Andrew Sullivan On The Vacuity of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton Book Presentation

I almost feel like we are back in the 2008 primary battle seeing how Andrew Sullivan is really letting Hillary Clinton have it in a post entitled The Worrying Vacuity Of Hillary Clinton.

I’d like to find a reason to believe she’s a political force who stands for something in an era when there is a real appetite for serious change. She could, after all, decide to campaign vociferously in favor of the ACA this summer and fall (universal healthcare is, after all, one of her positions), but that might siphon money away from her foundation and candidacy. She could get out there and start framing a foreign policy vision. But, again, too risky. I see nothing that suggests a real passion for getting on with the fight – just the usual presumptions of a super-elite, super-rich and super-cocooned politician of the gilded age.

So I did watch the Daily Show interview last week, and was not surprised. As in most of her softball media appearances, she was both unctuous and vapid. But even I was aghast at the sheer emptiness and datedness of her one attempt to articulate a future for American foreign policy. She actually said that our main problem is that we haven’t been celebrating America enough, that we “have not been telling our story very well” and that if we just “get back to telling” that story about how America stands for freedom and opportunity, we can rebuild our diminished international stature. One obvious retort: wasn’t she, as secretary of state, you know, responsible for telling that tale – so isn’t she actually criticizing herself?

Next up: could she say something more vacuous and anodyne? Or something more out of tune with a post-Iraq, post-torture, post- Afghanistan world? Peter Beinart had the same reaction: “As a vision for America’s relations with the world,” he wrote, “this isn’t just unconvincing. It’s downright disturbing”:

I cited even more interesting comments from Beinhart on Clinton in this post: Peter Beinart Says It All: Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Sullivan concluded:

My fear is that she doesn’t actually mean any of this. She just needed to say something, and so came out with a stream of consciousness that is completely platitudinous and immune to Fox News attacks. It’s a defensive crouch that is always her first instinct. Think of the Terry Gross interview – and her discomfort in grappling with actual disagreement, from her own base that time. Her goal is always safety. And safety won’t cut it in a populist age.

So if she runs, my guess is she’ll wrap herself tightly in the maximalist concept of American exceptionalism and make this her appeal as a post-Obama presidency. See? she’ll say to the same voting groups she went for last time. I’m a real American, and I believe in America. And yay America!

Maybe this is merely a function that she isn’t running yet (and still may not). Why stir the pot if your goal at this point is merely selling books and raking in more corporate, Goldman Sacks dough? But when, I wonder, has she been otherwise? She remains scarred by the 1990s, understandably so. But the country has moved on in a way she seems to find hard to comprehend.

BooMan also sees the world as changing but still doesn’t go along with Sullivan:

In the next couple of decades, America is going to have to grapple with two major changes. The first is that there are going to be new first-world powers, like China, Brazil and India, that we will have to reckon with. The West will not be driving things the way we have been accustomed to since the end of World War Two.

The second is that the American electorate is going to be more diverse and left-leaning, more like Europe.

In both cases, Hillary Clinton seems ill-suited to be our leader. The future is more Bill de Blasio than Andrew Cuomo, and the Clintons probably don’t get that. Still, Andrew Sullivan’s dripping contempt of the Clintons is irritating. He opposes them for all the wrong reasons and none of the right ones.

While I think the Clintons are a bit “out of time,” I don’t necessarily think this is a terrible thing for a country that is going to have some serious difficulties adjusting to new realities. Clinton could serve as a bit of a buffer, allowing the country to adjust to the changed world in way that doesn’t put too much shock into the system.

See the post I linked to above for many of what I would consider the right reasons.

Why Many People In The Middle Now Identify With The Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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

Surveys Show Benefits Of Obamacare For Individuals And Hospitals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reports Show More People Insured But No Increase In New Patient Volume For Physicians Since January Under Affordable Care Act

The New England Journal of Medicine has reviewed the increase in coverage under the Affordable Care Act and concluded:

Taking all existing coverage expansions together, we estimate that 20 million Americans have gained coverage as of May 1 under the ACA (Figure 3Figure 3Categories of Expanded Health Insurance Coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).). We do not know yet exactly how many of these people were previously uninsured, but it seems certain that many were. Recent national surveys seem to confirm this presumption. The CBO projects that the law will decrease the number of uninsured people by 12 million this year and by 26 million by 2017. Early polling data from Gallup, RAND, and the Urban Institute indicate that the number of uninsured people may have already declined by 5 million to 9 million and that the proportion of U.S. adults lacking insurance has fallen from 18% in the third quarter of 2013 to 13.4% in May 2014.

