Norman Ornstein Writes Once Again That The Republicans Are The Problem

Norman Ornstein once again sets the record straight, resonding to those who say both parties are responsible for the degree of polarization and gridlock we are now experiencing:

Tom Mann and I, among others, have said that the polarization in the capital is asymmetric, much more on the conservative and Republican side than on the liberal and Democratic side. An army of journalists—including Ron Fournier, Paul Kane, and others—have said both sides are to blame. And journalists led by Jim Fallows have decried what he first called “false equivalence.” This malady itself has two components. The first, which in many ways is a larger ingrained journalistic habit that tries mightily to avoid any hint of reporting bias, is the reflexive “we report both sides of every story,” even to the point that one side is given equal weight not supported by reality. The second, often called the Green Lantern approach and typified by Bob Woodward, is that presidential leadership—demanding change, sweet-talking, and threatening lawmakers—could readily overcome any dysfunction caused by polarization, thus allocating responsibility in a different way that deflects any sign of asymmetry.

As the Pew study makes clear, in the mid- to late-1990s, we did not have anywhere near the level of public polarization or ideological or partisan animosity that we have now. In the public, this phenomenon has been much more recent (and is accelerating). But in the Gingrich era in Congress, starting in 1993, where Republicans united in both houses to oppose major Clinton initiatives and moved vigorously from the start of his presidency to delegitimize him, the era of tribalism started much earlier, while the ante was upped dramatically in the Obama years. The fact is that it was not public divisions on issues that drove elite polarization, but the opposite: Cynical politicians and political consultants in the age of the permanent campaign, bolstered by radio talk-show hosts and cable-news producers and amplified by blogs and social media, did a number on the public.

The elite tribalism was not all one-sided. To be sure, there was plenty of vitriol hurled by Democrats at George W. Bush. But Democrats worked hand-in-glove with Bush at the early, vulnerable stage of his controversial presidency to enact No Child Left Behind, which gave his presidency precious credibility and provided the votes and support needed for his tax cuts. Contrast that with the early stages of the Obama presidency.

Merry uses immigration to dispute our characterization of the contemporary Republican Party as an insurgent outlier, dismissive of science; no surprise that he does not mention climate change. As for Ron Fournier, I have one point of contention and one response to his question, “Who cares?” First is the characterization of those who believe that the polarization is asymmetric as partisans. There are partisans who have seized on the ideas, but it is very unfair to characterize the scholars and most journalists who have written about this as biased—just as it would be deeply unfair to characterize Fournier, a straight-up journalist of the old school, as an instrument of Republicans or the Right.

More important is the question he raised. Does it matter whether the polarization, and the deep dysfunction that follows from it, is equal or not, including to the average voter? The answer is a resounding yes. If bad behavior—using the nation’s full faith and credit as a hostage to political demands, shutting down the government, attempting to undermine policies that have been lawfully enacted, blocking nominees not on the basis of their qualifications but to nullify the policies they would pursue, using filibusters as weapons of mass obstruction—is to be discouraged or abandoned, those who engage in it have to be held accountable. Saying both sides are equally responsible, insisting on equivalence as the mantra of mainstream journalism, leaves the average voter at sea, unable to identify and vote against those perpetrating the problem. The public is left with a deeper disdain for all politics and all politicians, and voters become more receptive to demagogues and those whose main qualification for office is that they have never served, won’t compromise, and see everything in stark black-and-white terms.

Besides, this excerpt, read the full article, along with his writings with Thomas Mann, including this op-ed and their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. For a look at the unprecedented obstructionism towards Obama practiced by the Republicans, see this Frontline documentary,The Republicans’ Plan For The New President:

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

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

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

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

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Quote Of The Day: Jimmy Fallon on CNN

“Last Friday CNN had its worst 10 p.m. ratings of all time, with only 35,000 viewers tuning in. I left it on for my dog, and when I came back, she was reading a newspaper.” –Jimmy Fallon

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Defending and Attacking Presidents In The New Media Age

Obama media

There is some amazing tunnel vision from James Oliphant in an article on the progressive blogosphere. An article on the subject, or even  how it often helps Obama, might make sense. This does not make sense once you get to the second paragraph quoted below:

It’s been a familiar pattern since President Obama took office in 2009: When critics attack, the White House can count on a posse of progressive writers to ride to its rescue. Pick an issue, from the Affordable Care Act to Ukraine to the economy to controversies involving the Internal Revenue Service and Benghazi, and you’ll find the same voices again and again, on the Web and on Twitter, giving the president cover while savaging the opposition. And typically doing it with sharper tongues and tighter arguments than the White House itself.

While the bond between presidential administrations and friendly opinion-shapers goes back as far as the nation itself, no White House has ever enjoyed the luxury that this one has, in which its arguments and talking points can be advanced on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis. No longer must it await the evening news or the morning op-ed page to witness the fruits of its messaging efforts.

At least he recognized that sometimes Obama receives criticism from the left further in the column, even if the article does downplay how often this happens. Still, in general, I’ll accept that quite often “the White House can count on a posse of progressive writers to ride to its rescue.” What is wrong is the claim that no White House has ever enjoyed such a luxury.

There are plenty of conservative bloggers to counter liberal bloggers–both having defended Bush when he is in office and in intensifying the attacks on Obama. Obama might have more defenders thanks to the blogosphere, but he also has far more people attacking him, quite often with totally manufactured attacks.

Maybe the conservative blogosphere isn’t as potent a force as the progressive blogosphere. It doesn’t matter. Bush had Fox , which is essentially the unofficial propaganda arm of the Republican Party, actively defending and often lying for him.  Bush had the right wing noise machine defending him to a far greater effect than blogs are capable of defending Obama.

When there is not a Republican in the White House, Fox does a 180 degree switch in outlook, having been the biggest attacker of both Clinton and Obama. Fortunately Clinton had his own people to defend him as the liberal blogsophere was not yet a meaningful force back then. Fox provides far more assistance for the right than MSNBC is capable of doing for the left, and there is barely an equivalent to right wing talk radio on the left. On the other hand Obama does have Jon Stewart’s fake news show defending him from the attacks coming from the fake news shows on Fox, when Stewart is not criticizing him from the left.

