Coverage Of The Success of Obamacare And Debunking Republican Lies

Obamacare Winning

Reading liberal versus conservative columnists give entirely different views of the Affordable Care Act. Liberals have been writing about its success while conservatives continue to spread misinformation. Here’s a few examples of liberal views on the topic (which are the fact-based articles):

Tim Dickenson of Rolling Stone (source for the above graphic) writes that Obamacare is working. Instead of the fake conservative horror stories, he linked to stories which show how the Affordable Care Act is helping people. He described the successes, and pointed out that “Republican Party sabotage has also impeded enrollment.” Rather than back away  from calling a lie a lie as many journalists will, Dickenson directly addressed Republican lies as lies as he debunked them:

GOP LIE No. 1: THE NUMBERS DON’T MEAN ANYTHING
Over the course of the open-enrollment period, Republicans labored to argue that Obamacare did far less good than advertised because an estimated 4.7 million Americans received letters in the fall warning that their current policies could not be renewed, as they failed to comply with new coverage requirements. They point to these “cancellations” to argue that few of the folks being counted as ACA enrollees previously lacked insurance.

There are three glaring flaws to this argument. First: Many if not most of those whose plans were canceled were automatically transferred into similar policies that complied with the new law. One of the nation’s largest for-profit insurers told House investigators that it had issued fewer than 2,000 outright cancellations.

Second: Through executive orders, Obama gave roughly half of those who received a letter – 2.35 million – the chance to stay in their existing coverage. CBO estimates suggest that just 1.5 million actually continued in their grandfathered plans, as many could find cheaper and/or better coverage on a subsidized exchange or qualify for Medicaid. It’s telling that the Michigan leukemia patient featured in Koch-funded ads intended to convey the horror of these cancellations has found a compliant poicy on the exchange that still covers her oncologist and cut her monthly premium in half.

Giving the Republican argument every benefit of the doubt, this would leave a potential pool of about 3 million people who changed, rather than gained, insurance. This leads to the third flaw in the argument: Obamacare sign-ups were always going to include millions of people who already had insurance. In its latest estimate, the CBO showed just two-thirds (4 million of 6 million) of exchange enrollments coming from people who were previously uncovered. And the limited hard data available from the states suggests the CBO is closer to the mark than the GOP: In New York, nearly 60 percent of buyers were previously uninsured. In Kentucky, it’s even higher: 75 percent.

GOP LIE No. 2: THEY HAVEN’T PAID THEIR PREMIUMS YET
GOP critics point out that the administration hasn’t tracked how many enrollees are actually paying their insurance bills. The complaint about transparency is fair, but the concern is misplaced. Figures from state exchanges and insurers themselves show that between 80 and 95 percent of enrollees are paying their bills.

GOP LIE No. 3: OBAMACARE WILL COLLAPSE UNDER ITS OWN WEIGHT
One legitimate concern as Obamacare ramped up was that it could enter a “death spiral.” This would happen if the number of older, sicker people on the exchanges far outnumbered the young and the healthy. Premiums would spike, year over year, with each increase driving more healthy folks out of the pool – making the exchange unsustainable. While reaching 7 million enrollees is a huge win politically, it doesn’t ensure Obamacare’s viability as an insurance program. “I do think there’s too much focus on the overall number,” Karen Ignagni, a top insurance-industry lobbyist, told reporters. What matters far more, she said, is the insurance pools’ “distribution of healthy to unhealthy.”

The administration wanted 18- to 34-year-olds to make up nearly 40 percent of enrollees. By March, however, only 25 percent of the mix was under 35. That sounds dire. Yet even pools with just 25 percent of younger people would not create a tailspin, forcing premiums to rise by just 2.4 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Additionally, the convoluted structure of Obamacare eliminates systemic risk. Even the 27 states that relied entirely on the federal exchange will end up with state-specific insurance pools. What this means is that if a death spiral were to develop in, say, Ohio, that failure would not pull down neighboring states. What’s more, safeguards within the ACA mean states don’t have to get the mix right in Year One. For the first three years, ACA has shock absorbers to prevent premium spikes in states with problematic pools. Over that same period, the penalties for not buying insurance step up – which should drive younger, healthier people into the market, balancing the risk profile. We lack hard data to get a clear picture of all state pools. But private insurers are sending optimistic signals to investors that all is well. Case in point: Insurance giant WellPoint just raised its earnings forecast.

GOP LIE No. 4: “OBAMACARE IS THE NUMBER-ONE JOB KILLER IN AMERICA”
That’s what Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told a Tea Party convention in Dallas last summer. Since then, the GOP has been making two ACA-connected job-loss claims, both demonstrably false. First, they twisted a February CBO report to claim that Obamacare will cause 2.5 million Americans to lose their jobs. What the CBO actually found is that Americans will be able to work a little less thanks to lower health-care costs, voluntarily scaling back work hours between 1.5 and 2 percent through 2024, or the output of 2.5 million full-time workers. The other GOP lie is that Obamacare is causing employers – who will be responsible for insuring employees who work more than 30 hours a week – to either scale back the hours of full-time employees or hire only part-time workers. This, too, is hogwash. While the share of part-time employment remains historically high, it has actually been in decline since 2010, when Obama­care became law.

I have discussed many of the above points, with links to the evidence, in previous posts on health care reform.

I was also happy to see that he concluded with the same opinion I have expressed that Democrats must take the offensive on health care:

House Republicans have learned the hard way that even nibbling around the edges of Obamacare can backfire. In February, the GOP pushed a bill to tweak the mandate that businesses offer health care to all employees working more than 30 hours. Switching to the GOP’s preferred 40-hour standard, it turns out, would add $74 billion to the deficit by 2024 and cause nearly 1 million Americans to lose coverage. That’s the kind of move that would play right into Democratic hands. Says Greenberg, “Democrats do very well when they hit back at Republicans on what people lose.”

