SciFi Weekend: Ascension; Person of Interest; Daredevil; Orphan Black; Hannibal; Fargo; Doctor Who Easter Eggs On Gracepoint; The Newsroom; The Fall; The Interview

Tricia-Helfer-in-Ascension

Ascension was billed as  Syfy’s big attempt to return to outer space based, hard science fiction, including the return of Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica. It didn’t exactly do that, but despite some flaws it was mostly a success. Major spoilers here if you plan to watch this at a later date.

The show was billed as sort of Mad Men in space with the advertised premise being of a multi-generational ship sent from earth in the 1960’s. It would have been a lifeboat for the human race during the height of the cold war. The show took place in current time, half way through the ship’s one hundred year journey, with the mission complicated by their first murder. This allowed them to show a culture which did not move beyond the 1960’s, complete with a beach and stewardesses to provide sexual favors for the upper class. It was never clear why such a class difference developed in such a short period of time, but if did make it feel more like the true 1960’s.

During the first episode there were scenes on earth which did suggest that things were not as they seemed, but the big reveal wasn’t until the end of the first two hours. They never left earth with those on board being part of a huge experiment, unaware that they were still on earth and under constant observation. Nobody on board thought it was odd that they never had any jobs to perform outside of the ship.

If this reveal wasn’t until the end of the series it would feel like a cheap cop out, but coming relatively early it did work to provide additional drama for the remaining four hours. I did actually like this development because it was far more plausible than the billed premise. If a science fiction show is set in our future, I don’t mind if they invent technology which is well beyond us such as artificial gravity. However, as the show claimed to have developed this space ship fifty years in our past, I didn’t find it credible for them to have technology which we do not currently have. I could accept them fooling people on board to accept this when they were actually under earth’s gravity.

This twist also allowed for the earth-bound drama to be as significant as the drama on board Ascension, including the well-developed schemes to not only keep this secret but to control those who suspected the plot, or who knew and wanted to take action. While I did like the twist leading to Samantha’s betrayal, I also would have liked to see them succeed in going full Snowden.

I do have mixed feelings about the ending’s almost paranormal nature. However once they did establish that this was an elaborate trick, they did need a big reason for doing it. An experiment as to how people would react to being on a multi-generational space mission would not justify this, but the eugenics experiments which resulted in the creation of someone with Christa’s powers would provide a more plausible reason. Once we saw Christa teleport Gault to an alien world it all made sense. The ability to transport across the galaxy immediately would provide a far better lifeboat for humanity than to send people out on a one hundred year perilous mission in space, in which those who start out would never see the end of the trip. Unfortunately this all ended much too abruptly, and Ascension works better as the first six hours of a series than a self-contained mini-series. I bet that the plan was never to end the story here and those who believed this was a six-hour miniseries were being fooled, just like the crew of Ascension.

The Cold War

The last episode of Person of Interest was far heavier into the show’s mythology. Zap2it discussed Person of Interest, and the trilogy which began before the midseason hiatus, with Amy Acker. Here are some questions from the beginning and end–check out the full post for the rest of the questions:

Zap2it: I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I have been waiting for Samaritan and the Machine to face off all season.
Amy Acker: It was funny because when we got that script everyone was kind of like, “Wait, this is happening now?” It did feel like that’s what this season was about, that Samaritan and the Machine are going to meet. I think that’s what the writers and Jonah [Nolan] and Greg [Plageman] really continuously do with this show is they bring up these things that would be a great season finale and they put them in the middle of the year. It really makes the whole second half of the season go in a different direction. I thought it was kind of cool that they did that when they did.

That scene was so great, and Oakes Fegley, who played the little boy Gabriel that Samaritan speaks through, was amazing.
Isn’t he so good? I have a 9-year-old, almost 10, that’s like the exact same age as him. I just kept looking at him going, “My son would never memorize some of those lines and then be able to deliver it.” [ laughs] He was very impressive. He was so smart and great, and he was excited about doing the scene and had ideas. The director [Michael Offer] was great with him too. He’s just really a special kid, and he was fantastic — and super creepy — as Samaritan.

There’s a little bit of a break until “Person of Interest” returns, so what can you offer as a tease for the next part in this three-part arc?
This is the second part of this trilogy of episodes which we’ve seen the beginning of. I would say this is the most dangerous of the three episodes. It’s a really unique episode. There’s not been a “Person of Interest” like this. When we all got the episode we were like “this is really cool,” and it was a really, really hard shoot. But as they’ve been putting it together, people have been saying this is their favorite episode that we’ve had. I’m excited to see it all together because it was kind of hard as we were shooting it to imagine how it was going to turn out.

The promo for the next episode makes it look like a lot of characters are in life-or-death situations. The last time “Person of Interest” had a big three-parter Carter died, so can we expect a similar game-changer this year?
Well everyone’s definitely in danger in this episode. With the beginning of the new year and the second half of the season, I think it’s going to really affect everything that happens from this point forward.

“Person of Interest” Season 4 returns on Jan. 6 with “If-Then-Else” on CBS. The synopsis reads: “Samaritan launches a cyber-attack on the stock exchange, leaving the team with no choice but to embark on a possible suicide mission in a desperate attempt to stop a global economic catastrophe.”

DAREDEVIL-NETFLIX

Marvel told Entertainment Weekly that the upcoming Daredevil series will be more about crime fighting than superheroes:

Forget Ben Affleck. Netflix’s Daredevil is ”the exact opposite” of Affleck’s much-maligned 2003 bomb, promises showrunner Steven S. DeKnight. Expect the classic origin story to remain unchanged: Blinded as a child, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a lawyer by day who hunts criminals by night (he apparently doesn’t get much sleep). But this new iteration of Daredevil is more influenced by 1970s mean-street films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver than traditional superhero titles. ”There aren’t going to be people flying through the sky; there are no magic hammers,” says Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb. ”We’ve always approached this as a crime drama first, superhero show second.” There’s also more grown-up content here. ”It’s a little grittier and edgier than Marvel has gone before,” says DeKnight, ”but we’re not looking to push it to extreme violence or gratuitous nudity.” The ‘devil will eventually get his iconic red costume, but first he’ll wear black duds inspired by Frank Miller’s comic Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.

The above trailer for season three of Orphan Black, which returns on April 18, indicates that there will be war. I wonder to what degree it might be between the male and female clones or, probably more likely, between some clones and the groups which try to control them.

 TVOverMind has a round table discussion on season three of Arrow.

Michael Pitt is leaving Hannibal and Joe Anderson will replace him in the role of Mason Verger.

Fargo Season 2

Entertainment Weekly has more information on season two of Fargo:

Fargo is going back in time to 1979 for season two, and EW has a first-look at a page from the season premiere script.