These days both Democratic and Republican presidents are going to have far more defenders and attackers than was the case in the past, with the progressive blogosphere defending Obama (when not criticizing him from the left) not being anything unique to Obama.

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The 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner–Full Video And Best Lines

Above is the video of Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Full transcript is here and excerpts follow:

I admit it — last year was rough.  Sheesh.  At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.

Of course, we rolled out healthcare.gov.  That could have gone better.  In 2008 my slogan was, “Yes We Can.”  In 2013 my slogan was, “Control-Alt-Delete.”  On the plus side, they did turn the launch of healthcare.gov into one of the year’s biggest movies.  (Slide of “Frozen”)

But rather than dwell on the past, I would like to pivot to this dinner.  Let’s welcome our headliner this evening, Joel McHale.  On “Community,” Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist.  So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.

I want to thank the White House Correspondents Association for hosting us here tonight.  I am happy to be here, even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia.  The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.  I think they’re still searching for their table.

MSNBC is here.  They’re a little overwhelmed.  They’ve never seen an audience this big before.

Just last month, a wonderful story — an American won the Boston Marathon for first time in 30 years. Which was inspiring and only fair, since a Kenyan has been president for the last six.

We have some other athletes here tonight, including Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Jamie Anderson is here.  We’re proud of her.  Incredibly talented young lady.  Michelle and I watched the Olympics — we cannot believe what these folks do — death-defying feats — haven’t seen somebody pull a “180” that fast since Rand Paul disinvited that Nevada rancher from this dinner. As a general rule, things don’t like end well if the sentence starts, “Let me tell you something I know about the negro.”  You don’t really need to hear the rest of it. Just a tip for you — don’t start your sentence that way.

And speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight.  But as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front.  Hello, Fox News.

Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.

Of course, now that it’s 2014, Washington is obsessed on the midterms.  Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don’t really want me campaigning with them.  And I don’t think that’s true — although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton.a, Bill Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Captain America, Chris Christie, Community, Donald Trump, Facebook, Fox, George Bush, Health Care Reform, Hillary Clinton, House of Cards, Jeb Bush,

And I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the Speaker of the House, as well.  These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.

Look, I know, Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever.  Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder:  What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?

One issue, for example, we haven’t been able to agree on is unemployment insurance.  Republicans continue to refuse to extend it.  And you know what, I am beginning to think they’ve got a point.  If you want to get paid while not working, you should have to run for Congress just like everybody else.

Of course, there is one thing that keeps Republicans busy.  They have tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare.  Despite that, 8 million people signed up for health care in the first open enrollment. Which does lead one to ask, how well does Obamacare have to work before you don’t want to repeal it?  What if everybody’s cholesterol drops to 120?  What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game? Not the old, Donald Sterling Clippers — the new Oprah Clippers.  Would that be good enough?  What if they gave Mitch McConnell a pulse?  What is it going to take?

Joel McHale, star of Community and The Soup, did an excellent job. #sixtimesashostandamovie. He has followed a long line of top comedians who have roasted politicians and the media and previous events. The all time best speakers was Stephen Colbert who roasted George Bush in 2006. The full transcript of his speech can be found here.

Following are some of Joel McHale’s best jokes, with video above and full transcript here.

Good evening, Mr. President — or as Paul Ryan refers to you, yet another inner-city minority relying on the federal government to feed and house your family.

I’m a big fan of President Obama. I think he’s one of the all- time great presidents — definitely in the top 50. Please explain that to Jessica Simpson. You’re right. That was low.

All right, how about the president’s performance tonight, everyone?  It is — it’s amazing that you can still bring it with fresh, hilarious material. And my favorite bit of yours was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was a classic. That was hilarious, hilarious. Still going.

All right, look, I know it’s been a long night, but I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.

It’s a genuine thrill to be here in Washington, D.C., the city that started the whole crack-smoking-mayor craze.

The vice president isn’t here tonight, not for security reasons. He just thought this event was being held at the Dulles Airport Applebee’s. Yes, right now Joe is elbow-deep in jalapeno poppers and talking to a construction cone he thinks is John Boehner. Also true.

Hillary Clinton has a lot going for her as a candidate. She has experience. She’s a natural leader. And, as our first female president, we could pay her 30 percent less. That’s the savings this country could use.

Hillary’s daughter Chelsea is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to “Bad Grandpa.” It also raises the question, when the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?

Jeb Bush says he’s thinking about running. Wow, another Bush might be in the White House. Is it already time for our every-10- years surprise party for Iraq? Yes.

As it stands right now, the Republican presidential nominee will either be Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, or a bag of flour with Ronald Reagan’s face drawn on it.  A bag of flour. All right.

People are asking, will Donald Trump run again? And the answer is, does that thing on his head crap in the woods?  I actually don’t know. I don’t know.I don’t know if that thing on his head has a digestive system.

Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? Because I’ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter.  Now, I get that. I’m sorry for that joke, Governor Christie. I didn’t know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it, just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened, because I was unaware it happened until just now.

I’m appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I’m not responsible for it. Justice has been served. He’s going to kill me.

Mr. President, you’re no stranger to criticism. Ted Nugent called you a subhuman mongrel. And it’s comments like that which really make me question whether we can take the guy who wrote “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” seriously anymore.

Your approval rating has slipped. And even worse, you only got two stars on Yelp.

Mitch McConnell said his number one priority was to get the president out of office. So, Mitch, congrats on being just two years away from realizing your goal. You did it — kind of.

But thanks to “Obamacare,” or, as the president refers to it, “Mecare,” millions of newly insured young Americans can visit a doctor’s office and see what a print magazine actually looks like. That’s awesome.

Now over 8 million people have signed up for “Obamacare,” which sounds impressive until you realize Ashley Tisdale has 12 million Twitter followers. So that’s pretty good.

Sir, I do think you’re making a big mistake with Putin. You have to show a guy like that that you’re just as crazy as he is. He invades Crimea. You invade Cancun.  Russia takes back the Ukraine. America takes back Texas. Something to think about.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is here. Finally I can put a face to the mysterious voice clearing its throat on the other end of the phone.  It was weird.

And CNN is desperately searching for something they’ve been missing for months — their dignity.  Totally. That was just that table. At this point, CNN is like the Radio Shack in a sad strip mall. You don’t know how it’s stayed in business this long. You don’t know anyone that shops there. And they just fired Piers Morgan.