Until recently, Greenberg had been advising Democrats to move beyond Obamacare and turn to bread-and-butter issues like jobs and the minimum wage. “The strongest attack on Republicans,” he says, “is that they’re obsessed with Obamacare instead of critical issues like dealing with the economy.” But his new poll has Greenberg rethinking that counsel. “Until now, this is an issue where the intensity has been on the other side,” he says. But defending Obamacare, he adds, has emerged as “a values argument for our base.” Greenberg now believes Democrats “ought to lean much more strongly” to campaign on the virtues of Obamacare as a means of boosting progressive turnout. “Not apologizing for Obamacare and embracing it actually wins the argument nationally,” he says. “And it produces much more engagement of Democratic voters. That’s a critical thing in off-year elections.”

Eugene Robinson also wrote about the success of Obamacare:

A new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, despite all the problems with the HealthCare.gov Web site launch, 12 million people who previously lacked insurance will obtain coverage this year. By 2017, the year Obama leaves office, the CBO predicts that an additional 14 million uninsured will have managed to get coverage .

Why was the Affordable Care Act so desperately needed? Because without it, 54 million Americans would currently have no health insurance. Within three years, according to the CBO, Obamacare will have slashed the problem nearly in half.

We should do better, and perhaps someday we will. Most industrialized countries have some kind of single-payer system offering truly universal coverage. But if you have to work within the framework of the existing U.S. health-care system — which involves private health insurance companies and fee-for-service care — the Affordable Care Act reforms are a tremendous advance.

Many Republican critics of Obamacare know, but refuse to acknowledge, that the reforms are here to stay. Does the GOP propose to let insurance companies deny coverage because of preexisting conditions, as they could before the ACA? Does the party want to reimpose lifetime caps on the amount an insurer will pay? Tell young adults they can no longer be covered under their parents’ policies?

He concluded by also recommending that Democratic candidates take advantage of the success of Obamacare:

To do well in the fall, Democrats have to infuse their most loyal voters with similar enthusiasm. The success of Obamacare will help. Already, polls are showing upticks in support for embattled Democratic incumbent senators in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska. Democrats control their own destiny in November: If they can get their voters to the polls, they’ll win.

In the long run, no matter what happens in the election, I’m more convinced than ever that the Affordable Care Act will be seen as landmark legislation. With minimal immediate impact, the ACA does two tremendously important things.

First, it shifts the incentive structure in the health-care industry in ways that promise to hold down rising costs. And second, it establishes the principle that health care should be considered a right, not a privilege.

Of course it’s not perfect. It’s a thing of beauty anyway. We have liftoff. It’s working.

Paul Krugman described Obamacare as the unknown ideal:

The current state of public opinion on health reform is really peculiar. If you’ve been following the issue at all closely, you know that the Affordable Care Act is one of the great comeback stories of public policy: after a terrible start, it has dramatically exceeded expectations. But hardly anyone seems to know that.

He blamed Fox and Rush Limbaugh for all the misinformation they have spread, the Obama administration for doing a “lackluster job so far in getting the word out,” and “a persistent anti-ACA tilt in news coverage.” He pointed out how factual stories on the success of Obamacare are often buried in the back pages of newspapers.

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Obama Warns Of Threats To Right To Vote

Protect Vote

If one followed politics superficially from the mainstream media, they might come to the incorrect view that we have a two party system in which the two parties differ on some issues but are essentially mirror images of each other. Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that instead we have a centrist party which has been struggling to continue our system of self-government and an extreme right wing party which seeks the destroy the vision of America held by our founding fathers. Among those who have bucked the usual media narrative and have reported on this are Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. This pair of centrists who have pointed this out in an essay, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem, and in their book  It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, which clearly laid out the extremism of the current Republican Party. They have explained that the mainstream media missed the big story of the 2012 campaign–the dishonesty and extremism of the Republican Party.

Republicans benefit by rigging the system in their favor as much as possible. Some of this is built in to the structure of our government, such as giving small Republican states the same number of Senators as larger, Democratic states. Gerrymandering, as well as the tendency of Democrats to concentrate more in urban areas, give Republican an advantage in the House, even in elections such as in 2012 when more people voted for Democratic representatives than Republicans. Republicans take advantage of control over large segments of the mainstream media, including Fox which operates essentially as a house propaganda organ, and then “play the refs” by complaining of fictitious liberal media bias. If this isn’t enough, they try to rig election laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote.

While Republicans use their influence over the mainstream media to promote misinformation to further their cause, Democrats have done a poor job of promoting a message or even of exposing what their opponents are doing. I was therefore happy to see that Barack Obama has spoken out against Republican restriction of voting rights.

“The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

Speaking a day after a conference in Texas commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Mr. Obama linked the issue to the movement that helped pave the way for him to become the nation’s first black president.

“America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren,” he said.

Republicans in some swing states have advanced new laws that go beyond the voter identification requirements of recent years. Among other things, state lawmakers are pushing measures to limit the time polls are open and to cut back early voting, particularly weekend balloting that makes it easier for lower-income voters to participate. Other measures would eliminate same-day registration, make it more difficult to cast provisional ballots or curb the mailing of absentee ballots.

Over the last 15 months, at least nine states have enacted voting changes making it harder to cast ballots. A federal judge last month upheld laws in Arizona and Kansas requiring proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport, leading other states to explore following suit.

