SciFi Weekend: Arrow; Agent Carter; Under The Dome; True Blood (vs. Sarah Palin); Utopia; Sleepy Hollow; Doctor Who (and flirting); Big Bang Theory;Allison Williams as Peter Pan

Arrow Selfie

This picture of the cast of Arrow might very well be the best selfie to come out of Comic-Con last weekend. The latest news on Arrow is that Charlotte Ross  has been cast as Felicity’s mother. Last week Collider asked Stephen Amel about topics including the Justice League and Oliver’s true love at Comic-Con:

Are you happy you don’t have to answer any more Justice League questions?

Stephen Amell: Yes — and by the way, there’s a The Flash show, we have Firestorm, we have Canary, we have The Atom… The actual Justice League film — I don’t know when that’s coming out. You can watch The Justice League on television now. But the reason I’m happy to not have to answer the question anymore is because I think it undersold what we did on TV. I would put our degree of difficulty – having to produce twenty-two episodes of television every year, spinning off the show, giving people the confidence to green-light other DC properties — up there with producing a two hundred million dollar film. They’re very different things. I never want to feel as though our existence is only going to be justified by being part of the cinematic universe. That has nothing to do with anything. We are stamping out our own spot.

[What is the romantic situation like for Oliver this season?]

Stephen Amell: There’s one lady in Oliver’s life.

Just one?

Stephen Amell: Just one. There’s one woman in Oliver’s life this year.

Is that his sister?

Stephen Amell: No — it’s Felicity.

It just seems he’s got Sarah out there and Laurel…

Stephen Amell: The ship has sailed on those romances. I don’t think we’ll ever see Oliver & Sarah or Oliver & Laurel together again. I mean – they’ll be together but just not ‘together-together’. They’ll be teammates. We discover in the premiere the way that Oliver feels about Felicity. Because of that — if we just introduced random love interests, it would undersell what we do in the premiere.

How aware are you of the direction of the character throughout this season and for future seasons as well?

Stephen Amell: I really do think we are moving to a spot where we will refer to my character as ‘The Green Arrow’. We are moving to a spot where we will continue to embrace the fundamental classic elements of the character. Because we have that license now. We’re 46 episodes in. People like it. They buy into it. But unless this character is evolving — The Hood to Arrow to The Green Arrow — then people are going to lose interest. So I always want there to be a journey for him. And this year’s journey is really interesting.

Does that evolution involve the goatee?

Stephen Amell: No.

There’s more information on Agent Carter in the above interview with Hayley Atwell. The show is being described as being like Fargo or True Detective in being like an eight hour movie, and it sounds like it takes place before the formation of SHIELD. It might also contain one major Marvel villain who is unnamed. Also above is the full Agent Carter panel from Comic-Con.

Under the Locker

After True Blood, Under the Dome has to be the worst show I watch. Among its many faults, anything can happen with no apparent rules. In one recent episode there was reason to have a character get a message from outside to propel the plot so for an unknown reason email briefly went through, and then stopped again. Last week they checked out the locker at the site of the death of a character and found that there was a tunnel coming out of the locker. Does it go deep enough underground to get under the dome?

I’ve also wondered since the start of the show why there is not major activity going on outside the dome to try to both figure out what it is and how to get through it, including an effort to tunnel underneath from outside.

Despite all the implausible things which happen, the show somehow remains interesting to watch. On the other hand, I primarily stick with True Blood because I’ve gone on this long and want to see the ending. I had hoped that with this being the final season they would come up with a better storyline to end the series, but so far they have not done this. I can’t even blame Sarah Palin for her snub of the show in response to attacks such as calling her type of people (even if more monstrous than many of the characters on True Blood) Republic*nts.

Utopia has been the best summer genre show on, but as it has not aired in the United States I will avoid any spoilers. I was concerned by the end of the first season whether they could keep up the quality of the show once they began to reveal the secrets behind the conspiracy. They are pulling this off well in the second season. The first episode was a flash back which fills in may of the details about the conspiracy and how the major characters are interconnected. From there, instead of being a mystery about what is going on, the series has done an excellent job of moving on with the story now that we understand the full setup.