Fox News is the highest-rated network in cable news.  Yeah. I can’t believe your table  — that far.  And it’s all thanks to their key demographic, the corpses of old people who tuned in to Fox News and haven’t yet been discovered.

Former “Inside Edition” host Bill O’Reilly is not here. He did host that. Bill’s got another book coming out soon, so he’s making his ghost writers work around the clock. Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity are the Mount Rushmore of keeping old people angry.

This event brings together both Washington and Hollywood. The relationship between Washington and Hollywood has been a long and fruitful one. You give us tax credits for film and television production, and in return, we bring much-needed jobs to hard-working American cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Vancouver again.

Hollywood helps America by projecting a heroic image to the rest of the world. We just released another movie about Captain America, or, as he’s known in China, Captain Who Owes Us $1.1 Trillion.

There’s a lot of celebrities here tonight. They’re the ones that don’t look like ghouls. Look around. The cast of “Veep” is here. That’s a series about what would happen if a Seinfeld star actually landed on another good show. I like “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” I swear.

I’m not going to spoil the shocking twist on “House of Cards,” but just know that it was so surprising that Nancy Pelosi’s face almost changed expression. Did you like that one, Nancy? I can’t tell.

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, is here. So if any of you congressmen want to cut out the middleman, just show him your penis. Not now! Are you nuts?

And here’s why America is the best country in the world. A guy like me can stand before the president, the press and Patrick Duffy — and tell jokes without severe repercussions. And instead of being shipped off to a gulag, I’m going to the Vanity Fair after-party. That’s right. This is America, where everyone can be a Pussy Riot.

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Bogus GOP Report On Insurance Premiums Paid Shows How Conservative Misinformation Is Spread

Yesterday the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a bogus report which claimed that only 67 percent of those who purchased health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act have paid their first month’s premium. This is despite numerous reports from insurance companies showing that over 90 percent have paid, providing a good example of how Republican misinformation gets spread.

Several sources have already debunked the Republican misinformation, such as here,  here ,and here. The Republicans appear to have come up with their falsely low number by taking the number of people who paid their premiums before the premiums were due for those who signed up in March and April. At most the reports shows that people are unlikely to pay their health insurance premiums before they are billed for them.

Needless to say, serial liars such as Rush Limbaugh and many conservative blogs have simply repeated this false information. Limbaugh even claimed that “the premiums were to have been paid by January 1st, which was the beginning of the coverage year.” This is true of policies purchased early enough in December to take effect in January, not policies purchased later in the open enrollment period. This is a perfect example of how Limbaugh and other conservative talking heads twists the facts to make their points.

Others conservative blogs such as Hot Air have questioned the misinformation spread by the House Republicans. The mainstream media has actually done worse than portions of the conservative blogosphere, repeating their usual practice of showing a false objectivity by quoting what each side says, as if the truth is always somewhere in the middle. Even The New York Times helped promote this Republican talking point in the manner in which they reported the story. Of course, unlike Fox and much of the conservative media in which the news reports echo the editorial bias, the supposedly liberal media more typically presents objective news reporting separate from the views of the editorial pages. Unfortunately in a case such as this, using false measures of objectivity in quoting both sides gives undeserved attention to totally bogus numbers presented by Republicans.

More reliable sources than House Republicans expect that over 90 percent will wind up paying their premiums, with the Obama administration wisely being conservative with predictions until the data is actually in, citing numbers between 80 and 90 percent. This will most likely allow them to ultimately show that, as in other areas where we have data, the Affordable Care Act is surpassing expectations. It is also notable that many of those who have not paid their premium have not paid because they wound up qualifying for other coverage and not needing coverage through the exchanges.

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SciFi Weekend: Arrow; Orphan Black; Hannibal; Agents of SHIELD; The Blacklist; The Americans; Fargo; Mad Men; How I Met Your Mother/Dad; Game of Thrones; The Newsroom

Arrow Moira

This week’s Arrow, Seeing Red, deserves the lead for including a change to the show almost as significant as the recent change on Agents of SHIELD and for  psychological horror inflicted upon the main character as disturbing as what we would expect from Hannibal. Initially viewers probably thought that the red in the episode title referred to Roy’s red hood as the Mirakuru had him go on a rampage. Instead the significance of the episode was how it ended with blood.

In retrospect it is clear the episode was both providing a farewell to Moira Queen and making her sacrifice plausible by concentrating on her love for her children. Susanna Thompson will certainly be missed. She dealt with Oliver getting a girl pregnant in a flashback, and in the main story almost dropped out of the race for mayor to try to repair her relationship with Thea. The only reason she remained in the race was the thought that it might help Thea more by being in the role of someone helping the city.

Late in the episode I thought the cliff hanger was going to be the secret Moira was about o tell about Malcolm Merlin when their car was hit, but the real drama of this week’s episode was still to come. Slade recreated the scene in the island with Sara and Shado, this time demanding that Oliver decide between Moira and Thea. Moira spared Oliver from making the decision in sacrificing herself. Slade ran his sword through her heart, telling her that he respected her courage, and saying that one more person still had to die. Is Felicity now in danger?

While Moira’s death was the major change in the show, there were others, such as the change to Roy. Now that it is established that Oliver has a son in Central City, there is no doubt that this will come up again, perhaps creating another connection to The Flash. I found it surprising that Sara would leave Oliver at a time of such danger and perhaps this will cause her to return, hopefully with reinforcements among her assassin friends. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sara dies in the final battle against Slade, or as his final planned last victim, leaving the way open for Laurel to become the Black Canary as in the comics (or perhaps they will differ from the comics on this matter indefinitely).

arrow seeing-red-moira-dead

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with executive producer Andrew Kreisberg about Moira’s death:

“It wasn’t something we were talking about last year. I don’t want to give the impression that [it was like] ‘Welp! Somebody has to die; let’s spin the wheel. And, bad luck, Moira,’ ” he further explained. “Susanna has been with the show since the beginning, and she was one of our big gets early on that really signaled to the audience and to reviewers that this wasn’t your average CW show, it wasn’t your average superhero show. Like with Colin Donnell [whose character Tommy died in the season-one finale], these last episodes are her pinnacle.”

