SciFi Weekend: Arrow; The Flash; Gotham; Agents of SHIELD; Natalie Dormer, Zombies, and Nudity on Game of Thrones; Westworld; How To Get Away With Murder; Doctor Who; Sherlock; SNL on Executive Orders

Flash vs Arrow

The Hollywood Reporter has  more information on the upcoming cross over episodes from Arrow and The Flash, along with some other information about Arrow. Among the information revealed (not all of which is new):

  • The title of The Flash portion of the pair of episodes is quite literal, The Flash vs. Arrow. Barry encounters a metahuman who brainwashes him.
  • The Flash episode “will deliver a very big moment for Oliver’s storyline.” It will take Oliver time to learn what the audience has learned.
  • Felicity sees Caitlin to get help from the people at STAR Labs in solving the mystery of the Black Canary’s murder
  • Laurel is mostly missing from the crossover stories but, “Episodes 10, 11 and 12 are a three-part trilogy that are about her. And episode 13 I think I can spoil, is called ‘Canaries.'” As it is Canaries pleural, my suspicion is that the flashback shows Sara while Laural replaces Sara as the Black Canary in the present.
  • Dingle’s ex-wife Lila is in danger.
  • Team Flash learns how dangerous things can be.
  • A future crossover is possible.

Gotham Penguin

Gotham is probably best viewed as a re-imagining of the Batman stories which is not necessarily connected to other aspects of the DC universe or other Batman series. Showrunner Bruno Heller told Entertainment Weekly about how he plans to establish the canonical Gotham–and then start messing with people’s minds. Killing off characters is not being excluded as a possibility:

Before Gotham premiered there was some discussion about how the show cannot kill any members of its cast of iconic characters, since the story is a prequel. And you had a great reply to that by saying, “It’s sad thing if you can only generate suspense by killing people.” I’m wondering now that you’ve dug more into the season and are juggling all these characters, with some being more interesting than others, whether there’s a part of you that’s like, “You know, what if we did?” Or is it just iron clad that you can’t deviate that far from canon?
I wouldn’t say it’s iron clad. You’d need a damn good reason to do it and a damn good end game to justify it. We’re certainly just learning the ropes at this stage. Not to be modest about it, but we’re still learning how to do a show this big. I’m always deeply reluctant to kill off characters simply for the shock value of killing them off. I’m not averse to cheap tricks. But apart from anything else, this season literally every actor has come through and [performed really strong]. I would hate to lose any of them. Killing off Sean Bean in the first season of Game of Thrones made everyone go, “Oh, what a good idea that is!” But I don’t think it’s a good idea if you’ve got Sean Bean. The bad one was on Deadwood, when they had David Carradine doing that marvelous Wild Bill Hickok, and then he was gone.

I agree on Carradine, it did feel like that character was gone too soon.
I’m going to put you on the spot: Who would you kill?

It’s not that there’s anybody in particular that I would kill off. But I would say the killing of a so-called un-killable character would add a greater layer of suspense when any of those characters are in jeopardy after that—because the message has been sent to the audience that, “You think you know how this story is going to go, but you’re wrong, because we’re not following the train tracks that you already know so well.
That is a very good point, and an actor somewhere is cursing you. You’re absolutely right. One of the things about doing the extra six episodes, and hopefully being successful enough to get a season two, is that once we’re up and running, that kind of narrative playfulness—playing with the audience’s expectations—is going to be much more a part of the show. For instance: Who will turn out to be The Joker? Those kind of games you can only get into once you have the audience’s trust and the train is rolling down the tracks. We want to establish the real deal—that this is the canonical Gotham—and then start messing with people’s minds.

Heller also revealed that Harley Quinn will not appear this season and there will be an episode here we learn how Robin’s parents got together. Ra’s al Ghul could conceivably appear, but at this point in Batman’s life, “He was probably a teenager as well, with Mrs. al Ghul making him sandwiches and sending him off to Ghul school.”

Agents of SHIELD Blue Alien

After dragging for most of the first season while waiting for the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Agents of SHIELD is really moving this season. Recent episodes have dealt with topics including Skye’s background and the meaning of the mysterious writings. TV Guide reports that we will also learn about the blue alien, and how it ties into other aspects of the Marvel universe:

He’s not just any alien. The Dec. 2 episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will finally reveal that its mysterious blue man from outer space — the one whose rejuvenating blood saved the life of Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) — is a member of the humanoid Kree race. Yes, that’s the same alien species that gave us Lee Pace’s character, Ronan the Accuser, in the Marvel movie blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. But all this means bupkis to Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team.

