Juan Williams Debunks GOP Attempts To Blame Democrats For Lack Of A Surgeon General

While discussing the Republican hypocrisy in their response to an Ebola Czar earlier this month, I pointed out how the Republicans blocked  Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General due to his concerns about gun violence, which kills far, far more people than Ebola in this country. Republicans who 1) are rarely willing to take responsibility for their action,  and 2) are fond of projecting their faults upon others, have been trying to shift the blame and falsely claim that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the nomination. Juan Williams of Fox News has called them out on this in a column at The Hill (also a Republican-leaning site even as not as overtly Republican as Fox). Williams also debunked the Republican claims that Harry Reid has not been fair due to not allowing them to add their “poison pill” amendments to bills, which would cause even greater gridlock. Williams wrote:

Republicans on the campaign trail tell voters that the Senate gets nothing done because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) blocks votes on GOP legislation.

Away from the Halloween funhouse mirror, the reality is this: Reid is willing to hold votes — but not with an endless open amendment process that merely creates a stage for Republican political theater. “Poison pill” amendments on partial birth abortions and gay marriage would sprout everywhere.

The real problem is that Senate Republicans can’t agree on which amendments to attach to bills because of the Tea Party versus Establishment war raging among them.

Yet I’ve personally seen voters nodding in agreement at Senate debates and campaign events as Republicans put the fright-night mask on Reid as the evil ogre responsible for dysfunction in the Senate.

The GOP is having success by repeating this distorted version of political life on Capitol Hill. Their tactic on that score is consistent with an overall strategy that includes blocking President Obama’s nominees to courts, federal agencies and ambassadorial posts while condemning any mistakes made by the administration.

According to the Senate’s website, there are currently 156 nominations pending on the executive calendar.

With all of the fear-mongering by Republican candidates over the administration’s response to Ebola — part of a broader approach to scare voters by undermining faith in government, the president and all Democrats — there is one screaming nomination still pending that reveals the corruption of the GOP strategy.

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was also put on the spot recently over the GOP’s refusal to deal with the surgeon general vacancy.  As he railed against the president for perceived errors in handling the situation, NBC’s Chuck Todd interrupted to ask: “The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him… Seems a little petty in hindsight, doesn’t it?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” said the senator, trying to find his footing as he backpedaled.

The fact remains that Senate Republicans, in lockstep with the NRA, have left a worthy nominee dangling while this vital post remains vacant.

This kind of game playing is what led Senate Democrats to consider using the so-called “nuclear option.” In its original form, it would have changed the Senate rules to require a simple majority for all confirmations, instead of the current 60-vote supermajority. But the Democrats decided to go with a more modest change that allowed a simple majority vote to confirm only federal judicial nominees, not presidential picks for the Supreme Court, the cabinet or the position of surgeon general.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor this summer, said that despite the rules change “Republicans are still continuing to try and slow everything down…It is just that they want to do everything they can to slow down [Obama’s] administration, to make him look bad…even though they’re the cause of the obstruction… Everyone will look at us and say, Democrats control the Senate — why aren’t they doing more?”

As a matter of brazen politics, the Republican strategy of obstruction has worked.

What a shame.

I have seen contradictory interpretations regarding the filibuster rules as to whether the Surgeon General can be confirmed with 51 votes or if the post still requires a super-majority. It is academic in this case. Republican Senators have placed a hold on this nomination and if it goes to a vote are likely to vote unanimously against it. The NRA has indicated that they will include a vote on Murthy in their ratings, which makes it difficult for some Democratic Senators in red states who are up for reelection. Between these Democrats and the uniform Republican opposition there are probably not 51 votes for confirmation, although this could change after the election.

Despite the Republican actions to block the Surgeon General nomination, it is questionable as to how much of a difference it would have made. We don’t know how much Murthy would have said on the topic, and if he could have gotten a discussion of the science through, considering all the fear and misinformation being spread about Ebola by Republicans.

Despite all the panic, we have seen how small a threat Ebola actually is in a developed nation such as the United States. Ebola is a problem of developing nations which lack an adequate Public Health infrastructure. While the outbreak began in West Africa last December, we have had a tiny number of people who are infected enter this country, and the potential harm has been easily contained. Even in Texas, which does share some of the problems of a third world nation due to Republican rule, multiple mistakes were made with minimal harm. A patient was sent home despite meeting criteria for hospitalization, and yet he did not spread the infection to anyone else in the community. This is because Ebola is not contagious early in the disease before someone is symptomatic, and even then it does not spread by casual contact.

