Rand Paul’s Past May Catch Up With Him

Rand Paul

Paul Waldman reminds us of some of the nutty things Rand Paul has said in the past, such as his belief in the NAFTA Superhighway conspiracy theory and past statements on the Civil Rights Act. He got in trouble again this week, along with some other Republicans, when discussing measles vaccination. It is not surprising that Paul, as is the case with the many in the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party (along with some mainstream Republicans) has a history of association with anti-vaccine groups. Paul has gone further than most other Republicans in the past in both questioning the science of vaccines and questioning the right of the state to mandate vaccinations.

Waldman has a good suggestion as to why Paul has made it to the Senate despite a history of holding views which would have prevented others from winning such a position:

But that’s not the path Rand Paul followed. Whatever his talents, he’s a United States senator because he’s Ron Paul’s son. Over his time in Congress, Ron Paul developed a small but fervent national constituency, made up of some ordinary libertarians and a whole lot of outright wackos. That constituency was greatly expanded by his 2008 presidential campaign. Despite the fact that Paul had plenty of interesting and reasonable things to say, it’s also the case that if you were building a bunker to prepare for the coming world financial crash and ensuring societal breakdown (and possible zombie apocalypse), there was only one presidential candidate for you. When Rand Paul decided to run for Senate in 2010, having never run for anything before, the Ron Paul Army mobilized for him, showering him with money and volunteers. He also had the good fortune to be running in a year when Republicans everywhere were looking for outsider, tea party candidates, so he easily beat the choice of the Kentucky GOP establishment in the primary.

You may remember that early on, and unseasoned Rand Paul got in trouble for his ideas about things like the Civil Rights Act. But he quickly discerned what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and he set about moderating his views, sanding down the rough edges of libertarianism to find something that would fit more neatly within the Republican Party while also finding issues where he could say something distinctive. It’s been very effective, but you can’t erase the past.

And I’m guessing there’s more in Paul’s past that will be of interest now that we’re getting into the 2016 campaign. I don’t mean scandalous behavior, I mean scandalous notions. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are a dozen more videos like this one out there, in which the now-respectable senator says some alarming things to groups of people who revere his father in all the elder Paul’s eccentric glory. I could be wrong, of course—the NAFTA superhighway and vaccines causing autism may be the only conspiracy theories Rand Paul has ever entertained. But we’re going to find out.

Rand Paul is not Ron Paul and we cannot attribute all of Ron Paul’s nuttier views and actions to Rand without evidence. I do bet that plenty more will come out if he has to face the scrutiny of a presidential campaign, and his Republican opponents for the nomination won’t hesitate to begin the opposition research.

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Measles Outbreak Shows How Republicans Have A Serious Problem With Science And Facts

Statements from many prominent Republicans, including Chris Christie and Rand Paul, on the measles outbreak have served to remind people that Republicans really are the Party of Stupid. This follows recent problems with Republicans ignoring the science to promote hysteria in response to Ebola.  As The New York Times wrote:

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools. It is what makes the fight over global warming such a liability for their party, and what led last year to a widely criticized response to the Ebola scare.

As concern spread about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, physicians criticized Republican lawmakers — including Mr. Christie — who called for strict quarantines of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In some cases, Republicans proposed banning people who had been to the hardest-hit West African countries from entering the United States, even though public health officials warned that would only make it more difficult to stop Ebola’s spread.

On climate change, the party has struggled with how to position itself, with some Republicans inviting mockery for questioning the established science that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures and sea levels.

There are two types of misinformation being spread by conservatives regarding vaccines. The most extreme is to deny the basic science, claiming that vaccines do not work or are harmful. Some limit their arguments to denying the public health dangers resulting when some people refuse to vaccinate their children, often on libertarian grounds. While herd immunity has generally protected Americans from the effects of some refusing vaccines, the current measles outbreak shows what can happen. This also highlights a major problem with libertarianism. Sometimes, as even Fox’s Megyn Kelly has argued, “some things do require some involvement of Big Brother.”

It is also hard for Chris Christie to hide behind any libertarian justification for allowing parents to refuse to vaccinate their children after he involuntarily quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox despite the lack of either legal or medical justification.

