More Politics… Joy, Oh, Joy

 

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I promise, really, I do… that at some point, I’ll write about something other than politics. But, for now, here’s some more on the US Presidential Election and a bit on the struggle to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.

More from the Primaries

Well, since my last piece, things have not gotten better for Donald Trump… ahh, I feel so bad… or something like that. Of the five Republican contests held this weekend, he won only two of them. Worse yet, because most of the available delegates were allotted either proportionally or with the winner getting the majority, Sen. Ted Cruz actually gained more delegates than Trump did. In fact, Trumps lead over Cruz is now less than 100 delegates.

Is this to say that the age of Trump is over, that he’s going nowhere? Unfortunately, no… I only wish it could be that way. In many of the upcoming primaries, the delegates will be allowed to the winner only and Trump is polling well in many of those states. In fact, the March 15 Florida Primary has 99 delegates, is a winner take all contest and Trump is currently in the lead by about 8% points (over Marco Rubio, who incidentally represents Florida in the US Senate).

On the Democrat’s side, Sen. Sanders had a great weekend. There were four contests held, he won three of them – Nebraska, Kansas, and Maine. While Sec. Clinton, on the other hand, only managed to win Louisiana.

Still, and I hate to throw cold water on Sanders’ supporters and their celebrations, but these victories only underscore the difficulties Sanders faces. See, for all of what he won, Sanders gained 64 delegates, Clinton gained 62. That means that Sanders only narrowed Clinton’s lead by a net two delegates! So, while this could give him some momentum and fundraising opportunities, it didn’t get him closer to the needed amount of delegates.

There are two Democratic primaries tonight, Mississippi and Michigan. Five Thirty Eight is predicting that Clinton will win both, and with that, the majority of of the 166 available delegates (Mississippi has 36, and Michigan has 130). Though at the time I uploading this, Sanders is ahead by like 3,000 votes, with 10% of precincts reporting. If he wins that… it’s a big deal!

[Sneaky update: Sanders in the projected winner in Michigan, 50% to 48% with 92.48% of precincts reporting.]

The thing that worries me, is that much of the lefty aligned new media types… The Young Turks, Secular Talk and others are very much in support of Sanders and equally as much against Clinton. When you watch their programs you get a steady stream of how great Sanders is doing. I worry that Sanders supporters don’t realize how far he is behind Clinton and how hard it will be for him to gain the nomination. I don’t want them to become the 2016 Democratic version of 2012 Republican voters and pull the same ignorant flip out when Sanders loses as Romney supporters did back then. Because right now, they are committing many of the same errors and not looking at the actual numbers behind the candidates.

Actually both The Young Turks and Secular Talk are starting to really annoy me with their love for Sanders. Yes, I know that neither have ever stated that they are unbiased nor hid their biases and I also know that there really isn’t anything all that progressive about Clinton. But, neither is looking at the situation in a realistic manner.

For example, The Young Turks did a piece Saturday night in which they talked about how the mainstream media wasn’t giving Sanders the credit he was due for his, at that point, two victories over Clinton’s one. They highlighted several very real biased reports that ignored or really downplayed Sanders’ wins, but in the middle of that Jimmy Dore spent a couple of minutes having a freakout over article that correctly noted that, again at that point, Clinton had picked up more delegates than Sanders. Dore called this “100% pure spin”!

Really! Really? I didn’t know that factual reporting was now spin. I’m sorry Jimmy Dore didn’t like that fact, but that doesn’t make it any less correct.

I’m going to get off this topic before it pisses me off any further.

On a SCOTUS nomination.

Apparently denying President Obama his Constitutional authority to name Scalia’s replacement isn’t enough, some Republicans feel that they can prevent any(!) Democrat from filling that vacancy. At CPAC this weekend, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said: “The Republican majority in the Senate will not allow the Supreme Court to flip. You can take that to the bank.” In other words, as long as the Republicans hold the Senate and the nominee will be selected by a Democrat (this one or a future one), Scalia’s seat will remain unfilled. Well, what a way for discharge one’s Constitutional duties… by not doing them. It also nicely flies in the face of what my Senator, Steve Daines (R-MT), said in excusing his own refusal to do his job: “The best way to ensure this process remains nonpartisan would be waiting until after the election, before a nomination is made”. These guys have really got to coordinate their excuses better.

Johnson was backed up by Federalist Society Vice President, Dean Reuter saying:

But I’m happy to report that the law and the Constitution are on the Senate’s side here. The President surely does have a duty to nominate someone, but the Senate has a co-equal duty as a co-equal branch of government, to in this case operate as a check. It doesn’t have any responsibility or any duty to host one on one meetings with the nominee, or hold a hearing, or hold a committee vote, or a floor vote. There’s no timetable. It’s not as if the president sends somebody over and says, we need this back next month, or next Wednesday, or whatever.

What a crock of horseshit. The Constitution is clear, the president nominates members of the court and the Senate is to “give advice and consent” on that nominees. Since the Constitution was ratified came into force in 1789, that has meant that the Senate holds hearings and a vote on the president’s nominees. Moreover, and this isn’t really a good thing, the Senate has often been a rubber stamp for nominees for most of that history. And yes, precedent does give a timetable, that being 125 days. That is the longest period of time that any nominee has waited to be confirmed (or withdrawn or rejected) by the Senate. By the way, that nominee was Louis Brandeis, if you wanted to know. Among the shortest I could find was Samuel Freeman Miller, who was confirmed only a half an hour after the Senate received his nomination from President Abraham Lincoln.

I shouldn’t be too surprised by Reuter’s statements, especially considering that he gave them during a talk chaired by himself and John Yoo. If that name isn’t familiar, let me remind you. He was a Deputy US Attorney General in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush Administration. During that time he authored papers and policies that so narrowly defined torture and governmental requirements for habeas corpus as to preclude most limits on torture or confinement of prisoners. His argument meant that actions banned under international law and treaties did not apply during the war on terror. He also argued that certain interrogation techniques that are banned on US soil could still be used by US interrogators overseas. Further, he argued that presidential authority allowed President Bush to use the NSA to spy on the communication of American citizens on American soil, indefinitely, without a warrant or approval from the FISA Courts, this was in almost direct defiance of the FISA legislation. Lastly, Yoo argued that since the Constitution grants war powers solely to the president, that outside of the declaration of war and the budgeting process, the Congress did not have the authority to check the president on military actions and neither did the courts!

Ok, I had more to say, but I’m going to stop here. I’ll have more at the end of the week, including some on tonight’s primaries, a review of Chapter 11 of Star Wars: the Old Republic’s new expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, and some thoughts on the dumb that Caitlyn Jenner let fall out of her mouth this week.

 Edited, cause I’m dumb.

Follow up, no fries

GOPDebate

Ok, I know, I’m late… behind the eight ball, as always. Still there is one good thing about waiting, I get to talk about last night’s Republican debate as well as Super Tuesday. So, without any further fuss or delay… here are my two bits on this week’s events.

On the Democrats

As expected, Hillary Clinton won pretty big. She claimed two thirds of the contested states and the majority of delegates. Still, Senator Sanders did better than I had anticipated. Winning not just Vermont, but Colorado, Oklahoma and Minnesota also, is a big deal for his campaign. Again, just like in New Hampshire,  his supporters came out big for him and showed themselves (and the Senator himself) to be a force to reckoned with.

That said, Sanders has a long way to go. He picked up 340 delegates, but that still gives him less than half of what Clinton has (427 to 1,058) and more than one fifth of what is needed to gain the nomination (that’s 2,383 delegates for those counting). Further, losing Massachusetts wasn’t good. The final total was very close, but Massachusetts is generally considered a very liberal state, you could be forgiven for thinking that Sanders would have more traction there.

I’m not saying that Sanders is done, that he should drop out or that there is no way for him to win, only that it’s hard come up from second place when you’ve only won five of the last fifteen contests.

