Saturday, October 10, 2009

Making it worse? Really?

Yesterday's White House press briefing was pretty lively, with, as one might imagine, plenty of questions about the Nobel Peace Prize. CBS News' Chip Reid's interests stood out, but not in a good way. (via BarbinMD)

Reid said, "I mean, most Democrats have praised it, and most Republicans have said, 'You have got to be kidding me -- Ronald Reagan didn't get one, but Barack Obama, nominated 12 days after he was sworn in, gets a Nobel Peace Prize.' And the fear among some, even some Democrats, is that this is going to widen the partisan divide and make things even more difficult to accomplish on every front."
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to move on, responding, "I'll leave the pundicizing to the pundits." But Reid wasn't through, complaining that the award itself may be "a partisan thing," because previous winners include Al Gore and Jimmy Carter. Gibbs noted that Teddy Roosevelt also won, and again tried to move on.
Reid kept pushing. "But Ronald Reagan, could I just ask you to respond to that?" the corresponded added. "The man who helped bring the Cold War to an end...."
A few thoughts here. First, when White House correspondents from major news outlets start sounding like members of Grover Norquist's "We Love Reagan" fan club, it's not a positive development.
Second, the notion that Reagan "helped bring the Cold War to an end" is, at best, a dubious proposition.
And third, Reid's fears that a Nobel prize the president did not seek might "widen the partisan divide and make things even more difficult to accomplish on every front" are almost comical. It reminded me of the scene in "Life of Brian" when Matthias says, "Look, I don't think it should be a sin, just for saying 'Jehovah.'" Shocked, the official overseeing his execution says, "You're only making it worse for yourself!' To which Matthias responds, "Making it worse? How can it be worse?"
At this point, Republicans reflexively oppose every single policy Democrats embrace. The GOP has even decided to reject ideas they originally came up with. They're running a scorched earth campaign ... and Chip Reid thinks an unsolicited Nobel Peace Prize will make it "even more difficult" for the parties to find common ground?
Making it worse? How can it be worse?

As if to prove Steve's point, heeeeerrrrre's Steele . . .
Shortly after Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele blasted the U.S. president. It was widely seen as an unseemly attack, even generating criticism from conservatives like Pat Buchanan and GOP operative Scott Reed, the latter of whom said Steele "should not have done that." For its part, the DNC noted the similarities between Steele's criticism of the president and the Taliban's.
Last night, Steele doubled down, sending out a fundraising appeal to RNC members, telling them that the Nobel Peace Prize has become "meaningless." Responding to the DNC's criticism, Steele (or, more accurately, the staffer who writes these letters) wrote:
[W]hen challenged to answer the question of what the president has accomplished, Democrats are lashing out calling Republicans terrorists. That type of political rhetoric is shameful.
The Democrats and their international leftist allies want America made subservient to the agenda of global redistribution and control. And truly patriotic Americans like you and our Republican Party are the only thing standing in their way. [emphasis in the original]
So, in one sentence, Steele is outraged by "shameful" incendiary rhetoric. In the next sentence, Democrats and international leftists "want America made subservient to the agenda of global redistribution and control."
It's almost whiplash inducing.
As for the bigger picture, we've reached an interesting time in partisan politics. At RNC headquarters, the day the U.S. president wins the Nobel Peace Prize, their first reaction is to attack. Their second reaction is to ask for more money as a symbolic protest of the president's latest honor.
NYT Editorial: The Peace Prize 
President Obama responded to the news of his Nobel Peace Prize the right way. He said he was humbled, acknowledged that the efforts for which he was honored are only beginning and pledged to see them through, not on his own but in concert with other nations.
There cannot have been unbridled joy in the White House early Friday. Mr. Obama’s aides had to expect a barrage of churlish reaction, and they got it. The left denounced the Nobel committee for giving the prize to a wartime president. The right proclaimed that Mr. Obama sold out the United States by engaging in diplomacy. Members of the dwindling band of George W. Bush loyalists also sneered — with absolutely no recognition of their own culpability — that Mr. Obama has not yet ended the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
Certainly, the prize is a (barely) implicit condemnation of Mr. Bush’s presidency. But countering the ill will Mr. Bush created around the world is one of Mr. Obama’s great achievements in less than nine months in office. Mr. Obama’s willingness to respect and work with other nations is another.
Mr. Obama has bolstered this country’s global standing by renouncing torture, this time with credibility; by pledging to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; by rejoining the effort to combat climate change and to rid the world of nuclear weapons; by recommitting himself to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and by offering to engage Iran while also insisting that it abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Obama did not seek the prize. It is a reminder of the extraordinarily high expectations for any American president — and does bring into sharp focus all that he has left to do to make the world, and this country, safer.
In Iraq, Mr. Obama is still a long way from managing an orderly withdrawal that does not leave a power vacuum and inflame a volatile region. He must decide, soon, on a strategy for Afghanistan that will do what Mr. Bush failed to do — defeat Al Qaeda and contain the Taliban — without miring American and allied troops in an endless unwinnable conflict.
To make real progress toward Mr. Obama’s declared goal of a world without nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia must both agree to deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals. If, as we suspect, Iran refuses to give up its illicit nuclear activities, Mr. Obama will have to press the rest of the world’s big powers to impose tough sanctions. He must come up with a more effective strategy to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program.
While he has made an excellent start on climate change with new regulations that finally begin to grapple with carbon emissions, the United States has to lead the way to a global agreement.
Mr. Obama is going to have to overcome narrow-minded opposition in Congress to keep his promise to close Guantánamo and deal with its inmates in a way consistent with the Constitution and American values. He has much more to do to erase the worst excesses of Mr. Bush in detaining prisoners without charges and flaunting the Geneva Conventions.
Americans elected Mr. Obama because they wanted him to restore American values and leadership — and because they believed he could. The Nobel Prize, and the broad endorsement that followed, shows how many people around the world want the same thing.
Words from the world:
Mohamed Elbaradei, the director-general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, who received the prize in 2005, said in a statement that he was “absolutely delighted.” “I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor,” he said. “In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself.”

President Shimon Peres of Israel, sent a letter to President Obama on Friday morning, saying: “Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”

President Sarkozy: "The award marks America's return to the heart of the people of the world."

