Republican Candidate And Pro-Republican Ad Both Making False Claims About Obamacare

Brian Buetler points out that the conservative claims of people not signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act are falling apart as we reach the end of the open enrollment period:

Charles Gaba — an ACA supporter and data Hoover — has been documenting the March surge, state by state on his Twitter account and his site, ACAsignups.net. Gaba has the best numbers out there, and has been accurately forecasting official enrollment statistics for weeks. He currently projects total exchange enrollment will hit 6.2 million by the end of the month, not counting enrollment in off-exchange plans, and puts the grand beneficiary total (including Medicaid beneficiaries and “young invincibles” on their parents’ plans) at 11.9-15.6 million as of Saturday. Conservatives are thus, to no one’s surprise, furiously attempting to “un-skew” his figures.

And, as Vanderbilt health policy and med school professor John Graves notes in Health Affairs, turnover is a major hallmark of the insurance market. People who lose or change jobs, and thus become temporarily uninsured, will be eligible for ACA enrollment, even after March 31. Medicaid, isn’t bound by open enrollment. As such, enrollment numbers will continue to grow throughout the election season. Exchange beneficiaries might even reach the elusive 7 million total this year, a few months late, but before the midterms.

He also noted a “glaring error” regarding the Affordable Care Act in a conference call for Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land. Such errors are quite common whenever Republicans talk about health care. He pointed out that Land’s proposal (an idea commonly promoted by Republicans) could lead to anyone whose coverage lapses being permanently denied insurance coverage.

Just as incorrect and claims about Obamacare are common from Land and other Republican candidates, Glenn Kessler points out that the latest ad from the Koch financed Americans For Prosperity is making more misleading claims:

“Millions of people have lost their health insurance”

We’ve repeatedly written about this claim, most recently when House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) incorrectly claimed that so many people have lost insurance that there’s even been “a net loss” of people with insurance. Actually, there has been an increase in the number of people with insurance, though not as much as the Obama administration had hoped.

The Associated Press estimated that nearly 5 million Americans had their insurance canceled, but a large percentage of the people whose old plans were canceled were automatically moved to new plans offered by the same insurance companies. These people may not be happy with their new coverage, but they got a plan without going through HealthCare.gov. Precise figures are not available, as the insurance market is private and fragmented, but insurance company officials say a majority of people could move to new plans they were offered.

The White House last year ordered an administrative fix that, depending on the actions of individual states, allowed as many as 2.3 million people with “canceled plans” to simply stay on their old plans for at least another year. (In early March, the White House extended that deadline to 2016.) The administration in December also announced a new catastrophic exemption to fill any remaining gaps in coverage — estimated to affect as many as 500,000 people.

In other words, only in a narrow sense have “millions” lost their health insurance.

“Millions of people can’t see their own doctors”

This sweeping statement could just as well describe the world before implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Most Americans get their insurance through their employers, and those plans could be changed at any time. Moreover, when people change jobs, they often also change health plans, which could also force changes in doctors. Of course, most plans do not prevent you from seeing a doctor who is not in a network; instead, your co-pays would be higher.

AFP in the past has run ads that feature people upset at losing their doctors, but this line is misleading because it presumes that everything was perfect before the Affordable Care Act became law.

“Millions are paying more and getting less”

This is another sweeping statement, and the most misleading. (Advocates could argue back that “millions more are paying less and getting more.”)

In terms of premiums, there is a fierce dispute now among policy experts about the impact of the law on the cost of health care. When we previously looked at this issue, after President Obama claimed that the law “has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years,” we settled on a “verdict pending.” It’s still difficult to compare premiums from before the law with premiums after the law — or to determine how much the law has to do with health-care costs today.

One big reason why it is difficult to compare premiums, before and after, is because the law mandates a comprehensive package of benefits — benefits that many plans in the individual market previously lacked. That increase in insurance coverage, according to a Congressional Budget Office study in 2009, was expected to boost the premiums of nongroup plans by about 30 percent, but the impact would be negligible for large group plans, which already provided many of those benefits.

But, wait, there’s more: Other factors were expected to reduce premiums in the individual market, so the total difference (before subsidies) was an increase of 10 to 13 percent per person. For people receiving subsidies, the cost of premiums in the individual market would actually decline nearly 60 percent, CBO calculated.

In other words, the insurance premiums may be slightly higher for some — or significantly lower for many — but the plans are also more robust.

So how does AFP justify that people are getting “less”? Levi Russell said the ad is referring to narrower health-care networks. He pointed The Fact Checker to an article in The Wall Street Journal on a McKinsey & Co. report that found that the percentage of plans with “ultranarrow” or “narrow” hospital networks had increased — though that also meant lower premium costs. In fact, many people apparently would happily pay less to get less.