Another thing to consider is that in the states that Clinton won, save Massachussetts, she beat Sanders more than two to one. Sanders did have solid majorities when he won, but outside of Vermont, his leads were smaller.

On the Republicans

Tuesday night was very good to Trump. He won seven of the eleven contests and did so by large margins… no less than ten percent in any state, fifteen or twenty percent in most. I guess that’s not really that surprising, many polls were showing just that result.

Still, there were surprises, Ted Cruz winning Oklahoma and Alaska in addition to Texas. I did not see that coming. I’m sure this only further convinces Cruz that god really does favor him. More surprising is that Marco Rubio actually won something… Minnesota. Even though he placed third most of states, Rubio still took Minnesota as an excuse for a victory lap. I was also surprised by how well John Kasich performed in Vermont. And while Ben Carson’s poor showings were not a shock (well, it may have been to him) the fact that he actually did drop out was surprising… I did not think he’d actually pick up the clue the voters were giving him.

Delegate wise, the Republican race is a lot closer than the Democrats. Trump ended the night with 319, with Cruz at 226, Rubio with 110, Kasich with 25 and Carson with a lulz worthy 8 total delegates. What this shows is that, despite his poll numbers, Trump is far from uneatable and still far from a nomination that require 1,237 delegates. He also isn’t beyond the possibility (however remote, and it is remote) that his adversaries could join forces and take the nomination from him.

The Trumpocolypse

I do think the GOP is realizing that they need to take Trump seriously… late as they may be to that conclusion. Since Tuesday, Trump has been under near constant assault, from the other candidates, Republican officeholder, major GOP-aligned donors and the 58% of Republican voters that have a negative opinion of Trump to Mitt Romney of all people. I mean you have to know you have a problem when Mitt Romney calls you out for flip flopping. I would hope that most people would take that remonstration as a need to seriously evaluate what poor life decision brought them to that point.

Then came last night’s debate.

First, with almost no comment, Trump came slinking back to FOXNews and Megyn Kelly like a sad runaway puppy begging to be let back in the door. So much for his “brave” stance against “unfair” and mean questions being asked by a “lightweight”. Kelly for her part jumped right in on Herr Trump challenging him on the Better Business Bureau’s rating of Trump University (a D-, btw) and the fraud lawsuit against the program. Trump tried to come back and say the BBB had resolved that, Kelly noted it had not. He further alleged that the woman that sued Trump U had been pleased with her experiences, Kelly responded with a  quoted from the court’s opinion in Malaeff v. Trump University: “… victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until the moment they realize they have been fleeced.” Ouch!

Not to be outdone, Rubio said that Trump was “trying to do the American people what he did to the people that signed up for this course (Trump University), he’s making promises he has no intention of keeping and it won’t just be $36,000 that the lost, it’s our country that’s at stake.” Double ouch!

Cruz also went in on Trump noting that he supported Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan, John Kerry over George W. Bush, funded Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, five members of the “Gang of Eight” and donated to Hillary Clinton ten times… four of which during her 2008 presidential run. Ouch yet another time!

Trump did not defend himself well. He seemed confused, even shell shocked by the many attacks launched at him. This was really noticeable when Chris Wallace went after him on his “medical plans”. Trump simply could not respond. Trump’s performance was that of a desperate, struggling eunuch, it looked immensely pathetic.

Frankly, the reason why is simple, Trump doesn’t know anything about any of the issues and he doesn’t even really know what he’s said/ done in the past that could hurt him. When he can’t just attack, he has nothing to offer. Further, I alluded to it before, but after the freak he pulled before the last FOXNews debate, for him to come back to this one shows just how weak he really is and just how much he needs attention.

By the way, of all funny things, Republican pollster and all around jerk, Frank Luntz ran a focus group (my apologies for linking to the Blaze) during the debate, they gave the victory in the debate to John Kasich (seriously, WTF!) and only one person of the group felt Trump won.

One Tuesday, Supersized, with Fires

SuperFries

Tuesday is the one of the top five days in an election year. It’s a big days that the candidates, news anchors, reporters and talking heads look forward to with giddy hearts. See, it’s Super Tuesday, a single day in which the primary contests in a dozen states will be decided at once.

To call it a make or break moment for a campaign is an understatement. The combined number of delegates available on Tuesday is some ten times that from the previous contests. Further, historically speaking the candidates that does the best on Super Tuesday generally becomes the party’s nominee and including the media attention and fundraising possibilities only underlines Tuesday’s importance.

So just how do things stack up? Well thanks to my crystal ball… otherwise know as FiveThirtyEight.com and Real Clear Politcs… I can tell you.

The short version is that unless the candidate’s name is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, they’re going to have a rough night.

Let me explain. On the Democratic side, Clinton is projected to win all but Sander’s home state of Vermont. That said the two are running close in Massachusetts, with Clinton now having a narrow lead. Also, the polling data available for Colorado and Minnesota is old and poor, and I can see Colorado being receptive to Sanders. So, at best Sanders picks up four of twelve states and at worst only one, that’s not “feeling the Bern”, that is a campaign in crisis.

On the GOP side, the vast majority of states show a clear Donald Trump victory, with Marco Rubio in second, Ted Cruz in third with Ben Carson and John Kasich trading fourth and fifth place. Cruz is slated to win Texas and some outdated polls show him ahead in Arkansas and Rubio in Minnesota. Since the delegate count in most of the states is proportional, Trump won’t get everything, just most of the available delegates. Also, Texas has 155 delegates, most of which will go to Cruz. All that said, Trump is still looking at a very good night.

So what happens on Wednesday?

Well, most of the Republican primaries require candidates to receive a minimum percentage of votes to be awarded delegates. Because of these requirements, there are few states that hold any possibility of Carson or Kasich getting delegates. So, on Wednesday morning, they need to realize that their campaigns are over and drop out. Ted Cruz, despite winning Texas, will still be far behind Trump and because he comes in third in most states and those same minimum vote requirements, could still end up in third place behind Rubio overall. If that turns out to the case, he also needs to get out the race. (Note: I have no real anticipation that Cruz would do that. He is about himself and himself only, not the party, not the Senate, not Texas, nor even the god he claims to believe and sure as shit not the country.)

As for the Democrats, frankly there is no actual way that Bernie Sanders is going to catch up to Hillary Clinton. The sooner Sanders admits that to himself and his fanbois admit that to themselves, the better off we all will be. Wednesday morning, Sanders needs to take a really hard, really honest look at his campaign and his changes and then make hard choices.

I’ll have more to say about Trump (or should I say Drumpf), the Scalia replacement fight and a review of the next chapter for Knights of the Fallen Empire later. Until then, check John Oliver’s epic beat down of Herr Drumpf and always remember to #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain!

This is not a Eulogy

Scalia

Holy shit.

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died Saturday. I cannot come even remotely close to expressing my shock at this news.

While many were quick to offer condolences to Justice Scalia’s family and friends, others were busy lionizing him as a “principled legal genius” and other accolades, still others wasted little time in demanding that President Obama not nominate a successor and that doing so should be the purview of the next president.

My Dissenting Opinion

Well, aside from the condolences… I dissent, and in an inversion of Shakespeare, I come not to bury, nor to praise Scalia, but to take the piss out of his memory.

The first to memorialize Justice Scalia was Texas governor, Greg Abbott. In a press release, he stated: “Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law. He was the solid rock who turned away so many attempts to depart from and distort the Constitution.”

Bullshit. Ok, let me be more politically correct… I can’t speak for his relationship with whatever divine power he supplicated himself to, but “defender of the written Constitution”, really? Justice Scalia often stated that he was a textualist… or someone that derived his understanding of the law from the actual text of the law, sans outside information… except when he didn’t. He was as quick to throw away the written text of the Constitution as any other agenda driven extremist. For example, D.C. v. Heller (2008), in which Scalia found the Second Amendment’s first clause (“ a well regulated militia…”) did mean what is says and in doing so overturned 250 years legal precedent on gun rights. Or how about Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Hollingsworth v. Perry (2014), U.S. v. Windsor (2014) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) where he argued that the Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses similarly don’t mean what they say and don’t apply to certain people because of tautological arguments from tradition and personal morality.  

I think that as troubling as Scalia’s hypocrisy had frequently been, it was just a symptom of a larger disorder… that being his incongruous beliefs in both textualism and originalism. These two ideas are in opposition as originalism, by definition, must go beyond the written words of the Constitution in order to divine the intent of the Founders or to seek the understanding they had at the time of the Constitution’s drafting. So how then does one square the need of the extra-legal information of originalism with the respect of the plain written words of the law required of textualism? Well, I don’t think you do… certainly Scalia didn’t. The Youtuber, ProfMitch made a great video about this, I’m going to use his example:

In an interview with California Lawyer (Jan., 2011), Scalia had the following exchange with UC Hastings law professor Calvin Massey:

Question: In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?

Answer: Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society. (Emphasis mine.)

Now, compare that to this statement from a 1995 lecture at Princeton University:

I think it is simply incompatible with democratic government — or indeed, even with fair government to have the meaning of a law determined by what the lawgiver meant, rather than by what the lawgiver promulgated. … A legal system that determines the meaning of laws on the basis of what was meant rather than what was said is … tyrannical. It is the law that governs, not the intent of the lawgiver.

Finally compare both statements in light of the actual text of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In the light of the second statement and the clear text of the 14th Amendment, Scalia’s first statement that the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination of basis of sex is wrong. He can only make that argument with information outside of the Constitution, and thus shed his own pretense to textualism.

Personally, I agree that the issue of how much weight legislative intent should be given when discussing law is important. I see it as a factor that should be weighed, along with the actual text and the possible outcomes of the ruling. Originalism however, I’ve found that is has often been used as nothing more than an intellectually lazy appeal to authority fallacy masquerading as jurisprudence.

Also, Scalia’s deference to legislative bodies is troubling. In his answer to the Prof. Massey above, he makes it clear that he feels that the court should leave such things as discrimination or abortion cases to the legislature. Personally, I feel this is an abdication of the court’s responsibility. The courts exist to settle controversies between the people and their government. If the court leaves those controversies to the legislature, how is it fulfilling its mandate and isn’t it just passing the buck?

This is further disturbing in that it places the rights and liberties of disenfranchised individuals and minorities at the benevolence or charity of the majority. A majority that very well may benefit from the oppression of others.

The Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) argued that certain fundamental liberties were withheld from what they called “the vicissitudes of political controversy” because they are too important to leave to the whims of the electorate. Rather, they held out for the court protect and answer for.

Lastly, in looking at his ruling in Heller and his concurrence with the majorities in Citizens United v. FEC (2007) and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (2014), I can’t actually think of anyone in my lifetime (that’s 35 years for anyone counting) that has done more harm to the Constitution or the country than Antonin Scalia.

What’s Next?

The short answer: one hell of a fight. The president is intent on naming a successor. Conservative organizations, pundits and GOP politicians — especially those running for the presidential nomination and reelection — are steadfast against this.

Currently, they are demanding that the next president… not the current one… name Scalia’s successor. Borrowing from both Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Oh), Republicans are demanding that the American people decide.

This is of course,  ridiculous. The Constitution provides that only the president names individuals to fill vacancies on the court, it does not require the president to avoid doing so in an election year. And even if one was to say that the American people should have a say as to which president should do the nominating… well, we already have. You know, back in 2012, when President Obama was overwhelming reelected over Mitt Romney. So, yes, Dr. Carson… the Constitution does too address this. And, No, Sen. Cruz, there is not an 80 year precedent of not doing so.

More extreme yet is conservative talking head Amanda Carpenter that tweeted: “But given the post-legal nature of this President I want McConnell to make a full year commitment to block noms till 2017.”

The Constitution grants that the Senate should give “advice and consent” to judicial nominees. While that certain covers voting against the nominee, I do not in any way believe that it means the Senate can refuse to hear or vote on nominees. To do so would not only be an abdication, but a rejection of the Senate’s Constitutional duties.

Let me make this clear, I know Republicans and the conservative backers know that this President gets to nominate Scalia’s replacement and that the Senate’s job is to hold hearings and a vote on that nominee. The reason they are throwing a temper tantrum is two fold. First, no Republican wants to go into an election having voted to confirm an Obama judicial pick. Second, Scalia has been a reliable member of the Court’s conservative majority. If President Obama chooses the successor, he’ll likely pick a much more progressive candidate. This will change the balance of power on the court. However, if the Republicans can delay long enough and then win in November, they’ll be able to preserve the court’s current balance.

If this is delayed to until after the election, it makes getting the nominee to the court difficult as the Congress will recess for the holidays. With a new president then being sworn in January, it could be this time next year until a nominee is named. That is an awfully long time for the Supreme Court to go down a member.

Joining in on the fun.

Since pundits and talking heads have wasted know time in drawing up lists of probable or hopeful nominees, I guess I will too.

First, there is Carole E. Jackson, a federal judge from the District Court for the Easter District of Missouri. Judge Jackson penned an excellent decision in Frank R. O’Brien v US Dept. of Health and Human Services. This was a proto-Hobby Lobby case challenging the ACA’s contraceptive mandate versus the protections of religious liberty in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. She summed up in a succinct and elegant manner why the ACA did not violate RFRA, saying:

The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by OIH’s plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.

RFRA is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. RFRA does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own.

Second, Judge John E. Jones III. He is a judge for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and if his name is familiar it might be for his ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005). In that decision, Jones struck the Dover, Pennsylvania School District’s policy on Intelligent Design as being violative of the First Amendment.

Jones also offered rulings that defend student speech from over broad regulation in a Pennsylvania university (Bair v. Shippensburg, 2003) and struck the state’s version of DOMA (Whitewood v. Wolf, 2014).

The best part is that both judges are Republican nominees, Jackson by President George H. W. Bush and Jones by the junior version… President George W. Bush. Jones was even recommend for the bench by no other than, then Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. It makes it much harder for the GOP to challenge their nomination when their presidents put these two on the courts to begin with.

So what can you do?

So you want to do something to help! Good! But, what should you do? First and foremost, VOTE!! Vote in your primary and the general election, get your family and friends to as well if they don’t already. Second, contact your US Senator. Big letter writing campaigns sometimes don’t much notice… but mail, faxes, email, phone calls from constituents make an impact on members of Congress. So, let your Senators know that you (and as many others as you get along for the ride) expect them to hear and vote on a nominee to replace Antonin Scalia and that their actions will be remembered when you’re in the voting booth. Here is handy link to get to them.

Some low-lights of Scalia’s tenure:

Stupidity in Paradise

NotAmused

My Sith Sorcerer had a less than joyful romp through Chapter 10 of the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion.

Anarchy in Paradise, the tenth chapter of the Star Wars the Old Republic: Knights of a Fallen Empire expansion went live for all on Thursday. Subscribers have had early access since Tuesday. I’ve run through the new stuff a couple of times yesterday, mostly I’ll be talking about the experiences of my Jedi Sentinel and Sith Sorcerer.

As per usual: SPOILER WARNING!

HK-55 Returns – If you had been subscribed since like Feb. 1, you got HK-55 back. His inclusion and destruction at the hands of Arcann were both sources of contention. Many didn’t think they wanted a second HK unit or felt that his inclusion “cheapened” HK-51. Others (myself included) were pleased that 55 used the correct euphemism for organic life… meatbag. Further, many disliked that his “death” was unavoidable and thought it was cheap. Personally, I like him and found him to be funny and likewise was annoyed by his meaningless destruction. Well, now I have him back.