New trailer for season two of Sleepy Hollow above. More videos here.

Doctor Who Entertainment Weekly Capaldi

Back in July, 2012 Doctor Who made news by being the first British television show to make the cover of Entertainment Weekly. The show has returned several more times as it has become a bigger hit in the United States, including this week as we head towards the introduction of a new Doctor.

On August 23, Peter Capaldi will begin his first season starring in Doctor Who when the long-running British science-fiction show returns to BBC America. But it wasn’t so long ago that the Scottish actor and lifelong Who fan was certain he would never get his hands on the controls of the Time Lord’s TARDIS. “I wouldn’t have thought I would be the guy,” Capaldi says. “I wouldn’t have thought it would be me.” Why not? “Because of my age. I would have thought they were automatically heading younger.”

It was a reasonable assumption to make. At 56, Capaldi is roughly the same age as William Hartnell when he originated the role of the two-hearted, monster-battling alien way back in 1963. But since the BBC relaunched Doctor Who in 2005 after a lengthy hiatus, the actors playing the lead role have all been younger than Capaldi—and have gotten younger over time. The first of the new Doctors, Christopher Eccleston, was 41 when he first appeared on the show, while his successor David Tennant was 34. Capaldi’s immediate predecessor Matt Smith was just 26 when he was cast in the role.

But what Capaldi saw as a barrier to him playing the Doctor was actually an asset as far as Doctor Who executive producer and head writer Steven Moffat was concerned. “I did say, ‘No, we probably won’t end up with another quirky young man,’” says Moffat. “I didn’t think there was any space around Matt to have another Doctor of that kind, because he sort of sums up what you could do with that. I very very quickly, very quickly just thought about Peter. There is no right age to be the Doctor.”

Capaldi agrees. “I’m technically too young for the part,” chuckles the actor. “Because he’s over 2,000 years old.”

In contrast to Matt Smith and David Tennant, Peter Capaldi will not be flirting with his companion:

Incoming Doctor Who Peter Capaldi has revealed there will be no flirting with co-star Jenna Coleman in the new series.

The previous Doctor was engaged in a close relationship with his sidekick Clara that even led to a passionate kiss.

But Capaldi, 56, insisted his Time Lord would not be following in Matt Smith’s footsteps by getting intimate with 28-year-old Coleman’s character.

“There’ll be no flirting, that’s for sure,” he told the Sunday Times Magazine. “It’s not what this Doctor’s concerned with. It’s quite a fun relationship, but no, I did call and say, ‘I want no Papa-Nicole moments’. I think there was a bit of tension with that at first, but I was absolutely adamant.”

The Papa-Nicole comment relates to a series of 1990s Renault Clio car adverts which hinted at a romance between an older man and a younger woman, before they were revealed to be father and daughter.

Capaldi also had good news for those Doctor Who purists who believe the show’s storylines have become over the top.

“It’s going to be a bit different from what we’ve seen over recent years. A bit more gravity,” he said. “Some situations are more sombre and I think there are more rooted dramatic scenes. Over the past two or three years, which I’ve loved, there has often been a breathless vigour; we still have that attack, but we have another level of drama, another tone. And the scenes are longer.”

Big Bang Theory Cast

There’s optimistic news that the contracts will be settled with the cast of The Big Bang Theory. While filming has been postponed due to the lack of a contract, I don’t think anyone doubts that it is has just been a matter of haggling over exact dollar amounts and this will ultimately be settled, whether or not the stars get the full one million dollars per episode they are demanding. Both sides have have good reason to eventually come to an agreement.

Allison Williams

NBC is following up their live broadcast of The Sound of Music with Peter Pan. Allison Williams of Girls has been cast in the title role. She says she has wanted to play Peter Pan since she was three years old. While she very well might have obtained the role without any help, it might not have hurt to have some major connections with NBC. While excited about the role, Williams wonders, “what could go wrong in a live televised production with simultaneous flying, sword fighting and singing?”