It does make it much worse for the Republicans when they show similar problems with science and facts on other issues, not limited to evolution, climate change, vaccines, and Ebola. As I discussed yesterday, Republicans are also basing their attempts to restrict abortion rights on pseudo-science, such as claiming that a fetus can feel pain before it has developed a cerebral cortex, and framing the debate around unscientific claims that there is a definite point when life begins.

While economics is not as exact a science, there is ample data which disputes Republican Voodoo Economics. Tax cuts on the wealthy do not pay for themselves, do not stimulate the economy, and do not lead to wealth trickling down. The multiplier effect of government spending on economic development, along with the benefits of giving tax breaks to the poor and middle class, as opposed to the wealthy, often provide far greater benefit. These are among the reasons that the economy does so much better under Democrats than Republicans.

We are still seeing the disastrous effects of Republicans ignoring the facts in Iraq to go to war.

Facts matter, and Republican denial of the facts do not change this. What does happen is that we all suffer when Republicans decide public policy while denying science and facts.

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The Republicans Now Have A God Problem

If you listen to Republicans, they are running to uphold moral values based upon Christianity. Many Republican candidates in the past have even claimed that god wanted them to run, and have cited god to justify their policies. Suddenly it is no longer the case that the Republicans are running on god’s platform. Amy Davidson looked at God and the GOP at The New Yorker:

Indeed, other potential G.O.P. candidates are now having to recalculate how another religion figures into the equation. There has never been a Catholic Republican nominee for the White House (the Mormons, interestingly, got there first), although there may be one this year, with a field that includes Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, his wife’s faith, some twenty years ago. For them, the issue is not one of religious bigotry, such as John F. Kennedy faced in his 1960 campaign, with insinuations of adherence to secret Papist instructions. In a way, it’s the opposite: the very public agenda of the all too authentic Pope Francis.

Early signs of trouble came in the summer of 2013, when the new Pope, speaking with reporters about gays in the Church, asked, “Who am I to judge?” The conservative wing of the Party had relied on his predecessors to do just that. Then he proved much less reticent about issuing a verdict on capitalism. In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, he labelled trickle-down economic theories “crude and naïve.” The problems of the poor, he said, had to be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.” That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and “family formation” that Romney made on the Midway, and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. “The guy is from Argentina—they haven’t had real capitalism,” Paul Ryan, Romney’s former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.” On that front, when it emerged that Francis had been instrumental in the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, Jeb Bush criticized the deal, and Senator Marco Rubio, also a Catholic, said that he’d like the Pope to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As if all that weren’t enough, His Holiness is preparing an encyclical on climate change, to be released in advance of his visit to the United States later this year. In January, he said of global warming, “For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.” Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, has written, “On the environment, the pope has allied himself with the far left.” Actually, Francis is very much in the center in terms of scientific opinion, but the leading potential G.O.P. contenders, with the possible exception of Christie, sit somewhere on the climate-change-denial-passivity spectrum—Jeb Bush has said that he is a “skeptic” as to whether the problem is man-made.

In recent decades, liberal Catholic politicians were the ones with a papal problem; both Mario Cuomo and John Kerry had to reckon with the prospect of excommunication for their support of abortion-rights laws. John Paul II, meanwhile, was a favorite of conservatives; despite his often subtle views, he became at times little more than a symbol of anti-Communism and a certain set of social strictures. He cemented an alliance, in the political realm, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (Rubio also attends an evangelical church.) Abortion was a significant part of that story. By contrast, the Franciscan moment will push some Republican candidates to make decisions and to have conversations that they would rather avoid.

It will also offer a chance to address the knotty American idea that faith is an incontrovertible component of political authenticity. (Why is the Romney who thinks about God the “real” one?) The corollary should be that nothing is as inauthentic as faith that is only opportunistically professed, something that this Pope, who has extended a hand to atheists, seems to know. Still, the campaign will be defined not by theological questions but by political ones, prominent among them inequality and climate change. Both can have spiritual dimensions and speak to moral issues, such as our obligations to one another. But neither can be solved by faith alone.

For those who buy the false claims which have come from some Republicans in the past that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it might conceivably cause some problems to see Republican candidates at odds with the Pope’s views on religion. While this could be amusing, most likely it won’t matter. The Republican base, which never allows facts to get in the way of their beliefs, sure aren’t going to alter their view based upon what the Pope says. We have seen how willing they are to ignore science when it conflicts with their views on evolution, climate change, or abortion. Republicans also don’t allow economic data which shows that their beliefs (essentially held as a religion) on economics are total hogwash interfere with this religion, no matter how often the economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans. Still, Republicans who could never justify their policies based upon facts, might lose even more legitimacy when they also lose religious justification for their policies.

While most people, or at least those who respect the desire of the founding fathers to establish a secular state, would not use religious views as justification for public policy decisions, there will at least be a bit of satisfaction in seeing Republicans lose even this basis to justify their absurd positions.

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Jeb Bush Was A Romney-Type Bully In School–Why It Might Still Matter

The Boston Globe looked at Jeb Bush’s school days, finding he abused drugs like his brother and was a bully like the last Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Resolutely apolitical despite his lineage, he refused to join the Progressive Andover Republicans club and often declined even to participate in informal bull sessions with classmates. In a tumultuous season in American life, he seemed to his peers strangely detached and indifferent.

“He was just in a bit of a different world,” said Phil Sylvester, who said he was a Bush roommate. While other students “were constantly arguing about politics and particularly Vietnam, he just wasn’t interested, he didn’t participate, he didn’t care.”

Meanwhile, his grades were so poor that he was in danger of being expelled, which would have been a huge embarrassment to his father, a member of Congress and of the school’s board of trustees.

Bush, in an interview for this story, recalled it as one of the most difficult times of his life, while acknowledging that he made it harder by initially breaking a series of rules.

“I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” Bush said, both of which could have led to expulsion. “It was pretty common.” He said he had no recollection of bullying and said he was surprised to be perceived that way by some…

One of those who did get to know Bush in these early days was Peter Tibbetts. The connection, he said, was pot. The first time Tibbetts smoked marijuana, he said, was with Bush and a few other classmates in the woods near Pemberton Cottage. Then, a few weeks later, Tibbetts said he smoked hashish — a cannabis product typically stronger than pot — in Jeb’s dormitory room…

Tibbetts, who was eventually forced to leave Andover in the spring of 1970 after school officials accused him of using drugs, said his one regret about his relationship with Bush is that he agreed to participate with him in the bullying of a student in the dormitory. Their target was a short classmate whom they taunted, and then sewed his pajama bottoms so that they were impossible to put on. The act was particularly embarrassing, said Tibbetts, who said he felt remorse for joining in with “kids being cruel.”

James Joyner has a point in questioning the meaning of such stories from long ago:

 …Bush turns 62 in a few days. He’s spent almost the entirety of his adult life in the public eye, including eight years as governor of one of our largest states. Surely, that’s a better frame of reference on his character and suitability for the presidency than whatever he did or didn’t do as a young teenager away from home for the first time?

However character does matter, and behavior at an early age might be relevant to predicting later behavior. Mitt Romney did turn out to be a dishonest, unethical adult who was morally unfit to be president. Perhaps the early stories of his bullying were predictive of his character.

Jeb Bush’s career in public life also does raise some questions about character. While not the same situation as the bullying described by The Boston Globe, Politico also has a story this weekend which includes questions regarding Bush’s character:

Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

 For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”

 Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”

“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”

The last line describes Bush as being the opposite of Mitt Romney, but equally wrong. Mitt Romney showed in public life that he had no principles, willing to say or do anything which would help him politically. He changed positions whenever expedient, and lied so frequently in his presidential campaign that he made Richard Nixon look almost like a saint in comparison. Examples of Mitt’s legendary mendacity can be found here and here. Perhaps Romney thought that being a man of religion precluded him from being an unethical person, regardless of his actual conduct. 

In contrast to Romney’s lack of principles, the Terri Schiavo case suggests that Bush has principles and is willing to abuse the power of the state to impose his warped and immoral values upon others. Political power turns a bully like Jeb Bush into a far more dangerous bully.

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Republicans Plan To Impose Huge Tax Increase On Middle Class In Opposing Obamacare Fix

Republicans are increasingly seeing King v. Burwell as a way to do what they couldn’t accomplish in over fifty votes–repeal the Affordable Care Act. While it defies logic, the Supreme Court could conceivably rule that the Affordable Care Act only provides subsidies for plans purchased on state exchanges but not on the federal exchange.

