The email controversy is the worst political “scandal” of all time

I’d say happy Halloween everybody, but given the state of this presidential election, every day for the last several months has felt like Halloween.

And with just over a week to go, those who clung to the desperate hope that it would come to peaceful, amicable ending  were sadly, sadly mistaken.

It’s only fitting that this tumultuous presidential contest would have its most severe twist just days before the majority of voters head to the polls, when on Friday we learned that the FBI is once again looking into whether Hillary Clinton did indeed commit a crime by mishandling classified emails in relation to her private email server — an investigation that the bureau had already closed this summer.

Even typing that whole thing out sucked.

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There’s so much to unpack here.

FBI Director James Comey is under intense criticism from both sides of the aisle for his decision to notify Congressional leaders of the new developments so close to Election Day, when we don’t even know if the new trove of emails discovered carry any significance whatsoever.

Not only did Comey go against department policy, but he disregarded the recommendations from the Department of Justice, and is now being accused of breaking the law by his meddling in the election.

And that’s the whole absurdity of this new development. The FBI has admitted they do not know if these emails matter. Heck, we don’t know how many of them are new, or if any of them were even sent by Hillary Clinton.

So to reignite the email controversy less than two weeks before the election without any evidence of wrongdoing …. well, I’ll just let you form your own opinion. It remains to be seen how this may affect people’s votes on Nov. 8 … but my gut tells me that people have already made up their minds, and pending a bombshell revelation this week, that this won’t be enough to change enough people’s minds to affect the result.

We haven’t even gotten to the most ridiculous aspect of this yet. The emails were discovered not on Clinton’s server, not on Wikileaks, but on a laptop used by disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner, who the FBI was investigating for allegedly sending explicit photos to a 15-year-old girl.

The computer was found to have contained emails from Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s closest aides and Weiner’s estranged wife.

Let’s just say I share the same reaction that Joe Biden had when he first learned of Anthony Weiner’s involvement.

I can’t reiterate enough how inane this email controversy is. No one wanted to hear about it in the first place (including Bernie Sanders, who arguably had the most to gain by capitalizing on it), and we were all thrilled when it was over last July. And now it has been brought back for the dumbest of reasons.

If Hillary Clinton has knowingly put American lives at risk and jeopardized national security because of her careless use of an email server, then those headlines would be splashed across my television screen faster than the movie “Inferno” will be out of theaters.

Instead, we have emails about Hillary Clinton’s aides conversing about how they could get the upper hand in winning an election.

“Lock her up.”

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Selfie takers, beware. You may be arrested on Nov. 8

My stance on selfies has evolved over the years. But it’s mainly because I’ve come to accept their universality in a smartphone-ubiquitous world rather than the fact that I now enjoy them.

They’re like mosquitoes. They’re annoying, responsible for killing people, but are never going to go away. So we might as well just live with it.

Thus, I don’t have a fervent hatred for them like I used to. My distaste for them was so great at one point, that if selfies were actually declared illegal, and people who took them were thrown in jail, I probably wouldn’t have even minded.

Little did I know, that may actually end up being the case in less than two weeks.

Millennials everywhere were put on high alert when news broke that Justin Timberlake may have broken a state law when he took a selfie of himself while casting his early ballot in this year’s presidential election.

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The Memphis-born singer-songwriter has a large presence on social media, and being an outspoken advocate for Hillary Clinton, obviously felt compelled to set an example to his followers of the importance of voting.

Instead, Timberlake highlighted the outdated nature of our current laws, which in some states, ban photography of any kind inside polling stations.

I say it’s outdated because these laws exist to protect people’s right to privacy while voting. But privacy doesn’t exist anymore. Everyone shares their political views on social media, so it really shouldn’t come as a secret to learn who is voting for who, whether it’s a friend of yours or a celebrity.

Heck, with Donald Trump continuously forewarning of a rigged election, maybe selfies are exactly what we need to shut him up. If everybody took a photo of themselves voting and posted it on social media, then we’d actually have a form of accountability of who voted.

Just in case you’re wondering, states that ban photography in the voting booth include Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

If you’re from the 33 other states, then selfie your heart out.

Amazingly, the D.A.’s office in the county where Timberlake cast his vote initially said they were going to review whether the musician broke the law.

Ultimately, the office said on Wednesday that they will not be investigating the matter, which could have carried a penalty of a $50 fine plus 30 days in jail. So Justin will not be thrown into the N’Clink.

The worst joke of all time? The worst joke of all time.

Another official from the D.A.’s office reportedly told the Associated Press that they were “thrilled Justin can’t stop the feeling.”

It’s too bad it wasn’t Nick Carter who was caught taking the ballot selfie.

Then that same official could have said that the need to vote is “larger than life.”

A step towards equality in the U.K.

There is little doubt that significant progress has been made through the years to improve social inequality not only in our country, but throughout the entire world.

But we still have a long way to go when you consider that discrimination is still very much alive based on race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality, among other things.

However, with each incoming generation comes a renewed sense of tolerance and acceptance, and it’s a comforting thought.

That being said, regardless of how much social change occurs, we must never forget where we’ve come from. It’s important to document history so future generations can fully understand and appreciate the progress we’ve made, and to remember all those who were the victims of social injustice.

Take, for instance, the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. in September. Whether we like to admit it or not, slavery is a major part of our country’s history. You can’t inform students about American history without touching upon slavery.

A rainbow flag flies with the Union flag above British Cabinet Offices, marking the first day Britain has allowed same sex marriages, in London

Kids who enter that museum will be amazed to learn that even though we now have had a black president, that this is once how we treated people of African-American descent.And it’s important that they learn early that change can happen.

Another important milestone was the Supreme Court ruling last year to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. In less than 50 years, we went from organized police beatings of homosexuals to protecting them under the law.

But again, we’ll know never know how far we’ve come unless we acknowledge how low we once were.

And recently, that’s a step that was taken from our friends across the pond. Last week, the United Kingdom government announced it would pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men — most posthumously — who were criminalized for having sex with another man.

It’s one of those things that sounds great on the surface, but then makes you furious to turingrealize that this was ever a crime.

England decriminalized consensual homosexual sex between men over age 21 in 1967. Wales did it in 1967, Scotland in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982. In 2001, the U.K. lowered the age of consent for homosexual men to 16, the same for heterosexual sex.

The law is named the Turing Law, after renowned mathematician Alan Turing, the subject of the 2014 movie The Imitation Gamewho only did that small little thing of cracking the Nazi enigma code during World War II. He was repaid by being convicted of homosexuality in 1952 and committed suicide by eating a cyanide-dosed apple in 1954 (though some wonder if it was not suicide and simply one of his experiments gone awry).

Either way, it was still a tragic fate for someone who should have been memorialized as a hero. He was formally pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.

A lot of people will look at this and wonder what it actually accomplishes. It may even serve as a harsh reminder of how cruelly homosexuals were once treated. And it will likely piss people off that homosexuals who were found guilty of having sex in a bathroom won’t be pardoned since it’s still illegal today, despite the fact that the unjust laws at the time forced homosexuals to have sex in bathrooms, away from the public eye.

However, I look at it from a symbolic standpoint. It’s another major country making the effort to right its wrongs.

Should it have ever happened in the first place? Of course not.

But in history books, it will go down as another step towards progress.

It’s no enigma code, but wherever he is, Alan Turing can finally take solace in knowing that his country figured this one out.

Has Donald Trump made Saturday Night Live great again?

Saturday Night Live is a show that is fun to hate.

“It hasn’t been funny in years.”

“That show is still on the air?”

“This is the worst cast of all time.”

Those are common criticisms often expressed among the show’s skeptics.

Which, for the most part, I think are pretty unfounded. Saturday Night Live remains far and away the premier improvisational sketch comedy show on television. That alone differentiates it from practically everything else and makes it worth watching.

It still draws the world’s leading celebrities as hosts and musicians as performers.

And the show’s weekly nature allows it to literally be up-to-the-minute as far as commenting on and satirizing today’s news.

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Oh, and it’s all live. If you can’t appreciate the difficult task of needing to write material from scratch for a 90-minute time block to entertain millions on a weekly basis while not knowing far in advance who the guest host is going to be, then you’re just not being rational. It’s a hard job and one that you would not be able to do better.

A lot of people also like to point out how today’s cast members pale in comparison to those of the past. But at the same time, we forget that Saturday Night Live serves as a launching pad for amateur comedians. The likes of Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Chevy Chase, Jon Belushi, David Spade, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon and Bill Hader were nowhere near as universally popular during their actual SNL tenure. It was only after they left and starred in blockbuster films when they really became famous household names.