“Our people don’t know anything about the Kree or that there’s a planet full of them,” notes executive producer Jeffrey Bell. “What they do know is that the strange carvings created by Coulson after he was injected with the Kree serum are actually the map of a city, and they need to find that city before Hydra does. But where is it? Here or on another planet?”

The Hydra terrorists have more manpower and resources than S.H.I.E.L.D., and their freaky obsession with the blue alien goes all the way back to the 1940s — the setting for ABC’s upcoming spinoff series Marvel’s Agent Carter. But S.H.I.E.L.D. has Skye. The do-or-die agent with no last name, played by Chloe Bennet, was also injected with Kree serum but, unlike Coulson, suffered no consequences. Similarly, her not-always-trusty cohort Raina (Ruth Negga) — again, no last name — was able to touch the deadly alien obelisk and survive without harm.

ComicVine has more about the meaning of this.

Game of Thrones Natalie Dormer

Matt Smith and Natalie Dormer will fight zombies together in Patient Zero. According to ComingSoon.net:

Patient Zero takes place in a post-outbreak zombie apocalypse and follows the adventures of one man who has the unique ability to speak with the undead and who hopes to use his gift to discover a cure for the plague and his infected wife.

Natalie Dormer was interviewed by The Daily Beast about topics including her role in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and nudity in Game of Thrones:

Speaking of “equality,” I understand HBO has a “boobs mandate,” but lots of viewers of Thrones think the show could use some more dick in there—for symmetry.

Well, during the first season Alfie, Richard, and several of the men got naked—although not all the way. I suppose it’s just the rules of broadcast television, isn’t it? I think Thrones has been better than your average show with the equality, but they could definitely ramp it up! Absolutely.

Did you base the character of Margaery Tyrell on anyone in particular?

It was based on the media circus that surrounds Kate Middleton. It’s the Princess Diana effect. Whether you’re talking about the royal family in our country, or the first lady obsession in this country—Michelle Obama, or Hillary Clinton before her. Because Margaery is very politically savvy and our royal family tries to keep out of politics, it’s a hybrid of that statesmanship between the royal family and the first lady.

There was a particularly awkward sequence last season on Thrones where your character is forced to seduce the boy-king, Tommen Baratheon.

That scene was altered because I phoned Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] and said, “I’m not comfortable doing this.” It’s the nature of the beast that I’m four years into playing Margaery Tyrell and the big plot points of the book are in stone. You can’t change them. George R.R. Martin wrote a particular plot line, so on the specifics of Margaery and Tommen getting married, there’s nothing I can do. On the show, we had to find a way to navigate that in a sensitive way. There’s more of it next season too, and we’re trying to handle it with intelligence, and integrity.

westworld

When I first heard about plans for a series based upon Westworld I was skeptical, but it sounds like HBO is bringing quite a bit of talent into the project:

The drama, based on Michael Crichton‘s 1973 film and written by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, stars Anthony Hopkins in his first series-regular role as an inventor who runs an adult amusement park populated by lifelike robots. HBO made the announcement Monday via Twitter, with the series coming in 2015.

The drama hails from J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk‘s Warner Bros. Television-based Bad Robot Productions, with the duo exec producing alongside Jerry Weintraub, Nolan (who directed the pilot) and Joy. Kathy Lingg will co-EP and Athena Wickham is a producer on the drama. Susie Ekins is set as a co-producer. Westworld hails from Bad Robot, Jerry Weintraub Productions and Kilter Films.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the show’s androids — played by castmembers including James MarsdenEvan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton — can be killed off and return with completely different personas, allowing actors to play many characters. That creative device, one top talent agent said, helped HBO attract a premier cast (which also includes Ed HarrisMiranda Otto and Jeffrey Wright). And unlike the actors on such anthology series as FX’s American Horror Story and HBO’s own True Detective, which reboot themselves every season, the cast of Westworld is signing multiyear deals.