A majority of people want Congress to pass a simple legislative fix should this occur, guaranteeing a continuation of the subsidies for those who purchase plans over the federal exchange. The health care and insurance industries also support such a fix.

This does not mean that the Republican Party will take the rational path. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Congressional Republicans say they won’t move to preserve consumers’ health insurance tax credits if the Supreme Court strikes them down, raising the stakes in the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act…

Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate see the court challenge as their best hope for tearing apart a law they have long opposed. If the court strikes down the subsidies, Democrats are expected to clamor for lawmakers to pass a measure correcting the language in the law to revive them. Congressional Republicans say there is no possibility they would allow that.

“No, no, no, no,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R., Indiana). “Even Democrats have acknowledged that this needs fixing.”

That position would force lawmakers to confront people in as many as 37 states where the federal government is currently running some or all of the exchange where consumers buy plans and tap the tax credits. There are 6.1 million people in those states who have the credits for 2015, according to federal data released this week. The average tax credit this year is $4,330, the Congressional Budget Office said this week.

Eleven of the states where the federal government has a hand in running the insurance exchange – including seven with Republican governors – signed onto a brief submitted late Wednesday asking the Supreme Court to uphold their tax credits. The brief said the loss of the credits “would deprive millions of low-and moderate-income Americans of billions of dollars in federal premium assistance essential to buy health insurance, thereby disrupting state insurance markets throughout the United States.”

The brief was filed by a group of mostly Democratic attorneys general. The lone Republican, North Dakota’s Wayne Stenehjem, declined to comment…

Nobody in the Senate Republican caucus has said the party should tweak the law so it can continue as it is, particularly since such a move would preserve the unpopular requirement for people to buy coverage or pay a fine, said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Republicans are also increasingly preparing to use the budget procedural tactic known as reconciliation to repeal large parts of the law and potentially enact alternative provisions after the court ruling, whatever the outcome. The reconciliation process allows party leaders to pass changes with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes most bills need to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate.

A loss of the subsidies would amount to a tax increase on the middle class. Republicans tend to concentrate on lowering taxes for the wealthy, at the expense of the middle class, and therefore see no problem in this. They mistakenly believe this will not affect their more affluent supporters, who do not qualify for the subsidies. What they fail to realize is that reducing the number of people in the risk pool will result in higher premiums for everyone.

Republicans are again talking about proposing their own plan, but they have repeatedly failed at doing so. The last time the Republicans did propose a plan it was remarkably similar to Obamacare, except then it was proposed as the conservative alternative to Hillarycare.

Any Republican plan which avoids harming millions of people will not only have to provide a mechanism for assisting those who cannot afford insurance coverage. Any plan must also ensure that insurance companies could not return to denying coverage to those who have medical problems. Republicans will find that this is not so simple, and will require the type of compromises seen in the Affordable Care Act.

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Kaiser Health Tracking Poll Shows Most Support Fix For Subsidies Under Affordable Care Act

While you can never be certain as to what the Supreme Court would do, I’ve always felt that it is most likely that they would ultimately find that King v. Burwell is a frivolous case. (In other words, the most conservative justices might accept it, but John Roberts will cast the deciding vote against it if needed). This case is the latest Republican attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act in the courts because of some language in the law, contradicting other portions, which could be taken to mean that subsidies are only available to those who obtain coverage through state exchanges, and not the federal exchange.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, it would politically be bad for Republicans if the court ruled against the Obama administration in this case. If the Supreme Court does accept the absurd argument that subsidies should only be available under the law for policies purchased on state exchanges, the simplest solution would be for Congress to revise a few words in the law to fix the problem. It is rather common for Congress to pass laws after major legislation to fix minor problems, except in this case Republicans in Congress are more interested in repeated, futile efforts to repeal ObamaCare as opposed to making such fixes–with yet another repeal vote now planned.

The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll for January finds that relatively few people are now aware of King v. Burwell, but most people do think that Congress should fix the problem. Among total voters, passing a law to fix this is supported 64 percent to 27 percent. There is similar support among independents, greater support among Democrats, and even a substantial number of Republicans (40 percent) would support such a fix:

King v Burell

If this is not fixed by Congress passing such a law, the second solution would be for states to start their own exchanges. A majority would also support this in affected states. Even Republicans support this, although at lower levels than Democrats and independents:

King v Burell2

I suspect that Republican leaders would much prefer to see the Supreme Court not put them in a position to have to take such action, either in Congress or at a state level. Failure to take such action would make displease the majority of voters, while taking such action would displease their base, who might take revenge in primaries where they dominate.