Friday, October 9, 2009

In a Class of her Own

Rachel Maddow is so far beyond any other "pundit" on teevee it is beyond belief. This piece is crisp, concise, and lays out by chapter and verse the history of people receiving the Peace Prize, and Obama's actions before he was nominated that justified the award. Terrific stuff.

Obama brings another honor to America

Oct. 9: Msnbc's Rachel Maddow explains why President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and marvels at the inability of some Americans not to feel pride at the honor.

Our Media: Nobel Stoopidity Edition

QOTD, Josh Marshall:  
And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it's a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was 'normal history' rather than dark aberration.
Atrios on Our Dumb Discourse 
I think people can legitimately think all kinds of things about Obama's peace prize, but of course the Villagers ran right for the stupid. 
Foser: I swear I am not making this up
You know what'll ruin your day like nothing else?
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Time magazine explains, in two separate pieces:
Why Winning the Nobel Peace Prize Could Hurt Obama
Obama's Nobel: The Last Thing He Needs
This is so true.  Sure, some people may think finding out you have cancer is the last thing you need.  Or that your kid has cancer.  But not me.  I spend every day of my life grateful that I'm never going to win a Nobel Peace Prize.  'Cause that would really be terrible.  It's literally the last thing anyone needs.  You know, what with it being the most prestigious award in the entire world and all.  Nobody wants that.

DougJ: Good news for Republicans
If you didn’t know that Obama winning the Nobel prize was good news for Republicans, you haven’t been paying attention. Here’s Marc Ambinder:
At Slate, John Dickerson writes that the Nobel committee shouldn’t have awarded the prize to Obama, and Mickey Kaus urges Obama to turn it down. Kaus’s reasoning is politics: Obama’s narcissism problem—Kaus’s bolds—will be exacerbated.
This tracks with one argument I’m hearing and reading from Democrats and others who are skeptical of the prize: it will turn the volume and enthusiasm level all the way to the extreme end of the dial for conservatives—overmodulating at 110%; the resulting hyperpolarization will hurt Obama’s agenda. (Representative of this opinion: “I think it will feed not just conservative dislike but the growing concern of independents and elites, that he is a man of rhetoric, a work of imagination, but as of now an unaccomplished statesman. The smartest thing he could do is turn it down. It will backfire on him.’”)
His narcissism problem? Jesus fucking Christ, when did that become an official Villager meme?
Update. Yes, I know Kaus and Will have hitting the narcissism thing hard, but I didn’t know that it was an official Villager meme yet. Ambinder using the expression, without air quotes or anything like them, means that it’s now official.
Update. Great reader emails, like this one, are why I’m still a Sully addict, you haters be damned:
If I’m using Politico’s tortured logic, what the Nobel gang really did, basically, is give the prize to Polanski, right?
DougJ: The sad heart of Ruth 
The Ruth Marcus take on the Obama Nobel is an instant Village classic:
This turns the award into something like pee-wee soccer: everybody wins for trying.
If the Nobel Committee ran out of worthy candidates, it might have engaged in a bit of recycling. Nothing wrong with a second prize to Aung San Suu Kyi (1991). And I suspect it did not actually do the president any favors. Obama’s cheerleaders don’t need the encouragement—and his critics will only seize on the prize to further lampoon the Obama-as-Messiah storyline.
It’s got it all, a lame joke based on her experiences as an upper class suburban parent, the good news for Republicans stuff, and an extremely half-assed effort at suggesting an alternative candidate (Aung San Suu Kyi is great, but no one has ever gotten the Peace Nobel twice). If you’re going to go with the someone-else-should-have-gotten-it shtick (which I don’t even disagree with), at least google a little to come up with a list instead of just going with a previous winner you’re familiar with.
Anyway, it would have just been good news for the Myanmar military junta if Aung San Suu Kyi had gotten it again.
  •  The Lede: World Reaction to a Nobel Surprise 

    Mohamed Elbaradei, the director-general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, who received the prize in 2005, said in a statement that he was “absolutely delighted.”
    “I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor,” he said. “In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself.”
    Along a similar vein, another laureate, President Shimon Peres of Israel, sent a letter to President Obama on Friday morning, saying: “Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”

  •  Josh Marshall: Unexpected Developments 
    ...    But the unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the 'hyper-power' as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it's a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was 'normal history' rather than dark aberration.
Benen: QUOTE OF THE DAY.... 
There have been some pretty extraordinary responses to President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, some encouraging, some less so. And in general, the reactions from many of the White House's right-wing detractors have been disheartening.

It's tough to pick just one -- indeed, the day is far from over and there's plenty of nonsense yet to be aired. After all, Beck's and Hannity's cable shows won't start for hours.
Beck did, however, have a strong entry for Quote of the Day, telling his radio audience that the Nobel Peace Prize "should be give to the Tea Party goers and the 9-12 Project." As Beck sees it, progressives thought the right wouldn't contest the Democratic agenda -- they did? -- so the far-right protestors deserve credit for ... something. It wasn't entirely clear.
But barring any late entries, Rush Limbaugh's Quote of the Day will be tough to forget. "I think that everybody is laughing. Our president is a world-wide joke," the radio host said. "Folks, do you realize something has happened here that we all agree with the Taliban and Iran about and that is he doesn't deserve the award. Now that's hilarious, that I'm on the same side of something with the Taliban, and that we all are on the same side as the Taliban."
Well, Rush, not all of us.
It's been quite a strange year in this regard. In February, Rep. Pete Sessions (R) of Texas, chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee, said he'd like to see his party emulate the Taliban and possibly "become an insurgency."
And now Limbaugh thinks it's hilarious that he, the Taliban, and the Ahmadinejad regime are all criticizing the U.S. president in the same way.
  •  from the comments:

    "...we all are on the same side as the Taliban."
    Now there's a keeper clip to play in a DNC TV ad.