“This is built as a series and, in terms of storytelling, I think the rules are definitely being broken,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told THR in August of the sci-fi Western from executive producers J.J. AbramsJerry Weintraub and Bryan Burk. “The promise of the show, in terms of where it’s going, is exciting to actors, and they want to be a part of this.”

While watching How To Get Away With Murder I was a little disappointed in how Sam’s murder was played out–until the revelation in the final moments. Entertainment Weekly discussed the mid-season finale and the second half of the season with showrunner Pete Nowalk.

It has been officially announced that Peter Capaldi will be returning to Doctor Who but no word yet on Jenna Coleman. There have been rumors since before the past season began that Coleman would be written out of the show on the Christmas episode (which have been denied), and the series has teased Clara leaving a few times. My bet is that Steven Moffat actually knows what is planned, but they are keeping this secret so that viewers will not know what might happen with Clara while watching the Christmas episode.

Series four of Sherlock will be a single episode, possibly airing on Christmas Day, 2015. Mark Gatiss has told Radio Times that the mystery about the apparent return of Moriarty at the end of season three will  will be solved “completely.”

BBC America will be showing a seven part series based upon Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Saturday Night Live began with a skit this weekend hitting Barack Obama on executive orders. Medialite summarizes:

Finally, the first biting political spoof from Saturday Night Live in a while: the Bill from Schoolhouse Rock explains to a student how he becomes a law, only to be violently beat up by Barack Obama and his new best friend, “Executive Order.”

Even then, the poor Executive Order still thinks he’s used for simple things, like declaring holidays and creating national parks, until Obama informs him that he’s going to be used to grant amnesty to 5 million undocumented immigrants. His reaction: “Whoa.”

While Ted Cruz found reason to cite this on Fox News Sunday, the skit actually is not accurate. Obama did not grant amnesty, and the executive action was used because the Republicans failed to pass a bill, not as an attempt to act in place of a law. Previous Republican as well as Democratic presidents have issued many executive orders in the past with both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush having had executive orders regarding immigration in the past. (Clarification: Fox News Sunday is the name of show and my use of this term does in any way suggest that Fox presents actual news. Generally I do not use the term “Fox News” as that is an insult to all real news networks. )

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Seventh Investigation Debunks Republican Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

Yet another investigation has debunked the Republican claims about Benghazi, this one run by House Republicans. AP reports:

House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May…

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

Of course it was the Republicans who cut funding for embassy security, denying requests from Democrats for increased funding.

Despite seven investigations which failed to provide evidence to support the Republican conspiracy theories, an eight is underway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to follow in the Republican-controlled Senate. The party which already voted over fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and which exists in a fact-free bubble, will not hesitate to continue engage in the same irrational behavior.

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Hillary Clinton And Some Potential Challengers For The Nomination

With the midterm elections behind us, it finally makes sense to talk more about the 2016 presidential election. NBC News has a recent report claiming that Hillary Clinton will be announcing her candidacy in January, but Politico reports that she still has a paid speech scheduled for February 24, which may or may not give a clue as to her plans:

It isn’t clear that the speech says anything about Clinton’s time frame for declaring a decision about a second White House campaign. Her timetable is a topic of disagreement among her supporters: Some people think she is already being attacked and defined by Republicans and only adds to the perception that she’s being coy the longer she waits. Others say she should stick to her stated time frame of early next year.

Clinton could, of course, cancel the appearance or decline a speaking fee if she announces a campaign before the speech. It’s highly unlikely she would continue to give paid speeches once she’s a candidate, something Republican Rudy Giuliani did in 2007 and took heat for.

But the fact that Clinton is still signing up for speeches also gives weight to what a number of people close to her say: that she hasn’t completely made up her mind about running. The conference is about women in the workforce, an issue Clinton is also focused on at her family’s foundation.

While Clinton leads in the polls, there is less enthusiasm for her candidacy among many on the left. The reluctance to have the Democratic Party led by someone as conservative as Clinton may have been intensified by the midterm election results in which Democratic candidates ran away from Democratic principles, only to see Democratic voters stay home. Polls show considerable support for liberal positions on the issues, but voters are not going to turn out for Democratic candidates if they cower in fear and run as Republican-lite.