Maybe if there was a Surgeon General speaking about Ebola, the Emergency Room staff at Texas Presbyterian Hospital would have been better acquainted with the guidelines and hospitalized Thomas Duncan when he first presented. Maybe the hospital would have done a better job at following protocols to protect the staff. While possible, it is far from certain that having a Surgeon General would have made any difference.

Perhaps if there was a Surgeon General discussing the science there would have been less panic when Dr. Craig Spencer was found to have traveled on the subway and visit a bowling alley, where he did not spread Ebola. (Similarly the nurse from Texas Presbyterian who flew with a low grade fever has not spread the disease despite turning out to be infected). This might have prevented the poor, and unscientific decisions made by the governors in states such as New Jersey and New York. While I can see Chris Christie make such a mistake, I would  hope for better from Andrew Cuomo, even if he is faced with a Republican using fear tactics against him in his reelection campaign. This might have spared Kaci Hickox from being quarantined in an unheated tent in New Jersey despite showing no signs of being infected. Inhibiting health professionals from volunteering can only harm the cause of eradicating Ebola in West Africa–which is the only way of ending this matter.

It is impossible to know if a Surgeon General could have been effective in reducing the hysteria. Republicans are masters at spreading fear, and never have any qualms about ignoring science. It is very possible they could have still won out. We already have many Infectious Disease experts explaining the facts about Ebola, but that hasn’t been enough to maintain reason. While a Surgeon General might have had a little bigger soap box to speak from, I don’t know if that would have really mattered.

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Is The Culture War Really Over?

Bill Scher has an article at Politico on How Republicans Lost The Culture War. While it might be premature to say they lost and the war is over, a subject I’ll get into later, he does have some good points as to what went wrong for the Republicans.

Scher makes three main points. First, Republicans stopped being savvy on abortion. Rather than taking the purist position which they actually favor, legislatively the Republicans had concentrated on more narrow victories. Although late term abortions are rare, they made a lot of noise about “partial-birth abortions.”

While Scher sees this as no longer being savvy, I think that the change in Republican tactics was inevitable. They were never satisfied with stopping the rare late term abortions and were bound to ultimately push for what they really want–a complete ban on abortions.

They might have been more open in pursuing this partially due to a misreading of the polls which show Americans to be more ambivalent on Row v. Wade. The problems is that many people in this country don’t really know what Roe v. Wade means, but that doesn’t stop them from saying yes or no to a pollster. However, when the real question is posed, Americans do not want to make abortion illegal, and a majority agrees that women should  have the right to first trimester abortions.  Americans do not want to ban abortions, and imprison either women or the doctors involved.

Misreading the polls might have been a problem for Republicans, and this was compounded by moderate Republicans being forced from the party. The far right wing ideologues who now dominate the GOP would push for their position regardless of how unpopular, just as they push for restrictions on birth control, the second item on Scher’s list–Republicans got weird about birth control. If Americans would not go for Republican opposition to legalized first trimester pregnancies, they certainly did not accept their opposition to forms of birth control which prevent implantation, along with wider attempts to reduce access to contraception.

Hysterical Republican cries of “baby killers” are even more absurd when applied to a fertilized egg which lacks a central nervous system and consciousness. The Republican position here makes no more sense scientifically than Republican attitudes which deny science regarding evolution and climate change.  This also helps debunk the false Republican frame of making the pertinent question be when life begins. Certainly a fertilized egg is alive, but it also is not deserving of rights which trump the rights of a woman to control her own body. The Republican attitude on contraception only acted to expose their fallacious views regarding abortion, not to mention destroy any false claims they might make for being the supporters of limited government and greater freedom. This seems especially absurd to thinking people as providing easier access to contraception is one obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.

His final point is that Republicans bet wrong on gay marriage. Attitudes in this country certainly have changed rapidly. As James Joyner put it, “As we’ve become more educated, appeal to tradition and cries of “We’ve always done it this way!” are simply less persuasive. Ultimately, the arguments for excluding people from marrying others of the same sex were revealed to be provincial at best and simple bigotry at worst.”