I hope we see more of this. Warnings about the Republican threat to freedom and democracy should not be limited to a single date commemorating a past event. This should be an important part of the political debate between the parties every day. Hopefully people will then realize that they should be wary of a political party which finds that its success depends upon keeping people from voting.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Quote of the Day From Bill Maher on Fox

“Absolutely nothing new has happened with the missing plane. It is astounding how they continue to report ‘news’ even though they have zero information, although, it never stopped Fox News.” –Bill Maher

Bonus Quote:

“Fox News, they may be a little biased. We had an earthquake here on Monday and they reported that the Earth’s crust was emboldened by Obama’s weakness.” –Bill Maher

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Good News On Obamacare Enrollment Leading To More Favorable Coverage

Democrats have suffered damage from the Affordable Care Act far more from negative press than actual negative results. Of course they make the problem far worse by running away as opposed to standing up for the successes of the Affordable Care Act. Two stories last fall did the most harm–the failed roll out and news of people receiving cancellation letters. The computer problems were IT issues which have nothing to do with the benefits of the Affordable Care Act as policy. Now that we have some data on enrollment, we know that the initial IT problems did not decrease enrollment at all from initial projections. We also now know that most of the people who received cancellation letters received alternate coverage, frequently from the same company, with better coverage at a lower price.

Bad news tends to lead to more bad news but good news often leads to more good news, and hopefully the Democrats will show the ability to capitalize on it. Republicans who made claims of Obamacare leading to fewer people having coverage or failing to meet projections look as foolish as the Republicans who ignored the polls and projected a Romney victory in 2012. Instead of negative stories, we are seeing stories such as this from Politico: Obamacare critics: Homina, homina, homina:

Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama’s brand of liberalism doesn’t work.

Now, the law’s opponents aren’t about to say that critique was wrong — but they’ve lost the best evidence they had.

On Tuesday, Obamacare sign-ups passed 7 million, six months after the launch of a federal website that could barely sign up anybody. There are still a lot of questions about how solid that figure is, but the idea that the law could even come close to the original goal after such a disastrous start would have been laughable even a few weeks ago.

It was also a wake-up call for Republicans and conservatives, and even the occasional liberal, who pushed the argument that the failed website challenges the idea at the heart of Obama’s agenda — that government can still solve big social problems.

Of course Fox and other right wing outlets are still running negative headlines, but otherwise success is leading to the rest of the media being more positive. While conservatives spread false stories of Obamacare nightmares, there are more stories on those who benefit under the Affordable Care Act. The New York Times has pointed out that many people have purchased insurance directly from insurance companies in addition to the over seven million purchasing through the exchanges:

Millions of newly insured people are hiding in plain sight.

They are the people who have bought new health insurance since the start of this year but have chosen for one reason or another to bypass the state and federal exchanges that opened last year under the Affordable Care Act. While the exact number is unknown, some health care experts estimate that it may be in the millions.

Politicians and policy makers have focused on the number of people who signed up through the exchanges — at nearly seven million and counting a day after the March 31 deadline — but they have largely overlooked the group that did not use the exchanges, even though it could have a major impact on the program’s financial success in the years ahead…

All individual health insurance plans offered after Jan. 1 must adhere to several new requirements, regardless of whether they are bought through the marketplaces. Insurers must offer more comprehensive coverage and charge healthy and sick people the same rates. And they can no longer turn people away if they have existing medical conditions.

It makes little difference to insurers how the new customers arrive at their door: What matters most is that they get there. Insurers must bring in enough new customers, including a significant number of healthy ones, to offset the higher costs of complying with the law.

Aaron Billger, a spokesman for Highmark, an insurer that offers plans in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, said about 30 percent of the approximately 133,000 members that Highmark had enrolled as of mid-March had signed up outside the marketplaces. The large insurer WellPoint, which has said it expects to enroll about one million customers nationwide in new plans, has reported that about 20 percent of its sign-ups have occurred off the exchanges.

Some people are saving money by purchasing insurance from co-ops which are being set up in some states thanks to the Affordable Care Act as an alternative to the large insurance companies. It is too soon to tell whether they will really lower costs, but they do sound like a promising alternative:

The names of the big health insurance companies are familiar – Blue Cross, Aetna, United Healthcare. But what about CoOportunity Health, or Health Republic Insurance of New York?  These are among 23 new health insurance companies that started under the Affordable Care Act.  They’re all nonprofit, member-owned cooperatives, and the aim is to create more competition and drive prices down…

“In some states, co-ops are dominating the marketplace, with 80 percent of the enrollees going to the co-op,” he says.

That’s in Maine. Morrison says most co-ops are very happy with their enrollment numbers. Their rates are often the lowest available through an exchange.

“The co-op states have 8.4 percent lower premiums on average than the non-co-op states, across the marketplace,” says Morrison. “So co-ops are creating that competition. They’re keeping rates down in the states they’re operating in.”

The Los Angeles Times told the story of a cancer patient who benefited from Obamacare:

Robertson wrote a passionate account of his cancer and posted it on the White House website to illustrate how important insurance is even for younger people. Noting that he had paid just 1% of the $900,000 cost for five surgeries, radiation and chemo, he wrote, “Without that, I would have bankrupted my family just to stay alive.”

And without Obamacare’s guarantee that he could buy affordable insurance despite his preexisting medical condition, he wrote, “there’s no telling what life would have been like for us moving forward.”

A major benefit of the Affordable Care Act is to enable people to obtain coverage on the individual market who had difficulty obtaining coverage in the past, when most coverage outside of government programs came from large businesses. There have already been stories on some of the winnersPolitico reported on how Obamacare has helped self-employed artists and actors:

Abromaitis is among the hundreds of thousands of artists, musicians, dancers, actors and filmmakers around the country who especially stand to gain under Obamacare, either through the plans and premium subsidies available on its new insurance exchanges or from the plans employers must start offering.Typically a well-educated but lower-earning demographic — whose members are self-employed more often than not — these Americans have frequently struggled to buy insurance on their own. Some were able to afford union plans, but others paid for costly coverage on the individual market or went without it despite the risk.

A survey last year by The Actors Fund found that 43 percent of individuals working in the visual and performing arts lacked coverage, more than double the national uninsured rate. More than a third of those who had coverage said they got it on the individual market, compared with the 6 percent of Americans generally who turn there for health insurance.

Many are now flocking to Obamacare’s federal- and state-run exchanges, hoping for a way to get covered without breaking the bank. They’re finding both good and bad: more affordable plans but sometimes narrow provider networks and high deductibles.

The narrow provider networks and high deductibles did come as a surprise to some but this has actually been a characteristic of insurance sold through the individual market for a long time. When I purchased new coverage (directly from the insurance company, bypassing healthcare.gov), there was a choice of policies with more restrictive networks with a lower premium, along with choices without restrictive networks but with a higher premium. Most people who wind up in plans with the most restrictive network did so out of a choice to save money. The choices I saw were no different from the choices offered prior to the Affordable Care Act. The difference was that the coverage was far more comprehensive, had new limits on out of pocket expenses, and could never be canceled due to medical problems.

There is far  more good news this week on the Affordable Care Act. Hopefully the Democrats will finally stop being scared of negative and false attacks from Republicans and go on the offensive and develop a new message to take political advantage of the law they passed.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Obamacare Enrollment Surpasses Seven Million

The number of people purchasing insurance under the Affordable Care Act has exceeded seven million. This slightly surpasses initial predictions. This also surpasses the reduced prediction of six million made by the Congressional Budget Office as a result of the initial IT problems, (with more expected to sign up in future years) and shows that conservative opponents of Obamacare were wrong in predicting lower numbers.

Millions more purchased health insurance directly from insurance companies. This also does not include the newly insured due to Medicaid expansion or due to students being able to remain on their parents’ policy until age 26. Even when estimates come in including those covered by Medicaid expansion, the number can continue to grow as there is no deadline for signing up for Medicaid. In Michigan the Medicaid program did not even begin taking enrollments until today. There are also some situations in which people can purchase insurance offered through the exchanges after the deadline, such as in case of loss of job or divorce.

There are not yet accurate numbers nationally regarding the number of people signing up who previously had insurance versus those newly insured.

Conservatives are raising questions regarding how many people have not paid premiums and ultimately will not keep this insurance. Estimates on this are premature as coverage for those signing up in late March does not begin until May and premiums will not even be due until mid April.

These numbers are already out of date in light of the surge of people signing up at the last moment, but The Los Angles Times reported on Monday that Obamacare has led to coverage for at least 9.5 million new people:

• At least 6 million people have signed up for health coverage on the new marketplaces, about one-third of whom were previously uninsured.

• A February survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found 27% of new enrollees were previously uninsured, but newer survey data from the nonprofit Rand Corp. and reports from marketplace officials in several states suggest that share increased in March.

• At least 4.5 million previously uninsured adults have signed up for state Medicaid programs, according to Rand’s unpublished survey data, which were shared with The Times. That tracks with estimates from Avalere Health, a consulting firm that is closely following the law’s implementation.

• An additional 3 million young adults have gained coverage in recent years through a provision of the law that enables dependent children to remain on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26, according to national health insurance surveys from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• About 9 million people have bought health plans directly from insurers, instead of using the marketplaces, Rand found. The vast majority of these people were previously insured.

• Fewer than a million people who had health plans in 2013 are now uninsured because their plans were canceled for not meeting new standards set by the law, the Rand survey indicates.

Conservatives have falsely claimed that due to the cancellations of insurance there is a net decrease in the number insured. Most of those who received cancellation notices have received alternative insurance plans, often from the same insurance company. Those who qualify for subsidies are receiving coverage at a lower rate. Everyone who changed from the old plans to new plans on the individual market benefit from changes such as being safe from losing their insurance if they become ill and their insurance company would prefer to stop covering them to save money. The new policies also have annual limits on out of pocket expenses and do not have lifetime caps on coverage as old plans often did.The above data is consistent with Gallup polling showing a decrease in the number of uninsured:

The decrease parallels a similar drop recorded by Gallup, which found in its national polling that the uninsured rate among adults had declined from 18% in the final quarter of last year to 15.9% through the first two months of 2014. Gallup’s overall uninsured rate is lower than Rand’s because it includes seniors on Medicare.

Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport said that March polling, which has not been released yet, indicates the uninsured rate has declined further.

“While it is important to be cautious, the logical conclusion is that the law is having an effect,” he said.

Although estimates vary, about 45 million to 48 million people are believed to have been uninsured before the marketplaces opened last year.

The Courier-Journal estimates that about 75 percent of those signing up through the state-run exchange in Kentucky were previously uninsured.

The goal of the ACA was to help cover 48 million Americans, including 640,000 in Kentucky, who lack health insurance.

Although the state set no official first-year goal, its 360,000-plus sign-ups — 75 percent of whom were previously uninsured — represents a sizable chunk.

Although Obama said that the success of enrollments for the Affordable Care Act means “the debate over repealing this law is over,” Republicans are not likely to stop fighting and spreading misinformation. They know that this will help improve Republican turn out this fall. The Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity has put out additional dishonest ads.