So all of those factors make Saturday Night Live an easy show to pick on. But the fact that it always remains in national consciousness shows that it is still as relevant as ever.

And thanks to a certain presidential candidate that provides countless amounts of material, one can make the argument that the show is as funny and influential now as it has been in a long, long time.

Saturday Night Live has a long tradition of playfully (or not so playfully) mocking our prominent politicians, especially during our presidential debates. So it was only natural that people were especially excited for the debut of the 42nd season this year, which was purposely timed to coincide with the debates.

And it hasn’t let us down.

Whether you support him or not, Donald Trump’s language, demeanor, appearance and overall behavior are asking to be ridiculed. So it came as no surprise that SNL went outside its own cast to find the perfect candidate to portray him, knowing they had one chance to get it right.

Enter Alec Baldwin.

Baldwin’s representation of Trump has been so on point that it may go down as one of the most memorable and iconic caricatures in television history.

Combine it with Emmy-winner Katy McKinnon’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton, and the cold open for every single Saturday Night Live this season has become must-see TV.

On a side note, I believe McKinnon may be the best female comic the show has ever had. She is on the cusp of greatness.

As Trump, Baldwin captures the man’s absurdities to perfection. He looks the part, he sounds the part, and he presents him as the unintelligible buffoon that he really is.

The craziest part about Baldwin’s characterization is that people in the decades ahead will probably watch these episodes and assume he’s over-embellishing the presidential candidate. When, in reality, it’s Trump who is the one who is an even bigger joke.

After Nov. 8, we will finally be rid of Donald Trump.

But we will mourn his loss on Saturday nights.

The Weinblog visits the Berkshires

I am an autumn man through and through.

As much as I enjoy the nice weather that comes with the spring and summer, and the holiday season in the heart of winter, there is no time of the year that puts me in a more blissful mood than from September through November.

The drop in temperature allows me to rock my cardigans, wool fleeces, sweater vests, plaid shirts and corduroy pants. It’s a hipster’s paradise.

And not to mention, the foliage this time of year is the stuff that cameras were invented for. So this past weekend, I visited a place that is basically the Shangri-La of autumn foliage: New England.

Loyal readers will note that I like to take advantage of my free by using it to explore new places. I’ve often recapped my travels right here on this blog, including my trips to Israel, Tennessee, California, Montreal, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Chicago.

Well let me add one more to the list: the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Amazingly, it was so chilly when I arrived on Saturday that it actually started snowing. Fortunately, though, the clouds departed the next day, the sun came out and the weather was so pleasant that pretty much everywhere you looked could have been taken right out of a painting.

I’ve never seen more colors at once. Leaves every where in shades of red, orange, yellow and brown. Babbling brooks weaving through villages like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Book stores frozen in time. Coffee shops and pubs that exist in cottages, giving you the impression that you’re not in the right place.

When, in reality, you could not be more in the right place.

But what made it extra special was the people. I can’t recall one instance where I passed somebody on the sidewalk and they didn’t smile and say hello.

In the Berkshires, pleasant interaction is as ubiquitous as it is contagious.

It’s a land of its own. A solid 125 miles away from Boston, and just minutes from the New York border, though a good 150 miles away from New York City. One second you’re in the middle of nowhere, and then after a couple of turns you enter charming little village after village, each with its own unique flair.

But make sure you go in the autumn. Otherwise you don’t see it in all of its magnificent splendor.

It’s a place where, in spite of yourself, you won’t be able resist lying down in a pile of leaves, waving your arms and giggling like a 12-year-old child.

And any place like that is OK in my book.

Debate #3: A light at the end of the tunnel?

Mercifully, we have reached the end of the 2016 presidential debates.

Somewhere out there on the Internet, there is a GIF of Elmo from Sesame Street dancing amid streams of confetti that I am too lazy to find. But if I had the motivation, I would insert it right here.

Seventy-one million people watched last night’s spectacle, an increase over the second debate. Never again will these two candidates have a chance to address the nation on the same platform in front of a bigger audience prior to Election Day.

And given the chaotic state of Donald Trump’s campaign — which he did nothing to remedy last night — that is a very, very good thing for supporters of Hillary Clinton.

That being said, this debate was easily the most watchable of the three, with discussions focusing largely on actual policy, thanks in large part to the stringent moderation by Chris Wallace.

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In my opinion, it was the most well-moderated debate of the last two election cycles. Wallace, a Fox News host who formerly worked for NBC, is a registered Democrat, and has voted for presidents of both parties in his lifetime, made sure both candidates stayed on topic, and asked pointed questions to each that addressed their greatest shortcomings.

But it was Hillary who prevailed. She finally got the policy debate she wanted, and was able to stay on message from start to finish, never losing her poise, while throwing in several not-so-subtle jabs towards her opponent that he really had no answer for.

Quite honestly, I don’t think Hillary could have scripted it better if she tried.

While there is plenty to dissect over what was said last night, easily the most prevailing chris-wallacetakeaway that will be remembered for years to come was Donald Trump’s flat-out refusal to confirm that he would accept the result of the election — therefore undermining the whole basis of our democracy, and perpetuating a dangerous belief among his most fervent supporters that they, too, don’t have to accept it either.

It was arguably a disqualifying moment in American politics and officially closes the book on what was very likely the worst presidential candidate in our nation’s history.

One day later, Trump doubled down on his remark (“I’ll accept the result … if I win”) and at the same time attempted to clarify by saying he wants to reserve the right to legally challenge it if it appears to be questionable.

In other words, he did what he always does —  talked himself into an even worse mess.

But anyway, now that these are done, it’s time to mentally prepare ourselves for the inevitable: President Hillary Clinton.

For many, those three words will make them gag. At best, most will shrug.

Me? I’m fine with it. And yes, I’ve read a lot of reporting on the email content that was leaked from Hillary’s aides via Wikileaks.

While there are instances of imperfect political comportment and conniving gamesmanship among her and her aides, it all amounts to one thing — Hillary Clinton is an intensely ambitious, highly studious and devoted public servant who will on occasion blur the ethical line to achieve her goal of helping people.

If that’s disqualifying to some people, then so be it.

I for one believe America will be in perfectly capable hands.

So … we may beat ISIS soon.

Hey, remember that ISIS group? The terrorist organization that burst on the scene in the Middle East so suddenly and so horrifically in 2014 that the mere mention of their name has become the stuff of nightmares?

The same group that, as their influence has spread westward by inspiring and even orchestrating ruthless terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, has led observers to declare President Obama as a feckless leader when it comes to national security?

And the very same group that has led some paranoid people to believe that all Muslims are inherently bad?

Well, they may very well be on the verge of collapse.

This has been a story that has gone widely unnoticed, mainly because it’s happening 7,000 miles away and in the same week as the final debate in arguably the most contentious presidential election in the history of our country, but on Monday, a mix of American-backed Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers began an offensive in Mosul, in northern Iraq, to retake the city from ISIS.

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Just a bit of rewind for a moment. When ISIS took the city of Mosul in 2014, it stunned everybody and quickly proved to the world that they are a legitimate terrorist threat to be reckoned with.

After that, they gained smaller cities throughout Iraq and Syria and even Libya.

ISIS stands for the Islamic State. The difference between them and Al-Qaeda is that they actually have territory —  a state. That is their calling card.

The reason they are able to attract so many followers worldwide is because they are able to tell people that they have territory in which they can create the Islamic caliphate that is their ultimate goal. Within that territory will be the apocalyptic war that they have continually presaged.

Well, flash forward to present day. ISIS has since lost many of its territories, like Ramadi and Tikrit in Iraq, Dabiq in Syria (where that apocalyptic war was supposed to take place) and in Sirte in Libya.

Mosul is the largest they still hold. If they lose it — which they are expected to, since their forces are badly outnumbered in this current battle — the militants will have no choice but to flee to their de-facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, their last remaining stronghold.

I’m not saying ISIS is dead. Even if they lose all of their territory, the poisonous ideologies they have spread are still out there. Plus they can still operate underground. And lord knows what may emerge as the next terrorist threat even if ISIS goes away.

But it just goes to show that the people who thought America was doing nothing to combat ISIS could not have been more wrong  — and it was done without putting a single American soldier on the front lines.

This battle in Mosul may take weeks, or even months, to complete.

But if it goes the way it’s predicted, than President Obama will be entitled to one hell of a mic drop on Jan. 20 when he leaves the White House.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty sweet to imagine that we may very well see the downfall of Donald Trump and ISIS in the same calendar year.

After what has been a horrifying year for America, it may end on a pretty darn good note, after all.