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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Freedom

This week marks the 239th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our free and sovereign nation. We all know well the Declaration's chief passage:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our nation’s philosophical foundation, unique in the history of the world, is reflected in these profound words. The Declaration provides a framework for a vibrant American society by outlining the notions—ever ancient and ever new—of who we are as a people. Rooted in the fundamental concepts of liberty and justice, the United States has grown and prospered across time. Our strength is drawn from our values: the dignity of all persons, the importance of community, and the responsibility of freedom—the cherished first principle of human life.

As we celebrate this Independence Day, we are also reminded that our freedoms are under some duress. Cultural discord, economic hardship, and political dysfunction are wounding our country, and different accounts of how to preserve our freedom often clash harshly in the public square. Some turn to either the government or the market, hoping Washington or Wall Street can solve our problems. While we must work toward both proper government and economic dynamism, the answer to our troubles lies in a third way: promoting a strong society.

Society is the space where individuals can flourish in strong families and communities—the space where liberty is sustained. It is the place where persons can pursue genuine freedom, which is the ability to do what we ought for ourselves and one another. As we navigate a particularly turbulent period of national affairs, we might consider the words of the second stanza of America the Beautiful: "Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law." Freedom is best secured and practiced when it is ordered toward that which is good.

As we spend the holiday with families and loved ones, enjoying the festivals, parades, and fireworks displays in our communities, we celebrate our blessings as Americans: that our home is built on such enduring higher truths. The clear and powerful ideals of the Declaration offer a reminder of our nation's capacity to overcome the greatest challenges. May we remember those who have sacrificed before us and our obligation as citizens to protect and pass forward in time the great virtues of our nation.

I wish you all a happy and safe Independence Day!

About the Author:

JEFF FORTENBERRY has served as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005. He is the Chairperson for the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

He is a member of the following Caucus groups: Civil War Battlefield Caucus - Congressional Biofuels Caucus - Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus - House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus - International Conservation Caucus - Sportsmen's Caucus

Congressman Fortenberry has become the most knowledgeable representative on Capitol Hill for nuclear security issues.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Killjoys" — A Review

After two episodes of the new Syfy Channel series “Killjoys” I think it might be safe to say that if the writers and/or suits doesn't screw this one up then the cable network will have themselves a new hit show somewhere on the order of “Defiance.”

To give an idea of what “Killjoys” is about for those who have yet to view the show, it can be summed up as Browncoats with a license to misbehave and badges to boot.

“Killjoys” follows the escapades of three space-faring bounty hunters. However, the term bounty hunter has been replaced with the title of Killjoys, which seems appropriate to the task they are hired to perform. Killjoys are bound to no individual, no government, no military and no corporation but are an entity totally self-governed and self-policed. Their only allegiance is to tracking and bringing back whatever they have been hired to secure, be it human, animal, tech or just about anything someone or something holds as valuable.

The series stars Aaron Ashmore ("Warehouse 13," "Smallville"), Tamsen McDonough ("Lost Girl," "The Incredible Hulk") and Luke Macfarlane ("The Night Shift"). It is the creation of Michelle Lovretta ("Lost Girl").

I made the comparison to the Joss Whedon series “Firefly” because the first two episodes shown so far have that Whedonesque feel and look to it and unless Syfy pulls a Fox this show should fare better than “Firefly” when it comes to number of episodes and seasons.

I can recommend the series based on what I have seen so far and will continue giving it a chance to improve.

I give “Killjoys” a solid * * * our of 5 Stars.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Supreme Court Decision Reinforces Need for Patient-Centered Solutions in Health Care

This week, the Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated ruling in King v. Burwell. Americans have awaited the Court's decision for months, and many hoped this case could serve as a needed check on the Obama administration's health care overreach. Unfortunately, the Court dealt a setback to both the rule of law and the American people by ruling in favor of the administration.

In King v. Burwell, the Court had to determine whether the insurance subsidies provided by the President's health care law to those who purchased plans on the federal exchange were unlawful. The law as written says subsidies are available to individuals who purchase insurance through state exchanges, but the administration expanded these subsidies to include those who purchased insurance from federally-operated Healthcare.gov.

By a 6-3 ruling, the Court upheld Obamacare's subsidies. I am disappointed with the Court's decision, and I remain committed to finding solutions for Nebraskans who are suffering under Obamacare's regulations, price increases, and broken promises.

President Obama insists his health care law is working, but he chooses to ignore the millions of Americans struggling to pay rising premiums and all those who lost their insurance after being told they could keep it. Despite my multiple inquiries to the administration, there is still no resolution for the 80,000 Nebraskans impacted by CoOportunity Health's liquidation. This certainly does not reflect a working law.

The collapse of CoOportunity Health, a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan created under the President's health care law, left tens of thousands of Nebraskans once again searching for insurance with even fewer options. At a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, I raised questions about CoOportunity Health with Julie McPeak, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Tennessee's Community Health Alliance, also an Obamacare Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan, was given permission to suspend enrollment when warning signs of insolvency arose. For unknown reasons, CoOportunity Health was not allowed to do the same. I am still working to get answers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as to why this happened and what can be done to help those impacted by this Obamacare failure.

In the meantime, I will also continue working to roll back Obamacare's regulations and restore consumer choice in health care. Over the past couple weeks, the House has passed two major health care reforms which I cosponsored and supported in my role on the Ways and Means Committee. One of these bills, the Protecting Seniors' Access to Medicare Act, would repeal Obamacare's Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to prevent a panel of unelected bureaucrats from determining the types of care seniors can receive. Secondly, the Protect Medical Innovation Act would repeal the medical device tax and encourage investment in life-saving medical advancements. These bills have been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Though the King v. Burwell ruling is a setback, it only reinforces the need to find patient-centered solutions for the issues Americans across the country are facing with their health care. In the wake of the Court's decision, we will continue our efforts to help those impacted by Obamacare's rising insurance costs, burdensome regulations, and bureaucratic mismanagement.

About the Author:

Congressman Adrian Smith from Nebraska serves on the Committee on Ways and Means. Congressional Rural Caucus (Chair), Congressional Rural Veterans Caucus (Chair), Modern Agriculture Caucus (Chair), Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, Congressional Western Caucus and Congressional General Aviation Caucus.

Smith has been noted for his consistent voting against tax increases, massive government bailouts, and in his opposition of the affordable healthcare act (aka ObamaCare) which is creating massive uncertainty for our nation's job creators.

Smith, a co-sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment and a supporter of a Congressional earmark moratorium, has earned a reputation as a solid conservative through his votes to protect the rights of gun owners, efforts to limit the scope of government, and his strong pro-life voting record.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Advantageous" - A Film Review

I was able to catch a limited Netflix screening of a new science fiction film written by Jacqueline Kim and Jennifer Phang titled “Advantageous.” Kim produces and stars as the film’s protagonist named Gwen. Phang directed the feature. Kim is best known by sci-fi fans as Demora Sulu, the daughter of Captain Hikaru Sulu of Star Trek fame. The film co-stars James Urbaniak (Agent Carter), Jennifer Ehle (Fifty Shades of Grey), Ken Jeong (Hangover) and Freya Adams (The Slap).

“Advantageous” follows Gwen and her 13-year old daughter played by Samantha Kim as they face a more than likely future of hardship and poverty after Gwen loses her high profile job with a health and plastic surgery conglomerate. She once held the position of spokesperson for the plastic surgery division but with the onset of middle age the company is looking to replace her with a younger face to reach that growing demographic.

Although this near-future society is quite opulent the decline is beginning to set in even though humankind has reached its zenith in technological advancement. However, with more and more jobs now being performed by robotic human-like androids work is becoming more scarce. With few openings available women in the workplace are becoming a rarity with all the advancements women had achieved over the last 100 years prior to this age being dwindled away with more women joining the ranks of the unemployed and homelessness. Only those women lucky enough to be self-employed in a business that still has demand are free from the overshadowing economic hardship. Gwen, being an employee of a large corporation now finds herself among the unemployable.

To make it even harder for Gwen, her daughter is a virtual genius and highly gifted artist with a promising future if able to attend the best schools. However, the cost is now totally prohibited and without the right connections almost impossible to surmount those hallowed halls of advance learning.

All this leads Gwen to make a decision that will drastically and forever change her relationship and close-knit bond with her daughter but will ensure her daughter a future unfettered by the growing problems now being shared by most women in society.

“Advantageous” isn't your typical science fiction film found coming out of Hollywood these days. There are no over-the-top special effects, except perhaps the downtown skyscrapers that have beautiful cascading waterfalls oozing from their top floors — that was pretty cool. There are no big explosions, aliens invading, or outer space adventures. This is one of those rare kind of sci-fi movies that is designed for the thinking person looking to have their mind and heart challenged without the need to put aside their rational brain. Even the concept of the transference process revealed in the movie isn't beyond logical comprehension.

I liked this movie. It was well written, exquisitely delivered. Jacqueline Kim was exceptional. Even though the film moves at a snail’s pace in some parts it more than makes up for that with real thought provoking ideas about humanity, its future and relationships in a highly technological society.

I give “Advantageous” * * * 1/2 out of 5 Stars.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Sense8" - A Review

There are times in life when a work of art from a piece of music, a film, episodic television, novel or on the canvas can make such an impact on a person that it literally alters their thinking making that person reevaluate certain preconceived notions, or even set their mind on a completely different path. These times are so rare that in the lifetime of an individual they can usually be counted on one hand.

Until recently there were three such times in my own personal life in which something I read and viewed changed my way of thinking and life’s course. The first occurred when I was still quite young, eight or nine years old. It was an episode of a Playhouse 90 special in the 1950’s. This weekly program was an anthology series on CBS with a new episode each week presenting entertainment and thought provoking stories using famous actors like Charlton Heston or Kim Hunter. On this one particular episode it dealt with racism in a New York ghetto in which a young Puerto Rican boy of about 12 or so was accused of rape and murder, a crime he never committed but was hanged in a back alley by a vengeful, racist crowd who were his own neighbors. This was my first awakening to the shame and destructive hatred racism presents and forever altered my thinking so that it would never play a negative role in my own life.

The second life altering experience happened at age 14 while reading a copy of “All Quiet on the Western Front” in my high school library. The stark realism that book painted of war allowed me to never see the glory in the gory bloodbath of battle with human beings pinned against each other over such trivial matters.

The third and, until most recently, last event to change my life was watching Stanley Kubrick’s feature cinematic adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel ”2001: A Space Odyssey.” My view of the universe and the unlimited possibilities for life beyond the confines of this small blue planet took on an expanded panoramic design as a result of seeing that movie in 1968.

It’s been a long trip from 1968 until now (2015) and I haven't had anything near the metamorphose that these three artistic events made in my existence. There have been many that came close. Many that held out the promise. However, nothing so cultivating.

That is until now.

I just finished watching J. Michael Straczynski’ and The Wachowskis' Netflix series “Sense8.” I didn't binge watch this one like I do with so many other Netflix, Hulu or Amazon offerings. After viewing the first episode I was immediately aware of the jewel this show would be and instinctively knew that this piece of art was something that would need to be absorbed slowly, deliberately, delicately and with purpose. Straczynski has always been one of my favorite writers but what he has created with “Sense8” is more than good or even great, it is quite literally a character-driven masterpiece into the human psyche.

His sense of what makes for interesting television and movie making has never been lost on him as “Babylon 5,” “Changeling” and “Jeremiah” have proven. And, as good as those may have been they are like the work of a third grader compared to the genius found in “Sense8.”

These first 12-episodes of season one should be held up as a university master class in writing, character development, story building, arching and knowing exactly when and where not to place the action.

“Sense8” from its opening musical theme to its closing credits is one of those rarities that when it is over you are left sitting still staring at the screen with your mind fixated on what your eyes just saw, ears just heard and brain tried to comprehend.

Unlike many other popular shows the discussion around the water cooler the next day won’t be about this or that action or sex scene but will revolve completely about how this character interacted with that one and how the exquisite dialogue between them elevated the thought processes of you, the viewer.

My only complaint about this show is the first season was limited to 12 episodes. I could have watched 12 more and then 12 more. Season two cannot come soon enough.

I give “Sense8” * * * * * out of 5 Stars.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Remembering Christopher Lee

A legend of film and stage has made his last curtain call. Sir Christopher Lee, best known for his villainous roles in horror and science fiction has died at the age of 93.

One of the most prolific actors in the business Lee began his career in 1946 on British television after serving in the military during World War II but soon found himself in great demand on the big screen and the London stage. With well over 200 film and TV appearances Lee's face and powerful Shakespearean bravado is one of the most recognizable on the planet.

Some of his most famous performances include early television programs such as “Tales of Hans Andersen,” “Rheingold Theatre,” “The Errol Flynn Theatre” and “Assignment Foreign Legion.” It was on these early 1940’s and 1950’s British television shows that Lee honed his craft which would eventually move him onto the big screen where he became one of the most unique and sought after talents in the industry.

His first real creature feature was 1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein,” a film that gave him a flair for horror that would never leave him. From there he went on to star in “Horror of Dracula,” “Corridors of Blood,” “The Mummy,” “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” and so many other classic fright films.

By the early 1960’s he started becoming recognizable by American audiences and made several televised appearances in the colonies like the award winning series “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” Then came the film that would forever set him in the archives. In 1965 he starred as the lead character in “The Face of Fu Manchu” and his path was set. He went on to star in several Fu Manchu sequels cementing his place as one of the kings of the genre.

By the mid 1970’s Lee’s name became synonymous with horror films right up there with Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and longtime British friend and actor Peter Cushing.

In 1974 he received another big boost to his career that allowed him to move away from pure horror into the category of film villain when he took the role of Scaramanga in the James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun.”

Even more success was to follow Lee in the latter half of his life with roles in such iconic franchise films like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies, as well as his unforgettable role of Count Dooku for the Star Wars films and animated television series.

Lee was the recipient of various awards including a BAFTA Film award, an ACCA, Bram Stoker and Cinema for Peace Awards, just to name a few.

Sir Christopher Lee will be greatly missed by all those who loved watching him do what he did best - performing.