Fox, the propaganda organ for the Republican Party, has generally spread their misinformation, including an attempt to distort interpretation of the number of people signing up. Even Fox has not been entirely consistent in backing the Republicans.  On Monday Jenna Lee asked Senator Lindsey Graham why the Republicans have not offered an alternative to the Affordable Care Act despite repeatedly voting to repeal it.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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SciFi Weekend: Arrow; Hannibal; Orphan Black; Doctor Who; Star Trek; Person of Interest; The Americans; Continuum; Fox vs. Kristen Bell; Mad Men; Lost; Creationists vs. Cosmos

Arrow Suicide Squad

I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed by this week’s episode of Arrow, not because it was a bad episode (it wasn’t) but my expectations had been raised so high by all the hype over the introduction of the Suicide Squad. I did like how they tied it to Dingle and his ex-wife, but beyond them there was little time for anyone else other than Deadshot and Amanda Waller. Of course Shrapnel didn’t last very long. (Are we certain he is really dead–we never saw the body.) They probably could have used more time to flesh out the story further, perhaps as a two-part show. Dingle was definitely able to carry the episode as lead and if limited to one episode it also might have been better to just give him the entire episode. Most of the scenes with Oliver and Felicity, other than the final scene, were pretty much filler anyways. I know it is unconventional to leave out two of the biggest stars, but it would have made a stronger episode.

There were two scenes with Oliver worth noting. I have no idea how Slade could have had video of Shadow from the island and suspect this was a case of the writers going for a more dramatic scene at the expense of reality (even within the parameters of this series). I did like the ending, tying into not only Dingle but Oliver, and having a potential new ally against Slade. While she was introduced to the DC world long after I stopped reading Batman comics, I understand that the cameo by Harley Quinn is a huge deal for many fans. Collider spoke with producer Marc Guggenheim about the series and potential appearances from characters from the Batman universe:

How much of the Batman universe can you plug into this show, especially now with Gotham out there?

GUGGENHEIM:  That’s part of the ongoing relationship and discussions that we have with DC.  Things have not really changed with Gotham.  It’s the same thing that it always is, which is that we have an idea, we go to DC, we talk about it, and we find out where the lines are and which characters are available or not available.  I want to manage expectations with respect to Harley Quinn.  She was always intended to be an Easter egg.  I don’t want people to go in with incorrect expectations and walk away from Episode 16 disappointed.  But there is an element to the Easter egg that was not spoiled by the promo, that I think people will find a lot of fun. 

The Arrow’s secret identity was also discussed:

Question: There are a lot of people who know Oliver’s secret now.  Is that number going to go down, before the end of this season, or are more people going to find out?
MARC GUGGENHEIM:  I would say that that number is going to go up, before the end of the year.  By the finale, more people will know than currently do.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

GUGGENHEIM:  We talk in the writers’ room a lot about, are there too many characters that know and does it diminish the secret identity?  Where we have come from is the philosophy that, when members of our cast of characters know, it draws them into Oliver’s world and it draws them into the show more.  So, we tend to get more story out of people knowing than people not knowing.  You could say that too many people know, but we always use The Dark Knight trilogy as our compass, and a lot of people knew that Bruce Wayne was Batman, particularly by the third movie, and it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of watching those stories unfold.  Obviously, there are different philosophies and different points of view.  For us, as writers, we always go towards whatever gives us more story, and more interesting story.  For now, at least, certain people knowing is more interesting than certain people not knowing. 

Quentin Lance used to be a detective.  How has he not figured out that Oliver is Arrow?

GUGGENHEIM:  Episode 19 pretty definitively answers that question, as far as Lance is concerned.  And the answer to that will surprise you.  It’s not something that you would expect.

I’m happy to hear they are addressing Lance. After a recent episode in which Lance saw Sara with Oliver and with the Arrow in a couple scenes I could not believe that he did not figure out that they were the same person.

More characters from The Flash will also be introduced in episode 19, The Man Under the Hood.

Hannibal Takiawase

Hannibal stressed a couple of themes this week which are pertinent to the series as a whole: death as an escape and unconventional psychiatric therapy. The first involved both the motives of the killer of the week (well played by Amanda Plummer) and a second storyline in which Hannibal was the villain not for committing a murder but for thwarting Bella’s attempt to die on her own terms. If the coin toss went the other way, would he have had Bella for dinner?

For a moment I thought that perhaps Will was going to win over a new ally but instead it is clear that Hannibal is going to have Beverly for dinner. If only she had taken Will’s claims more seriously, refrained from relating any suspicions to Hannibal, had passed on her suspicions to Jack, and had thought to have backup before falling into his trap.

Will might have lost one potential ally, but he is still not powerless despite being locked up, and now better able to play detective with the return of lost memories. As he does every week, Bryan Fuller discussed the episode with AV Club. Here is an excerpt about Will:

AVC: Will is getting his memories back, and you’re filling in some of the gaps in season one. Was that always the plan? Did you have thoughts of what had actually happened when you were writing last season?

BF: There was, once Will says, “The answers are in my head, and I’m going to find them,” I felt like we were obligated to tell that story and to keep peeling back the onion of his memory, or the pomegranate, as it were, peeling back membranes and finding these clusters of bloody seeds that he has to deal with. We did that with the intubation of the ear, and then we did that with the reveal of, on some level of consciousness, he was aware what was going on in Hannibal’s dining room when Gideon was there, and is able to access that it causes him to seek out Chilton, to see if he can help him answer some of the mysteries that are locked away in his mind. It felt like it was a way to keep Will active. He can’t actually go out to investigate things, as much as he can go in and investigate things, so we needed to have some device for him to continue his investigation. To be active while he’s incarcerated and going inside his mind felt like a really strong way to do that.

AVC: Did you struggle with finding ways for Will to be active?

BF: It was always part of the conversations when we were story-breaking. “Okay, Will’s not active enough. Will has to be driving this.” We are telling Will Graham’s story, so it was very important to seek out those ways to keep him active when he’s incarcerated. That was the big thing: We need to get outdoors and see him in his mind palace fishing to give us a sense of the power of his imagination and also the transportive power of imagination in general. I think we hear from survivors of terrible atrocities, and how they survive is their imagination. It’s such a wonderful gift, and there was a line that we cut from an episode where they talk about how imagination is the greatest virtual-reality machine known to man, and it’s between our ears. It’s that kind of, almost, masturbatory transportation where you can go someplace and make it as real as you need it to be in your mind, even though you’re locked in a cage.

Orphan Black insider video with Tatiana Maslany above. We already have a strong set of genre shows airing now with Arrow, Hannibal, Continuum, and The Americans. Orphan Black might be the best of them all.

Mark Gatiss has discussed the return of the Time Lords of Gallifrey to Doctor Who.

Blastr has the first hints about the third Star Trek movie since the J.J. Abrams reboot. I’m still waiting for a movie in which the original Spock recruits the Enterprise crew to fix the time line and save Vulcan.

The Americans had another great episode. Claudia is back, and they are trying to track down the killer from the first episode. I would assume that the couple who intervened in the final scene were involved. Last week Elizabeth used fear to get information from the poor janitor. This week she used other more womanly techniques for interrogation. Paige created problems again, this time by going to church and getting caught reading a Bible. Plus Nina might be in danger because of Oleg, and Martha might place Philip’s identity at risk. Arrow shows what a superhero show should be and The Americans sets a new bar for spy shows. This makes Agents of SHIELD look so weak in both genres.

Person of Interest Root2

I’ve also highly enjoyed the last couple of episodes of Person of Interest. The first was almost entirely flashback, filling in some major holes to date in the back story. It ended with Root in the present, leading into this week’s episode which was more centered around Amy Acker’s character. She can easily carry the show, just as Dingle could carry an episode of Arrow. I was happy to read in this interview that she will probably be in the remaining episodes this season.  It looks like she has her own team to rival Harold’s, with root more connected to the Machine.

In many ways Person of Interest is increasingly reminding me of Fringe. Both started by concentrating more on monster or case of the week episodes, but overtime the mythology of the show took over. The characters have become increasingly compelling as people beyond operatives. Root is by far my favorite to watch, and I enjoy seeing her developing relationship with Shaw (“I love it when you play doctor.”) At least the two get along better than Root gets along with Fusco, who constantly calls her “Cuckoo’s Nest.”

I am trying hard to avoid any major spoilers on the season premiere of Continuum. Alec’s decision to use time travel has major repercussions, and is moving the show in a new direction. There is finally an answer to the central question of the show, as to whether the time line can be changed.

Now Fox (the network which says it might take a long time to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 because it took us 2000 years to find Noah’s Arc ) is attacking Kristen Bell for saying rich people should pay more because they can afford it. Incidentally, I received my copy of the script and digital download of the Veronica Mars movie last week after donating to the Kickstarter campaign, but have not had time to watch yet.

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Matt Weiner isn’t going to let much out about the upcoming season of Mad Men, but there was a little information at PaleyFest. Here’s what they said about Don Draper:

Don is even more aimless without his job.
Don Draper has had some dark moments, but he’s always had his job to fall back on and obsess over. “His marriage is in trouble, his relationship with his kids is tricky at best, and now work isn’t there,” said Hamm. “Don is trying to process his life and his place in his job, his career, his family, everything.” And he’s made some uncharacteristic mistakes of late, including the disastrous Hershey’s pitch. “That was a completely honest moment for him. He thought, I’m going to try this because it’s a step in the right direction,” said Hamm. “But it was a step in the exact opposite direction.” Don’t dismay, though. Hamm ended on a hopeful note: “There’s one principle to Don: He’s a survivor. He rises to the challenge.”

The Lost show runners discussed the finale at PaleyFest. No, the fan theory which I never believed that they were dead the whole time is not true.

Creationists are angry about Cosmos as Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t providing them with equal time to deny science. Last week’s episode did an excellent job showing how evolution is the foundation of modern biology. As there is tremendous evidence for evolution and zero for creationism, there is no reason to grant the creationists a moment of time (other than perhaps to further debunk their claims).

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Tying Republicans To The Koch Brothers To Campaign Against Plutocracy

Republicans often do a better job of messaging than Democrats, but they make their job much easier by making things up. They don’t care that the economic theories they promote have no relationship to how the economy really works or if the “facts” they use to justify their policies with are frequently false. Democrats have a tougher time explaining the problems caused by an economic system which has increasingly been rigged to transfer wealth to the top one tenth of one percent at the expense of the middle class. Those who do not understand the dangerous degree of concentration of wealth in a tiny plutocracy, and how this harms the entire economy, easily fall for bogus Republican economic arguments and false cries of socialism.

Republicans succeed with phony elevator pitches that they stand for capitalism and limited government. Democrats must stop letting Republicans get away with these misrepresentations. Republicans who promote plutocracy are no more supporters of capitalism than Republicans who support the agenda of the religious right are supporters of limited government. Of course I mean a main street form of capitalism in which people who work can profit from their efforts, as opposed to the Republican false-capitalism of using government to rig the system for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy.

As I noted recently, Democrats have recently been trying to make their case by standing up to the Koch brothers. Besides financing many of the dishonest ads spreading misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, the Koch brothers have made their fortune by taking advantage of government, and then come out with faux cries for libertarianism to protest needed regulations on their business. Greg Sargent explained the Democratic strategy:

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states –  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents. With the law and its author deeply unpopular in these states, Dems can’t really run on any Obama accomplishments. So they need to make these campaigns about the fact that Republican candidates don’t have an actual agenda to boost people’s economic prospects, and indeed are beholden to a broader agenda that has made the problem worse, even as Dems offer a concrete economic mobility agenda of their own. The goal is to boost turnout among Dem constituencies while minimizing losses among the older, blue collar, and rural whites that predominate in these states.

Adding such a framework may help, but there are limitations to the comparison to how Mitt Romney was harmed by the attacks for his actions at Bain. Romney was directly responsible for the actions he performed at Bain. Republican candidates are not directly responsible for the actions of the Koch brothers, and most people have no idea who they are. Democrats need to both explain why voters should oppose this type of policy and make the case that the Republican candidates are also promoting these ideas. I suspect that this might be too complicated for many of the voters the Democrats hope to attract, especially the low-information non-college educated white working class males who I recently discussed here and here, along with others brainwashed by Fox and right wing talk radio. If strategy helps, it will more likely help by motivating more Democrats to turn out as opposed to attracting additional voters.

Maybe this will work, and perhaps the wisdom of this approach will be clearer after it plays out. Unfortunately simpler elevator pitches typically prevail–an explanation of a position which can be explained in the span of an elevator ride. Explain how Republican economic policies are bad for the middle class and lead to economic stagnation. Democrats need to counter trickle down economics with trickle up economics. The rich don’t need any more special favors from government. They are doing quite fine on their own, and when more wealth is given to them, they are less likely to spend it. Instead concentrate on stimulating the economy and keeping more money in the hands of the middle class. The poor and middle class are far more likely to spend a higher percentage of their money, further stimulating the economy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Cosmos For Creationists

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A Fox affiliate in Oklahoma cut the only reference to evolution by cutting out fifteen seconds of the premiere episode of Cosmos. Reportedly this was accidental, just like the eighteen minute gap in the Watergate tapes. The above video shows further editing of Cosmos to appeal to the anti-science right.

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The Battle For Control Of Congress 2014

While the media is increasingly talking about the 2016 presidential election, we have a major election coming up for control of Congress later this year. At present it appears that it is unlikely for the Democrats to take control of the House, and they are now fighting to retain control of the Senate. Predictions that the Republicans will hold the House and possibly take the Senate are based upon historical trends and which Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Of course it is possible to see a break from past trends.

Among the trends causing people to predict this to be a good year for Republicans: minorities and young voters don’t vote as often in off-year elections, a president’s party generally does poorly in the sixth year of the president’s term, a president’s party does poorly when the president has low approval ratings, and a president’s party does poorly when the economy is having difficulties.

On top of this, the Democrats are defending Senate seats in several red states this year, giving the Republicans a chance to pick up some seats. Fortunately the situation is reversed in 2016 with more blue-state Republicans up for reelection. Based upon these fundamentals in a presidential election which is likely to already be more favorable to the party, a Democrat winning the White House should also see a pick up of several Senate seats.

The Republican Party has been working in other ways to pick up votes. They have made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. On the other hand, their history of racism may backfire with the increase in minority voters, possibly turning some southern states blue in the near future. We saw this first in Virginia and to a lesser degree in North Carolina. In the future this could extend to Georgia, Texas, and additional states.

Republicans have an advantage in keeping control of the House as so many House districts are gerrymandered to protect the incumbent. In addition, Democrats tend to be more concentrated in urban areas, meaning that even if more people vote for Democrats than Republicans, the Republicans will win more seats by small margins while Democrats will win a smaller number with bigger majorities. More people voted for Democrats than Republicans in Congressional races in 2012 but the Republicans retained control of the House. It would probably take at least  a seven percent margin of victory for Democrats to take control of the House. Republican representation in the Senate is also exaggerated compared to their level of support due to lesser populated Republican states having the same number of Senators as more populated Democratic states.

There are some things which could throw off the fundamentals this year, but we cannot count on voters suddenly no longer being fooled by the GOP line. At present the Republicans receive far too many votes from low-information white voters. Over time the number of younger voters who receive their fake news from Jon Stewart will overtake the older voters who receive their fake news from Fox.

While Obama’s approval rating is low, Congress has an even lower approval rating. Typically in such situations people like their own Congressman even if they disapprove of Congress. This year polls show that many people also think their own Congressman should be thrown out. Based upon this, I wouldn’t be surprised if more incumbents than usual get upset, but that might not necessarily help the Democrats over Republicans. In addition, more people see the Republicans as being more responsible for gridlock, in contrast to a common false media narrative of treating each party as being equally responsible. Maybe they will surprise the pundits and throw the Republicans out.

Another factor influencing whether predictions based upon the fundamentals must occur is that any competent Democratic strategist is aware of every point here, and the party is doing far more than they did in 2010 to try to change this. They are working to increase turnout among Democratic voters this year. They  have a technological edge both in regards to get out the vote efforts and fund raising. It even appears that the same problems which are placing Republicans at a disadvantage with younger voters is also impacting their ability to recruit young tech savvy political operatives. Besides using their technological advantages over Republicans in getting out the vote efforts, they can  motivate Democratic voters with fear of the consequences of the Republicans taking control of the Senate. Tea Party extremism has led to an end to talk of a grand bargain. Democratic compromises on entitlement programs might have discouraged some voters on the left from turning out for Democrats.

I think Democrats will do better if they can successfully explain the advantages of their policies as opposed to Republican policies. Democratic economic policies turned around the economic collapse caused by Republican economic policies, even if the Republicans have managed to slow recovery with their obstructionist moves, decided upon from the start of Obama’s term. The deficit rolled up by George Bush has dropped considerably since Obama took office. The CBO  projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is near the average level for the past forty years, and a vast improvement from 2009 when the deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP.

Despite early IT problems, which the Obama administration does deserve criticism for, the Affordable Care Act has turned into a tremendous success on a policy level, both in terms of health care reform and its benefits for the economy. Both the Medicare Advantage plans under George Bush and the original Medicare program had early implementation problems which took a couple of years to solve. Of course Republicans will continue to spread unsubstantiated scare stories and it is possible Obama might never received the credit he deserves. Health care premiums will be remain high on the individual market as they were high before Obamacare. Insurance companies will continue to use restricted panels of physicians and hospitals as they did before Obamacare, leaving room for Republicans to blame the Affordable Care Act for problems unrelated to the law.

Other factors could come into play. The Tea Party might oust electable Republicans and replace them with extremist candidates which the Democrats can more easily beat. While doubtful, the Tea Party might force Congressional Republicans into a situation analogous to the government shut-down before the election which reduces public support for Republicans. While it is doubtful it will really alter that many votes, even the changes in the late night comedians could help the Democrats over the Republicans.

The easy prediction is now that the Republicans will keep control of the House and control of the Senate is up for grabs. Depending upon whether the factors discussed above alter the usual fundamentals, we still might wind up seeing the pundits talking about all the reasons they knew we would have a different outcome after the results are known.

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If Obamacare Is So Bad, Why Can’t The Right Wingers Find Real Losers Under Obamacare?

Republicans have trying to scare voters with stories about people who are losers under the Affordable Care Act. They mention them in speeches, run ads about them, and put them on Fox. Each and every time this has happened reporters checking into the facts found that rather than being losers the people turned out to actually be benefiting from Obamacare. Each and every time. Considering how hard they are trying to show that Obamacare is terrible, you would think that if there are actual losers out there  they would find some.

The latest case, which is quite typical of all the others, is put out by Americans For Prosperity in Michigan and makes these claims:

“I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to. It’s heartbreaking for me. Congressman Peters, your decision to vote Obamacare jeopardized my health.”

Glenn Kessler looked into the facts. Once again it turned out that the claims were false. The Republicans are lying yet again.

The patient was able to obtain a plan which her doctor participated in. Her premiums are significantly lower, offsetting the higher out of pocket expenses. She also could have purchased a plan with higher premiums and  lower out of pocket expenses. Compared with her previous plan, the new plan not only has lower premiums and an out-of-pocket maximum, it has better coverage for chemotherapy.

With the right wing groups repeatedly having to lie to make claims that people are being hurt under Obamacare, it has come to the point where Kevin Drum writes he is “beginning to think there’s not actually a single person in America who’s been harmed by Obamacare.” If there were, you would think that the right wing groups would be able to come up with real examples.

The problem for these groups is that the closest thing there really are to losers are upper-income healthy Americans who are paying more for coverage due to not qualifying for subsidies, but also receiving better insurance plans. Hardly a group to make commercials about.

I might be able to claim to be  a loser under Obamacare, but I’m not going to complain about paying a little more in premiums, which I can easily afford.

I received one of those letters that my plan was being cancelled. That wasn’t as terrible as the Republicans make it sound. Blue Cross gave me two choices. I could sign up for a grandfathered plan they were continuing which was similar to my previous plan but with a higher deductible and significantly lower premium. It is also non-compliant with the requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The other choice was to purchase a new plan, which I ultimately did. While technically not true that I would be able to keep my old plan as Obama stated, this is quite a trivial issue to gripe about considering these choices.

For most people, it would also cost less to buy the new plan once the subsidies are taken into account. For those of us who do not qualify for subsidies, the premiums are higher. However the plan covers much more than my previous plan. When I first bought insurance through Blue Cross (changing to them because my previous insurer had raised prices to an incredible degree) there were no plans available on the individual market which covered office calls or prescriptions. The new plan covers both. Blue Cross has also been covering preventative tests for the last couple of years with no out of pocket payments due to the Affordable Care Act. I’ve  been able to keep my daughter on my plan while she is in school, saving more money. In addition, the new plan does not have a lifetime limit on coverage, has limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and cannot be cancelled due to developing medical problems. I bet many people fail to take these important aspects into account when comparing plans under Obamacare to their previous plan.

To recap, I am a loser under the system as long as everyone in my family stays healthy as we are paying more in premiums than before. My story would hardly make a good story for opponents of Obamacare to use. If anyone in my family were to develop serious medical problems, we would have better coverage and in that case pay less out of pocket, which ultimately is the point of insurance.

Other than paying more (and getting more in return) my experience was not at all bad under Obamacare. Yes, there were problems with the computer system at first, but they have been fixed. As I was not applying for subsidies I purchased through the Blue Cross web site instead of healthcare.gov. The first claims from January were paid by the insurance company with no difficulty.

While a small minority of us are paying more, a tremendous number of  people are now able to obtain coverage who could not obtain it in the past because it was too expensive or insurance companies would not cover them due to per-existing medical conditions. I have patients in this situation who could not obtain coverage in the past but have been covered since January. With all the bogus complaints about people losing their coverage, the significant number is that zero people can now be dropped by their insurance because they become sick, and zero people have to fear losing their insurance should they stop working.

On top of all these benefits, the Affordable Care Act will help the economy. The recent Congressional Budget Office Report, frequently distorted by Republicans, shows that the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, help decrease the deficit, and allow more people to leave large corporations to start small businesses. The effects of this freedom from the “insurance trap” cannot be scored in a CBO report, but should provide a tremendous boost to the economy.

The more people understand the Affordable Care Act and see through the lies being spread by the right wing, the more likely they will realize that those who are calling for repeal are not merely engaging in political rhetoric. The ridiculous forty-seven votes by Republican for repeal would cause real  harm to millions of Americans who are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, along with harming the economy if we were to give up the economic benefits of healthcare reform.

Update: Fake Right Wing Claims Of Losers Under The Affordable Care Act

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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