However, these surveys may underestimate total gains, since some were fielded before the late March enrollment surge and do not include children. With continuing enrollment through individual marketplaces, Medicaid, and SHOP, the numbers of Americans gaining insurance for the first time — or insurance that is better in quality or more affordable than their previous policy — will total in the many tens of millions.

As we look to the future of the coverage provisions of the ACA and their effect on the U.S. health care system, several observations seem justified. First, as the number of individuals benefiting from the law grows, its wholesale repeal will grow less likely, although the law could still be importantly modified in the future.

Second, experience with the ACA will vary enormously among states. Those deciding not to expand Medicaid will benefit far less from the law, and since many of these states have high rates of uninsured residents and lower health status, the ACA may have the paradoxical effect of increasing disparities across regions, even as it reduces disparities between previously insured and uninsured Americans as a whole.17

Third, the sustainability of the coverage expansions will depend to a great extent on the ability to control the overall costs of care in the United States. Otherwise, premiums will become increasingly unaffordable for consumers, employers, and the federal government. Insurers who seek to control those costs through increasingly narrow provider networks across all U.S. insurance markets may ultimately leave Americans less satisfied with their health care. Developing and spreading innovative approaches to health care delivery that provide greater quality at lower cost is the next great challenge facing the nation.

The full article is available to non-subscribers and there is also further discussion at Talking Points Memo.

There has been concern that the increase in number of insured might lead to an increase in number of people seeing physicians despite predictions and early evidence that this would not be a significant problem in most areas. I have seen several reports indicating that doctors generally are not seeing more patients as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The most recent came from Athena Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Here is a summary of their findings:

  • Influx in New Patient Volume Not Detected: In the first five months of 2014, a national sample of 14,300 health care providers across the athenahealth network did not see an increase in new patient volume.* Instead, the percentage of total visits with new patients actually dropped slightly compared to the same period in 2013. These findings suggest that an increase in newly insured patients, resulting from the ACA, has yet to have an impact on new patient volume at medical practices.
  • Health Care Reform Widening the Medicaid Gap: In states that are expanding Medicaid coverage under the ACA, the data shows an overall increase in adult (18-64) Medicaid beneficiary patient visits. In expansion states, on average, the percentage of Medicaid-covered patients who are being seen by primary care physicians is rising, with Medicaid patients accounting for 12.3% of care in December of 2013 compared with an increased rate of 15.6% in May 2014. Surgeons and other specialists also show increases. Conversely, states that are not expanding Medicaid coverage have seen Medicaid visits remaining flat. These findings indicate that the implementation of the ACA is widening the gap of the total share of Medicaid patients that doctors in expansion vs. non-expansion states are caring for.
  • No Increase in Chronic Disease Diagnoses Among New Patients: Findings from the first five months of 2014 indicate that established patients have a higher rate of chronic diseases compared with new patients seeking care. When comparing diagnosis rates of chronic conditions from the first five months of 2013 to the first five months of 2014, across both new and established patients, no increase in diagnosis rates of chronic conditions is detected for either population.

It is possible that some of the newly insured are initially going to the Emergency Room and therefore are not picked up as an increase in visits by primary care physicians. In May I reported on a study by the American College of Emergency Physicians which found that 37 percent of ER physicians reported that patient volume had increased slightly, 9 percent reported that it had increased greatly, and 27 percent reported that the number of ER visits had remained the same.

It is also a good finding that the newly insured are not turning out to be sicker than the previously insured. Many insurance companies held off on entering the exchanges last year out of fear that they might wind up with sicker patients, costing them more money. Those which sold coverage have wound up doing well with more insurance companies planning to enter the exchanges to sell coverage for next year. This should help reduce anticipated increases in premiums and give consumers more choice.

Forbes has further discussion of the differences in states which are offering the expanded Medicaid program compared to those which do not.

What’s The Matter With Thomas Frank?

