Correction: Tried to get a post out too quickly today while working and I messed up the Pauls, originally attributing Paul Ryan’s speech to Rand Paul. Post has been updated.
Paul Ryan spoke of wanting Republicans to be the party of ideas, but once again he acted as a representative of the party of lies. His speech was far more notable for false claims as opposed to ideas. Here’s the gist of his CPAC speech:
The way I see it, let the other side be the party of personalities. We’ll be the party of ideas.
And I’m optimistic about our chances—because the Left? The Left isn’t just out of ideas. It’s out of touch. Take Obamacare. We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. And the Left thinks this is a good thing. They say, “Hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work.”But I don’t think the problem is too many people are working—I think the problem is not enough people can find work. And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink—there will be less opportunity, not more. So the Left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.
This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
Here he lied about Obamacare discouraging millions of people from working–a gross distortion of the CBO report which showed that the Affordable Care Act frees people from the “insurance trap.” It does not discourage people who should be working from working so they can sit home on welfare, as Republicans suggest. It ends the days of people who otherwise would not need to work to support themselves from having to work because of this being the only way they could obtain health insurance. Up until this year, people who otherwise were financially ready to retire to in their 60′s would often continue working because if they stopped working they would be uninsured until they qualified for Medicare at age 65. Often the spouses of affluent professionals work at jobs for the health insurance when they otherwise do not need the money because someone in their family has preexisting medical conditions which kept them from purchasing insurance on the individual market. Leaving a job because they can now keep their insurance after leaving does not necessarily mean they will not work. It is anticipated that many people will leave jobs with large companies to work for smaller companies, or perhaps start their own small companies and become, in Republican language, job creators.
This lie about Obamacare came after Paul Ryan lied earlier in the speech denying Obama’s record of promoting economic growth. It has become the mantra of conservatives to deny the success of the stimulus, but their claims are untrue. We have had economic growth under Obama despite Republicans working hard to block his economic policies. Corporate profits and the stock market are doing exceptionally well under Obama, as is generally the case under Democrats. The problem now is that this prosperity isn’t always working its way to the middle class–demonstrating that Republican ideas about trickle down economics are wrong.
So what is Ryan’s big idea? He wants to take free lunches away from school kids. His story is hardly convincing. Generally when kids do not come to school with a lunch in a brown-paper-bag it is because they do not have parents who can afford to send them to school with a nutritious lunch. Of course in this case the story Paul Ryan told isn’t even true. He told this story presumably because it would sure be hard to come up with a real story to justify taking lunches away from children.
As Rand Paul once said, “This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”
Polls have generally showed self-identified conservatives outnumbering liberals, with a recent slight increase in the number of liberals. I have often speculated that this is largely due to the success the right wing noise machine has had in demonizing the word liberal. Americans come out more liberal than would be expected by these poll findings when we look at individual issues.
While the pendulum swings both ways, the trend has been toward more liberal policies over the years. Most people wouldn’t think of returning to the days of child labor. Medicare and Social Security are deeply entrenched, to the point that even when Republicans vote for ending Medicare as we know it they realize they have to hide what they are doing. Recent polls show increases in the number of people who support legalization of same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority even supports the individual components of Obamacare when asked without identifying the policy as Obamacare.
John Sides reviewed a recent book to argue that many conservatives are really liberals:
In Ideology in America, Christopher Ellis and James Stimson describe a striking disjuncture. When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose “conservative” far more than “liberal.” In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s.
But when it comes to saying what the government should actually do, the public appears more liberal than conservative. Ellis and Stimson gathered 7,000 survey questions dating back to 1956 that asked some variant of whether the government should do more, less, or the same in lots of different policy areas. On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down. For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).
Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics. Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.
This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government? For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle. In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.
But other self-identified conservatives, though, are conservative in terms of neither religion and culture nor the size of government. These are the truly “conflicted conservatives,” say Ellis and Stimson, who locate their origins in a different factor: how conservatives and liberals have traditionally talked about politics. Conservatives, they argue, talk about politics in terms of symbols and the general value of “conservatism” — and news coverage, they find, usually frames the label “conservative” in positive terms. Liberals talk about policy in terms of the goals it will serve — a cleaner environment, a stronger safety net, and so on — which are also good things for many people. As a result, some people internalize both messages and end up calling themselves conservative but having liberal views on policy.
Ideology has two faces: the labels people choose and the actual content of their beliefs. For liberals, these are mostly aligned. For conservatives, they are not. American conservatism means different things to different people. For many, what it doesn’t mean is less government.
This idea that nearly 30 percent of self-identified conservative are really liberals would explain the increased support for liberal positions despite a majority identifying themselves as conservatives.
There are some limitations to this, largely due to problems with these labels. It seems to use a simplistic definition of liberals as being for more government and conservatives being for less, but that does not really explain the differences. There are many areas where I am for less government. There is nowhere that I support more government for the sake of more government.
I supported the Affordable Care Act because financing of health care is an area where the market has failed, as insurance companies found it more profitable to find ways to collect increased premiums while finding ways to avoid paying out claims. Conservatives opposed the Affordable Care Act based upon greatly-exaggerated arguments that it is more government (ignoring its similarities to health plans previously advocated by conservatives). Republicans widely supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance until this became part of the plan supported by Barack Obama (who ran against Hillary Clinton opposing the individual mandate). Similarly, conservatives previously supported ideas comparable to the health care exchanges.
On the other hand, conservatives support more big government when it comes to military spending, mandatory vaginal probes, and other intrusions into the private lives of individuals. Even Ron Paul, who voted no on virtually any spending by the federal government, would allow for far greater government restrictions on individual liberties if it came from the state or local level.
Another problem is a concentration on economic issues and the size of government, as misleading as those issues can be in assigning labels. How would they classify someone who wants to ban abortion, limit access to contraception, opposes same-sex marriage, and supports everyone carrying a concealed weapon, but doesn’t follow the entire Republican line on economic policy? I bet a lot of self-identified conservatives would have no real opposition to a modest tax increase on the wealthy and increasing some government economic regulations (especially if they don’t affect them personally) while holding a number of other conservative positions.
Today many are self-identified conservatives based upon social issues. This didn’t always identify conservatism. Barry Goldwater was a strong opponent of the religious right. He sure called it right in 1994:
Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.
Or maybe they just like being members of the club. They like to listen to people like Glenn Beck and agree with what they say. However Beck has previously described himself as “a rodeo clown” and conceded, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”
Support for legalization of same sex marriage has reached a new high according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll:
Half of all Americans believe that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in which a large majority also said businesses should not be able to deny serving gays for religious reasons.
Fifty percent say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent say it does not.
Beyond the constitutional questions, a record-high 59 percent say they support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent are opposed, the widest margin tracked in Post-ABC polling…
According to the poll, public opinion is more unified on recent proposals that would allow businesses to refuse serving gays and others based on the religious convictions of the business owner. Nearly seven in 10 respondents say businesses should not be allowed to refuse service to gays. On this question, majorities across partisan lines said businesses should not be allowed to deny service. Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a measure that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to customers based on religious grounds.
The breakdown of supporters includes little that is surprising:
Despite the changing views, deep chasms remain along religious, generational and political lines. Six in 10 evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, while about six in 10 Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants and eight in 10 with no religious affiliation support it. Three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage, while less than half of seniors say the same.
Although support for such unions has grown to clear majorities among Democrats (70 percent) and independents (61 percent), Republicans have moved at a slower pace. Fifty-four percent of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage in the new poll, while 40 percent approve of it.
“I just don’t believe in the marriage thing; the Bible says that isn’t right,” said Musser, who opposed the Arizona legislation on the religious rights of businesses.
Republicans are split along ideological and religious lines. Support for allowing same-sex marriage is lowest, below one-third or less, among conservatives and evangelical Protestants.
Greg Sargent has this comment on where much of the this Republican support for government intrusion in the private lives of individuals comes from:
Meanwhile, opposition to gay marriage among Republicans seems to be concentrated among the Tea Party. According to the Post polling team, Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who support the Tea Party oppose gay marriage by 54-38. By contrast, non-Tea Party Republicans and GOP-leaners support gay marriage by 57-36. Tea Party Republicans are often said to be more libertarian-leaning on social issues than other segments of the GOP base (such as evangelicals), but a majority of them still opposes same-sex marriage.
On the other hand, opposition to same sex marriage is declining among Catholics. A comparable change is also seen with the more liberal views coming from the Vatican under Pope Francis. While outright support for same sex marriage remains too liberal a position for him to adopt, Think Progress points out that he is open to the idea of civil unions:
In an interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis appeared to support governments that recognize civil unions to provide non-traditional couples with access to benefits:
On the question of marriage and civil unions, the Pope reaffirmed that “marriage is between a man and a woman”. States seek to justify civil unions “to regularize different situations of living together,” pushed by the need to regularize the economic aspects between people, such as, for example, to ensure health care, he said. “We have to look at the different cases and evaluate them in their variety”.
Over the last year, Francis has nudged the church in a more welcoming direction on issues like contraception, divorce, and marriage equality. Unlike Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI — who sermonized that same-sex marriage is a “serious harm to justice and peace,” and a “manipulation of nature” — Francis has directed the church to become more inclusive. He has also instructed American Bishops to poll how everyday Catholics view same-sex marriage, divorce, and contraception. Last year, Francis himself welcomed gays priests, arguing, “who am I to judge?” Before becoming the Pope, Francis may have supported civil unions as an Argentina archbishop, though he was simultaneously condemning marriage equality as a product of the “father of lies” that was “destructive to the plan of God” and that would “gravely harm the family.” The Vatican continues to oppose same-sex unions and has had to deny past reports of Francis’ support as “paradoxical” and a “manipulation” of his words.
Francis also discussed plans to revisit the church’s position on birth control, saying “it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and bringing it about that the pastoral practice takes account of situations and of what is possible for persons.”
While this country is quickly moving beyond the idea of civil unions to full marriage equality, support for civil unions is a welcome move in the right direction from the Catholic Church.
I’ve been seeing a prediction from Ezekiel Emanual recently that insurance companies will be replaced by Accountable Care Organizations and hospital systems in various medical publications recently and now that The New Republic has picked up on this it is starting to be discussed in the blogosphere. Accountable Care Organizations are basically organizations of hospitals and physicians which form a network to provide care to Medicare patients, receiving financial rewards if able to provide the care more economically.
Conservatives are reacting with their usual knee jerk panic and ignorance. The Gateway Pundit, for example, writes, “Despite all of the accumulating evidence that government will be unable to manage the health care system in America, Emanuel is sticking to his guns and hoping for demise of insurance companies.” This evaluation is wrong on so many levels. First of all, the organizations which Emanual foresees as replacing insurance companies are private organizations, not government. Secondly, historical information has shown that government programs such as Medicare have been more efficient than insurance companies in managing health care in America. Thirdly, assuming that the blogger is referring to the problems with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, the problems have been due to the use of private insurance companies to continue to provide insurance coverage. One lesson from the events of the past few months has been to verify that a single payer system would be far more efficient and easier to establish, regardless of whether this is the desired model.
Conservative blogs have also been quick to claim high rates of happiness with insurance companies prior to Obamacare but that is misleading as most people did not realize how vulnerable they were to problems such as insurance policies being revoked when people became ill and to caps on insurance coverage. Regardless, these problems have been eliminated under the Affordable Care Act and therefore are no longer an issue with regards to whether it is desirable to see insurance companies be replaced.
It is certainly possible that Emanual’s prediction will take place but personally I wouldn’t be so quick to predict the demise of the health insurance industry. I’ve seen a lot of changes in health care during my career. Lots of fads come and go. The insurance companies always seem to remain around. I’m not as certain as today’s fads such as Medical Homes and Accountable Care Organizations. ACO’s have not been around long enough to say for certain what will become of them, but so far the outcomes have not been what would be expected of an idea successful enough to begin to replace health insurance companies.
There are two different ACO models which vary in terms of how much risk they accept. The more they are willing to risk being out money if costs remain high, the higher their potential rewards. Many ACO’s which started out in the high risk model converted to the lower risk model after they were initially formed. Neither model has shown much success yet. While I receive lots of bonuses from various plans which are adopting pay for performance models, I have yet to see a dime from the ACO I belong to, and neither are many other physicians. Again it is still early, but this does not make me see a strong future for ACO’s at this time.
Hospital systems offering their own insurance policies isn’t a new idea. They have been doing it for a while, and I am seeing an increase in this. Success has been variable. They still have to compete with insurance companies, which have many more years experience in developing insurance products and marketing them. I suspect that plans marketed directly by hospital systems to both business and to individuals (through the exchanges) will grow over the next couple of years but I’m skeptical as to whether they will replace insurance companies. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see insurance companies profit from this trend, offering their services to assist hospital systems and ACO’s which desire to put out a plan under their name.
Again, maybe Emanual is right. If I had to bet on one or the other, my bet is that insurance companies will be around longer than Accountable Care Organizations.
There’s nothing like a crisis to show how intellectually bankrupt the right wing has become. I won’t waste more time with the nutty right wing, such as those who think the Russian invasion of Ukraine means that Palin had some actual insights into foreign policy when she mentioned Ukraine or Russia during the 2008 campaign. The supposedly more sensible portion of the right wing over at The Washington Post does some classic right wing projection in claiming that President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy. The gist is that Obama should do something, but they don’t actually say what he can or should do. This looks like more of the same lack of understanding of the real world seen with Fred Hyatt’s previous support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Among the best commentary I’ve seen (to add to that I linked to yesterday from David Remnick) came from Michael Cohen at The Guardian. He began with pointing out several more instances of absurd commentary from the right and then wrote:
Missing from this “analysis” about how Obama should respond is why Obama should respond. After all, the US has few strategic interests in the former Soviet Union and little ability to affect Russian decision-making.
Our interests lie in a stable Europe, and that’s why the US and its European allies created a containment structure that will ensure Russia’s territorial ambitions will remain quite limited. (It’s called Nato.) Even if the Russian military wasn’t a hollow shell of the once formidable Red Army, it’s not about to mess with a Nato country.
The US concerns vis-à-vis Russia are the concerns that affect actual US interests. Concerns like nuclear non-proliferation, or containing the Syrian civil war, or stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Those are all areas where Moscow has played an occasionally useful role.
So while Obama may utilize political capital to ratify the Start treaty with Russia, he’s not going to extend it so save the Crimea. The territorial integrity of Ukraine is not nothing, but it’s hardly in the top tier of US policy concerns.
What is America’s problem is ensuring that Russia pays a price for violating international law and the global norm against inter-state war. The formal suspension of a G8 summit in Sochi is a good first step. If Putin’s recalcitrance grows – and if he further escalates the crisis – then that pressure can be ratcheted up.
But this crisis is Putin’s Waterloo, not ours.
Which brings us to perhaps the most bizarre element of watching the Crimean situation unfold through a US-centric lens: the iron-clad certainty of the pundit class that Putin is winning and Obama is losing. The exact opposite is true.
Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction. He’s compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia’s natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs. Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater.
For Obama and the US, sure, there might be less Russian help on Syria going forward – not that there was much to begin with – and it could perhaps affect negotiations on Iran. But those issues are manageable. Meanwhile, Twitter and the opinion pages and the Sunday shows and too many blog posts that could be informative have been filled with an over-the-top notion: that failure to respond to Russia’s action will weaken America’s credibility with its key allies. To which I would ask: where are they gonna go? If anything, America’s key European allies are likely to fold the quickest, because, you know, gas. And why would any US ally in the Far East want Obama wasting his time on the Crimea anyway?
You don’t have to listen to the “do something” crowd. These are the same people who brought you the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other greatest hits. These are armchair “experts” convinced that every international problem is a vital interest of the US; that the maintenance of “credibility” and “strength” is essential, and that any demonstration of “weakness” is a slippery slope to global anarchy and American obsolescence; and that being wrong and/or needlessly alarmist never loses one a seat at the table.
The funny thing is, these are often the same people who bemoan the lack of public support for a more muscular American foreign policy. Gee, I wonder why.
The Republicans have built a strange coalition. In terms of priorities, it is primarily the party of the top one percent, but many other upper income Americans still mistakenly believe the Republicans represent their interests. This still would not give them anywhere near enough votes to win elections so they have gone after primarily two other types of supporters. For years they conned the religious right into following them while only throwing them a few bones, but in recent years the Republicans have more fully adopted their agenda. This still was not enough voters but in the past they could win elections by scaring low-information poorly educated white males into voting for them.
It made absolutely no sense for these white males to vote against their interests and vote for Republicans but this has been a group which has been easily fooled. The New York Times looked at Democratic attempts to win some of these voters back:
Some white men have proved to be within reach: single men, college students and graduates with advanced degrees, the nonreligious, and gay men.But working-class married men remain hardest to win over and, unless they are in unions, get the least attention — to the dismay of some partisans.
“You can’t just give Republicans a clear field to play for the votes of white working-class men without putting up some sort of a fight because that just allows them to run the table with these voters, thereby potentially offsetting your burgeoning advantage among minorities, single women, millennials,” said Ruy Teixeira, an analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
“I just think Democrats are having a hard time figuring out how to effectively pursue it,” he added.
What discourages Democrats is that men’s attitudes shaped over generations — through debates over civil rights, anti-Communism, Vietnam, feminism, gun control and dislocations from lost manufacturing jobs and stagnant wages in a global economy — are not easily altered.
“Democrats are for a bunch of freeloaders in this world as far as I’m concerned,” said Gari Day, 63, an Avis bus driver from suburban Detroit. “Republicans make you work for your money, and try to let you keep it.”
Michael Bunce, 48, buying parts at a Lowe’s in Southfield, Mich., first ascribed his Republican bias to fiscal matters, but quickly turned to social issues like gay rights. “I don’t see why that’s at the top of our priority list,” he said. “But you say that out in the open, and people are all over your back.”
Democrats’ gloom about white men was eased temporarily by Mr. Obama’s 2008 election when he won 41 percent of white male voters— the first time a Democrat exceeded 40 percent since Mr. Carter in 1976. But their support for his re-election fell to 35 percent, roughly what Democrats have gotten since they lost to Richard Nixon.
Republicans say Democrats’ appeals to women, minorities and gays have been counterproductive with white men. “When you’re spending 60 percent of your time talking about birth control and Obamacare, not a lot of men are paying attention to you,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Another issue arose later in the article which also explains their support for Republicans–guns. While Democrats have done little, largely out of fear, to push gun control, that is an issue which is going to work to the advantage of Republicans. If this article is representative and social issues play a big factor, this also does not leave Democrats with a good opening. However, if Democrats can get them to think rationally about economics, then they could win votes if they can get past the type of misconceptions quoted above. Those who have been convinced that Obama is a socialist are seriously ignorant about both economics and current events.
Democratic economic policies both better enable working people to earn more money and Democratic taxation plans have proposed taxing the middle tax less then Republicans. Republican tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy don’t do anything to help the bus driver quoted above. Plus, while the low information white males might not care about birth control (although they could also suffer from Republican attempts to restrict access to contraception) they do benefit considerably from the changes in health care under Obama.
The article points out that, “No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white men since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.” There is a significance to this date. The Democrats lost the south and the low-information white voters after the passage of the Civil Rights bill. Much of this came down to the Southern Strategy as described by Lee Atwater:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
It works just as well in northern white states to scare low education white voters into fearing that minorities are a threat to them. Homophobic white males, like the one quoted above, are just as likely to be racists. Such tensions decreased a little when Obama ran in 2008, but the Tea Party has helped bring about a return to old patterns. Democrats will need to make a strong pitch explaining the truth about economic issues, overcoming considerable misinformation they have been exposed to, if there is any chance to pick up the votes of the low information white voters. While it makes sense to go after additional voters, realistically if the Democrats are going to win, it will primarily be with the votes of educated white males, females, and minorities.
With the Olympics over many weekly series have returned and two of the best shows from last season which aired in the spring or winter have started their second seasons. Hannibal and The Americans both began their second seasons. Hannibal began with an extended fight scene between Hannibal and Jack Crawford which foreshadows what we know must eventually occur before moving backwards twelve weeks in the narrative. The brutality of the fight indicates it is not a simple temporary falling out between friends, such as Watson being angry at Sherlock for pretending to be dead. Jack must have found out the truth about Hannibal. As the series is part of a seven year plan (should it last that long) to retell the Hannibal novels (with some variations), we know that eventually everyone will know that Hannibal, and not Will, is the serial killer. (More on Bryan Fuller’s seven year plan for Hannibalhere.)
After the fight scene we go back to just after the first season ended, with Will in jail for the murders committed by Hannibal. So far only Will, and some of Hannibal’s victims who did not live to tell what they know, really suspected the truth about Hannibal. Now that Will is healthy and no longer suffering from encephalitis, he can begin what will probably be a season-long cat and mouse game with Hannibal to reveal the truth. Hannibal has essentially taken over Will’s role in advising the FBI in serial murder cases, but we know he will not be able to resist Will’s request for Hannibal’s therapeutic help. Hannibal might even realize what Will is up to, but based upon his relationship with Will in the first season, this will be irresistible for Hannibal. We know where everything is leading and have already seen how the season ends. The suspense will be in seeing how we reach that point.
The Americans returns to 1982 with two Soviet spies living undercover as an American couple. Elizabeth has returned home two months after she was shot in the first season finale, claiming to have been caring for a sick aunt. We immediately see that 1) not everything works out perfectly for spies and 2) even the spy we have been led to root for (even if from an enemy nation) can be a cold blooded killer when there is an innocent witness around. While the first season centered around the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth, the second season will deal more with the entire family.
Elizabeth and Philip have tried to keep their children safe from their activities and we saw how important this is as another undercover couple were killed, along with their daughter. We know Paige is suspicious, but so far instead of learning the truth about her parents she caught them having sex. It is not certain which revelation will ultimately be more shocking.
The Americans did an excellent job of working all of this into the season premiere, along with returning to other subplots. We saw the fake marriage between Martha and Phillip (or Clarke as she knows him) in order to spy on the Americans. Their FBI agent neighbor Stan continues to use Nina, unaware that she is now really using him. The nature of Stan’s relationship with Nina came up as they watched a pirated copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman before Stan went to see the same movie with his wife and a friend. We also learned that Claudia has remained in the United States and she will have an influence on the season.
Arrow, yet another excellent genre show in its second season, returned after the Olympic hiatus with Time of Death. With Sara now making out with Oliver in the Arrow-Cave, it was time for Felicity to more firmly establish her importance. (“You’ll always be my girl, Felicity.”) The episode introduced another worthy opponent, The Clock King. It also brought the present day and island stories together further in the final scene where Moira brought Oliver in to introduce her son to the man she was meeting with–Slade. The first photo has also been released of Barry Allen in costume as The Flash in the planned spin off.
Yet another sophomore show, Revolution, is well below the quality of the other shows discussed above. They do try to keep coming up with new things to keep the show fresh, but in the end they just wind up without anything really compelling happening. The supposedly upcoming battle to the death between Monroe and his son sounds guaranteed to disappoint. Having Aaron wake up in an alternative reality in 2014 with the power on after trying tying to upload a virus into his nano-bot children (or are they now Gods?) made for a good final scene, but will anything significant really come from this? At least it sounds it might make for a good episode. In this alternate reality, Giancarlo Esposito will be back in his old life as a sleazy insurance salesman. If they were really creative, the episode would take place in a different alternative universe where instead he runs the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant chain.
Hannibal, The Americans, and Arrow were all excellent new series which began last year, but the best of all the series to premiere last year was Orphan Black. BBC America has released the above sneak peaks, with the show returning on April 19. More news on season two here.
Aaron Paul has again expressed interest in appearing in the Breaking Bad spin off, Better Call Saul. Bryan Cranston and Jonathan Banks have also expressed interest. Dean Norris is not interested, failing to understand that one episode of anything by Vince Gilligan is far more significant than an entire season of Under the Dome. (The series finale of Breaking Bad was reviewed here.)
Disney has always excelled at their synergy in using each of their holdings to make money for others. ABC will be running a documentary (extended commercial?) March 18 on Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe.
“The enormous impact ‘Heroes’ had on the television landscape when it first launched in 2006 was eye-opening,” said NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke. “Shows with that kind of resonance don’t come around often and we thought it was time for another installment. We’re thrilled that visionary creator Tim Kring was as excited about jumping back into this show as we were and we look forward to all the new textures and layers Tim plans to add to his original concept. Until we get closer to air in 2015, the show will be appropriately shrouded in secrecy, but we won’t rule out the possibility of some of the show’s original cast members popping back in.”
I don’t care either way about Heroes but am happy to see that an American network is getting away from the usual season format. Heroes itself would have been much better as a miniseries rather than continuing it beyond the point where Tim Kring seemed to know what to do with the show. Note that almost all of the shows I mentioned above were aired for short seasons, generally on cable, which I think helps make a better quality show. Fox is also doing something similar with 24.
While I don’t care whether Heroes returns, I am looking forward to the return of Farscape. A movie is planned:
Set to follow the awesome comics written by our favorite Keith R.A. DeCandido, the film would follow John and Aeryn’s son, D’Argo (or Little D, as we will always refer to him). Because their baby was exhibiting a set of interesting powers that made him a magnet for galactic villains, we find that John and Aeryn hide their son on Earth to grow up. Now the kid is 19 and ready to go into space with his parents.
Last week I questioned making US versions of British shows as opposed to airing the same shows here. Steven Moffat has had experience with cases where that did not work. His excellent sit-com Coupling flopped when an American version was aired, but I would highly recommend watching the original on Netflix. It is sort of a combination of Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex in the City with just a little bit of The Big Bang Theory thrown in. Moffat wisely says it would be insane to make an American version of his current shows, Sherlock and Doctor Who:
Not just popular on a worldwide level, it’s so distinctively local in outlook that a remake of any sort would destroy what makes it work in the first place.
“Doctor Who’s everywhere,” he said. “You can bump in to the Doctor anywhere,” adding that the series has, “probably penetrated enough that it’s no longer regarded as an import, it’s just that show.”
“Sherlock and Doctor Who are both doing rather well but they couldn’t be more definitively British. They’re obtusely British. They’re about as British as it gets. You shouldn’t be afraid of being British because that’s what you’re selling.”
And of course, if a remake were to be proposed and the Doctor were no longer British in demeanor (albeit British via Gallifrey), would he even be the Doctor?
“If anyone were to ask me, I’d say it’s an absolutely insane idea. You couldn’t have more than one Doctor Who in the world. It would just be dreadful.”
This has not been a good season for new sit-coms, especially for NBC but last week’s episode of The Crazy Ones (on CBS) was its best episode of the season. The cast put on both a Bar Mitzvah and a musical. While far from a great series, Robin Williams has kept the show amusing through a lot of otherwise weak scripts. I actually don’t mind that the new NBC sit-coms were flops. It just increases the chances that Community will be renewed.
Mixology premiered last week, showing some promise even if the premise is far-fetched. Personally I’ve always found the prospect of successfully meeting anyone in that type of bar to be less realistic than most of the shows discussed in this post. Besides, if I can spend the entire final season of How I Met Your Mother showing a weekend at the inn where Robin and Barney’s wedding is taking place, I can try a series taking place all in one night in this bar. It will be interesting to watch to see if the idea works or turns into a flop.
As is often the case, David Remnick provides excellent coverage of the events of the last few days in Ukraine. He shows not only what is going on in the Ukraine, but what good journalism should be. On Putin:
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country’s power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.
There’s more background information than is found in the typical article which concentrates more on up to the minute news than analysis, and then a return to Putin’s motives:
In a recent Letter from Sochi, I tried to describe Putin’s motivations: his resentment of Western triumphalism and American power, after 1991; his paranoia that Washington is somehow behind every event in the world that he finds threatening, including the recent events in Kiev; his confidence that the U.S. and Europe are nonetheless weak, unlikely to respond to his swagger because they need his help in Syria and Iran; his increasingly vivid nationalist-conservative ideology, which relies, not least, on the elevation of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been so brutally suppressed during most of the Soviet period, as a quasi-state religion supplying the government with its moral force.
And this is how the war is likely to go:
I spoke with Georgy Kasianov, the head of the Academy of Science’s department of contemporary Ukrainian history and politics, in Kiev. “It’s a war,” he said. “The Russian troops are quite openly out on the streets [in Crimea], capturing public buildings and military outposts. And it’s likely all a part of a larger plan for other places: Odessa, Nikolayev, Kherson. And they’ll use the same technique. Some Russian-speaking citizens will appear, put up a Russian flag, and make appeals that they want help and referendums, and so on.” This is already happening in Donetsk and Kharkov.
“They are doing this like it is a commonplace,” Kasianov went on. “I can’t speak for four million people, but clearly everyone in Kiev is against this. But the Ukrainian leadership is absolutely helpless. The Army is not ready for this. And, after the violence in Kiev, the special forces are disoriented.”
In conclusion (but read Remnick’s full article first):
Putin’s reaction exceeded our worst expectations. These next days and weeks in Ukraine are bound to be frightening, and worse. There is not only the threat of widening Russian military force. The new Ukrainian leadership is worse than weak. It is unstable. It faces the burden of legitimacy. Yanukovych was spectacularly corrupt, and he opened fire on his own people. He was also elected to his office and brought low by an uprising, not the ballot; he made that point on Friday, in a press conference in Rostov on Don, in Russia, saying that he had never really been deposed. Ukraine has already experienced revolutionary disappointment. The Orange Revolution, in 2004, failed to establish stable democratic institutions and economic justice. This is one reason that Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister, newly released from prison, is not likely the future of Ukraine. How can Ukraine possibly move quickly to national elections, as it must to resolve the issue of legitimacy, while another country has troops on its territory?
Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal Russian politician who no longer holds office, said that the events were not only dangerous for Ukraine but ominous for Russia and the man behind them. “It’s quite likely that this will be fatal for the regime and catastrophic for Russia,” he told Slon.ru. “It just looks as if they have taken leave of their senses.”
There are, of course, other views worth reading. Peter Baker explains why it will not be easy to make Russia pay, despite the rants from Republican politicians such as Marco Rubio who seek to find political advantage in the current international crisis.
Mr. Putin has already demonstrated that the cost to Moscow’s international reputation would not stop him. Having just hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he must have realized he was all but throwing away seven years and $50 billion of effort to polish Russia’s image. He evidently calculated that any diplomatic damage did not outweigh what he sees as a threat to Russia’s historic interest in Ukraine, which was ruled by Moscow until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Mr. Putin may stop short of outright annexation of Crimea, the largely Russian-speaking peninsula where Moscow still has a major military base, but instead justify a long-term troop presence by saying the troops are there to defend the local population from the new pro-Western government in Kiev. Following a tested Russian playbook, he could create a de facto enclave loyal to Moscow much like the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that broke away from Georgia. On the other hand, the White House worries that the crisis could escalate and that all of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine may try to split off.
Finding powerful levers to influence Mr. Putin’s decision-making will be a challenge for Mr. Obama and the European allies. Mr. Obama has seen repeatedly that warnings often do not discourage autocratic rulers from taking violent action, as when Syria crossed the president’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in its civil war.
Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies.
The longer-term options might be more painful, but they require trade-offs as well. The administration could impose the same sort of banking sanctions that have choked Iran’s economy. And yet Europe, with its more substantial economic ties, could be reluctant to go along, and Mr. Obama may be leery of pulling the trigger on such a potent financial weapon, especially when he needs Russian cooperation on Syria and Iran.
“What can we do?” asked Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution scholar who was the government’s top intelligence officer on Russia during the Georgia war when Mr. Putin deflected Western agitation. “We’ll talk about sanctions. We’ll talk about red lines. We’ll basically drive ourselves into a frenzy. And he’ll stand back and just watch it. He just knows that none of the rest of us want a war.”
Baker also compared Obama’s options to those which George Bush had when Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008. Bush eventually learned that he was wrong about his initial sense of Putin’s soul from looking into his eyes. If anyone still has any doubts, it is clear that Putin’s soul is that of an autocrat and KGB killer.
I really wouldn’t mind if Sarah Palin just made her amusing quip about the Ukraine crisis saying “Yes, I could see this one from Alaska” on her Facebook page. It is understandable that she would react this way, both in response to criticism for giving a foreign crisis example of Russia invading Ukraine in 2008 and for the impression of her by Tina Fey. Palin and other conservatives just should be happy with a quick quip such as this an not overplay their hand and pretend that Sarah Palin really had the slightest idea as to what she was talking about.
Steve M. reviewed this in far more detail than is probably needed considering that nobody really needs an explanation as to why Palin is not really an expert on Russian policy, or anything else. Steve pointed out that Palin, or actually her speech writer as this was in a prepared speech, raised the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine during the first six months of his presidency to test Obama. That would be the first six months of his first term. In the same speech Palin criticized Obama for his statement during the campaign that he might go into Pakistan to go after known terrorist targets without their permission. In other words, she attacked Obama for doing what he did to kill Osama bin Laden.
With the full context, Sarah Palin doesn’t look all that bright on foreign policy but thanks for helping us recall Tina Fey’s spot-on impressions. The video and transcript of her routine in which she had Palin say “And I can see Russia from my house” can be found here.
“I know climate change is a hoax – of course – but places that have never seen this type of winter weather got hit by it. More than a half a million southerners have been left in the dark — and then the storm hit.” –Bill Maher