At the end of the day, the decision came down to the finite number of directions Moira’s story could go. From the producers’ perspectives, it seemed they had exhausted nearly all their options. After all, Moira was a part of the Undertaking, went to jail as punishment, ran for Starling City mayor, kept the identity of Thea’s biological father a secret and knew of Oliver’s Arrow life. And that’s just the half of it. “When we were talking about the future, knowing that it was only going to be powerful if Slade was going to change the game by doing something truly monstrous — if Moira wins the mayorship, if she makes up with her kids, what is Moira without a giant secret?” Kreisberg said. “If they all forgive her, and then there’s some other giant secret, for us it felt like we were becoming a soap opera.”

By allowing Moira the opportunity to sacrifice herself for her kids, “she could die a hero’s death,” he said. Even though she’s attempted to turn over a new leaf, just seconds before the car accident, Moira was about to reveal yet another secret. “You can’t change her. She literally goes to the grave despite the fact that she sacrifices herself for her children,” Kreisberg said, hinting that Moira’s final secret plays out “sooner than you think.”

Next week’s episode, “City of Blood,” opens with Moira’s funeral — and Oliver is missing. “There’s a line in the next episode where Walter says to Thea, ‘Your mother showed you how much she loved you in ways few parents can,’ and yet she was still lying,” Kreisberg previewed. “Ending it at this time left you with that great feeling of what a great character she was rather then let her become a caricature.”

As Oliver and Thea head into the thick of the storm, their personal loss drives them for the rest of the series. “That was the math — it was horrible math, it was tearful math but her death has a profound impact on everyone on the series,” Kreisberg promised. “It’s certainly what’s going to drive Oliver in these last three episodes. It’s going to drive Thea, not only in these last three episodes, but also into [season] three. Sometimes the worst thing you can do personally is the best thing you can do professionally.”

But it was Moira’s surprising admission that she knew of Oliver’s secret life as the vigilante that was eyebrow-raising. “We had always talked about the idea that Moira knew Oliver was the Arrow,” Kreisberg said, revealing that there were “a couple of other places” where the producers thought Moira should inform Oliver. But he pointed to a pivotal scene in “Sacrifice,” where Oliver essentially talks to his mother as the Arrow amid the Undertaking, as her moment of revelation. “She’d be borderline low IQ if she wasn’t like, ‘Wait a minute!’ We liked that she had never told him, and everything just felt like it came together in this one episode.”

Arrow wasn’t done with the bombshells. It was revealed in flashbacks that Oliver had fathered a child before his time on the island and that Moira paid the woman $1 million to disappear and lie about losing the baby. “The seeds for season two were planted in season one and again, the best part of the success that the show has had is knowing that we were going to make more and knowing that we could drop these things in and pay them off later,” Kreisberg said. “This is something that will be paid off in season three.”

Orphan_Black_Episode_2_Donnie_Allison

Watching Orphan Black is essentially a matter of finding answers to questions and then having still more questions. Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion had Sarah searching for Kira, Alison looking into the identity of her monitor, and Cosima looking into their genome for explanations about her illness and why Sarah is the only one of the clones who can have children. We also learned more about Helena and the Prolethians.

I was happy to see that Sarah’s search for Kira was resolved without dragging it out for several weeks. They made good use of the relationship between Sarah and Kira by having Kira make the final decision to run after Kira told her things did not feel right. The episode included the return of Mrs. S, who we were given reason to be suspicious of late in the first season. Mrs. S’s motivations appeared questionable at one point, but ultimately it was her “friends” from the old network who previously helped them disappear who were deceiving them and at it does look like Mrs. S really has been on Sarah’s side as she claimed.

Allison looked like she might fall apart after realizing she was mistaken in thinking Aynsley was her monitor and not acting to save her from choking. She wound up working far better with Felix than we would have guessed from Allison’s initial introduction first season. They managed to trap Donnie, who isn’t the brightest of Leekie’s people, by having him overhear a conversation about meeting Sarah, who turned out to be a different Sarah from her community play. I’m not sure about a play with lines such as “We must heed the call, picking the brains off the wall,” but remain glad that it is not Cats.

While Cosima’s major role is to look into the science, her most notable scene was meeting Rachel, who was assaulted by Sarah pretending to be Cosima last week. “I’m Cosima. The real Cosima. Not the one who kicked your ass or whatever.” Rachel acknowledged seeing Cosima kiss Delphine by saying  “So, you’re gay?” with Cosima responding, “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.”

Orphan Black henrik

We also learned that Helena survived a shot to the heart thanks to dextrocardia, or in her case being a mirror image of her twin Sarah. We have a new sect of Prolethians who have a different view of the clones, and no qualms about killing those who do not follow their views. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Peter Outerbridge, who plays new Prolethian leader Henrik Johansson:

Henrik has a line in this episode where he says Helena’s existence is “God opening a whole new door,” which seems to sum up his motivations, his beliefs and his desires pretty well.

Exactly. He doesn’t see the clones as an abomination at all. He thinks they’re fascinating. In fact, perhaps the next phase in evolution. If that’s the case, it’s all part of God’s plan and he’s going to a part of it.

Is Henrik’s assessment of the clones correct? Is this a question that toggles between right and wrong for much of the season, or is there a gray area?

That’s always the case when you’re talking about big issues like this. The idea of cloning human beings has been on the decade for at least a decade now and the ethics behind it are questionable. Bottom line, if you were to clone a human being in a laboratory, does that constitute a soul? Does that constitute a human being? Or because it’s created by humans it’s a manufactured thing that we can [use] to do whatever we want? Is the clone property because the laboratory made it or once its born, does it have free will and is it its own thing? That’s what the show is exploring. Henrik has cut through the ethics by saying, “Look, the clones are here on the planet, so I’m going to embrace that and I’m going to say that it’s part of the whole plan and I’m going to be its chief advocate.”

We learn at the end of the episode that Henrik’s prime reason for wanting Helena is simple: He believes she can conceive, like Sarah.

One of the definitions of life is something that is able to recreate itself. Something like a rock can’t recreate itself so we say we say a rock doesn’t have a life force to it. But as soon as an organism is able to replicate and duplicate, and recreate itself, we define that as having some sort of life to it in terms of organic life. That gets even stranger when you get into species because in order for it to be a species, it has to be able to procreate. If a clone can’t procreate, it’s not a legitimate species, ergo it’s not really a part of the planet. Henrik is fascinated with the idea that if he can find another clone that is capable of conceiving like Sarah — the whole question is, is Sarah the clone or is Sarah the original and the fact she has a daughter suggests she’s the original — then it’s a legitimate species and a legitimate creation. That’s what he becomes fascinated with and that’s what he finds with Helena.

What is Henrik’s ultimate end goal if Helena can do that?

There is an endgame, but it’s simpler, it’s not so sinister as world domination. It’s more megalomaniac than that. He wants to be a part of the new wave of humanity. Once he finds a clone that’s capable of conceiving — he thinks that’s the spiritual movement — he is going to be the father of all of these children.

Hannibal - Season 2

This week’s episode of Hannibal, Shiizakana, dealt with how Hannibal dehumanizes and manipulates other people, including making them kill. Thanks to this episode I also learned that dire wolves are extinct animals which actually existed, and not just creations of Game of Thrones. Besides manipulating Randall Tier, the protagonist in the case of the week, we saw Hannibal manipulating Margo, who then compared notes with fellow Hannibal victim Will Graham.

Hannibal told Randall Tier what to say to avoid arrest by the FBI and then sent him to his death by having him attack Will. Will saw this as Hannibal repeating his attempt to hill him while Will was in prison. “I sent someone to kill you. You sent someone to kill me. Even Stevens.”I thought that Hannibal’s goal was not to actually have Will killed but to force Will to kill, perhaps to further bring out the monster in Will. Bryan Fuller had this to say about the scene in which Hannibal nods after Will gave the above line, appearing to acknowledge his actions to Will”

AVC: When Hannibal makes that tiny nod at the end of the episode, do you see that as a tacit admission of guilt or is it just him saying, “That’s certainly one theory”?

BF: [Episode] nine really starts an arc that will reach a crescendo in 12, which is one of our best episodes of the season. I just think it’s fantastic and bonkers and hilarious and deeply disturbing. So the end of nine is sort of the beginning of 10, and it’s answered very quickly at the top of the next episode, but it absolutely is an acknowledgment, “Yeah, I sent him to do this. Yeah, you did exactly what I thought you were going to do. And now we can have a conversation,” which we will have at the beginning of the next episode.

The Backlot interviewed Bryan Fuller about descriptions of the show as homoerotic, rooting for the villain on television, and prospects of returning for a third season.

SHIELD Skye Ward

Agents of SHIELD wasted Amy Acker’s talents in a (super) villain of the week storyline, with this mainly serving the purpose of getting a few members of the team away so that Ward and Skye would be alone after Ward killed Koenig (Patton Oswalt). Fortunately Person of Interest makes much better use of Amy Acker.

Ward faked his way through a lie detector exam by doing far more than Nina did in squeezing her anus to pass a more primitive polygraph exam on a recent episode of The Americans. We also learned what each cast member would want if stranded on an island. Simmons had the best idea with the TARDIS. Chloe Bennet did the strongest acting in the episode, quickly progressing from being terrified when she learned about Ward to deceiving him, and setting up the cliff hanger of the two flying off together.

While only half of this episode really worked, the series might be off to a strong finish for the season. Cobie Smulders returns next week as Maria Hill, and is expected to be seen more regularly assuming the show returns next season now that she is no longer busy on How I Met Your Mother. TV Guide summarized the season finale which airs May 13:

Now that Hydra has revealed themselves and S.H.I.E.L.D. has been disbanded, Coulson and his team are on their own to take down the now-missing Clairvoyant. But how will they react when they learn Ward is actually a member of Hydra planted in their group? The finale will address Ward’s true allegiances as well as answer questions about Skye’s lineage, who’s controlling Deathlok and what the Clairvoyant wants with Coulson. “We think the audience is waiting for a showdown between Coulson’s team and Garrett’s team and they’re going to get a satisfying payoff to that epic conclusion,” executive producer Jeffrey Bell says, hinting there could be other sleepers. “If they win, it comes at a price.” Plus: Nick Fury returns!

Blacklist Lizzie Knows

I was happy to see the story advance more rapidly on The Blacklist. Once it was definitely revealed to the audience that Lizzie’s husband is not what he seems, it didn’t take long for Lizzie to figure it out. This week he realized that Lizzie knows, and the episode ended with a major cliff hanger. Speakeasy has some theories as to what Lizzie found in the safe deposit box.

The Americans went to the Contra training base and received so much assistance from Oliver North on the episode that he received a writing credit. Philip also took on the church which Paige has been attending, but I questioned if it was wise for an undercover agent to risk drawing attention to himself in such a manner. There was more of Martha at work. Stan’s biggest scene was in asking American scientists about their secrets to prevent them from being compromised, unaware of how he has become compromised.

I wouldn’t expect the second episode of Fargo to be as good as the first, considering all that happened, but it still left me optimistic that this will be an excellent series.

I did like the second episode of the season of Mad Men better than the first. While Don Draper has his faults, I do hope he recovers, and was happy to see him improve his relationship with Sally by being honest with her.

Last Forever Part One

Alyson Hannigan described a cut scene from the finale of How I Met Your Mother (which I reviewed here):

Speaking with TVLine at Friday night’s Taste for a Cure event in Los Angeles, HIMYM vet Alyson Hannigan said that the finale that aired last month was some 18 minute shorters than the script they worked off of at a “perfect” table read. “But [the full script] was also much more heart-wrenching,” she shared, “which maybe people wouldn’t have liked.”

Among the deleted scenes was what Hannigan described as a “one-second” montage of title character Tracy’s funeral. Instead, viewers only learned from Narrator Ted that the kids’ mother had become ill, then passed away — some time before he decided to rekindle things with their “Aunt” Robin.

“Honestly, if you saw [that] cut, it would be even more heart-wrenching than what the finale was,” Hannigan noted. “They were like, ‘No. It’s just too gut-wrenching.’ And I was like, ‘That’s what I want. I want my heart ripped out and slammed on the floor and, like, stomped on!’”

Hannigan also believes that missing moment “would have been better for the audience, so that then they can process, ‘Oh, [Ted] mourned. He got closure’ — and then they’d be happy that [he and Robin] got together. Rather than be like, ‘Oh, wait. She died? What? They’re together, huh?’ And credits. That’s what I think was too fast.”

Meg Ryan has been cast to be the future voice of the lead character in the spin off, How I Met Your Dad. I’m not sure of the point of a different person playing the narrator. Ted Mosby still had the same voice in the final scene of How I Met Your Mother which took place after telling the story to his kids.

The rape scene by Joffrey’s body in last week’s Game of Thrones was controversial, between the circumstances and the manner in which the scene was changed from consensual sex in the book to rape. I discussed this further in a separate post.

Aaron Sorkin has apologized to those who misinterpreted a decision he made on The Newsroom:

“I think you and I got off on the wrong foot with The Newsroom and I apologize and I’d like to start over,” Sorkin told the audience at a Tribeca Film Festival event Monday, referencing the criticism over his choice to set the show in the recent past. “I think that there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. … I wasn’t trying to and I’m not capable of teaching a professional journalist a lesson. That wasn’t my intent and it’s never my intent to teach you a lesson or try to persuade you or anything.”

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Edward Snowden Explains That His Goal Was To Expose Putin For Lying About Mass Surveillance, Not To Whitewash Him

Yesterday Edward Snowden called into a question and answer show held by Vladamir Putin and asked him about mass surveillance in Russia. The video is above. Putin’s response:

“Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent,” the president replied. “I used to work for an intelligence service. Let’s speak professionally.”

“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” Mr. Putin said. “You have to get a court’s permission first.” He noted that terrorists use electronic communications and that Russia had to respond to that threat.

“Of course we do this,” Mr. Putin said. “But we don’t use this on such a massive scale and I hope that we won’t.”

“But what is most important,” Mr. Putin concluded, “is that the special services, thank God, are under a strict control of the government and the society, and their activities are regulated by law.”

Most likely as a reflection of views they already had about him, some people have since criticized Snowden for giving Putin the opportunity to lie in this manner, as if the only way Putin could lie on Russian television is by responding to a question from Edward Snowden. Think Progress has pointed out some of the ways in which Putin was lying:

Numerous reports lay doubt to Putin’s claims that the collection of information is much more narrowly tailored in Russia. In fall 2012, Russia put into place a system it claimed was to protect children from viewing pornography. The method it decided to enact that goal, however, was one not only puts into place a list of banned websites that could surpress political speech, but also has the ability to track the flow of information across Russian networks. “Logistically, this will require Russia’s [internet service providers] to maintain detailed records of user traffic and would allow the Russian government a potential backdoor into the private lives of Russia’s internet users,” ThinkProgress explained at the time of the network’s launch.

Last October, Reuters also reported that the Russian government was requiring internet service providers to “store all traffic temporarily and make it available to the top domestic intelligence agency.” Under the order drafted in the Communications Ministry, the FSB — the successor to the KGB — would have access for 12 hours to all stored data, “including phone numbers, IP addresses, account names, social network activity and e-mail addresses.” That order is due to take effect this July.

And just this year, Russian officials admit while defending hotels in Sochi built for the Winter Olympics that they were equipped with surveillance equipment that was closely watched. The entire proceedings in the Russian resort town were subject to a massive dragnet of surveillance as a system was put into place to monitor all communications that flowed in and out. This was done using the SORM system that Russia utilizes to listen in to phone conversations and read email threads, which according to Privacy International, “gathers information from all communication media, and offers long-term storage (three years), providing access to all user data.” SORM is deployed year-round and controlled by the FSB.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said he has been on the receiving end of the Russian surveillance program. As a government official, he was a prime target, he told NBC just prior to stepping down earlier this year, but Americans writ large are also subject to having their information spied upon, given Moscow’s espionage abilities. “As we remind all Americans that come to this country,” McFaul said, “the Russian government has tremendous capabilities, and legal by their law, of intercepting phone calls, emails, etc.”

In a post at The Guardian entitled Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama, Snowden explained that “I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him.”

On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?”

I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.

The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden’s question and mine here.)

Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.

In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we’ll get to them soon – but it was not the president’s suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.

I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.

The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as “extremely important for Russia”. According to the Daily Beast, Soldatov said it could lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.

Others have pointed out that Putin’s response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.

In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.

So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

When this event comes around next year, I hope we’ll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don’t have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals’ communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.

I blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.

Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded “will make our nation stronger”. I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then.

I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials’ claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.

This comes a few days after The Guardian and the Washington Post received a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting on the NSA surveillance based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

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Coverage Of The Success of Obamacare And Debunking Republican Lies

Obamacare Winning

Reading liberal versus conservative columnists give entirely different views of the Affordable Care Act. Liberals have been writing about its success while conservatives continue to spread misinformation. Here’s a few examples of liberal views on the topic (which are the fact-based articles):

Tim Dickenson of Rolling Stone (source for the above graphic) writes that Obamacare is working. Instead of the fake conservative horror stories, he linked to stories which show how the Affordable Care Act is helping people. He described the successes, and pointed out that “Republican Party sabotage has also impeded enrollment.” Rather than back away  from calling a lie a lie as many journalists will, Dickenson directly addressed Republican lies as lies as he debunked them:

GOP LIE No. 1: THE NUMBERS DON’T MEAN ANYTHING
Over the course of the open-enrollment period, Republicans labored to argue that Obamacare did far less good than advertised because an estimated 4.7 million Americans received letters in the fall warning that their current policies could not be renewed, as they failed to comply with new coverage requirements. They point to these “cancellations” to argue that few of the folks being counted as ACA enrollees previously lacked insurance.

There are three glaring flaws to this argument. First: Many if not most of those whose plans were canceled were automatically transferred into similar policies that complied with the new law. One of the nation’s largest for-profit insurers told House investigators that it had issued fewer than 2,000 outright cancellations.

Second: Through executive orders, Obama gave roughly half of those who received a letter – 2.35 million – the chance to stay in their existing coverage. CBO estimates suggest that just 1.5 million actually continued in their grandfathered plans, as many could find cheaper and/or better coverage on a subsidized exchange or qualify for Medicaid. It’s telling that the Michigan leukemia patient featured in Koch-funded ads intended to convey the horror of these cancellations has found a compliant poicy on the exchange that still covers her oncologist and cut her monthly premium in half.

Giving the Republican argument every benefit of the doubt, this would leave a potential pool of about 3 million people who changed, rather than gained, insurance. This leads to the third flaw in the argument: Obamacare sign-ups were always going to include millions of people who already had insurance. In its latest estimate, the CBO showed just two-thirds (4 million of 6 million) of exchange enrollments coming from people who were previously uncovered. And the limited hard data available from the states suggests the CBO is closer to the mark than the GOP: In New York, nearly 60 percent of buyers were previously uninsured. In Kentucky, it’s even higher: 75 percent.

GOP LIE No. 2: THEY HAVEN’T PAID THEIR PREMIUMS YET
GOP critics point out that the administration hasn’t tracked how many enrollees are actually paying their insurance bills. The complaint about transparency is fair, but the concern is misplaced. Figures from state exchanges and insurers themselves show that between 80 and 95 percent of enrollees are paying their bills.

GOP LIE No. 3: OBAMACARE WILL COLLAPSE UNDER ITS OWN WEIGHT
One legitimate concern as Obamacare ramped up was that it could enter a “death spiral.” This would happen if the number of older, sicker people on the exchanges far outnumbered the young and the healthy. Premiums would spike, year over year, with each increase driving more healthy folks out of the pool – making the exchange unsustainable. While reaching 7 million enrollees is a huge win politically, it doesn’t ensure Obamacare’s viability as an insurance program. “I do think there’s too much focus on the overall number,” Karen Ignagni, a top insurance-industry lobbyist, told reporters. What matters far more, she said, is the insurance pools’ “distribution of healthy to unhealthy.”

The administration wanted 18- to 34-year-olds to make up nearly 40 percent of enrollees. By March, however, only 25 percent of the mix was under 35. That sounds dire. Yet even pools with just 25 percent of younger people would not create a tailspin, forcing premiums to rise by just 2.4 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Additionally, the convoluted structure of Obamacare eliminates systemic risk. Even the 27 states that relied entirely on the federal exchange will end up with state-specific insurance pools. What this means is that if a death spiral were to develop in, say, Ohio, that failure would not pull down neighboring states. What’s more, safeguards within the ACA mean states don’t have to get the mix right in Year One. For the first three years, ACA has shock absorbers to prevent premium spikes in states with problematic pools. Over that same period, the penalties for not buying insurance step up – which should drive younger, healthier people into the market, balancing the risk profile. We lack hard data to get a clear picture of all state pools. But private insurers are sending optimistic signals to investors that all is well. Case in point: Insurance giant WellPoint just raised its earnings forecast.

GOP LIE No. 4: “OBAMACARE IS THE NUMBER-ONE JOB KILLER IN AMERICA”
That’s what Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told a Tea Party convention in Dallas last summer. Since then, the GOP has been making two ACA-connected job-loss claims, both demonstrably false. First, they twisted a February CBO report to claim that Obamacare will cause 2.5 million Americans to lose their jobs. What the CBO actually found is that Americans will be able to work a little less thanks to lower health-care costs, voluntarily scaling back work hours between 1.5 and 2 percent through 2024, or the output of 2.5 million full-time workers. The other GOP lie is that Obamacare is causing employers – who will be responsible for insuring employees who work more than 30 hours a week – to either scale back the hours of full-time employees or hire only part-time workers. This, too, is hogwash. While the share of part-time employment remains historically high, it has actually been in decline since 2010, when Obama­care became law.

I have discussed many of the above points, with links to the evidence, in previous posts on health care reform.

I was also happy to see that he concluded with the same opinion I have expressed that Democrats must take the offensive on health care:

House Republicans have learned the hard way that even nibbling around the edges of Obamacare can backfire. In February, the GOP pushed a bill to tweak the mandate that businesses offer health care to all employees working more than 30 hours. Switching to the GOP’s preferred 40-hour standard, it turns out, would add $74 billion to the deficit by 2024 and cause nearly 1 million Americans to lose coverage. That’s the kind of move that would play right into Democratic hands. Says Greenberg, “Democrats do very well when they hit back at Republicans on what people lose.”

Until recently, Greenberg had been advising Democrats to move beyond Obamacare and turn to bread-and-butter issues like jobs and the minimum wage. “The strongest attack on Republicans,” he says, “is that they’re obsessed with Obamacare instead of critical issues like dealing with the economy.” But his new poll has Greenberg rethinking that counsel. “Until now, this is an issue where the intensity has been on the other side,” he says. But defending Obamacare, he adds, has emerged as “a values argument for our base.” Greenberg now believes Democrats “ought to lean much more strongly” to campaign on the virtues of Obamacare as a means of boosting progressive turnout. “Not apologizing for Obamacare and embracing it actually wins the argument nationally,” he says. “And it produces much more engagement of Democratic voters. That’s a critical thing in off-year elections.”

Eugene Robinson also wrote about the success of Obamacare:

A new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, despite all the problems with the HealthCare.gov Web site launch, 12 million people who previously lacked insurance will obtain coverage this year. By 2017, the year Obama leaves office, the CBO predicts that an additional 14 million uninsured will have managed to get coverage .

Why was the Affordable Care Act so desperately needed? Because without it, 54 million Americans would currently have no health insurance. Within three years, according to the CBO, Obamacare will have slashed the problem nearly in half.

We should do better, and perhaps someday we will. Most industrialized countries have some kind of single-payer system offering truly universal coverage. But if you have to work within the framework of the existing U.S. health-care system — which involves private health insurance companies and fee-for-service care — the Affordable Care Act reforms are a tremendous advance.

Many Republican critics of Obamacare know, but refuse to acknowledge, that the reforms are here to stay. Does the GOP propose to let insurance companies deny coverage because of preexisting conditions, as they could before the ACA? Does the party want to reimpose lifetime caps on the amount an insurer will pay? Tell young adults they can no longer be covered under their parents’ policies?

He concluded by also recommending that Democratic candidates take advantage of the success of Obamacare:

To do well in the fall, Democrats have to infuse their most loyal voters with similar enthusiasm. The success of Obamacare will help. Already, polls are showing upticks in support for embattled Democratic incumbent senators in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska. Democrats control their own destiny in November: If they can get their voters to the polls, they’ll win.