Obama Green Lantern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SciFi Weekend: Arrow; The Flash; Agents of SHIELD; Gotham; Doctor Who; Hannibal; Daredevil; True Blood; The Leftovers; The Last Ship; 24; Penny Dreadful

Arrow Oliver Felicity

TV Guide interviewed Andrew Kreisberg about the third season of Arrow:

Can Arrow‘s consummate hero have it all?

The third season of The CW series will dare to answer that question when Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) attempts to have his cake and eat it too — in this case, that means being a superhero that the residents of Starling City actually respect while also trying to have a personal life. It’s harder than it sounds — something that Ollie will learn fairly quickly into the season.

But Oliver’s love life won’t be the only thing that’s complicated this season, especially since two of his ladies will actually be getting love interests of their own! TVGuide.com tracked down executive producer Andrew Kreisberg to get the scoop on the new season, including a surprising return from the dead, the future for Team Arrow and new villains ahead:

Will there be a time jump when the show returns?
Andrew Kreisberg: 
We’re going to jump the same amount of time that we did last year. It’ll be real time. It’ll be seven or eight months later. For Oliver, things are good. As we like to say, everything is coming up Arrow. Crime is down. At the end of last year, there was victory. A lot of this season is about what happens when you win and how winning isn’t always as easy as it looks.

What does it mean for Oliver now that the city actually accepts him?
Kreisberg: 
In the premiere, Lance (Paul Blackthorne) actually disbands the anti-vigilante task force in his new role as Captain. The Arrow is free to do his thing and it’s different for Oliver. He spent the first two years being hunted and distrusted. Now, he’s starting to feel like he has this under control. And then, of course, as Joss Whedon taught us all, you let your characters have a moment of happiness and then you take it all away from them.

You seemed to be setting the stage for Ra’s al Ghul to be the villain in Season 3. Is he actually the villain? Can you say anything about the new villain?
Kreisberg: 
It’s big. I can say that he’s big and he’s bad. We’re still figuring that stuff out. As far as the Big Bad, there will be Big Bad. Even last year, everybody was a subset of Slade’s (Manu Bennett). Slade was the Big Bad. We will meet other villains along the way, as always. We’ll have recurring villains and new villains we’re starting with this year and people who are coming back from the previous two seasons.

Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Oliver are going on a date in the season premiere. How do you avoid the TV trope that a hero can’t be with the woman he loves just because of his duty?
Kreisberg: 
When you see the premiere and you see how things shake out, you’ll come to a very sympathetic understanding of both of their positions. The premiere last year was a microcosm of what was happening for the whole year. In the same way that the premiere of last season was really about Oliver struggling with whether or not he should be the Arrow, in this season premiere it’s, “Can I have everything I want?” That quest is going to take up his entire year, and hers.

How much of a foil will Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), Felicity’s new rumored love interest and head of Queen Consolidated, be to Oliver?
Kreisberg: 
A big foil. It’s Season 3, and Season 3 is typically when you add that game-changing character like Buffy did in adding Faith or Everwood did with adding Scott Wolf. First of all, getting Brandon — he couldn’t be nicer, he couldn’t be sweeter. It’s just such a different energy that he’s bringing to the show. A lot of what’s funny about Felicity and Oliver is that he’s so straight and she’s the funny one. With Brandon, you get somebody who’s as tall, square-jawed and handsome as he is [and] he’s a really funny comedian. He and Felicity can have that verbal repartee that we haven’t typically had on the show. As much as the show is getting darker, it’s gotten a lot funnier. It’s just such a different energy. He and Felicity are really cute together.

The second season ended with the Black Canary giving her black jacket to her sister Laurel. This fed speculation that Laurel will become the Black Canary as in the comics. Kreisberg has a good point that she is not ready for this  yet: “As always with all of these things, you can’t just put on a mask and go running around. You’ll get killed. Laurel is still just an attorney. She’s an attorney with a jacket. I think Katie Cassidy fans are going to be very, very excited about her trajectory this year. Laurel is going to have a new love interest this season.” Caity Lotz will be returning for three episodes next season. One of the many good things about Arrow is that there is now a huge supporting cast, and even more characters are to be introduced. This allows them to have a variety of characters for parts of a season as opposed to having exactly the same characters from week to week. There will also be a cross over with The Flash next season in the eighth episode of each show, and Felicity will appear in the fourth episode of The Flash.