However, while liberal Democratic voters might have supported legalization of same-sex marriage, many Democratic leaders were also behind the country on this one. Still, it is Republicans who made a major issue of trying to again intervene in the private lives of individuals, while Democratic leaders were at least ready to get out of the way as the country changed. While Republican have lost on this issue, Democrats also lost the opportunity to win respect by clearly standing for liberal principles before becoming politically safe.

While the country has been becoming more liberal on social issues, and I see this as a gradual process, not a sudden victory, this does not necessarily mean the culture wars are over. This country still consists of those of us who live in the modern world, and a sizable number who continue to reject science and reason and follow conservative ideas.

Fortunately such ideas are diminishing as fewer young support such conservative attitudes, but they are not disappearing entirely. Young people are far more likely to be influenced by the fake news of Jon Stewart than the fake news coming from Fox. Republicans now will have a hard time winning a presidential election if they do not change their views, but with a two party system we cannot exclude the possibility of another conservative Republican president. Democrats have a significant edge in the electoral college, but not a lock.

The presidency is only one branch of government. The Republicans still have the Supreme Court, although they have decided it best to stay out of the marriage issue now that conservatives are clearly on the wrong side of history. Republicans will continue to have an influence in Congress due to structural issues which keep it from being a truly representative democratic institution. Republicans have a tremendous edge in the Senate as the small states receive the same two Senators as the much more populous blue states. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned such a vast difference in population between the large and small states.

Part of the Republican edge in the House comes from gerrymandering, but even without gerrymandering the Republicans benefit from the concentration of Democratic voters in cities, unless districts are made to account for this. Republicans also benefit from a higher turn out by their voters in midterm elections, and they attempt to increase this edge with laws directed towards making it more difficult for minorities and young college students to vote. The right to vote itself might be the next big division between the parties as Republicans continue to pursue voter suppression as a tactic.

Republicans also dominate in a significant portion of the country, primarily but not limited to the deep south. The culture war is bound to continue there, with Republican candidates also seeking to promote their views elsewhere. As Eleanor Clift wrote, the Republican War on Women continues, just more quietly. We might not be hearing comments such as Tod Akin on women’s bodies shutting down in case of legitimate rape, but  have heard plenty of other outrageous statements this year.  Republicans might be trying to be more quiet on social issues, but they are failing, and this certainly isn’t coinciding with a change in their views.  It is also hard to say that the culture war is entirely over when Republicans have been successful in multiple state legislatures to make abortion more difficult, even if the most draconian Republican proposals have failed.

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Republican Tactics Of Fear And Voter Suppression

Republicans, lacking a real agenda or any solutions to problems, are basing their campaign this year on a combination of fear and voter suppression. They are even trying to politicize Ebola with threats that it will cross our borders (along with people of other colors) and even mutate to become airborne to attack us. (Does their belief that Ebola will change into an airborne infection suggest a new found belief in evolution for some?) First Read writes:

…these advertisements we’re seeing (here, here, and here) go well beyond faith in institutions or government competence. They’re about fear. And frankly, they come when there’s no evidence of ISIS coming across the border and when (remarkably) there’s still been just one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States. Now we understand why Republicans are picking up this theme — they want to nationalize the election, and they have every incentive to. (The more they get voters going into the voting booth upset at Washington, the more likely they are to get Republicans defeating Democratic incumbents in Senate races.) But some of these candidates are walking a fine line; there is a Chicken Little aspect here regarding Ebola and it can border on the irresponsible.

The New York Times reports:

Playing off feelings of anxiety is a powerful strategy for motivating the Republican base. And few issues have proven as potent when linked together as border security and the fear of terrorism. Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, said this week on Fox News that border agents had told him they apprehended 10 Islamic State fighters in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security said his statement was “categorically false.”

Fear has always been a centerpiece of Republican strategy. They scare poorly educated white males into fearing that minorities and women will take their money. They scare Republican voters into believing that Democrats will take away their guns and their bibles. More recently they have been concentrating on fear of Obamacare, even if every single one of their predictions of dire consequences has failed to come about.