    Posted by: Speed on October 9, 2009 at 3:23 PM

C&L: Tony Blankley Excuses NRCC's Sexist Statement About Pelosi: If You're in the Minority, Nobody Pays Attention 
By Heather Friday Oct 09, 2009 1:00pm

From The Situation Room Oct. 8, 2009. Tony Blankley tries to rationalize the NRCC's sexist statement about Nancy Pelosi saying 'taxpayers can only hope McChrystal is able to put her in her place'. In Tony Blankley's world, the media doesn't pay any attention to Republicans unless they're behaving badly. Really Tony? You're joking right? Because I sure as hell don't see any shortage of Republicans getting face time in the media no matter how they're behaving. The media has had so many 'exclusive' interviews with John McCain since he lost the presidential election I'd almost swear they didn't realize who won. I can't get the man off of my television screen.
And I think Tony needs to take a look at this from the good folks over at Think Progress with a snapshot of the media coverage of Republicans from back in January-- REPORT: GOP Lawmakers Outnumber Democratic Lawmakers 2 To 1 In Stimulus Debate On Cable News
As Media Matters has documented, during the Bush administration, the media consistently allowed conservatives to dominate their shows, booking them as guests far more often than progressives. The rationale was that Republicans were “in power.”
It appears that old habits die hard. Even though President Obama and his team are in control of the executive branch and Democrats are in the majority in Congress, the cable networks are still turning more often to Republicans and allowing them to set the agenda on major issues, most recently on the debate over the economic recovery package.
On Sunday, conservatives began an all-out assault on President Obama’s economic recovery plan, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) both announcing that they would vote against the plan as it stood. Despite Obama’s efforts at good faith outreach, congressional conservatives have continued to attack the stimulus plan with a series of false and disingenuous arguments.
The media have been aiding their efforts. In a new analysis, ThinkProgress has found that the five cable news networks — CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and CNBC — have hosted more Republican lawmakers to discuss the plan than Democrats by a 2 to 1 ratio this week.
Boy Tony, how can the Republicans ever manage to get their message out without making sexist remarks about Nancy Pelosi when the media ignores them like that?
And David Gergen tries to rewrite history pretending that St. Ronnie would never have behaved so badly. Two words David. Southern Strategy.

I'll bring the popcorn!

QOTD, sgw:
If you hear something that sounds like fireworks early this morning, do not be alarmed. It is just the sound of wingnuts' heads exploding with the news that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
I expect the reactions around the wingnutosphere/FOXNEWS will range from braying that he doesn't deserve it to this being further proof that he is the anti Christ. Still its awfully hard to support these idiots calling him a nazi and a communist etc right after he wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

Gotta love it!
QOTD2, SteveW 
Well, making wingnut heads explode does contribute immeasurably to world peace.
the Taliban:
“We have seen no change in his strategy for peace. He has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan.”
Josh Marshall's Deep Thought
It's like when Hitler won the Nobel.
I guess Krauthammer was right, the international regard for the United States has so fallen after Obama became President that they just awarded our Chief Executive the Nobel Peace Prize -- probably for not being like Charles Krauthammer.
Well, making wingnut heads explode does contribute immeasurably to world peace.
From TPM's Facebook:
David Noyes
In response to a comment from hard-liner GOPer John Bolton:

"... If President Obama, you know, walked on water, you'd say he couldn't swim."

- Hillary Clinton


“I congratulate President Obama on receiving this prestigious award. I join my fellow Americans in expressing pride in our President on this occasion.”

Alan Grayson: "If the President has a BLT tomorrow, the Republicans will try to ban bacon."

This video of Alan Grayson bringing it to both parties is a bit off topic, but also a must watch: 
Maddam Speaker I have words for both Democrats and Republicans tonight. Let's start with the Democrats. We as a party have spent the last six months-- the greatest minds of our party dwelling on the question, the unbelievably consuming question of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote for health care reform. I want to remind us all... Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year. Olympia Snowe has no veto power in the Senate. Olympia Snowe represents a state with one half of one percent of America's population. What America wants is health care reform.

John Cole: The Nobel

Not sure why he was given it, other than as a repudiation of the Bush way of doing things, but man I am enjoying the freak-out from the usual suspects.
Allahpundit sounds like he is about to stroke out, Breitbart probably won’t speak for two weeks, and this is yet another opportunity for Republicans to show the entire country what assholes they can be.
I’m really looking forward to it. There should be some pretty quality stuff coming from the wingnuts who just 24 hours ago were getting themselves worked into a froth over the art in the White House.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele isn't pleased about President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, and released this churlish statement this morning.
"The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?' It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain -- President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action."
RedState's Erick Erickson argued that the Nobel Peace Prize must have "an affirmative action quota." Fox News is being, well, Fox News.
This hasn't been an especially good week for the right. When the United States suffered a setback last Friday, with the Olympic decision, a few too many conservatives were thrilled to the point of giddiness. When the United States wins a great honor today, a few too many conservatives are furious.
Bad news for the country is cause for exuberance, and good news for the country is grounds for bitter disappointment.
Has the right really thought this strategy through?
Sargent: DNC: Steele And GOP Have Thrown In Their Lot With The Terrorists By Criticizing Obama’s Nobel
Dems intend to go on the offensive today by holding up Republican criticism of Obama’s Nobel as the latest example of Republicans desperately hoping for America’s failure, placing it alongside GOP cheer at America’s loss of the Olympics as evidence of an unmistakable pattern.
The DNC’s Brad Woodhouse sends over a typically hard-hitting reaction, linking Republicans with terrorists:
The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists — the Taliban and Hamas this morning — in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize. Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize — an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride — unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It’s no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore – it’s an embarrassing label to claim.
It’s worth noting that Republicans who fail to find anything good or celebratory to say about the Nobel risk doing at least as much damage to themselves as to Obama, by feeding the GOP-wants-America-to-fail meme.
Josh Marshall: Unexpected Developments 
It's not the accustomed stance of a writer or blogger. But this one does have me at something of a loss for words. I notice the condemnation of the Taliban, the edged snark of the superciliati. But I also see Ana Marie Cox's first-off Twitter: "Apparently Nobel prizes now being awarded to anyone who is not George Bush." And while less than generous, I think she's on to the root of the matter. But perhaps not precisely in the way she thinks.
This is an odd award. You'd expect it to come later in Obama's presidency and tied to some particular event or accomplishment. But the unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the 'hyper-power' as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it's a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was 'normal history' rather than dark aberration.
Kevin Drum 
Wait a second.  Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?  What for?  Says here it's in recognition of "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."
I'm going to head out into the blogosphere and see what people think of this.  But before I do, I just want to say that this is ridiculous.  I mean, I'm all in favor of making wingnut heads explode, but the guy's been in office for slightly less than nine months.  That's barely enough time to make a baby, let alone bring world peace.  Shouldn't the luminaries in Oslo have waited until he had done something more significant than making nice with his former primary opponent before declaring him a man for the ages?
Oh well.  Sometimes people do dumb things.  At least we get to see wingnut heads explode.
  •  from the comments:

    Excellent Choice

    The Prize committee is apparently Norwegians. From their perspective, Obama is a huge change, a big breath of fresh air. He is tackling some of the biggest international issues of the day… nuclear proliferation, climate change, middleeast peace, plus more, including the West’s relations with Islam and stopping torture.
    This is more than just an anti-Bush prize. It is to award who they consider the most important person in the world getting things on the correct track.