All that is needed is to have completed the prior content and to do a fairly quick quest. Basically, the Hutt scientist, Dr. Oggurobb, rebuilt HK-55’s body and restored his personality, but, not his memory. So, after a cutscene of HK-55 blasting droids into smoldering bits, the player must help him by instructing him as to what targets his free to fire on and which targets are not.

The quest was fun and humorous… especially HK’s answers to the player decisions. However, after a couple of times I can imagine it getting tedious. When talking to HK, there is an option that says something like: “nah, HK I trust your judgement”, my bet is that option skips the rest of the encounter.

The Firebrand – After starting the new chapter, we are treated to some exposition from Theron Shan about a possible new ally in an agitator called the Firebrand. While Koth voices his disapproval of the “terrorist”, Theron argues that they could be useful. To lure the Firebrand out, SCORPIO makes a deal to provide the Firebrand with explosives and the Outlander is the contact.

So off back to Zakuul we go. After beating down some Skytroopers, you find that the Firebrand is Kaliyo Djannis, she had been a companion for the Imperial Agent and has been on Zakuul for several years making a mess of things. In trying to get her on the team, she states that she has something big in the works and the you “stole her thunder”, but agrees to consider your offer if you help her finish her job.

What follows is you helping Kaliyo rig explosives to power relays that power a place/ organization called Overwatch, an internal security bureau on Zakuul before assaulting their headquarters. The plan is that since Zakuul depends so much on droids for the day to day living that without those droids, the people are almost helpless, Kaliyo wants to put the droids out of commission for a good long time. She also says that there are complete schematics of important targets on Zakuul stored in Overwatch’s computers. That would be useful for further attacks on the Eternal Empire. It’s only after confronting the leader of Overwatch that the player finds out that not only did Kaliyo formally work for them, but that her total plan is to blow up large amounts of civil structures, kill tons of people and make it so the droids can’t fix any of it. At that point you can choose to stop her, or let her go through with the plan… though she blows the droids no matter what.

I have to say… I don’t like Kaliyo. Though she is often one of the more humorous companions and her conversation with the Jedi Knight (part of the story with Doc) is funny (but disappointingly not mentioned here.) Did it not occur to BioWare that this motley crew already had enough betrayers and traitors? Cough… cough… Koth… cough Senya.

Choices and Consequences – I appreciated that you could choose not to take Tanno Vik’s bullshit, and instead of peacefully resolving the situation, you could kill him, I also approved of the similar choice to kill Xalek rather than have him join the Alliance. I don’t appreciate that there is no choice to do so with Kaliyo. She is an angry, petulant twit whose quick trigger finger and loose mouth write checks her ass can’t cash. I think the dialog where you compare her to the thrill seeking, but cowardly Zakuulan people is probably spot on. She is loyal to no one, and would not only sell out her own mother, but the family pet too. The player should have the choice to end her, or reject even the idea of helping her.

If you go along with Kaliyo and let her destroy to her heart’s contentment, it cause some drama back home. Most notably, Koth gets all butthurt about it and storms off… no, not just in the scene but actually leaves the Alliance and is no longer available as a companion. Afterwards Lana sends you mail that states Koth is probably just blowing off steam and will be back, she ends with a plea to not judge him too harshly. That’s all good and well as is a player choice actually have a consequence. But. This act makes Koth twice a traitor, once to Zakuul, once to the player. Also, one hell of big hypocrite. I am not first to bring this up, it has been argued over on the official forums, but Koth’s freak out over the player killing people is exceptionally two faced in the light of his continued fanboying for his epically genocidal emperor. I keep wishing that BioWare could have written him to some other than completely aggravating. When Koth invariably shows back up, the player needs to have the choice of killing him. Not the force choke, slam and beat up bullshit that BioWare pulled with Malavi Quinn.

If you manage to stop Kaliyo, Koth will thank you. But, no matter what the chapter ends with your allies discussing Arcann attacks on five separate systems and how to respond, that is followed by Arcann and Vaylin discussing the Outlander’s return to Zakuul and again, no matter your previous choices, Arcann states that the Knights of Zakuul failed them. He then orders Vaylin to send the knights to the dueling rings, two by two and have them duel to death. For the first time Vaylin seems to question this, to which Arcann tells her to go and follows his orders.

In the End – The chapter was short, it takes maybe an hour to 90 minutes to complete and most of it wasn’t very good. I sure hope the next installment is better… and that maybe, just maybe, the next companion they reintroduce is one I can give a damn about. Not going to hold my breath.

To Iowa and Beyond

Well, it’s official. The quadrennial American shit show, also known as the US Presidential Election is in full swing now that the “first in the nation” votes of the Iowa Caucuses have been counted and the winners declared. Though I’m reticent to call any of this season’s choices “winners”. I can’t help feeling that election years are kind of like Groundhog Day, no not the annual exercise in rodent weather forecasting, but the movie in which Bill Murray relives the same day over, and over, and over again. Except this time it’s the American people reliving the same experience every four years, in which we attempt to decide which candidate is the lesser crook, douche bag, or liar and whom we can affix the next four years of our nation’s future to.

On Cruz Control

In hindsight, I’m not surprised Ted Cruz won, though I certainly did not expect that result. Several factors played into his win. First, Iowa is a rather religious state with the majority of Iowa Republicans being made up of staunch conservative Evangelical Christian. Cruz speaks well to these people and their issues… far more so than Donald Trump. Cruz has secured the endorsements of major figures in the religious right, from James Dobson to Tony Perkins, Trump may have Jerry Falwell Jr., but Cruz has much of the rest. This also included Iowa radio talker Steve Deace and while I find Deace to be an obnoxious, bigoted worm, he is big time in Iowa. Cruz also had the support of Bob Vander Plaats who is an Iowa conservative king maker… and breaker. Finally, Cruz’s father, Rafael, is major celebrity in conservative religious circles. These people delivered, The Washington Post reported that Cruz was backed by 1 out of every 3 evangelical voters and 4 in 10 of “very conservative” voters, a group which the Post notes makes up 40% of the state’s electorate according to entrance poll information.

Cruz also had the campaign infrastructure in Iowa to get voters out and to the caucuses. Trump didn’t, he didn’t even try and now admits that he knew little about the Iowa Caucuses or about the “ground game” in a political sense. Combine the lack of campaign staff and advertising with his childish spat with FOX News that ended with him refusing to attend the last debate and it could explain why, according to Huffington Post, Cruz and Rubio took 45% of voters that had decided their vote in the last week before the caucus. NBC News likewise reports that Rubio received 29% and Cruz 24% of the support from voters that made up their minds “in the last few days”. This is compared to only 14% for Trump. Find a good recap of that and more from the Young Turks.

Feeling the Bern

I’ve made no secret of my dislike for Sen. Sanders, but in all but tieing Sec. Clinton on Monday night, he showed himself to be a real challenger to what had begun as a seeming coronation for Clinton. I saw that the Sanders camp was considering asking of a recount. I don’t think he should bother. Yes, she got the win and the delegates, but frankly, he had the best of the night.

I think the Clinton campaign has made some real errors. First, like 2008, they are acting like she is the default nominee and that this will be her time. Well, no. The voters and the rest of the Democratic party gets a say as well. Also, I don’t think the Clinton campaign realizes just how much some people (Democrats included) do not like Hillary Clinton. I think the first is fixable, the second… I don’t know.

The Fallout

As of the evening of Feb. 3rd, Martin O’Malley, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Rand Raul have dropped out of the contest. Good riddance. The reality is that O’Malley was never in a position to do anything other than drop out. Same with Huckabee and Santorum.