Republicans rely upon fear to get their supporters to turn out to vote, and resort to voter suppression to try to keep Democrats from voting. As the GAO reported, Republican-supported voter ID laws aimed at voter suppression result in fewer minorities and young people voting. Fortunately the Supreme Court has thrown out voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas, but they have also allowed a law to stand in North Carolina.

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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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Study Finds Liberal Men Have More Sex

AlterNet reports on a long-term Harvard study of adult development:

Between 1939 and 1944, researchers at Harvard University recruited 268 of the best and brightest members of the student body to participate in a long-term psychological study. The purpose of the Harvard Grant Study—so called for its original funder, chain-store magnate William T. Grant—was to determine which traits best predict a successful life. To track a wide range of factors, including income, physical and mental health, and happy marital and parental relationships, the chosen students (all men, as Harvard wouldn’t become coed until 1977) participated in regular interviews, physical and psychiatric exams, and surveys with researchers. The surviving participants are now in their 90s, making the Grant Study one of the longest-running prospective studies of adult development ever conducted. Triumphs of Experience, a recent book published by George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, reveals some of the most interesting findings.

Here is the most interesting finding:

Liberals Have More Sex

In one of the oddest discoveries, researchers found that aging liberals had much more active sex lives than their conservative counterparts. Though political ideology had no bearing on overall life satisfaction, the conservative participants ended their sex lives at around age 68 on average, while most liberal men continued having sex regularly well into their 80s. Vaillant was himself puzzled by this, noting that he’d consulted urologists about the findings but “they have no idea why it might be so.”

Yet one more reason conservatives should stop watching Fox, stop listening to right wing talk radio, and stop sending all those ridiculous emails full of right wing talking points. It also might explain why so many Republicans, largely the party of old white men, (or as Matthew Yglesias put it, the cranky oldser party) is so obsessed with interfering with the sex lives of others.

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David Brat’s Views On Economics And Religion

brat_cantor

The surprising defeat of Eric Cantor last night appears to be largely due to the personal faults on Cantor’s part along with possible preference for the more extremist views of David Brat, despite Cantor’s dishonest ads calling him a liberal college professor. It does not appear that cross over Democratic voters had a meaningful impact on the results. Cantor’s problems appear more cultural than strict ideology as pointed out at The New York Times.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

The New York Times does go overboard in calling Cantor’s loss a bad omen for moderates. While Brat is more extreme in opposing immigration reform and raising the debt ceiling to meet our financial obligations, Cantor is hardly a moderate. As Steve Benen pointed out, “He has a 95% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, for goodness’ sake.”

Brat has been called a follower of Ayn Rand, and his victory could be seen as a loss for crony capitalism. Whenever I hear that a Republican is a follower of Ayn Rand I wonder if they are aware of or acknowledge Rand’s atheism and strong hostility towards religion. Brat’s economic writings have shown a view of religion which Ayn Rand would never accept. The Wall Street Journal writes:

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates.

In his argument against Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Brat draws on previous research titled “Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?” a 2004 paper in which he wrote that Protestantism “provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” so “one might anticipate positive economic performance.”

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

On the other hand, another article in The Wall Street Journal suggests he does not accept the agenda of the religious right:

Can Christians force others to follow their ethical teachings on social issues? Note that consistency is lacking on all sides of this issue. The political Right likes to champion individual rights and individual liberty, but it has also worked to enforce morality in relation to abortion, gambling, and homosexuality. The Left likes to think of itself as the bulwark of progressive liberal individualism, and yet it seeks to progressively coerce others to fund every social program under the sun via majority rule. Houston, we have a problem. Coercion is on the rise. What is the root word for liberalism? (Answer: Liberty)

It is of course a straw man argument to claim that the left seeks to fund every social program under the sun. Unless he means the cost of established and highly successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the spending advocated by most liberals on social programs is far less than Republicans have coerced others to pay, such as on the Iraq War. Bush’s policies, including both his spending and tax cuts for the wealthy have had far more impact on the deficit that liberal social programs. Despite his acceptance of these rather naive right wing talking points, it is encouraging that Brat has opposed the Republican use of government to enforce the social views of the religious right. It remains to be seen if he will buck the Republicans on such issues when voting in Congress.