There has been no lack of condemnation for Democrats who, among other acts of cowardice ran away from the Affordable Care Act rather than promote how successful it has been. One of the more recent such comments came from Andrew Sullivan:

Yes, there has been a mountain of propaganda against it. But that doesn’t excuse political malpractice in defending it. This is the Democrats’ most significant piece of domestic legislation in decades. And yet they cannot manage to make the case for it. That tells you so much about why that party remains such a shit-show, rescued temporarily by this president, but still wallowing in its own dysfunction, inability to communicate and pusillanimity.

While it seems like a futile effort, the memory of Barack Obama defeating Clinton in 2008 gives hope. While they get little mention in the media, there are other potential candidates. Elizabeth Warren was the one bright spot of the 2014 campaign, showing a real ability to communicate, and she  has toned down her earlier statements that she will not run. It is doubtful she would actually challenge Hillary Clinton, and someone more experienced in government might make a better candidate. Bernie Sanders is toying with the idea of running, but a self-proclaimed Socialist has no chance, and  his primary role would be to force Clinton to discuss liberal positions.

Other more conventional candidates are actually looking into running.  Jim Webb has become the first to announce an exploratory campaign. Martin O’Malley is also making moves towards a possible campaign.

In addition to these names which have been mentioned frequently, Michael Kazin has another suggestion in an article at The New Republic, Sherwood Brown:

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, I think Sherrod Brown should run for president. I know that, barring a debilitating health problem or a horrible scandal, Hillary Clinton is likely to capture the Democratic nomination. I realize too that Brown, the senior senator from Ohio, has never hinted that he may be tempted to challenge her. “I’m really happy where I am,” he told Chris Matthews last winter, when the MSNBC’s paragon of impatience urged him to run.

Yet, for progressive Democrats, Brown would be a nearly perfect nominee. During his two decades in the House and Senate, he has taken strong and articulate stands on every issue which matters to the party’s broad, if currently dispirited, liberal base. When George W. Bush was in office and riding high, Brown opposed both his invasion of Iraq and the Patriot Act. He has long been a staunch supporter of abortion rights and gay marriage, and is married to Connie Schultz, a feminist author who writes a nationally syndicated column.

Brown’s true mission, however, is economic: He wants to boost the well-being of working Americans by any means necessary. Brown has been talking and legislating about how to accomplish it for years before Elizabeth Warren left Harvard for the Capitol. During Obama’s first term, he advocated a larger stimulus package, called for re-enacting the Glass-Steagall Act to rein in big banks, and stumped for comprehensive immigration reform. He champions the rights of unions and the power of the National Labor Relations Board and criticizes unregulated “free trade” for destroying manufacturing jobs at home. He also led the charge among Senate Democrats that pressured Obama to drop his plan to appoint Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve and appoint Janet Yellen instead.

At the moment pushing Sherrod Brown to challenge Clinton might seem ridiculous, but certainly no more ridiculous than Barack Obama challenging her in 2008.

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Another Unforced Error On Selling Obamacare

The Obama administration has done an excellent job policy-wise with the Affordable Care Act, but politically has made a few major mistakes along the way. The most recent was discovered today when Bloomberg reported that the administration had made mistakes in reporting the number of people who obtained health coverage through the exchanges in its first year. The error came from adding sales of dental plans available under the Affordable Care Act to the total number who actually purchased plans.

HHS Secretary  Secretary Sylvia Burwell responded on Twitter that, “The mistake we made is unacceptable. I will be communicating that clearly throughout the dept.”

From a practical point of view, the mistake does not really change anything. The important factor is the benefits provided, not the number of people who signed up the first year, especially when the number was depressed by a dishonest right wing smear campaign. The actual number still exceeded the predictions of the Congressional Budget Office. Nearly seven million did obtain coverage on the exchanges in the first year, with about seventy percent happy with their coverage–a number comparable to those receiving employer-paid coverage and Medicare.

Unfortunately an error such as this plays into the false right wing narrative that the Obama administration was not transparent in promoting the Affordable Care Act. They ignore the degree to which every aspect was publicly debated for months, and every version of the law was posted on line. Of course many conservatives were probably unaware of the discussion which was occurring as the right wing media was too busy spreading lies than to actually report on what was being openly discussed.