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Another Frivolous Suit Against Obamacare Thrown Out Of Court

There have  been a lot of frivolous suits filed by various Republicans lately, ranging from suits to try to block the Affordable Care Act to the House Republicans’ own suit. While we had contradictory rulings in the case making the absurd argument that the ACA did not intend to allow subsidies to those who obtained coverage on the federal as opposed to a state exchange, another ridiculous argument was thrown out of court this week.

The argument was that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because of the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House, and the ACA does include mechanisms to raise revenue to pay for the law. The argument never made much sense but it has attracted increased attention among conservatives since George Will had a column on how the Supreme Court doomed the ACA in its ruling that the government had the power to charge a penalty for noncompliance with the mandate based upon the power to tax.

There are two major errors in this argument. First is that there is precedent for the Senate to take a House bill and then pass it with major changes, and still have this considered to have originated in the House. As the House also passed their own version of health care reform, this was sufficient to meet this criteria. Secondly, the courts have long differentiated between a bill with a primary purpose of levying taxes versus a bill which incidentlaly raises revenue. The Appeals court argued that, “The Supreme Court has held from the early days of this nation that revenue bills are those that levy taxes in the strict sense of the word, and are not bills for other purposes which may incidentally create revenue.”

Consider the irony in two of the Republican arguments against the bill. In this case the Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act because it contains provisions to pay for itself. While Democrats have adopted a pay as you go attitude towards new government programs, Republicans prefer to purchase their programs on credit, such as with the Iraq War and George Bush’s Medicare D Program. When it is Republicans spending the money, deficits don’t matter.

In the case of the House law suit, Republicans are suing Obama for delaying implementation of a portion of the law (the mandate on small business) which they have claimed would be harmful and want repealed. Republicans also had no objection to a similar delay by George Bush in enforcing requirements of the Medicare D program.

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Obama Runs Against The Haters In The Do-Nothing Congress

Republicans have the edge going into the midterm elections considering the traditional disadvantages of a president’s party in the sixth year, but considering the negatives faced by the Republicans there is still a question of whether campaigning against them will improve the outcome for Democrats. Obama spoke out against them today (video above). He criticized Congressional Republicans for their inaction in solving current problems, pointing out the economic gains despite their obstructionism:

“They have not been that helpful,” Obama told a crowd in a local theater. “They have not been as constructive as I would have hoped and these actions come with a cost.”

The House is set to vote later on Wednesday on legislation authorizing a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions, particularly to delay ObamaCare’s employer health insurance mandate.

Obama highlighted the administration’s successes in boosting the economy, saying that his administration caused the bounce-back reflected in statistics released Wednesday that showed 4 percent growth in the second quarter.

He noted that the 6.1 percent unemployment rate is the lowest since September of 2008. But he blamed Republicans for preventing him for doing more for every day Americans.

“We could do so much more if Congress would come on and help out a little bit,” he added. “Stop being mad all the time. Stop. Stop just hating all the time. C’mon … I know they’re not happy that I’m president but that’s okay. I got a couple of years left. C’mon … then you can be mad at the next president.”

The president slapped the GOP for the lawsuit. “Instead of suing me for doing my job, I want Congress to do its job.”

Obama criticized the Republican lawsuit as a stunt and did not mention impeachment. John Boehner has been using the lawsuit as a means to appease many Republicans who have called for impeachment, with impeachment talk backfiring against Republicans and helping Democratic fund raising

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the party had raised $7.6 million online since Boehner announced the suit in June, including $1 million collected Monday alone after incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), during a network television interview, repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of impeachment.

I heard that interview with Steve Scalise on Fox News Sunday and found him to be very evasive on what should have been home turf for him. Republicans like Scalise like to have it both ways. They claim that the impeachment talk is coming from Democrats for fund raising purposes but many refuse to rule out the possibility in order to keep the Republican base happy. One Republican was honest enough to say that the lawsuit was just for show, but then went on to show what many Republicans really have in mind

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) told The Hill that the lawsuit, spearheaded by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), is “theater, is a show.”

Jones, who will vote no on the legislation that is scheduled to hit the House floor on Thursday, said he prefers impeaching Obama.“Why not impeach instead of wasting $1 million to $2 million of the taxpayers’ money? … If you’re serious about this, use what the founders of the Constitution gave us,” Jones said.