There was some talk in assorted circles this morning that President Obama might want to turn down his Nobel Peace Prize. Speaking briefly at the White House this morning, the president expressed humility, but nevertheless said he will accept the award.

Obama described himself as "surprised and deeply humbled" by the honor, adding that he does consider the award a recognition of his accomplishments. "To be honest," he added, "I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize."
Obama went on to say, "I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century."
The president went on to emphasize his vision on counter-proliferation, addressing global warming, promoting international mutual respect on diversity issues, peace in the Middle East, and opportunities in developing nations.
Obama noted that the challenges "will not be met by one person or one nation alone.... This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration, it's about the courageous efforts of people around the world."

ABC News reported this morning that the DNC is launching a new initiative today, called "The Faces of the GOP." It strikes me as a pretty good idea.

The first target of the campaign is Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa, who's described, accurately, as a "radical Republican" who is nevertheless "a leading voice of the Republican Party." The video features a few of his striking public comments, and points to his prominent role in the GOP. (He's not, in other words, some backbencher no one's ever heard of.)
Now, the video itself strikes me as just so-so. In fact, I think there's a typo in clip, with a quotation mark that comes after a question mark when it should come before.
Nevertheless, I like the idea of the larger effort. Heading into next year's midterm campaign season, it's in the DNC's interest to characterize congressional Republicans as extremists, far from the American mainstream. Highlighting the GOP's more ridiculous members, and introducing them to the public that may not be familiar with their antics, delivers a not-so-subtle message: would you really want these folks in the majority, dictating policy?
ABC's report added, "The new campaign, which a Democratic aide said may include targeted media and online buys as well as local media outreach in the future, reflects an effort by the DNC highlight some of the more controversial figures inside the Republican Party who have emerged as prominent voices in media appearances."
King, in other words, is the first to be "honored," but Paul Broun, Michele Bachmann, and others will no doubt be featured "faces of the GOP," too.
The more this campaign has an effect, the worse the already-damaged Republican brand will be.
Republicans confused by own propaganda  Oct. 8: Rachel Maddow is joined by Democratic strategist Joe Trippi to discuss the hazards of playing politics with public opinion polls.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Health Care

Health reformers play hardball  Oct. 7: Msnbc's Rachel Maddow reports that Democratic leaders have threatened to revoke committee chairmanships from colleagues who stand in the way of the health reform bill. Newsweek's Howard Fineman joins for further analysis of the rising tensions in Congress.

Kansas City Star - Prime Buzz: Dole: Health care reform coming late this year or next; "you lost" when Clinton-era reform failed 
   Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole says "there will be a signing ceremony" for a health care reform bill either late this year or early next.
  But the former presidential candidate says he isn't sure what the bill will say.
   Dole, 86, spoke with reporters after an hour-long speech at a health care reform summit sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City.
   He told the group that he and former Sens. Tom Daschle, Howard Baker, and George Mitchell will issue a statement later today urging Congress to enact health care reform as soon as possible.
- - -
  UPDATE, 4:43:  The statement is just from Dole and Daschle, and it's attached below.  An excerpt:
   "...Congress could be close to passing comprehensive health reform. The American people have waited decades and if this moment passes us by, it may be decades more before there is another opportunity. The current approaches suggested by the Congress are far from perfect, but they do provide some basis on which Congress can move forward and we urge the joint leadership to get together for America’s sake."
- - -
   And he repeatedly blamed "partisanship" for the failure to produce a bill so far.
   "Sometimes people fight you just to fight you," he said. "They don't want Reagan to get it, they don't want Obama to get it, so we've got to kill it...
   "Health care is one of those things...Now we've got to do something."
   Dole's speech, as is usually the case, wandered over various subjects -- presidential humor, his own career, Social Security reform, and Monica Lewinski, who was Dole's neighbor for a time in the Watergate complex in the 1990s.
   "If I'd had little wiretap there, I could've been president," Dole said, adding: "I never had..... a conversation with that lady."
    Dole also talked about the failure to get a health care reform bill through Congress in 1993 and 1994 when President Bill Clinton proposed it.
   He blamed himself -- and Hillary Clinton -- and finally politics.
   "Politics took over," he said.  "And you lost."
    Dole repeated his opposition to a public option for health insurance, which he said would drive private companies out of business.
    And he said he's also worried about paying for the cost of health care reform, which is estimated at $800 billion to $1 trillion over ten years.
   But, he said, "I believe we can do it."  He urged President Obama to meet privately with members of Congress and not to set a deadline for a bill.
   Dole also said he had been approached by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and asked not to issue a statement calling for passage of a health care reform bill, a request he said he declined.
   Dole walked slowly and spoke in a high but clear voice.  He underwent surgery earlier this year and told reporters he's thinking about another operation on his knee.

Think Progress: Rep. Ryan admits GOP was negligent on health care for 12 years: ‘We should have fixed this under our watch.’
In an CNBC debate with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) railed against a government takeover of health care until CNBC host John Harwood interjected and asked him, “Congressman, do you not agree that the private market is failing the American patient right now?” Paul agreed that we “do not have a market system working in health care today,” and said, “Let’s fix health care, let’s fix insurance, let’s make sure the uninsured get insured, let’s make sure we have a fix for people with pre-existing conditions.” Frank then interjected and called Ryan out:
FRANK: I just want to ask Paul one question. … When did you figure that out? Because apparently for the 12 years that the Republicans were in control — eight of which had a Republican president — that hadn’t occurred to you. So I’m glad you now understand that. Can you tell me at what moment the revelation occurred?
RYAN: First of all, I introduced on this subject about six years ago.
FRANK: You had control of the Congress. Why didn’t the Republican Congress fix it?
RYAN: I will have a moment of bipartisan agreement. We should have fixed this under our watch and I’m frustrated we didn’t.
Watch it:

Here’s what happened while Republicans were asleep at the wheel:

Given his record, we're well past the point of expecting intellectual seriousness or consistency from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). But his take on an individual mandate as part of health care reform is pretty striking, even for him.
Victor Zapanta reported yesterday on Grassley's latest stand. The senator was asked whether he might consider supporting health care reform if Democrats satisfied his concerns about funds for abortion and coverage for undocumented workers. Grassley said he'd oppose reform anyway, because of the individual mandate.
"[T]here are other points as well, but let me mention other points that you didn't mention. And one would be the individual mandate, which for the first time would have a federal penalty against people who don't have health insurance.... I'm very reluctant to go along with an individual mandate."
So, for Chuck Grassley, an individual mandate is a deal-breaker. No matter what other concessions Democrats are willing to make in the name of compromise and in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, the Iowa conservative believes the mandate is just too much.
At least, that's what he believes now. As recently as August, Grassley argued the way to get universal coverage is "through an individual mandate." He told Nightly Business report, "That's individual responsibility, and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility."
In June, Grassley was even clearer. He said "there isn't anything wrong with" an individual mandate, and compared it to laws requiring Americans to have car insurance. "Everybody has some health insurance costs," the conservative senator said, "and if you aren't insured, there's no free lunch."
Grassley added, in unambiguous terms, "I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates."
Read that sentence again.
Democrats moved forward with reform efforts, taking Grassley at his word. Just a few months later, however, Grassley has concluded that he's not only against individual mandates, he considers them a deal-breaker. And remember, as far as Senate Republicans are concerned, Grassley was the lead negotiator on working towards some kind of consensus on the legislation.
Why is "bipartisan" health care reform impossible? Because leading GOP lawmakers like Chuck Grassley oppose the measures they support.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sack a Hammers Got Nutin on Them.

In some right-wing circles, there's a belief that Barack Obama's first book, "Dreams From My Father," was actually ghost-written by Bill Ayers. It wasn't, of course, but like the rest of the bizarre conservative conspiracy theories, reality doesn't much matter.
Birthers, meet Ghosters. The overlap is considerable.
National Journal caught up with Ayers at a book festival recently, and the '60s-era radical decided to have a little fun at the right wing's expense.
When [Ayers] finished speaking, we put the authorship question [on "Dreams From My Father"] right to him. For a split second, Ayers was nonplussed. Then an Abbie Hoffmanish, steal-this-book-sort-of-smile lit up his face. He gently took National Journal by the arm. "Here's what I'm going to say. This is my quote. Be sure to write it down: 'Yes, I wrote Dreams From My Father. I ghostwrote the whole thing. I met with the president three or four times, and then I wrote the entire book.'" He released National Journal's arm, and beamed in Marxist triumph. "And now I would like the royalties."
He pulled the same gag soon after with a conservative blogger.
In general, Ayers joking around about a silly conspiracy theory wouldn't be especially noteworthy, but as Dave Weigel reports, a surprising number of conservatives took Ayers seriously.
People he's duped so far: Jonah Goldberg, his mother Lucianne Goldberg, Tom Maguire, Dennis Byrne, Carol Platt Lieblau, and a bunch of other conservatives, some of whom try to split the difference by suggesting that Ayers is revealing a little bit of truth behind the sarcasm. How embarrassing.
Ron Chusid added, "The gullibility of conservatives, or more precisely their willingness to believe without bothering to fact check anything which confirms their biases, is amazing.... [T]hose guys will believe anything if it fits into their narrow worldview."
Now that the Washington Post and New York Times have taken a special interest in what right-wing voices are concerned about, I hope the papers are paying close attention here: a few too many on the right have poor critical thinking skills and will run with any story they hope is true.
  • John Cole adds, in With All Due Respect to a Sack of Hammers

    These guys are seriously unspoofable:

    I’m actually kind of pissed off that Ayers did not also tell her that Obama is a muslim, was born in Kenya, and was sworn in on the Koran the second time behind closed doors with Chief Justice Roberts.

Josh Marshall:  I Just Love This Story 
Just a classic, classic story. First, you've got show-boating, right-wing, anti-immigration Sheriff Joe Arpaio (aka "America's Toughest Sheriff"). He teams up with Maricopa County prosecutor Andrew Thomas to arrest County Supervisor Don Stapley on charges which seem pretty thin and arguably political in nature. (They tried to prosecute him last year; but those charges fell apart. And in this case a judge found they lacked probable cause for the arrest.) But Thomas had to recuse himself because he works with Stapley in the country government. And they couldn't not come up with what in layman's terms we'd normally call a real prosecutor willing to take the case. (They tried to get the prosecutor for the neighboring county to take over the case but she declined.) So they decided to import TV lawyers-cum-DC GOP power couple Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing as outside "special prosecutors" to take the case.
Sounds legit, right?
And if all that weren't enough, fired US Attorney Paul Charlton is defending Stapley. So he's gotten his own taste of political corruption of the prosecutorial process.

It's tempting to think a measure like this one would pass unanimously. After all, it's not as if voters would elect monsters to the Senate, right?
In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and "warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job." (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR "if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court."
All Franken's measure would do is allow victims of rape and discrimination to have their day in court -- not exactly controversial stuff. When Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) accused Franken of pushing a "political attack directed at Halliburton," the Minnesota senator explained that it would apply equally to all defense contractors.
The good news is, Franken's measure passed, 68 to 30.
The bad news is, 30 Senate Republicans -- 75% of the entire Republican Senate caucus -- voted against this.
Perhaps I should be thankful that 10 GOP senators voted with the majority -- by contemporary standards, I suppose that's a lot -- but what possible rationale could three-fourths of the Republican Senate caucus have for voting against this?
Let's not overlook the larger context here. Democrats are expected to try to find "bipartisan" support on practically everything. Some GOP lawmakers think health care reform isn't "legitimate" if it doesn't have 80 votes.
And yet, when the Senate considered a measure yesterday to give rape victims who work for U.S.-subsidized defense contractors a day in court, 30 out of 40 Republican senators said, "No."
The notion that the majority should be able to reach constructive, worthwhile compromises with this minority is clearly ridiculous.

Kevin Drum: The GOP Speaks
Conor Friedersdorf recently sent out an email questionnaire to Republican Party county chairmen throughout the country.  Sounds dull.  But it turns out to be surprisingly entertaining!  Here's a sampling of opinion from local GOP leaders about Barack Obama and whatever else is on their minds:
....He wants to totally change it to a socialistic nation....His swift moves towards socialism....We should point out that the Blank Panthers, KKK, and ACORN are the shock troops of the Dem Party....Obama's socalist tendencies....Stop kissing up to the RINOs, the left, and the socialists!....Is he for America or against us? Hard to tell with some of his far right [sic], socialistic policies or legislation he wants to enact.
....Dems can have an openly queer sitting as chair and nothing is held against the party or the individual....We are rushing into Sosialism and that is where we need focus our energies in poing this out not on how many hail marys did you say....Obama is all about race [...] He wants payback....We feel we are marching toward the end of our liberties without having a chance to catch our breath....Despite what he said, this is not a Muslim Country, we do not need a Muslim majority ruling America. This is one decision that was made under the cloak of darkness.
....I seem to remember a similar charismatic socialist somewhere in middle Europe about a third of the way through the last century.... I think the most worrisome part of the Obama presidency is the blatant adherence to the socialist doctrine....The most worrisome part is that the Obama administration my put us on an irreversible course toward socialism....We should stop all measurements of race and actively fight the race-pimps who live off of division.
This is obviously totally unfair.  I'm just cherry picking the most bizarro stuff I could find.  Still, it didn't exactly take much effort, and frankly, a lot of this stuff is actually more bizarre in context.  But here's my favorite line of all:
Einstein did not arrive at his theories of general and special relativity on the mandate of a government bureaucrat.
Yes!  In fact, by making him spend all his time at the patent office, the bureaucrats in Bern did everything they could to stop him.  Luckily, Einstein's entrepreneurial spirit was too strong for the jackboot of the Swiss government.
I'm pretty sure that Conor's goal was not to provide mockworthy material for smartass liberals like me.  But when life serves you lemons.....
 DougJ asks - Is This It?
We’ve spent a lot of time debating the possible existence of peak wingnut here. If this isn’t it, then it’s, at the very least, the Sistine Chapel of early 21st century wingnuttia (via Wonkette).
Update. Via the comments note that the black man in the blue shirt on the left is holding the Glenn Beck bible.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Our Media: Lying liars! Edition

Atrios on teevee providing a Platforms For Liars
Some people wrongly imagine that the purpose of news is to inform readers and viewers.
JedL (DK): Now Fox claims Obama opposed public option
If you're paying any attention to what's actually going on in the world, watching Fox can be a dizzying affair. One minute, they are accusing President Obama of being the driving force being a government conspiracy to take over health care in the guise of the public option, and the next minute they are saying that he's been an avowed opponent of the public option, at least since his speech to Congress on September 9.
Take, for example, America's Newsroom which yesterday accused President Obama of hypocrisy by working behind-the-scenes (as reported by the L.A. Times) to bolster Senate support for the public option.

In Fox's version of reality, President Obama is sneaking around, trying to build support for the public option despite a public promise to support alternatives.
But outside of Fox's universe, everybody knows that while President Obama did say he was open to exploring alternatives to the public option -- if they would accomplish the same goals -- he also remained a supporter of the public option.
Indeed, the clip Fox cropped was taken from a seven minute discussion of the need for a public option. Immediately before the portion Fox cropped came this sentence:
It’s worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I’ve proposed tonight.
President Obama's couldn't have been more clear. He wasn't abandoning a public option. He was proposing one, and there's no way Fox misunderstood what he was trying to say. Instead, they obviously and willfully distorted his words by selectively cropping video in order to make a partisan political point. In other words, they lied. Or as they put it, they were "Fair & Balanced."
digby: The New Debate
I just saw one of the most disgusting stories on CNN that I have ever seen: they are actually debating whether or not we should let illegal immigrants die now.

They tell the story of a young man who was brought here by his parents at age 14 and has been working ever since then. He has kidney failure and needs dialysis, which he has been getting as a charity case up until recently. Now they are cutting him off and unless he can find a private clinic that will take him he's in big, big trouble.

The reporter asked him why he should get treatment since he isn't a citizen, (at which point I'm screaming "because he is a human being!") and he showed her his pay stubs going back to when he was 15 --- which showed that he's been paying taxes just like the higher orders.

Then the reporter calmly said, "he has about eleven days and then he'll die." Wolf Blitzer asked the reporter to keep us posted on what happens, so that's good.

It appears that it's now perfectly acceptable to debate whether or not people should die for lack of care in the richest country in the world. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Once a society accepts torture, it's only a matter of time before it drops this pretense about every person being precious entirely. Now we can get down to the nitty gritty and start talking openly and honestly about which people deserve to live and which ones don't.
C&L: Anderson Cooper Asks Krugman and Matalin Whether Obama Has Lost His "Mojo"

(h/t Heather for the vids, and Paddy at The Political Carnival for the tip) Argh, there's so much wrong with this clip that it's all I can do to keep typing and not smacking my head against the desktop. First of all, they ask on Krugman to discuss his NY Times column talking about how GOP obstructionism has reached cartoonish levels and they decide to frame the segment on whether Obama lost his "MOJO"? Seriously? A major news organization ignores the absurdity of the GOP overarching need to find things with which to smear Obama and instead frames the issue for the President of the United States as an Austin Powers plot? And no one but a hyper-partisan conservative "party before country" cheerleader thinks that the IOC selecting Rio for the 2016 games has something to do with a failing on any kind on the part of Obama. Cheers to Anderson Cooper for validating what Krugman so aptly described as "bratty 13 year old" behavior and using a Nobel Laureate to do it. Way to keep on top of the issues of the day, Anderson.
And there's that issue of media's bizarre notion of balance again. Sweet Jesus, why on earth would anyone need Mary Matalin's opinion on Obama's "mojo"? The woman has spent years advising Dick Cheney, fer cryin' out loud, what exactly is her expertise in mojo? As would be expected, Matalin never answers anything directly, resorting to the familiar GOP projection and mean-spritied insinuations, saying she's never drunk the kool-aid on the messiah-like qualities of Obama.
Watch as Krugman acknowledges that Obama hasn't done everything perfectly and that there's still far to go, but that the level of discourse from the right prevents any actual adult-level dialog. And Matalin proves him right by devolving into fingerpointing and bringing in one non sequitur after another. Of course, everything that Obama has been hit with has an equivalence in Matalin's mind to that poor, misunderestimated George W. Bush. If you believe Matalin, the Democrats did nothing but screamed "Liar!" and "Loser" to Bush. Constantly. Hmmm....funny that, I don't remember it that way, but maybe that's because I'm part of the reality-based community.
But hey, how much honest analysis can you get from someone who openly admits she reveres the Fat Bastard himself, Rush Limbaugh? For that alone, she should be laughed off camera.

Health Care

Kevin Drum's Quote of the Day 
From Gail Wilensky, a conservative healthcare economist:
It's very frustrating to see somebody who makes outrageous statements that bear no relationship to reality receive so much attention.
She's talking about serial healthcare fantasist Betsy "Death Panel" McCaughey.  The quote is from Michelle Cottle's profile of McCaughey in the current New Republic.  Worth a read.

It's an extremely small group, but Time's Karen Tumulty notes the GOP contingent that likes what Democrats are up to on health care reform.
Okay, maybe it's not enough to call a groundswell. But after former Majority Leader Bill Frist told me last Friday that he would end up voting for the bill were he still in Congress (with some caveats about the shortcomings of the legislative language as it now stands), we've heard from some other GOP voices in support of the basic contours of Barack Obama's health care reform effort: Bush Administration HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who ran as a Republican, but who is now an independent)* and Mark McClellan, who ran both the Food and Drug Administration and the Medicare and Medicaid programs under George W. Bush.
Others are noticing, too. Mike Allen's widely-read "Playbook" feature in Politico included a headline this morning that read, "Tommy Thompson, Frist, Bloomberg give momentum to health care.... Non-Dem Support Builds For Health Reform."
And as long as we're counting GOP heads here, it's probably worth noting that former Republican Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker and Bob Dole have also "endorsed the sorts of reforms President Obama and his allies are pushing."
Now, as a practical matter, these endorsements probably don't mean much. It's a very modest number of people. Moreover, Frist, Thompson, Bloomberg, McClellan, Baker, and Dole have varying degrees of influence in Republican circles, but not one of them will have a vote when reform comes to the floors of Congress.
But I like the larger framing of this anyway. For one thing, the public, for frustrating reasons I can't fully understand, seems to want a bill with "bipartisan" backing. When high-profile Republicans express tacit support for Democratic efforts, it can help with public perceptions.
For another, it positions congressional Republicans as outside the mainstream. If several notable GOP officials are stepping up to endorse reform efforts, and Republicans on the Hill resist, it makes the lawmakers seem petty and overly partisan.
It reminds me a bit of the presidential campaign when a wide variety of Republicans -- including Ronald Reagan's national security advisor, solicitor general, and White House chief of staff -- endorsed Obama. It undermined GOP arguments that the Democrat was some kind of dangerous radical -- if he were a liberal extremist, why were so many prominent Republicans supporting him?
The same is true here. If health care reform is such a radical idea, why are relatively high profile non-Democrats endorsing the effort?
Update: As I was hitting "publish," an email arrived in my inbox: "Schwarzenegger Endorses Obama Health Care Effort." The list, in other words, is growing.
Throughout the debate on health care reform, the right has been pretty consistent about public-private competition: they don't think it's fair.The argument is unpersuasive, but it's at least coherent. As conservatives see it, if private insurers had to compete against a public plan, the companies wouldn't stand a chance -- a public plan wouldn't have to worry about profit margins, stock prices, or exorbitant salaries for executives, which means it could provide the same service at a lower price. On a level playing field, the argument goes, the private insurance industry simply couldn't compete.
In a Fox News interview yesterday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) made the exact opposite argument.
"[A]s far as liberals go, they want the government literally to control every aspect of our lives. We saw that with student loans. They put in a quotes [sic] public option for student loans, government couldn't take the competition because the private sector was outperforming by far, so they shut out any private student loans. Today all student loans have to be public or government run.
"They'll do the same thing in health care, government can't compete with private industry -- they're not as innovative, they're not as quick on their feet, they're not as cheap, they're not as high quality." [emphasis added]
On student loans, Bachmann simply doesn't know what she's talking about. But on health care, Bachmann's point is the polar opposite of what conservatives have insisted for months.
In this sense, I see this as a terrific opportunity. As Bachmann sees it, a public plan would invariably fail. By her reasoning, it's inevitable -- if Americans are given a choice, they'd reject Medicare-like public coverage and go with the innovative, affordable, high-quality insurance offered by private companies.
So, here's what I propose: let's give it a shot and see who wins. If Bachmann believes what she said, she can shut liberals up very easily -- give American consumers a choice. If she's right, and "government can't compete with private industry," Americans will choose private coverage. If I'm right, Americans will prefer a public plan. If she's right, the public option would be rejected and wither away. If I'm right, we'd have a vibrant marketplace in which competition lowers costs for everyone.
Reform advocates would welcome that bet. If conservatives believe the private sector is necessarily superior to the public sector, they should gladly take the wager and prove their point.
Let's give Americans the choice and see. Whaddya say, conservatives? Afraid of a little competition?
Doctor recommended reform   Oct. 5: Keith Olbermann is joined by Dr. Paul Hochfeld, an emergency medical physician from Corvallis, Oregon affiliated with the group "Mad as Hell Doctors" to explain why doctors support President Obama's health reform goal.