Update: Mother Jones takes a look at Brat’s libertarian views, including slashing spending on Medicare,  Social Security, and education. What happens when you cut funding on education? A lack of understanding of science, leading to people falling for denial of climate change.

Update II: There has been considerable speculation that Brat won due to Cantor’s views on immigration. It is not clear that this was the reason for Brat’s victory. A survey from Public Policy Polling showed that there was not widespread opposition to Cantor’s views on immigration in his district but it is possible that those turning out in a Republican primary held stronger anti-immigration views than the general population. Both blogs on the left (such as Mother Jones) and right (such as Hot Air) have questioned if immigration was the reason Cantor lost.

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SciFi Weekend: Orphan Black; Continuum; Fargo; The Flash; Agent Carter; Constantine and Other New Shows Based On Comics; Neurotic Robots

"Orphan Black" Ep 208 Day 6 Photo: Jan Thijs 2013

Orphan Black introduced yet another clone on Variable And Full Of Perturbation, a transsexual clone named Tony. Besides providing for some interesting interaction with Felix, Tony introduction could be a way to get into the back stories of two other characters raised, Beth and Paul (who seems to be missing). We only saw Beth briefly in the first episode before she jumped in front of a train so it would be interesting to learn more about her.

The aftermath of the death of Dr. Leekie are important both back at Dyad and for the improved relationship between Alison and Donnie. Alison has not learned a lesson about being quiet about her role in the death of Aynsley, but Donnie now has a murder of his own to confess. Alison can theoretically be implicated due to the evidence in the car and the use of her gun, but fortunately for her Dyad will probably cover up Leekie’s murder with the claim of a heart attack. Dyad would also keep quiet about the relationship between Donnie and Leekie.

One long standing question has been answered and Rachel was not happy about the answer. Only the twins Sarah and Helena can get pregnant due to an error as all the clones were designed to be infertile. Although she is in a dominant position at Dyad, Rachel suffers as all the other clones do, making me wonder if in this show of changing alliances, if at some point Rachel will consider her shared interests with the other clones and alter her behavior towards them.

Cosima did a great job in playing the nerd girl, beating all the other nerds at Runewars when she came back to the lab at night and caught them playing. There is no way the ending scene means she will really die.

I wonder how much Kira will learn from reading The Island of Dr. Moreau , and all the scientific notes in the margins.

Orphan Black Cosima Runewars

Entertainment Weekly spoke with spoke with Orphan Black creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett about introducing Tony:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Obviously the big shock this episode is we meet a new clone, and it’s not just a clone, but a transclone named Tony. Tell me about when and how you developed this idea.

GRAEME MANSON: It really came about near the end of the first season. And I believe John and I and the writers had been mulling this idea of a transclone as, “Okay, that’s a really crazy and complex idea.” And then strangely, almost parallel at the same time, out in the hair and make-up trailer camp with Tat and Steven and Sandy and her team — who really work together on discovering character through looks — I think that they were coming up with the idea at the same time. So eventually when we brought it up with Tatiana it was like we had been thinking the same thing.

JOHN FAWCETT: We went out to dinner with Tatiana in March or April 2013 after season 1 had wrapped to just talk about some of Graeme and my ideas for season 2, and the transclone idea came up and Tat went, “Oh my God, you wouldn’t believe it but that’s what we’ve been thinking as well!” So she was very excited about the idea of doing it already, so it really was not a hard sell to say, “We want to try to tackle this.”

MANSON: And then through the early days of shooting season 2, John and I would be sitting at lunch or something, and then Sandy or Steven would come by and say, “Hey, we’ve got something to show you, can you come out back?” And we’d come out back and there would be Tat in the early guises of Tony —  like, the smoke hanging from her mouth, leaning up against the truck. And they did that to us about three times before finding the look, and each time we’d go and we’d hang out with Tony for a little while and try to get a feel for the character.

FAWCETT: And Tat was doing those make-up things with Steven and Sandy, doing it on weekends and her days off because it was very, very top secret. The crew didn’t know; we didn’t want anyone to see her dressed like that. Nobody on the crew knew. We tried to keep that absolutely under wraps, and it’s still one of our biggest secrets of the season. We want this to be a massive surprise for the audience. And it really was a character close to Tatiana that she poured her heart and soul into. It’s really something that she wanted to do.