In the long run, no matter what happens in the election, I’m more convinced than ever that the Affordable Care Act will be seen as landmark legislation. With minimal immediate impact, the ACA does two tremendously important things.

First, it shifts the incentive structure in the health-care industry in ways that promise to hold down rising costs. And second, it establishes the principle that health care should be considered a right, not a privilege.

Of course it’s not perfect. It’s a thing of beauty anyway. We have liftoff. It’s working.

Paul Krugman described Obamacare as the unknown ideal:

The current state of public opinion on health reform is really peculiar. If you’ve been following the issue at all closely, you know that the Affordable Care Act is one of the great comeback stories of public policy: after a terrible start, it has dramatically exceeded expectations. But hardly anyone seems to know that.

He blamed Fox and Rush Limbaugh for all the misinformation they have spread, the Obama administration for doing a “lackluster job so far in getting the word out,” and “a persistent anti-ACA tilt in news coverage.” He pointed out how factual stories on the success of Obamacare are often buried in the back pages of newspapers.

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Fact Checking Valuable, But Not Always Right

Pinoccio

The Moderate Voice has a post yesterday on the increase in fact-checking in journalism. Fact-checking is preferable to the standard media practice of quoting both sides as if they are equally valid, generally with an implied assumption that the truth is somewhere in the middle. This leads to erroneous reporting when one side is intentionally using misinformation and lying far more than the other. However labeling something fact checking doesn’t necessarily mean it is immune from journalistic problems. Paul Krugman pointed out one problem:

“The people at PolitiFact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other,” Krugman wrote in 2011.

“So they’ve bent over backwards to appear ‘balanced’ — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.”

As Krugman pointed out, there are fact checkers which label an equal number of statements from Democrats and Republicans as being wrong in order to give the appearance of being impartial. That typically means that outrageous lies from Republicans are called lies but to provide a sense of balance,  statements from Democrats which are generally true but in which there is an exception are also called lies.

The entire idea of calling something true or a lie is often a poor way to handle complex issues which are stated by politicians in brief statements. Sometimes politicians are trying to be truthful, but boiling down a complex issue into a brief statement, or commercial, will result in exceptions where the statement is false. Often it is preferable to look at what is true in what is being said and where it isn’t entirely true and explain the issue rather than just calling it truth or a lie.

While Republicans have been hit far more with big lies on health care, Democrats have been harmed by the problems in how some fact checkers declare something either true or a lie (being a lie if not 100% true in every case). There have been two big examples of this. The first is Democrats saying that the Medicare proposals in the Ryan budget would destroy Medicare. Technically this is untrue as Ryan would replace Medicare with something named Medicare. On the other hand, it is true because the Republican proposals would change Medicare into something fundamentally different with far less protection for seniors. Rather than just calling it a lie, fact checkers would have done more good by explaining why Democrats consider these changes to be destroying Medicare.

The other is the greatly exaggerated “lie of the year” when Obama said people could keep their own doctor under the Affordable Care Act. This was an absurd statement on one level because every year insurance companies and doctors make decisions which can affect this which the government has no  power over. On the other hand, Obama was right in the context where he was speaking, even if worded poorly. Republicans were lying when they claimed that Obamacare would make people join some sort of government run program which would tell them which doctors they can see. The Affordable Care Act actually makes it more likely that people could have insurance which would allow them to keep their doctor than had been the case in the past and does nothing to force people to lose their doctor. People have a better chance of keeping their doctor when protected from losing their insurance. Frequently people are forced to change doctors because of employers changing insurance plans. Employees have a better chance of keeping their own doctor when provided more choice in plans, as under the Affordable Care Act.  Where Obama got it wrong was that the same forces already present which lead to people having to change doctors, while diminished, would still exist. It would be far better to explain this complex issue, where Obama was mostly right, than to just declare it a lie because it is not true one hundred percent of the time.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Obama Warns Of Threats To Right To Vote

Protect Vote

If one followed politics superficially from the mainstream media, they might come to the incorrect view that we have a two party system in which the two parties differ on some issues but are essentially mirror images of each other. Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that instead we have a centrist party which has been struggling to continue our system of self-government and an extreme right wing party which seeks the destroy the vision of America held by our founding fathers. Among those who have bucked the usual media narrative and have reported on this are Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. This pair of centrists who have pointed this out in an essay, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem, and in their book  It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, which clearly laid out the extremism of the current Republican Party. They have explained that the mainstream media missed the big story of the 2012 campaign–the dishonesty and extremism of the Republican Party.

Republicans benefit by rigging the system in their favor as much as possible. Some of this is built in to the structure of our government, such as giving small Republican states the same number of Senators as larger, Democratic states. Gerrymandering, as well as the tendency of Democrats to concentrate more in urban areas, give Republican an advantage in the House, even in elections such as in 2012 when more people voted for Democratic representatives than Republicans. Republicans take advantage of control over large segments of the mainstream media, including Fox which operates essentially as a house propaganda organ, and then “play the refs” by complaining of fictitious liberal media bias. If this isn’t enough, they try to rig election laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote.

While Republicans use their influence over the mainstream media to promote misinformation to further their cause, Democrats have done a poor job of promoting a message or even of exposing what their opponents are doing. I was therefore happy to see that Barack Obama has spoken out against Republican restriction of voting rights.

“The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

Speaking a day after a conference in Texas commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Mr. Obama linked the issue to the movement that helped pave the way for him to become the nation’s first black president.

“America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren,” he said.

Republicans in some swing states have advanced new laws that go beyond the voter identification requirements of recent years. Among other things, state lawmakers are pushing measures to limit the time polls are open and to cut back early voting, particularly weekend balloting that makes it easier for lower-income voters to participate. Other measures would eliminate same-day registration, make it more difficult to cast provisional ballots or curb the mailing of absentee ballots.

Over the last 15 months, at least nine states have enacted voting changes making it harder to cast ballots. A federal judge last month upheld laws in Arizona and Kansas requiring proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport, leading other states to explore following suit.

I hope we see more of this. Warnings about the Republican threat to freedom and democracy should not be limited to a single date commemorating a past event. This should be an important part of the political debate between the parties every day. Hopefully people will then realize that they should be wary of a political party which finds that its success depends upon keeping people from voting.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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