Expect another snow-swept rural crime drama loosely inspired by the Coen brothers’ film, only this time the action is set in Luverne, Minnesota, where humble married couple Peggy and Ed Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons) find themselves caught in an escalating war between a local crime gang and a major Mob syndicate. (A character in season one cryptically described the 1979 case as “savagery, pure and simple,” with a massive pileup of bodies.)

“The scope of the story- telling this season is a lot bigger, it has more of an epic feel to it,” says showrunner Noah Hawley, who adds that the earlier time period and even more rural setting gives the show an almost Western-like quality. “It’s not the ’70s in a Boogie Nights kind of way,” he assures.

Gracepoint Easter Eggs

Gracepoint took advantage of staring David Tennant by including a few Doctor Who Easter eggs. Look at who the messages were from which were left on David Tenant’s desk–D. Noble, Martha Jones, and R. Tyler.

Keifer Sutherland told The Telegraph that he doesn’t see going back to do another season of 24. Obviously this is not the equivalent of a Sherman statement.

The Newsroom ended last week with a mixed series finale. The episode largely contained flashbacks inspired by Charlie’s funeral but the plot did also advance in scenes between flashbacks. Unfortunately much of the plot advancement from this short season came from random events. Previously the storyline with Will in jail for refusing to reveal the identity of a source ended too easily when the source committed suicide. The finale too easily resolved the conflict from the changes made by then owner when scandals, which came out of nowhere, led to MacKenzie being named the new president of ACN. Despite these faults, Sorkin left me wanting to see another season with MacKenzie as ACN president, and even with Jim and Maggie trying to make a long distance relationship work.

The Fall completed its second season with a mixed ending which, like Ascension, ended too abruptly. It did not work completely because of relying on minor characters who have not been seen in recent episodes.  The show would probably work better for those binging on both seasons at once, as opposed to watching the second season over a year later when some key events have been forgotten by most viewers. There is hope of them redeeming themselves as there is talk of a third season. It is not known if Paul Specter survived and whether Jamie Dornan will be returning, but Gillian Anderson has expressed interest.

The top show business story of the week, greatly transcending show business, was North Korea’s hacking of Sony and intimidation resulting in Sony deciding against the release of The Interview. On the one hand, the problems faced by Sony in releasing the movie under the threat of terrorist attacks are obvious, but we hate to such such intimidation succeed. Today on CNN’s  State of the Union, President Obama called this an act of cybervandalism (video above):

President Barack Obama says he doesn’t consider North Korea’s hack of Sony Pictures “an act of war.”

“It was an act of cybervandalism,” Obama said in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley that aired Sunday “State of the Union.”

But he stuck by his criticism of Sony’s decision to cancel its plans to release the movie “The Interview,” which includes a cartoonish depiction of the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after the country threatened attacks against theaters that showed it.

Obama said in a Friday news conference that Sony made “a mistake,” and that he wished the company had called him first. That led Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton to tell CNN that Obama and the public “are mistaken as to what actually happened.” He blamed movie theater companies that opted not to show the film, saying they forced Sony’s hand.

Obama shot back, saying: “I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make. Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was.”

The President told Crowley that his problem wasn’t with Sony specifically, but with the precedent the company’s decision set.

Ideally the movie will be released in some way to ensure that North Korea is not successful in preventing the release of a movie they dislike. Many solutions have been discussed. There are now reports that Sony might release it for free on Crackle. Such a free release, along with all the publicity this has received, would probably lead to The Interview being seen by far more people than it would with a conventional theatrical release.

Techies Join Other Liberals Who Are Not Ready For Hillary

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Hillary Clinton continues to look like a strong favorite to win the 2016 Democratic nomination, but there continues to be many Democrats who hope that the party decides upon a liberal nominee. This includes the techies who helped Obama to beat her in 2008. Politico reports:

Scores of the Democratic techies who helped Barack Obama defeat Hillary Clinton for the 2008 presidential nomination are now seeking alternatives to Clinton in 2016. Some are even promising the same kind of digital throw-down to sink her presumptive front-runner campaign as they did in 2008.

Clinton is still expected to be able to field a formidable tech team. But her troubles in grabbing many of the party’s young campaign innovators have a good deal to do with Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who insists she’s not running for president but who has quickly become an appealing pick for Obama alumni who built his two campaigns’ data and digital infrastructure. Earlier this month, more than 300 of Obama’s former campaign staffers, including his chief information officer and senior aides who handled email, online fundraising and field efforts, released a letter begging Warren to jump into the race.

“What we were trying to do is send a signal to the larger country but also to Sen. Warren herself to say a lot of this institutional knowledge and power that’s been built up over the last couple of years actually is with you,” Christopher Hass, an Obama 2008 and 2012 digital campaign aide, said in an interview.

“We’re not robots,” added Catherine Bracy, who led Obama’s San Francisco field office in 2012. “I think people are going to choose the candidate who inspires them the most. And for many of us that’s Elizabeth Warren.”

While Clinton’s other potential 2016 rivals will be widely outmatched on the financial front, they are hardly tech neophytes and each brings his own digital skill sets to compete on the social media battlefield and for critical early votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. After all, Bernie Sanders is arguably Congress’ biggest social media powerhouse; Martin O’Malley has governed both Baltimore and Maryland with an obsessive eye on statistics; and Jim Webb has a proven track record as a candidate willing to use progressive bloggers and viral videos to exploit his opponents’ weaknesses for advantage.

“I’d not be surprised if [Sanders] or one of the others get several bumps over the next six months,” said a senior Democratic source, noting the Vermont senator’s ability to make waves on Facebook and Twitter while Clinton at the same time would be working to define her own new narrative. “I think she’s got an enormous challenge reintroducing a brand that’s been around this long and getting people excited about it. It’s going to be tricky.”

Despite this “enormous challenge,” I doubt that very many Democrats who oppose her nomination doubt that she also has enormous advantages going into the primary race (as she did in 2008).

There have been other expressions of opposition to Clinton winning the nomination. The November issue of Harper’s ran a cover story entitled, Stop Hillary! Vote no to a Clinton dynasty. As I received it just before the 2014 primaries, I decided to hold off on discussion of the 2016 election, but it is worth quoting some portions of this article. Doug Henwood began:

What is the case for Hillary (whose quasi-official website identifies her, in bold blue letters, by her first name only, as do millions upon millions of voters)? It boils down to this: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor. She has, in the past, been associated with women’s issues, with children’s issues — but she also encouraged her husband to sign the 1996 bill that put an end to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC), which had been in effect since 1935. Indeed, longtime Clinton adviser Dick Morris, who has now morphed into a right-wing pundit, credits Hillary for backing both of Bill’s most important moves to the center: the balanced budget and welfare reform. And during her subsequent career as New York’s junior senator and as secretary of state, she has scarcely budged from the centrist sweet spot, and has become increasingly hawkish on foreign policy.

