The Affordable Care Act, And Possibly Obama Poll Numbers, Off To A New Start In December

Barack Obama has had a bad month but told Barbara Walters that there is nowhere to go but up:

“I’ve gone up and down pretty much consistently throughout,” Obama told ABC’s Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview at the White House. “But the good thing about when you’re down is that usually you got nowhere to go but up.”

Not necessarily. It seems there is no bottom with Congress at only a six percent approval rating in an Economist/YouGov Poll.

With the gridlock caused by Republicans in Congress only likely to get worse with regards to legislation, even if there is an end to the Republican near-automatic blocking of appointees with the change in Senate filibuster rules, it is hard to see how Congress could possible get anywhere near fifty-percent approval. Obama has a far better chance of recovering support if the relaunch of Obamacare is a success.

While some of the factors causing a drop in Obama’s support were his fault, the significance has been exaggerated way out of proportion by Republicans who are not only rooting for failure but doing everything possible to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.Timothy Egan wrote:

This organized schadenfreude goes back to the dawn of Obama’s presidency, when Rush Limbaugh, later joined by Senator Mitch McConnell, said their No. 1 goal was for the president to fail. A CNN poll in 2010 found 61 percent of Republicans hoping Obama would fail (versus only 27 percent among all Americans).

Wish granted, mission accomplished. Obama has failed — that is, if you judge by his tanking poll numbers. But does this collapse in approval have to mean that the last best chance for expanding health care for millions of Americans must fail as well?

Does this mean we throw in the towel, and return to a status quo in which insurance companies routinely cancel policies, deny health care to people with pre-existing conditions and have their own death panel treatment for patients who reach a cap in medical benefits?

The Republican plan would do just that, because they have no plan but to crush the nation’s fledgling experiment. Sometimes they bring up vouchers, or tort reform, or some combination of catchphrases. Here was Sarah Palin, who is to articulate reason what Mr. Magoo is to vision, on the Republican alternative, as she told Matt Lauer:

“The plan is to allow those things that have been proposed over many years to reform a health care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort-reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases. And those plans have been proposed over and over. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left.”

Yes, it is a big and legitimate news story, for a presidency built on technical expertise, that the federal exchange is not working as promised. Ditto Obama’s vow that people could keep their bottom-feeder health care policies.

But where were the news conferences, the Fox News alerts, the parading of people who couldn’t get their lifesaving cancer treatments under the old system? Where was the media attention when thousands of people were routinely dumped once they got sick? When did Republicans in Congress hold an oversight hearing on the leading cause of personal bankruptcy — medical debt?

Obama should not have said people can keep their own insurance without an admission that this will not apply to everyone, even if they will come out ahead by changing plans. The web site problems should never have occurred but web site problems say zero about the goal of ensuring that all Americans have access to purchasing health care coverage which cannot be terminated at the whim of an insurance company should they develop medical problems. Besides, this would not have been an issue if the states had developed their own exchanges as intended. Enrollment under the Affordable Care Act has been going well in many states where a state exchange was developed. This is primarily in blue states, but Kentucky is a notable exception where Republican Governor  Steve Beshear went against his party and made Obamacare work in his state. (Correction: Steve Beshear is a Democrat)

He’s an unlikely champion, not least because Kentucky’s two U.S. senators are both implacable opponents of the program.

“I knew if I was going to make a huge difference in the health status of Kentucky, it was going to take some kind of transformational tool to do that, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act is for me,” Beshear, white-haired and greyhound-lean, said as he sat behind a big maple desk in his office. “I think we’ve started something here,” he later added, “that a generation from now you’ll see a very different Kentucky than what you see today.”

Empowered to act without the Legislature’s approval, Beshear became the only Southern governor to embrace a provision vastly expanding Medicaid eligibility and open a state-run exchange for others seeking insurance. He conceded, with a small smile, that it was easier knowing he would never face voters again. “But,” he went on, “I’m convinced that in the end this is not going to [be] a negative political issue.”

He acted, Beshear said, only after independent analysts predicted the healthcare overhaul would inject more than $15 billion into Kentucky’s economy over the next eight years, create about 17,000 new jobs and produce about $800 million in state revenue. “You cannot afford not to do this,” he said he was told.

Obamacare does work when the Republicans don’t actively fight its implementation. Even with all the Republican attempts at sabotage, it appears that the most of the web site problems are being fixed and Obamacare will be running successfully. Of course a program of this complexity won’t work without some glitches, and Republicans will continue to make a lot of noise. Another factor working against Obama is that many people do not realize the risk they were at of losing their insurance in the past.

Hopefully the American people will trust their own experience over the lies from the right wing noise machine. A delay in getting a web site working properly is a minor matter. Once the web site is working and we move into 2014 most Americans will see that they really are either keeping their old insurance or replacing it with better coverage, generally from the same company if they desire, and frequently at a lower cost. They certainly are not being forced to give up their insurance for a government-run plan as many were misled to believe. Some of us will come out behind in terms of dollars spent, but generally the policies will cover more than in the past and have one huge advantage over plans prior to Obamacare–insurance companies will not be able to stop coverage due to medical problems. The real source of people losing their insurance is not Obamacare but the failed system it is replacing. Obamacare is the solution, not the problem.

Mitch McConnell Calls Tea Party A Bunch Of Bullies

The Republicans can’t win with the Tea Party, but also can’t win without their money and grass roots support. This must be very frustrating for Republican leaders. Breitbart reported on what Mitch McConnell said during a conference call with Republican donors:

On the call, according to a donor who was on it, McConnell personally named Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) as Tea Party conservatives he views as problematic for him. “The bulk of it was an attack on the Tea Party in general, Cruz in particular,” the source, a prominent donor, said in a phone interview with Breitbart News.

But the most memorable line came at the end of the call.

“McConnell said the Tea Party was ‘nothing but a bunch of bullies,’” the source said. “And he said ‘you know how you deal with schoolyard bullies? You punch them in the nose and that’s what we’re going to do.’”

McConnell is right about the Tea Party but, needless to say, conservatives are unhappy with him. We are unlikely to have a working government which can seriously address our problems until the Republicans repudiate the extremist elements which oppose our system of self-government, but even the saner portions of the party have hardly been rational players in recent years. A war between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party may result in Mutual Assured Destruction which might lead to an improvement.

The New Political Landscape–The House is Up For Grabs

Going into the budget negotiations, Barack Obama was at a disadvantage. He not only negotiated with the terrorists, he gave in to their demands more than he should have. Now the tables are turned. Obama has shown that he will not repeat that mistake, and the Republicans have shown that they will give in before making the United States dafault. The Republicans have come under so much criticism for even making this a possibility that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have both said they will not cause the government to default on its debts. All of this could have been avoided if Boehner had allowed the full House to vote on a clean budget bill from the start. In the end Boehner did exactly that, preventing the Republican majority in the House from crashing the economy with the help of Democratic votes. Being in an improved bargaining position could also help Democrats over the next year. Voters are more likely to vote for Democrats if the party appears strong, and less likely to vote for Republican if they continue to see them as the party of fiscal and political irresponsibility.

The political question now becomes whether the strong anti-Republican sentiment in the polls will hold until next year. It is possible that this will be forgotten by most voters. It is also possible that this could cause a sizable number of former Republican voters to permanently alter their view of the party, leading to a wave election in 2014. While all the pundits will weigh in, the truth is that nobody knows what will happen a year before an election.

That said, here’s what a few pundits are saying. First from National Journal:

The government shutdown and debt crisis has made 14 House seats more winnable for Democrats, according to new independent ratings released Thursday from The Cook Political Report. There are now—for the first time this cycle—more Republican seats “in play” than the 17 Democrats would need to win in order to take the majority in 2014.

The ratings from the highly regarded political handicapping group, whose founder, Charlie Cook, is also a columnist for the National Journal, is the latest sign that the shutdown has seriously damaged Republicans.

“Democrats still have a very uphill climb to a majority, and it’s doubtful they can sustain this month’s momentum for another year. But Republicans’ actions have energized Democratic fundraising and recruiting efforts and handed Democrats a potentially effective message,” Cook’s David Wasserman explains. Ten Democratic seats remain “toss ups,” meaning the party would probably need to win at least 20 seats to take back the speaker’s gavel…

It’s way too early to know if these movements will hold until November of next year, but its unusual for Cook to move so many districts in one direction all at once. Democrats were losing altitude in generic ballot tests until the shutdown, only to see their numbers climb 5.5 percentage points over the past two weeks. But thanks to gerrymandering, analysts say Democrats need somewhere closer to a 7-point generic ballot lead to retake the House.

From Stu Rothenberg:

The political fallout from the confrontation is very real. Republicans got almost nothing out of the deal to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling except, of course, that they lost another 10 percentage points in their favorable rating and looked less like an organized political party and more like a disorganized, confused rabble.

Republican operatives are worried that the showdown will improve Democratic House recruiting considerably for 2014, and it could well damage GOP fundraising, both among small-dollar donors and the party’s bigger hitters.

Small donors will be disenchanted that Republican officeholders caved on both the shutdown and debt ceiling, while the larger donors, who tend to be more pragmatic, are likely to sit on their cash for fear that the GOP will do something else crazy to threaten the economy and the party’s electoral prospects.

GOP insiders point out that while the party clearly has lost some ground in recent years among swing voters because of its position on cultural issues, the party’s great strength — at least up until now — was that it was generally seen by independents as fiscally responsible and prudent on economic matters. Now that argument may be more difficult for Republicans to make.

Harry Enten described how difficult it will be for the Democrats to take control of the House, but also pointed out the difficulty in making predictions this early:

The indispensable Cook Political Report has only has 13 Democratic-held seats listed in the relatively competitive tossup or “lean” category. Of course, Democrats need to take 17 seats to win the House. The ratings reflect, among other things, a lack of strong challengers for the Democrats and lack of retirements by Republicans.

The thing is that expert ratings (like most polling) are not all that predictive a year out from an election. At this point in the 2006 cycle, there were 17 Republican seats in the lean or tossup categories (pdf). That’s well short of the 30 seats that Democrats would ultimately take from Republicans. At this point in the 2010 cycle, there were 28 Democratic seats in the lean or tossup category. Republicans, of course, went onto gain 63 seats in 2010.

It’s not until later in the cycle when individual seat rankings become quite useful. That’s when potential challengers and incumbents read the national environment and decide to run or not. Chances are that if the 4-5pt Democratic lead holds, the individual seat rankings will reflect that edge. For now, individual seat ratings probably aren’t all that helpful to understanding which way and how hard the wind is blowing.

If Republicans remain as unpopular a year from now as they are now, Democrats can certainly exceed expectations. Another possibility is that the Republican margin will shrink dramatically in 2014, making it easier for the Democrats to retake the House in 2016 with their chances even better in a year with a presidential election.

Republicans and Tea Party May Face Long Term Political Consequences For Endangering Economy

It appears that the Republicans are backing down on their brinkmanship with John Boehner now prepared to allow the full House to vote on a compromise bill despite lack of Republican support. Of course the shutdown and fears of default, which have harmed the economy,  could have been prevented if Boehner had allowed this previously. The Republicans will likely play a political price for showing how much they are willing to compromise the interests of the nation to give in to ideological extremists. Support for Republicans has fallen dramatically. The Tea Party has been hurt the most as an increasing number of American voters have come to realize that, despite their name, the Tea Party is a dangerous, extremist group which opposes the ideals of the Founding Fathers, opposes our Constitutional form of self-government, and is pushing the Republican Party in a direction which would bring financial ruin to the United States. A Pew Research Center survey found:

The Tea Party is less popular than ever, with even many Republicans now viewing the movement negatively. Overall, nearly half of the public (49%) has an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party, while 30% have a favorable opinion.

The balance of opinion toward the Tea Party has turned more negative since June, when 37% viewed it favorably and 45% had an unfavorable opinion. And the Tea Party’s image is much more negative today than it was three years ago, shortly after it emerged as a conservative protest movement against Barack Obama’s policies on health care and the economy…

By a 50% to 31% margin, whites now have a more unfavorable than favorable view of the Tea Party; four months ago whites were about evenly divided in their opinions. Over the same period of time there has been little change in opinions of the Tea Party among blacks or Hispanics, who already held a negative opinion of the Tea Party in June.

And although favorable ratings of the Tea Party have declined across most age groups, there has been a 12-point drop among 18-29 year olds, just 25% of whom now have a positive view of the Tea Party movement…

In the current debate over the debt limit, nearly seven-in-ten (69%) of Tea Party Republicans think that the country can go past the deadline for raising the debt limit without major economic problems, and fully 52% say the debt limit does not need to be raised at all.

The shutdown has also hurt the Republican’s chances to win the Senate per findings of a Public Policy Polling survey.

As people have turned against the Republicans and the Tea Party, some are also rejecting the right wing’s opposition to Obamacare. A Democracy Corps poll found that “Just 38 percent now clearly oppose the Affordable Care Act. While likely voters divideevenly on the plan, 8 percent oppose the law because it does not go far enough. As a result, just 38 percent oppose the law because it is big government.” Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have generally exaggerated their numbers by including both those who oppose  government action and those who oppose the ACA because it doesn’t go far enough. In addition, surveys about the actual components of the law have done much better than polling on the name due to the considerable amount of misinformation being spread.

A year is a long time in politics and many people are likely to forget recent events when voting next year. These events still may increase Democratic chances at taking the  House next year. Some voters will remember, and it is likely many will become more aware of other extremist moves by the Republican Party which under other circumstances might be ignored. The shutdown has assisted the Democrats in recruiting House candidates, making them more competitive in swing districts.  Greg Sargent wrote:

Though the shutdown mess has given Dems a sizable lead in the generic House ballot matchup, that will almost certainly fade. But it could have a lasting impact if it enables Dems to recruit good candidates right now, which could matter to the outcome.

In an interview, DCCC chair Steve Israel told me a number of new recruits would be announced in coming days, thanks to GOP damage sustained in the crisis.

“Conservatively, you will see another three — it could be as many as five,” Israel told me. “In a number of districts we had top-tier, all-star potential candidates who several months ago didn’t see a path to victory. They reopened the doors. These are competitive districts. They tend to be moderate and have large concentrations of independent voters. Those voters are now seeing the Tea Party implement their agenda.”

Three to five new top recruits would not be insignificant, since Dems need to flip 17 seats to take back the House, but Dave Wasserman, who tracks House races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, estimates that Dems are well short of the number of recruits they need. He says that given how few seats are truly competitive, Dems need between 35 and 40 high-quality recruits to have any shot at putting the House in play, and estimates that they only have two dozen serious recruits at present.

Israel says Dems will meet that goal. “I think we’ll get it into the range of 40,” he said. “I don’t accept that we’re at 20-25 top recruits. I would put it right now in the mid-30s.”

Carl Bernstein had some harsh words for the Republicans:

Journalist and author Carl Bernstein said Wednesday that Republican Party leadership is “cancerous” and has put the United States at risk by letting the tea party lead the GOP.

“The Republican Party today has become a rabid organization from the top down. The leadership is cancerous,” the former Washington Post reporter said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.

Bernstein called the current situation a “terrible moment in our history” and said only segregation politics offers a comparison.

“You have to go back to the party, the Democratic Party of segregation to find this kind of scorched-earth politics putting the national interests nowhere and putting ideology and ideology above all else,” Bernstein said. “The full faith and credit of the United States, our reputation abroad, our stability, our national security has been endangered by [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell, by [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor, who have embraced and cowardly appeased these forces who are know-nothings.”

Incidentally, most people are aware that the old southern Democrats who supported segregation ultimately moved to the Republican Party after passage of the Civil Rights Act 1964. It is worth a quick mention as I actually received a comment from a Republican  supporting Republicans over Democrats because of the support for segregation by Democrats. That clearly has no meaning in terms of choosing current candidates.

Cry Wolf Often Enough And Conservatives Are Bound To Be Right (As With Claims Of Being Targeted By The IRS)

With conservatives loving to play the part of the victim and inventing all sorts of outrageous transgressions in their imaginations, it is often hard to take anything they say seriously. Today it was revealed that their claims of  being targeted by the IRS are true:

The Internal Revenue Service on Friday apologized for targeting groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, confirming long-standing accusations by some conservatives that their applications for tax-exempt status were being improperly delayed and scrutinized.

Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the “absolutely inappropriate” actions by “front-line people” were not driven by partisan motives.

Rather, Lerner said, they were a misguided effort to come up with an efficient means of dealing with a flood of applications from organizations seeking tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.

During that period, about 75 groups were selected for extra inquiry — including burdensome questionnaires and, in some cases, improper requests for the names of their donors — simply because of the words in their names, she said in a conference call with reporters.

Lerner is also sure to regret admitting “I’m not good at math” even if she is an attorney.

It is difficult to understand how she can say that they were not driven by partisan motives when the victims were of a specific political philosophy. While only speculation, I wonder if some people at the IRS believed that groups which have a philosophical opposition to taxation are more likely to violate tax laws. In the absence of any evidence against these specific groups, that would be wrong. Criticizing the IRS and our tax system should be protected speech under the First Amendment. Advocating change in laws which a group disagrees with is allowed under our system of government and is not evidence in itself that they are violating the laws they want changed.

I might also be over thinking this. It might have been a more visceral and petty reaction, retaliating against those who criticize their organization. That would also be wrong. We do need a full investigation as opposed to speculation as to their motives.

The IRS says that this came from lower level people and was stopped by those higher up. While there is no evidence to question this so far, this also needs to be investigated.

Reaction to this is varied. Mitch McConnell is calling for an investigation, and he is right to do so, even if there is no evidence of a comparison to the Nixon White House. . Hopefully this remains a proper investigation and doesn’t turn it into yet another politicized witch-hunt which Republicans have spent so much time (and tax payer money) conducting.

Portions of the conservative blogosphere are, as would be expected, showing that they are out of touch with reality even on an issue where conservative groups are right. American Thinker  writes:

And who are these “low-level” employees in Cincinnati who started the reviews? Are we seriously to believe that a couple of minor bureaucrats could alter IRS policy so easily?  If that’s the case, what other abuses isn’t the IRS telling us about?

To be part of a government run by a Democratic president and then investigate opposition groups, harassing them, trying to discourage their political activities is the sort of thing we find in Russia.

Ridiculous reactions of this type don’t help conservatives. Of course this is the same site which compares Benghazi to Watergate and yesterday tried to find a way to justify this article title: Ariel Castro, Cleveland Kidnapper, Is a Registered Democrat. (I an having trouble finding their articles criticizing real abuses of power during the Bush years from the unconstitutional attempts to expand the power of the presidency to the K-Street Project. I had no trouble finding plenty of examples at the site promoting the right wing’s imaginary case against ACORN or claiming that Barack Obama is a socialist.)

There is absolutely no evidence that we have a Democratic president exercising autocratic powers against their enemies. Historically this has more often been a Republican practice. And how are liberal bloggers responding? Are they lining up along ideological grounds, cheering on these abuses against the right. No, not at all. Liberal response has been that this is wrong and warrants a full investigation. Steve Benen wrote:

The boys who cried wolf may have dubious credibility, but to mix metaphors, even a broken clock is right twice a day.I suppose one might argue that Tea Party groups were inherently partisan, and their claims for tax-exempt status were suspect given the movement’s larger purpose, but it’s a tough sell. The IRS is supposed to be even-handed, and in several cases, it seems clear that the agency was not.

This is the sort of thing that costs officials their jobs…

For a change, all of these complaints are legitimate. There really was wrongdoing. Groups really were treated unfairly. It’d be wrong to dismiss the complaints, assuming the right is just manufacturing some new pseudo-scandal; this really does deserve to be taken seriously.

Also see responses from Think ProgressKevin Drum and Greg Sargent. The left has stuck with principle (and is concerned with uncovering the actual facts)  as opposed to following the right’s usual logic of support or opposition based upon partisan lines, while ignoring the facts.

Republican Leaders Refuse To Make Appointments To Medicare IPAB

I have been concerned that the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board posed a potential risk to Medicare. Recommendations from the board to cut costs would be very difficult for Congress to override, requiring a 60 percent vote, giving excessive power to unelected officials. I would hate to see a Republican president and Congress pack the board with conservatives who would recommend changes to reduce costs which would be harmful to the program. In the long run this remains a concern, but short term we might not have to worry about Republicans on the Board. The president selects three member and the leaders of each party from each chamber of Congress also nominate three members.  In a letter to President Obama, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell said that they would not make any appointments to the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

The IPPB can still function without the full fifteen members and any decisions in which the Republicans don’t take part might be preferable. As all fifteen members must be confirmed by the Senate, it will be interesting to see if the Republicans filibuster all appointments. They certainly have demonstrated a willingness to block Obama’s appointments just for the sake of blocking them.  If the IPPB fails to make recommendations, the Secretary of Health and Human Services could make the recommendations instead. The end result of Boehner and McConnell’s actions would then be to give more power to the Obama administration initially.

SciFi Weekend: Spoilers on Star Trek Into Darkness; Doctor Who News; Carrie Fisher and Star Wars VII; Joss Whedon on Superheroes; Ashley Judd Running For Senate

A new trailer has been released for Star Trek Into Darkness (video above). TrekMovie.com revealed several spoilers coming from an extended screening in Brazil:

From the extended beginning of the film…

  • Opening sequence (previewed at IMAX theaters in December) has been reordered to have Nibiru Volcano sequence now opens the film followed by title card and then the scenes in London and at the hospital

  • Nibiru mission ends with Kirk rescuing Spock by violating the prime directive by revealing the Enterprise to Nibiru natives so he can beam Spock out of the Volcano

  • Kirk has a scene in bed (back in San Francisco) in bed with two “cat women”

  • Kirk makes mention of hoping to get assigned to a “five year mission” (implying that the famed five year mission hasn’t started yet for the time he has been captain)

  • Kirk is demoted for violating prime directive on Nibiru, loses command of Enterprise with Pike to take over command Kirk as first officer

  • Pike wanted to send Kirk back to Academy but was convinced (possibly ordered?) to make Kirk first officer of Enterprise by Admiral Marcus (played by Peter Weller)

  • Spock assigned to another ship

  • The “father” character uses his Starfleet ring as a bomb (dropping it into water for a reaction) and destroys a facility (in London)

  • London attack leads to big meeting of Starfleet captains which itself is attacked by John Harrison, resulting in Pike being injured…Harrison transport away

Later scenes in the film….

  • Enterprise severely damaged falling to Earth with Spock in command ordering evacuation

  • Kirk and Scott seen in Engineering trying to stabilize ship

  • Later Spock scene beaming down to San Francisco and starting long chase with Harrions

  • Eventually Spock meets up with Harrison and engages in a fight

Doctor and Clara

The BBC has announced a three day convention at ExCeL London for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Filming on the 50th Anniversary episode  begins on March 18. Presumably more information on the show, such as who is actually appearing, will be more likely to leak out when they are filming the episode. Peter Davison does not believe that the earlier Doctors played by older actors will appear:

Speaking at February’s MystiCon panel, he said: “I honestly don’t know very much. I know that Steven Moffat will have something planned. I don’t think it will involve the older Doctors, certainly in their present form, because of course we’re meant to look exactly as we did when we left the TARDIS and none of us really do. Some of us are not here any more and others of us have weathered less well than others. I don’t know where I’d put myself in that category. I’m not going to make that decision.

“I think we’ll be featured somewhere but I should think it’s probably footage lifted from older Doctor stories. I don’t know. We are doing some Big Finish audios. I know that there are events planned by the BBC. I’ve got a meeting with the head of BBC Wales when I get back to go through various things the BBC have got planned. I don’t think she’s going to offer me a part in it… I might be wrong.”

He adds: “I decided that if we weren’t going to be involved that I would get together with Colin [Baker] and Sylvester [McCoy] and make our own little special… If we can possible manage it, we’re going to get into the 50th anniversary special whether we’re invited or not!”

The Daily Beast has five facts about Jenna-Louise Coleman.

Matt Smith told The Mirror that his favorite moment on Doctor Who was kissing Jenna-Louise Coleman:

Clara and the Timelord snogged in the Christmas Day special and Matt said: “My favourite moment? I like our kiss, that was quite fun, even though it was hell to do. We actually did a couple of different versions there might be some outtakes.”

He also loves New York:

If I could film we’d film every episode of Doctor Who in New York. I have an affinity with the city. It has some wonderful locations and it is devastatingly vast and huge. Central Park looks amazing on camera.

Doctor and Clara notebook

Matt might love New York, but he cannot go back in time to whenAmy and Rory are living. We have a definitive answer as to why the Doctor will never again meet up with Amy and Rory from this interview with Steven Moffat from BlogtorWho:

Last year friend of the blog Dan Martin took time to chat with Steven Moffat about the Doctor Who Series 7 Part 1 finale, The Angels Take Manhattan  – and more specifically, “The Washington Theory”. Dan asked the current showrunner why could Amy and Rory not just travel to Washington (or Boston, or anywhere for that matter) and meet The Doctor there? Had Moffat left a useful plot thread dangling to bring the beloved companions back in a couple of years? Not so, according to Moffat…

“New York would still burn. The point being, he can’t interfere. Here’s the ‘fan answer’ – this is not what you’d ever put out on BBC One, because most people watch the show and just think, ‘well there’s a gravestone so obviously he can’t visit them again’. But the ‘fan answer’ is, in normal circumstances he might have gone back and said, ‘look we’ll just put a headstone up and we’ll just write the book’. But there is so much scar tissue, and the number of paradoxes that have already been inflicted on that nexus of timelines, that it will rip apart if you try to do one more thing. He has to leave it alone. Normally he could perform some surgery, this time too much surgery has already been performed. But imagine saying that on BBC One!”
More on the  Ponds later in the interview:
And what about return to the show for The Ponds? Moffat said, “You could never eliminate the possibility of dream sequences and flashbacks, but will the Doctor see them again? No. When I was first talking to Karen and Arthur about it, we said ‘let’s make it the proper ending’. Bringing back things just gives you sequel-itis. Just end it and get out. Heaven knows if they’ll appear in some form of flashback – I have no plans to do that I have to say – but the story of Amy and The Doctor is definitively over.”
That’s the definitive answer. Not the Doctor Who equivalent of Star Trek technobabble about that nexus of timelines that might rip apart. Doctor Who has been utterly inconsistent when dealing with the laws of time travel. The real answer is that Moffat doesn’t want them to return. His point about “sequel-itis” is more grounded in reality than the “nexus of timelines.”
None of this stops a future showrunner from having the Doctor and Amy meet again. There’s also another way to conceivably involve Amy and Rory in a Doctor Who story should Moffat or a future showrunner decide to boost ratings with such an episode. The Doctor could go back in time to Washington or anywhere else during the time in which Amy and Rory are living out their lives in the past. A story could be written in which both the Doctor and the Ponds get caught up with the same menace but are working independently and never actually meet. If this is done after the Doctor regenerates it would be possible for Amy to get a glance of the Doctor without meeting him. If she actually had much contact with him she would probably recognize him as Sarah Jane Smith recognized the Doctor.

214804-mark-hamill-carrie-fisher-luke-leia-skywalker-star-wars-episode-vii

Last week Carrie Fisher said she would be in Star Wars VII:

Disney is going to continue the Star Wars saga, producing movies set to hit theaters starting in 2015. Can you confirm whether you’ll reprise the role of Princess Leia?

Yes.

What do you think Princess Leia is like today?

Elderly. She’s in an intergalactic old folks’ home [laughs].   I just think she would be just like she was before, only slower and less inclined to be up for the big battle.

And still wearing the bagel buns?

The bagel buns and the bikini, because probably she has sundowners syndrome. At sundown, she thinks that she’s 20-something. And she puts it on and gets institutionalized.

She subsequently said she was joking (in a statement which many have speculated Disney insisted she release). While she was undoubtedly joking about being in an old folks’ home, it does appear likely that she will appear. George Lucas told Business Week that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford have all been contacted:

Asked whether members of the original Star Wars cast will appear in Episode VII and if he called them before the deal closed to keep them informed, Lucas says, “We had already signed Mark and Carrie and Harrison—or we were pretty much in final stages of negotiation. So I called them to say, ‘Look, this is what’s going on.’ ” He pauses. “Maybe I’m not supposed to say that. I think they want to announce that with some big whoop-de-do, but we were negotiating with them.” Then he adds: “I won’t say whether the negotiations were successful or not.”

Hulk Iron Man

Joss Whedon discussed topics including the difficulty in making movies about the Hulk and most of the DC Comics superheroes with Deadline Hollywood:

DEADLINE: What about speculation over potential Hulk spin-off stories? 
WHEDON: The Hulk is the most difficult Marvel property because it’s always about balance. Is he a monster? Is he a hero? Are you going to root for a protagonist who spends all his time trying to stop the reason you came to the movie from happening? It’s always a dance. I don’t think the first two movies nailed it, but I don’t envy them the task. It was easier to have him in a group than to build everything around him. I don’t think there would be any problem getting a movie together that had enough Banner, even if there was also Hulk. But if he was only Hulk for the entire movie I think Mark [Ruffalo] at some point would go, why am I here? I would be less inclined to pursue a storyline where the Hulk is only ever the Hulk. Mark [Ruffalo] and I loved the Hulk and went over and over the concept of rage and how it should manifest, and that part of it was fascinating to both of us. But when it comes time for the Hulk he has to put on the silliest damn pajamas you ever saw, a tiara made of balls, and a bunch of dots on his face and growl around like an idiot. The real heart of the experience ultimately becomes playing Banner. And people fell in love with Banner because I think Mark has you from the first time he shows up.

DEADLINE: How much do you keep an eye on Warner Bros with their DC properties?
WHEDON: I don’t keep that close an eye on it. But I loved Batman Begins so much and thought Christopher Nolan nailed Batman in a way that nobody ever had. It couldn’t be more different from The Avengers, and the Marvel and DC universes are different animals. If they actually crack the code which has not been done in terms of creating a shared sensibilities where all the movies are interesting and come together, I’m going to be thrilled. I have no fear that we’re going to be stepping on each others’ turf.

DEADLINE: You’ve had a history with DC. Do you think anyone will ever pull off Wonder Woman?
WHEDON: It’s not easy. It’s not a simple trick. The Marvel properties with the exception of Batman who has often been described as the Marvel character in the DC universe are much easier to translate to a modern audience. Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern are so far above us and their powers are amorphous and that makes it 10 times harder. Even when you’re doing a fight, it’s harder to write a fight for Thor than it is for Captain America because he’s that much stronger. I loved what I was doing on Wonder Woman. Clearly I was an excited party of one. I wrote the movie, I felt good about the characters, the structure needed work, I did another outline, they read it and were done. There wasn’t even a phone call.

The difficulties which Whedon raised in superhero stories are complicated even more when the viewer is aware that the hero has a bunch of other superheroes as friends to call on. Marvel President Kevin Feige does address the question as to why Tony Stark doesn’t call in the other Avengers for help in Iron Man 3:

It’s a good question, and it’s sort of half and half. I am betting that like the comics you don’t have to keep – if you are reading a standalone “Iron Man” comic, they don’t spend every page explaining where every other Marvel hero is. The audience kind of accepts that there are times when they’re on their own and there are times when they are together. I’m betting that movie audiences will feel the same way. That being said, there is a little bit of lip service here and there to that. There is also just the very nature of Tony wants to, once he barely survives that house attack you saw today, and even you saw it in the message he left for Pepper, he’s basically saying “I’m going off the grid to try to figure something out.”

Christopher Nolan says he does not want to return to Batman, but is involved with other superheroes, producing Man of Steel and possibly Justice League. His next movie about black holes, Interstellar, will be released on November 14, 2014.

Deadline Hollywood reports that a series by Ron Moore has been picked up by SyFy:

Syfy has finalized a 13-episode straight-to-series order to Helix, a dark thriller from Ronald D. Moore, marking Battlestar Galactica developer/executive producer’s return to the network. Steven Maeda (Lost, CSI: Miami) has come on board as showrunner of the project, written by Cameron Porsandeh. Helix, from Sony Pictures TV, where Moore and his Tall Ship Prods are under an overall deal, is about a team of scientists investigating a possible disease outbreak Hot In Cleveland) and Maeda executive produce, with Porsandeh serving as co-executive producer. “With its well-drawn characters, taut drama, and incredible production team, we couldn’t be more excited to see this intense thrill-ride of a series come to life,” said Syfy’s president of original content Mark Stern. Helix is expected to begin production early in 2013 to debut later this year. In addition to hit Battlestar Galactica, Moore also co-created and executive produced Syfy’s prequel series Caprica.

SyFy is moving the final five episodes of Merlin to May. And people wonder why fans often download genre shows as opposed to waiting five months or more to view them.


Ashley Judd has reportedly told advisers that she does plan to run for the Senate against Mitch McConnell. The actress, best known to Star Trek fans as Robin Lefler, has been attacked by the right wing for everything from her residency to nude scenes she as done. Attack of the Show chose Ashley Judd as the fourth Hottest Women of Star Trek (video above). She also has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and has been a Democratic activist.

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, one of the stars of Utopia, believes that continuing the story into a second season may or may not work:

Do you think there is scope for a second series of Utopia?
“I think there is scope for a second series, but I also think that it is self-contained. It really does depend. Sometimes you think things could have carried on or things aren’t resolved, and people can get annoyed by that.

“But some pieces of work don’t have a resolution and they leave you to figure it out, and that’s great. Utopia could carry on, but resolution isn’t always good.”

Io9 lists twenty things which Back To The Future got wrong about the future.

Conservatives Attack Ashley Judd For Nude Scenes

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Ashley Judd might run for the Senate against Mitch McConnell and now conservatives are starting to attack her over nude scenes she has done in movies. More evidence of the repressed homosexuality which is endemic in the Republican Party.

As long as they don’t attack her for her appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation

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Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration

Today Barack Obama joined a small group of people who have taken the oath of office more than twice. The oath was repeated in 2008 to avoid giving right wingers another reason to deny Obama’s legitimacy after John Roberts made an error when first administering the oath. (I note Roberts did use a note card today). He was sworn in for his second inauguration in a private ceremony on January 20, with the public event postponed to Monday. Only FDR and Obama have taken the oath of office four times. Bill Clinton is the only other president to my knowledge to have been sworn in more than twice as one of his inaugurations also occurred on a Sunday.

With Obama being sworn in, dogs everywhere gave a sigh of relief. Maybe now that Obama has been sworn in two more times Karl Rove is willing to give up hope for a Romney victory and concede defeat. Tea Partiers and Mitch McConnell swear to oppose Obama’s agenda and make him a two-term president. (Surprisingly some commentators do not realize how the Republicans really did decide to oppose everything Obama did on the day of his first inauguration.) All the living former presidents were in attendance except for George H. W. Bush, for health reasons, and George W. Bush, because everyone in Washington hates his guts.

Getting serious, Obama gave a liberal speech to mark the start of his second term (full text here and video above). He sounded neither like the socialist Republicans claim he is or the conservative a handful on the far left claim he is. James Fallows found this to be a startling progressive speech. Think  Progress called this a landmark moment for LGBT equality. Obama made a strong push for taking action on climate change.

While Obama has learned he cannot compromise with the extremism and intransigence of Congressional Republicans, I do like see Obama continue to try to explain how the real world works to conservatives in the hopes that there are some who will listen. Radical conservatives and libertarians believe a mythology that the free market is something which exists in nature, and that any government action is an abomination. In reality, markets are a creation of men and require government regulation to exist. Rothbardian anarch0-capitalism provides a fun background for some science fiction stories, but cannot exist in the real world. Obama explained:

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

He did learn it is politically dangerous to point out the truth that businessmen did not build the infrastructure they depend upon after the Republicans themed their convention around misquoting Obama, claiming Obama was saying businessmen did not build their businesses.

Obama’s record is not perfect. No president’s record is. Even if he did not do everything hoped for by the left, in a two party system, and with the constraints on presidential power, Obama did have a strong first term. Even his frequent critic Paul Krugman has been acknowledging this in recent columns, such as yesterday’s column, calling Obama’s record a Big Deal:

Health reform is, as Mr. Biden suggested, the centerpiece of the Big Deal. Progressives have been trying to get some form of universal health insurance since the days of Harry Truman; they’ve finally succeeded.

True, this wasn’t the health reform many were looking for. Rather than simply providing health insurance to everyone by extending Medicare to cover the whole population, we’ve constructed a Rube Goldberg device of regulations and subsidies that will cost more than single-payer and have many more cracks for people to fall through.

But this was what was possible given the political reality — the power of the insurance industry, the general reluctance of voters with good insurance to accept change. And experience with Romneycare in Massachusetts — hey, this is a great age for irony — shows that such a system is indeed workable, and it can provide Americans with a huge improvement in medical and financial security.

What about inequality? On that front, sad to say, the Big Deal falls very far short of the New Deal. Like F.D.R., Mr. Obama took office in a nation marked by huge disparities in income and wealth. But where the New Deal had a revolutionary impact, empowering workers and creating a middle-class society that lasted for 40 years, the Big Deal has been limited to equalizing policies at the margin.

That said, health reform will provide substantial aid to the bottom half of the income distribution, paid for largely through new taxes targeted on the top 1 percent, and the “fiscal cliff” deal further raises taxes on the affluent. Over all, 1-percenters will see their after-tax income fall around 6 percent; for the top tenth of a percent, the hit rises to around 9 percent. This will reverse only a fraction of the huge upward redistribution that has taken place since 1980, but it’s not trivial.

Finally, there’s financial reform. The Dodd-Frank reform bill is often disparaged as toothless, and it’s certainly not the kind of dramatic regime change one might have hoped for after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees.

Still, if plutocratic rage is any indication, the reform isn’t as toothless as all that. And Wall Street put its money where its mouth is. For example, hedge funds strongly favored Mr. Obama in 2008 — but in 2012 they gave three-quarters of their money to Republicans (and lost).

All in all, then, the Big Deal has been, well, a pretty big deal

While Obama’s record was not perfect, there is no problem which would be handled better if the Republicans had taken the White House. Just think of the executive orders which were not issued today because Mitt Romney did not have the opportunity. Romney, like Republicans before him, would have probably immediately reinstated the Global Gag Rule, limiting access to abortions world wide. While it would probably take more than a quick executive order, he would probably have made an effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He may have immediately put an end to federal funding of stem cell research. Who know what else what he would have done to accommodate the far right on his first day alone.

Seeing Barack Obama sworn in to be president for the next four years is a Big Deal.

Republican Priorities

Obama summed up the main priority of the Republicans on Meet the Press today:

I offered not only a trillion dollars in– over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.

Turns out they have a second priority, cutting Social Security benefits:

Negotiations to reach a last-ditch agreement to head off large tax increases and sweeping spending cuts in the new year broke down, at least temporarily, on Sunday after Republicans requested that a deal include a new way of calculating inflation that would lower payments to beneficiaries programs like Social Security and slow their growth.

Disagreement over Social Security is being called a major setback in the fiscal cliff negotiations today.

Update: Republicans appear to have taken Social Security cuts off the table for now. While they might not demand these cuts as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations they do plan to bring this up again in 2013.