Obama Popularity Improves Along With Successes Of Affordable Care Act

The National Journal led with Barack Obama in their list of biggest political losers of the year, comparing his trajectory to that of George W. Bush. We have a very small sample of presidents serving a second term in recent years, straining the significance of attempts by the media to make such comparisons. Bloomberg has picked up on a trend which most might have missed over a holiday. Obama’s popularity has picked up at the end of the year:

President Barack Obama has picked up five points in public approval since he’s gone away to Hawaii for a year-end family vacation.

The president’s public approval rating was hanging at 39 percent in the days before Christmas, by the Gallup Poll’s average of daily tracking surveys.

Today, in the surveys Dec. 26-28, his approval has risen to 44 percent. His disapproval rating, 54 percent pre-Christmas, is down to 49 percent.

It might also be premature to write Obama off so soon considering another recent Gallup poll which shows Obama leading the list of most admired men for the sixth consecutive year.

None of these polls are conclusive by themselves but should at least make us keep open the possibility that Obama’s popularity could rebound. A messed up web site is hardly as catastrophic as the incompetence shown in Bush’s handling of Katrina.

One factor which might be helping is that the Affordable Care Act is looking far better now than it did a month or two ago. Steve Benen points out over six million people receiving coverage. On top of the groups he looked at, an additional fifteen million are receiving coverage due to now being able to remain on their parents coverage until age 26.

Unfortunately many of the people taking advantage of these benefits probably do not even realize that they are receiving this due to Obamacare. As I discussed a few days ago, Barack Obama might never receive the credit he deserves for the Affordable Care Act as people take for granted the benefits they are now receiving while blaming Obamacare for problems in the medical system which were already present.

Pew Survey Finds Nine Point Drop In Republicans Who Believe in Evolution Compared To 2009

Pew Research Center has released a study on public attitudes on evolution versus creationism.   In contrast to a Harris poll released last week, Pew does not find an increase in the number who believe in evolution but shows a significantly higher percentage of people who do:

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The Harris poll, which was an online poll compared to Pew survey based upon telephone interviews, found that “Forty-seven percent say they believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, compared to 42 percent in 2005.”

As expected, both polls showed the same partisan breakdown:

There are sizable differences among partisan groups in beliefs about evolution. Republicans are less inclined than either Democrats or political independents to say that humans have evolved over time. Roughly two-thirds of Democrats (67%) and independents (65%) say that humans have evolved over time, compared with less than half of Republicans (43%).

The size of the gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009. Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43% today vs. 54% in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.

This is consistent with the increased polarization between the two parties. Belief in creationism corresponds with Republican attitudes of hostility towards science along with the tendency of Republicans to accept an entire world view which is divorced from reality. Often belief in creationism can be seen as a marker that someone has been taken in by the right-wing narrative and accepts the many other falsehoods they spread.

There are other demographic differences, such as the young and more educated being more likely to believe in evolution. Taking additional factors into account did not explain the partisan differences. If is far more likely that this is a sign of the basic differences between the two parties, even if I remain disappointed that a sizable number of Democrats also believe in creationism. This is partially due to the Democrats being more of a big tent party which might be good from the perspective of long-term political potential, but which also shows that there are limitations to the Democratic Party’s ability to be a force for liberal change. While I would like to see Democratic candidates more forcefully defend separation of church and state and be able to use disbelief in evolution as an argument against Republicans, the overall degree of both social conservatism and scientific ignorance in this country makes this unlikely to happen in the near future. As the next generation ages and gets out to vote, this could change.

Arthur C. Clarke Made Bold, Yet Accurate, Predictions About Computers in 1974

It might be hard for younger readers to imagine how life was before personal computers and the internet. Communication was by telephone or mail. We either waited for the daily newspaper for news (beyond brief radio headlines) or watched the evening news on television. Many people waited for the weekly news magazine for the bulk of their in depth reporting. There were telephone numbers to call if you wanted the correct time or weather–and phones were a boring wired device. We waited until the bank statement or credit card statements came in the mail without a convenient way to check on them in between. Needless to say, there was no easy way to get the answer to virtually any question we had on any topic.