Jon Chait has a good item this morning noting the ways in which conservatives attack health care reform for incoherent and contradictory reasons, but manage to feel good about themselves anyway.
Of particular interest was a reference to a recent column from the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes, who said reform plans are at odds with "the laws of addition and subtraction."
Give President Obama credit for persistence. And stubbornness. And lack of imagination. He declared again last week that his health care plan "will slow the growth of health care costs for our families and our businesses and our government." And this historic achievement will be accompanied by a dazzling array of new medical benefits that everyone will receive -- guaranteed by law.... Does he think we're stupid?
Chait tried to explain the policy to Barnes.
I don't mean to go all intellectual elite here, but the concept of expanded coverage and slower cost growth does not, in fact, violate the laws of addition and subtraction. Every other advanced country provides universal coverage, with equivalent or often better performance, at dramatically less cost. Earlier this year, a respected study by the Brookings Institution outlined proposals to expand coverage while reducing cost growth. One of the co-authors of that study, Mark McClellan, who served in the Bush administration, has praised a draft of a Senate Finance Committee bill for fulfilling the report's goals.
Does President Obama think Barnes is "stupid"? I doubt it. Should he think Barnes is stupid? Well, let's just say the Weekly Standard editor's intellect shines through nicely in his columns.
 Perhaps Fred Barnes is hoping his nonsense will sharpen his intellect?
 Benedict Carey (NYT): How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect
In addition to assorted bad breaks and pleasant surprises, opportunities and insults, life serves up the occasional pink unicorn. The three-dollar bill; the nun with a beard; the sentence, to borrow from the Lewis Carroll poem, that gyres and gimbles in the wabe.
An experience, in short, that violates all logic and expectation. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote that such anomalies produced a profound “sensation of the absurd,” and he wasn’t the only one who took them seriously. Freud, in an essay called “The Uncanny,” traced the sensation to a fear of death, of castration or of “something that ought to have remained hidden but has come to light.”
At best, the feeling is disorienting. At worst, it’s creepy.
Now a study suggests that, paradoxically, this same sensation may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss — in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large.
“We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the paper appearing in the journal Psychological Science. “We channel the feeling into some other project, and it appears to improve some kinds of learning.”
Researchers have long known that people cling to their personal biases more tightly when feeling threatened. After thinking about their own inevitable death, they become more patriotic, more religious and less tolerant of outsiders, studies find. When insulted, they profess more loyalty to friends — and when told they’ve done poorly on a trivia test, they even identify more strongly with their school’s winning teams.
In a series of new papers, Dr. Proulx and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, argue that these findings are variations on the same process: maintaining meaning, or coherence. The brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns.
When those patterns break down — as when a hiker stumbles across an easy chair sitting deep in the woods, as if dropped from the sky — the brain gropes for something, anything that makes sense. It may retreat to a familiar ritual, like checking equipment. But it may also turn its attention outward, the researchers argue, and notice, say, a pattern in animal tracks that was previously hidden. The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one.
“There’s more research to be done on the theory,” said Michael Inzlicht, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, because it may be that nervousness, not a search for meaning, leads to heightened vigilance. But he added that the new theory was “plausible, and it certainly affirms my own meaning system; I think they’re onto something.”
In the most recent paper, published last month, Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based on “The Country Doctor,” by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his carriage begin to act up; the boy’s family becomes annoyed; then the doctor discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid and nonsensical — Kafkaesque.
After the story, the students studied a series of 45 strings of 6 to 9 letters, like “X, M, X, R, T, V.” They later took a test on the letter strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60 such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with some more likely to appear before or after others.
The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning: knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.
But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a coherent one.
“The fact that the group who read the absurd story identified more letter strings suggests that they were more motivated to look for patterns than the others,” Dr. Heine said. “And the fact that they were more accurate means, we think, that they’re forming new patterns they wouldn’t be able to form otherwise.”
Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real world, a recent study suggests. “The idea that we may be able to increase that motivation,” said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, “is very much worth investigating.”
Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence.
Still, the new research supports what many experimental artists, habitual travelers and other novel seekers have always insisted: at least some of the time, disorientation begets creative thinking.
From the outset, Obama administration officials thought it best to let Congress do the heavy lifting in shaping health care reform proposals. It was, after all, one of the supposed lessons of early 1990s -- the process is less likely to work if the White House drafts the bill and tells lawmakers to pass it.
And for the most part, things have gone largely according to plan. Any day now, the Senate Finance Committee will pass a reform bill, at which point legislation will head to the Senate floor for the first time. When it does, the White House's role will grow from that of an active outsider to "the central player."
Senior White House officials are scheduled to be in the room throughout negotiations to merge competing Senate health care bills from the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, with the expectation that they will make key decisions to mediate disagreements. In advance of the floor action to follow, Obama and top administration officials have been lobbying Senate Democrats to secure support for a final package.
"The White House presence in the merger will be huge, and it has to be," a senior Democratic Senate aide said Monday. "President Obama will have to weigh in on the most difficult issues."
Barring delays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will host talks in his office later this week with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and HELP Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), along with several White House officials, including Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Ann DeParle, and Peter Orszag.
Note, no one seems to mind that the president's team is getting more hands-on in its involvement. Indeed, lawmakers seem inclined to cede control and follow the White House's lead.
With the public option still polling well, no Dems want to be blamed for its demise, and Senate Dems -- mindful that they'll take it on the chin if it's not included -- are handing some responsibility to the White House to signal the way forward.... Senate Dems are in effect saying to Obama: "Tell us what to do. It's your call."
Under the circumstances, this works nicely for everyone on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Slajda (TPM): Fox News's Shep Smith: 'Every Vote Against The Public Option Is A Vote For The Insurance Companies' 
In a segment just now with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Fox News's Shepard Smith gave a stunning argument in favor of the public option.
"Over the last 10 years health care costs in American have skyrocketed. Regular folks cannot afford it, so they tax the system by not getting preventive medicine," Smith said. "And we all end up paying for it. As the costs have gone up, the insurance industry's profits, on average, have gone up 350 percent. And it's the insurance companies which have paid and which have contributed to senators and congressmen on both sides of the aisle to the point where now we can't get what all concerned on Capitol Hill all seem to [believe] and more than 60 percent of Americans say they support, a public option."
He refuted Barrasso's argument that the public option is a government option.
"Every vote against the public option is a vote for the insurance companies," Smith said.

The likelihood of a bill without a strong public option "has been an enormous win for the insurance industry," Smith said. "But I wonder what happens to the American people when we come out with legislation which requires everyone to have insurance ... but does not give a public option. Therefore, millions more people will have to buy insurance from the very corporations that are overcharging us. ... It seems like we, the people, are the ones getting the shaft here."
"How do we keep costs down without a public option?" he asked.
Smith is known as Fox's least conservative voice, and someone who marches to his own beat. So of all the channel's personalities, he's the most likely to make this argument. And one could argue that he was just playing devil's advocate. But in the next segment he interviewed a former aide to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) on the same topic. While he took the other side -- that a public option would put the private insurers out of business -- he did so with less passion and spent much less time than he did with Barrasso.
All in all, it's still a stunning clip.