“McKinsey found that nearly two-thirds of about 150,000 consumers surveyed since 2011 said they were willing to trade provider choice to lower their premium costs,” the article said.

Insurance companies have also been going to more restricted panels of physicians for several years, and this likely would have increased with or without the Affordable Care Act.

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Republicans, White Working Class Voters, And Race

White working class males present a particular frustration for Democratic strategists. Most independent economists agree that Republican economic policies have increasingly led to redistribution of  wealth to the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the middle class yet Republicans obtain the majority of votes from low-information white voters who are hurt the most by Republican policies.  Last week I looked at attempts by Democrats to regain the votes of white males. This is hindered by low-information voters being misled by Republican misinformation (while better educated white male voters are more likely to vote Democratic). Many vote contrary to their economic self-interest based upon social issues. This is all reinforced by the Republican southern strategy which enhances economic insecurity by playing on racial fears.

Thomas B. Edsall has an op-ed in The New York Times on How Democrats Can Compete for the White Working Class. His analysis actually leaves many reasons for Democrats to remain gloomy about these prospects. He began with some differences in attitudes between these less-educated white voters and the general population in surveys conducted by Democracy Corps:

Democracy Corps found that less well-educated whites agree, by a huge 46.2 percentage point margin, with the statement “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful.” This is 11.6 points more than all voters.

Similarly, the general public agrees that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves” by a 19.5 percentage point margin, while whites who did not go to college agree by half that.

He also cited a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute from September 2012 entitled “Beyond Guns and God: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America.” This also showed that working class whites tend to be more conservative on social issues but also that this was far more the case in the south. Grouping these numbers nationally made these voters appear more conservative on social issues than is actually the case:

…while working-class whites in the South opposed same-sex marriage by 61-32 in the P.R.R.I. survey, in the Northeast they favored it 57-37; in the West they were split 47-45; and in the Midwest they were modestly opposed, 44-49. In the case of abortion, majorities of non-college whites outside of the South believe the practice should be legal, while those in the South were opposed 54-42.

In general, the findings of the P.R.R.I. study suggest that outside the South, Democrats should be able to make significant inroads among working-class whites – and, in fact, they have. In 2008, when Obama was losing nationally by 18 points among noncollege whites, in Michigan he carried these voters 52-46; in Illinois, 53-46; and in Connecticut, 51-47.

There remains another huge stumbling block to Democrats winning these white votes–race:

The P.R.R.I. study did point to one Democratic stumbling block: affirmative action and “reverse discrimination.”

Three out of five working-class whites believe “that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” This view is strongest in the South, at 69 percent, but it is the majority conviction of working-class whites in all regions of the country, where it is never lower than 55 percent.

In another key measure of white working-class racial resentment, the P.R.R.I. survey found that by a margin of three percentage points, the white working class agreed “that the government has paid too much attention to the problems of minorities.” White noncollege voters were split down the middle on this issue in the Northeast and Midwest. In the South, 58 percent agreed.

Thirty years ago, in the aftermath of the 1984 presidential election in which Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale, Democrats were deeply alarmed over the defection of blue-collar voters.

Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster, conducted focus groups in 1985 in the white working-class suburbs of Detroit and found that “these white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics.”

The perception of reverse discrimination was an even more acute source of anger: “The special status of blacks is perceived by almost all these individuals as a serious obstacle to their personal advancement. Indeed, discrimination against whites has become a well-assimilated and ready explanation for their status, vulnerability and failures.”

A separate study that year, financed by the Democratic National Committee, found that white working-class voters were convinced that “the Democratic Party has not stood with them as they moved from the working to the middle class. They have a whole set of middle-class economic problems today, and their party is not helping them. Instead, it is helping the blacks, Hispanics and the poor. They feel betrayed.”

While these attitudes are stronger in the south, I fear that Democrats will continue to face serious obstacles to attracting white low-information voters in other regions. That does not mean I disagree with Democratic attempts to  try to pick up votes. There are white working class voters who are less conservative and less motivated by race than those in the south and some might be convinced to vote more along economic interests. Even if Democrats continue to win a minority of these voters, increasing their share could still add to Democratic margins.

This strategy has also begun to backfire against Republicans nationally. The realization that Republicans have based their electoral strategy to such a considerable degree on stroking racial fears has been one reason why they have been so unsuccessful in obtaining Jewish votes, and why Republican use of racial fears on immigration issues is hurting their long term prospects due to the loss of Latino voters.

Among other measures, Democrats have attempted to improve the economic conditions of millions of workers by pushing for an increase in the minimum wage. Now Obama has escalated this with an executive order which will provide overtime pay to millions of Americans who have been denied this:

President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated.

On Thursday, the president will direct the Labor Department to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for several million additional fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others whom many businesses currently classify as “executive or professional” employees to avoid paying them overtime, according to White House officials briefed on the announcement.

Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25…

Under the new rules that Mr. Obama is seeking, fewer salaried employees could be blocked from receiving overtime, a move that would potentially shift billions of dollars’ worth of corporate income into the pockets of workers. Currently, employers are prohibited from denying time-and-a-half overtime pay to any salaried worker who makes less than $455 per week. Mr. Obama’s directive would significantly increase that salary level.

In addition, Mr. Obama will try to change rules that allow employers to define which workers are exempt from receiving overtime based on the kind of work they perform. Under current rules, if an employer declares that an employee’s primary responsibility is executive, such as overseeing a cleanup crew, then that worker can be exempted from overtime.

White House officials said those rules were sometimes abused by employers in an attempt to avoid paying overtime. The new rules could require that employees perform a minimum percentage of “executive” work before they can be exempted from qualifying for overtime pay.

“Under current rules, it literally means that you can spend 95 percent of the time sweeping floors and stocking shelves, and if you’re responsible for supervising people 5 percent of the time, you can then be considered executive and be exempt,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research organization in Washington.

Conservatives are likely to protest the use of an executive order here, ignoring the fact that Obama is just reversing a previous executive order by George W. Bush in 2004. Think Progress has more on the economic effects of this executive order. Jared Bernstein, former executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, also predicts that “a potential side effect is that you may see more hiring in order to avoid overtime costs, which would be an awfully good thing right about now.”

The question remains whether low-information white working class voters will realize that they are benefiting from such policy differences between the parties or whether they will continue to fall for right wing talking points on the economy, and allow the Republicans to continue to scare them with the prospect of blacks and immigrants challenging them for jobs.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Texas Ban On Same Sex-Marriage Ruled Unconstitutional

In the first of two major items of good news with respect to preventing right wing restrictions on individual liberty, a Federal judge has ruled that Texas’ law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings as having trumped Texas’ moves to ban gay marriage.

Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution.

Laws against gay marriage have been struck down in seven states including Texas in the past sixty-five days. In each case there is a stay in effect and presumably the issue will be decided by the Supreme Court. A trial is also underway in Michigan to challenge the ban on same-sex marriage.

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If Obamacare Is So Bad, Why Can’t The Right Wingers Find Real Losers Under Obamacare?

Republicans have trying to scare voters with stories about people who are losers under the Affordable Care Act. They mention them in speeches, run ads about them, and put them on Fox. Each and every time this has happened reporters checking into the facts found that rather than being losers the people turned out to actually be benefiting from Obamacare. Each and every time. Considering how hard they are trying to show that Obamacare is terrible, you would think that if there are actual losers out there  they would find some.

The latest case, which is quite typical of all the others, is put out by Americans For Prosperity in Michigan and makes these claims:

“I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to. It’s heartbreaking for me. Congressman Peters, your decision to vote Obamacare jeopardized my health.”

Glenn Kessler looked into the facts. Once again it turned out that the claims were false. The Republicans are lying yet again.

The patient was able to obtain a plan which her doctor participated in. Her premiums are significantly lower, offsetting the higher out of pocket expenses. She also could have purchased a plan with higher premiums and  lower out of pocket expenses. Compared with her previous plan, the new plan not only has lower premiums and an out-of-pocket maximum, it has better coverage for chemotherapy.

With the right wing groups repeatedly having to lie to make claims that people are being hurt under Obamacare, it has come to the point where Kevin Drum writes he is “beginning to think there’s not actually a single person in America who’s been harmed by Obamacare.” If there were, you would think that the right wing groups would be able to come up with real examples.

The problem for these groups is that the closest thing there really are to losers are upper-income healthy Americans who are paying more for coverage due to not qualifying for subsidies, but also receiving better insurance plans. Hardly a group to make commercials about.

I might be able to claim to be  a loser under Obamacare, but I’m not going to complain about paying a little more in premiums, which I can easily afford.

I received one of those letters that my plan was being cancelled. That wasn’t as terrible as the Republicans make it sound. Blue Cross gave me two choices. I could sign up for a grandfathered plan they were continuing which was similar to my previous plan but with a higher deductible and significantly lower premium. It is also non-compliant with the requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The other choice was to purchase a new plan, which I ultimately did. While technically not true that I would be able to keep my old plan as Obama stated, this is quite a trivial issue to gripe about considering these choices.

For most people, it would also cost less to buy the new plan once the subsidies are taken into account. For those of us who do not qualify for subsidies, the premiums are higher. However the plan covers much more than my previous plan. When I first bought insurance through Blue Cross (changing to them because my previous insurer had raised prices to an incredible degree) there were no plans available on the individual market which covered office calls or prescriptions. The new plan covers both. Blue Cross has also been covering preventative tests for the last couple of years with no out of pocket payments due to the Affordable Care Act. I’ve  been able to keep my daughter on my plan while she is in school, saving more money. In addition, the new plan does not have a lifetime limit on coverage, has limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and cannot be cancelled due to developing medical problems. I bet many people fail to take these important aspects into account when comparing plans under Obamacare to their previous plan.