Update: Hospitals and insurance companies also lose if the subsidies are not continued, and are therefore also defending the subsidies before the Supreme Court.

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CBO Shows ObamaCare Costing Less Than Projected–Ignore Conservative Attempts To Distort The Data

There was more good news from the Congressional Budget Office today regarding the Affordable Care Act. The latest’s estimates significantly reduce the costs of expanding medical care under the law:

 The Congressional Budget Office on Monday significantly lowered its estimate of the cost of providing health insurance coverage to millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act.

Douglas W. Elmendorf, the director of the budget office, said the changes resulted from many factors, including a general “slowdown in the growth of health care costs” and lower projections of insurance premiums that are subsidized by the federal government.

In March 2010, when President Obama signed the health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the expansion of coverage would cost the federal government $710 billion in the fiscal years 2015 through 2019, Mr. Elmendorf said.

“The newest projections indicate that those provisions will cost $571 billion over that same period, a reduction of 20 percent,” he said. The Affordable Care Act not only subsidized the purchase of private insurance, but also authorized a major expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people.

As usual, conservatives are cherry picking and distorting the numbers to portray this as a negative. Among other distortions of the facts, they fail to take into account the fact that having a substantial portion of the country be uninsured results in higher costs for both government programs, as well as costs which are passed on to those who do pay for insurance. The bottom line is that, even before these more favorable numbers, the CBO found that the Affordable Care Act results in a reduction in the deficit. Strange that conservatives who place such a high priority on reducing the deficit (which was run up by Republicans during the Bush years) oppose a program which will help reduce the deficit.

Of course if conservatives are unhappy with the cost of the Affordable Care Act, they should keep in mind the fact that costs are much higher due than they otherwise might be due to providing coverage through private insurance companies rather than through a single-payer system modeled on Medicare. Somehow I doubt many conservatives would go for the far more cost effective single-payer model.

Conservatives are also attacking the law because, while reducing the number of uninsured by 27 million people, there will still be 31 million uninsured in 2025. However, when looking at who will remain uninsured, I wonder which group conservatives are complaining about. Of this 31 million, 30 percent are illegal aliens and conservatives would sure protest if health care coverage were extended to them. Another 1o percent are ineligible for coverage because of living in states which did not expand Medicaid–a decision which conservatives support. The remainder are people who will qualify for coverage but choose not to purchase it.

The number of uninsured might fall as more red states go along with the expanded Medicaid program. It was just announced that Indiana is the latest to offer the expanded Medicaid program.

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Conservative Argues That It Is Not A Bad Thing If People Die Due To Repealing Obamacare

If the Affordable Care Act were to be repealed, as most Republicans are calling for, we would see millions of Americans lose their insurance. We would return to past problems, including people being denied insurance when they have medical problems, people once again being forced to declare bankruptcy due to medical costs, and we would see many more deaths than we will otherwise see.  Michael R. Strain of the American Enterprise Institute has an op-ed in The Washington Post under the headline, End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.

Note again that the author is from the American Enterprise Institute and this is published in The Washington Post. This is not just some isolated blogger or conservative shouting out their personal opinion.

Strain’s logic is that “We make such trade-offs all the time.” For example, “Consider, for example, speed limits. By allowing people to drive their cars at speeds at which collisions result in death, our government has decided that the socially optimal number of traffic fatalities is not zero.”

He has other such examples, but they do not apply to the type of trade-off he is advocating. There are good reasons for having a society in which people can drive, and it is an unavoidable fact that this will lead to a certain number of traffic fatalities. The types of trade offs he discussed are not analogous to taking away health care coverage.

While there are reasons for having a society in which people can drive, despite traffic fatalities,  there is no good reason for either having people uninsured or for a system in which insurance companies are allowed to profit by denying coverage to those who become sick.

Strain argues that, “In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals.” This falsely assumes that health care coverage is something which we cannot afford to provide. However every other industrialized nation on the planet, existing in the same “world of scarce resources,” is able to provide health care coverage to its citizens. The Affordable Care Act is a valuable step in the right direction, but it is an incremental step which still falls short of what is provided in the rest of the industrialized world.