Chris Christie received only 1.8% of the vote and no delegates, worse yet Jim Gilmore received only 12 votes. I can’t think that they don’t see the writing on the wall for their campaigns. John Kasich and Carly Fiorina both gained 1.9% of the vote and one delegate. Jeb Bush received 2.8% and one delegate as well. Both Ben Carson and Rand Paul actually beat Bush with 9.3% and 4.5% respectively. Despite this, Paul still dropped out, so I don’t know why Bush is staying in this race. Double that when you factor in the following: for that 2.8%, for that single lonely delegate, Jeb Bush spend $14.1 million. Let that sink in… $14.1 million. That is about $2,700 per vote. That is 10 times what Rubio spent per vote, 18 times what Cruz spent and a whopping 34 times what Trump spent. Holy shit. If this is an indication of Bush’s idea of fiscal responsibility, I’d hate to see what he considers wanton spending to be.

Now, Iowa is not the presidency, it’s not even the nomination. There is another 49 states to go, with the next step is New Hampshire.

I don’t think that Ted Cruz will do anywhere near as well in New Hampshire. It’s not a strongly evangelical state and Trump has a sizable lead in the polls. That said, his numbers are falling and, like in Iowa, Marco Rubio’s numbers are climbing. I think Rubio has some real chances here, especially if becomes the choice for establishment Republicans, something the Jeb Bush wanted and isn’t getting. IN a matter of fact, as of today Rubio has over taken Cruz in New Hampshire polling. Further, Trump seems not to be learning (surprise) and has not spent much time in New Hampshire this week. The thing about the early primary states is that they expect candidates to come, be seen by the public and to do a lot of up close and personal pandering to voters, if you’re willing or able to do that, you’re screwed.

On the Democratic side, Sanders has a large lead on Clinton in New Hampshire and has for quite some time. I expect him to walk away with that contest.

The Meltdown

Are you noticing the nuclear theme here? That’s intention and appropriate, since this year will mark the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. Much like Chernobyl’s number four plant, Donald Trump’s campaign is experiencing a serious meltdown, in this case rather than releasing large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, Trump is spewing large quantities of bullshit into the internet.

In truth, I feel that the Trump campaign began this spiral of doom with the debate disaster last week, but the post Iowa freakout started on Tuesday morning, when Trump send out a series of tweets, including this gem: “The media has not covered my long-shot great finish in Iowa fairly. Brought in record voters and got second highest vote total in history!” See, Trump is trying to spin Iowa as a known loss and long short for him… this is despite spending most of the time at the top of the polls and his own bragging of impending victory, and it’s “unfair” (yes, that again) for the media to characterize his epic loss as such. I find it hilariously egotistic to assume that the turnout his his work, rather than the more realistic work of the more organized campaigns. Trump then went on to attack Iowa voters for not giving him credit for self financing his campaign… while not the smartest move, it is a traditionally Trump one.

By Tuesday, Trump had gone into full meltdown, tweeting: “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.” and “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!” I think Trump is under the false understanding that someone voting for the other guy constitutes voter fraud. Ok, sure, the Cruz camp sure did play a dirty game. I’m not going to get into the specifics, but, I don’t disagree that the Cruz camp are jerks. That said, some how Donald Trump of all people complaining about dirty tactics is both pathetic and hilarious at the same time.

The Cruz camp called Trump’s outburst a “trumpertantrum”… lol.

Check this break down from Kyle Kulinski.

Last Point

I did check out Thursday night’s Democratic debate on MSNBC. I was happy to see Rachel Maddow moderating, but her co-chair, Jake Tapper sucks. The experience was much of the same as the previous ones… just minus one former Maryland Governor.

Breaking the Surly Bonds of Earth

I missed something important last week. Thursday, January 28, 2016, marked the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. I am old enough to have watched Challenger’s destruction on television, and in fact I did. Granted, I was like 5 and honestly didn’t entirely understand all of what happened. I mean, yes I knew what I just had watched, but I didn’t understand how impactful that would be. I did, however, come to understand how devastating the incident was… but only after the controversy and failure surrounding the initial deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope. See, the destruction of Challenger was the result seriously flawed decisions by NASA. Hubble was suppose to be a rebirth, a big project to show that NASA had learned from its failures and could go on to greater things. But, when it was discovered that Hubble’s mirror was milled wrong… the outrage was palpable. It was hard not to realize that NASA’s day could be numbered. That said, NASA was able to correct Hubble and has launched subsequent missions to upgrade and fix Hubble.

Personally, I don’t remember watching too many launches after Challenger, I know I saw some at school… but they didn’t stand out. That was at least until 1998 with John Glenn’s return to space on STS-95. So, I think I became less interested in the shuttle mission as a result of the disaster and its fallout.

I should also note that the end of January and being of February mark other NASA tragedies, those being the Apollo 1 fire and the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia.

I don’t have too much more to say here, only that our institutions, much like our mortal role models, are imperfect. Knowing that makes their accomplishments more real. We should continue to celebrate their victories, lament their failures and  mourn their tragedies.

Couple of Final Things

I did go to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even started a review of it… I just never uploaded it. The very late TLDR version is that I liked it and can’t wait to get it when it is released on video. Also, the haters where exceptionally silly, I grouped them into four large groups for convenience:

  • First… there are the “low information” types. These people have little actual knowledge of Star Wars or seemingly interest in it or, and perhaps worse, do and paid almost no attention to film.
  • Second… there are those that really liked the old Expanded Universe, or what is now the “Legends” stories. They’re still pissed that those stories are no longer considered Canon. While I understand… mostly… it was a bit jarring of a decision after all, one does have to admit that there were sizable portions of the E.U. that weren’t very good. Incidentally, I’ll toss in the camp those that seem to have really like the Prequels… yes those people do exist. It does seem that the more someone thought of Episodes 1, 2 and 3, the less they liked this movie.
  • Third… there are, in any fandom, people that simply cannot be satisfied with what is produced. These people could find a compliment about even if said thing was immaculately conceived, gift wrapped and personally delivered to them on the wings or angels all to the sounds trumpets. Simply put, these people are kill joys.
  • Fourth and finally… there are the assholes… mostly misogynist men or MRA or Gamergater types or some other agenda pushing jackass for whom this film was “feminist propaganda”… or something, cause a girl got to kick some ass. These were the same twits that proclaimed Rey to be a Mary Sue… despite not knowing what a Mary Sue is or that by their definition, both Luke and Anakin also qualified.

A friend and former co-worker was so moved by Sarah Palin’s apparent blaming of her son’s PTSD on President Obama that he made this tribute to Track Palin… photoshoped on to the body of Private Pile from Full Metal Jacket… Oh the lulz… they are delicious.

full-metal tracket

Private Tracket!… what in hell is your mother trying to do to my beloved country?

I know, PTSD isn’t a joke… but I’m not the one using it for a cheap shot at the president. If the young Palin is suffering from PTSD or alcoholism, he needs help, not his attention whore mother using him for cheap politics.

Having a go at Trump

Donald Trump is still butthurt over the first Republican debate on FOX News, so much so that he is refusing to attend the FOX/ Google debate tonight. The reason, according to Herr Trump: FOX is allowing “lightweight” (his term) Megyn Kelly to participate in the debate and that FOX was mean to him in their press releases. Oh, and Trump also whinged that Kelly had been “unfair” to him previously.

Well… boo the fuck hoo…

So let’s get this straight, Donald Trump, the guy that spends his waking hours spewing racist, misogynist, douchy bullshit from his mouth and Twitter account, is still so injured by Megyn Kelly’s completely reasonable questions that he simply cannot face her again. Wow, what a little bitch.

I shouldn’t be surprised, after all, Trump is hardly the only thin skinned loud mouth… there’s Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, El Rushbo, and more clergy than can easily name.

Serious question though, if Kelly is such a “lightweight”, why can’t Trump handle her? If this sackless twit thinks she was unfair to him, I can’t wait to see him in front of the White House Press Corps… if this is any indication, he’ll be running away from his first press conference in tears.