To recap, I am a loser under the system as long as everyone in my family stays healthy as we are paying more in premiums than before. My story would hardly make a good story for opponents of Obamacare to use. If anyone in my family were to develop serious medical problems, we would have better coverage and in that case pay less out of pocket, which ultimately is the point of insurance.

Other than paying more (and getting more in return) my experience was not at all bad under Obamacare. Yes, there were problems with the computer system at first, but they have been fixed. As I was not applying for subsidies I purchased through the Blue Cross web site instead of healthcare.gov. The first claims from January were paid by the insurance company with no difficulty.

While a small minority of us are paying more, a tremendous number of  people are now able to obtain coverage who could not obtain it in the past because it was too expensive or insurance companies would not cover them due to per-existing medical conditions. I have patients in this situation who could not obtain coverage in the past but have been covered since January. With all the bogus complaints about people losing their coverage, the significant number is that zero people can now be dropped by their insurance because they become sick, and zero people have to fear losing their insurance should they stop working.

On top of all these benefits, the Affordable Care Act will help the economy. The recent Congressional Budget Office Report, frequently distorted by Republicans, shows that the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, help decrease the deficit, and allow more people to leave large corporations to start small businesses. The effects of this freedom from the “insurance trap” cannot be scored in a CBO report, but should provide a tremendous boost to the economy.

The more people understand the Affordable Care Act and see through the lies being spread by the right wing, the more likely they will realize that those who are calling for repeal are not merely engaging in political rhetoric. The ridiculous forty-seven votes by Republican for repeal would cause real  harm to millions of Americans who are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, along with harming the economy if we were to give up the economic benefits of healthcare reform.

Update: Fake Right Wing Claims Of Losers Under The Affordable Care Act

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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SciFi Weekend: Sherlock Returns; Helix; Veronica Mars Trailer; Searching For Time Travelers; House of Cards; Star Wars; Better Call Saul; Community; Big Bang Theory

Sherlock Returns

Sherlock returned last week. I won’t say much to avoid major spoilers until the show returns in the United States. It should be safe to reveal that Sherlock lives. The episode shows how he survived the fall, but it was more interesting to see Mark Gatiss make fun of all the fan theories. A full review of the episode can be found here. Q&A with cast and show runners here.

The second episode, The Sign of Three, airs tonight on BBC One. A spoiler-free review can be found here.

Helix premieres on Friday. The fifteen minutes can be viewed above. Press release follows:

Helix is an intense thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to the high-tech research facility, Arctic Biosystems, to investigate a possible disease outbreak, only to find themselves pulled into a terrifying life-and-death struggle that may hold the key to mankind’s salvation or total annihilation. However, the lethal threat is just the tip of the iceberg, and as the virus evolves, the chilling truth begins to unravel.

Executive produced by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Steven Maeda (Lost) who is also showrunner, and Lynda Obst (Contact), the 13-episode drama stars Billy Campbell (The Killing, Killing Lincoln) and Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine, 47 Ronin).

Campbell stars as Dr. Alan Farragut, leader of the Centers for Disease Control outbreak field team called upon to investigate and control a potential outbreak. Sanada also stars as Dr. Hiroshi Hatake, director of Arctic Biosystems and its mysterious viral research program. Helix also stars Kyra Zagorsky (Supernatural) as Dr. Julia Walker, Mark Ghanimé (Emily Owens, M.D.) as Major Sergio Balleseros, Jordan Hayes (House at the End of the Street) as Dr. Sarah Jordan, Meegwun Fairbrother as Daniel Aerov, Catherine Lemieux (White House Down) as Dr. Doreen Boyle and Neil Napier (Riddick) as Dr. Peter Farragut.

Helix is produced by Tall Ship Productions, Kaji Productions and Lynda Obst Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television. Prolific director and producer Jeffrey Reiner (Friday Night Lights) directed the first episode of Helix, which was written by creator and co-executive producer, Cameron Porsandeh.

The trailer for the Veronica Mars movie was released last week. Video above.

Attempts were made to see if time travelers were active on social media and if they would provide clues as to their existence. The attempt to find time travelers was unsuccessful. What about these clues that John Kennedy and Barack Obama are time travelers?

House of Cards will return on February 14. For those who want to revisit the first season, Netflix has added director’s commentary tracts.

It looks like the Superman vs. Batman movie is a good deal financially for Michigan. Awaiting details on what is being filmed–will Detroit be the next Gotham City?

David Lynch is filming new material in preparation for the Blu-Ray release of Twin Peaks.