Man on the right are cherry picking and distorting the words of Jonathan Gruber, as I recently discussed here and here. They falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect” of the Affordable Care Act and falsely attribute his views to the Obama administration. Gruber was an outside academic consultant who had worked on Mitt Romney’s health care plan. He was paid to make economic projections based upon this to predict the economic effects of Obamacare. He had no role in the legislative strategy to pass Obamacare, and does not speak for the Obama administration in making statements which Obama disagrees with.

Being an academic outside of Washington, it is very likely that the somewhat convoluted legislative actions used by both parties to achieve the best scores from the Congressional Budget Office might seem to lack transparency. This does not mean that those promoting Obamacare were in any way dishonest. They honestly presented the facts about the law. In contrast, when George Bush pushed through his Medicare drug plan, he not only lied about the cost, but threatened to fire the chief Medicare actuary if he testified before Congress about the true cost.

Gruber’s claims of a lack of transparency would be more meaningful if he actually demonstrated any areas in which the proponents of the ACA were not open about the plans. He spoke about the mandate, but this penalty for not purchasing insurance was widely discussed before passage. He also concentrated on how the ACA is a transfer of wealth, but this was both openly discussed, and a common feature of all insurance. All insurance plans transfer wealth from those who pay premiums and do not wind up needing the coverage to those who receive benefits. While conservatives are quoting Gruber because his statements seem to reinforce their biases, once you look at the details there is no evidence of dishonesty present.

On the other hand. , the real dishonesty came from Republicans who lied about death panels, the number not paying their premiums, the effects of the ACA on jobs and the economy, the cost of coverage, and falsely claiming that Obamacare is a government take over of health care.  Even the corrected numbers show that far more people purchased coverage than many Republicans have claimed. Republican politicians continue to repeat the same lies even when disproven.

Prior Political Errors

Unfortunately the error in reporting the number who purchased coverage is not the first unnecessary error which wound up hurting politically. The most prominent error was in failing to properly test the computer programs behind the exchange before they went live in 2013. The problems were quickly fixed and the exchanges opened successfully this week, but the Obama administration never fully recovered from the poor first impression.

The second error was in over simplifying the issues when making statements that people can keep their own plans and/or their own doctors. Obama was being honest in the context in which he was speaking, but in over simplifying the matter in this way he was incorrect. Obama was responding to far more inaccurate right wing claim that the Affordable Care Act amounts to a government take over of health care. They spread horror stories of people being forced to lose their current health plans (and doctor) and instead being placed on some imaginary government-run Obamacare plan. I had patients call me in horror, asking if they would be lose me as a doctor because of having to change to Obamacare.

Obama was right in answering that people would not be forced into a new government plan and would not arbitrarily be forced to change doctors.

He was incorrect  in how he worded it because other factors were involved. Insurance companies elected to cancel plans, often when they could be grandfathered in. Doctors go in and out of health plans every year, regardless of Obamacare, but Obamacare does not assign people to new doctors. With or without Obamacare, some people would have to change health plans and doctors every year.

Most people had the option to get insurance, from the same company as before if they desired, with better coverage at a lower cost. It is also a bit ambiguous as to what keeping the same plan means considering that in the individual market it has been common for insurance companies to substitute similar but different plans quite frequently. Most people would feel like they had the same plan as it was from the same company with only minor differences (or with better coverage).

When Obama realized his statement was technically wrong, he not only apologized but acted to make it right by making it even easier to grandfather in old plans. Many of the old plans which were discontinued provided extremely limited coverage for the price, and people were better off replacing them with a better plan. I have often seen patients with plans purchased on the individual market in the past who were shocked to find that their plan paid nothing or only a tiny fraction of their bills. The Affordable Care Act guarantees both that health plans will provide reasonable coverage and that nobody can be dropped because of developing health problems, as frequently happened in the past.

By guaranteeing that people cannot be dropped from their health plan, by making insurance more affordable,  and by providing a greater choice of health plans, it is far less likely that people will have to change their health plan or doctor against their will as happened in the past. For the most part, Obama was right, but he worded this in a poor way as there were exceptions. Needless to say, Republicans concentrate on the rare cases where Obama was wrong, even though their health plans would ultimately lead to far more people being unable to keep their insurance or their doctor. By making these political mistakes, the Democrats have made it easier for Republicans to mislead.

Now yet another mistake has been uncovered which means little but which Republicans will be able to use to mislead the public.