The purpose of the article was a response to those who see her as a liberal by looking at her career.  Henwood wrote, “despite the widespread liberal fantasy of her as a progressive paragon, who will follow through exactly as Barack Obama did not. In fact, a close look at her life and career is perhaps the best antidote to all these great expectations.” He has considerable detail on her career. He wrote this on health care:

Hillary was given responsibility for running the health-care reform agenda. It was very much a New Democrat scheme. Rejecting a Canadian-style single-payer system, Hillary and her team came up with an impossibly complex arrangement called “managed competition.” Employers would be encouraged to provide health care to their workers, individuals would be assembled into cooperatives with some bargaining power, and competition among providers would keep costs down. But it was done in total secrecy, with no attempt to cultivate support in Congress or among the public for what would be a massive piece of legislation — and one vehemently opposed by the medical-industrial complex.

At a meeting with Democratic leaders in April 1993, Senator Bill Bradley suggested that she might need to compromise to get a bill passed. Hillary would have none of it: the White House would “demonize” any legislators who stood in her way. Bradley was stunned. Years later, he told Bernstein:

That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton. You don’t tell members of the Senate you are going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. . . . The disdain.

Health-care reform was a conspicuous failure, and most of the blame has to fall on Hillary.

Hillary got Bill to agree to veto any compromise as opposed to HillaryCare in full. The result was forcing us to wait another generation before we had health care reform.

Henwood discussed the scandals which surrounded Clinton, pointing out how she responded “with lies, half-truths, and secrecy.” He described aspects of her Senate career, including her prayer breakfasts with Republicans and her support for the Iraq war:

She buddied up to John McCain and attended prayer breakfasts with right-wingers like Sam Brownback of Kansas. She befriended Republicans who had served as floor managers of her husband’s impeachment. Even Newt Gingrich has good things to say about her.

Oh, and she voted for the Iraq war, and continued to defend it long after others had thrown in the towel. She cast that vote without having read the full National Intelligence Estimate, which was far more skeptical about Iraq’s armaments than the bowdlerized version that was made public — strange behavior for someone as disciplined and thorough as Hillary. She also accused Saddam Hussein of having ties to Al Qaeda, which was closer to the Bush line than even many pro-war Democrats were willing to go. Alas, of all her senatorial accomplishments, this one arguably had the biggest impact. The rest were the legislative equivalent of being against breast cancer.

Her tenure as Secretary of State was just as hawkish:

For her own part, Hillary was less of a diplomat and more of a hawk, who had made a campaign-trail promise in 2008 to “totally obliterate” Iran in the event of an attack on Israel. Part of this may have been pure temperament, or an impulse to prove that she was tougher than a man. But she may also have been reacting against public perception of the job itself. As the feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe, who specializes in gender and militarism, told me in a 2004 interview, there’s a “long history of trying to feminize the State Department in American inner circles.” Diplomats are caricatured as upper-class pansies instead of manly warriors. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld even attempted to feminize Colin Powell, she argued, “which is pretty hard to do with somebody who has been a general.”

But the problem becomes particularly acute with a female secretary of state — and Hillary countered it with a macho eagerness to call in the U.S. Cavalry. She backed an escalation of the Afghanistan war, lobbied on behalf of a continuing military presence in Iraq, urged Obama to bomb Syria, and supported the intervention in Libya. As Michael Crowley wrote in Time, “On at least three crucial issues — Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid — Clinton took a more aggressive line than [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.”

Fortunately, as one diplomat put it, Obama “brought her into the administration, put her in a bubble, and ignored her.” That would also be good advice for Democrats as we go into the battle for the 2016 nomination.

Ferguson Prosecutor Admits To Allowing Testimony From People Who Were Clearly Lying

We have already seen many signs that the grand jury investigation in Ferguson was handled improperly, with the prosecutor essentially acting as the defense for Darren Wilson. There were also irregularities in how the evidence was handled. Wilson was allowed to present his case without undergoing cross examination, despite his testimony being contradicted by physical evidence and some of the witnesses. Now prosecutor Robert McCulloch has admitted in an interview (video above) that he allowed people to testify who were clearly lying. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports:

Certain witnesses who spoke before the grand jury investigating the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown told obvious lies under oath, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Friday.

“Clearly some were not telling the truth,” he said during an interview on KTRS 550. He added that he’s not planning to pursue charges against any lying witnesses.

In his first extensive interview since the grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, McCulloch said he had no regrets about letting grand jury members hear from non-credible witnesses.

“Early on I decided that anyone who claimed to have witnessed anything would be presented to the grand jury,” McCulloch said. He added that he would’ve been criticized no matter his decision.

During the interview, McCulloch referenced a woman who claimed to have seen the shooting.

This “lady clearly wasn’t present,” McCulloch said. “She recounted a story right out of the newspaper,” backing up Wilson’s version of events.

The criticism of that witness fits the questions surrounding Sandra McElroy, also known as Witness 40.

McElroy, who’s admitted to using racial slurs and trying to raise money for Wilson, testified that she saw the entire shooting unfold, and that Brown charged the officer shortly before he was killed — a detail that has proven controversial because of conflicting reports.

Investigators picked apart McElroy’s story, saying she could not have left the apartment complex in the way she described.

She also gave conflicting accounts of why she was at the scene of the shooting that day and admitted that she has short-term memory problems from a head-on collision that left her with a traumatic brain injury.

Previously it was not believed that McCulloch would face any legal consequences for his actions to keep Wilson from being tried. Maybe this will change in light of his admission that he used testimony from people who were lying. Buzzfeed pointed out that McCulloch’s use of a witness who “clearly wasn’t present” might also be a violation of both professional ethics and the law:

McCulloch’s acknowledgment that he knew some of the witness accounts were untrue raises ethical questions about his office’s presentation to the grand jury.

According to Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, RULE 4-3.3, “A lawyer shall not knowingly offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.”

The law also says that a lawyer “may refuse to offer evidence, other than the testimony of a defendant in a criminal matter, that the lawyer reasonably believes is false.”

“A lawyer should not present testimony that he believes to be false,” Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, told BuzzFeed News. “That is especially true in a proceeding that lacks all of the usual safeguards, such as opposing counsel and a judge.”

I’m sure there will be more legal opinions to come regarding McCulloch’s actions.

Following the release of the grand jury decision in Ferguson there have been multiple media reports of other acts of excessive violence by police officers, such as the killing of Eric Garner. You would think that police officers would be more cautious following these negative media reports, but there was yet another incident. The New York Daily News reports:

Internal Affairs is investigating the circumstances of an arrest, captured on video, that shows a plainclothes cop repeatedly punching a teen suspect in the body as three uniformed cops were trying to subdue and handcuff him, police said.

Reasons Why Torture Does Not Work

One major finding of the recent bipartisan Senate report on torture was that torture used in the United States post 9/11 did not produce any useful intelligence. The same lack of efficacy was seen by every other country which tried to use torture, even in cases such as Nazi Germany and North Vietnam, which are often claimed by supports of the use of torture as examples of torture working. The only examples of torture working come from watching Jack Bauer on 24 or from watching Fox “News”–both of which are fictional sources.

Ryan Cooper has a good summary of the reasons torture does not work, and never has, at The Week. He began:

In the wake of the Senate report cataloging a whole lot of torture committed by the CIA, Dick Cheney has been reduced to arguing that torturing people — even innocent ones — is worth doing if you eventually get good results. The ends justify the means.

I can see why he makes this argument — he’s simply got no other option. It is now obvious that what the CIA did was illegal, brutal torture. Claims that it kept the nation safe are all that Cheney has left.

But Cheney is wrong: torture doesn’t work and never has.

I have referenced the work Torture and Democracy, by Darius Rejali of Reed College, many times in the past. It is widely agreed to be a benchmark work on torture — perhaps the most thorough investigation and analysis of the subject available. Here’s what Rejali says, to put this question to rest for all time.

Over 12 years of research, Rejali examined the use of torture in the U.S., Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, South Vietnam, and Korea. He looked at torture inflicted during the French-Algerian War, as well as at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. His research found that there is no record of any successful use of torture to gather intelligence, not even in totalitarian states.

The full article is worth reading as it contains many of the usual reasons discussed, such as the livelihood of receiving false information, along with reasons based upon the nature of pain:

Causing someone pain is not like turning a dial on a stove. Greater damage to the body often translates as less pain, since the body, in shock, shuts down the pain system (as victims of car accidents or shootings can often attest). Going too far, too fast with torture can simply desensitize people or cause them to black out. Furthermore, different people have different thresholds for pain, and they use certain types of pain to mask other ones. As a result, even with technological assistance, it is simply impossible to torture in any scientific, reproducible way.

Torturers understand this, and so are drawn to two blunt techniques: 1) apply maximum allowable pain, so as to push past all limits and 2) vary the torture methods widely to exploit as many phobias and specific weaknesses as possible. One perverse result of this is that there will be constant pressure to ignore limits set by the law in favor of a maximum diversity of pain.

Cooper also discussed additional problems with torture such as that  “torture badly corrodes organizations that practice it”, ” torture directly undermines traditional intelligence-gathering” and that “what little information is produced under torture is extremely unreliable.”

Detainees with a score to settle may falsely rat out old enemies, hoping they will be tortured instead. Detainees with no information will sometimes try to appease their torturers with lies, making interrogators waste time and effort chasing false leads. The CIA did just this, in fact. The Senate report documents at least one instance in which the CIA tortured a detainee, who gave them bad information, which led to more innocent people being detained.

Even when prisoners say true things, the interrogators very often do not believe them. This happened to John McCain when he was tortured in North Vietnam. Formal studies show that torturers cannot reliably distinguish truth from falsehood.

He also addressed the “ticking time bomb” scenarios often raised by supporters of torture:

That brings us to the ticking time bomb thought experiment, where someone is known to have information about an imminent attack but will not talk. This is the centerpiece of the pro-torture case. Setting aside the fact that this sort of situation is extraordinarily rare, there is no reason to think time-limited, high-pressure torture would be any more successful than in other circumstances. On the contrary, all the problems with torture identified above are made worse by a time constraint: the techniques are limited, as slow ones must be ruled out; pain must be applied more quickly, thus increasing the risk of blackouts, desensitization, or memory damage; and time wasted chasing false leads becomes an even greater loss.

As with so many Republican views, the facts do not support their policies, but this does not affect their views because they choose their positions based upon ideological and philosophical reasons, and then try to twist the facts to support their views. Their support for torture, despite all the evidence that it does not work, certainly does say something about their character.

Why Stock Market Investors Vote Against Their Self Interest

When I saw that James Carville had written an op-ed for The Hill entitled Why do people vote against their interests? I thought it was going to be another article along the lines of What’s The Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Franks. We have seen plenty of material on how lower income people vote against their economic interests in voting Republican. This includes people in places like Kansas, and the white working class voters across the country.  The answer comes down to a combination of 1) people voting on interests beyond economics, along with 2) voters being deceived by right wing propaganda. In this article, Carville actually looked at a different group, stock market investors:

I have no earthly idea why a stock market investor would vote Republican — all you have do is look at the numbers. The numbers are staggering, breathtaking and unimaginable. How anyone with even a penny in the market would vote for their interests and choose a Republican is unexplainable.

Well, let me put this in terms for those savvy stock investors: it is like having a discussion about Apple stock versus Lehman Brothers stock.

Before we begin, I would like to be clear that I am not even going to mention the president who presided over the greatest economic boom since World War II, whose brilliant strategy was a combination of tax increases on the wealthy, family and medical leave for working families, an increase in the minimum wage and adherence to Keynesian policies. While I would love to include my friend and former client Bill Clinton’s record in this piece, it really wouldn’t be fair. I don’t like watching my Louisiana State University Tigers play Sam Houston State and I don’t think you would like to read about such a staggering disparity — it would be a blowout. So, let’s focus on President Obama and former President Reagan.

Since Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, Standard & Poor’s 500 index has gone up approximately 115 percent, the Dow Jones industrial average has experienced a growth rate of 146 percent and, perhaps most impressively, Nasdaq has grown in size by 188 percent. Two thousand days into his presidency, the major stock indexes under Obama have had average gains of 142 percent — compare that to the record under Reagan, who saw gains at 88 percent during that same time period.

Russ Britt of MarketWatch notes, “the average stock-market gain under four post-Depression Democrats through each one’s 2,000th day in office has outpaced the average gain of the four Republicans in the era by a factor of nearly 4 to 1. Democratic gains have averaged 133%, while Republican market advances have had a mean of 33%.”

Stock market investors are not uniform in their beliefs and some might vote Republican based upon social issues, but if the affluent voters I know are any indication, economic views are by far the dominant factor in influencing the political action of most. This leads to an exclusion of the first factor I mentioned above for the majority of them but the second still holds.

Of course this does not apply to all stock market investors. An increasing number of affluent voters are backing Democrats, often due to a combination of opposition to the social positions of Republicans, their hostility to science and reason, and the recognition that the economy does do better under Democrats.

The reasons that many stock market investors continued to be fooled by Republicans can be further broken down. One problem is that while Republicans are unable to govern, they certainly play politics far better than Democrats. They have been successful in spreading misconceptions that they are more pro-markets and better for the economy, while Democrats have done a poor job of pointing out that Republican support for plutocracy is harmful to a market economy. Some have tried with cries against income inequality, but using such words is counter-productive. We will always have income inequality in the sense that some will do better than others, and this is not the real issue. The real problem is the rigging of the system Republicans to benefit the ultra-wealthy at the expense of everyone else, including most stock market investors.

The specifics of policy are also greatly exaggerated by the right wing noise machine. Many affluent voters believe that they are better off voting for Republicans because Democrats support higher tax rates as they look to maximize their wealth by every dollar possible. The reality is that the increased marginal tax rates proposed by Democrats will still leave them with historically low tax rates. Most of us will make far more money, both due to a stronger economy and increased stock market gains, than will be taxed with a few point increase in the top tax bracket.

Carville concludes by saying, “With such glaring facts and evidence, I ask stock investors to reexamine, reconsider and reinvest their confidence in the Democratic Party.” I would suggest that he first concentrate on getting Democratic candidates to do a better job at explaining the record of their party and the economic implications of their policies. I hope that he is doing this when talking with Democrats.

Federal Government Ends Prohibition On Medical Marijuana

The Los Angeles Times reports on a surprise in the recently passed spending bill–an end to the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana. The was passed with support of both Democrats as well as some Republicans who opposed raid by the federal government in states which have legalized medical marijuana on states’ rights grounds:

Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill’s passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.

Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.

The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law.

Pot advocates had lobbied Congress to embrace the administration’s policy, which they warned was vulnerable to revision under a less tolerant future administration.

More important, from the standpoint of activists, Congress’ action marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states’ right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine…

Some Republicans are pivoting off their traditional anti-drug platform at a time when most voters live in states where medical marijuana is legal, in many cases as a result of ballot measures.

Polls show that while Republican voters are far less likely than the broader public to support outright legalization, they favor allowing marijuana for medical use by a commanding majority. Legalization also has great appeal to millennials, a demographic group with which Republicans are aggressively trying to make inroads.

Approval of the pot measure comes after the Obama administration directed federal prosecutors last year to stop enforcing drug laws that contradict state marijuana policies. Since then, federal raids of marijuana merchants and growers who are operating legally in their states have been limited to those accused of other violations, such as money laundering.

“The federal government should never get in between patients and their medicine,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland).

Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance, added this to his list of More Nails in the Drug War Coffin.

In addition to ending fears of raids by federal drug agents, this should also alleviate the fears of many physicians who are currently afraid to treat patients with medical marijuana even in states where it is legal. Many physicians, including some pain clinics, have been unwilling to treat patients with chronic pain who are using medical marijuana out of fear of retaliation by the DEA.

PolitiFact Lie of The Year: Exaggerations about Ebola

Conservatives used Ebola as one means of spreading fear, helping them in the 2014 midterm elections. PoltiFact has now made exaggerations about Ebola their 2014 Lie of the Year. This includes both conservative hysteria which greatly exaggerated the threat faced in a developed nation such as the United States and many of the right wing conspiracy theories. I have already discussed many of these false claims, often in the context of debunking right wing attempts to restrict civil liberties while ignoring the science. From PoltiFact:

Thomas Eric Duncan left Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 19, for Dallas. Eleven days later, doctors diagnosed Duncan with Ebola.

Eight days after that, he was dead.

Duncan’s case is just one of two Ebola-related fatalities in the United States, and since Duncan traveled to Dallas, more Americans — at least nine, and likely many more — have died from the flu.

Yet fear of the disease stretched to every corner of America this fall, stoked by exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits. They said Ebola was easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy.

The claims — all wrong — distorted the debate about a serious public health issue. Together, they earn our Lie of the Year for 2014…

Fox News analyst George Will claimed Ebola could be spread into the general population through a sneeze or a cough, saying the conventional wisdom that Ebola spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids was wrong.

“The problem is the original assumption, said with great certitude if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids from someone, because it’s not airborne,” Will said. “There are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” False.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described Ebola as “incredibly contagious,” “very transmissible” and “easy to catch.” Mostly False.

Internet conspirators claimed President Obama intended to detain people who had signs of illness. Pants on Fire. Bloggers also said the outbreak was started in a bioweapons lab funded by George Soros and Bill Gates. Pants on Fire.

A Georgia congressman claimed there were reports of people carrying diseases including Ebola across the southern border. Pants on Fire. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Americans were told the country would be Ebola-free. False.

When combined, the claims edged the nation toward panic. Governors fought Washington over the federal response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stumbled to explain details about transmission of the virus and its own prevention measures. American universities turned away people from Africa, whether they were near the outbreak or not.

The post went on to discuss the actual medical facts.

Not surprisingly the misinformation came from many of the usual subjects such as Fox and Republicans such as John McCain and Rand Paul. Their conspiracies theories also involved the usual subjects of right wing attacks like Barack Obama and George Soros.

At least one good thing did come about from the Ebola hysteria. Republicans, with the help of the NRA, had blocked the appointment of Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General for months. The Ebola outbreak placed increased attention on this vacancy and he was finally confirmed by the Senate today.

SciFi Weekend: Mid-Season Finales For Arrow (Is Oliver Dead?), The Flash, and Agents of SHIELD; Agent Carter; Spider-Man; Continuum Renewed; The Office In Middle Earth; Krypton; The Newsroom; Fargo

Arrow-Finale-Oliver-Killed-Explained

Arrow, The Flash, and Agents of SHIELD all had major revelations in the midseason finales aired last week. Needless to say, there are major spoilers following. Besides revealing who killed the Black Canary, Arrow had the biggest cliffhanger, except the lead character actually was shown falling off the cliff after getting killed by Ra’s al Ghul. Stephen Amell even played along with comments on Facebook and Twitter such as, “It was a good run.” The most common belief among fans is that Oliver might have really been killed, but he doesn’t stay dead. The most likely explanation is the Lazarus Pit, which is sort of the Genesis Planet for DC comics. I also noted that a drug used for mind control played a major part in the episode and wonder if this could also somehow plays  a part in how Oliver ultimately survives if he had managed to drug Ra’s al Ghul and influence his behavior and perception of the fight.

Oliver’s death, even if temporary, does provide an opportunity to highlight the show’s strong supporting cast. However Oliver won’t be gone long. Episode 13 is entitled The Return, but  Marc Guggenheim has said this does not refer to either Oliver or Slade Wilson (who will be returning at some point). This leaves open the question of who does return, which could be significant considering the large number of characters who have come and gone from the series. Set photos have appeared on line showing that the Arrow is back in that episode.

The revelation that Thea Queen (while drugged) killed the Black Canary was a bit of s surprise, but it did seem obvious that she was killed by someone we knew. I just wouldn’t have guessed Thea. Most likely she was about the last person most would have guessed, which is why the writers did make her the Canary’s killer.

Emily Bett Rickards engaged in bathroom therapy and answered questions about Arrow in a video filmed in her bathtub. (She is fully dressed, but really is in a bathtub in her video tweet.)

The Flash revealed the identity of Reverse Flash as Harrison Wells, as I predicted last week, but there remains much more to discover. It appears that Wells might not be described simply in terms of good or evil with his actions, presumably including killing Barry’s mother so that he becomes the Flash, and later protecting Barry, being motivated by doing what he thinks needs to be done for history to play out as it should.

Variety interviewed Andy Mientus about playing the openly gay villain Pied Piper in an episode airing January 27:

“With the gay thing, I feel like I’m representing a whole community,” Mientus, 28, told Variety at the “Into the Woods” premiere in New York on Monday night. “People are excited to see this character, so it is a lot of pressure. But I’m glad they are introducing the character to the show. It’s a huge step forward, and I’m thrilled to help make that happen. It’s awesome.”

Mientus, who is engaged to actor Michael Arden, admits he’s more nervous about pleasing the comicbook’s avid fans than addressing his character’s sexuality.

KYLE MACLACHLAN, CHLOE BENNET

Agents of SHIELD revealed that Skye is actually Daisy Johnson  and tied the show into Marvel Phase 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen explained much more about where the show is headed in an interview at Marvel.com:

Marvel.com: So I’m sure many fans are wondering what exactly that ending means for the future of the series?

Jed Whedon: We’ve dropped her name and it’s the origin of the new version of her.

Maurissa Tancharoen: Or the origin of the true version of herself, which is Daisy Johnson.

Marvel.com: When you were breaking these characters and first developing them, was this a discussion you had at the very beginning?

Jed Whedon: It was somewhat of a moving target early on, in that we knew Skye would be an orphan and would uncover secrets about her past. We had an idea of what we wanted some of those to be that found their ways into the storyline, but exactly who she was we landed on early last season, or midway through last season. We started setting it up early in the beginning of last season.

Marvel.com: We also get the reveal of her dad as Mister Hyde, or Cal. What does bringing him into the series give you guys?

Maurissa Tancharoen: As we always do, we pulled from what exists in the Marvel Universe and put our own spin on it. We had always had our eyes on Daisy Johnson, and therefore her father and her whole history. We sort of planted that throughout the first season and a half. You knew the story of her parents and the havoc they caused, the massacre in the Hunan province in China. We lay in things like that, and over time you put the pieces together. But of course Daisy’s powers aren’t really activated until that moment you see in the Winter Finale.

Jed Whedon: There are parts of it that move away from the story in the comics, but partially that’s because we’d invented our own way [of getting there]. We also wanted it to be a surprise to the people who are familiar with the comics, but [it’s] also because we’re tying it to a larger world. [It’s] not just her origin story, it’s the origin story of a bigger, other world.

Marvel.com: And that is a somewhat “inhuman” world, you could say?

Jed Whedon: It’s safe to say that.

Marvel.com: When did you hit upon the idea of introducing that Inhuman element into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time?

Maurissa Tancharoen: It’s been a property in the Marvel Universe that we’ve been interested in since the beginning. Our tagline when we began the show was “not all heroes are super,” and we wanted to focus on that and highlight that for the first season. Now as we move forward we’re diving deeper into the Marvel Universe, and it’s our way of exploring a whole new world that may be comprised of people who have special abilities. We think that’s going to open everything up for us.

Jed Whedon: Not all heroes are super, but what happens to a hero when they become super?

Maurissa Tancharoen: Essentially what we’ve built since the beginning of the show is an extended origin story, and we’ll dive into that in the back half of Season 2.

There is a long hiatus until Agents of SHIELD returns, which will be filled with Agent Carter. The first two episodes of Agent Carter will air on January 6, with a clip from the series above. Here is the series description:

It’s 1946 and peace has dealt Agent Peggy Carter a serious blow as she finds herself marginalized when the men return home from fighting abroad. Working for the covert SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve), Peggy finds herself stuck doing administrative work when she would rather be back out in the field, putting her vast skills into play and taking down the bad guys. But she is also trying to navigate life as a single woman in America, in the wake of losing the love of her life, Steve Rogers – a.k.a. Captain America. When old acquaintance Howard Stark finds himself being framed for unleashing his deadliest weapons to anyone willing to pony up the cash, he contacts Peggy — the only person he can trust — to track down those responsible, dispose of the weapons and clear his name. He empowers his butler, Edwin Jarvis, to be at her beck and call when needed to help assist her as she investigates and tracks down those responsible for selling these weapons of mass destruction. If caught going on these secret missions for Stark, Peggy could be targeted as a traitor and spend the rest of her days in prison – or worse.

The synopsis of the first episode:

“Peggy is contacted by old acquaintance Howard Stark when he is framed for unleashing his deadliest weapons and can trust no one else. To help Peggy clear Stark’s name, he insists his butler, Edwin Jarvis, be at her beck and call–whether she likes it or not. But the risk is great: If caught, Agent Carter could be targeted as a traitor and spend the rest of her days in prison…or worse.”

And the second episode:

“Howard Stark’s deadliest weapon has fallen into enemy hands, and only Agent Carter can recover it. But can she do so before her undercover mission is discovered by SSR Chief Dooley and Agent Thompson?”

Spider-Man Reboot

There have been reports that Sony, who owns the rights to Spider-Man, has denied requests to allow the use of  Spider-Man in the next Captain America movie, which was desired because Spider-Man did have a role in the storyline taken from the comics. There was also talk of Marvel Studies doing the next Spider-Man trilogy with Sony retaining “creative control, marketing and distribution.” Despite the last movie being a flop, Sony is looking at plans at continued use of the character, most likely as yet another reboot as opposed to a conclusion of a trilogy following the last two movies. Screen Rant looks at many of the ideas floating around. While I really don’t care if they do it with Spider-Man as a teenager or adult, I do agree with the idea of just jumping into a good story and not bothering with yet another origin movie. More at IGN and The Daily Beast.

Gotham shows life before Batman. Smallville showed Clark Kent’s earlier life. Now Syfy is going back even further with a planned show about Krypton.

Continnuum

Continuum was renewed by Showcase for a shortened six-episode final season.  Rachel Nichols responded, “All great stories deserve an end. I am excited and grateful to finish Continuum with the riveting conclusion it deserves … this series finale is dedicated to the devoted fans who have loyally supported us since day one.” Indiewire discussed the ending of the series with Simon Berry. Here are some of the questions and answers:

What went into the decision to make the fourth season the final season?

I’m obviously not privy to the conversations that happen inside the network, but I think from their perspective… whether it was an issue of internal profits or the money that gets recycled back into the broadcaster, to cover what they’re paying out or whether we’re simply making a creative decision, I think ultimately we were probably on the bubble in terms of how we were bringing money back in for the Canadian broadcaster. In terms of their decision-making process, we probably received the benefit of the doubt in terms of not being canceled, which a lot of shows are when they’re not performing to expectations. They wisely recognized there was an opportunity to service the fans, and also to make more of an event around this final season. It seemed like a lot of things lined up in our favor in that sense. Obviously, I’m speculating, because you never get to hear the inside information.