EW: And how nervous were you guys because this is the type of thing that if it doesn’t work, it’s can be a total disaster. So there’s a risk involved.

FAWCETT: It was interesting shooting that episode, because day 1 of shooting Tony, everyone knew what we were doing now because everyone had seen the script, and I remember waiting on set for her to arrive and it was very, very quiet. I’ve never seen the crew that quiet. And when she showed up there was excitement, but very quiet excitement. It was dead silent on set that day. Because there’s a lot of respect from the crew towards Tatiana, towards what she has to do, and this just commanded that much more respect.

MANSON: I don’t think we ever looked at it as risk. We looked at it as, okay, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it from exactly the right place creatively and story-telling wise and we’re going to commit 100%. And as long as we move forward with our hearts in the right place, hopefully the sexual politics rise above it. That’s sort of how we approached the storytelling, too. Throw the character in and treat the character exactly like you’d treat anyone else, and give them their dignity and respect.

EW: It’s funny because the scene that totally screwed with my mind was the Tony and Felix kissing scene. That threw me just for the fact that it would be creepy to make out with someone who looks like your sister, which you kind of referenced later with Tony calling Felix a “sister kisser.”

FAWCETT: That was one of those parts of the story that really solidified this concept for me. As we were trying to figure out how to use the character, that to me was the pinnacle of what made this so cool — to put Tony and Felix together in a very strange romantic way that left Felix very conflicted. And then the other aspect of these two kisses is that you have to go, “Wait a minute! That’s Tat and Jordan!” [Laughs] The reality of it is it’s not Tony and Felix, it’s Tat and Jordan. And when you go and think that, that’s even a bigger mindf—.

They also discussed Cosima:

EW: And then you have to go and screw with Cosima again at the end and have her coughing up blood and convulsing after she meets Ethan. She’s getting this treatment from Kira yet seems to be getting worse. What’s up with that?

FAWCETT: The treatment that she’s getting from Kira is a band-aid at best. As we’ll see, there may be more treatment options coming, but what she is getting at this point is not enough to counter the effects of what she’s been inflicted with.

MANSON: And the bottom line is, her situation is getting more dire and is advancing fairly rapidly. And this is the ticking bomb that we talked about way back when. But there is very much a ticking bomb, a ticking clock, on Cosima’s life. This is just a more aggressive, visceral display of what it might be to come if they don’t solve that problem.

EW: Okay, John, you huge board game nerd. How excited were you to work Runewars into this episode?

FAWCETT: Well I certainly helped kick that ball down the road. We loved the idea that Scott was going to come back and was going to join us at Dyad because it was character that we just loved and then it was like, “How can we have fun with Scott?” And we all cracked up at the idea that Cosima would come back into the lab late at night, she’s working late, and find Scott with all these super nerdy buddies playing some kind of geek ass board game. I’m a massive board game fan. I probably have a closet that has a good 80 or 90 really idiotically geeky board games and Runewars is one of my favorite games and was created by a company called Fantasy Flight games. And they’ve been so good to us that they allowed us to use this game. So we went all out and I had one of my geeky friends help as the consultant to make sure all the gameplay was accurate, all the dialogue between the characters in regard to the gameplay was accurate.

Continuum - Season 3

Continuum is now only airing five days ahead of Syfy on Showcase, making it easier to discuss the current episode without any risk of spoilers. Revolutions Per Minute showed a further deterioration in the relationship between Alec and Kiera now that Kiera knows that Alec drilled into her dead doppleganger’s head to remove her CMR. Ever since the beginning of the show back in the first season there were questions as to whether we were developing a circular paradox in which Alec would come up with his inventions due to Kiera bringing technology back from the future. This was most overt in this episode. I wonder if Kiera now wonders if she chose the wrong Alec, and if perhaps she will free the other one.

The path from here to the future has always been convoluted because of not knowing if having Kiera and Liber8 go back in time would lead to changing the future, or their actions were part of creating that future. The question is even more confusing this season with the introduction of alternate time lines. In some ways we are seeing actions leading towards creating the future we have seen. Alec was called before a secret group which just might be the first step in forming the Corporate Congress. Julian now looks more like someone headed to becoming a leader of Liber8, or is he becoming closer to Alec?.  Liber8’s actions in the past seem far more likely to be changing things than to be causing the future Kiera came from to come about.