There has been contradictory information as to whether The Flash and/or Arrow will cross over with the DC cinematic universe in the manner in which Agents of SHIELD does with Marvel. The latest story is that DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns says the television shows and movies will be kept separate. Presumably this will mean that the Flash seen in the Justice League of America movie would be a different character than on the television show. While it would be entertaining to have the television and movie universes combined, there are advantages of keeping them separate. This allows for greater flexibility with the television shows not being confined by the movie universe, avoiding the problems faced by SHIELD most of its first season.

BRETT DALTON

Agents of SHIELD executive producers Jeffrey Bell, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen were interviewed about plans for the second season, now that the show is no longer constrained by waiting for Captain America: The Winter Soldier to reveal HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD.

Will there be consequences for Grant Ward for all that he had done last year?

“I would assume so,” Maurissa Tancharoen said. “Let’s put it this way: They’re not gonna just drop him on a farm and let him run wild.” Jed Whedon added. “When last we left him, he was in our custody. What does that mean? You’ll have to see,” Maurissa teased.

What are you specifically excited about for Season 2?

“I think the fact that when we left them, S.H.I.E.L.D. had completely crumbled… so just the idea of Coulson and our team, sort of left with nothing, or limited resources… I think we’ll be rooting for them to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Tancharoen said.

“It’s a lot harder to protect the world when you don’t have any resources. Last year we saw how giant and all-consuming S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reach was, and they don’t have that anymore, so it’s much more of a struggle. They’re much more the underdog this year, which we’re really excited about that, and the tone that it sets, and what it does to our characters.” Whedon added.

This “ragtag team” has Maria Hill as a contact and she’s working for Tony Stark. Couldn’t she talk to him to hook them up with some money?

“We hope so! That’d be so cool!” Whedon responded. “Maybe so,” Tancharoen said. “That’s a good question.”

“Tony Stark doesn’t know Coulson’s alive, so it might be really awkward. It’d be weird,” Jeffrey Bell chimed in. “They could set up a Coulson Memorial Fund and channel that into S.H.I.E.L.D.,” he joked.

So with Phil Coulson now being the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers still don’t know he’s alive?

“That’s a complicated question. One might assume, but you can’t assume anything, and they have their own movie that exists…” Whedon said, with his brother, of course, directing Avengers 2: Age of Ultron to come out next year.

“At least on screen so far, that hasn’t happened,” Bell said.

Will we be seeing Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) sooner rather than later?

“That’s a good question. When last we left him, we didn’t know exactly what happened to him. We just know he’s alive,” Tancharoen teased.

Gotham

TV Guide has more information on Gotham:

There will be no cape. There will be no cowl. Nevertheless, Fox’s Gotham intends to stay true to the Batman comics that fans have come to know and love over more than seven decades.

Based on DC Comics characters, Gotham explores the origin stories of the Caped Crusader’s eventual ally James Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie), a detective with the Gotham City Police Department, and his battle with the villains who made the city famous.

“What we won’t do is break the canonical iron truths of the mythology,” executive producer Bruno Heller told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s fall previews on Sunday. “It’s not a whole new mythology. But issues of chronology, we will play with in a fun way.”

Instead of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) taking center stage in the effort to save Gotham, James Gordon will be the central focus as he fights the ever rampant corruption and crime alongside his partner and mentor Det. Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). “Gordon is the lynchpin of the show,” Heller explains. “He’s the guy who creates Batman or gives permission for Batman to exist in this world. Gordon will still remain at the central, but it’s very much about [the origin stories of every character], but Gordon is the moral center that you can identify with.”

Though Heller said that Batman won’t appear on the series, he doesn’t believe that will drive the fanboys away. “I don’t think so because the really interesting parts of the stories is the origin stories,” Heller says. “As soon as you’re into the capes and the costumes, it’s less interesting than how the people got there.

“If there is a superhero in this show, it’s Gotham,” he continues. “That’s a larger than life character that’s a central part of the show. To me, heroes are more interesting than superheroes because precisely the difference is superheroes do the impossible, and drama is really about the physically possible. This is about people and people trying to overcome real problems as opposed to trying to learn how to fly.”