Star Wars Marvel

After Disney purchased the rights to Star Wars, it comes as no surprise that Star Wars comics will be returning to Marvel, which Disney also owns.

The Walt Disney Company’s Lucasfilm Ltd. and Marvel Entertainment are joining forces to bring new Star Wars adventures to readers across the galaxy, with Marvel granted exclusive rights to create and publish Star Wars comics and graphic novels beginning in 2015.

The agreement marks a homecoming for the Star Wars comic books. Marvel Comics published the first Star Wars comic book, STAR WARS #1, in March 1977, which went on to sell more than 1 million copies. Marvel Comics published its STAR WARS series for nine years. In 1991, Dark Horse Comics took over the license, publishing fan-favorite titles like Dark Empire and Star Wars: Legacy. Last year, Dark Horse released The Star Wars #1, an adaptation of George Lucas’ original rough-draft screenplay for the film, garnering rave reviews and national media attention and ranking among the top-selling Star Wars comics of all time.

“Dark Horse Comics published exceptional Star Wars comics for over 20 years, and we will always be grateful for their enormous contributions to the mythos, and the terrific partnership that we had,” said Carol Roeder, director of Lucasfilm franchise publishing, Disney Publishing Worldwide. “In 2015, the cosmic adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewbacca will make the lightspeed jump back to Marvel, to begin a new age of adventures within the Star Wars universe.

TV-Breaking Bad Wisdom

Entertainment Weekly discussed both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul with Vince Gilligan. A portion of the interview:

What has been the big challenge in formulating Better Call Saul? And can you clarify how much of the show will be a prequel and whether we might see scenes that take place after the events of Breaking Bad? Are we going to hop around in time a little?
Peter Gould is a wonderful writer and producer and director who worked on Breaking Bad with me from the first season, and he created the character of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). He and I have been turning that over in our heads quite a bit. We think, by and large, this show will be a prequel, but the wonderful thing about the fractured chronology we employed on Breaking Bad for many years is the audience will not be thrown by us jumping around in time. So it’s possible that we may indeed do that, and we’ll see the past and perhaps the future. Nothing is written in stone yet, we’re still figuring it out, but the thing we realize is tricky with the character is that Saul Goodman is very comfortable in his own skin. He seems to be a character who is pretty happy with himself, especially when we first meet him. He seems to be a pretty happy-go-lucky guy, and that makes him everything that Walter White is not. And that also makes for tricky drama. When I say drama, even in a comedy, you want drama, you want tension and conflict, and a character that at heart seems at peace with himself is intrinsically undramatic. [Laughs] So we’ve been thinking about how to address that issue.

Could some of the action be set in the Breaking Bad era as well?
It could. That’s why I love the possibilities of the show so much. Anything is possible, and I can’t make any promises that we will indeed see that kind of stuff, but I can tell you from a writer’s point of view, it’s very freeing and emboldening to have those opportunities available to you.

How many characters from Breaking Bad might pop up or even have an extended role?
The character that springs to mind would be Mike (Jonathan Banks). That would be a great deal of fun. I would say the sky’s the limit, at least theoretically speaking. Realistically speaking, we’ve got a whole lot of actors, and the world is now well-aware of their wonderful talents and abilities, and therefore Breaking Bad has probably made it tougher for Peter and I to get some of these folks pinned down for another TV show. They’re off making big movies and doing Broadway plays and whatnot, and that’s exactly the way it should be. That is a high-class problem that we will have to contend with as we go forward with Better Call Saul, if we do indeed want to touch base with some of these characters… Better Call Saul could be The Love Boat of its generation, where instead of Milton Berle showing up in a sailor’s cap, hopefully it could be Aaron Paul, also in a sailor’s cap. [Laughs]

I would suggest using a lot of Jonathan Banks in order to add drama which might not be found in Bob Odenkirk’s character. Incidentally, we have already seen Jonathan Banks on Community and Vince Gilligan will also be making an appearance.

Community - Season 5

Community returned with two episodes, Reboot and Introduction to Teaching. Dan Harmon returned and did successfully reboot the show, putting the changes from last season behind. Reboot was the weaker of the two as Harmon did have to spend time setting up the scenario of having everyone back again at Greendale. I would have been satisfied if they simply said the fourth season was a dream and picked up from where season three left off but there was the obvious need to continue the narrative where the show left off last season. I bet that after this, repilot and gas leak year will enter the general vocabulary to describe future shows in similar situations which have a down year under the wrong creative team and then reboot afterwards.

The surprising thing about the episode was the cameo from Chevy Chase. Dan Harmon explained in this interview with IGN:

IGN: Chevy’s cameo was a very nice surprise. How did that come about, and how did you decide upon the specific way it happened in the episode?

Dan Harmon: Well, there’s always the point in every story when a character that’s gone down a certain path needs to have a reason to turn. One of the easiest things to do is have a moment with a mentor, a kind of Obi-Wan figure. I was really just considering what the story needed in the moment where Jeff is walking away with the power to destroy or save Greendale in his hands. What the story needed was someone to turn him, and I did picture Pierce immediately because if he was still on the show, that’s exactly how we would use him, and it’s a greater fact that he was always at his best as this sort of hapless Obi-Wan or a cautionary tale or unintentional mentor – trying to be a mentor in one way, but actually inspiring in a different way. It just seemed like one of those big moments where it was like, “Man, I really miss having that Pierce character,” and I literally pictured him in my head like this Industrial Light & Magic ghost that would appear in front of Jeff and say, “Don’t do this. Go back.” Then I thought, “Okay, then how do we actually make that happen, logically?” The answer was, “Well, actually what you’re describing could just be a hologram, because it doesn’t need to be having a conversation with Jeff. He just needs to say something. He just needs to be a vision.” He can’t be a literal ghost, but he could be a hologram, because Pierce has money, and that seems like the kind of thing you associate with Pierce — that whole Baby Boomer/Sharper Image kind of technology for its own sake kind of thing. And actually, that would work perfectly, because it would allow Chevy to come back to the show without panicking Sony legal, because he wouldn’t be on the set.

I wasn’t there when Chevy departed, but I know he had a specific agreement with Sony in which the terms of his departure were contractual and there was an agreement on both sides. I don’t really know more details than that except to say that simply bringing him back would be a contractual issue. So I was able to say to the studio, “What if we weren’t bringing him back? What if we were shooting him on a separate stage with no other actors around. Would that be allowable?” And they said, “Yes.” So it became this idea. I knew Chevy would be on-board because he’s an arch character, but I know that at the end of it all he always loved doing the show and would be more than willing to come back. He’s very passionate about making people laugh. So I texted him, and he said, “Absolutely, I’ll do it.” And then there was the weird thing of, we really didn’t want that to leak too early because it’s such an easy thing to spoil, and it really does spoil it, I think. So we wanted to see if it was possible to keep it under wraps until it aired. We actually kept it a secret from as much of the crew as possible, other than there were some people we needed to shoot Chevy, but we didn’t tell anybody that we didn’t have to tell. At the table read for the episode, we wrote a fake scene where Jeff is turned by Star-Burns. [Laughs] That’s actually, unfortunately, a really funny scene that the actors got really excited about, because it’s the reveal that Star-Burns is alive and that he’d been hiding on campus and faking his death to avoid death charges. The question is, why would he pick the campus to hide on? It’s the dumbest hiding place in the world, and he doesn’t know why, there’s just something special about the campus, like it was home or something. And that’s what turns Jeff.

the-big-bang-theory competing comic book store

There is new conflict coming up on The Big Bang Theory next week as Bernadette goes to a rival comic book store to purchase something for Howard in the picture above.

NPR’s Morning Edition had a recent segment on the show.

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Health Care News: Majority Oppose Defunding, Clinton the Explainer, Battle in Michigan over Medicaid Expansion

This month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows what most polls on the Affordable Care Act have shown–most people responding do not understand the law and a majority have a negative opinion. Unfortunately this poll didn’t break down support based upon specific aspects of the law. Multiple polls show a majority (often including Republicans) support the individual components of the Affordable Care Act even if they say they oppose it. Overall 37 percent have a favorable view with 42 percent having an unfavorable view. Despite this, only 36 percent of responders support the Republican strategy of defunding while 57 percent oppose, showing a much stronger regard for the rule of law than is seen by Congressional Republicans.

Bill Clinton has been recruited to help with the problem of many people not understanding Obamacare. After his excellent speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, Obama said Clinton should be his “secretary of explaining stuff.” Clinton will be giving a speech on September 4 explaining the Affordable Care Act.

Hostility to the Affordable Care Act remains strong on most conservative sites. I’m seeing an increasing number referring to it as the Unaffordable Care Act, showing how conservatives prefer cute sounding names over reality, considering that the Affordable Care Act helps to cut health care expenses. Conservatives might argue that it doesn’t cut costs enough if not for the fact that it has been Republicans who have opposed cost-cutting measures. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman supported the Republican position, resulting in the elimination of cost-cutting ideas such as a Public Option.

We had quite a battle over expanding Medicaid in Michigan yesterday. Governor Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley supported Medicaid expansion, which was passed by the House previously. On the first ballot, one Republican opposed to passage refrained from voting, resulting in a 19-18 vote, preventing the measure from achieving twenty votes while preventing a tie which Calley might have broken. They did have a second vote later yesterday in which expanding Medicaid did pass. Michigan is likely to lose potential federal funds due to Republicans postponing passage until after the August break, probably preventing them from  providing the benefits in time to receive the federal funds.

Tea Party supporters in Michigan have already been upset that Snyder and Calley have not supported them on all measures and are running a candidate, Wes Nakagiri, against Brian Calley for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2014. Hopefully the make up of the Republican ticket will not matter with the Democratic ticket winning.

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Rick Snyder Remains In Danger In Michigan

There is still a lot of time until the 2014 election but Republican Governor Rick Snyder is in serious danger of losing. An EPIC/MRA poll released today shows him even with two potential Democratic challengers. Considering the much greater name recognition of the governor, it is not a good sign for him if he is only tied before his potential opponents even begin to campaign:

Even though a big majority of recently polled Michigan voters don’t know who Democrats Mark Schauer and Bart Stupak are, the two politicians are in a dead heat with Gov. Rick Snyder in head-to-head matchups for the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Schauer of Battle Creek and Stupak of Menominee are both former state lawmakers and congressmen, and have been mentioned as potential candidates for governor, although neither has made an official announcement about running.

The poll of 600 people done April 13-16 by EPIC/MRA of Lansing showed that 56% of the people surveyed didn’t know who Stupak was and 75% didn’t know who Schauer was. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

And yet, Schauer holds a slim 39-38% lead over Snyder, while Stupak is a point behind Snyder at 38-39%.

“If they’re running even with Snyder and no one knows who they are, that’s an indication that Snyder is losing support,” said Bernie Porn, EPIC/MRA’s pollster.

The governor’s favorable rating hit a high of 55% in early December. But that was before controversial right-to-work legislation was passed in the raucous final days of the legislative session. Since then, Snyder’s ratings have been slipping. In the April survey, 42% of the people had a favorable view of him, while 46% had an unfavorable view. His job rating was 38% positive to 58% negative.

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R.D. Musser of Grand Hotel Dies at 80

Musser Porch

R.D. Musser, Jr. died earlier today of congestive heart failure.  From The Detroit News:

Robert Daniel “Dan” Musser, Chairman Emeritus of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, died today in Lansing of congestive heart failure. He was 80.

During his more than 60 years with the Grand Hotel, he helped guide it to its world class status and expand the size and length of the season, earning attention for the island and tourism in Michigan.

Musser began working at the hotel as a college student in 1951, when its 200 rooms were open from July 4 through Labor Day. His uncle, W. Stewart Woodfill, had owned the hotel since he purchased it in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression.

In 1960, Musser became president of the hotel and later purchased it along with his wife Amelia in 1979.

In the 1970s, Musser began a complete makeover of the hotel, updating the interior and redoing the 385 rooms so that no two look alike.

“When I took over we had about 120 rooms that shared a bath, which could cause real problems,” Musser once said. “If you were in one of those rooms, you could lock the guests in the other room out of the bathroom. People would come to the desk complaining they couldn’t get into the bathroom, which obviously was a problem. We got rid of the last rooms with adjoining baths about 1970.”

Musser also served as the Mackinac Island Public Works Commission Chair for more than 30 years. Under his guidance the island installed a modern water and wastewater system and capped the island’s landfill in 1991.

Former Governor William G. Milliken called Musser “an important figure in Michigan politics as host and friend.”

“Dan Musser was a pillar of great strength on Mackinac Island,” said Milliken. “He will be greatly missed not only on the island but also among those across the state who value what he did to assure the excellence of the Grand Hotel and that he so long did to promote the state.”

Former Gov. Jim Blanchard issued the following statement. “Dan wrote the book on hospitality. He and his family have done more for tourism in Michigan than anyone. The Grand Hotel is not only the crown jewel of Michigan, but a fabulous gathering place for the leaders of Michigan and America. People come from all over the world to go the Grand Hotel. Dan’s passing is a great loss for Michigan and the world of hospitality.”

In his hotel business, Musser was known for a very close attention to detail. On the day before the hotel opened for the season, he would tour the rooms one-by-one to spot any last minute problems. He was known for leaving handwritten notes to employees, sometimes as many as 50 or 60 a day, pointing out things that needed attention…

From  Grand Hotel’s Facebook page:

Musser

It is with great sadness we let you know R.D. Musser, Jr. passed away early this morning. Mr. Musser was highly respected in the hospitality industry and a true icon to everyone who knew him. He became president of the hotel in 1960 and then purchased it with his wife Amelia in 1979. For more than 60 years he operated America’s Summer Place. As we approach the 80th consecutive year of the hotel opening under the stewardship of the same family, it will not be the same without the presence of Mr. Musser who had a ritual of going through each guest room before the hotel opened to make sure it was ready for the season. He will be greatly missed by his loyal staff and guests.

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Michigan Republican National Committeeman Spreads Anti-Gay Bigotry

Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema has obtained a lot of attention recently, even alienating some Republicans, with his extreme views on homosexuality. He is comparing gays to alcoholics when talking about getting them to give up their lifestyle. MLive reports:

“What I’d like to have the homosexual community know is I don’t hate them,” he said. “As a matter of fact when Jesus caught a woman in the act of adultery when they brought her to him he said I don’t condemn you but go and sin no more. That ought to be the church’s goal here. We ought to be saying to these people, ‘Hey, we don’t agree with your lifestyle and we’ll help you get out of it, but we want you to know the facts of what’s going to happen to you if you stay in this lifestyle.’”

The former state representative from West Michigan entered the national debate on gay marriage two weeks ago by sharing an article on Facebook titled “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuality,” which began with a warning to parents that their children could be “indoctrinated” at public schools.

Agema repeated that claim on Wednesday, saying that school kids are already being conditioned to accept homosexuality and that “the next thing that will occur is your kids will come home and say, ‘I think this is a good thing and I think I want to be one.’”

The article also described various health problems associated with “the lifestyle,” citing various sources from 1978 to 1994, including a non-practicing chiropractor with ties to white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups. Agema has since updated the “traditional marriage” section of his personal website with links to additional sources, including the Family Research Council.

“If you really love someone, if you really were concerned about someone, if you saw your friend for example dying of alcoholism would you just stand quietly by and watch it happen?” Agema said on the radio program. “Or would you speak up and say hey I want to help you. That’s what we should be doing.”

As noted above, he recently shared an article with his Facebook friends expressing anti-gay bigotry:

Agema, of Grandville, sparked a furor Wednesday after he posted to an article titled “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals” on his Facebook page.

The article, written by a “Frank Joseph, M.D.,” purports homosexuals are promiscuous, riddled with sexually transmitted diseases and by and large are substance abusers.

It also alleges gay people are responsible for the spread of the AIDS virus in America, that “many homosexuals admit they are pedophiles” and that they are 100 times more likely to be murdered than “the average person.”

The outrage against this post also included protests by some Republicans. While they do not go along with Agema’s extreme statements, I wonder how many of these Republicans would be willing to support legal change to reverse laws which discriminate against homosexuals.

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Carl Levin Not Running For Reelection– Fortunately Republicans Are Now Very Unpopular In Michigan

Michigan Senator Carl Levin announced today that he will not run for reelection in 2014. He also announced the issues he plans to concentrate on in his final two years in the Senate now that he won’t be distracted by a reelection campaign.

Years of bipartisan work by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that I chair have shed light on tax avoidance schemes that are a major drain on our treasury. The huge loss of corporate tax receipts caused by the shift of U.S. corporate tax revenue to offshore tax havens is but one example of the egregious tax loopholes that we must end. Thirty of our most profitable companies paid no taxes over a recent three year period although they had over $150 billion in profits.

Tax avoidance schemes that have no economic justification or purpose other than to avoid paying taxes may be legal but they should not be. These schemes add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. They lead to cuts in education, research, national security, law enforcement, infrastructure, food safety and other important investments in our nation. And they add to the tax burden of ordinary Americans who have to pick up the slack and accelerate the economic inequality in our country. I want to fight to bring an end to this unjustified drain on the Treasury.

Second, I want to ensure that the manufacturing renaissance that has led Michigan’s economic comeback continues. We’ve made progress in building the partnerships we need to help U.S. manufacturers succeed, but the next two years will be crucial to sustaining and building on that progress.

A third item I want to tackle is a growing blight on our political system that I believe I can help address: the use of secret money to fund political campaigns. Our tax laws are supposed to prevent secret contributions to tax exempt organizations for political purposes. My Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations needs to look into the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy.

Finally, the next two years will also be important in dealing with fiscal pressures on our military readiness. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am determined to do all I can to address that issue. I also believe we need to pursue the rapid transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans. And, as our troops come home, we must do a better job of caring for those who bear both the visible and invisible wounds of war.

Open seats often provide the opposing party the best chance of picking up a seat. Levin’s retirement leaves the Democrats defending four open seats so far in 2014: Michigan, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Iowa. Republicans also have their best shot in off-year elections when the electorate is older and more conservative than in years with a presidential election.

While the Republicans totally dominated the election results in Michigan in 2010, this is unlikely to happen in 2014. Seeing the results of Republican government, Michigan voters are likely to vote heavily Democratic in 2014. This is seen in a new poll from Public Policy Polling. The poll shows that Governor Rick Snyder trails three potential Democratic opponents. The Republican legislature is also unpopular, with the poll showing that more voters would choose a Democrat (48%)  over a Republican (36%). While the individual candidates will affect the outcome, a Democrat running for Levin’s seat should have a strong edge over a Republican.

 

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