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.

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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:

Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

Yesterday Howard Dean was Ready for Hillary. Now, unsurprisingly, Lanny Davis is ready too. His op-ed includes a long list of politicians in Maryland who have signed up.

BooMan responds:

The real news from this Lanny Davis endorsement is that Hillary seems to have already wrapped up most of the significant support from officeholders in Maryland.

The other news is that she hasn’t broken with Davis, which remains one of the most troubling things about her.

John Cole is also not ready for Hillary:

 Read between the lines- this is not so much just Hillary boosterism as it is an attempt to strangle an O’Malley run in the crib- “We’re in your back yard, bitch.” Which is yet another reason I am not ready for Hillary. I’m not ready for the re-emergence of uber scumbags like Davis, Penn, and the rest of that wretched hive of scum and villainy. I’m not willing to embrace the PUMA crowd and I am not ready to look past their racist bullshit in 2008. I’m not ready to forgive and forget, I’m not ready to deal with four-eight years of serial obfuscation and triangulation and overall hawkishness, etc.And this doesn’t even get into the fact that on every issue in which Obama has not been as good as I wanted, Hillary will be far, far worse. Has she even spoken out about the torture report since it was released? You’d think she’d have some feelings about it, considering she voted for the war, was in the Senate while it and the torture were happening, and she was on the Armed Services Committee.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that many on the left are not ready for Hillary. Yes, she is better than whoever the Republicans will run, but that is hardly good enough.

Howard Dean Is Ready For Hillary, But Does Anyone Still Care About What Howard Dean Says?

Howard Dean writes that he is ready for Hillary. He mentions some of her attributes but the most obvious thing in his article is the absence of mention of her support for the Iraq War. Maybe this is not a major factor for everyone (although I think that ones position on one of the major blunders in recent times should be). I just find it more amazing that Howard Dean doesn’t care, considering how he used the Iraq war in his 2004 run for the Democratic nomination.

Although Howard Dean and John Kerry had essentially the same view on Iraq, Dean distorted the issue to give the appearance of a difference. He turned the Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq into far more of a litmus test than it ever should have been. While Kerry, as he later admitted, made a mistake in trusting Bush not to misuse the authorization, the major difference was that Kerry was in the Senate and had to cast a vote while Dean did not. Listening to the statements from the two, both actually had the same position. Both thought that force should be authorized if we were legitimately threatened by weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Both argued at the onset of the war that no such threat existed and that Bush was wrong to go to war.

If, although having the same position, Kerry’s vote made him subject for constant attacks on the war from Dean, what about Hillary Clinton? Unlike both Kerry and Dean, Hillary Clinton not only voted in favor of the war, but she was enthusiastically supporting going to war at the time. She was on the far right of the Democratic Party, with people like Joe Lieberman, in claiming that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

Of course Howard Dean’s reputation on the left has already become tarnished since he sold his soul and became a K-Street lobbyist defending the interests of Big Pharma. Yes, I guess this Howard Dean could be expected to support Hillary Clinton, regardless of her views on Iraq.

Update: Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

Warning Re SiteMeter And Hackers

Yesterday evening I found that going to this blog led to being redirected to advertisements. Doing a Google search on the topic I found that many blogs have been experiencing this over the last several months and solved the problem by removing SiteMeter. The problem here was fixed immediately with removal of SiteMeter.

I don’t know if the specifics are true, but some have states that SiteMeter went bankrupt a while back and a hacker group took over their demain. Regardless of the validity of this, there does appear to be a vulnerability in SiteMeter which does allow web sites to be  hijacked. I would suggest that those using it consider removing it. At very least, keep this in mind should you experience such problems in the future. I do currently have StatCounter running with no problems.