But where do Gothamites find hope when the city’s villains of are running free with nary a hero (or the hope of one) to stop them? After all, Bruce Wayne hasn’t even started shaving yet! “That’s the situation that the show is all about,” Heller says. “How do you deal with crime of this level when there are no superheroes? It’s as much about the hope and the struggle that they’re engaged in… It’s about men and women, not about superheroes.”

And those men and women truly will be overrun. Though the first season delves into the rise of the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the series pilot introduces a fair amount of villains for the show to play with, including Catwoman (Camren Bicondova), The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), Poison Ivy (Clare Foley) and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). “You have to front-load the pilot with the best that you’ve got because that’s the way that you’ve got to open big,” Heller says of introducing so many villains. “As the show rolls on, we’ll be far more … careful with how we roll out the villains and in what way.”

Trailers for the upcoming season of Doctor Who above (one official and one from a fan).

With Laurence Fishburne having a roll on a new show next season, Black-ish, there has been speculation that this might mean that he did not survive the massacre in the second season finale of Hannibal. Fishburne says he is returning, and will do both shows part time. He also says the third season of Hannibal will be very dark–as if the first two seasons were so light and cheerful.

Looking back quickly on some genre shows of the past week, I was happy to see True Blood end some of its weak plot lines and get rid of some of the superfluous characters. This almost gives them yet another fresh start going into the final episodes of the series, and I hope they take advantage of this to end with a better story line.

The_Leftovers_65223

The Leftovers dealt with Christopher Eccleston’s character. As we know that it will not deal with any sort of explanation of what  happened to the missing people, to be successful the show will need to get viewers interested in the characters and how they responded to the other people disappearing. So far they have not done the greatest job of introducing the characters and adequately explaining their motivations. Earlier episodes dealt heavily with the police chief and his family, but it is not clear why his family is so affected considering that nobody in their family disappeared. Entertainment Weekly compared The Leftovers to Battlestar Galactica in the way in which both shows dealt with a loss of a portion of the population. Both the disaster and the manner in which the response were handled was greater on BSG.

While The Leftovers does have that in common with Battlestar Galactica, The Last Ship has far more in common in dealing with a ship of people surviving after mass deaths. It remains more of an action/adventure show than hard science fiction, but remains entertaining summer television.

Under the Dome remains weak (to put it gently), yet somehow remains interesting to watch. The same problems persist with the Dome having powers with no apparent limits but no clear motivations for those using the power. Now it was able to bring a girl who died years ago back to life. Plus Junior’s mother was also confirmed to be alive after her reported suicide.

24: Live Another Day concluded its short season. A shorter season was a plus, but it would have been even better if it ended a few episodes earlier when the main terrorist plot was tied up. In the past, full seasons suffered from the need to move from one plot line to another to keep things going for an entire twenty-four episodes. Now that they were freed from those constraints it would have better to tell one single story well, regardless of how many episodes it took. Then they had to tag on yet another quick story at the end to put Chloe in danger to set up Jack’s fate. The producers of 24 have not yet said whether the show will return. I’m sure that depends upon a lot upon the ratings.

Extant remained interesting in its second episode. I still fear it will turn out to be a network television rehash of old science fiction (and Spielberg)  troupes but I’m willing to give it a chance to prove me wrong.

Penny Dreadful Eva Green

Penny Dreadful ended earlier this month and I should note that after seeing the entire first season that it was well worth watching. The plot was not the strong point but it did excel in creating its characters and a world where fictional characters including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and others interacted. The show had a strong cast including Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, and Billy Piper, but by far the strongest was Eva Green. The actual story such as fights with vampires weren’t terrible significant except as ways to introduce the characters and set up future events. Early episodes showed some violent deaths and, while there were some clues, the probable identity of the killer wasn’t revealed until the finale, undoubtedly influencing the second season. The show also made good use of episodic television, both having continuing stories and using some episodes to reveal character back stories or past events.

James Gardner, star of shows including The Rockford Files and Maverick, died yesterday at 86. Reports from Variety and The New York Times.

Quote of the Day: Gary Hart on Hillary Clinton

“She’s always trying to find the mythical center on controversial issues — and if you do that, someone else is going to take the bouquet for courage.” –Gary Hart on Hillary Clinton being overly cautious. Is it being cautious versus lack of principles beyond getting elected?