Further, how is this coward going to handle ISIS, who, you know, cuts off actual people’s actual heads, when he can’t handle a questions that even so slightly pricks his unbelievably thin skin? Fucking hell, by the amount a butthurt whining from Trump you could be forgiven in thinking that Kelly’s questions were so emasculating that she’d literally went Lorena Bobbitt on him. I guess Kelly should add a line to her CV, “the woman that cut off Trump’s balls.”

This isn’t Trumps pity party either. When reports came out the important members of the RNC were looking into ways to keep him off the ticket, he freaked out. Cried that Rience Priebus wasn’t treating him “fairly” (notice a pattern here) and threaten to sue the RNC. News flash: neither Chairman Priebus or the RNC are under any obligation to be fair to any candidate, rather their job is to engineer Republican victories. I’m sure they seen the same polls I have and know what Trump’s actual chances are for success.

I guess, this is what we should expect from someone that has been given almost everything by his daddy, earned little for himself, and whose “marketable” skills mostly include filing for bankruptcy or divorce, firing has-been “celebrities”, and being ass on twitter.

Seriously though, and all snark aside, this tantrum is not only par for the Trump course but is part of a long line of reasons he’s not fit to president (or anything else for that matter).

First, there is his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again”… cause America sucks right now. Yea, I know, America has a lot of problems, but I cannot feel that a presidential candidate running on a campaign of “America, fuck you” isn’t really that great of an idea. This same thing irked me about Mitt Romney, he constantly talked down the country and I know it was (and still is) an effort to trash President Obama, but sounded so negative and immensely unpatriotic.

Then there was his impressively bigoted announcement speech in which he manages to piss on one of the country’s largest active voting blocks.

After that, his call to ban all Muslims from the country… even those are American but have been traveling abroad, which in addition to being likely illegal, also screamed “help, help, I’m afraid”. Yep, rather than looking strong and decisive, Trump looked weak and frightened. Worse yet, the called played right into the propaganda of ISIS and others. When he was confronted about his statements being used in an Al Shabaab recruitment video, Trump responded by saying that he’s going to say what he needs to say… or something like that. So, yea, Trump would rather continue on with his silliness and thereby continue giving aid and comfort to our nation’s enemies than do anything more sensible.

Finally (at least for my list), there is his (and his supporters) treatment of protesters, reporters, critics and anyone else insufficiently Trump-loving. In between his threats of legal action for reporting on stories he’d rather not have out or “treating him unfairly” and his supporters assaulting dissenters, it’s clear that Trump doesn’t think he is subject to question or criticism. This is disturbing in so many ways, not least that the President of the United States is questionable and accountable to all Americans. Further, journalists, bloggers, and average Joes have a guaranteed Constitutional right to comment, question, criticise, malign or disrespect until our hearts are content. If Trump doesn’t like this or can’t handle it… maybe he should fuck off to Russia or some other totalitarian shit hole.

My advice to Mr. Trump is to pull up his big boy pants, act like he really wants to be president and suffer the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of running for public office… just like everyone else… or just fuck off.

Dr. Ben Carson… Holy Shit

CarsonSurgery-MSNBC

Dr. Carson plays Surgery on MSNBC.

So, Thursday… I’m driving home from the store and this van in front of me has these stickers in the back window. One of the says “I Stand with Ben” and the other a Ben Carson for President sticker complete with Carson’s face and an American flag. I have to say I was surprised, my hometown is known for a certain amount of eccentricity, but that might be over the top. It may also have been fortuitous as I’ve been looking for an excuse to address Dr. Ben Carson. With the addition of Friday’s info, well that seals the deal.

First off, Dr. Carson has had an amazing medical career and is one of, if not the best neurologist of a generation. He literally wrote the book on separating conjoined twins that are joined at the head and share a portion of their brain. He lead the team that did just that and, for the first time, kept the twins alive. There is no question that Dr. Carson has made the world a better place, but… then there is the rest.

Let’s address the lies first since that is what is in the news. It started with a story Dr. Carson told about redirecting an armed robber from him self to a Popeye’s cashier. That was at the same time, douchey, cowardly and not really true. Then there was his story about his younger, more thuggish self trying to stab another kid. Again, not verified or verifiable and seems not to be true. Now, there is a story from his book, Gifted Hands, in which Dr. Carson says claims that after marching in Memorial day parade, his was invited to meet and dine with General William Westmoreland and after was offered a “full scholarship” to West Point. Well… not exactly, Politico has the full report, I will summarize. Basically, the Adjutant General of the Army has no record of any attempt by Carson to attend West Point. Further, one does not get a “scholarship” to West Point as West Point does not take tuition. Even more, Gen. Westmoreland was not anywhere near Chicago, rather he was lunching and playing tennis in Washington D.C. We know that because as then Army Chief of Staff, his time was well documented.

Well, if the lies weren’t enough, Dr. Carson has a long history of making rather questionable statements. First, he stated that Obamacare was worse than slavery. Then, that the Big Bang Theory and Theory of Evolution were invented by the “adversary” or Satan. Most recently, a video has come out of a speech Dr. Carson gave to an Adventist school in which he elaborated his belief that, contrary to most archaeologist and Egyptologists and conspiracy theorist, the pyramids where constructed by Joseph for the purpose of grain storage. Seriously, Dr. Carson… WTF?

Now Dr. Carson is angry that the media is looking into his past, calling “unfair” and a “witch hunt” and regurgitating the “media didn’t look into Obama like this” conspiracy. This is typical of the right, don’t like the facts, attack! But, in all seriousness, how the hell does he think the media won’t investigate his past… especially now? I can all but guarantee that right now, there is a legion of reporters and bloggers tearing through his books, speeches, TV appearances, etc all looking for the next big Ben Carson is Lying Nutter story.

To be honest, there is so much with this guy and so much of it off… I almost don’t know what to say. It’s hard to believe that the brilliant physician responsible for so much good is the same as this dishonest and/or delusional candidate.

Frankly, I think there needs to be some serious questions asked about Dr. Carson’s mental fitness and if he is mentally capable to president. He needs to undergo psychiatric evaluation by an independent expert(s). If he won’t do this himself, the RNC must force him to do so, or find a way to keep him off a ballot.

Knights of a Fallen Empire, Thoughts and Review

Nothing like some attempted regicide...

Nothing like some attempted regicide…

The latest expansion for Star Wars The Old Republic, Knights of the Fallen Empire, has now been out for a week, with myself and other subscribers having access to it for two weeks. So after some time spent in game getting used to all the new stuff and going through the story, here are my two bits.

Oh, before I go on, a general warning: hic est spoilers! Although the story is only available through Chapter 9, a lot happens and I’ll be discussing some of it, so again, spoiler warning.

Controversial Changes: Companions, Stats, Level Sync… A slap in the face (™)

Let’s start with the fun stuff… /sigh. Bioware made some substantial changes to the game for this expansion, and to be expected some of the changes have been meet with controversy. Ok, perhaps controversy is too passive of a term, maybe spitting rage is more accurate. Let’s take a look.

First Bioware made some massive changes to the way companions work. Among these are that companions no longer use gear or benefit from stat. bonuses on gear. Most still can wear gear, but it’s just for looks. They all still have the customization slot, but droids, monsters (like Khem Val), and new companions from the KoFE story do not have gear slots (save a weapon). Also, companions no longer have set roles (Tank, Heals, Damage), rather the player can now decide which companions fill what role when. Furthermore, companion Affection is gone, though replaced with Influence, as are the specific bonuses from companions to crew skills. Biggest of all changes, is that when you start the KoFE storyline, you lose access to the companions from the earlier story and gain new companions as the story progresses. Some of these new companions are old class specific ones, like T7-01 and SCORPIO, others have been important NPC’s such as Lana Beniko and Theron Shan, others are new like Koth Vortena or Senya.

Second, Aim, Cunning, Strength, and Willpower are gone. They have been replaced with a single stat: Mastery. Stat-wise, this means that all gear is pretty much the same: + whatever to Mastery, + something to Endurance, + Secondary stats. Sure the proficiency to use the gear is still needed, but that is it.

Third, probably the most controversial change is Level Sync. Basically whenever a character out levels an area, they are scaled down to an appropriate level for that area. The sync affects health, damage and healing output for both player characters and companions, but does not change access to abilities or companions.

The most common complaints revolve around Bioware “dumbing down” the game or “destroying diversity” or “customization” for characters and companions.

I’m not sure I entirely agree.

Companion gear was kind of a pain in the ass… actually several asses… one for each companion. Their gear needed the same level of attention and up keep as the player character’s did. On top of which, if you hit a portion of a the story that stuck you with a companion that you didn’t use often… well, you had to scramble to get them gear or face some misery. This way companions are on a much more equal footing to each other and we, as players, have much more say in who we want to use.

I’m not sure what customization was really lost, maybe for those people that liked to make “unique” or “unusual” character builds… but those don’t generally work near as well as their users think… and because of that, there tends to be a name for those players: bads.

The customization I tend to care about is mostly intact, that is the ability to modify the companion’s appearance, including what gear they wear. Though, not entirely. Bioware changed what weapons some companions can use. Some of these changes make sense, others not, but most are rather jarring. For example, Aric Jorgan no longer uses an auto cannon, instead he gets a sniper rifle. While this does make sense to his backstory (once being part of an elite team of a Republic sharpshooters), it is still kind of weird to see. Further the new companions do not have gear slots at all, save a customization slot and a weapon. I’d like to be able to change their appearance. After all, if I must be stuck with Theron Shan, I at least want mine to look a little different. Also, the idea of stuffing Lana Beniko or better yet, Senya, in a really skimpy outfit is just too funny for me.

I think the issue with both the level sync and the changes to the main stats. is more one of identity rather than game mechanics. Really, it doesn’t matter from a mechanics standpoint if some classes benefit from certain stats and others not, or if they all benefit from the same stats. But there is an identity that intertwined with the archetypes that the in game classes represent, what stat they depend on is part of that archetype. For example a warrior would reasonably care more about physical capabilities, where a gunslinger that lives by their wits and a quick draw might favor something else, same for the Sith that relies on the force and esoteric dark side rituals. These relationships have a longer history than SWToR, and I feel, harken back to tabletop games. I think that is why this feels so weird.

Level sync is much the same, it’s hard for some to disassociate their character’s level from their progression. For me, not so much. My Jedi is as much of the Hero of Tython, Jedi Master, or Battlemaster as she was before, the downscaling doesn’t change that. Further, it should be noted, that despite the downscaling, most mobs still aren’t much of a threat.

Also, I had thought, and I may have been mistaken, but from the live cast Bioware did in August I had the idea that we could continue using our existing companions, as long as the story did not require us to use another one. That is not the case, they are listed as “unavailable”.

There is a fair comment to be made that companions are too overpowered right now. I have two examples: First, I was doing some of the planetary Heroic missions on my baby Jedi Sage, these missions are intended for a group and have stronger than average targets. Well, I cut through them with little to no real challenge… only needed to shield Qyzen like once. Yeah, it was kind of both amazing and disappointing at the same time. Further, in leveling through the KotFE story, Arcann is made into this uber scary badass. So far, I’ve faced off with him twice. The first time I had T7, I left the encounter with barely a scratch. The second time I was with HK-55, I can’t say that I ever saw my health drop below 90% and in fact stayed around 98-10%… and no, I did not use any medpacks/ stims, the kolto stations in the area or even a defensive cooldown. I’m not the type to drone on about games being dumbed down or having no challenge left in them, but I do think that experience did seriously undercut Arcann as a villain. Actually, I’d say that his scariness is all but neutered.

On the Story, or the spoily bits

The new story starts with the player character and Darth Marr confronting the Eternal Emperor Valkorion with their belief that Valkorion is in fact the Sith Emperor Vitiate. While Marr is killed, your character is given the option to bow before Valkorion. Refusing sets up a sequences where Valkorion’s son, Arcann, is given the task of killing you, but instead frees you and attacks his father. This doesn’t go well, but your character still kills Valkorion. After a large explosion of dark side energy, the player character is frozen in carbonite as Arcann takes the throne.

During the time you are frozen, there is an extended “dream sequence” in which we find that Valkorion is not dead, but has become part of the player character’s consciousness. As the game will progress, Valkorion will encourage the player to make use of his power to deal with certain situations. Flash forward 5 years, and your character is thawed from carbonite freeze by Lana Beniko. What ensues is a desperate escape from the city complete with some moral choices about saving part of the city and killing an unarmed Knight of Zakuul. During this time, new companions Koth Vortena and HK-55 are introduced as well as baddie Arcann’s equally baddie little sister, Vaylin.

After escaping, you crash in the swamp and find the ruins of an ancient powerful warship, the Gravestone. After some exposition on what has happened during the last five years and large fight you escape Zakuul with the Gravestone and head to a smuggler’s port called Asylum. There we meet the Scions, a persecuted and exiled group of force sensitive visionaries from Zakuul and get tasked with returning to Zakuul and retrieving a mysterious infobroker that can aid in repairs to the Gravestone.

After securing the aid of that infobroker and beating up on some cultists, you head back to Asylum. But, you are followed. Arcann, Vaylin and a ton of skytroopers and Knights of Zakuul show up to wreck the day. After two fights with Arcann, you, your crew and the Gravestone escape Asylum.

In the last chapter, you make your way to Odessen and take command of a joint group of Imperial and Republic forces dedicated to ending Arcann’s control over the galaxy.

Further parts of the story will continue to come out at regular intervals starting after the new year. I’m not sold on this method of delivering the story, but I did enjoy the story so far. I think this method encourages people to drop out of the game during the time between the release of new story. Still this also is probably true of WoW as well, people tend to drop in between patches and even between the last patch of an expansion and the next expansion.

I did not like the idea that Valkorion and Vitiate were to be the same being, though, it has turned out better than I thought it would. I actually kind of like him and the interaction between him and the player character. I am curious how it will feel on one of my non force users though. I am told that Bioware has handled this well, but in truth the characters that have the longest relationship and impact on Valkorion are the Stih Warrior, Jedi Knight and Jedi Consular.

On the NPC’s, I’ve never liked either Lana or Theron that much, but they are growing on me. The others, I don’t know yet. I do like the design of Koth’s blaster rifle though, it’s rather cool.

I do want to address something Bioware said before the expansion launched, that being: “your decisions will matter and carry consequences”. Now, I’ve heard this enough times from game makers to become very jaded to this claim. Hell, Bioware said stuff like that before the game launched. To say that I didn’t expect them to fulfill this claim is an understatement and I’m sure glad I didn’t hold my breath since player decisions certainly don’t matter. I could give serval illustration of this, but I’ll chose one in particular. During your escape from carbonite freeze on Zakuul, you and Lana are confronted by a pair of Knights of Zakuul. After beating them up, one flees but the other ends up getting force choked by Lana, at which point you can have her spare him or kill him. Think of what you might do, I did both. Later, on your return to Zakuul, you run into the Knight that escaped, he’s got a new partner and some serious hate for your toon. See, even if you – or Lana – doesn’t kill his last partner, Vaylin does. So, yeah, sparing him has no effect at all.

Bugs and Other Things

  • I did the story as a Jedi Sentinel, when I first completed the story and reached 65, I had two separate T7-01’s. One was under my new companions, the other under “Jedi Knight Companions”. Each had a different Influence ranting, customization and weapon. This was a bug and has since been corrected.
  • Removal of a lot of gear… the heroic quests that used to give adaptive gear, don’t any longer, neither to flashpoints and the vendors on fleet that sold adaptive gear, save one, are also gone. I’ve read that running the Star Fortress flashpoints can reward some nice retro gear, so maybe there is still ways to get these. Actually, more than gear was removed, quite a few quests where as well and with the new way of handling heroic quests, the titles for completing those quests on the started planets is gone as well.
  • The Alliance quests conversations… This is weird. Much like how the non story quests on Rishi didn’t have those conversation cutscenes, the conversations with the Alliance forces on Odessen are also different. They are more like the conversations in old school Bioware RPGs, like Knights of the Old Republic. That is, your character is silent, the npc speaks and you have a list of questions, statements or interactions to choose from at the bottom of the screen. Some people really don’t like this, I just think it’s weird.
  • Token Level 60… Like Blizzard before them, Bioware has introduced a token to by an almost level capped character. The new toon starts at level 60 and immediately into the KoFE story line. One thing that is strange about it is while you start with maxed out professions – that you don’t pick btw – you do not have the class specific titles from the class story. Presumably, this is because the character did not really do the story, but I would have thought that would have been an easy fix… just an instruction to game that treats that character as having completed the story. Perhaps though, since there is now a Legendary Player status for those that have completed the stories for all eight classes, Bioware doesn’t want players to be able to buy that.
  • Speaking of titles… despite everyone and digital brothers calling you “Outlander”, but there is no in game title of Outlander or The Outlander. Seems a little strange to me.
  • PVP & Crafting… I’ve read a lot of complaints from crafters, I never really felt that crafting was that good in this game, so I don’t have the knowledge to speak to it now. Same with PVP, while I did really enjoy Hutt Ball, I haven’t done much, if any PVP since coming back this summer. So no comments here.
  • Cartel Market… Bioware also changed how packs work on the Cartel Market. Basically, a pack now has 2 items in it and can be purchased singly, in a “Supercrate” of five, or a “Hypercrate” of thirty. Also, now there are separate packs for armor, weapons, crystals, decorations, emotes, toys, mounts, companion customization and something else I’m missing.

In the End?

Well, I was fairly harsh on the game when it released, and I stand by that review. I still feel that the two words that most accurately describe SWToR are “missed potential”. But… I do feel that Bioware has made improvements, both in the previous expansions and this one.

I think this expansion is worth the try, despite its failings. But, due to how nickel and dimy the free-to-play set up is, I’d recommend actually subbing, at least for a month to try it out.

A Little Station Keeping… Blizcon is next week, I’m sure I’ll have something to say about it.

Edited…

An Addendum and Random Thoughts

I have a few more thoughts on the Democratic Debate. First, while I was rather harsh on the candidates, I do have to make it clear that a Republican winning the White House is not acceptable. Each of the GOP candidates has promised to pursue an a agenda that I, and most other liberals abhor – from further gifts to the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the poor and middle class, to the walking back of protections of LGBT people and increasing protections of bigots in the name of “religious liberty”, to the continued marginalization of minorities and the poor, to attacks on public lands, women’s reproductive rights and the repeal of the ACA and so much more. Whichever candidate eventually wins the nomination, we as Democratic voters must support them.

Which brings me to Jim Webb. He performed poorly in the debate and was challenged on his statements on Affirmative Actions and Civil Rights that sounded rather right wing. In truth, he did used to be a Republican, but became a Democrat when he ran for the Senate. Now, he is circulating the possibility of running for the presidency as an independent. Sigh… Maybe I was wrong, others focused not on Anderson Cooper’s bias, but on Webb being a crybaby. This act is definitely along the crybaby route and is less than loyal to the party. Some quick advice for Webb and his campaign… drop out, fuck off and take Lincoln Chafee with you. [Actually he might be doing that, according to TMP, Webb has a press conference today at the National Press Club and is expected to drop out of the race.]

Also, on Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). TMP has an article describing accusations against Wasserman Schultz from R. T. Rybak, a vice chair for the DNC and former Minneapolis mayor. These are from an interview Rybak did with the New York Times, in which he states that Wasserman Schultz lied about dis-inviting DNC vice chair Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) from the debate after Gabbard publicly called for more debates and other accusations.

The whole issue with the debates has been a bad deal, many, including Senator Sanders and Martin O’Malley (and their supporters) feel the party should have more debates. In addition, the debates extend late into the primary, to a time after many states have voted. Further, the debate rules forbid candidates from joining other, non-sanctioned debates, lest they be banned from the official ones.

At this point, I’m not sure Wasserman Schultz can continue as DNC Chief and yet the longer this fighting goes on the more it helps the GOP. Whatever the DNC does about his issue, they need to do fast and put it behind them.

Lastly, Trey Goudy (R-SC) is having a bad week… well shit, I guess being a cheap, lying, partisan hack that uses the American deaths for political hay occasionally provokes some karma. Check this story from TMP and this take from the Young Turks (yes, I know, most of the time I can’t stand them either).

In Star Wars news, tickets for the Force Awakens are now on sale and a new trailer is up. Not gonna lie, it looks good. In the negative though, Collider’s Jedi Council revealed the press screenings for the film are extremely limited. Now, I do not buy their excuse that it is because Disney wants to control release of spoilers. Further, I am more likely to agree with Leah Rozen that studios do not hide films from critics because the film is too awesome for the critics to handle. This may in fact be an early admission by Disney that the Force Awakens is not going to be good, as this behavior is more common in studios seeking to hide how bad a film is until after audiences have spend money on it.

There is #BoycottStarWarsVII going around twitter, but not for the reason you might think. As it turns out fake fans are upset that one of the main cast is black the another is female. Apparent nobody told Billy D. Williams or Carrie Fisher that there aren’t black people or females in Star Wars. I have to say though, when you have someone called “End Cultural Marxism” posting Anti-Semitic comments about J. J. Abrams and saying the the new movie promotes “white genocide” because it stars a black dude… it’s a little hard to take seriously. I’m not so sure that this isn’t all trolling. Still, there are a shit ton of ignorant people on the internet.

Also, subscribers of Star Wars The Old Republic should soon be able to try out the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion. As this includes me, I’ll be giving it a shot and hopefully writing a post about it later.

Blizzcon is only weeks away! Sigh. I should be more excited, but Legion is less than interesting to me and as far Blizzard products are concerned, I only really play WoW… and occasionally some Hearthstone. In all truth though, I’ve haven’t logged in for like more than a month and can’t say I actually play anymore. I canceled my second account months ago, didn’t figure that I needed it when I wasn’t using it. Now, after finally admitting to myself that I’m not interested anymore, I canceled my main account this weekend.

Still, I can’t help hoping to see something at Blizzcon that impresses or excites me for Legion. I guess I’m hoping to find some reason to come back. If not, well, Overwatch still looks cool.

I just finished reading Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution by former Associate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. It was excellent. I intend on writing a review of it at some time. Though, it might be awhile as I would like to compare and contrast it with the Liberty Amendments by conservative talker Mark Levin. Unfortunately, Levin’s writing is pretentious, annoying and trying on my nerves.

This is growing a bit too long, so I will leave you with some film recommendations. If you didn’t see it on PBS, The Poisoner’s Handbook is on Netflicks for instant viewing. It is the story of the beginnings of New York Cities Medical Examiners Office, it’s first head, Charles Norris and the its toxicology department under Alexander Gettler. It is very interesting and based off of a book by the same name that I may have to read. Also, I watched a documentary on Centrailia, Pennsylvania called The Town That Was. It focuses on the history and recent state of the former coal mining town. You can find it on You Tube. It reminded me of a show called Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, that talks about the settlements in California’s Imperial Valley. Both show the consequences of ecological disaster and human failure on a community and are well worth your time to watch.

Absolute last thing… I promise. Since I never did do a review of Mist of Pandaria or Warlards of Dreanor, I might just do a retrospective on my time in WoW. Also, I’m working on a post about art, criticism and social justice warriors, from my point of view as an artist.

Ok, that’s it for now.