Back in 1974 computers were massive things which would fill rooms, not something which we would buy for our home (or now carry in our pockets). Considering how much things have changed, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke got things amazingly correct in his predictions seen on this video.

SciFi Weekend: Raggedy Man Goodnight–The Time of the Doctor

Time of the Doctor1

The Time of the Doctor tried to do many things at once: be a Christmas episode, be an action story, tie up questions from the Matt Smith era, be a regeneration story, and be an homage to the Matt Smith era. It succeeded or failed to various degrees in each, but in the end managed to do enough to be a memorable chapter in Doctor Who, especially as a proper way to end the story of the eleventh Doctor.

After recent Christmas episodes which were more clearly based upon Christmas stories or themes, The Time of the Doctor resorted to naming the town where the Doctor spent centuries Christmas, along with brief scenes of Christmas dinner at Clara’s home. There were far too many other things to accomplish to get bogged down with a true Christmas story, but this sure gave a new meaning to the War on Christmas.

Sometimes if felt like he has been making new interpretations up as he went along, but Steven Moffat did try to tie up loose ends from not only the Matt Smith years but, in dealing with the Time Lords and the regeneration limit, the entire series. He handled the regeneration limit well, explaining the situation for those who have not already read about it on the blogs and without dwelling on it too long for those who have already heard the discussion. Matt Smith quickly explained to Clara that he was on his last regeneration once you counted the John Hurt Doctor:

CLARA: “But you don’t die. You change – you pop right back with a new face.”
THE DOCTOR: “Not forever. I can change 12 times. 13 versions of me. 13 silly Doctors.”
CLARA: “But you’re number eleven, so -”
THE DOCTOR: “Are we forgetting Captain Grumpy? I didn’t call myself the Doctor during the Time War, but it was still a regeneration.”

Explaining yet another previously uncounted regeneration, the Doctor pointed out that “Number Ten once regenerated and kept the same face – I had vanity issues at the time.”. Of course we knew that somehow he would not die at Tranzalor any more than he died at Lake Silencio, but instead would regenerate despite the previously established and easily broken regeneration limit.

Before nearly dying of old age, the Doctor spent over 300 years on Tranzalor fighting the Daleks and others at a standoff. Several other enemies were also thrown in, often quickly. The Weeping Angels were present only to briefly grab Clara’s ankle (without sending her back in time). The Cybermen had a cameo, with far more memorable scenes from Handles, a severed Cyberman head who chronologically  became the companion to spend the most time with the Doctor and was reminiscent of K-9. These cameos would have been pointless, and even distracting, in a normal story, but were present as part of the homage to the many events of the Matt Smith years.

After frequently throwing out the question, Doctor Who? into many stories, Moffat made the answer a key point of this story. Unfortunately the explanation makes little sense once you think about it. The Time Lords were hidden in a pocket universe and would not return until the Doctor said his real name. It doesn’t make much sense as to why this would be so important and why the Time Lords would even think that the Doctor would want them to return. Many events during the Matt Smith years have been revealed as being based upon attempts to prevent the Doctor from bringing back the Time Lords. Why would they think that the Doctor would do so after he was the one who made them disappear? Gallifrey was hidden behind the cracks in time which have been present in multiple episodes. Why didn’t the issue of the Doctor’s name or the return of the Time Lords come up around prior cracks.

Time of the Doctor2

I fortunately downloaded the BBC broadcast as I hear that at least one key explanation was cut from the BBC America version for commercials. The Silents were revealed to have been genetically engineered priests. Once someone gave their confession, they would forget about the confession. A cool idea until you question why. The key line which I heard was cut from the US showing was that Madame Kovarian led a renegade offshoot of the Silents from the Papal Mainframe which was dedicated to killing the Doctor as the way to prevent him from speaking his name and allowing the Time Lords to return.

