we would favor in a democratic process, and thus we come to the question I posed at the start.


Faithless Electors


I claim that this result hints that the Electoral College is in fact broken.  We go back to the founding and look at the stated purpose of the college and find that it is a failsafe on democracy, to ensure that when democracy fails to produce a reasonable result in the popular vote in the states, they can use reasoned judgement to choose the right person. If my arguments about the threat that Donald Trump poses to the Constitution are true, the purpose of the electors is to vote against him.  If they are bound by state election law, and state results, then they can cite the supremacy clause of the constitution which allows them the choice for whom to vote, or simply disobey their state laws for the good of the country.

For an elector in the style of 1788, the only choice in this election cycle would be Hillary Clinton.  This is not because Hillary is an intrinsically good candidate, nor that she deserves to be the first woman president, nor that she has proved herself to be correct in her judgement for instance on Iraq, gay marriage, TPP, corporate regulation and bank reform she has proven herself to have a rather low success rate when it comes to choosing the proper path forward.  Her entanglements at the Clinton Foundation where they have received gifts and donations from middle eastern tyrants, presumably to curry favor with her so that they could trade that influence when she became President.

However, I believe Trump represents an entirely different class of threat.  Whereas Hillary is the essential completion of the years of institutional corruption, Trump represents the people with torches and pitchforks at the door, who intend to burn the manor down.  The Electoral College is the fail-safe to prevent the total annihilation of our last functioning democratic institutions.  They could pick the popular vote winner and give us a safer path, but at this point the Electoral College cannot even do that.  It has created this problem by weighting states and giving more power to smaller states so that on average each voter there casts approximately 3.5 votes if weighted equally to larger states.  But it could theoretically solve the problem if it still performed its intended function.  It does not, thus it ought to be removed.


Against Faithless Electors


Now that I have advocated for what I believe is the philosophically consistent position, let me advocate for the pragmatic position.

Though electors ought to vote for Hillary, giving her the presidency and preventing Donald Trump from taking office, the consequences of this are just as dire as the founding fathers predicted.  If the Electoral College were to exercise this level of discretion in the modern day, a power which it perhaps may have legally but has lost practically, there would be insurrection and chaos.  Trump would probably not concede to the fact that he will not be President and those who chose him may take to the streets to enforce their will to put Trump in office.

I don’t believe that this fear of insurrection is terribly far fetched if Trump were denied office now.  The media and the public opinion is that Trump is the President-Elect, and if that were to change based on some arcane functioning of a dormant while still malfunctioning body, there would be blood in the streets, catastrophe, and probably the end of the Republic.  Therefore I cannot advocate for this end, even though I believe it is within the rights of the electors,though it is true I would feel much more comfortable redressing Hillary Clinton with grievances than Donald Trump.  Hillary Clinton, if elected, also must be opposed in many ways, so it is not worth it to risk so foolishly the end of democracy to put her into office.


The Democratic Remedy


Without a constitutional amendment which is almost impossible in the foreseeable future, we will have to rely on the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  If for good reasons or bad, we could convince state governments in some of the swing states to sign, we could reach the 270 electoral votes required, when the compact would take legal effect.  Then the winner of the popular vote would be made the winner of the electoral college by all states in the compact, even if they voted for the other candidate.  This would probably lead to a constitutional amendment abolishing the college, given the twisted and deformed nature of the college at that point.

To those people who make the argument that it is simple political expediency in order to get my preferred candidate, understand that my preferred candidate was Bernie Sanders.  Hillary Clinton, if elected, would have had to have been opposed at almost every turn, or at least prodded constantly by an activist base in order to get her to overcome her own nature, biases, and interests.  I believed that perhaps a Hillary Clinton presidency would offer an opportunity to reform the country without resorting to more extreme measures that would be needed in the case of a Trump presidency.

However, we are going to get a Trump presidency.  If Trump acts as he has promised, he will trigger a true constitutional crisis.  He could be the Gaius Marius or Lucius Cornelius Sulla who became dictator before Julius Caesar, though to compare The Art of the Deal to De Bello Gallico or Comentarii de Bello Civili would make any Classical historian laugh in derision.

Therefore our remedy is to work to elect non-Republicans in state legislatures and in the House.  We must tackle the gerrymandering in congress to ensure that non-Republicans have a chance to win after redistricting in 2020.  Without seriously addressing these systematic failures, we cannot be rid of the Electoral College, and we run the risk of future recurrences of this kind of defect.

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Concerning the Republic

Our Republic, the great experiment in democracy, is in crisis.  The election of Donald Trump has not caused but is the conclusion of a cascade of systemic governmental failures.  However, his election and installment as President will continue to push our system of government towards what is, in my belief, the limits of its functionality.  Like nearly everyone else, I failed to predict his election and I failed to consider the hypothetical consequences in full until utter and unmitigated disaster befell the Democrats.  What I am writing here is both an attempt to argue for my position while I also fully develop it.  I have written here my analysis of at least the bill of rights.  I will have to probably prepare a separate post concerning the fourteenth amendment, but I think that this is currently sufficient to prove the point that Trump represents a threat to the Constitution.  Here I present no recommendation for action beyond the recognition that he represents the threat that I claim.


Why Trump Represents a Threat to the Constitution


Trump threatens the constitution because he has openly said he will act in constitutionally impermissible ways.  Before I enumerate the violations he has promised, I think it is important to think about the reason that the Constitution has served us as a union.  The Constitution itself is of course a document, originally on parchment, and it was written by flawed men with imperfect goals.  Given all of those historical accidents, the Constitution itself contains a good basis of rules to conduct a government, even when members of the government disagree, and it has served us well since 1865, when a great bloodletting was needed to keep the union together.  The civil war, too, represented a fundamental weakness in the original constitution and the tension between slave and free states.  Our current constitutional tension is in a sense more fundamental even than that.  Can a democracy destroy itself through at least initially constitutional means?  Generally, except perhaps in the case of ancient Athens, that is exactly how it ends.


Trump and the First Amendment


The first amendment gives a multitude of freedoms to people, which amounts to the freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion.  Trump’s primary hatred seems to be for the freedom of the press.

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.

Given his own propensity for lies or untruths, and the fact that the press has published many factual accounts of his own wrongdoing in many aspects, claiming that he will target false accounts is just another untruth.  His intent seems to be to target negative coverage.  He has a history of targeting people for lawsuits of this kind.  With the misuse under the Obama administration of the 1917 Espionage Act targeting whistle-blowers, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, it would be an extremely easy step to see journalists and other whistle-blowers targeted even more harshly.

When people began to protest his election, he went to the most presidential forum, twitter, to exclaim:

Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!

If you believed that people protesting are simply paid or incited, would you as president perhaps permit or encourage local law enforcement to crack down on them, dispersing them with force?  The dispersal of peaceful protests and confrontation by police has been a troubling example of how the first amendment has already been weakened, but with Trump, he could encourage the destruction of the right of peaceful assembly.  Though the federal government doesn’t control local law enforcement, they could allow police departments to use increasing force without applying Justice Department pressure, or worse if the Justice Department would give carte blanche and encouragement when severe violations occur.

When it comes to religion, Trump proposed, then retracted then proposed again a religious test to even enter the country on a tourist visa.  If such a test were imposed, the remedy are the courts, which takes a lot of time.  But those are non-citizens who perhaps have no right to enter the United States anyway other than as visitors.  But given this kind of unconstitutional discrimination against foreign born Muslims, targeting Muslim citizens with additional surveillance and governmental discrimination.  Some modern forms of Islam do present a risk to the world in many ways, including the spread of Wahhabi Jihadism.  However, the sanctity of the rights of US citizens cannot be infringed, even if they are Muslim.  If they have joined a dangerous terrorist group, we must obtain warrants, investigate and arrest them, giving them due process of law, because that is the right of any US citizen accused of any crime.  With Trump’s talk of restoring Guantanamo by adding more detainees, even US citizen detainees, he clearly is willing to violate innumerably many constitutional norms.


Trump and the Fourth Amendment


Equally important to the first amendment is the fourth amendment.  In my opinion, a true democracy cannot exist without the rights collectively granted in these amendments.  Trump seems uniquely situated to be the person who would enact a 1984-style surveillance state.

The limits of such power would be enormous.  If one could read your emails, know who you are calling, and even record your calls if you are a target, all without your knowledge and for his personal benefit, would his political opposition be able to communicate unencrypted over the internet again, or make phone calls?  If Trump is able to control his opposition with blackmail from their private communication, then those in power in the opposition may never be able to coherently fight back politically.

It is already likely that the Russian government has used a group of hackers to steal emails from the Clinton campaign, and then give them to wikileaks, who strategically leaked them over the course of months to damage the Clinton campaign.  And while Hillary Clinton ran a weak and rather ill-conceived campaign, the fact that these concerns didn’t even affect voters is significantly concerning.

These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? – Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton

I will leave the issue of foreign interference until later, but just seeing the effect of having a selection of one person’s email, being only one man in a campaign of thousands was able to cause so much damage, it is clear that if a government could simply coerce google or yahoo to hand over all of a person’s private email, then this would cause a grave escalation of the damage done.

Vice reports on this issue claiming that it is unlikely that Trump can turn the NSA against his adversaries, but their argument boils down to:

“No. By and large it’s not going to happen, if for no other reason than there’s too many institutional safeguards that are setup,” Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney who represents intelligence community employees, told Motherboard in a phone call. If Trump did try to use the NSA for his own personal or financial gain, there would be a mass of resignations and whistleblowers coming forward, Moss said.

They victoriously delcare:

So the personal army theory is arguably off the table. But of course the president still has exceptional power to shake-up the agency, put different people in charge of it, and adjust some of the legalities around its work.

This argument is beyond laughable.  The FISA court, to which they refer is entirely a rubber-stamp court, though they may turn down Trump requests for spying on targeted opponents.  However, the software and servers at the NSA do not really require FISA court warrants.  He will appoint the new NSA director, who then can create a secret branch whose only duty is to report directly to Trump through his director.  They would never seek court approval, never log their searches, never bother with warrants, and be selected from those whose support for Trump would be immutable.  Also, those who openly or even in any measure oppose Trump would be retired or fired for various reasons over the course of years to avoid any claims of political firings.  They could simply be transferred to other jobs in the NSA where they no longer can monitor the surveillance activities that they would object to.  If Trump used the NSA “for his own personal or financial gain” there may be no one left in a position to object or blow the whistle.

The Hill reports on Trump’s easy willingness to use the NSA:

“When you have the world looking at us and would like to destroy us as quickly as possible, I err on the side of security,” Trump added.

Echoing the majority of my argument is Time and Slate.


Trump and the Fifth Amendment


No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The fifth amendment constitutes a great deal of our protections when we are accused of a crime by the phrase “due process of law.”

Trump in this aspect poses the greatest threat through his appointments to the courts, where if he merely appoints Republican ideologues, we could escape the worst degradation of due process.

However, if he appoints people to district and appellate courts who obey his commands and act in his interests when any fallacy laden argument can be advanced, he could deprive people of their due process of law quite easily and even legally.  There are a lot of judges, so it would take some time for him to fill the vacancies with his people, but presumably since the Republicans have kept many judgeships unfilled during the Obama administration, there is a vast number of seats ready to be filled.  Once courts have been sufficiently corrupted by Trump’s appointments, it would destroy any reliance on the courts as a protection to sue against government action, or even to assure that private party lawsuits would be handled fairly, if Trump’s interests were involved.

Due process relies on an independent judiciary, and perhaps with enough Trump appointments, this would be at an end.

Also worrying is Trump’s potential use of eminent domain, also provided for in this amendment.  His quarrel to use eminent domain to acquire a woman’s house to build a limousine parking lot is at this point well trodden.  The only check on this power would be Congress who would have to give Trump the money to compensate those from whom he is taking.


Trump and the Eighth Amendment


Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

We see here the final protection of the accused, and the attempt of the founders to ensure that justice would be fair, and not excessive in regards to fines, or punishments.

We have seen him say about waterboarding:

I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.

Waterboarding was considered at least in part a war crime.  But of course we should do more, since it’s not even enough.  The dangers of that path is not

Perhaps not totally applicable to punishment, but notable is the call for the deaths of families of terrorists:

The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.

With the pick of Mike Pompeo for DCI (Director of Central Intelligence), a man who has said of the Guantanamo Bay prison that when he visited the prison during a hunger strike:

It looked to me like a lot of them had put on weight.

Further, he wants to reinstitute CIA black sites for torture and incarceration of suspects again.


Tentative Conclusion


Trump will violate the Constitution in ways that haven’t been seen since Richard Nixon, and even with Richard Nixon, I suspect we will see new and creative means of corruption.  This will begin to unravel the fabric of our legal formulation of democracy.  I intend to write again on this issue discussing other parts of the Constitution under threat.

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