IRS Scandal Joins Other Republican-Created Scandals In Being Debunked When Investigated

As I noted at the start of the year, the Obama administration has been remarkably free of scandals–or at least real scandals as opposed to scandals manufactured by Republicans. Investigations of faux scandals ranging from Benghazi to Grubergate all failed to show any truth to right wing accusations and conspiracy theories. Now we find that not even Darrell Issa, despite often engaging in McCarthyist tactics, has been able to find any evidence for the Republican claims of coordination between the White House and the IRS to investigate conservative groups. The New York Times reports:

An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Despite lacking any evidence to back up the original claims, Issa did attempt to provide some rhetoric to excite conservatives in alleging that conservative groups did receive scrutiny in applying for tax exceptions. What conservatives ignore is that 1) it is the job of the IRS to review tax exemptions by political groups (with far too many probably getting away with unwarranted tax breaks) and that while Issa purposely limited his investigation to scrutiny placed on conservative groups, progressive groups faced an even greater amount of scrutiny by the IRS.

While conducting this investigation, Issa has repeatedly released selective testimony which suggested scrutiny of conservative groups and has refused to release other testimony which doesn’t line up with his claims:

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who has compared the inquiry about the I.R.S. to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s investigation of suspected communists in the 1950s, was sharply critical of the report.

“It is revealing that the Republicans — yet again — are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative,” Mr. Cummings said, “without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first.”

The Republican smears against Obama are no longer working out so well with them, and Obama might get the last laugh with his approval now surging to a twenty month high at 48 percent. Just maybe the stronger looking Obama we have seen since the midterm elections, accompanied Democrats who, despite being in the minority are less held back by the conservative members who lost in November, will be a more potent force in fighting the authoritarian right in the upcoming years.

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Techies Join Other Liberals Who Are Not Ready For Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her tenure as Secretary of State was just as hawkish:

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Ignore Chuck Schumer–The Democrats Were Right To Pass Obamacare

Charlie Cook is usually an astute political observer but he is making a mistake in paying too much attention to what Chuck Schumer said about Obamacare hurting the Democrats. The argument, which many have brought up, is that the Democrats made a political mistake by concentrating on health care as opposed to the economy. There are many problems with this theory to explain the Democratic loses in 2014.

This premise is incorrect. Obama  did concentrate on the economy first, getting us out of the depression which Bush had us heading into. This included the stimulus, which was successful, and saving the auto industry. In retrospect a larger stimulus package would have done more good, but this was not feasible politically, regardless of whether Obama also worked on health care reform.  Obama can walk and chew gum at the same time. Working on health care reform did not prevent him from working on the economy.

Those who argue that Obama should have put off health care reform for a later date are forgetting that he had a narrow window and that it could not have passed if postponed. While Republicans often claim that Obama had a super-majority in the Senate, along with controlling the House, for his first two years and therefore could have done whatever he wanted, this is not true. Due to vacancies from matters such as the delay in seating Al Franken and Ted Kennedy’s illness and later death, Democrats and independents caucusing with them had sixty votes for only five months. This included Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson who often did not go along with the rest of the Democrats. It was also these two who blocked the Medicare buy-in and public option, so they are the ones you should be angry with if you are facing higher premiums than you want to pay for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act, among its other benefits, is also important for its effects on economic recovery. Obamacare helps those in the middle class who had medical expenses they could not afford in the past. In is also beneficial to the economy long term by eliminating the problem of people being forced to work for larger companies to obtain coverage. This allows more people to work for smaller companies, or to start companies of their own to stimulate the economy. In Republican-speak, Obamacare increases the number of job creators.

Those who blame Democratic loses on Obamacare ignore all the other factors involved in 2014, such as Democrats being forced to defend so many seats in red states in the sixth year of a presidency. Even Ronald Reagan could not prevent his party from losing the Senate in his sixth year in office.  Obamacare did not turn out to be the major issue that many had predicted, and even without Obamacare it is likely there would have been an anti-Democratic mood. Larry Sabato pointed out this week that it is actually the norm for a political party to lose Congressional seats when they control the White House.

The Democrats also made serious mistakes which hurt politically. They failed to make the case for the harm done by Republican economic policies, and take credit for their own successes. On Obamacare, the mistake was not passing the law but having Democratic candidates run away from it when they should have been explaining the benefits of the law. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies, and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t turn out to vote for them. Polls show that a majority supports the Democrats on the issues, including the specifics of the Affordable Care Act, but this does not help the Democrats when they run as Republican-lite.

For Schumer to argue that they should not have passed Obamacare because it hurt politically also is another sign of how the Democrats, while far preferable to the Republicans, far too often are afraid to stand for anything. What is the point of winning election if the victories are not used to accomplish something? LBJ was not afraid to pass the civil rights act despite knowing that this would help Republican politicians take the south from the Democrats.

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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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