Friday, December 26, 2014

"The Walking Dead" Prequel Gets Leads

Cliff Curtis (Live Free or Die Hard, Gang Related) now has his leading lady for the prequel to AMC’s highly praised and rating’s buster “The Walking Dead.” Actress Kim Dickens, best known for her roles in “Deadwood,” “Sons of Anarchy (SOA)” and the much touted Ben Affleck film “Gone Girl” will star opposite Curtis as both a work companion and future love interest.

This, as yet untitled prequel, takes place shortly before the outbreak that caused normal people to turn into flesh-eating zombies and explores the origins of whatever it was, who is behind, and why the zombie apocalypse was allowed to spread unhindered.

Co-writer Dave Erickson sought out Dickens for the role after working with her on SOA. Dickens’ character is married with two children and works with Curtis’ character at a local school. They become entangled after the strange disappearance of her husband. She is left with one child battling drug addiction (Frank Dillane) and another (Alycia Debnam Carey) on the fast-track to great collegian accomplishments. The Curtis character, named Sean Cabrera, also has a son from his first marriage (yet to be cast). The entanglements of all these interrelationships become the backdrop behind the search for understanding the zombie outbreak.

The prequel is currently in its early stages of development with several other peripheral but important roles yet to be cast. However, with the choice of the two leads of Curtis and Dickens head writers and show-runners Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson are now free to set the pilot in full forward gear. Indie film and TV director Adam Davidson (Hell On Wheels) has been given the nod to helm the first episode.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

“Star Trek 3″ Opens July 2016

Amidst the recent controversy surrounding the next big screen Star Trek film Paramount Pictures has announced the release date for “Star Trek 3.”

Many are excited about this third entry in the alternate Trek timeline because the crew of the Enterprise will finally be able to begin its big five year mission into deep space exploration for new adventures and first contact with new civilizations.

This third film will also mark a very important milestone in the life of the famous Trek franchise as it marks its 50th Anniversary since first warping into living rooms in 1966.

Fans were also thrilled that the direction for the franchise was being placed into the hands of someone other than J.J. Abrams and into those of Roberto Orci. Orci, among all those closely associated with Abrams is the most knowledgable and familiar with the original vision of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and it was thought that he may be the one man who could return Star Trek back to more cerebral plots and move it away from the Star War elements introduced by Abrams in the first two films with the new actors portraying those iconic characters of Kirk and company. At least it was hoped that Orci would get rid of those torturous lens flares his boss was so fond of.

Alas, soon after the announcement from Paramount that Orci would sit in the director’s chair he was removed citing creative differences. On Tuesday the studio announced they had found Orci’s replacement with director Justin Lin. Orci will stay on as producer along with Abrams.

Justin Lin is most remembered for his directing of the last four “Fast and Furious” films, so this may be Paramount’s way of saying they liked the direction Abrams has taken the franchise and want to continue in that vane, that is, less cerebral and more Star Warsey action and bang bang.

A financial argument can certainly be made for keeping the direction that Abrams began since the first two films have been the highest grossing Trek movie projects in its entire five decade history on the small and big screen. “Star Trek” and its sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness” have grossed close to a billion dollars (USD) worldwide which is likely, at least for the time being, to put an end to the more intellectually driven Star Trek that nearly three generations of fans have come to love about the show.

“Star Trek 3” directed by Justin Lin will hit theaters on July 8, 2016.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Alien Rising" A Film Review

Henriksen is brilliant as always but Hathaway lacks appeal

Alien Rising (original title “Gemini Rising”) is a new sci-fi/horror feature film from director Dana Schroeder (Lost Soul) and screenwriters Michael Todd (Stop It, You're Killing Me) and Kenny Yakkel (Dead Air).

The cast for Alien Rising is impressive in its own right. Lance Henriksen (Alien 3, Millennium) has top billing and award winning actor John Savage (Deer Hunter, The Godfather III) while having limited screen time tries to make it work. The female lead is Amy Hathaway who has had guest shots in several popular television shows including “Castle,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Closer.” Her movie resume is less impressive with small roles in Bradgelina’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Courage Under Fire.” Ms. Hathaway is well suited for these smaller film and guest roles but carrying an entire movie proved a bit tasking for her in Alien Rising.

The film centers around Hathaway’s character, an ex-DEA/Homeland Security agent forced into early retirement after the tragic death of her partner and mentor (Savage). She blends into normal society as a ballet instructor but is eventually pulled back, against her will, into undercover work to find the secrets behind some E.T. technology on a remote military island outpost.

Schroeder spared no expense in bringing top grade special effects and graphics to the movie but he should have paid a tad more attention to the script dialogue and film editing. That is where, along with Hathaway’s acting, he should have concentrated his efforts. Oh…and he also needed to remove the constant and grating narration from Hathaway that permeates throughout the film.

Because of that failure from the film’s director Alien Rising never quite rises to the level of a halfway decent scifi production. I’m sorry to say that despite the stellar acting abilities of a veteran like Henriksen and the cool opening sequence SFX Alien Rising doesn’t rise to the level of a “must see” film, not even for die-hard science fiction aficionados.

On a scale of 1 to 10 Alien Rising barely makes a 3.

This trailer for Alien Rising is far more attractive than the actual film:

Wave Elections: What They Mean

We have had a wave election. For those of a conservative disposition, it is a satisfying wave. According to Michael Barone, speaking recently here at Hillsdale’s Kirby Center, this wave is like several recent wave elections in its magnitude and decisiveness. There was a wave in favor of the Republicans in 1980 and again in 1994. There was a wave in favor of the Democrats in 2006 and again in 2008. There was a wave for the Republicans in 2010. There was a stalemate in 2012. Now there is a Republican wave in 2014. Looked at one way, these waves appear more like tides, ebbing and flowing.

These waves have something to do with a change in opinion over the last 50 years. Increasingly large majorities of the people consistently profess themselves afraid of their government. They think it too big. They think it does not account to them—that it is beyond their control and does not operate with their consent. They think it should be smaller, even if that means they receive fewer services. It seems that the growth of government has not made people feel safe and happy.

Nonetheless, two of the recent waves elected people who support larger government, and Americans continue to depend upon government more than ever. At all levels, government consumes something close to 40 percent of the economy, not even counting regulatory costs, which are nearing $2 trillion. People seem to be groping for a solution to this, and they do not seem to think they have found it.

This picture is not unprecedented. In the period leading up to the American Revolution, loyalists or Tories contested with revolutionaries, and these two groups alternated having the upper hand between 1763 and 1776, and even later, after the war had begun. The people were making up their minds about something fundamental, and a consensus was slow in forming.

In the period before the Civil War, there were those who advocated destroying slavery in the slave states, where the national government’s constitutional authority to do so was weak or nonexistent. There were others who supported slavery where it existed, and even the extension of slavery into new regions. Others still would find some compromise that would do the least dramatic possible thing. And then there was the new Republican party, founded to stop slavery’s expansion and seek a constitutional path to its eventual abolition. This too was a fundamental question, and it took a long time and eventually much blood to decide it.

This controversy over slavery grew up in the course of one generation. One may mark it by two of the most important statutes in American history—the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Northwest Ordinance brought the territory that became Michigan and other states into the Union, and it was the first time that a government like ours, ours being the first such government, had grown. It did not choose to grow by establishing colonies, but rather by treating the citizens of the new regions as full citizens as quickly as they could get organized. The Northwest Territory had belonged to Virginia, and Virginia, a slave state, on the motion of Thomas Jefferson, a slave holder, gave the land to the Union for free on condition only that there be no slavery allowed in it at any time. Although Virginia also insisted on a provision to return escaped slaves from Virginia back to their servitude, the document must be read as a sign of a consensus about slavery. We have it, those early Americans said, and we do not know what to do about it, but we know that it is wrong and should not be extended elsewhere. Many in the Founding generation stated this, often in beautiful terms. And eight states either abolished slavery or set up laws for gradual emancipation relatively quickly after the Revolution.

A generation later, Missouri was to come into the Union, and the Senate was evenly balanced between slave and free states. A compromise was necessary because the slave states insisted upon keeping that balance by admitting as many slave states as free states. Not long after that, agitation began to extend slavery even further into the vast territory still not incorporated as states. At the same time, the argument began to appear that slavery was in fact a good thing, based on the idea that some human beings had evolved to a state of superiority over others. The principle that “all men are created equal,” the very basis of American liberty in the Declaration of Independence, was condemned by a U.S. Senator from Indiana as “a self-evident lie.”

This dispute had something in common with the dispute with the king during the Revolution. In 1776, the king had a message from the throne distributed across the lines in Boston to the American Army. He was confident that this would make them abandon the cause of Revolution. He made the argument that he was born to be king by divine right, and that his children must obey him for the same reasons he, occupying his station of nobility, was obliged to care for them. The Declaration of Independence had said that no one may be rightly governed except by his consent because “all men are created equal.” The king understood his position to be built upon the opposite notion. But the American troops besieging Boston, whose enlistments were soon to expire, reenlisted in vast numbers in rejection of the king and in support of the Declaration. Soon enough the whole country followed.

Our times are like these previous times in terms of the alternation and number of political waves. But is there a principle at stake today that is as deep as the one that divided the nation in those two fateful periods?

* * *

The left and some on the right, in both political parties in America, have styled themselves “progressive” for more than 100 years. Progress to them is a process of history. In that process, people and peoples are transformed and can be elevated. Time and circumstance define the being of man and of everything else. This process of social evolution makes our grandest universal statements in any time not really universal, but merely products of their own time. When the Declaration of Independence says, “all men are created equal,” it understands itself to be asserting an abiding and universal fact. When it appeals to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” it refers to laws above the authority of man and continuing without fail through all time and everywhere. Progressives understand such laws as only time-bound assertions, the product of prevailing circumstances. Early Progressives were fond of saying that those universal assertions were good things for their time, and history was made better for them, even though they were wrong at the time in their claims of being universal. They can have permanence, by this way of thinking, only if they can assume new meanings as new circumstances arise.

For Progressives, we discover the real truth about these matters by a certain kind of scientific inquiry, an inquiry into history. And once we begin that inquiry, it becomes sovereign. If everything is to change, and we are simply creatures of that change, we can win our freedom by taking control of the process of change. Guided by highly-trained people, scientists and social scientists, we can direct the society to become a new society, its people a new people. The work of these scientific people is very important, perhaps even sovereign. They have a standing independent of the will of the governed, previously thought self-governing by nature. These scientists are the makers of the future, and in making the future the people are the subject of their experiments.

Since the wave election last month, we have been treated to videos of Professor John Gruber, an MIT social scientist. He has been dining out since 2010 on his experience as one of the “architects of Obamacare.” He was paid, at last count, $400,000 by the federal government, and something over $1.5 million by several state governments in aggregate to practice his architecture. Now he is on video telling the story. The architects of Obamacare figured out that if they described the health care law as it was, the American people would not go for it. They are “stupid,” in Professor Gruber’s estimation. They are stupid at least in this respect: If the complex bill could be called something other than it was, then the bill could pass and people could be introduced to its wonders. They would be able to enjoy those wonders only through experience, as they lacked the intelligence to figure it out in advance.

Dr. Gruber apologized when the initial video appeared, but since then several other videos have surfaced that show him saying the same thing on other occasions. This means that conversations like the ones he describes were going on among many people, apparently one of them in the White House with President Obama, at the time of the bill’s passage. And the videos of his speeches mean that there are many people, generally highly educated people, who enjoy stories like this, pay Mr. Gruber when he tells them, and respect him for his achievement. To these people, the passage of Obamacare is apparently a delightful episode in American history.

Nor is this an isolated achievement. The Dodd-Frank law sets up a power in the federal government to investigate anyone and everyone who lends money to any consumer. The agency that performs these investigations gets its budget directly from the Federal Reserve, and the Congress is forbidden by its own statute, signed by the President, to inquire into the agency’s budget. This is a perfect example of a violation of separation of powers that the Constitution was written to prevent. There are many others.

Now the President has legalized the residence here of several million people who have entered the nation illegally. Immigration and illegal immigration are of course tangled and difficult issues. There are so many illegals, and many of them have been here for a long time. Many of them have children, and the children are citizens under the current reading of the Constitution (there have been others). The President himself spoke about amnesty by executive order to a Hispanic group called La Raza, which means “The Race”: saluting by race and categorizing by race have reached epidemic proportions in our country. Obama was pressed by La Raza, as he has been by many others, to provide amnesty by his authority alone. He replied in his La Raza speech, “I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books.” “Believe me,” he continued, “the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. . . . [But] that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.” Now he has changed his mind, however, and has done what the Constitution, by his previous admission, prohibits.

There are many reasons why one must sympathize with illegal immigrants and their children. There are many reasons to rue the generation or two of bad policy that has admitted them here, designed and implemented by people who simultaneously failed to make the case for a wide immigration policy, legally sanctioned, that pays attention to ability to work and emphasizes the practices and beliefs that constitute the United States. But now that we have this situation, it must be resolved by constitutional processes. These are specifically contrived to include everyone in the debate and to make decisions over time, not suddenly and not partially. To circumvent those, which by his own words President Obama has said executive amnesty would do, is to circumvent the only system of self-government that we have.

Of course there is a partisan aspect to all of this for both political parties. The President appeared at a gathering of La Raza because he was courting the votes of Hispanics, who are growing in number, and who vote more heavily for his party than the other. There is a well-developed and heavily-funded strategy to win a majority based in part upon this fact. That means that the President has an interest in amnesty, and so does his party. This fact reminds one of the actions of the British king, cited in the Declaration of Independence, to expand the territory of the British government in Quebec in 1774, and to give that government more control over territory previously associated with the American colonies. He gave it control of much of the Northwest Territory, eventually the subject of the Northwest Ordinance. The king was picking the constituency that he wanted, and by this means, our Founders thought, he was circumventing the will of the people.

These issues are of concern to Hillsdale College for several reasons. There is the fact that we were founded, as every old liberal arts college was founded, to study the nature of man, his place in the order of creation, and his relationship to God and to the other creatures. It was organized to find the good of each kind of being, especially the human being. This work, much more than any contemporary political question, is the heart of the work of the College and its main substance.

Because of this work, the College was founded in loyalty to the principles and institutions of this country. Its oldest building was dedicated on the Fourth of July, and this is one of many testimonies to this loyalty, some of them written in blood. America’s Founders believed, and the founders of our College agreed, that the regime of freedom was the best to protect the ability of each to seek his virtues, moral and intellectual, and especially wisdom and the knowledge of God. These activities cannot be commanded in detail from above.

Another reason we care about these matters is because we wish to continue as we have always done, according to the mission explained in our founding document. We wish to continue to teach the moral and intellectual virtues, which include the personal, the family, and the civic virtues, and which include the pursuit of prudence and wisdom. We wish to continue to teach that the family, established in nature and established in the same way in faith, is the best way to raise children, and the raising of children is necessary to the well-being of everyone in every generation, young, middle aged, and old. And if the current political trends continue, of replacing constitutional processes and self-government with administrative or bureaucratic command and control, the activities we have continued to pursue here for 170 years will be endangered.

* * *

We look back through the past and through the great books, old and new, and wonder what solution can be found to this crisis. It turns out that there are examples both of thinking and of acting that can help guide us. We require today a devotion to two things that are on the surface contrary. The first of them is constitutionalism, and the second is statesmanship.

It is obvious why these do not seem to go together. The work of statesmen is only a sharp example of something we all must do daily. We hold convictions that are elevated above practical circumstances, but we must apply those convictions amidst the pressures of the day. We compromise all the time: Shall we see our child’s basketball game or shall we go to the meeting at work? It is necessary to spend time with one’s children, and it is necessary to earn and provide for them. Our ends come into conflict all the time. Statesmen are people unusually adept at finding ways to get the best and avoid the worst, and constantly they adapt and compromise.

Constitutions on the other hand are grand laws written a long time ago. They get in the way all the time, and statesmen constantly have reasons to be impatient with them. Any list of the most influential heads of state in the 20th century has to include the names of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. They are not famous for their constitutionalism, but for being tyrants. The greatest opposite example in the 20th century is found in the remarkable career of Winston Churchill, which I have been privileged to study. The British Constitution, and for that matter the American, are among his favorite themes. He served them faithfully through his more than 50 years of active political life, through war such as has never been seen, and also through unprecedented economic depression.

These two solutions, constitutionalism and statesmanship, come together then in the careers of certain remarkable people. On the one hand they are good at getting power, and on the other hand they are quick to give it back and to set examples that serve to distribute power long after them. One need think only of George Washington and his repeated resignations from office just at the moment when he had gained such credibility that some called for him to become king. If you want to see a contemporary example, watch the victory speech of the newly-elected U.S. Senator from my home state of Arkansas, who spoke of the need to find ways for our government to address our many problems, including those of the poor and the weak, while still running the government under the Constitution so that the people can control it, and not it the people.

Although we have plenty to worry about in the management of the College that stems from these great trends, still we see reason to hope for more waves in the direction of the Constitution. Our crisis may be grave and threatening, and yet it cannot be worse than others we have survived in the past. Those others can supply a guide to us today. And just like the pursuit of wisdom, so the life under free and constitutional rule is a beautiful life, and it sings to the heart of every man and woman.

This was adapted from a speech delivered on December 5, 2014, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C. and reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

ABOUT the AUTHOR:

LARRY P. ARNN is the twelfth president of Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. from Arkansas State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in government from the Claremont Graduate School. From 1977 to 1980, he also studied at the London School of Economics and at Worcester College, Oxford University, where he served as director of research for Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill. From 1985 until his appointment as president of Hillsdale College in 2000, he was president of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.

He is the author of Liberty and Learning: The Evolution of American Education; The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution; and Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government (forthcoming).

Friday, December 12, 2014

Addressing Illegal Immigration‏

Illegal immigration is one of the many issues Congress needs to address. Not only are millions of people in our country without legal status, but there has been a surge of unaccompanied, undocumented children crossing our border this year.

We are a nation of immigrants. Nearly every aspect of our nation, our culture, and our economy has been shaped by those who immigrated here and their descendants. However, illegal immigration poses a risk to our national security, burdens our communities, and threatens children who are often forced to cross an increasingly dangerous border alone.

The President’s recent executive orders are not a solution to the problem of illegal immigration; in fact, they will likely make the problem worse. History has shown granting amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants only encourages others to break our immigration laws.

Several states including Nebraska are fighting back by suing the President for overreaching his authority. I signed an amicus brief this week in support of the case. I also voted in favor of legislation in the House which would prohibit the President from deferring deportation of undocumented immigrants.

The House also passed a government funding bill this week which limits funding to the Department of Homeland Security to early next year. This legislation removes the threat of a government shutdown and will allow Congress to debate the President’s amnesty plan next year when Republicans control both the House and Senate.

The executive orders make it more difficult for Congress to address this problem in a bipartisan way. The President has made no effort to work with Congress to address this problem. Instead he has acted unilaterally while insisting the House forgo its role in the legislative process and rubber stamp a Senate-passed bill.

The President’s failure to perform his Constitutional duty to enforce laws undermines our system of government and reinforces the gridlock plaguing Washington. Solutions will require both sides to work through regular order to come to an agreement.

Until we are able to come to an agreement, there are steps we should take to improve national security and protect the children coming to our country. For example, providing notification to states when unaccompanied minors are placed there. There was no notification to the State of Nebraska when more than 200 minors were moved to the state this year – even though the state is responsible for the well-being and education of these children.

This week, I testified on H.R. 5129, legislation I introduced which would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to give states advanced notice when unaccompanied minors are to be placed in the state. This legislation would be a small but important step to addressing the problem of illegal immigration, but much more will need to be done to protect children, secure our border, and restore the balance of power in Washington.

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.

Small Business

You might remember a Nebraskan named Jim Clifton, the head of the Gallup organization. When I visited with Jim recently in Washington, he told me about some fascinating new statistics from his book Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder. One important—and alarming—figure showed that the small business birth rate is lower than the death rate. In other words, we are entering an entrepreneurial winter.

The market works at its best in the microenterprise sector. Small businesses embody the values that are essential for a healthy and humane economy: competition and collaboration, innovation and interdependency, hard work and responsibility. In a marketplace with a vibrant small business ecosystem, people with ideas, talents, and willingness to take risks can translate dreams into realities and receive the just rewards of a job well done. They launch ventures and in turn hire others—a constructive cycle that creates most jobs in our country.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurial efforts have suffered since the 2008 financial crisis. In the aftermath of that seismic market disruption, big businesses have fared much better than smaller entities, which confront the dual challenges of government overreach and globalization. Regulations disproportionately harm small businesses, decreasing the nation’s capacity to generate opportunity and harming the financial prospects of many families.

Rebuilding a market that delivers widespread opportunity and ownership requires a secure foundation: a revivified small business landscape. Bigger entities can naturally result from economies of scale and make a major contribution to our wellbeing, but our attention must be refocused on smaller competitors. Empowering new ventures to succeed must be the focal point of efforts to enhance the market. Small businesses are driven by talented, motivated individuals who deeply own—in the full sense of the word—the work of their hands. Persons who start their own local companies are excited by their work, integrated into their communities, and provide opportunities for others.

While other areas of the country have lost jobs, Nebraska has maintained a strong entrepreneurial subculture. There is a fascinating array of small tech startups, ag ventures, and manufacturers in our state. For young people, encouraging initiatives are directing entrepreneurial talent and developing natural skills and abilities, including the 4-H Entrepreneurial Program, the Lincoln Public Schools partnership with Southeast Community College, the Future Business Leaders of America, and Junior Achievement, among others. But there is a gap. As Jim Clifton points out, we do a great job of measuring athletic talent and intellectual giftedness. We do not measure the potential for entrepreneurial achievement, which is a measurement that cuts across race and gender. Our economic success depends on it.

Washington should take notice. America’s government must advance public policies that encourage and support small business owners. But legislation alone is not the answer. The keys to entrepreneurial success include proper formation, access to capital, technology, other persons who can help businesses succeed—and of course a demand for the product. Using these keys to unlock the dynamism of our small business sector will reinforce robust local economies, galvanizing community interdependence and refilling our social capital bank account.

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.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sixth Doctor Who to Appear in Star Trek Continues

Colin Baker Moves From TARDIS to Enterprise

Star Trek Continues announced Colin Baker from Doctor Who will be the next special guest star for episode 4 of the online Star Trek series. Colin will bridge the gap between the two most iconic series of all time.

Colin Baker made his bones in British television acting in series and special presentations such as “The Roads To Freedom,” the BBC production of “War and Peace,” “Blake’s 7,” “The Citadel,” and many more.

However, in 1984 he shot to stardom and became a household name when he took on the role of one of the most iconic characters in television history, Doctor Who. He starred in the series as a guest actor during the Peter Davison era and then moved into the TARDIS one year later as the newly regenerated Time Lord. From 1984 to 1986 he was The Doctor. After his stint he continued portraying the sixth Doctor on stage, audio productions and in special Doctor Who anniversary editions and documentaries.

After Doctor Who Baker has continued his career as a fine actor in television appearances and films like “D’Artagnan et les trois mousquetaires,” “The Harpist,” “Shadows of a Stranger,” and others. He is also a writer and journalist.

Now Baker will lend his extensive acting skills on the set of Star Trek Continues. Actress Nakia Burrise (Hart of Dixie, Power Rangers Zeo) has also signed on to star opposite Baker for the upcoming fourth episode of the series.

Obama Has Lost His Way - If He Ever Had It

This is one screwed up dude with a very warped sense of what is good and bad - right and wrong.

Rumors that the White House is contemplating sanctions against Israel even as Obama refuses to approve further sanctions against Iran has a lot of people in Israel and the US concerned.

It begs the question: Why are Jewish apartments more dangerous than Iranian nuclear bombs?

You can read the full story HERE

Friday, December 5, 2014

New Bond Title Revealed

James Bond 007 Comes Face To Face With "SPECTRE"

James Bond Producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have revealed the name for the 24th James Bond adventure -- drumroll please -- "SPECTRE."

The film, from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, is directed by Sam Mendes and will see the return of Daniel Craig in his fourth outing as the iconic spy created by Ian Fleming with the code moniker of James Bond 007.

Returning with Craig are Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw is new Q and Rory Kinnear. Guest stars include Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci and Andrew Scott.

"SPECTRE" will see a sleek new Aston Martin for Bond. The DB10 was created exclusively for the film (See the attached video).

Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the story involves a cryptic message from Bond’s past that sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind "SPECTRE."

Principal photography begins Monday, December 8 at Pinewood Studios, and on location in London, Mexico City, Rome and Tangier and Erfoud, in Morocco. Bond will return to the snow once again, this time in Sölden, along with other Austrian locations, Obertilliach, and Lake Altaussee.

Commenting on the announcement, Wilson and Broccoli said, “We're excited to announce Daniel’s fourth installment in the series and thrilled that Sam has taken on the challenge of following on the success of "SKYFALL" with 'SPECTRE'.”

"SPECTRE" is set for global release on November 6, 2015.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II "Mind-Sifter"

BE PREPARED FOR A NEW KIND OF CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK

Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II has finally released its long awaited and equally long overdo next episode. In fact, this episode titled “Mind-Sifter” wasn't originally to be introduced until the episode “The Holiest Thing” was unveiled, however, due to production issues the reordering was required. Which is rather cool since this kind of thing happened from time to time in TOS. The first episode featuring William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk was actually aired second when the show premiered in the 1960’s. So Trek fans are no strangers to this kind of occurrence.

Now to “Mind-Sifter.” This is the first full episode in which James Cawley, the creator and Executive Producer of New Voyages doesn’t appear as Captain Kirk. He has stepped down from the bridge in order to further develop projects for his production companies Cawley Entertainment Company (CEC) and Retro Films Studio. Stepping into the center seat of the USS Enterprise as Captain Kirk is actor Brian Gross. He has an impressive resume having appeared in various television shows including, Saving Grace, Las Vegas, Cold Case, Bones and others. His movie sheet is also greatly varied from roles in Red Tails, Big Momma’s House 2, Sorority Boys and most known for the role of Ricky in 2001 Maniacs.

How does Gross fair as Captain James T. Kirk? I will say that after viewing “Mind-Sifter” it will take die-hard Trek fans like myself time to get use to him as this iconic character. There have been few that have adequately filled the shoes of the original – Mr. William Shatner. There have been several that have tried – most notably are Chris Pine, who likely fits the pattern better than most others, however, James Cawley (despite his Elvis hair) certainly filled that void wonderfully before Mr. Pine came onto the big screen. And then there is the other indie Kirk, played by actor Vic Mignogna for Star Trek Continues. Since the retirement of Cawley Vic’s has become my personal favorite indie Shat/Kirk. Brian Gross will likely come to be accepted by me in that position but he is by far the most removed from familiar Kirk as compared to those I have already listed. That doesn’t mean he isn't a good Kirk, he is simply something a bit different and that’s what will take some getting use to. But, because Gross is such a fine actor and has a quality and kind of charisma that is attractive to viewers it won’t take long for us Trek lovers to cozy up to him.

Brandon Stacy is back in this episode as Commander Spock. Brandon does just okay in “Mind-Sifter.” The actor has been given a lot more screen time and dialogue than in his few past episodes. This longer exposure reveals that his portrayal of the normally emotionless and rigid Spock done to perfection by Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto comes off as stiff and forced. Even Nimoy knew the importance of Spock coming off with a tad of laid-backness and hint of that ugly emotion of frustration in his raised eyebrow. In this episode Stacy’s attempt at frustration and coming into command under the sad circumstances of the plot simply missed the mark for me.

The bright spot in this episode was the new face of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. It seems that along with the departure of Cawley, actor John M. Kelley who has played the part of McCoy since the creation of New Voyages has been replaced by Jeff Bond. This is my first real exposure to this actor and when I saw in the opening credits that John was gone I became concerned. That worry was quickly lost in the first scene of confrontation between McCoy and Spock on the bridge. I immediately thought, “This guy gets it. He knows the McCoy character.” Right down to the slight southern drawl that actor DeForest Kelley had to even the glances he would give Spock were spot on.

“Mind-Sifter” originated from a story written by legendary “Grandma Trek” Shirley Maiewski. Cawley and David Gerrod produced the episode in loving memory of Shirley who died in 2004. Screenwriter Rick Chambers did the teleplay for New Voyages and Mark Edward Lewis directed.

The story centers around the supposed death of Kirk while with an away time on the planet Nimbus III. After a month long extensive search of the planet for the captain, Starfleet admiral Withrow (played by Robert Withrow) decides it’s time to call off the search and officially places Spock as the new captain of the Enterprise. The crew, not willing to give up on their captain, don’t take the news of Spock’s appointment to the center chair as welcome news leaving a noticeable gulf between Spock and the rest of the crew, including the normally agreeable Scotty. Needless to say Kirk isn't dead of course and the rest of the story revolves around Spock’s relentless effort to prove it.

In order not to give away the more relevant aspects of this episode I won't tell you what happened to Kirk and how Spock and crew were able to uncover the truth, but suffice it to say there are Klingons and time travel involved and it was, if I may borrow a Spock-ism, “Interesting.” [Hint: Try to find Cawley's homage to "Bubba Ho-Tep"]

The main guest stars for “Mind-Sifter” were the aforementioned Robert Withrow, Rivkah Raven Wood (Star Trek: Hidden Frontier) and Clay Sayre (Ghost Stories).

As indie Trek episodes go “Mind-Sifter” is above average with the look and feel of the original series. As one has come to expect from New Voyages the graphics and special effects are some of the best, especially the planet and starship battle scenes. Maiewski’s script was flawless and apart from a few amateurish performances, was delivered quite well. I do look forward to “The Holiest Thing” when it gets released in order to more fully appreciate Brian Gross’ interpretation of Captain James T. Kirk.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate “Mind-Sifter” an easy 8.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Automata" - A Film Review

The year is 2044. After several years of war, famine, disease and climate change the human population that once dominated the planet at 7 billion persons is now near extinction with only 21 million survivors and even fewer living in conditions of any kind of normal human existence.

Early on during these catastrophic changes a few major corporations banded together with the goal of creating robots to help humans survive the odds and continue as a species. To ensure the bots would continue their programmed purpose two primary protocols were built into their software:

1. At no time, or in any circumstance would a robot harm a human being.

2. At no time, or under any circumstance would a robot hurt another robot, repair a robot except under human supervision and following strict guidelines, and, under no circumstance will a robot engage in self repair or self improvement.

An insurance agency called ROC was instituted to ensure that these two primary protocols would never be violated by humans or robots. The agency was tasked with rooting out any transgressors, be they human or automata. If an infraction was discovered the agent would report to ROC and a human task force of special police would be unleashed to deal with it. As the years progressed the human population continued to dwindle while the robotic numbers increased by the millions across the globe.

In time robotic evolution unfolded to the point where one particular bot became self aware and was no longer limited to the programming initiated by the two primary protocols. This is where the film begins and the adventure starts for one such ROC agent, Jacq Vaucan, portrayed by Antonio Banderas (Desperado, The Expendables 3).

Joining Banderas is a strong supporting cast that include Dylan McDermott (Hostages, Stalker), a ROC security cop with an unbridled hatred for bots, Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Last Man Standing) as Vaucan’s immediate supervisor and friend at ROC and Melanie Griffith (Working Girl, Cherry 2000) who stars as a freelance robotics engineer and also the voice of one of the main robotic characters named Cleo. Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country For Old Men) also lends his voice work to one of the other main robots in the film.

I was torn by this film. It certainly wasn’t one of the finest films Banderas has been in over his long career. With a resume like Philadelphia, The Mambo Kings, Evita, Frida and stage appearances in Phantom of the Opera, making Automata might seem like several steps down the ladder. The film was quite predictable, the script was interesting but certainly not revelatory and the ending also lacked originality ... but ... I still kind of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it enough to sit through 109 minutes of it. I was never bored at any point in the film to turn away and do something else. It did make me want to hang in there until the end credits even though about halfway into it I was pretty sure how it would end ... and I was right in my assumption.

If I rate this films in increments I’m tempted to give it a much higher standing than if I were to scale it on the whole. But, my job is to give an opinion of the entire product from beginning to end and with that in mind on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give Automata a 4. Director Gabe Ibanez had great intentions, the right casting and from the looks of the special effects on the robots he certainly had the money to make a really classic science fiction apocalyptic film but sadly he - or it - fell short.

That all being said, I can still recommend this movie to the die hard sci-fi fan. It is still a relatively entertaining movie (just over look Banderas’ eating unmelted chocolate in searing desert heat). It has already made its very limited US run and isn’t set for a European release until January 2015. However, the hardy fan can find it now on iTunes or on Amazon Instant Video.

Goodbye – Hello from Netflix

Sci-fi and other genre related programming on Netflix: Streaming giant prepares to unload some and embrace others

Thanksgiving is over and many are now feeling the soothing effects of tryptophan from devouring the sacrificial turkey. Netflix takes this euphoric time of the year to take away what it has graciously given.

Every December the live streaming service removes a large portion of its programming but it also showers its subscribers with a bevy of new offerings and this season is no different.

Saying goodbye to the live stream this year are such fan favorites as "Star Trek: Generations," "The Serpent and the Rainbow," "The Sci-Fi Boys," "RoboCop 2," "Count Yorga: Vampire" and the sequel "The Return of Count Yorga." Also soon to disappear in just a matter of days will be "Mission Impossible III," "Event Horizon," "Audrey Rose," "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Invaders From Mars." Finally you will have to say so long to "The Vampire Lovers" and "Night of the Creeps."

To soften the blow for sci-fi/horror and fantasy genre fans the omnipotent Netflix will be adding a host of new programming that may soothe the savage beast that lies within its live streaming viewers. Beginning December 1 and throughout that special holiday month look for the addition of "I, Frankenstein," "Dark Skies," "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," "The Village," "A Haunted House" and … wait for it … "Sharknado 2: The Second One." One film I am looking forward to that will now be available on the service is "Knights of Badassdom" starring the Emmy winner "Game of Thrones" Peter Dinklage. Also on the list of new entries are "American Horror Story: Coven," "Out of Time" and the supernatural thriller "Oculus" starring Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan and everybody’s favorite Battlestar babe Katee Sackhoff.

Finally, Netflix has been really burning up the entertainment world with its originally produced programs such as the multi-award winning "House of Cards," "Orange Is the New Black" and "Lilyhammer." The streaming giant hopes to continue its track record with a new online series called "Marco Polo" with a bright new cast of young up and comers headlined by Lorenzo Richelmy (Borgia, Fat Cat) in the title role of the famed 13th Century explorer noted for opening up the first East-West trade route to China in the midst of all the "greed, betrayal" and sexual tension running rampant in the court of the notorious Kublai Khan. "Marco Polo" will debut on December 12.

Prepare for a new season of binge watching your favorite series’ and films while being introduced to a line of new programming.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Facts in Journalism or Truth in Journalism

Journalism’s First Obligation Is To the Truth

Is there a difference between truth and fact?

To apply the trade of journalism words and how they are used is of utmost importance. A colleague of mine once stated that in journalism “facts are sacred.” While I would agree with the surface of that lofty statement I would also challenge its implied veracity. Facts are indeed sacred but in journalism there is yet a higher calling than just accumulating and revealing facts. The art of good journalism is not only making known the facts of the subject so much as encountering its essence or what I would term the revelation of the truth to be found therein.

Therefore, the higher calling of a journalist is not the uncovering of facts, though it is a prerequisite that some journalists excel in better than others. However, the higher state involves the subtlety of exposing the truth. Make no mistake there is an almost invisible difference between the two.

Facts, like numbers on a graph, can be manipulated, laid out, put in place in such an order or particular position for the purpose of misleading or influencing the reader. That has become all-too apparent in so many of the news stories in newspapers or those delivered by television talking heads in our modern virtual world. Journalism is rife with fact laid upon facts. Read this paper and learn the facts from this slant, turn on the television set and watch the factual news from that point of view. Don’t like what you are hearing or seeing, then turn the channel and get your facts delivered from an angle that is more pleasing to you.

The problem with calling facts sacred is that they are no longer sacred at all. They have become information that can be influenced and sadly, even become distorted information. They are indeed facts, they are the “reality” however, they are what all reality in journalism has become -- perceived reality -- not necessarily what is actual.

The goal of every journalist must be the truth. Truth doesn't ignore the facts. However, it doesn’t place them on some idolized pedestal either. Truth embraces the facts. Truth verifies facts and raises them above the level of simple platitudes. Truth should be the foundational principle of every journalist whether they are reporting on really important news concerning legality, politics, life and death or even those lesser topics like entertainment and sports.

Truth and facts never bump heads but may not always agree with one another depending on how the facts are being presented. A journalist can have all the facts and still be in error. Facts require an interpretation whereas truth is a principle of actuality and truism of existence and character. Facts can be misused and delivered in such a way as to be false or misleading. Truth can never be wrongly guided.

When all is said and done every journalist should desire to be of a truthful character, present the facts of their story in such a light as to reveal the truth, and nothing but the truth, and then even if someone may wish to argue the facts of their position the truth behind its revelation will stand.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Doctor Who the Movie - Two Decades Later

It has been nearly 20 years since Doctor Who the Movie went into production. Pre-production began in 1994 and it aired on American television May 14, 1996. Directed by Geoffrey Sax, it was shown two weeks later in the UK on BBC.

It starred Paul McGann (Luther) as the Eighth Doctor with Eric Roberts portraying the Doctor’s most formidable enemy The Master. The main cast was rounded out with Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso as the pseudo companions. This would be the only TV outing with McGann as the famous Time Lord, except for that brief regeneration scene in the 2013 episode “The Night of the Doctor” in which McGann regenerates into John Hurt’s The War Doctor.

After nearly two decades how does Doctor Who The Movie hold up? Fairly well actually. When it debuted in 1996 the film was proceeded by all the required hype, pomp and celebration, however, Fox in its arrogance decided to put it up against the big series finale of the highly popular “Roseanne” sitcom and the American ratings for the film were dismal. The movie had been touted by Fox to be a cross between “Star Trek” and “The X-Files” with the film to be a backdoor pilot for a future Americanized series. After the poor showing the network backed out and Doctor Who continued its infamous Wilderness Period for another decade.

The ratings for the movie in the UK were excellent and it was well received by the public, however, the press in the UK and US didn’t care for it at all. Following Fox’s lead the BBC also backed off since the production was mainly be driven by American dollars.

The movie had a lot for fans of Doctor Who to love about it. The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) opened the movie and finally got his regeneration sequence into the Eighth Time Lord. There were plenty of homages to past incarnations of the long running series including tons of Easter Eggs from the first frame to the last. For fans of the show the movie was a nice respite from the viewing malnutrition nearly 10 years of no Who had foisted upon them.

As much as it was loved there was also plenty in the movie for fans and skeptics to dislike about it. Since this was mainly an American production, even though the Doctor continued with a British actor, the rhythm of the film was a bit off and the chemistry between McGann and the characters portrayed by Ashbrook and Tso weren’t fleshed out as much as many had hoped. However, it is likely that would have been resolved had the pilot movie gone to series.

There was also one little part in the film that should have never been allowed to surface. It was only given briefly as an aside but had it lingered it would have changed how we see the Doctor for generations to come. I'm not going to say what it was but since it was in a BBC sanctioned movie it is now canon. Fortunately for us all future showrunners Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have totally ignored it and we can only hope it doesn't rear its ugly head again.

The special effects for this film were heads above anything seen in prior Doctor Who episodes. The TARDIS was phenomenal and for the first time since or after fans were treated to just how infinitely massive the Doctor’s police box actually is.

Eric Roberts played The Master just how he should have been — wild, cunning, scary as hell and very much over-the-top.

While this movie was the only on screen stint for McGann as The Doctor when the film wrapped he wasn’t through with the iconic hero. An entire series of Doctor Who comics, books and Audio Episodes was dedicated to the Eighth Doctor with McGann giving voice and characterization to the role.

Looking back I am grateful Fox lost interest and didn’t follow through with a series. While it may have proved interesting to watch for a while, I believe that had Who moved to America it would have lost its very heart and soul and the most endearing thing it possesses — it’s thoroughly British mindset and worldview. There is something special in how the creativity of the English mind works that is quite appealing as has been proven time and again by the worldwide popularity of its programming and especially comedic timing.

The future of Doctor Who looked very dim after this movie failed to gain an adequate audience back in the 1990’s, however, look at what it spawned in the 21st Century. Thanks in no small part to this film Doctor Who has moved from a relatively obscure British phenomena to a mammoth epic experience that continues to touch the lives of countless millions across the globe.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Effects of the Affordable Care Act on Economic Productivity

The topic of my talk today is the economic side effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sometimes referred to as Obamacare. Since most of the economy has to do with labor and work, that’s where I’ll start. But, first a caveat. I’m an economist, and I’m going to talk about some parts of this complex law that have an impact on the labor market. Other parts of it relate to health and medicine, and because I’m not a doctor or a biologist, I’m not going to speak to those parts. From an economic or labor-market perspective, I’m going to explain how the costs of the ACA outweigh its benefits. But I can’t measure or estimate its effects on health care. I leave that to others.

The key economic concept required to understand the labor market effects of the ACA is what economists call “tax distortions.” Tax distortions are changes in behavior on the part of businesses or households for the purpose of reducing their taxes or increasing their subsidies. We call them distortions because they don’t occur for real business or real personal reasons. They occur because of the tax code. A prime example of a tax policy that creates distortions is the ethanol subsidy—technically it is a credit, not a subsidy—whereby gasoline refiners are subsidized on the basis of how many gallons of gas they produce with ethanol. Because of this subsidy, businesses change the type of gas they produce and deliver, people change the type of gas they use—which affects engines—and corn is used for ethanol instead of as feed or food. Nor do the distortions stop there. Arguably, food prices are increased due to the reallocation of corn to different uses—and when food prices are higher, restaurants and households do things differently. There are distortions economy-wide, all for the chasing of a subsidy.

To be clear, just because taxes cause distortions doesn’t mean that we should never have taxes. It just means that in order to get the full picture when it comes to policies like an ethanol subsidy or laws such as the ACA, we need to take into account the tax distortions in order to ensure that the benefits we are seeking exceed the costs.

The Employer Mandate/Penalty/Tax

So what are the tax distortions that emanate from the ACA? Here let me simply focus on two aspects of the law: the employer mandate or employer penalty—the requirement that employers of a certain size either provide health insurance for full-time employees or pay a penalty for not doing so; and the exchanges—sometimes they’re called marketplaces—where people can purchase health insurance separate from their employer. The mandate or penalty is intended, of course, to encourage employers to provide health insurance. And the exchanges are where the major government assistance is provided, since those who purchase insurance in an exchange typically receive a tax credit. As I’ll explain, taken together, the penalty on employers and the subsidies in the exchanges add up to a tax on full-time employment—a tax that you pay if you work full time but not if you work part time or don’t work at all. And the problem with that, of course, is that by taxing full-time work—which is the same as subsidizing part-time work and unemployment—you get less of the former and more of the latter two.

How does this full-time employment tax work with regard to the employer mandate? As I mentioned, the penalty applies only in the case of full-time employees and only to employers that don’t offer health coverage, and it applies only in those months during which those full-time employees are on the payroll. If an employee cuts back to part-time work, the employer no longer has to pay the penalty. The dollar amount of the penalty doesn’t depend on whether the employee is rich, poor, or middle class—if he works full time, the employer must either provide insurance or pay the penalty. And the penalty is indexed to health insurance costs, so every year those costs increase more than the economy and more than wages, the penalty will increase more than the economy and more than wages.

The current penalty is usually described as $2,000 per year per full-time employee. But it’s really more than that, because the penalty, unlike wages, is not deductible from business taxes. So in terms of a salary equivalent, the penalty is closer to $3,000 a head. Needless to say, this penalty reduces competition in the labor market: It discourages employers from competing for full-time employees—which, if you’re an employee, is a bad deal. Also there are a lot of employers who are not going to pay the penalty because they don’t meet the size threshold of 50 or more employees, and employees are going to suffer because these small employers won’t want to become large employers and therefore subject to the penalty.

Furthermore, this mandate or penalty—and by this time it should be clear that we can think of it as a tax on having a full-time employee—disproportionately harms low-skill workers. Think about it this way: How many hours does a worker have to work each week to produce the $3,000-per-year of value to justify keeping his job or being hired? For a minimum-wage worker, that comes to eight hours a week, all year round—one day of work a week for the government due to the ACA alone. Higher-skilled employees can obviously produce $3,000 worth of value in less time, so the penalty will have less of an impact on them.

Subsidized Health Insurance Exchanges

What of the tax distortions that come from the subsidized health insurance exchanges or marketplaces? To begin to think about this, imagine paying full price for your health care. How does full price work? Well, you pay the full price. The health care provider doesn’t look at your tax return and adjust the bill accordingly. So we would never call paying full price for health care an income tax of any kind. Or imagine there is a discount on the full price—for instance, 30 percent off for everybody, regardless of income. In that case it’s still not an income tax. No matter how much you earn, you pay the same price. But what if the discount (or subsidy) is tied to your employment situation? Not to your income, but to your employment situation. That’s how the exchanges work. If you have a full-time job with an employer that offers coverage—which is the case for most employees in our economy—you don’t get the subsidy offered through the exchanges. If you want to get the subsidy, you need to become a part-time worker or spend time off the job. In other words, this discount, too, is a tax on full-time employment. Of course, no politician ever calls it a tax. But when you are in a group of people that doesn’t receive a subsidy that people in another group receive, that’s a tax.

So far I have oversimplified things, because there isn’t just one subsidy for everybody in the exchanges. The subsidy depends on your income. So there’s also an income tax built in. The more you earn, the less of a discount you get. Indeed, if you earn enough, the discount disappears. The folks analyzing this law in Washington made the mistake of focusing only on the income-tax aspect of the subsidy. There will be only eight million people in the exchanges, they figured, so eight million people now have a new income tax. That’s no big deal, they thought. They were oblivious to the fact that they were implementing a full-time employment tax on the majority of American workers. In all of the economic analyses of the ACA, there was no mention of this full-time employment tax—despite the fact that it’s the single biggest tax in the law.

In describing the size of this tax, again I find it useful to think in terms of how many hours per week somebody has to work to create enough value to replace the government subsidy he is losing because of his full-time status. There are a number of full-time workers who may have to work ten, 20, or even 30 hours a week to create the value they would get for free if they worked part time or didn’t work under the ACA. In the old days, working part time meant you earned less, and your family had less to spend than if you worked full time. Under this new system, on the other hand, if you have a family of four and make $26 an hour, dropping to part time can actually improve your financial condition by qualifying you for well over $1,000 per month in subsidies through the health care exchanges—an amount that exceeds what you would make by working the extra eleven hours per week. This is an economically perverse situation.

We have decades of research showing that when you tax something, you get less of it. So if you tax labor, you get less labor. By that I mean on average—I don’t mean that every worker responds to every labor tax. That’s obviously not the case. But on average, if you tax labor you get less labor. As a result of the ACA, then, we are going to have fewer people working and less value created overall.

Nor will the loss of productivity end there. As with the ethanol example, there will be more and more tax distortions from the ACA as it continues to roll out. Businesses will change the way they do business, whether it’s by bending over backwards to stay below 50 employees or by having more part-time employees and fewer full-time employees—not because these policies create value or satisfy customers, but because they avoid penalties or enhance subsidies. The Chicago Cubs baseball team changed over to more part-time employees this past summer, and as a result there was a day when the grounds crew couldn’t handle the weather—reducing the value of the game for the fans in general. Incentives and disincentives in the tax code ripple through the economy in unimaginable ways.

This has not been well understood. Some analysts, for instance, have argued that not many employers, relatively speaking, are going to end up paying the penalty, so the harm of the penalty will be limited. And that’s just wrong. Adam Smith pointed out in The Wealth of Nations that if there’s a type of employment that’s evidently either more advantageous or less advantageous than other types of employment, so many people would crowd into it in the former case, or desert it in the latter case, that its advantages would soon return to the level of the other types. In terms of the ACA, whereas only some workers will experience the penalty directly, it will be felt across the economy because workers will move out of the penalized businesses—and customers will do the same, since those penalties are passed on to them in the form of higher costs. We’ll all experience it. Economists and politicians who looked at this law made the mistake of basing their analyses on models in which nothing matters except what happens directly to the individual worker and his employer. That is not how economics works.

*****

In summary, the ACA has three major taxes in it. Two are taxes on full-time employment and the other is a tax on income. They may be implicit, they may be hidden, politicians may not call them taxes, but that’s what they are. Their economic impact on workers varies widely, affecting low-skill workers the most. They create all kinds of productivity problems and will have visible and permanent effects on the economy. I have estimated that employment will be three percent less over the long term because of the ACA, and that national income—or GDP, if you like to think of it that way—will be two percent less. If you look at the productivity costs alone—forgetting the fact that there will be a number of people not working anymore—they come to $6,000 per person who gets health insurance because of the law. And I’m not beginning to count the payments needed for health care providers.

In conclusion, I can make you this promise: If you like your weak economy, you can keep your weak economy.

[“Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”]

ABOUT the AUTHOR:

CASEY MULLIGAN, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1993. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard University and Clemson University, and is affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research, the George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State, and the Population Research Center.

He has written for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, and is the author of three books, including "Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fortenberry Video Statement on President’s Anticipated Executive Order on Immigration

ABOUT the SPEAKER:

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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

ISIS Sets Sights on Saudi Arabia

According to a recent report in the BBC News the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) have now turned their gaze toward Saudi Arabia and all those Saudi oil fields.

For ISIS to successfully engage the Saudi monarchy and overthrow the royal House of Saud and the hundreds of related Sheiks that have held power and sway over the region for nearly four centuries would be the most destabilizing event for, not only the region, but the entire world of nations and the economies of the current lead nations -- The United States of America and The European Union -- in particular. Those two superpowers, especially Europe, have allowed themselves over the course of the last century to become completely dependent on the energy exports from the Saudis and any cut-off or delay in delivery of those exports would drive the EU to its knees in a matter of weeks, if not days. The United States would fare a bit better in the long term, however, the immediate effects of such a takeover by ISIS of Saudi oil production could be just as devastating to most of North America.

Almost overnight ISIS would turn from a troublesome Islamic activist terror organization to the holder of some of the largest and richest oil property in the world. They could literally hold the fate of the entire Middle East region in the palm of their hand forcing the political will of those nation's leaders and peoples to bow to their demands and wishes, particularly as it concerns issues important to them -- Sharia Law, making their brand of Islam the only acceptable Islamic faith and with it all that that would entail as it relates to women's rights, those of more moderate and reformed thinking muslims, and especially the future of the State of Israel. We are already too familiar with the fate of Western journalists, Christians and Arabs not "fundamentalist enough."

Of course, the United States of America could never allow such a condition to exist. At least, I use to think that was the case before the current U.S. President was in office. Now, I'm not sure what could happen if what the BBC reports as a possibility would become a reality. I'm sure it would mean the U.S. and possibly several of its European allies would send their young men and women to fight along side a misogynistic monarchy that has already existed for far too long -- but exactly what would be the marching orders coming from this White House? Would it be to ensure, at any cost, that ISIS or any other terror group will not be successful in overthrowing the House of Saud? Or, would the U.S. and its allies continue with the kind of war strategy the U.S. has engaged in since the infamous Vietnam War? Wars that are never wholly won but simply and agonizedly prolonged year after year while the war machine of those nations continue fattening their proverbial wallets and the military industrial complex becomes ever more bloated?

There are valid arguments for why having some group like ISIS in charge of the Saudi oil fields is not a good thing. The greatest is how a group like ISIS would have the world oil market in their tight grip and could literally crush markets and nations by squeezing tightly on that market.

There is also the Israeli factor which cannot be ignored. The kinds of pressure an ISIS in control of the world's largest oil reserves could put on both the U.S. and the EU over its long standing support of the State of Israel could prove disastrous for the future of that tiny Jewish nation. I am of the opinion that Israel can hold its own, but that is an outlook not shared by most. The majority opinion holds that without the financial and military support from the United States of America Israel would fold like a paper napkin if the Arab world surrounding it, led by an oil rich, financially strong ISIS would crush it in a matter of days. However, Israel has too much history of exactly this kind of scenario and when the smoke has cleared Israel would still be standing. Or, as is also likely, no one would be standing as Israel would implement its own brand of the "final solution" and unleash its 'Samson Initiative' upon itself and the entire Middle East region leaving nothing behind except radioactive glass in its wake.

There are a couple of positive outcomes to consider if ISIS were to engage the House of Saud and soundly defeat it. It would force the most oil gluttonous nations (U.S., Europe) to actually develop alternate sources of energy and stop this insatiable desire for fossil fuels. That would certainly remove any economical axe over the head of the West moot. Without the demand for the Saudi oil ISIS would lose any financial leverage it could hope to have over the West. This could also force the West to invest more into the military strength and policies of its only ally in the region, the State of Israel, which would spell disaster not only to ISIS but all terror aspirants in the region.

It would also be a kind of emotionally satisfying payback for all the terrorist funding the Saudi Sheiks have been funneling into terror organizations for all these past decades. Sort of fulfilling Hillary Clinton's prophecy that "You can't expect to put snakes in your own backyard and not get bit."

The other positive factor of having ISIS in Saudi Arabia? -- They would be headquartered in one location and one or two strategic warheads could put an end to their leadership and organization once and for all. Of course, like the snakes Clinton spoke of, without severing the entire head, the tail will simply grow a new one and become a different kind threat down the road. To a government use to kicking cans down the road that may be something this President and Congress could tolerate. Leave it for the next group of inept to deal with.

In reality, there is no lasting good or sound outcome with having some group like an ISIS taking over an oil rich nation like Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud may be the devil, but it is the devil we know and, at least for now and the foreseeable future, a devil we can still manage and deal with. I can only hope that the leaders of the free world can get it together enough to recognize the threat and deal with it rightly before it is too late.

Big Financial Shift is Coming - Says Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn

James Wolfensohn, former president of The World Bank and CEO of Wolfensohn and Co., addressed Stanford Graduate School of Business students with details about his work at the World Bank during its transition years and how the equation between developed and developing countries is changing.

Wolfensohn claims that in the next 40 years, a global power shift will see today's leading economic countries drop from having 80% of the world's income to 35%.

U.S. Marine Sgt Tells President Obama What He Needs To Hear

President Obama gets an ear full from an ex-Marine, an Iraq War veteran and freedom loving American named Manny E. Vega.

Mr. President were you listening? ... ARE you LISTENING?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Star Wars: Tarkin" - A Book/Audiobook Review

“A man of black and white tastes. He loved clear lines, precise architecture and an absence of clutter.”

“Star Wars: Tarkin” answers the troubling question of how a young lad born and raised by a prominent family on one of the outer rim planets (Eriadu), places normally reserved as breeding grounds for rebels, thieves, gangster thugs (the Hutts), hijackers and smugglers (Han Solo) could produce a man like Wilhuff Tarkin who would rise to the Empirical rank of Grand Moff. Not only rise in the military but also politically to the point of becoming the most trusted advisor and confidant to the Emperor of the Galactic Empire secondly only in loyalty and stature to that of the Sith Lord Darth Vader.

Beginning in the early days of the construction of the Empire’s infamous Death Star orbiting the Outer Rim planet Geonosis, to its completion and first interstellar flight just shortly before young Jedi Luke Skywalker and his fellow rebel forces destroyed the moon-sized planet killer along with its commander Grand Moff Tarkin; “Star Wars: Tarkin” tells the general’s full biography, filling in the blanks with requisite flashbacks and flash-forwards.

To quote Tarkin himself, “Interesting,” is how I would describe James Luceno’s novel of this well known but little understood icon of Star Wars legend. Luceno allows us to get up close and personal with the life of this Empirical War Lord. To delve into his thoughts, hidden plans, dreams, hopes, successes and failures. To realize that although the maddening and evil heights he reached were stellar, in the end he, like all, was just a man with feet of clay.

The story, particularly its audio version, is told with such minutiae and dedication to detail, even to the subtle description of falling ash from a destroyed human being as a result of Tarkin’s cold military calculation for victory. The reader or listener’s imagination of the reality Luceno paints with words is opened up to its full potential within the Star Wars universe.

Luceno has successfully done with “Star Wars: Tarkin” what George Lucas did in “A New Hope” … return the fan to a place of wonder in worlds anew and offer a fresh view from the dark side that Lucas so miserably failed to reveal in the film versions I through III.

Two-Thumbs-Up to James Luceno for maintaining his record for being one of the bestselling Star Wars veteran authors out there. If you don’t already own “Star Wars: Tarkin,” especially the audio version, then I highly recommend making this a part of your library. It is available from Amazon.com., Audiobooks.com, Barnes and Noble, your local library or anywhere where books and ebooks are sold.

Doctor Who Ratings Slip - Now the Blame Game Begins

One season with the new Doctor and at the close of it the verdict is in. Fans of Doctor Who still haven’t totally warmed up to Peter Capaldi as the 12th (or 13th depending) Time Lord. It isn’t that he isn’t a good fit for the role it is simply most fans are still infatuated (and rightly so) with the over abundant performance of the previous actor who played him ... Matt Smith.

The ratings on BB1 in the UK and BBC America in the colonies also give witness to the frustration being felt by many of the viewers of the long-time staple in sci-fi programming.

The ratings certainly are not dismal (nearly 5.5 million in the UK), but they do show a significant enough drop over previous seasons that some at the BBC are beginning to wonder if it is a matter of their chosen lead or has the Doctor reached viewer saturation and need a rest after this coming 2014 Christmas special.

Blame cannot be laid at the feet of the scripts as this season has shown some phenomenal writing ... nor can it fall squarely on the shoulders of the production staff. Steven Moffat, though hated by some, continues to steer the TARDIS and its Time Lord in the right direction.

That leads one thing left -- Peter Capaldi. I am of the opinion that Peter is certainly not the blame for the slight fall-off of viewership, but his performance of this regenerated Doctor is so great and so completely different from the previous three who came before him, particularly the hyper-exuberant Matt Smith, that fans simply haven’t caught up yet to just how fantastic a change it is. This Doctor is the product of having finally come face to face with the warring side of his nature, that side the Time Lord has spent millennia keeping from himself and the rest of the universe. However, it is a side most familiar to his enemies, the Daleks, the Sontarans, Cybermen, and especially The Master (or Mistress) in 2014. They do not fear the Doctor because he is a Time Lord, but they see in him a destructive force so great that it brings even great dread. As Peter Capaldi’s Doctor starts becoming more aware of this hidden darkness within himself he even dares to ask Clara that all important and revealing question, “Am I a good man?”

I would hope that the BBC and those in charge of making decisions as to the future of the show give Capaldi, Moffat and the writers time to continue fleshing-out this new Doctor and give all the fans room to finally realize the brilliance behind his new face.

I believe that in time Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of Doctor Who will be rated as one of the finest in its six decade-plus existence.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Repurposing Government

Two weeks ago I spoke at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Highway 34 Bridge joining Nebraska and Iowa. Local and national officials, past and present officeholders, people from both states—all came together after working on this project, which took over 20 years. Encouraged by the spirit of celebration, I joked, “Obviously this will help people from Iowa get to Huskers games faster!”

On a deeper level, the ceremony reminded me that our national government has few success stories today. The bridge is a piece of infrastructure that is critical to economic well-being and to travel between family and friends. People from different political parties and states recognized a common need and resolved to work through problems until the job got done. In a small way, the opening of the bridge represented a bygone era of basic government functionality—but one that might be worth reclaiming in our time.

America needs to repurpose its government

Repurposed objects are often old, outmoded, but not without value. Most Americans want smart and effective government that serves their needs. They expect government that is accountable, responsive and affordable. As James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But men are not angels, and ordinances of reason and the rule of law are needed to serve the good that is common to us all. Government should maintain the guardrails for national, economic, and family security so that community life can flourish.

Nearly everyone agrees that one of Washington’s highest priorities should be to keep America safe. Many agree also that a strong economy with ample jobs and widespread opportunity must be our focus. Our market-based economy is sustained when the government maintains a fair and just playing field for competition. A vibrant marketplace expands space for constructive interdependency and community dynamism, creating opportunity, fighting poverty, and driving innovation. In a market that works for the many, everyone can benefit from using their gifts, enabling them to provide for their families and help others.

We live in a time of intense demand for sound public policies. But it’s important to recognize that Washington can’t solve all the problems. Well-formed individuals and vibrant cultural institutions are the preconditions for healthy political and economic life. The government exists in service to societal well-being. A properly ordered government, which delivers basic public services, ends up building bridges across Nebraska and Iowa through commitment and collaboration.

Unfortunately, Washington is mired in mediocrity. Partisan gridlock, bureaucratic dysfunction, and government overreach are hindering the traditional means through which we insure government’s responsible and proper place: supporting a strong and good society. Horizons of opportunity in our economy are too dim for many, and social fracture is straining more and more families and communities.

Our current discourse would benefit from a better understanding of the various levels of government that provide structure and order. Federalism is a long held principle in the United States. The national government focuses on high level concerns such as military security and economic protection. State and local governments offer other goods that are closer to the people: protection from crime, education, maintenance of streets—even tending parks for recreation. When Washington tries to do too much, it interferes with this effective system of government-societal organization.

Many people in our state are familiar with the phrase, “Nebraska is a great place to live, work, and raise a family.” Hard work and fiscal responsibility, family and community, faith life and civic life — these are the values that give those words real power. The Nebraska model can serve as America’s model for economic, political, and cultural renewal. Our values can repurpose Washington—and turn our country around.

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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Clay Aiken Gracious In Defeat

Clay Aiken seems to be destined for 2nd place. However, say what you will about Clay, he does have class.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Your Vote Still Counts ... at least locally

Voter turnout for today’s mid-term U.S. elections are expected to be the lowest in history. Those who keep track of these sorts of things are thinking that somewhere along the lines of a 20% or less turnout will be the end result even though voter registration has picked up significantly over the last 10 years.

That is a sad commentary but an accurate barometer which reveals the ever growing level of frustration and ambivalence the voters in America have about their political system and particularly those national candidates for the highest offices in the land.

What is most sad however, is this increasing lack of participation in the political process is greatly affecting the daily lives of the country’s citizens and these voters, because of their dissatisfaction of the status quo in Washington, D.C. by not showing up at the polling place are leaving the fate of their futures in the hands of a very few.

I can understand the resentment caused by the continued stalemate that politics on the national level has caused. The gridlock in the nation’s capitol is worse than that on the line of scrimmage in a pro football game, with one big difference, no satisfying touchdowns have been forthcoming from the Congress or office of the President in such a long time that people have forgotten what quarter the game is even in.

However, this failure of those nationally elected Presidents, Senators and Congressmen should not be allowed to carry over into the ballot booth, especially during mid-term elections when most often important Statewide and local offices are up for grabs as well as important referendums and initiatives that usually appear on the ballot.

Let’s be honest here. What happens in D.C. within that political bubble up and down the Mall generally stays within that bubble. On a day to day basis very little that happens or doesn’t happen in the nation’s Capitol finds it way down that long path to the individual citizen’s front door -- the IRS being one of the few exceptions.

Yet, what happens in one’s State in the way of legislation, decisions that are made in one’s County, votes by a Board or City Council in one’s city or town does have great import and impact in that one’s daily life. It can affect their wallets, where they live, how they live and how important and needed services are delivered and provided for.

That is why State and Local elections are of paramount importance every voting period. Who gets elected Governor, State Legislator, Auditor, State Attorney General, Mayor, County Sheriff and who holds a seat on City Council will affect how one lives day to day.

In most States the mid-term elections are the time to have referendums on the ballot. If voters stay home then that referendum or piece of proposed legislation will still affect their lives. If it is a bond issue or a proposal to increase property taxes in your area the voter needs to make their voice heard by casting a ballot on those issues. In this election many States have put forth new Minimum Wage proposals. Whether these and other issues pass or fail will determine the individual’s future household budgets. Some of the issues on State and Local ballots this year deal with environmental issues, pipeline installation, zoning laws and infrastructure changes. If only 20% of the voting public shows up at the polls then the other 80% have given up their voice and are allowing this minority of voters to decide their future and the fate of them and their families.

The individual vote really does still count in America. Perhaps not so much on the national level, but it continues to carry great weight on the State and Local level.

Big corporate bucks, high level CEO’s, Lobbying groups and special interests with deep pockets may control national elections for President and Congress but John Q. Public still carries the day on those offices and ballot issues in his or her State, City and Township and that voting voice still must be heard loud and clear.

The voter must move past their disgruntlement over the failure of their vote seeming to not matter in Washington and return to the polls triumphant fully aware that they still have a voice on those offices and local initiatives that matter the most, affect them and their families and neighbors where they live.