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People Not Directly Affected By Obamacare Are Unhappy With It

With the exchanges opening for its second year, Gallup has found that support for the Affordable Care Act remains low at 37 percent. I have to wonder about how those answering are coming to this opinion. After all, there is tremendous evidence as to the success of the Affordable Care Act, and Gallup also found recently that about 70 percent who are actually obtaining coverage through the exchanges are satisfied. This number is comparable with the number who are happy with other forms of coverage such as Medicare and employer-paid health care.

It appears that those who are unhappy with Obamacare aren’t the ones who are most directly affected. Most likely this polling result comes from all the dishonest information being spread by the right wing, with many people who are not directly affected at present expressing dissatisfaction with a law they do not understand.

The Affordable Care Act also receives less support than it might because many of those who stand to benefit in the future don’t realize it. Besides providing affordable coverage for millions who could not obtain coverage in the past, the ACA protects those with coverage from their employer, guaranteeing that they won’t be unable to obtain coverage should they become seriously ill or lose their job. This had been a common cause of bankruptcy in the past, but many people are not going to appreciate this benefit if they are not undergoing such problems.

Another problem for the Affordable Care Act is that it makes it easier for Republicans to blame anything wrong with health care on Obama, even if the Affordable Care Act is not involved. For example, although the ACA provides additional benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, many who receive these benefits do not realize this. On the other hand, they are blaming Obama when their pharmacy plan increases their copays, even though this has nothing to do with Obamacare.

This does not mean that the Affordable Care Act is perfect. It is built on top of a faulty health care system, correcting several of its problems. However the bulk of the old system, with all its problems and inefficiencies, have continued. With Obamacare so unpopular, I am surprised that there is not more effort by supporters of a single payer plan to promote this as the solution to the problems of Obamacare, as opposed to Republican proposals which would resume all the problems we had in the past.

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Obamacare A Huge Success Despite Easily Debunked Conservative Claims

The exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act open tomorrow. While there were initially problems when the exchanges opened last year, these were quickly fixed, allowing millions to obtain health care coverage, including those who previously could not obtain coverage due to preexisting conditions or cost. A Gallup poll found that most people who obtained coverage through the exchanges last year were satisfied:

Over seven in 10 Americans who bought new health insurance policies through the government exchanges earlier this year rate the quality of their healthcare and their healthcare coverage as “excellent” or “good.” These positive evaluations are generally similar to the reviews that all insured Americans give to their health insurance.

These findings are consistent with previous polls showing how people benefited from Obamacare.

Insurance coverage has been made more affordable by the exchanges, with eighty-three percent of enrollees qualifying for subsidies last year. Those who qualified payed an average of $82 per month in premiums. Those obtaining Silver plans paid an average of $69 per month.

Three was some sticker shock on the part of many who did not realize that they qualify for subsidies along with those of us who do not qualify for subsidies. While we pay the full premiums, the coverage is far better than was available on the individual market in the past, including guarantees that we cannot lose our coverage if we get sick and caps on maximum annual out of pocket expenses. Some people, especially those who were not familiar with the individual insurance market were expecting lower premiums. Despite conservative claims that Obamacare is a right wing take over of health care, the insurance is sold through private companies and their rates have always been high, and frequently increased by double digit amounts annually.

Conservatives also complain about the deductibles, especially on the plans with lower premiums. These plans have higher deductibles and a lower premium, with Medical Savings Accounts available to help with these out of pocket expenses. Plans on the individual market have typically had higher deductibles than employer plans. The attacks from conservatives regarding this are also rather hypocritical as conservatives have long been advocating high deductible plans paired with MSA’s as a way to reduce costs. Now that they have what they advocated, they are suddenly complaining. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised as many other components of Obamacare have long been advocated by conservatives, including the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

While there may be higher deductibles, there are also total caps on out of pocket costs which we did not have before. The Affordable Care Act has eliminated the old maximums on coverage. Republicans never mention this, but these factors could result in lower out of pocket costs for many, along with eliminating the risk of bankruptcy for those with expensive diseases who outspend their coverage. All plans cover preventative services with no deductible. Some plans now being sold will provide some other forms of coverage before the deductible is met, including office calls and prescriptions.

While premiums in 2014 were consistent with previous premiums, instead of seeing double digit increases in 2015 most people are seeing comparable rates due to the increased number of insurance companies offering coverage and the larger risk pool as more people have coverage. Many people will even see lower insurance rates:

In preliminary but encouraging news for consumers and taxpayers, insurance filings show that average premiums will decline slightly next year in 16 major cities for a benchmark Obamacare plan.

Prices for a benchmark “silver” or mid-priced plan sold through the health law’s online marketplaces aren’t all moving in the same direction, however, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) In Nashville, the premium will rise 8.7 percent, the largest increase in the study, while in Denver it will fall 15.6 percent, the largest decrease.

But overall the results, based on available filings, don’t show the double-digit percentage increases that some have anticipated for the second year of marketplace operation. On average, rates will drop 0.8 percent in the areas studied.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have spread a wide variety of lies about the plan. Although these lies have repeatedly been debunked, Republicans continue to repeat them.

The latest attack from dishonest opponents of the plan has been to repeat irrelevant quotes from Jonathan Gruber, an economist who worked on Mitt Romney’s plan and also made economic projections on the impact of the Affordable Care Act. He is not a part of the Obama administration, and is not the “architect” of the plan as conservatives claim. Nor did he have a role in the writing or the promotion of the legislation. His comments that the American people were stupid do not reflect the views of anyone other than himself. His claims of a lack of transparency are incorrect, with the law having been written in open hearings and with the various versions having been posted on line.  The two items he brought up, the penalties for not obtaining coverage, and the transfer of wealth from the healthy to the sick, were both openly discussed prior to the passage of the law. Besides, all insurance has always represented a transfer of wealth from those who purchase insurance and do not require the benefits to those who do require insurance benefits. Apparently many conservatives fail to understand how insurance works.

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Despite Solyndra, Energy Loan Program Now Making A Profit

Before Republicans became obsessed with Benghazi, and now putting far more significance on Jonathan Gruber’s comments on the Affordable Care Act than, as I explained earlier in the week,  there actually is, they loved to scream about Solyndra. Solyndra was granted loan guarantees under a program which was started under George Bush and expanded in Obama’s stimulus program. Never mind that the entire stimulus package was highly successful.  All they cared about was that Solyndra went under. The decision to invest in risky  energy companies which could advance clean energy in the United States is now paying off.  NPR’s Morning Edition reports that the energy loan program is now making a profit.

In 2011, solar panel company Solyndra defaulted on a $535 million loan guaranteed by the Department of Energy. The agency had a few other high-profile bankruptcies, too — electric car company Fisker and solar company Abound among them. But now that loan program has started turning a profit.

Overall, the agency has loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology. Companies have defaulted on $780 million of that — a loss rate of 2.28 percent. The agency also has collected $810 million in interest payments, putting the program $30 million in the black.

When Congress created the loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was never designed to be a moneymaker. In fact, Congress imagined there would be losses and set aside $10 billion to cover them…

Conservatives who saw a scandal in the Solyndra loan guarantees appear not to understand how the economy works. Some companies are going to succeed and some are going to fail. The loan program did not stay away from risky investments, and this has sometimes paid off:

The Energy Department actively monitors all the companies in its portfolio for potential default risks, “and when there are warning flags, then the disbursements are suspended — possibly ended,” Moniz says.

But he says the Energy Department doesn’t want to go too far in the direction of only lending to safe investments. “We have to be careful that we don’t walk away from risk, because otherwise we’re not really going to advance the marketplace,” he says.

Moniz points to a small company called Beacon Power as an example. It got an Energy Department loan, went bankrupt and defaulted on about $14 million in debt. Today the company is back in business, providing a valuable service to electricity grids and repaying the rest of its loan.

The United States has now accepted new challenges in light of the major breakthrough on climate change reached this week with China:

The deal jointly announced in Beijing by President Obama and China’s president, Xi Jinping, to limit greenhouse gases well beyond their earlier pledges is both a major diplomatic breakthrough and — assuming both sides can carry out their promises — an enormously positive step in the uncertain battle against climate change.

It will be interesting to see if any of the companies which received loan guarantees through the Department of Energy are instrumental in enabling the United States to carry out these promises.