Democrats have been raising campaign donations on the prospects of impeachment. GOP leaders have stressed repeatedly they are not going to impeach Obama.

Boehner on Tuesday said that the notion that Republicans would impeach Obama is a “scam” drummed up by Democrats to boost their campaign coffers.

Other Republicans who have expressed support for impeachment include Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), Steve Stockman (Texas) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.).

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No Signs Of A Wave Election So Far

Nate Cohn looked at the small amount of generic Congressional polling there is available and concluded, consistent with other indicators, that there is no sign of a wave election this year. The polls he looked at showed an average 1.9 percent advantage for the Democrats over Republicans. Cohn wrote:

These findings bear no resemblance to the one-sided results at this point in 2010, when Republicans held a clear 4.7-point advantage, or in 2006, when Democrats were ahead by 10.1 points. The current slight Democratic edge is fairly similar to what generic ballot surveys showed in the days ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

It’s important to emphasize that these polls are of registered voters, not likely voters. Previous years’ surveys were also of registered voters. The Republicans probably have a slight advantage among the older and whiter electorate that’s likely to participate this November. But that’s a separate matter from national political conditions.

While some have predicted a Republican wave based upon Obama’s unpopularity in the polls, the fact that both Congress and the Republican Party have even worse favorability ratings must count for something. The actual result seems to be a decreased turn out at the polls in primary elections so far this year, possibly indicating that voters are fed up with everybody. There is still quite a while until the election, and an unforeseen event still might tilt things towards either party.

The lack of a Republican wave, assuming things stay as they are, should limit the expected loses by Democrats which we would normally see in the sixth year of a presidency. Unfortunately the Republicans are in a good position to take control of the Senate without a wave as the Democrats are forced to defend several Senate seats in red states which they picked up in 2008.

As it now stands, the Republicans have a very slight edge to take the Senate, but there are a number of reasons that Democratic incumbents might still hold onto enough seats to narrowly maintain control. The Hobby Lobby might get more single women to turn out to vote for the Democrats.  Republicans still could find ways to lose elections which are now close, such as with a call for nullification of federal laws by the states by the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa:

Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, appears to believe states can nullify federal laws. In a video obtained by The Daily Beast, Ernst said on September 13, 2013 at a form held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition that Congress should not pass any laws “that the states would consider nullifying.”

“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

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Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

While, as should be obvious from the previous post, I am not thrilled by the prospect of Hillary Clinton being president, any Republican alternative would be far worse. With all her faults, Clinton isn’t bat-shit crazy. Norm Ornstein has written again about how extreme the Republican have become. He described the extremists who have become more common in the Republican Party, providing multiple quotations (not even resorting to quoting Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann):

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

“Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviate.” —Montana state Rep. Dave Hagstrom.

“It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education.” —Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds.

“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” —Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, at a tea-party rally.

President Obama has “become a dictator” and needs to face the consequences of his executive actions, “whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” —Iowa state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Jodi Ernst, one of a slew of elected officials calling for impeachment or at least putting it front and center.

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change. But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.” —Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (fact-check: the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees).

“Although Islam had a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protections.” —Georgia congressional candidate Jody Hice.

“Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done, but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.” —U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big-bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” —U.S. Rep. (and M.D.) Paul Broun of Georgia.

“Now I don’t assert where he [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.” —U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

He pointed out some of the less extreme forces in the Republican Party and concluded:

I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won. Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain’s term, “wacko birds,” and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views. At the same time, the “establishment” is fighting back, pouring resources into primaries to protect their preferred candidates, and we are seeing the rise of a new and encouraging movement among conservative intellectuals—dubbed “Reformicons” by E.J. Dionne—to come up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions to redefine the ideology and the party in a positive way.

But there is a darker reality. Many of the “preferred” candidates—including Ernst as well as James Lankford in Oklahoma and Jack Kingston in Georgia—are anything but pragmatic.