Three Reasons Democrats Might Retain Control Of The Senate

Republicans have an excellent chance to gain control of the Senate this year due to a combination of Republican voters traditionally turning out in higher percentages in midterm elections and the need for Democrats to defend several seats in red states. Current projections from most sources give the Republicans a slight edge but there are a few reasons to believe that the Democrats might hold on to one or two more seats than projected, and retain control of the Senate:

1) The power of incumbency:

Democrats must hold onto seats in red states, but they are states that Democrats have won once before, even if in a presidential election year which was more favorable to Democrats. While they don’t have this advantage in 2014, having candidates running as incumbents might increase the chance of winning. Since 2000 Democratic Senate candidates have usually won reelection in the south, despite their states going heavily to the Republicans in presidential elections. Polls are showing that incumbent southern Democrats remain competitive.

2) Women voters:

Republican hostility towards reproductive rights and attempts to restrict access to contraception as well as abortion has many women voters angry, hopefully enough to turn out to vote. The Hobby Lobby decision might also motivate women.

With their Senate majority at stake in November, Democrats and allied groups are now stepping up an aggressive push to woo single women — young and old, highly educated and working class, never married, and divorced or widowed. This week they seized on the ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, five men, that family-owned corporations do not have to provide birth control in their insurance coverage, to buttress their arguments that Democrats better represent women’s interests.

But the challenge for Democrats is that many single women do not vote, especially in nonpresidential election years like this one. While voting declines across all groups in midterm contests for Congress and lower offices, the drop-off is steepest for minorities and unmarried women. The result is a turnout that is older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential years…

Single women, Democrats say, will determine whether they keep Senate seats in states including Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina — and with them, their Senate majority — and seize governorships in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, among other states.

The party is using advanced data-gathering techniques to identify unmarried women, especially those who have voted in presidential elections but skipped midterms. By mail, online, phone and personal contact, Democrats and their allies are spreading the word about Republicans’ opposition in Washington — and state capitals like Raleigh — to pay equity, minimum wage and college-affordability legislation; abortion and contraception rights; Planned Parenthood; and education spending.

3) Black Southern Voters:

Black southern voters have long voted Democratic, but now might turn out in high enough numbers to influence the results. Republican efforts to prevent them from voting might backfire, motivating more blacks to turn out:

Southern black voters don’t usually play a decisive role in national elections. They were systematically disenfranchised for 100 years after the end of the Civil War. Since the days of Jim Crow, a fairly unified white Southern vote has often determined the outcome of elections.

This November could be different. Nearly five decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voters in the South are poised to play a pivotal role in this year’s midterm elections. If Democrats win the South and hold the Senate, they will do so because of Southern black voters.

The timing — 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 49 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act — is not entirely coincidental. The trends increasing the clout of black voters reflect a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. White voters who came of age as loyal Democrats have largely died off, while the vast majority of black voters have been able to vote for their entire adult lives — and many have developed the habit of doing so.

This year’s closest contests include North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia. Black voters will most likely represent more than half of all Democratic voters in Louisiana and Georgia, and nearly half in North Carolina. Arkansas, another state with a large black population, is also among the competitive states…

Democrats lamented low black turnout for decades, but Southern black turnout today rivals or occasionally exceeds that of white voters. That’s in part because black voters, for the first time, have largely been eligible to vote since they turned 18. They have therefore had as many opportunities as their white counterparts to be targeted by campaigns, mobilized by interest groups or motivated by political causes.

Mr. Obama is part of the reason for higher black turnout, which surpassed white turnout nationally in the 2012 presidential election, according to the census. But black turnout had been increasing steadily, even before Mr. Obama sought the presidency. In 1998, unexpectedly high black turnout allowed Democrats to win a handful of contests in the Deep South; in 2002, Ms. Landrieu won a Senate runoff with a surge in black turnout.

The Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act unleashed a wave of new laws with a disparate impact on black voters, including cuts in early voting and photo-identification requirements.

Michigan Democratic Candidates Improving Position In Latest Poll

AP SENATE MICHIGAN PETERS A ELN USA MI

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

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

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