You seemed pretty confident, back in October, about the show getting picked up.

We definitely had indications early on. When there’s a delay and there’s no cancellation, you know people are working on finding a solution. That’s pretty clear. The delay is usually because somebody is working hard to find a solution that isn’t cancellation. The longer it went, the more I felt we had momentum, and I certainly started hearing things early on in terms of getting prepared for ideas and getting ready to present plans for Season 4, which gave me the indication that we had a final chance. But a lot of that has to do with how everything comes together, because we still have to do our jobs as producers to put together the mechanism by which the show gets made, which is the right people and the right budget, things like that that everyone has to agree on.

Every season on “Continuum,” we’ve had less money. One of the reasons we have less money is because when a show succeeds in its first season, usually the first season is the gamble season to launch it — much like opening a business. You put a lot of effort and a lot of energy and a lot of money into having a strong launch, then you kind of hope that the longer you last the more you can claw back that investment and the show can generate revenue in a positive sense.

It’s so hard to make time travel work narratively in just a two hour movie. For you, hitting Season 3 and going into Season 4, how do you handle every complication that you’ve created?It’s a good question. There was probably a time where we went into the show feeling like time travel had to be something that was touched on all the time. But we realized in the beginning, that once we’d set up the time travel event there was a ton of stuff to mine before we did time travel again. Really, for me, the challenge was how much of this story can we really exploit before I use this time travel trope, or that time travel device — I mean time travel device, literally and figuratively — to create more drama.We had an idea, at the beginning of Season 2, that we wanted to have another time travel event in the show, just as a component of our experience. The goal after Season 1 was let’s work toward a travel time moment, because we knew we hadn’t done it. We had really kind of avoided using time travel, because it does kind of get you in a ton of trouble. As you know, out of Season 2 and Season 3 that this one decision for Alec (Erik Knudsen) to go back in time reverberated in so many ways. I’m really glad we didn’t do more time travel. [laughs] Because it’s been so complicated dealing with that one end-of-Season-2 moment. Season 3 was incredibly complex as a result.

We had a great dramatic moment at the end of Season 2 with Alec going away, but I don’t think we appreciated, when we wrote that, all of the things we would have to deal with in Season 3. Season 3 became a really hard lesson — not a hard lesson in the sense that it was difficult, but a hard lesson in that we felt an obligation to pay off the results of that time travel choice. It was much more impactful than I realized, in terms of how it would affect the drama, how it would affect the characters. They were great opportunities, dramatically, but I think with the complexity of people trying to track it and follow it, we didn’t anticipate how hard it would be.

Did you always have, in your head, an idea for the series finale?

I’ve always known how the show ends, from day one. It was the first conversation I had with the writers — “Here’s how the show will end” — just so everyone knew where we were heading and that we understood that we couldn’t violate certain rules to get to that point. It wasn’t necessarily just how the show would end, it was like: “Here are the rules of time travel that I’m adhering to in the philosophy of time travel,” so that everyone kind of understood what we could hint at.

How close is what you’re planning for the finale to what you initially had planned?

Well, it’s certainly a shortcut to the original idea we had. I think we’re definitely staying true to the plan. We’ve had to adjust a little bit as to where we left off and where the story needs to go, so we’ve built a story bridge, if you will, to link the ending we wanted to where we left off. So I feel very good about how these things are connecting.

When you say shortcut, how many seasons were you expecting the show would last initially?

I always expected it to be cancelled every year! So it was less about what I expected and more about what I was hoping for. I was hoping we could get seven years to tell the full story and all the various chapters. There were certainly opportunities to tell half a dozen specific, episodic stories — we had chatted about it internally, but ultimately it’s still a linear story and I don’t think we’re compromising anything by getting to the ending in four seasons as opposed to seven. It’s maybe some other stories that won’t get told, but those, at the end of the day, didn’t make a difference as to how the show would end or not.

Given how complicated things got in Season 3, will Season 4 be scaling back or will it take all those threads and take them to the next level?

It’s hard to sort of qualify “complicated.” We’re definitely building off of Season 3 because that’s the natural evolution of storytelling. You’re always building off what you just did. But I would say that because we’re now dealing with a shorter season in six episodes, it’s also an opportunity to not deal with the reality of thirteen, which is to tend to want to have more layers of storytelling and multiple threads. Now with six, we’re actually more focused on one clear story, which means the show could be closer to more of a limited series than a traditional 13-episode series.

How different is the rhythm of a six-episode season?

Well, it’s naturally different because it’s shorter. But it also provides opportunities that the longer seasons don’t. I’m actually excited for the shorter number, in the sense that it allows for a different style of storytelling, which is more appropriate for finishing the story, rather than trying to service the balancing act of 13 hours, which tends to balance more serial and episodic.

Of course I wouldn’t expect him to say anything different about being able to finish the series in six episodes, but I can’t help but think it will result in a lesser story than planned. Individual seasons very well might have been better if shorter, but suddenly shortening the 4th season should be more difficult. They not only have to show the story planned for the season after the major changes shown in the third season finale, but also have to tie up the entire series in such a short amount of time. At least it is much better than having no conclusion at all.


Martin Freeman was guest host on Saturday Night Live last night. He appeared in the above skit as Bilbo Baggins in which an episode of The Office took place in Middle Earth.

The second season of Broadchurch starts on ITV on January 5. The US adaptation, Gracepoint, did have a different ending for the first season. The Guardian did think that the change in the ending was the one thing the US adaptation got right.

Tonight is the series finale of The Newsroom as yet another Aaron Sorkin television series ends way too early. (Yes, I know that The West Wing lasted seven seasons. For me, even that wasn’t long enough.) It looks like the death of Charlie Skinner  might be just one sign that ACN will end as we know it, plus Jim and Maggie look like they are finally getting together. Sorkin has discussed the recent rape storyline.

If you gave up on watching Homeland during the weak episodes to start the season, the show has become much better the last couple of weeks. Best line from Homeland: “It can’t be my belt.” It was also interesting to see the Ambassador’s reaction when her husband did not go through with his suicide plans.

Tony Stark is literally Iron Man in the parody video above.

Last week I expressed interest in the fan movement to bring in Jonathan Frakes to direct the next Star Trek movie. Reportedly Frakes is interested and has contacted JJ Abrams regarding this.

Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons were the latest announced additions to the cast of the second season of Fargo.

Bill Cosby was asked about the recent rape accusations in a phone conversation with a reporter from The New York Post. He refused to respond to specifics and said, “Let me say this. I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that you have to go in with a neutral mind.”