A few years ago, they would have been labeled hard-liners. (Kingston, a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was beaten in the Senate primary Tuesday by businessman David Perdue, who has said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell as party leader in the Senate.) It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set. Of course, there are still courageous mainstream figures like Jeb Bush who are willing to deviate from the new orthodoxy, and it is possible that he can run and get the Republican presidential nomination, win the White House, and begin the process of recalibration.

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Even if the lunatics have not entirely won, they are the ones influencing the views of the rest of  the party. The establishment Republicans have beaten some primary challenges based upon disagreements on tactics, such as no longer wanting to shut down the government, but they have also adopted the ideology of the Tea Party.

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Why Many People In The Middle Now Identify With The Left

While the country has become more liberal in some ways, the Republican Party has moved to the extreme right, and the Democratic Party has filled in the vacuum in the middle by also moving to the right on many issues. As a consequence, many people who previously considered themselves in the middle are finding that the current views of the left are closer to their views. Thomas Ricks, who wrote Fiasco, and excellent look at the Iraq War, described why he moved to the left at Politico:

Disappointment in the American government over the last 10 years. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first big shocks. I thought that invading Afghanistan was the right response to the 9/11 attacks, but I never expected the U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting there and in Iraq, running the wars in ways that made more enemies than were stopped. I believe that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, not only launched on false premises but also strategically foolish in that ultimately it has increased Iran’s power in the Middle East.

Torture. I never expected my country to endorse torture. I know that torture has existed in all wars, but to my knowledge, its use, under the chilling term “enhanced interrogation,” was never official U.S. policy until this century. In fact, until our recent wars, the American military had a proud heritage of handling its prisoners better than most. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington reminded his men of the need to “Treat [captives] with humanity, and Let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army.”

How we fought. I never thought that an American government would employ mercenaries in a war. And yet we did this in Iraq by hiring thousands of armed “security contractors” who in practice were subject neither to local law nor to the American military justice system, and so could and often did treat Iraqis badly. In September 2007, I remember, American officers, who by then understood the need to treat Iraqi civilians well, were outraged when Blackwater employees shot 37 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square—the rough equivalent of opening up on the lunch crowd in Dupont Circle. Yet to my knowledge, the U.S. government has not studied how the use of mercenaries poisoned the conduct of the war. Indeed, it gives every indication of planning to operate the same way in the future.

Intelligence officials run amok. I think that American intelligence officials have shown a contempt for the way our democracy is supposed to work in turning a vast and unaccountable apparatus on the citizens it is supposed to be protecting. I remain wary of Edward Snowden’s motivations and connections, yet still am worried by the intrusive surveillance by the National Security Agency he has unveiled. At the very least, in a democracy, we should be able to be informed about the actions that have eroded our privacy but supposedly were taken in our name.

Growing income inequality. I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual. The middle class used at least to get lip service from the rich—“backbone of the country” and such. Now it is often treated like a bunch of saps not aware enough to evade their taxes.

This led to a lengthy discussion at The Moderate Voice, where I also blog. Many of the bloggers and regular commentators there are in a similar position, thinking of themselves as moderates but finding their views are now more in line with the left, especially on social issues. While Ricks didn’t mention social issues, the desire to keep government out of the private lives of individuals has led many people to abandon the Republicans and the conservative movement.

Opposition to the Iraq War and related issues has generally been the defining issue for the formation of the liberal “netroots” and this dominates Ricks’ reasons. Republicans typically use fear and distort Democratic views, such as with the misquotation of Obama as the theme of the last Republican convention, to falsely paint liberals as being for socialism. There are no such economic views listed by Ricks, and the same is typical of many liberals. There is a far greater variation in views on the left than on the right, but the center of gravity has moved rightwards on economic issues. Liberals tend to be  more pragmatists and closer to Eisenhower Republicans than anything close to socialist (by its classic meaning).