Before this season it looked like Alec was on track to head SadTech. In this alternate time line, instead he leads Piron. Kellogg’s law suit seems to be aimed at returning Alec to SadTech, with Kellogg even pointing out that this is what Alec was destined to do. On the other hand, the guy from the future had memories of Kellogg as someone important without recognizing Alec Sadler’s name. Presumably he comes from a time line in which Kellogg had taken on Alec’s role, probably messing things up even more than Alec. Is this the future of the time line we are now viewing, did he come from a different time line, or maybe Kiera’s actions will determine which time line gets played out. It looks like he possibly had killed the other Kiera because her actions were responsible for creating a time line in which his family was killed but his story isn’t entirely clear.

The idea of multiple time lines also raises questions as to whether anything we see is really permanent. Will we wind up seeing a different time line next season in which Betty is still alive, along with other differences?

The episode also seems to have brought about an abrupt end to a plot point set up earlier in the season when Dillon arranged for his daughter to be briefly placed in prison so she could later infiltrate Liber8. She was recruited by them, but quickly extracted so that there would be no more Bettys.

With only three episodes remaining in this season we should soon have a better idea where this is all leading. It will also be easier to judge the season, which has been of mixed quality, when we can see the story as a whole.

Fargo The Heap

Fargo is also coming near the end of the season, and just as things were starting to drag they jumped ahead a year. Molly and Gus are married and Lester is looking more successful. Presumably things will change for him and Molly will finally get a chance to prove what happened. Lester was doomed from the start, but it seems more satisfying to see him get caught the more he is shown as not being such a good guy. With the success of this series it comes as no surprise that another season is being considered. Presumably it would be a completely different story in the same universe, in the same manner in which the television show is related to the movie. Martin Freeman has already indicated he only planned to be in the show for one year, and it would be best if Lester is not the main character next season. I could see the series working with some of the secondary characters still being involved.

Showtime has renewed Penny Dreadful for a second season.

Comics are providing material for multiple television shows. Arrow has been the best example, and a spin off, The Flash, has been picked up by CW (extended trailer above). ABC is adding Agent Carter as a limited episode series to run for ten episodes in the same time slot as Agents of SHIELD when it is on hiatus. As Agents of SHIELD will deal with the rebuilding of SHIELD and Agent Carter with its founding, the two stories will tie in to some degree. Marvel is also working on several projects to appear on Netflix including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. Fox has picked up Gotham, which will deal with the city prior to Batman, concentrating on Jim Gordon. Trailer below:

I’ve heard some of the most encouraging predictions about Constantine, which was picked up by NBC for next season: “A new adaptation of DC’s Hellblazer comics, Constantine stars Matt Ryan (Assassin’s Creed IV) as the title character, John Constantine, a demon hunter and master of the occult. Starring alongside Ryan is Lucy Griffiths (True Blood) as Liv, the daughter of an old friend of Constantine, who has her own abilities that prove crucial when it comes to thwarting evil.” The trailer is above. IGN interviewed the stars:

IGN: It looks like the show has a fun mixture of different elements.

Matt Ryan: Yeah, definitely. I think as with the source material, there’s so much to draw from in terms of the character and the balance of humor and wit and dark and gritty. It’s great, because John has this kind of real sarcastic, ironic British wit. It’s funny, but at the same time it’s serious and dark and gritty. It’s got it all, I think.

IGN: Can you talk about the dynamic between your characters? What does Liv make of John?

Lucy Griffiths: Like how all women like to feel about men, she loves him and she hates him. She thinks he’s an absolute idiot, and she just finds him annoying. At the same time, she can’t deny that he’s a genius, and she’s thrilled by what he has to offer her in terms of excitement. He’s irresistible to her from that point of view.

Ryan: But dangerous to her as well.

Griffiths: Yeah, and she helps him. She’s his psychic sidekick.

IGN: As you just referenced, your character has some abilities too…

Griffiths: Yeah, I actually have more magic than him. [Laughs]

Ryan: Not so much “magic.” Let’s be firm on this! But no, she actually has an ability, and John seeks her out because he’s got a message from beyond the grave, from an old friend of his, whose daughter is in trouble. That’s Lucy’s character Liv. Then John goes about saving her and at the same time discovers that she has this ability. So then he kind of uses that ability and slightly manipulates her, but they need each other, and they set about trying to rid the world of all the evil.

The trailer follows:

Discovery reports on the latest trend in robotics–building neurotic robots. This puts us closer to making Marvin the Paranoid Robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy a reality.

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Twenty-Eight Percent Of Americans Believe Bible Is The Literal Word Of God

Gallup Bible Word of God

I recently cited a Gallup poll which showed that 42 percent of Americans believe in creationism. With that in mind, I imagine it is a good thing that a lower number, 28 percent, believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Gallup reports that this is below the 38 percent to 40 percent seen in the late 1970s, and near the all-time lows of 27 percent seen in 2001 and 2009. However, “half of Americans continue to say the Bible is the inspired word of God, not to be taken literally — meaning a combined 75% believe the Bible is in some way connected to God.” Gallup also found that 21 percent see the Bible as  “ancient fables, legends, history, and precepts written by man.” While discouragingly low, at least this is up from only 13 percent in 1976.

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Doctors No Longer Strong Republicans

JAMA Internal Medicine has some data which I would have predicted–doctors are less likely to support Republicans now than in the past. The data is based upon campaign contributions and therefore has no data regarding reasons for the change. This data would not include contributions under $200 and it is not known if those making smaller donations differ from the larger, reportable contributions.

The study found that since 1996 contributions to Republicans by physicians have decreased, dropping to under 50 percent leading up to the 2008 election. Many of the results suggest that doctors are contributing based upon factors comparable to the general population. This includes a significant gender gap with 57 percent of men and 31 percent of women contributing to Republicans over the entire study period. Leading up to the 2012 election, 52.3 percent of male physicians contributed to Republicans and 23.6 percent of female physicians contributed to Republicans.

I am apparently an exception to the trend that male physicians and physicians in solo or small practices are more likely to contribute to Republicans. Another trend mirrors the general population with those earning more being more likely to contribute to Republicans.

Overall the trend against support for Republicans is similar to the overall trend for more highly educated people to be less likely to support Republicans. The education in science might make many physicians more likely to reject Republicans in recent years as scientists have tended to oppose Republicans. Many people trained in science would have a difficult time supporting a party in which many believe in creationism, and most reject the view of 97 percent of climate scientists on global warming.

The study is unable to determine whether medically related issues have any bearing on the results. Democrats have been far more supportive of health care in recent years, but I also find that many of my colleagues get their news from Fox and have the same misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act and other issues as Republicans in general have. On the other hand, many physicians, along with many physician organizations, have been highly supportive of Obamacare after having seen the serious problems in health care delivery in this country. Republican policies would also be terrible for the future of Medicare, but I’m not sure how widespread this realization is among physicians.

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Study Shows People Less Likely To Take Storm Seriously If It Has A Female Name

rita

People are really stupid

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (via The Washington Post) found that people are more likely to be killed by storms with a woman’s name than a man’s name because they don’t take them as seriously:

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning  1950 and 2012.  Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities.  (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model).

The difference in death rates between genders was even more pronounced when comparing strongly masculine names versus strongly feminine ones.

“[Our] model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley … to Eloise … could nearly triple its death toll,” the study says.

They also found that people would be less likely to take precautions if told a storm with a female name is coming as opposed to one with a male name:

“People imagining a ‘female’ hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter,” Shavitt said. “The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women – they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men.”

It sounds hard to believe that people would be so stupid as to fail to take shelter because of being told that Hurricane Charlotte is approaching as opposed to Hurricane Charlie. What if they were told Hurricane  Natasha Romanoff was coming after them?

National Geographic has more, including some criticism of the study.

In somewhat related news on the stupidity of Americans, Gallup found today that 42 percent  believe in creationism, consistent with previous polls. Previous polls have shown a greater likelihood for Republicans to believe in creationism. I wonder how much overlap there is between these people and those who would downplay the severity of a storm if it has a female name. There could be some evolutionary implications towards weeding out stupidity going on here which the victims wouldn’t even understand or believe in.

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