There is no good reason why the United States cannot provide the same level of health care coverage as is seen in the rest of the industrialized world. One reason why we have been unable to do this is the unnecessary middleman–private insurance companies making huge profits while making health care more expensive than elsewhere. Perhaps the answer is that in a world of scarce resources, a system of private insurance is an unacceptable price to pay, and we should be thinking in terms of conversion to a far more cost-effective single payer system.

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SciFi Weekend: Agents of SHIELD; The 100; Supergirl; Person of Interest; The End of Parenthood and Parks and Recreation & The Decline of NBC; 12 Monkeys; Netflix Marvel Series; The Americans; Sleepy Hollow; The End of The Marvel Universe; The Humor Of Sarah Palin; Mellisa Raunch Sex Scene

Agents of Shield Coulson Skye

Agents of SHIELD has come a long way from the first season. While they always hinted there was something special about Skye, they didn’t have the payoff on this plotline until the midseason finale with her conversion to an Inhuman. This might have major ramifications for her relationship with Coulson:

Executive producer Jeph Loeb says that the current Inhumans plotline has always been the plan for “Agents of SHIELD.” Like they always knew that Grant Ward was going to be HYDRA in Season 1, the seeds of Skye being something other were planned in the pilot.

“Once we started down that road hopefully you were coming along for the adventure, and now that you’ve come along for the adventure one of the things that’s so amazing about what’s happening on that show is so now we know she has gone through a transformation,” he says. “How is everyone going to react to that? And in the same kind of way you’re asking as an audience member, one of the things that I think is really valuable and one of the things that I think Jed [Whedon] and Maurissa [Tancharoen] and Jeff Bell and the writing staff really do have a great feeling for is they are audience members. The writers room sits around and tries to come up with, ‘What is it that you think we’re going to do and how can we then turn that on its ear in a way that makes it feel like it’s fun and valuable?'”

Blood says “SHIELD” has often gone in a different ways from what he expected. He says the latest script he read “just turned another corner,” and that audiences will “be surprised of a lot of stuff that’s coming up.” Because the SHIELD team doesn’t know about the term “Inhumans” like audiences do, Blood says “it’s going to be something that is unraveled.” He has yet to find out where the storyline is going.

The obvious turn would be that Coulson helps Skye — someone Gregg says is the “the person he cares about most” — through her transformation into an Inhuman. But what if he views her as a threat instead of an ally because of her new powers?

“His no. 1 job is to be responsible for SHIELD, which he views as being responsible for the safety of billions of people from things they don’t know about. That’s what SHIELD is. No matter how much he loves Skye — and it’s as much as you can love somebody — it’s the closest thing to a daughter he has. That’s a sacred trust,” Gregg says. “I hope he doesn’t get put in that situation [where she is a threat] because it would mess him up.”

He teases there will be trouble within SHIELD in the aftermath of Trip’s death and Skye’s transformation. “I don’t think the whole team is going to be unified behind what just went on, and it’s hard to blame them. He’s got a couple of people that he’s come to really trust,” Gregg says. “One of my favorite things about this season is that everybody comes up to me on the street really worried about Fitz and these new characters we introduced this year. Coulson also has these new people … he doesn’t have the same type of history with those people. It’s going to be hard to hold the baby brand new, on the run SHIELD together in the wake of what just happened.”

There’s also the question of Bobbi’s secret, which Blood says is as big a mystery in the second half of Season 2 as who the man with no eyes is. “I honestly think people are going to freak when they see some of the stuff we’ve been filming recently,” he says.

The 100
The 100 returned last week and the events of the fall finale continued to have a major impact on the characters. While I originally did not watch this show, thinking it was another CW show putting attractive young people in a sci-fi scenario which has been done before, I found that this was far better done than I anticipated.

Yes, it does have its attractive young cast members, led by Eliza Taylor as Clarke Griffin, who does an excellent job in the role. (Having binged on the first one and one-half seasons over a weekend, I did notice that Eliza Taylor does show less cleavage in the second season, which must have been a conscious decision by the producers considering that the characters couldn’t just run out to clothing stores in this post-apocalyptic world to change their wardrobe). There are also the CW love triangles, but they do not distract from the stories. Both the characterization and plot lines have been strong, even when going where other shows have gone before. Bustle and The Mary Sue both have posts on why you should watch the show.