If the word conservative really meant anything, in many ways today’s liberals are the conservatives who want to preserve our market economy, while eliminating its abuses, while Republicans are the radicals who want to destroy the system and make our economy more like a banana republic. It is the Republicans who are irresponsible fiscally, financing their policies on credit (while Democrats are more likely to include financing for their policies), caring more about tax cuts for the rich as opposed to cutting the deficit, and rigging the system to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the rich. Besides the ethical problems with this, destroying the middle class is horrible for the economy, and in the long run doesn’t even benefit the rich either, unless you want to live in a banana republic. On top of this we have the Republicans engaging in irresponsible action such as shutting down the government and making an issue out of increasing the debt ceiling, resulting in a lowering of the country’s credit rating.

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of how both parties have moved to the right on health care. Obamacare is quite close to Richard Nixon’s health care plan, the GOP counter-proposal to HillaryCare in the 90′s, and Mitt Romney’s plan. Republicans used to push for mandates, exchanges, and recommended high deductible plans tied to medical savings accounts. Once Obama pushed for all of this, as opposed to previous more liberal health care proposals, the Republicans suddenly claimed that everything they supported in the past is socialism and amounts to a government takeover of health care. (Of course part of the Republican opposition is because Obamacare does differ from the old Republican proposals in including regulations to keep insurance companies from ripping off consumers while pushing to increase use of private insurance companies.)

Conservatives are likely to misinterpret the inclusion of concerns about income inequality by Ricks, as well as myself  in this post, as indicating support for socialism. Concern about the deleterious effects of  the concentration of wealth to our economy is not an exclusively liberal viewpoint–see the works of Kevin Phillips on this. Nor does this mean that socialism is being advocated as the solution.

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed on income inequality which is worth reviewing:

First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.

The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.

Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.

Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.

Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”

Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.

Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”

For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.

Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That

Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods” — like the hottest car on the block.

The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.

Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.

Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.

We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Update: Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

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Surveys Show Benefits Of Obamacare For Individuals And Hospitals

Two polls were released today regarding opinion of the effects of the Affordable Care Act, one from consumers and one from hospital administrators. The first is reported by CNN:

More than half the public says Obamacare has helped either their families or others across the country, although less than one in five Americans say they have personally benefited from the health care law, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/ORC International survey also indicates that a majority of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act, but that some of that opposition is from people who don’t think the measure goes far enough…

According to the poll, only 18% of the public say they or their families are better off now that the major provisions of the health care law have been implemented. Another 35% report that, while their lives have not improved, the Affordable Care Act has benefited other people in the U.S. Add those two numbers together, and that means 53% say that Obamacare has helped either their families or others across the country.

Forty-four percent tell us that the health care law has not helped anyone in the country.

Any poll regarding whether the law has helped people has to be interpreted cautiously. First there are those who follow the Republican line and deny benefits which have been well-documented, such as an increase in the number of insured. Even those answering with an open mind might not realize ways in which they are benefiting.  Before the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people often did not realize the problems in the old system as they had not encountered them personally. In the past I often saw patients with very limited coverage who had no idea how limited their coverage was. Some policies would only cover inpatient or outpatient services. Some policies had severe limitations on how many office calls they would cover or how much they would pay for lab per year. I have seen patients with newly diagnosed diabetes who suddenly needed far more services than in the past but found that they had used up their coverage for the year by around March. Many people also do not realize the risk they previously faced of being dropped by their insurance plan should they develop expensive medical problems. Insurance companies can no longer drop people for medical problems or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, along with being required to provide comprehensive coverage, including preventative care.

FierceHealthCare reported on a survey of hospital executives which showed that average inpatient admissions were increased by 0.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, following several years of deceases, as a consequence of the Affordable Care Act and other factors. They also found that “The ACA has made a positve impact on hospital performance, according to the survey, with hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under the healthcare law expressing significantly more positive views about improvements in payer mix and diversity in the second half of the year.”

Hospital inpatient volumes trended positive for the first time in several years–albeit by only a slight margin–according to a new survey from Jefferies. The investment bank and securities firm also released data about hospital performance and payer mix.

Inpatient volume has trended negative for the last few years, due largely to the economic downturn and plan design changes, but average inpatient admissions were up 0.4 percent in the second quarter of 2014, according to the survey results. Researchers attribute the uptick to a combination of the improving economy, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and patients waiting as long as possible for procedures, compounding demand.

Polling on provider optimism was also positive, according to the survey. Of the executives from 50 hospitals Jefferies polled, seven in 10 expected inpatient volume to be either flat or up in the third quarter, which is remarkable considering the multiyear trend of negative volumes, according to the survey results. Executives at hospitals with more than 250 beds were particularly optimistic, with all such respondents expecting volume increases in the third quarter.

The ACA has made a positve impact on hospital performance, according to the survey, with hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under the healthcare law expressing significantly more positive views about improvements in payer mix and diversity in the second half of the year.

“That said, 54 percent of our surveyed hospitals indicated that the ACA has not impacted volume trends yet; it is worth noting though that half of hospitals with 500 or more beds noted improved admission trends as a result of the ACA,” the results stated. Jefferies will continue monitoring developments in states that have not yet expanded the program but are “key for the publicly traded hospitals,” including Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Thirty-four percent of respondents overall said emergency department (ED) admissions had increased, but the numbers were higher in expansion states (42 percent) than non-expansion states (29 percent). This lines up with the results of a study which found Medicaid expansion in Oregon increased ED volumes, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The benefits for hospitals in this survey was consistent with previous reports that Medicaid expansion has led to both increased care for the poor and improved revenues for hospitals. The same post also reported on a recent survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians which found that 37 percent of ER physicians reported that patient volume had increased slightly, 9 percent reported that it had increased greatly, and 27 percent reported that the number of ER visits had remained the same.

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Activist Conservative Judges Attempt To Destroy Obamacare, Causing Potential Problems For Republicans

We had two different federal appeals court panels give conflicting rulings on Tuesday regarding the legality of subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. This came about due to some ambiguities in the writing of the law–primarily a proof reading error at one point which suggests that only insurance purchased in state exchanges can allow subsidies. The bulk of the law makes it clear that people purchasing coverage can qualify for subsidies regardless of whether purchased on a federal or state exchange.

It is impossible to predict with certainty, but legal experts are generally predicting that the Supreme Court would follow precedent and go with the overall intent of the law as opposed to allowing the conservative activist judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn the law.

In the event that the Supreme Court should support this idea we could then have a rather chaotic situation. About 4.5 million people would lose their subsidies, making many people very angry at any Republican politicians who refused to work towards a fix.  There would be two potential solutions. One would be for each state to build their own exchange. Presumably they would now have the benefit of the experience of those working on the federal exchange, so this might not be as difficult as it sounds. However, a far simpler solution would be for Congress to pass legislation to clear up the ambiguous wording in the Affordable Care Act which led to this situation.

We could have rather interesting political battles if Republicans would continue to call for repeal and refuse to act to make the fix. This would anger many voters who in effect are receiving a significant tax increase by losing their subsidies, and ultimately might lose their medical care. Would Republicans stick to demanding repeal or be forced to give into demand to allow people to receive the subsidies and continue their insurance coverage? If I was a Republican politician, I think I might hope that the Supreme Court rules in favor of the current subsidies and avoids this political problem.

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What’s The Matter With Thomas Frank?

Obama Green Lantern

Thomas Frank has fallen for the Green Lantern view of the presidency, thinking that the president has the power to do anything he wishes. His criticism of Obama:

Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn’t he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?

Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn’t do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn’t reason with them—their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls—they’d gerrymandered so many states that they couldn’t be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp—heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)

But bipartisanship as an ideal must also be kept sacred, of course. And so, after visitors to the Obama Library have passed through the Gallery of Drones and the Big Data Command Center, they will be ushered into a maze-like exhibit designed to represent the president’s long, lonely, and ultimately fruitless search for consensus. The Labyrinth of the Grand Bargain, it might be called, and it will teach how the president bravely put the fundamental achievements of his party—Social Security and Medicare—on the bargaining table in exchange for higher taxes and a smaller deficit. This will be described not as a sellout of liberal principle but as a sacred quest for the Holy Grail of Washington: a bipartisan coming-together on “entitlement reform,” which every responsible D.C. professional knows to be the correct way forward.