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Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On The Issues, Revisited

Paul Krugman discussed how the Republicans won in the midterm elections despite being wrong about pretty much everything. Kurt Eichenwald has more in Vanity Fair looking at many of the things conservatives were wrong about over  the past thirty years. Although the list is far from complete, I’d suggest checking out the full article for the specifics. Topics covered include:

  • Tax cuts pay for themselves
  • Deregulating the Thrift Industry Will Save It
  • Iraq I: The Tilt
  • Giving Iranian Moderates Weapons Will Help America
  • Raising Taxes Will Cause a Recession
  • Abolishing Some Bank Regulations Will Help the Economy
  • The U.S.–led Bombing of Yugoslavia Would Be a Disaster
  • Bin Laden Was a Front for Iraq
  • Iraq 2: W.M.D.s and a Short, Inexpensive War
  • Obamacare

Many people have given different ideas regarding the other part of the question as to how the Republicans won. Fivethirtyeight.com looked at one issue  from polling data in Iowa. They found that, “White voters in Iowa without a college degree have shifted away from the Democratic Party.”

Loss of white working class votes has been a problem for Democrats for several election cycles, and was most pronounced in the 2012 elections. It will be interesting to see if there is any reduction in this trend when Barack Obama is no longer on the ticket. This is certainly not exclusively an issue based upon a black president. The Republicans have depended upon the southern strategy since the 1960’s, using this in the south along with provoking racial fears to gain the votes of less educated white voters in the north.

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Navy SEAL Describes How Osama bin Laden Died As A Coward

Robert O’Neill, reportedly the Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden, was interviewed by CNN and had some comments on how bin Laden died. Gawker summarizes:

In a previously unreleased audio interview aired last night on CNN, O’Neill told freelance journalist Alex Quade that he had used details of bin Laden’s death to bring closure to the families of 9/11 victims, saying:

“[O]ne thing I tell them is ‘All right, Osama bin Laden died like a pussy. That’s all I’m telling you. Just so you know. He died afraid. And he knew that we were there to kill him.'”

“You can quote me on this bullshit,” said O’Neill.

Bin Laden’s alleged killer also told Quade that SEAL Team Six was sent after the Al Qaeda leader “because they wanted him dead” and that “it doesn’t matter anymore if I am ‘The Shooter.'”

“I don’t give a fuck,” said O’Neill. “We got him. We brought him out and we lived.”

Mediaite also describes how he “used details of the terrorist mastermind’s death to provide comfort to 9/11 families.”

He also will be interviewed on Fox. Does that mean that Fox viewers actually believe that bin Laden was killed under Obama? There really are conservatives who deny this, seeing yet another conspiracy theory in the reports of his death. After all, as MisterConservative said, we never saw the body, and Benghazi!

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Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On All The Issues

Paul Krugman points out that the Republicans, despite winning the midterm elections on Tuesday, were wrong on everything:

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

He then went on to look at why they won, expressing views similar to what I had written about the election earlier in the week:

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

This was their strategy, literally beginning on Day 1, if not earlier. A Frontline documentary described what the Republicans planned:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

Of course we cannot just criticize the Republicans. The Democrats were at fault when six years later they still had no effective response to this Republican strategy, and were afraid to stand up for their accomplishments. Being right doesn’t do any good politically if they were afraid to explain this to the voters. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t come out to vote for them. As Peter Beinhart wrote, the Democrats cannot keep playing not to lose:

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

…We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

By positioning himself as a moderate, he may have missed a chance to gin up more enthusiasm within the state’s expanding Democratic base, earning fewer votes in such deep-blue communities as Arlington County and Alexandria than left-of-Warner Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) did a year ago.

All of it has left some to wonder whether Warner would have won bigger if he had eschewed the middle and embraced the left, and whether the winning path for moderates that Warner forged during his own bid for governor 13 years ago is becoming extinct.

“I think if you look at the returns around the country . . . it raises questions about just how successful the bipartisanship brand really is,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Tuesday after easily winning a fourth term in Northern Virginia’s 11th Congressional District by talking about women’s rights, immigration reform and climate change — and less about working with Republicans.

Here’s a similar take on what the Democrats did wrong: “They were so focused on independents that they forgot they had a base. They left their base behind. They became Republican-lite.”

That opinion came from Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also said Democrats “sidelined their best messenger” by running away from Obama, and for not talking about the economy. Republicans might be wrong virtually all the time lately when it comes to governing, but quite often they are smarter than Democrats with regards to politics.

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