Supergirl-TV-Show-Actress-Melissa-Benoist

CBS has chosen Melissa Benoist to play the lead role on Supergirl. Previous reports on the show have described it as more of a CBS procedural with Supergirl as a feminist investigating crimes, but with cross overs possible with the CW shows Arrow and The Flash.

CBS is showing success with another mixture between procedural and genre with Person of Interest. The show started out as a procedural show with a science fiction gimmick to propel it, and has evolved to what might be seen in the future as “a modern sci-fi epic that is considered a must-see show along the lines of Firefly or Battlestar Galactica…”

Many blogs and podcasts, along with this thread on Reddit, have looked at the question of how someone could get caught up with the show without watching all the old episodes. The purely procedural episodes of the first two seasons are mostly unnecessary to appreciate the more recent episodes since the show evolved into a more significant science fiction series, but it is hard to say exactly what can be skipped and must be watched as often early episodes would have a few minute segment towards the end to slowly develop the mythology in addition to the number of the week story.

There have been some posts, such as here and here, which might help in listing some of the more essential episodes. It would really be helpful if some of the other mythology segments which are only small parts of other episodes could be accumulated in a video.

Parks and Recreation

Time looked at the politics of Parks and Recreation, which is concluding its run on NBC.

But there’s a big idea in Parks’ small-scale vision. In the frame of today’s politics, it might be a liberal notion, but it’s one that for much of the 20th century was centrist, and even championed by Republicans like park lover Teddy Roosevelt: that we need government to do things the private sector can’t or won’t, like preserving public spaces.

Shockingly, Parks has dared to suggest that while some civil servants might be bumbling–sorry, Jerry!–they can also be well-intentioned and competent. (This too wasn’t considered a liberal notion before the era when Ronald Reagan joked that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”) Leslie is comically tenacious–Poehler plays her as a cheerfully overprepared super-wonk–but she’s good at what she does and is driven by a fierce love for her hometown as well as its famous waffles…

Leslie can’t do it alone, though: she’s assisted by a network of co-workers and friends (played by a comedy-powerhouse cast, many of whom–like Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza and Aziz Ansari–have deservingly become stars). Even her former supervisor Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) admires Leslie’s commitment, even though he’s so libertarian, he once illustrated the evils of taxation to a fourth grader by eating 40% of her lunch. Parks argues not only that we need our neighbors’ help but that helping makes us better ourselves; it’s in the small-town, populist tradition of Friday Night Lights and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Parenthood Series Finale

When I recently posted my list of top television shows of the year, I noted how little representation the major broadcast networks had on the list. Perhaps the biggest decline is being seen at NBC. They will soon be without two of their highest quality returning shows. Besides trying to run through Parks and Recreation as quickly as possible,  Parenthood concludes this week, apparently with Lorelei Gilmore marrying Ray Romano. If it ends with Zeke dying, I’m imaging angry mobs storming Rockefeller Center. After these are gone they will still have some shows worth watching, most notably Hannibal, which I’m amazed a network is broadcasting, but the lineup of quality shows will sure be thin. Their announcements of upcoming shows is being greeted with far more snark than interest.

In the past NBC would often be the home of some of the highest quality drama shows on television, such as The West WingFriday Night Lights, I’ll Fly Away, and St. Elsewhere. They probably had better ratings success with some, but not all of their sitcoms, which included shows such as Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Community, 30 Rock, and Will and Grace. Going further back, it was also the home of some classic genre shows such as the original Star Trek and The Man From UNCLE. (We won’t talk about some of their more recent attempts at genre such as Revolution, The Cape and Heroes after the first season.)

So, what happened to NBC? I suspect that that it is a victim of otherwise good changes in television. Writers and producers for many high quality shows are now going to cable and streaming networks, where they can develop an audience without the need for netw0rk-level ratings. (In the case of Community, it is moving directly from NBC following cancellation by NBC, with the first two episodes to be streamed by Yahoo! on March 17.) It will be a challenge for NBC to attract this type of quality show in the future, and it is questionable as to whether they even care considering that lower quality shows will probably deliver higher ratings.

Increasingly cable or smaller networks owned by the major networks are offering higher quality shows than the major networks. FX and FXX are offering some of the best shows on basic cable. CBS has Showtime and CW, with The CW Network  turning into one of the strongest networks, especially for genre, as it attracts a totally different audience than CBS. NBC/Universal have even lagged behind other cable networks which have produced better science fiction than its Syfy Network.

12Monkeys_gallery_102Recap_04

Syfy is finally trying to compete with hard science fiction. 12 Monkeys remains promising after the second episode, which aired Friday and was available for streaming last week. With Leland Goines dead, his daughter Jennifer becomes a major character. Her character in an insane asylum serves as an alternate version of the Brad Pitt character in the movie. As discussed previously, the television show can cover far more ground with changes such as having the ability to change time and with the Army of the 12 Monkeys playing a more significant role.

I saw a posted link here which supposedly allows streaming of the third episode for cable subscribers in the United States but it would not allow viewing through either my Charter or Xfinity account. I’m posting the link in case it works for other cable systems, or if it becomes active later. The first two episodes are available for streaming there.

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Netflix has released a brief synopsis for their upcoming Marvel shows. While previous reports suggested that we might have to wait a year between shows, it looks like the Jessica Jones show (staring Krysten Ritter) will be out sometime later this year.

Daredevil
“Marvel’s Daredevil” is a live action series that follows the journey of attorney Matt Murdock, who in a tragic accident was blinded as a boy but imbued with extraordinary senses. Murdock sets up practice in his old neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, New York where he now fights against injustice as a respected lawyer by day and masked vigilante at night. Coming April 10

A.K.A. Jessica Jones
Working as a private investigator in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, a troubled ex-superhero’s past comes back to haunt her in the live-action series, “Marvel’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones.” Coming 2015

Iron Fist
“Marvel’s Iron Fist” follows superhero and martial arts master Danny Rand in the upcoming live-action series. Coming soon

Luke Cage
In this Marvel live-action series, a street-fighting ex-con battles crime in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen as the superhero Luke Cage. Coming soon

The Defenders
“Marvel’s The Defenders” brings together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage in an epic superhero team-up in New York City. Coming soon

The Americans returns this week. Unreality Primetime has a couple spoilers on upcoming episodes. The season three trailer is above.

Can Henry be redeemed? The cast of Sleepy Hollow answer questions such as this in videos available here.

The Marvel universe ends as we know it in the comics this spring.

Who needs Tina Fey to mock Sarah Palin? Her own words are ridiculous enough. Check out the reaction to her latest speech from Twitter.

bronze

Melissa Raunch of The Big Bang Theory has received a lot of attention at Sundance for her raunchy sex scene in The Bronze.

“The Bronze” kicked off the 2015 edition of the Sundance Film Festival on a foul-mouthed note Thursday, sticking a dagger through the concept of hometown heroes and providing one of the raunchiest sex sequences in movie history.

The scene in question, one that involves pole vaults, cartwheels and pirouettes, was a constant source of amusement during a question and answer period immediately following the film’s premiere at the Eccles Theater.

“Right after this there’s going to be an audition for the sex scene in the sequel,” joked director Bryan Buckley.

Melissa Rauch, the star of the film and its cowriter along with husband Winston Rauch, said, “As for the sex scene, you write what you know.”

Her husband added that it gave the couple a chance to “show you what we do in our bedroom.”

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Senate Republicans Agree Climate Change Is Real But Continue To Deny Cause

Climate-vote

With Republicans controlling the Senate, Democrats are largely limited to symbolic votes. Democrats wanted to attach an amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill which would get Republicans on record with regards to climate change. There was little difficulty in passing an amendment agreeing that climate change is real, and not a hoax. Only one Republican, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, voted no. The catch is that, while they agreed that the climate is changing (a fact which some conservatives do deny), they do not accept the view of 97 percent of climate scientists that human action is the cause.

Senator Brian Schatz introduced a stronger amendment: “To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real; and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Under the rules of the Senate, this amendment failed with a 50-49 majority. Most Republicans voted against it, but there were a handful of exceptions–full list here.

I’m not sure what all this proved, but next could we have a vote to determine which Republicans don’t believe in evolution, or that the earth is not flat?

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