Frank both ignores the real obstacles which Obama faced and is not very accurate in describing Obama’s record. He forgets that the there was a very good reason that Obama never had a chance to reason with the Republicans–they decided right off the bat that they would oppose anything Obama supported for political reasons. Frank might check out the work of  centrists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann on how Republicans are responsible for the current gridlock along with  this Frontline documentary:

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.

There were clear institutional limits on Obama in a system where forty Senators could block the majority on anything. The Democrats had sixty votes for a very brief time due to the delays in swearing in Al Franken and later Ted Kennedy’s death.  Even when Obama technically had sixty Senators voting with the Democrats, this included Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson who would never go for the type of leftist agenda Frank favored.

Obama chose to use his limited political political capital to concentrate on health care reform, passing a comprehensive health reform package after previous presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton were unsuccessful. Ted Kennedy once expressed regret at working with Richard Nixon and instead insisting upon a single-payer system at the time. Similarly Hillary Clinton convinced Bill to threaten to veto anything other than her plan, rejecting a Republican proposal which was very similar to the Affordable Care Act. It would be far better to accept what can be passed and then work to improve it over time.

Sure the Affordable Care Act is a confusing jumble, but that is because it built upon our current system. It would have been better if the system was even more complex and perhaps confusing, including either the public option or Medicare buy-in. Neither could pass because both Lieberman and Nelson opposed them. Obama certainly could have never received sixty votes for a single-payer plan, breaking up the banks, or a bigger stimulus.

Beyond Congress, Obama was limited by conservative media bias on economic matters. Obviously Fox was out there spreading lies and attacking anything Obama wanted to do, but the problems weren’t limited to Fox and its viewers. Most of the media is owned by the wealthy, and much of the news, especially on television, is reported by wealthy television stars. They might not share the Republican views on social issues or their opposition to science and reason (leading to the conservative view of  a liberal media) but many of them are quite conservative on economic issues. They were biased towards tax cuts and cutting spending. Media reports on the economy typically stressed the size of the deficit and included the assumption that a reduction in government spending was necessary. Few pointed out the degree to which Republican spending and tax cuts in the Bush years contributed far more to the deficit than Obama’s stimulus spending. The atmosphere was hardly conducive to pushing an even bigger stimulus, regardless of how much more this would have helped the economy recover. He also ignores the degree to which Obama’s stimulus did help bring about economic recovery.

Just as Frank ignores the benefits of Obama’s policies, including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus, he exaggerates what Obama did not do. No, Obama did not destroy Social Security and Medicare. It is the other party which has been seeking to do that. Offering  Chained CPI in exchange for a grand bargain on the deficit might never have been a good idea, but we can’t blame Obama for making a bad deal when such a deal was never made and we don’t know what he would have held out for before making such an agreement.

Obama’s record has much in it to displease the far left. It is doubtful that any other president would have achieved more than he actually did.

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Michigan Democratic Candidates Improving Position In Latest Poll

AP SENATE MICHIGAN PETERS A ELN USA MI

There is good news in the latest EPIC-MRA poll out of Michigan. The biggest race from a national perspective is replacing retiring Senator Carl Levin. In addition to having an impact on control of the Senate, the Republican candidate, Terry Lynn Land, is a Teabagger who so far has come across as only slightly less bat-shit crazy than Michele Bachmann. Democratic candidate Gary Peters (pictured above) leads Land by 9 points, 45 percent to 36 percent.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder is fortunately not an extremist like Land. Many Democrats supported Snyder four years ago in the Republican primary, during a year when it was clear the GOP candidate would win, to prevent more extreme candidates such as Pete Hoekstra from getting the nomination. Snyder has sometimes stood up to the Republican legislature and  might even be tolerable if working with a Democratic legislature. Unfortunately at other times he has given in to the Republicans.

Snyder started out with a big advantage, such as that an incumbent governor has not lost in Michigan since 1990. In May Snyder led his Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer, by nine points. Now the lead has narrowed to three points, with Snyder leading 46 percent to 43 percent. As Schauer is still not well known, it is encouraging that he is making it a close race with a long time to go until November. The results are within the margin of error, and shows Schauer increasing support from the Democratic base and shows independents now breaking towards Schauer.

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