Ways In Which Obamacare Saves Consumers Money Which You Might Not Have Been Aware Of

In our highly polarized country there are two general reactions to the Affordable Care Act, repeating the same lies no matter how often debunked and engaging in ridiculous attempts at blocking the law on the right, versus those in the reality-based side of the political spectrum who have been documenting the many benefits of the law. Many of the major benefits, including increasing the number of people insured, making coverage more affordable, reducing health costs,  and eliminating the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage to those who have medical problems, have been widely discussed. There are a few other benefits which many might be less aware of which help reduce costs.

Regulations to reduce medical errors has both saved lives and reduced costs. McClatchy reports:

Improved patient safety and fewer mistakes at U.S. hospitals saved the lives of roughly 50,000 people from 2011 to 2013, the Obama administration reported Tuesday.

Incidents of hospital-induced harm – such as adverse drug events, infections, falls and bedsores – fell by 17 percent, or an estimated 1.3 million episodes, from 2010.

The improvements, driven by a number of public and private initiatives, saved an estimated $12 billion in health care spending, according to a new government report that found dramatic progress in the fight to curb preventable medical injuries at U.S. hospitals.

The law has saved money for consumers both from lower than anticipated premiums as well as other means which are lowering out of pocket costs. In the past many insurance plans would have a maximum coverage limit in order to protect the insurance company rather than the consumer from catastrophic expenses. The Affordable Care Act not only eliminated maximums in coverage but also places new maximums on total out of pocket costs. While people typically compare insurance policies based upon premium first and then maybe the deductible, this is a factor which many ignore. Besides having this benefit, Kaiser Health News  has reported that many plans, including seventy-four percent of silver plans, have even lower out of pocket maximums than is allowed under the law.

Consumers shopping on the health insurance marketplaces will find many plans with out-of-pocket spending limits that are lower than the maximums allowed under the health law, according to an analysis by Avalere Health.

Seventy-four percent of 2015 silver level plans’ out-of-pocket spending caps are below the $6,600 spending limit allowed for individual plans and $13,200 maximum for family plans, according to Avalere, a consulting firm. The average out-of-pocket maximum for 2015 individual silver plans will be $5,853, says Caroline Pearson, a vice president at Avalere. Silver was the most popular plan type this year, selected by about two-thirds of enrollees.

After a policyholder reaches the out-of-pocket spending limit during the year, the insurer pays all the bills, unless, for example, they involve doctors and hospitals not in the health plan’s network.

The vast majority of other plans also feature lower limits on out-of-pocket spending—which includes deductibles, copayments and co-insurance, but not premiums. Seventy-one percent of bronze plan spending limits were below the allowed maximum (with an average spending limit for single coverage of $6,381), as were 94 percent of gold plans (average limit, $4,458) and 98 percent of platinum plans (average limit, $2,145).

In addition, many plans are paying for more coverage than is required before the deductible is met. The Affordable Care Act requires that many preventative services be offered with no copay or deductible. Some plans are now offering benefits such as office calls and prescription drug coverage prior to meeting the deductible. By comparison, when I last shopped around for insurance on the individual market prior to the star of the Affordable Care Act, I could not find any plans being offered which covered either office calls or medications.

Consumers are also benefiting from the new requirements on medical loss ratios which require that eighty percent of premiums collected go to paying out claims. This means that many consumers are receiving partial refunds on their premiums, along with this helping to lower premiums:

A new report from federal health officials, which concludes that health spending had grown at a historically slow rate in 2013, says the so-called MLR provision is helping drive the broader easing of spending growth in the industry.

The medical-loss-ratio requirement mandates that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual health benefits. It is one of the various provisions intended to help shape the behavior of insurance companies, making the market more efficient and cost-effective for consumers. Administrative costs are kept down, meaning that more of people’s money is going to real care.

“The medical loss ratio requirement and rate review mandated by the ACA put downward pressure on premium growth,” officials from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote in their report. Overall private insurance spending, of which premiums are a part, grew at a 2.8-percent rate — the lowest since at least 2007.

As Larry Levitt, vice president at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, put it to TPM in an email: “That is how it’s intended to work.”

If insurers don’t meet the MLR requirement, then insurers must pay a rebate to their customers. But the intention was that it would drive premiums down, to the level needed to cover actual care. The rebates were just a means of enforcing it, and the companies seem to be responding.

Despite conservative misinformation which dissuades some from purchasing health insurance, Bloomberg News predicts that enrollments in insurance plans through the exchanges will exceed expectations this year. HHS is trying new ways to get out information on purchasing health insurance, including messages on the bottom of 7-Eleven receipts. Increased participation in the health plans will help increase the risk pool and further reduce costs for consumers in the future.

24 And Torture

24 torture

Matt Bai has discussed the “24 Effect” on how terrorism is viewed:

In a sense, “24” became a kind of virtual universe in which all of us could role-play — even if we happened to know more about the roles than the actors did. I recall a conversation with Bill Clinton in 2007 during which he brought up the show and spent the better part of a half hour dissecting the strengths and flaws in its portrayal of real-time decisions.

There was something comforting, too, about the portrayal of intelligence agencies in “24.” Even with the insipid station chiefs who cycled in and out of the show, CTU itself remained amazingly high-functioning and high-tech. State-of-the-art computers gleamed in brilliant new offices of steel and glass. Satellites saw everything, everywhere, and beamed it all flawlessly to Jack’s phone during the commercial break.

That false portrayal of our counterterrorism agencies was demolished by the 9/11 commission report in 2004, with its accounts of missed clues and outdated technology. And what we now also know, thanks to the new Senate report, is that it wasn’t the bureaucrats back in Washington who were balking at torture while the real Jack Bauers jettisoned the rules, but often the other way around entirely.

In truth, a lot of the operatives were apparently sickened by immoral tactics they knew weren’t working, but their bosses insisted on believing that the world was like TV, and the bad guys would break just as they did for Jack, if only our agents would do what they had to do. If the Senate’s investigators can be believed, those bosses were wrong — both morally and tactically.

Another view  from Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian:

This week the writer Matt Bai made the intriguing argument that the success of 24 might have shaped America’s whatever-it-takes approach to terrorism, at the very least allowing policymakers to believe that a US public that was cheering on Jack Bauer would have little objection to US agents engaging in similar behaviour in real life. It’s a thought I had – and worried about – at the time. But it misses something crucial.

It’s true that 24 struck a chord in that post-9/11 period. It channelled our collective id, ourdeepest, darkest urges. Caught up in the story, we wanted Bauer to, say, sever the head of the villain with a hacksaw. But that is not necessarily what we wanted from our governments. The state cannot be the sum of our collective impulses and instincts, no matter how base. It has to be better than that. It has to listen to cooler demands: the rule of law, basic rights and common human decency. Reality may outstrip fiction, but it has to behave better too. The alternative is the horror laid bare this week — and whose legacy we live with still.

I had also made a recent comparison to 24, and another source of fantasy as opposed to the reality of torture: