Quick Hits

The President of the United States is under investigation

I haven’t written about the Trump/Russia investigation much on here, mostly because my life has been insanely busy lately, and other events demanded more of my attention.  Brief recap: former FBI director James Comey was fired on May 9, ostensibly because he was unfair to Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.  While that is true, many people didn’t buy that excuse.  Why would President Trump fire him for something he did to a political opponent?  Trump gave an interview with Lester Holt soon after in which he seemed to admit that he fired Comey because he was investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the presidential election.  This prompted the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller (who was Comey’s predecessor at the FBI) to further investigate the situation.  In addition, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began an inquiry and called both Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify.

In Comey’s testimony, he revealed that he had “no doubt” that Russian operatives interfered with the 2016 election.  He also described several conversations in which he said Trump pressured him to drop an investigation into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired because of his ties to Russia.  Comey also admitted leaking information to the press because he wanted a Special Counsel to be appointed.  While Comey didn’t come out and say it, his testimony seemed to indicate that he believed Trump obstructed justice by interfering in an official investigation that he was connected to.  Spurred on by this, Special Counsel Mueller is now investigating Trump for that very charge.

So what does this mean?  Well… we don’t really know yet.  Democrats have been salivating at the prospect of a possible Trump impeachment, but since Republicans control Congress, that probably won’t happen anytime soon.  From what we know of partisan polarization and loyalty, it would stand to reason that Republicans wouldn’t start abandoning Trump in any real numbers unless something catastrophic were to happen.  That “something catastrophic” would probably have to be one of two things in my view: Either Mueller’s investigation finds solid evidence of obstruction of justice, or evidence that many high-level officials in the Trump campaign helped the Russians interfere in the election.  And either of those could take a long time.  If Democrats take over the House in the 2018 midterm elections, the chances of impeachment could rise.  But they would still need buy-in from Republicans to remove Trump from office, as a 2/3 majority in the Senate is required to do so.  Republicans will probably remain in control of the Senate after 2018 due to an extremely favorable playing field.

Republican health care bill gets new life

Lost in the news of Trump’s legal troubles was the fact that the Republican health care reform effort soldiers on.  Even as House Speaker Paul Ryan declared that Obamacare was the law of the land for the foreseeable future after the House failed to pass first version of the bill back in March, the effort was revived.  Several changes were made to the bill to placate the super-conservative Freedom Caucus, such as allowing state governments to roll back required coverage for essential health services, and letting states seek waivers that would allow insurers to charge more to people with preexisting conditions.  Even then, 20 Republican Congressman joined every Democrat in opposing the bill, many of them moderates from swing districts.

Many moderate Republican Senators immediately slammed the bill upon its passage, and promised to work on their own version.  However, the Senate bill is being drafted behind closed doors, drawing bipartisan criticism.  This has created speculation that the bill will be quickly ushered to a vote without a public hearing or drafting session.  Given the intense unpopularity of the House bill, it would seem that these methods would only serve to exacerbate those problems.  Even more interesting is the fact that Republicans repeatedly accused Democrats of “ramming Obamacare down America’s throat” (they didn’t… the process took 8-9 months) and now appear poised to do just that with their bill.

After seven years, finally more Metroid

On a lighter note, my favorite video game series is finally making a proper comeback.  I haven’t written much about my Metroid fandom on here, frankly because there hasn’t been much to write about since Metroid: Other M’s release in 2010.  That game sharply divided the fanbase, and since then Nintendo has seemed reluctant to release a new Metroid game (beyond that weird spinoff in 2015).  But at the E3 expo this year, fans’ prayers were finally answered with two games: Metroid: Samus Returns, which is a reimagining of the 1991 Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus, will come out first in September of this year for the Nintendo 3DS.  While some may criticize this as a retread, I actually think remaking Metroid II is a good idea.  The original version left a lot to be desired in terms of gameplay, though it did continue the tradition of killer soundtracks for Metroid games.  Honestly, one of the things that got me most excited about this game was hearing that several composers who worked on Super Metroid’s soundtrack are coming back for this game.  Nintendo also has a good track record with Metroid remakes, as Metroid: Zero Mission was an excellent remake of the original Metroid game for the Game Boy Advance.

And, perhaps the biggest news of all: the Metroid Prime series is back!  Nintendo unveiled this news with a dramatic reveal at E3 of the logo and the words “now in development for the Nintendo Switch.”  And… that’s pretty much all we know about it.  Retro Studios, the subsidiary of Nintendo who was responsible for the first three games, is not making this game, which caused some panic among fans.  But like the worry that surrounded the Rogue One reshoots, let’s not jump to conclusions until we see the game.  After all, Kensuke Tanabe, the producer behind the original series, is still on board, so it’s not like this is a total departure from the past.  Either way, after skipping the Wii U because of a less-than-stellar game library and lack of Metroid, I will now be buying a Nintendo Switch.

Chris Cornell Through the Years

At the beginning of this week, it wasn’t clear what I was going to write about.  Maybe I’d review Erin McKeown’s album.  Maybe I’d talk about a TV show.  Maybe I’d get in some Trump-bashing.

And then Chris Cornell died.

One of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Cornell was found unresponsive in his hotel room after a show in Detroit after an apparent suicide by hanging.  Cornell’s wife Vicky is now saying that anxiety medication may be to blame for his suicidal thoughts.  Cornell was most famous as the frontman of Soundgarden, one of the bands that I refer to as the “grunge triangle,” with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, that helped pioneer this era in rock during the 90s.  In my opinion, Cornell was the most talented of the three lead singers, with a titanic vocal range and an ability to wail and emote like few others.

But Soundgarden is not all Cornell was known for, and I felt it appropriate this week to give him the Through the Years treatment in the same way I did for Mark Tremonti, tracking all the different music he’s made over the years in different contexts.

Cornell’s journey started with Soundgarden, where he teamed up with guitarist Kim Thayil and drummer Matt Cameron in Seattle.  Hiro Yamamoto started out as the band’s bassist.  I’ll admit, I’m not familiar with many of their early releases, EPs Screaming Life (1987), Fopp (1988), or albums Ultramega OK (1988) and Louder Than Love (1989), so I’m going to skip over them here.

Soundgarden’s career didn’t really crack the mainstream until their album Badmotorfinger hit in 1991.  This came in the wake of their only major lineup change, with Yamamoto leaving in favor of new bassist Ben Shepherd.  I think part of why I like Soundgarden more than the other “grunge triangle” bands is that they seemed more open to experimentation than most grunge bands, who were more known for simplicity than anything else.  Weird stuff is all over this record, such as in “Jesus Christ Pose.”  But there’s plenty of straightforward rock and roll on there, and that’s where I think they excel the best.  “Outshined” is probably my favorite Soundgarden song, because it’s aggressive, raw, and honest, like I feel rock should always be.  Kim Thayil’s guitar parts are an absolutely perfect complement to Cornell’s wail.  “Rusty Cage” provides a note of determined optimism, with the main character swearing that he’ll “break my rusty cage and run.”

1991 proved a busy year for Cornell, as he brought together the band Temple of the Dog in a tribute to his friend Andrew Wood, lead singer of the bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, who had died of a heroin overdose the previous year.  The band consisted of a mishmash of members of Wood’s bands, Soundgarden, and two future members of Pearl Jam, which was just getting started in 1991.  Despite this somewhat slapdash arrangement, the album is excellent and the chemistry between the members is real.  “Hunger Strike” is probably Temple of the Dog’s most famous song, and features both Cornell and Eddie Vedder at the peak of their vocal powers.   I’m also partial to “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” Cornell’s first song written as a tribute to Wood, and “All Night Thing,” a mellow one-night stand song.  “Call Me a Dog” is another highlight, and Cornell would frequently cover it on his solo tours.  Temple of the Dog disbanded after this album was made, but had several one-off reunions as well as a reunion tour in 2016 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their album.

Soundgarden’s most successful album by far was their next, Superunknown (1993).  This album contains the song the band is most known for, “Black Hole Sun.”  I’ve often wondered why this song became as big of a hit as it did, because while it’s good, it’s probably one of the most generic and least interesting songs on the album.  “My Wave,” with the unconventional 5/4 time signature that creates an erratic but cool sound (not to mention exploring the unorthodox keys of E minor and B Mixolydian) is one of my favorites.  “Spoonman” has a similarly energetic vibe as well, and became a successful single.  Many of Soundgarden’s songs have a weight to their sound, like something is pressing down on them or they’re walking through molasses.  This isn’t a bad thing, mind you, just something that’s characteristic of their style in this era.  “Mailman” shows this off very clearly, as does “Fell On Black Days.”

Soundgarden returned in 1996 with Down on the Upside, an album with which I’m less familiar, but overall it seemed a step back from their previous two releases.  My favorite song on this album is probably “Pretty Noose,” as it has a similar energy and sound to my favorite songs on Superunknown.  Though given that Cornell ended up committing suicide by hanging, the song has taken on a weird new meaning in the wake of that event.  Lyrics like “…and I don’t like what you’ve got me hanging from,” certainly seem to be a weird sort of foreshadowing.  The song “Ty Cobb,” is not about the titular baseball player, but it was titled that because the lyrics reminded Ben Shepherd of him.  Cobb was amazingly talented and broke many records, but was also known for his alcoholism, womanizing, and virulent racism.  Cornell said the lyrics are from the perspective of “some hardcore pissed-off idiot.”  While touring in support of this album, the band’s dissatisfaction with the music industry fostered tension among the members, and led to their breakup in 1997.

Cornell would later go on to form Audioslave, but in the inter-band period, he released his first solo album, Euphoria Morning (1999).  Fun fact: the album’s original title was supposed to be Euphoria Mourning, but a typo changed the name, and it stuck.  Euphoria Morning is much slower and drawn out than anything Soundgarden ever did, and while Cornell sticks with the experimental spirit that characterized that band, he does it in a different way, veering into psychedelia.  This is most apparent in “Wave Goodbye,” which Cornell wrote as another tribute, this time to Jeff Buckley, the acclaimed singer/songwriter who drowned in 1997 at only 30 years old.  With its wah pedal effects and strong bass line, I feel like that song could be equally at home on a Doors record as a Chris Cornell one.  That, combined with the dissonant chords of songs like “Sweet Euphoria,” make this an interesting experiment, even if it doesn’t hit you as hard as a Soundgarden record.  Cornell even skirts the folk line with “Preaching the End of the World,” with its minimalist music that features little more than an acoustic guitar.  Another fun fact: a lyric from that song became the title of a movie starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley.

When Rage Against the Machine’s vocalist, Zack de la Rocha, quit the band in 2000, other members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford were looking to form another band.  Enter Chris Cornell, who was also recently bandless, and the quartet formed the supergroup Audioslave, releasing their self-titled album in 2002.  It was Audioslave where I was first introduced to Cornell’s vocal stylings, so I’m probably a bigger fan of theirs than most who first listened to Soundgarden.  One key difference between the two bands is that each member got to show off their talents by taking prominent roles in different songs.  Tom Morello showed early on in this record that he is a very different guitarist than Kim Thayil, with a more tech-savvy and inventive approach to his craft.  For instance, many of his solos incorporate the use of feedback noise between his guitar and amplifier, something many bands would consider more of an annoyance than an artistic device.  Audioslave exploded onto the scene with their debut single “Cochise,” which characterized a more straight-ahead, alternative style of theirs, in contrast to the rap-rock innovation of RATM or the progressive style of Soundgarden.  “Like a Stone” is one of my other favorites from this album.

Audioslave had a much more cohesive sound on their next album, Out of Exile (2005).  As a result, it’s probably their best album top-to-bottom.  In “Be Yourself,” bassist Tim Commerford got one of many chances to stand out on the intro.  It’s also probably one of the most positive songs Cornell has ever performed on.  “Doesn’t Remind Me” once again shows Cornell’s more contemplative side.  Even the deep cuts of this album have several gems, with “Heaven’s Dead,” reminiscent of more lumbering Soundgarden songs, but with a sound that’s very clearly Audioslave.  A friend once described “Dandelion” to me as one of the most romantic rock songs she’d ever heard (I’m more partial to this one, but whatever), and it has a much softer and caring side to it than most other Audioslave songs.  Cornell also achieved a personal milestone in this record, as it was his first where he didn’t drink or take drugs during the recording process.  Cornell’s substance issues had threatened to tank Audioslave before it even got started, so that was good to see.

Audioslave wasted no time in the interim between albums, releasing Revelations the following year.  Tom Morello described the record in an interview as “Led Zeppelin meets Earth, Wind, and Fire,” and I think that actually describes it perfectly.  There’s a funkiness to this record that wasn’t really present in any of Chris Cornell’s former bands, and I think the songs on it are more interesting as a result.  There’s a sort of bouncy energy in a lot of the songs, like the verses of “One and the Same,” the chorus of “Revelations,” and the main riff of “Original Fire.”  Much of this is powered by Brad Wilk’s relentlessly fast drum line and Tom Morello’s abuse (more than normal, even) of his wah pedal.  “One and the Same” was one of the few times since Soundgarden that Cornell got to show off his wail.  “Wide Awake” was also the band’s first foray into the political commentary that had previously been Rage Against the Machine’s forte.  The song called out then-President George W. Bush for his mishandling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Audioslave abruptly disbanded without even touring in support of Revelations, when Cornell announced he was leaving “due to irreconcilable personality conflicts as well as musical differences.”  According to interviews, he didn’t like the process of “doing Audioslave business,” and said that the band’s chemistry had broken down.  He’d written several songs that didn’t fit in on Audioslave records, and he compiled them into his second solo album, appropriately titled Carry On (2007).  This album, to me, sounds like what would happen if you took Tom Morello out of Audioslave and left most everything else intact.  It’s a pretty straightforward hard rock record, but without Morello’s creative flourishes.  It has a more mature sound than much of Cornell’s previous work.  “No Such Thing” is one of his most underrated songs, with a passionate and driving chorus. “Finally Forever” once again shows off his romantic side.  But probably the most creative song on here is his cover of the Michael Jackson song “Billie Jean.”  It’s always interesting when cover songs cross genres, and that’s definitely true here.  The original is much more bouncy and dance hall-ish, where Cornell’s version has a slow and haunting feel.

Remember Audioslave’s foray into R&B sounds on Revelations?  Cornell took that to a new level in his third studio album, Scream (2009), teaming up with Timbaland to create an interesting experiment in electronic pop.  The result is an album that gave me… mixed feelings.  Timbaland just flat-out overproduces many of the songs, which means we get bizarre creations like “Sweet Revenge” or “Take Me Alive.”  But when he pulls back and lets Cornell sing, the results are much better.  One of my favorite moments of the record is when the end of “Take Me Alive” bleeds into “Long Gone,” which then bleeds into the start of the title track, “Scream.”  This is true of most tracks on Scream, but it works the best here.  “Scream” also has interesting lyrics, talking about how communication can break down in relationships.  “Part of Me” and “Ground Zero” are probably the best pure pop songs on the record, which were remixed into club versions that did fairly well.

After Scream wasn’t especially well-received by critics or fans, Cornell kind of ambled around for awhile, reworking some tracks from that album into rock versions, and generally biding his time until the next thing.  That next thing happened when Soundgarden unexpectedly reunited in 2010.  They started out releasing some compilations and retrospectives, with some new tracks scattered here and there.  They finally put out an album of new material in 2012 with King Animal.  Soundgarden showed that they still had their experimental spirit, but I didn’t gravitate to this album for the same reason I never really made it all the way through Badmotorfinger: it just got too weird for me in places.  I liked the comeback single “Been Away Too Long,” but beyond that, little seemed to stand out for me.  “By Crooked Steps” was decent until the ending got a little odd.  But the album was much better-received by the general public than Scream had been.

Cornell took a break from Soundgarden to release what would be his final album in 2015, Higher Truth.  Cornell recorded every song on this record on acoustic, which made it interesting and was a much more cautious approach that what he did on Scream.  The result is a much more consistent and engaging album, but one that probably doesn’t eclipse a lot of his earlier work.  If you want more detailed thoughts on this one, I reviewed it back when it came out.  This album makes it all the sadder that Cornell died when he did, because it seems to reflect a new maturity and appreciation for what he had learned in life, which one would hope would lead him to a more stable place.  Unfortunately, that was not to be, and we have lost a great artist and talented singer before his time.  Rest in peace, Chris, from all your fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up With Lostboycrow

You may recall that I did a profile on Lostboycrow (LBC) back in February 2015 as part of my Next One Up series.  Alternative Addiction dropped the ball on their usual Artists to Watch feature, so I didn’t get to do one of those this year.  Instead, I thought I’d do a couple of posts catching up with past winners.  Back when we first took a look at LBC, he only had two songs out, but was showing a lot of potential.  For most of 2015, he kept releasing singles on the music site SoundCloud, and he released what is probably still my favorite one of his, “Say You Want Me.”

This song has a great beat that sounds creative and interesting without being overproduced in a Lady Gaga Artpop sort of way.  It also has a sultriness that is characteristic of the R&B style that LBC identifies with.  Combine that with the “we’ve all been there” lyrical theme of telling someone you want them romantically, and it’s a track that, in my opinion, is criminally underappreciated, perhaps even by LBC himself, as he hasn’t promoted it as much as many of his other tracks.

Lostboycrow has started to hit some milestones as an artist as well.  Last year, he released his first EP, Sigh for Me.  The songs on it are all solid, but the one I’d like to highlight here is “Powers.”

In a similar vein to “Say You Want Me,” “Powers” describes a relationship that hasn’t quite become romantic yet, but those feelings are bubbling under the surface.  The main character of the song is clearly infatuated, and wants to do more than talk to the other person, though she keeps pulling away for whatever reason.  The underlying beat is slower than the previous song, but at times he layers a faster beat over it, perhaps conveying the lyrics’ desire to speed things up a bit.

LBC has also worked on many collaborations with other artists during the last couple of years, my favorite of which is with LA-based DJ trio Cheat Codes, on their song “Senses.”

This one is much more overtly sexual than a lot of Lostboycrow’s other work, but again, it’s one of those “we’ve all been there” sort of ideas.  I know I’ve been so attracted to someone it feels like sensory overload in the past.  The beat here is much more straightforward than much of LBC’s stuff.  Hopefully, his career can follow the trajectory of Cheat Codes’s, who lit up the “Bubbling Under Hot 100” charts last year with their single “Sex,” which samples the chorus of the classic Salt-n-Pepa song “Let’s Talk About Sex.”  That single went Gold in the UK and Germany, and Platinum in Australia.  They followed that up with “No Promises” this year with Demi Lovato, which is generating similar buzz.

2017 has seen Lostboycrow hit another milestone, with the release of two more music videos.  The first, for the single “Verona,” features a mash-up of scenes from Franco Zefferelli’s film version of “Romeo and Juliet.”  The song itself conveys similar themes to the play, dealing with the blind intoxication of young love.  However, I’m more intrigued by his video for “Real Name,” which is more of a “proper” music video to me.

“Real Name” is a departure from his usual lyrical themes, instead dealing with how he has tried to move forward in his career while still being true to himself, and remembering where he came from.  The video carries this theme further, with LBC encountering several pictures and words that remind him of his past as he walks through the scene, and near the end, he encounters a large version of the logo he currently uses, as if to symbolize the future.  He also has his hair in braids, perhaps a nod to his growing up around the Crow Indian nation.  There is a boy in the video wearing a jersey that says “Real Name,” and I wonder if he isn’t meant to symbolize LBC’s past self.  At first, he ignores him, but the two end up dancing together at the end of the video, perhaps indicating that LBC intends to go forward while still embracing who he’s always been.  In the description of this video on YouTube, LBC says this song is “off the first Legend,” which had me wondering if he’s about to release a full-length album soon.

So, since I profiled him a couple of years ago, Lostboycrow has continued to release quality songs, but I’m not sure he’s made many mainstream inroads just yet.  That may be just fine with him, as it is frequently easier to maintain artistic integrity as an indie artist.  But I hope he is able to find some higher-profile success, if only so his tours can cover a wider spread (his last major one, opening for indie-pop artist VÉRITÉ, was largely confined to the Northeast and Midwest) and he can come to Atlanta.

Fighting The Good Fight

Having been a huge fan of The Good Wife during its seven-season run on CBS, I was excited to hear that a spin-off, The Good Fight, would be airing almost immediately following that show’s end.  I was even more excited when I learned that the show would center on Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), one of my favorite characters from the first show.  The Good Fight was the first show to debut on CBS All Access, the network’s answer to the proliferation of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.  This meant that, aside from the pilot, the entire show would be streamed on their All Access app.

Story-wise, The Good Fight picks up a year after the events of the The Good Wife.  Diane is a partner at what has grown into a firm with eight named partners (Lockhart, Deckler, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert, Lurie, Kagan, Tennenbaum & Associates… I’m convinced the long name was their attempt at parodying law firms).  Diane tries to retire, but her retirement funds are frozen after a ponzi scheme perpetrated by her longtime friend Henry Rindell is uncovered. Henry’s daughter Maia has just passed the bar and is a junior associate at Diane’s firm.  Diane, who is Maia’s godmother, brings her along when she eventually leaves to join Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad, an all-black firm in Chicago (one of my favorite jokes of the season is when Adrian Boseman says that Diane, who is white, is their “diversity hire”).  In many ways, their attempt at starting over is similar to Alicia Florrick’s situation as The Good Wife starts, where she is forced to rebuild her life following her husband’s public sex & corruption scandal.

The incomparable Christine Baranski returns as Diane Lockhart, who has to deal with some difficult events during the pilot.

Spinoffs can be difficult because it can sometimes be a hard task to carry over the energy and synchronicity of the old show into a new context.  But The Good Fight hardly misses a beat.  The cases-of-the-week continue to be interesting, and just as before, many are ripped from the headlines to give the show a fresh and relevant feel.  This is true even in the pilot, where a police brutality case is brought up.  Other episodes also deal with trends in clickbait “fake news,” as well as sexist/racist social media posts.  The ongoing season-long arc of Maia and Diane dealing with the fallout from Henry’s ponzi scheme is also compelling, and because the season is only 10 episodes long, it forces the writers to advance that storyline more quickly and smoothly.

The acting is also top-notch.  Several Good Wife characters return for another go, including Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), Alicia’s tough-as-nails partner who ends up at Reddick/Boseman with Diane.  Diane also recruits Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele), who had appeared in several episodes of the previous show, as her assistant.  I actually think Marissa’s character is the most improved between the old show and the new.  As a series regular, Steele is able to flesh out her character more and her charming and whip-smart nature is able to be fully realized.  Diane’s husband Kurt (Gary Cole) also makes several appearances, and they appeared to make up from the fight they had at the end of Good Wife, which made me happy :).  Guest stars from before include Matthew Perry as the villainous prosecutor Mike Kresteva, and the hilarious Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni, who was probably my all-time favorite character from the old show.  Part of me wishes she was a series regular, but her personality and brand of humor might not be appreciated as much if she appeared on the show every week.  I would love to see Julianna Margulies come back as Alicia Florrick for a guest appearance, and since his daughter is on the show, they just need to bring back Alan Cumming as Eli Gold too.

I also enjoyed the new characters brought on for this show.  Rose Leslie does a fantastic job of portraying Maia’s nervousness and wide-eyed-new-girl persona during the season, but she also shows signs of growth and progress in the season finale, so it will be interesting to see the extent to which she finds her sea legs in season 2.  Delroy Lindo injects energy, passion, and fun into his portrayal of Adrian Boseman.  He and Diane both seem like the types of people I would love to work for had I become a lawyer.  Justin Bartha plays Colin Morrello, a lawyer in the State’s Attorney’s office that has something of a romantic entanglement with Lucca.  Theirs was the only plotline this season that I wasn’t a huge fan of, more because it seemed tired and not particularly interesting.  At least it didn’t sink to Kalinda-and-Blake levels of weirdness.

Lastly, The Good Fight also carries on The Good Wife’s tradition of excellent music.  There are several examples in my music collection of songs that I downloaded because I first heard them on The Good Wife.  The new show takes this a step further.  One of the songs that recurs during the season is “You Were Right About Everything,” by Erin McKeown, and that song is responsible for my current obsession with McKeown’s work.  This may be the first example of a situation where I bought entire albums based off a song I heard on a TV show.  “You Were Right About Everything,” especially resonated with me because it mirrored a struggle I was going through at the time I discovered the song.  I’m thinking about doing a “from the vault” review of the album that song is on, We Will Become Like Birds.  Regardless, McKeown’s music is definitely worth a look.

Rose Leslie is probably the best new addition to the Good Wife/Good Fight universe, playing Maia Rindell

All of this adds up to a show that is absolutely a worthy successor to The Good Wife, and I can’t wait to see what bold twists and turns this show has to offer.  If you were a fan of the old show, or if you simply are a nerd like me and love lawyer shows injected with politics and current events, definitely make some time for The Good Fight.

Posted in TV

Our Sweet Affairs

I’m pretty sympathetic to anyone trying to do “indie” anything.  Indie filmmakers, indie musicians, indie video game creators, etc.  It’s tough to do when you don’t have the backing of a major company.  Which is why today, I’d like to make a little plug for two of my friends from college, Jen Finelli and Samantha Aiken, who are making their own indie film, I’m Having an Affair With My Wife.

The premise is rather funny and relevant in today’s times.  The couple at the center of the show is the epitome of the term “opposites attract.”  Lashonda is a driven CEO while Sung-Min is a free-spirited artist with a passion for volunteerism.  The fact that the couple is African-American and Korean only makes the plot even fresher and more interesting (it’s actually the first American romantic comedy in 17 years to feature such a coupling).  They find their marriage stagnating, so they get on an Ashley Madison-like website to seek out affairs, only to find themselves unwittingly matched with each other!  The producers are extending the different concepts explored in the film on their blog that’s featured on the film’s official website.

If all of this sounds cool to you, you should do as I did and visit their page on Seed & Spark, the Kickstarter for movie makers.  For as little as a $1 contribution, you can get rewards.  Some of perks of the campaign include a personalized poem, DVD copies of the film signed by the leads, music downloads, even a chance to be in the film.  If you contribute at the highest level ($3,000), you can even blow up Jen’s car.  That’s right… blow up her car.  Thanks for reading, and may all your affairs be sweet 😉

A Celebration of Star Wars

Back in 2012, Star Wars Celebration, that four-day extravaganza for fans of the galaxy far, far away, was held in Orlando.  The only trouble with that was that I was a first-year teacher with nowhere near the financial means to get myself to the convention.  Fast forward to last year, and my insurance underwriter’s salary and benefits ensured that I could grab the tickets when it came back to Orlando.  Celebration 2017 finally happened last week, and I thought I’d do a reaction post on it, like I normally do when Dragon Con happens each year.

The main difference between Celebration and an event like D*C is that the entire con takes place in a single large building, in this case the Orange County Convention Center.  Dragon Con, on the other hand, is spread out over five hotels and spans many different genres of geekdom, as opposed to just Star Wars.  The main drawback with this is that for major panels and events, the entire con will converge on one place, and only the most hardcore fans will be able to enter.  For the panels commemorating the 40th anniversary and talking about the next Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, the lines were such that in order to get in, one basically had to camp out starting the evening of the previous day.  As anyone who knows me can attest, I was not having that.  The price of going to sleep and getting up at a reasonable hour was a two-hour line just to get into the show floor that greeted me on the first day, making me uneasy about the rest of my Celebration experience.  However, once I actually got in, the crowds weren’t as bad.  The organizers also opened up additional entrances on future days, making those lines much more bearable.  The only other line-related snafu came when I tried to get into the show floor on the second day, and ended up not even being able to watch the live stream of the Last Jedi panel.  But it ended up on YouTube, which was a decent simulation.  Otherwise, I was able to get into and/or watch basically any panel I wanted.

Speaking of panels, the ones I went to were pretty enjoyable.  The 40th Anniversary panel featured almost everyone who was anyone in Star Wars that was there: Kathleen Kennedy (president of Lucasfilm), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and Dave Filoni (Star Wars Rebels producer) were all there, along with a few surprise guests.  I expected George Lucas to ride off into the sunset after selling Lucasfilm to Disney, done with Star Wars for good.  But he showed up!  Another surprise guest was Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), from the “dreaded” prequel era.  I was happy with the warm and enthusiastic reception he got at the con, despite being associated with what many describe as a low point in Star Wars history.  Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn) and Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) recorded video messages for the fans.  Finally, Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, who has never been to Celebration, made an appearance at that panel.  It was great to reminisce about some great movies.

The panel that discussed The Last Jedi was also interesting.  Rian Johnson (director), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), and Hamill all showed up, along with a new actress, Kelly-Marie Tran, who plays Rose, a maintenance worker for the Resistance.  Possibly the most interesting part of that panel was the debut of the movie’s first trailer.

The two most interesting moments in that trailer for me were the scene with Kylo Ren’s crushed helmet, which may imply something about his fate, and Luke’s words.  Many fans have speculated that Luke will either fall to the dark side, or become a “grey Jedi,” one who uses both the light side and dark side, while becoming fully invested in neither.  His quote, “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end,” as well as Rey’s talking of seeing the balance of the Force, light and dark, serve to fuel this theory.  Now, this could just be something he says in the beginning of the film that ultimately amounts to nothing after he agrees to train Rey, but it’s fun to speculate.

Other fun panels were the Star Wars Rebels panel, at which Dave Filoni revealed that the fourth season will be the last for the beloved animated series.  Mark Hamill did a moving tribute to Carrie Fisher on the second day.  Daisy Ridley crashed the Heroines of Star Wars panel, along with Filoni and Rebels voice actresses Tiya Sircar (Sabine Wren) and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), and the audience got to watch the first of the new Star Wars: Forces of Destiny animated shorts. David Collins analyzed the music of Rogue One in an interesting way at that panel, analyzing the themes of hope in them and connecting them back to the music of the original films, and also talking about the “Dies Irae,” musical device, which symbolizes death.  Had you been listening for it in Jyn Erso’s theme, you would have known that she would die at the end, as it is repeated four times within her leitmotif.  There was a similar panel about the making of Rogue One, where the filmmakers showed several digital sets that were built but not used.

Mark Hamill gave a sweet tribute to his friend, Carrie Fisher

The show floor featured the usual combination of shopping and art that you would find at a place like Dragon Con, but it also had some more unique areas.  For instance, there was a section devoted to new Star Wars games that had a digital pinball machine you could try your hand at, and there was one section entirely devoted to people who had tricked out their cars with Star Wars stuff.  Toymakers like Lego and the prop replica companies had cool displays.  But the king of all of those might be Nissan, who as part of their “Go Rogue” promotion had a booth where congoers could experience using the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality device which I had never tried before.  I will be very interested to see what is done with this technology going forward.  And, of course, there were many, many great costumes.

Mace Windu has always been one of my favorite Jedi.

My experience was capped off by getting to meet two of my favorite actors from Star Wars: Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams.  The baseball card company Topps worked with the Celebration organizers to make almost all of the celebrities there available for photo ops and autographs.  While the autograph lines could be somewhat mismanaged (sensing a pattern here?) it was worth it in the end.  All of it added up to a fun experience.  While it probably isn’t as relentlessly well-run as Dragon Con, it was great to be surrounded by Star Wars fans and even to run into some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile.  Hopefully, Star Wars Celebration 2019 will also be in Orlando, cause I’d definitely go back again.

A Happy Marriage

As promised, I’m dissecting Art of Anarchy’s first album with new frontman Scott Stapp now that it has dropped.  When I listened to AoA’s original album with Scott Weiland at the helm, I did realize that there were two distinct styles that had to merge in order for this incarnation of the band to work.  The first album was clearly post-grunge, but the vocals and lyrical content were more similar to 80s and 90s bands such as Guns ‘N Roses (which guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal was a member of for eight years) or Stone Temple Pilots (which Weiland fronted for most of its existence).  This style had to fuse easily with Scott Stapp’s vocal style, which is very straightforward and passionate, infused with religious themes, and much more firmly in the post-grunge tradition.

All indications appear that this marriage of styles has worked out happily for all involved.  Hints of each will come out in different songs, but it doesn’t appear that either AoA or Stapp had to give up their identities in order to make The Madness work well.  For instance, “Echo of a Scream” features more ambiguous lyrics than is typical in Stapp-fronted bands, which tend to hit the listener over the head with their respective themes.  But then you get to a song like “Changed Man,” an anthemic ballad that could have easily fit in on his second solo album Proof of Life.  But even in that song, the legato guitar chords that were in the background a lot of Creed songs are replaced by a riff and a solo that play alongside Stapp’s vocals, something that I don’t remember hearing a lot of in his previous work.  I also don’t think this is a song that the Weiland-era AoA would ever have made, either.  This song, as well as the first single, “The Madness,” are probably where the album hits its peak.  The band’s riffs have a ton of energy, and they complement Stapp’s powerful vocals very well.

Another interesting difference between this album and previous Scott Stapp fare is the almost complete absence of the aforementioned religious themes that pervade his work.  Not that Creed was ever really a Christian band, but it was interesting to hear Stapp go through an entire album barely mentioning God.  In fact, he mentions the devil more often, hence the song “Dancing With the Devil.”  But that one doesn’t explore religious themes so much as it explores the question, “What if Art of Anarchy attempted to do a poppy song?”  The end result is sort of weird, but good enough that I can at least compliment them for making the attempt.  Stapp also experiments a little with the timbre of his voice, as it takes a devilish, almost Joker-from-Batman quality in “1,000 Degrees.”

One big improvement from the original album to now as well comes in the solos.  AoA’s first album featured a lot of guitar parts that kind of made it seem like they were just going through the motions, exacerbated by the fact that the music and lyrics were written separately.  But on The Madness, the listener can tell that they put real thought and effort into those parts, and made sure they supported Stapp’s vocals and fit with the rest of the song.  There’s even a few fast-moving ones that, dare I say, remind me of Stapp’s former partner in crime, Mark Tremonti, who I regard as one of the greatest living guitarists.  But they can even vary that up, like in “No Surrender,” a song with a riff that feels reminiscent of the band’s first album, but is a better fit for its song than others on the first album were.

All of this adds up to a record that feels like it was made by a band, rather than stitched together by a bunch of people working on different parts in different rooms.  The sound here is much more energetic and organic, with the drum parts working just as well as the guitars and vocals to bring said energy to bear.  While I may be biased because I’m a big fan of Stapp’s vocal style (my track picks are probably the most Creed/Stapp-like songs on the album), I definitely think this album is much better than the first and merits a buy it.  While it’s not some kind of radical departure for Stapp or the rest of the band, there are enough subtle differences here that the album won’t feel like a complete retread for either entity.  Here are my track picks:

“The Madness”

“No Surrender”

“Changed Man”

Baltimore Orioles Preview: If Everything Breaks Right…

Last year, as has frequently happened since the team’s 2012 renaissance, the Baltimore Orioles defied analysts’ expectations, falling one win short of 90 on the year.  However, their season ended in devastation in the wild-card game after Buck Showalter controversially didn’t bring in world-beating closer Zach Britton during extra innings, leaving Ubaldo Jimenez to give up the game-winning home run to Edwin Encarnacion in the 11th.  I’m not going to dwell too much on that decision, as it has been analyzed to death on every sports-talk medium you can think of.  The fact that the O’s even made it to that game was an achievement, and it will be interesting to see if they can follow it up.  It may take a lot of luck for that to happen, though… let’s break it down.

What’s new?

Answer: …not too much.  The Orioles lost catcher Matt Wieters (to the Nationals, of all teams…).  I liked Wieters during his tenure with the team and didn’t want them to lose him, but it may actually not be the worst thing in the world that he’s gone.  First of all, he just turned 30 years old, a time when many hitters start to fall off the age curve.  That may be exacerbated for him because he plays the most grueling position in all of baseball.  He also never quite lived up to his hype coming out of the minors, with a career .256/.318/.421 slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) and 117 home runs.  He was never a great defensive catcher either.  With top minor league prospect Chance Sisco looming large over the position, Baltimore probably figured that Wieters was expendable.  The O’s’ other key loss was Steve Pearce, who is perhaps the embodiment of the phrase “I can’t quit you, baby.”  He appears to have finally left Baltimore for good, however.  Pearce showed hints of power, but his batting average and on-base numbers frequently lagged, so he was probably redundant on this roster.

As for what Baltimore brought in, they replaced Wieters with Wellington Castillo from the Diamondbacks, who like Wieters is a good hitter who isn’t as focused on the defensive aspects of his position.  His hitting stats (.264/.322/.423, 14 HR, 68 RBI) are actually a tick better than what Wieters put up last season, so he should be able to slide right in once he gets adjusted to American League pitching.  The Orioles also traded away Yovani Gallardo, who after a horrific first half rebounded a little to put up a 6-8 record, but his ERA ballooned to 5.42.  Most of that was his fault, too, as his fielding-independent pitching (ERA adjusted for team defense behind him) was 5.04.  The trade brought in outfielder Seth Smith from the Seattle Mariners, who seems to be somewhat similar to Pearce, and could fill in for him just fine.

Catcher Wellington Castillo was the Orioles’ most interesting free agent signing.

Who’s back?

Perhaps the Orioles’ most significant offseason signing was bringing back DH Mark Trumbo.  It wasn’t so much that they got him back, but that they got him back for the right price.  Rather than way overpay, like they would’ve had to for Nelson Cruz last offseason, Baltimore was able to bring Trumbo back on a 3-year, $37.5M deal.  The contract comes with some risk, as he just finished his age-30 season.  He probably won’t match last season’s numbers, when he hit 47 homers as the next out-of-nowhere Baltimore slugger (joining Cruz and first baseman Chris Davis).  But even if he bats around .250-.260 and gets another 35-40 homers, it will be worth it.  His only drawback is that he isn’t that great defensively, so the team may not know what to do with him in interleague games.

DH Mark Trumbo did a lot of this last year.

The core of Baltimore’s lineup is also back, and it’s once again loaded with power.  Manny Machado is their best player, snaring nearly every ball that comes at him at the hot corner, and posting excellent all-around batting numbers year after year (career .284/.333/.477 slash line).  Oh yeah, and he’s only going to be 24 to start the season.  He is going to be a free agent after this year, so expect him to post just as good, if not better numbers to raise his value on the market.

Outfielder Adam Jones is a poor man’s Machado, though a rough start to last year caused many fans to wonder if Father Time had caught up with him.  He recovered to his usual offensive numbers, and is still Gold Glove-caliber in the field.  First baseman Chris Davis will likely turn into a Mark Reynolds-type player as he ages, with low on-base and high power (just hopefully not as maddening as Reynolds was).  JJ Hardy is likely nearing the end of the line at short, but can still hit some.  Second baseman Jonathan Schoop had something of a breakout in his second full season at the plate, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can build on it and become a .275 average, 30-homer type hitter.  Hyun-Soo Kim hit for a high average and OBP, and if he can maintain that, he could be the true leadoff hitter that the team has needed for awhile.  Adam Jones batted leadoff frequently last year, and I personally think some of his talents are wasted there.  Caleb Joseph, the defensive specialist at catcher, will along with Castillo help keep the seat warm for Sisco, who may make his debut this year.

The starting rotation is where Baltimore will need the most luck.  Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy showed signs of maturing into solid starting pitchers as the team finally figured out how to properly utilize them.  If they can be a one-two punch at the top, Chris Tillman can slide in at the #3 spot, which is probably the best place for him at this stage in his career as long as he stays healthy.  Who will be the #4 and #5 starters, though?  Deadline acquisition Wade Miley hasn’t been the same since his All-Star 2012 season, and was dreadful after coming over from Seattle.  Jimenez is probably more suited to the bullpen.  Mike Wright had an inflated ERA in his spot starts, and Virginia Cavalier product Tyler Wilson hasn’t really shown any of the promise he flashed in 2015.  This rotation has the feel of being held together with duct tape and string, and is one injury or lackluster performance away from being a disaster.

Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman has to have a breakout season for the Orioles to contend for the playoffs.

The bullpen should be strong again, though.  Zach Britton, he of the magical sinker and infinitesimal 0.54 ERA, will be the closer.  The ‘pen may not have as much depth as last year, as Darren O’Day took a step back due to age.  Brad Brach is still a solid contributor, and Mychal Givens showed some promise in a setup role.  Vidal Nuno and Oliver Drake could be solid pieces as well.  The team took a step back defensively last year, ranking 19th in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating, so that will need to improve.

Add it all up and you have a team that, if everyone produces and avoids major injury, could easily compete for a wild card.  I’m not naïve enough to think that everything will go perfectly, though, so while I’m not willing to project the O’s to win 89 games again, I think 84 is an attainable goal.  That may be enough to get them a wild card berth, as the Blue Jays look weaker and the Yankees and Rays probably aren’t ready to challenge just yet.  I could see Seattle or Detroit making a play for the wild-card, but even if one of those teams is successful, Baltimore could still nab the second spot.

Around the league, I like the Cleveland Indians, who got to the World Series even as their own rotation was held together by duct tape and string due to injuries, as the favorites to get to the World Series.  I figure one of these years, my constant predictions of the Los Angeles Dodgers to break out will finally come true.  In a matchup of those teams, I like the Indians to win.  The Dodgers have the aforementioned record of folding in the playoffs, and the Indians will be supremely motivated, as they now have the longest World Series drought in the majors after the Chicago Cubs broke theirs last year.

Generic Anarchy

Since Art of Anarchy’s first album with newly recruited singer Scott Stapp is dropping next Friday, so I figured that before I reviewed that album, I’d take a listen to their original album as perhaps a preview of what to expect from their sophomore effort.

First, some background.  AoA is a supergroup consisting of Jon & Vince Votta on lead guitar and drums, respectively.  The Votta brothers then brought in ex-Guns N’Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Disturbed bassist Jon Moyer to fill out the rest of the lineup.  There was just one problem: they needed a vocalist.  Enter Scott Weiland, of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver fame (along with the occasional solo album).  This is where the band’s story gets a little weird.  Weiland wrote and recorded vocals for this album after sharing the music files back and forth with Bumblefoot.  For all intents and purposes, he appeared to be a full-on member of the band, at least at first.  But he pretty quickly and aggressively distanced himself from the project, calling it a “scam from the beginning.”  Weiland implies that the band paid him to write and record the vocals for the album and that was it, claiming he “didn’t even know what their names were.”  The weird part is that he participated in promotional photo shoots and music videos for the album, so he pretty clearly had at least met the other members and participated in the band to some degree.  This fissure in the band prevented them from undergoing a proper tour in support of the album, and very likely depressed the album’s sales and visibility.

But there may be other factors.  While the band taps into their hard-rockin’ DNA for some decent riffs and solos, the whole effort just feels sort of… generic.  It’s pretty easy to tell that the members didn’t record their parts together, because the songs don’t seem to have a lot of cohesion.  Or rather, they have cohesion, it just occurs in fits and starts and doesn’t seem to come together for any sustained stretch of the album.  The two biggest examples of this are the two singles, “Time Every Time,” and “’Til the Dust Is Gone.”  The former is my favorite song on the album, with a solid riff that complements Weiland’s vocals well.  It also shows off his belting ability in the chorus.  In somewhat of a rarity for most rock songs, it splices in Weiland’s voice with the guitar solo.  “’Til the Dust Is Gone” has another good riff that builds on itself, and echoes the salsa-like acoustic guitar sound from the album’s instrumental intro, “Black Rain.”

Art of Anarchy lead guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal

This brings me to another point about the album: Scott Weiland is criminally underutilized in it.  He is perhaps the epitome of rock star life, whose talent came in equal measure with his battles with drugs; battles which ultimately killed him in December 2015.  There’s no denying that he was one of the most talented rock vocalists in history, though.  I often refer to him as having a “rubber voice,” that he could bend the timbre and range of in amazing ways.  Stone Temple Pilots’ first album Core provides some of the clearest examples of this.  But there’s precious little of that on Art of Anarchy’s self-titled debut.  It doesn’t help that his vocals are frequently obscured by the other instruments in the band, so the listener can rarely understand what he’s saying.

That’s not to say this album is entirely bad, per se.  There are some cool solos and sounds that will pop up on occasion, such as the shiny-sounding intro to “Superstar,” and the call-and-response in “The Drift.”  The guitar parts on this album are really heavy without sounding sludge-y.  The drum and bass parts also provide solid support and even stand out on some songs, like “Grand Applause,” and the aforementioned “’Til the Dust Is Gone.”  Ironically, it ends up sounding a lot like the proof of concept analogy that I used to describe Scott Stapp’s second solo album.  AoA have proved that they have a fair to good foundation in place.  Now they just need everything to come together as a whole in order to realize their full potential.  I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with on their upcoming second album The Madness, now that they will function much more like a conventional band.  If the lead single is any indication, the heavy guitar sound will combine with Stapp’s hard-hitting and straightforward vocal style to perhaps create a less melodic version of Creed.

As for this album, I’d give it a borrow it rating.  It’s worth listening to once, and the two singles are worth keeping in your collection, if nothing else.  Here are my track picks:

“Time Every Time”

“‘Til the Dust Is Gone”

“The Drift”

Breaking Down the Republican Health Plan

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) presents the American Health Care Act on Monday, March 6.

Ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ACA) was passed, Republicans have been bound and determined to repeal it.  Despite having nearly seven years to come up with an alternative plan, it took them until this past Wednesday to finally introduce something.  Dubbed the American Health Care Act, the bill doesn’t fully repeal the ACA (they’d need 60 votes in the Senate to do that, and they only have 52), it remakes the program so heavily that it more or less accomplishes this goal.  Since health care policy is hard, I figured I’d dissect the key elements of the new plan (spoiler alert: I’m not likely to praise very much of it).

First, a short primer on how the ACA worked.  Under this law, low-income Americans could obtain health insurance coverage in a few ways.  First, the law expanded the Medicaid program, which provided insurance through the government for the poorest individuals and families (a Supreme Court decision later determined that states could choose whether or not to expand their Medicaid programs).  Second, it provided federal subsidies to buy private insurance on federally-run health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges.  It also required insurance companies to provide ten basic benefits in all but the most bare-bones plans. (outpatient care, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health services, addiction treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, laboratory tests, preventive services, and pediatric services).

The ACA also contained a provision that required people to carry health insurance at all times, or face a tax penalty.  While this may seem burdensome, the point of the individual mandate was to get more young and healthy Americans, many of whom didn’t have insurance previously, paying into the system so that insurance companies could afford to cover sicker and older Americans.  More of these individuals would be buying insurance because the ACA made it illegal to deny or cancel coverage for preexisting conditions.  To partially compensate for requiring younger Americans to buy health insurance, they allowed children to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26, providing something of a safety net if younger Americans had trouble finding a job out of school to help pay for coverage.

Here’s what the American Health Care Act (AHCA) does to these provisions:

-It gets rid of the individual mandate… or does it?  A closer examination of the bill reveals that it allows insurers to tack on hefty surcharges if people don’t maintain continuous health coverage.  So the individual mandate is in effect still there, the money just lines insurance companies’ pockets rather than going to the government, where it might be able to fund more people getting coverage.

-It dramatically remakes Medicaid.  Under the current system, the federal government provides matching funds for what states spend on Medicaid, and mandates what their Medicaid insurance plans must cover at minimum.  The AHCA instead gives states a fixed amount of funding per enrollee starting in 2020.  The problem is that the funding provided under this formula will likely be less than what the government provides now, meaning that Medicaid plans in many states may not provide the ten essential benefits listed above due to cost crunches, since the AHCA removes that requirement as well.

The AHCA dramatically restructures the Medicaid program.

-It shrinks federal subsidies for those who don’t qualify for Medicaid.  The Affordable Care Act used a complex formula in each state that determined how much of a federal subsidy one would get to buy health insurance using a complex mathematical formula.  The AHCA does away with this formula, and instead offers a flat tax credit of $2,000-$4,000.  This is a narrower range than under the ACA, and would likely make health insurance more expensive, especially for those that need it most.

-It allows insurance companies to charge elderly customers more.  The Affordable Care Act only allowed insurers to charge elderly Americans up to three times more than they charged younger Americans.  The Republican bill increases that ratio to 5-to-1.  Thus, younger people would likely see their premiums drop as older peoples’ rise. This upsets the balance the Affordable Care Act struck by putting healthier Americans on the rolls to lower the costs for everyone else.

-It repeals two taxes that hit highest-income Americans hardest.  The top 1% of earners could get a tax break of around $33,000 or more thanks to the repeal of these taxes. The AHCA also delays the implementation of the “Cadillac tax,” which charges employers and insurers extra for super-generous health care plans from 2020 to 2025.  This leaves less funding for programs such as Medicaid and federal subsidies described above.

-It expands the amounts that individuals and families can contribute to Health Savings Accounts.  Health Savings Accounts are accounts in which people can store money tax-free to pay for health care costs as they arise.  This is great if you’re middle class or richer and have discretionary income to sock away in such an account, but for poorer Americans, this wouldn’t really help.

The AHCA defunds Planned Parenthood, which has long been in Republican crosshairs.

-It defunds Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood found itself in hot water in 2015 when the Center for Medical Progress released several videos that appeared to show the organization selling parts of aborted fetuses for profit to biotechnology companies.  Since then, Republicans have been on a crusade to defund the organization.  In fact, what Planned Parenthood was doing was accepting reimbursement for collecting and shipping tissue to research labs.  They weren’t actually making any money from it.  All of this was also perfectly legal.  Nevertheless, the AHCA still defunds Planned Parenthood for a year.  Never mind that the organization provides valuable health screenings, sex education, contraception, and other services that many community health clinics do not provide.  Never mind that it doesn’t use federal funding for abortion services, as it is banned from doing under the Hyde Amendment.  This smacks of nothing more than a move to score political points with the Republican base, and would leave many low-income individuals with less access to care.

In conclusion, while the Affordable Care Act had its issues, such as a faulty website and insurers withdrawing from the exchanges, it is worlds better than the system under the American Health Care Act, which shifts the burden of acquiring health insurance from the rich and healthy to the poor and sick. It should be rejected in favor of such provisions as reinstating risk corridor programs that would help insurance companies by sharing the risk with the federal government and thus making it easier for them to keep selling insurance on the exchanges.  In short, let’s shore up the ACA’s weaknesses, not gut it for the sake of politics.  Luckily, many Republicans have come out against the bill for a variety of reasons: it isn’t conservative enough for the extremists, it dramatically alters Medicaid in states that have expanded the program, many of which have Republican governors.  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has even come out against the Planned Parenthood defunding.  So this bill’s days could be numbered, or it could at least undergo big changes before it passes, as the ACA did.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is one of the few Republicans that is putting country over party and opposing the defunding of Planned Parenthood.