Moffat managed to tie in many previous events into this narrative, including the explosion of the TARDIS. River Song was created as a perfect psychopath to kill the Doctor (but he wound up marrying her instead). The Doctor’s greatest fear behind a door in The God Complex was revealed to be a crack in time. The episode included other references to earlier in this regeneration, such as eating fish fingers and custard before regenerating, as the Doctor did after regenerating from Ten to Eleven. There were also references to earlier regenerations, such as using “reverse the polarity to the neutron flow.” Eleven has now said this more often than the Third Doctor actually did. The Doctor also referred to The Five Doctors with use of the“Seal of the High Council of Gallifrey – nicked it off the Master in the Death Zone.”

Moffat created a memorable new character in Tasha Lem. She seems to have had a romantic history with the Doctor and can even fly the TARDIS. She explained to Clara,”Flying the TARDIS was always easy. It was flying the Doctor I never quite mastered.” Such dialog could easily come from River Song, the only person other than the Doctor who we previously saw fly the TARDIS. The Doctor told Tasha Lem, “You’ve been fighting the psychopath inside you all your life,” reminding us of how River Song was called a psychopath in the same episode. Perhaps the episode was written with thought of including River Song. There has been some speculation that Tasha Lem is yet another manifestation of River Song, possibly taking a new bodily form after leaving the library.

Moffat also has a habit of bringing up themes and then dropping them (but you never know if he will one day return to them). The Doctor faking his death at Lake Silencio had no long term meaning as subsequently everyone still seems aware that he is alive. Clara’s wiping of the Dalek memory of the Doctor in Asylum of the Daleks has been forgotten. Moffat played with the meme that the Doctor lies by putting him in a truth field in this episode. This was also forgotten. The Doctor lied to Clara when he said he told her he would not send her away and lied at the end about having a plan.

Time of the Doctor Wig

Moffat even took advantage of Matt Smith having cut his hair for a movie role. The Doctor hid a spare key to the TARDIS under a wig. The scene only worked because of the knowledge that Matt Smith was actually wearing a wig during the filming of the episode. It also reminded me of when Sam Malone revealed he was wearing a wig on Cheers after word got out that Ted Danson actually wore one.

The episode might have been improved by making it longer than an hour and providing a more sensible conclusion. The Time Lords sat behind the crack and did nothing for years. Then Clara said, “His name is the Doctor. All the name he needs, all you need to know about him. And if you love him… help him.” This was enough to get the Time Lords to act. While questionable, it is at least consistent with the Doctor Who theme of often having the companions perform important actions to save the Doctor.In a way it also resolves the issue of the Doctor’s real name by pointing out that it doesn’t really matter.

The Time Lords gave the Doctor a new regeneration cycle. Previous episodes have established that this is very rare, but not without precedent. It remains to be seen whether twelve more regenerations will be enough to keep the Doctor alive as long as the show continues or if another way will need to be found to grant additional regenerations in the distant future. The regeneration energy was enough to enable the Doctor to easily shoot the Dalek ship out of the sky. If the Time Lord’s possess this much power, it is hard to believe that they were ever seriously threatened by the Daleks during the Time War.

Time has been rewritten and the Doctor did not die on Tranzalor. This would also mean that there is no tomb where Clara was fragmented into multiple copies to save the Doctor from The Great Intelligence. Yet another of those timey wimey paradoxes.

The regeneration was drawn out, enabling Matt Smith to appear yet again as a young man, eating custard. The episode showed growth for the Doctor. Ten didn’t want to go and Eleven hated endings. Finally Eleven was ready and accepted his fate as “times change, and so must I.” As he saw Amelia Pond, the first person he saw as the Eleventh, he said, “I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”

Time of the Doctor Amy Pond

Karen Gillan will always be the companion most closely thought of  with Matt Smith. Like David Tennant visiting Billie Piper for one last time before he regenerated, a vision of Amy Pond got to say to the Doctor, “Raggedy man. Goodnight.” Ironically both Karen Gillan and Matt Smith were wearing wigs in this picture, having cut their hair for movie roles.

Some fans have been disappointed because the regeneration scene did not show a prolonged transformation of the face from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi. I suspect this might have been for budgetary reasons. I thought it was far more symbolic to have Matt Smith remove his bow tie just before changing. Bow ties and fez hats belong to the Eleventh. Others might wear them in his honor, but it will always be remembered that it was Matt Smith who said, “Bow ties are cool.”

As with previous regenerations, Twelve was observant of his bodily changes.”I’ve got new kidneys! I don’t like the color!” There are bigger concerns when the TARDIS alarms go off and he asks Clara, “Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?” It sounds like we might have another crash scene coming up, unless either he is either messing around with Clara or soon regains his memory.

Unfortunately we have to wait until next fall to find out.

Time of the Doctor Peter Capaldi

Will Barack Obama Receive The Credit He Deserves On Health Care Reform?

Support for Obamacare has fallen to new lows but, as has been the case all along with such polling, it is largely based upon misconceptions as to what Obamacare is and how it will affect people. There has generally been far greater support for the major components of the Affordable Care Act when polls have concentrated on this. Opposition to Obamacare has generally been based upon opposition to either items which are not really in the law (such as death panels and forced change from private insurance to a government run plan) or based upon predictions which have questionable basis in the actual law.

This is not to say that there have not been problems. The first month of the online exchanges started out poorly, but this was a problem easily circumvented by either waiting a month or by purchasing insurance directly from the insurance company’s web site (as I did). The issue of cancellations of some health plans (even if the insurance companies had the option of grandfathering people in) was been greatly exaggerated, with most people receiving more comprehensive coverage at a lower out-of-pocket cost. A relatively small number of older and more affluent people will pay more. However, even though I have to pay more, I consider it worthwhile to have a policy which could never be canceled due to developing medical problems and due to having caps on total out-of-pocket costs.

There are predictions that people will lose their current doctors but so far no evidence that this is a meaningful problem. Before the Affordable Care Act, every year there were many patients who I could no longer see because their employers changed them into plans I do not accept. This will remain the same, but unfortunately many people will blame Obama for this, just as they mistakingly are blaming Obama for many other health care issues which have nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. Many also fail to realize that, thanks to Obama, we will no longer see the previously common occurrence of people who stop seeking medical care because they have lost their insurance and are unable to get a replacement.

There are frequent stories in the right wing media claiming that doctors will not accept patients with plans purchased through the exchanges. This will be clearer after January when we see if there are any shocks in how insurance companies reimburse for plans purchased through the exchange, but so far I see no evidence to support this fear. The plans which were available locally were almost all from the two biggest insurance plans active in the area. The  majority of doctors participate in these plans, and will such participation will continue uninterrupted in January. Maybe my Blue Cross plan will suddenly start paying out less than it did in the past, leading colleagues to decide to stop accepting it, but that is not likely. Insurance companies are interested in having a share of the currently enlarged individual market and are unlikely to engage in acts which will lead to people dropping their plan at the next open enrollment period.

In other words, market forces will help prevent the problem which conservatives are using to scare people with. Funny how conservatives only believe in market forces when it is convenient for their arguments. Plus the higher premiums (before subsidies) which conservatives complain about are a factor which would allow insurance companies to maintain fee schedules comparable to plans sold through employers.

A big question is what will happen over the next few months as people see what really happens under Obamacare, and most people with insurance find that things are not all that different from last year. Christopher Flavelle argues at Bloomberg Business that somebody has to be wrong about Obamacare:

A CNN poll taken last week showed that many Americans are exaggerating the effect of Obamacare on their own lives. As I wrote on Tuesday, this suggests the law will get a bump in public support over the next few months, as the widely anticipated negative consequences don’t materialize for most people outside the health-care insurance exchanges.

The poll is interesting for another reason: It suggests that the public’s divergent views on Obamacare don’t reflect different opinions about the proper role of government, so much as wildly different understandings about what the law will mean for the average American. Here’s the thing: They can’t both be right.

Start with this question: “Do you think you and members of your family will or will not be able to receive care from the same doctors you see now?” That isn’t a question about political preferences; it’s asking respondents to make a prediction of fact.

So the difference is startling: 79 percent of Democrats said they’ll be able to keep their doctor, compared with just 44 percent of Republicans — almost a 2-to-1 gap. Unless doctors start dropping patients according to their party affiliation, those two groups can’t both be right.

The same is true for a question about whether people expect to pay for medical care. Here the gap is even larger: 86 percent of Republicans said yes, compared with just 47 percent of Democrats. Again, unless insurers structure co-payments and deductibles by party, they can’t both be right.

Based on those numbers, one of two things will happen in 2014. The first is that access to doctors will fall and the cost of care will go up for most Americans; Democrats will (gradually) realize they’ve been misled, and support for the law will collapse.

The second possibility is that access to doctors and the cost of care won’t change for most Americans; Republicans will (gradually) realize they’ve been misled, and the case against Obamacare will disintegrate for the average voter. Fear of that outcome may explain why Republican leaders have been so frantic in trying to undermine the law now — they’re afraid that once their base realizes the warnings about Obamacare were wrong, they will stop paying attention.

It seems almost unnecessary to note, a week before the law’s coverage provisions take effect, that the vast majority of Americans who get their insurance outside the exchanges won’t see any big difference in cost or in their ability to see their own doctor. Unnecessary, because whether you agree with me or not, we’re about to find out. All we know for sure is that somebody is wrong.

To some degree the polls should shift as people see what really happens under Obamacare, and the scare stories do not come true. On the other hand, if my predictions are wrong and doctors will not accept people with insurance purchased through the exchanges, we will have a very serious problem which would undermine the success of Obamacare.

Unfortunately matters are not so simple as to expect that support for Obamacare will immediately climb when people see what the Affordable Care Act really does. I fear that, driven by ongoing conservative misinformation campaigns, people will continue to blame every problem in health care on Obama, regardless of whether the Affordable Care Act is responsible. Health care costs will continue to go up, and insurance companies might continue to use limited networks of physicians to attempt to control costs, as has been occurring for years. The trend towards higher out-of-pocket costs in health insurance also began before Obamacare and is likely to continue.

Later this year there will probably be stories about doctors having to spend large amounts of time and money due to a conversion from ICD-9 to ICD-10 diagnosis codes. I have already seen some Republicans blame this on Obamacare. Actually this is a change which came about under George Bush, with implementation later delayed until 2014.

Another problem which Obamacare will face is that people will enjoy the benefits of Obamacare without realizing it. I bet people are already taking it for granted that their health insurance now covers many preventative tests with no copay or deductible, or that they can keep dependent children on their plans until age 26. But how many realize that this is a result of Obamacare? If someone developed a serious medical condition and their insurance continues, will they realize that if not for Obamacare they might have lost their insurance and have been forced into bankruptcy in the past? Benefiting from Obamacare will not translate into support in the polls if people fail to realize all the ways they are now better off.

Obamacare is not perfect and some changes should be made, but all available evidence shows that it has brought about a major improvement in health care, bringing the United States closer to the standards of the rest of the industrialized world. This was done without a government takeover of health care and, for better or for worse, we have continued the American system of market-based health care coverage. The question is not as to the success of Obamacare, but as to whether Barack Obama will receive the credit he deserves for its success.

Tea Party Not Giving Up On Senate Challenges

Yesterday I quoted both an analysis as to why the Tea Party is unlikely to go away and Karl Rove’s prediction that, “Every Republican senator and virtually every representative challenged in a primary as insufficiently conservative will win.”

It is too early to tell whether Rove is right that none of the Tea Party challengers will be able to defeat RINO’s in a primary, but there are some who are trying. Patricia Murphy looks at five far right-wing Republicans who do plan to challenge Republicans, Chris McDaniel of MS; Milton Wolf of KS; Ben Sasse of NE; Joe Miller of Alaska; and Matt Bevin of KY:

If Ted Cruz seems like a one-of-a-kind, give it time. A slew of young, hard-charging, Tea Party-endorsed Senate wannabes is looking to knock off the Republican establishment again in 2014. Some have better chances than others, but all have the unmistakable Cruzian commitment to refusing to toe the Republican Party line and make headlines while doing it. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will.

This could play a factor in who controls the Senate after the next election. Steve Benen also looked at the dispute between the Republican establishment and the more extremist Tea Party faction, noting:

Remember, primary season hasn’t really begun in earnest, which means these disputes are likely to intensify very soon. For many Democrats, hoping to see Republicans at each other’s throats during an election year, the popcorn is already being popped.

Karl Rove’s Fearless Prediction About The Extreme Right Wing

Karl Rove has made what he calls his fearless political predictions for 2014. Some are fairly safe, such as that Obama’s approval ratings will go up after falling so low at the end of 2013. Here’s the prediction I found most interesting, and perhaps even fearless: “Every Republican senator and virtually every representative challenged in a primary as insufficiently conservative will win.”

Considering how the Republicans have lost several potential seats due to Tea Party extremists winning primaries, this is something which party insiders might hope for, but it remains to be seen whether this prediction comes true.

Speaking of predictions, who would have predicted that the Republican Party would move so far to the extreme right that Karl Rove would desire to become a spokesman for the more moderate wing (with the true moderate wing driven from the party)? On the other hand, Steve Benen looks at Rove’s diminished influence among Republicans.

The Tea Party may or may not actually win races against less extremist Republicans, but Theda Skocpol is probably right that the Tea Party is not going to go away.

Even though there is no one center of Tea Party authority—indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center—the entire gaggle of grassroots and elite organizations amounts to a pincer operation that wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates. Tea Party influence does not depend on general popularity at all. Even as most Americans have figured out that they do not like the Tea Party or its methods, Tea Party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals. Most legislators and candidates are Nervous Nellies, so all Tea Party activists, sympathizers, and funders have had to do is recurrently demonstrate their ability to knock off seemingly unchallengeable Republicans (ranging from Charlie Crist in Florida to Bob Bennett of Utah to Indiana’s Richard Lugar). That grabs legislators’ attention and results in either enthusiastic support for, or acquiescence to, obstructive tactics. The entire pincer operation is further enabled by various right-wing tracking organizations that keep close count of where each legislator stands on “key votes”—including even votes on amendments and the tiniest details of parliamentary procedure, the kind of votes that legislative leaders used to orchestrate in the dark…

…at least three successive national election defeats will be necessary to even begin to break the determination and leverage of Tea Party adherents. Grassroots Tea Partiers see themselves in a last-ditch effort to save “their country,” and big-money ideologues are determined to undercut Democrats and sabotage active government. They are in this fight for the long haul. Neither set of actors will stand down easily or very soon.

Also worth remembering is that “moderate Republicans” barely exist right now. Close to two-thirds of House Republicans voted against bipartisan efforts to reopen the federal government and prevent U.S. default on loan obligations, and Boehner has never repudiated such extortionist tactics. Tea Partiers may not call for another shutdown right away, but they will continue to be able to draw most GOP legislators and leaders into aggressive efforts to obstruct and delay. In the electorate, moreover, more than half of GOP voters sympathize with the Tea Party and cheer on obstructionist tactics, and the remaining Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are disorganized and divided in their views of the likes of Ted Cruz.

The Time of the Doctor: The Fall of the 11th

Tardis North Pole

Some people count the days until Christmas. Others have been counting the days until the Doctor Who Christmas Special.

Is there someone you forgot to send a card to this year and need to pick up one quickly. The BBC has a set of Doctor Who cards you can download in pdf format and print. Here’s an example:

Doctor Who Christmas Card

It looks like the Daleks have joined the War on Christmas–Exterminate Santa:

Dalek Tree

This also means that the day which has been prophesied about has arrived, the fall of the 11th.

On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a Question will be asked, a question that must never, ever be answered.

Doctor Who?

Fall of the 11th

Silence will fall

Many Happy Returns–Sherlock Lives

Sherlock Season 3 prequel mini-episode above.

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Jenna Coleman on BBC Breakfast

Jenna Coleman talked about the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor on BBC Breakfast. The discussion included the change from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi.