Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pelosi claim CIA lied validated

Pelosi claim CIA lied validated by House Intelligence Committee
By Jared Allen - TheHill 10/27/09

Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have concluded that the CIA did not fully inform Congress about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques during a September 2002 briefing.

The new report seemingly validates House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) claim earlier this year that she was lied to about the program.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Anna Eshoo – the chairwomen of a pair of subcommittees investigating the legitimacy of briefings given to Congress by intelligence officials – have identified at least five instances going back to at least 2001 in which the C.I.A. withheld information from or lied to Congress, the two Democrats said on Tuesday.

At least one the C.I.A.’s obfuscations was already known. A 2008 C.I.A. Inspector Generals report determined that the agency withheld information from Congress relating to the shooting down of a plane carrying missionaries over Peru in 2001.

But Schakowsky said their ongoing investigation found that the practice of incomplete briefings or outright lying was part of a “large disease” of misinforming even the chairmen of the select intelligence committees.

On June 24 of this year current C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta first alerted the House Intelligence Committee about a top-secret program to assassinate top al Qaeda operatives, and it was long suspected that the agency had been ordered by Vice President Cheney to keep Congress in the dark.

Schakowsky and Eshoo identified “Director Panetta’s June 24 notification” as one of the five instances linked to a complete communication breakdown between the intelligence community and Congress.

In addition, the C.I.A. withheld information or lied about the 2005 destruction of videotapes recording the interrogation of al Qaeda operatives by intelligence officials, and the agency had also done so during a September 2002 briefing of the so-called “Gang of Eight” in Congress on the enhanced interrogation of terrorism suspects, Schakowsky and Eshoo said.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Money Talks to Have Before Marriage


Divorce tends to be emotionally gut-wrenching for the people who go through it (not to mention those around them). But most couples don’t realize that divorce can also be among the most ruinous financial moves anyone can make.

Sure, you could bet big and lose on a single stock or money manager. Or your small business could go bankrupt, taking your life savings with it. But divorce and the costs that often come with it — from legal bills to the sudden need for an additional residence — affect far more people.

The risk that any marriage will end in divorce is about 45 percent, according to David Popenoe, a professor of sociology emeritus at Rutgers University. The chances fall to about 40 percent for first marriages and decline further for college-educated couples, people from intact families and couples who share the same religion.

Given the various financial complications, I’ve long wanted to devote a series of columns to divorce and money. This week, I’ll start with a topic that could save some marriages if more people made it a priority. It’s crucial to air and resolve financial disagreements beforehand.

“It’s almost impossible to be hooked up to somebody who has the same balance of spender and saver as you, or expansiveness versus conservativeness or financial circumstances,” says Gregory A. Kuhlman, a New York City psychologist who runs marriage success training programs with his wife, Patricia Schell Kuhlman.

He adds that the mix gets even more volatile with second marriages, when couples may have children, ingrained financial habits and savings or other assets that necessitate the discussion of a prenuptial agreement. “Success in marriage is only partly attributable to compatibility. It’s about how you manage those differences and whether you have a style for doing so that is successful.”

What follows is a list of four financial issues that ought to be near the top of the discussion list before getting married. Please add to the list in the comments of the online version of this article.

ANCESTRY When Lisa J. B. Peterson started her Boston-based financial planning firm, Lantern Financial, she knew she wanted to focus her practice on young professionals. She quickly realized that many of them could use premarital financial counseling and built a program called Harmoney around their needs.

One of the first things she asks clients about is what she refers to as their financial ancestry. “It’s looking back at your own personal past,” she says. “How did your parents deal with money, how does that impact how you deal with it, and how might that impact the couple’s relationship?”

Because so many of our money behaviors are learned, she asks couples to share their earliest money memories — whether their father hid money from their mother or how either parent fretted over the funds available. This can be a particularly intense discussion for people whose parents were divorced, and the stories are sometimes accompanied by tears. “Money is so emotional, and people forget that,” Ms. Peterson says. “You think that it’s just numbers.”

CREDIT While it’s about the least romantic subject imaginable, your credit history holds a chunk of your permanent financial record. It follows naturally from the ancestry conversation, and Lantern Financial pulls credit reports and scores for its clients.

Molly Milinazzo and Scott Donovan, an engaged couple who live in the Dorchester section of Boston and are both 24 years old, were relieved to discover that their scores were within about 15 points of one another when they went through the Harmoney program in May. “A lot of people end up surprised, and it’s best to keep those kinds of surprises at bay,” Ms. Milinazzo says.

Full disclosure on the credit front is useful for two reasons. First, a credit report is, in part, a catalog of past mistakes and overall habits — loan payments you missed or department store credit cards you didn’t really need. That in itself is a good starting point for a discussion about what you’ve learned (or still need to learn) about handling money.

There’s an immediate practical side to this, too. If there are errors or low credit scores that a couple can improve, there may still be time to make the fixes so that the couple can get the best rates on a loan for their first home a year or two later.

CONTROL Figuring out who will pay the bills each month may not seem to be an important conversation or assignment. But it gets tricky when both people want to take it on. “People understand that in a relationship, money is control,” says Jeff Kostis, a financial planner in Vernon Hills, Ill., who walks engaged couples and newlyweds through a checklist of questions. “If you’re not paying the bills, you don’t know where the money is going, and you feel like ‘He doesn’t want me to go out with my friends’ or ‘She doesn’t want me to play in the fantasy football pool.’ ”

For two people who have both been on their own for a while and don’t want to give up doing the monthly financial chores their own way, Mr. Kostis suggests, at a minimum, regular household meetings complete with Quicken or other spreadsheets so that the person writing the checks can keep the other one up to speed. With more stubborn couples, he might suggest handing the controls back and forth at the beginning of each year.

Mr. Kuhlman, who explains the counseling approach he and his wife take with clients at stayhitched.com, says it shouldn’t be surprising that control issues come up constantly when talking about money. “It’s concrete, you can see it,” he says. “It’s not ephemeral or less measurable, like affection.”

A few things that he suggests couples discuss early on: If one person is making most or all of the money, does that person get to make most or all of the financial decisions? If you’re the car aficionado or have researched all of the local school options for the children, do you get to make the decisions about those things? “These are the kinds of things that don’t come out when you’re dating,” he says.

AFFLUENCE Here’s another question that tends not to come up during courtship: Just how rich do we want to be one day? Mr. Kuhlman refers to this more politely as the “desired level of affluence.” “Are our career paths going to be something that pulls us together? Or, more often, are they things that will tend to pull us apart, where we’ll really have to be proactive to make sure it’s under control?” he says.

Mr. Kostis might put it a bit more bluntly, say to a spouse of an aspiring investment banker or corporate lawyer: Are you O.K. with acting essentially as a single parent, with your partner working 80 hours a week until the age of 80? “Not that there is a right or wrong answer,” he says. “It’s just about understanding, going into the marriage, what that would really mean.”

He adds that people in the financial advice business often joke that they spend half their time talking about money and the other half acting as marriage counselor. “But it’s the same communication style,” he says. “You’re giving people permission to be honest without having someone jump down their throat for giving the answer that they really want to give.”

What did your divorce cost you? Write to rlieber@nytimes.com.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Media Matters: Fox News isn't news

Media Matters: Fox News isn't news -- this is news?

It is perhaps not unsurprising but still disappointing that several in the mainstream media rallied around Fox News this week following the White House's well-warranted castigation of the network as an "arm" of the Republican Party. The most prominent defense of "one of our sister organizations" came from ABC News' Jake Tapper, who was baffled as to why the White House would declare Fox News "not a news organization." On Tuesday, he had the following exchange with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

Tapper: It's escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations "not a news organization" and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it's appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one --


Gibbs: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.

Tapper: But that's a pretty sweeping declaration that they are "not a news organization." How are they any different from, say --

Gibbs: ABC --

Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?

Gibbs: You and I should watch sometime around 9 o'clock tonight. Or 5 o'clock this afternoon.

Tapper: I'm not talking about their opinion programming or issues you have with certain reports. I'm talking about saying thousands of individuals who work for a media organization, do not work for a "news organization" -- why is that appropriate for the White House to say?

Gibbs: That's our opinion.

Of course, Tapper was lauded by Fox News and other conservatives. (Which is not the first time.) Glenn Beck called Tapper a "watchdog of freedom," while Sean Hannity praised Tapper's ability to "recognize the great quality of Fox News." Bill O'Reilly said Tapper did "pretty good" and "really challenged" Gibbs, and the Fox & Friends gang called him a "great reporter" for his defense of Fox. Lou Dobbs called it an "extraordinary exchange."

But Tapper's real mistake was suggesting that the White House's criticism of Fox News amounted only to criticism of their "opinion programming or issues ... with certain reports." Tapper's remarks echoed Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente's comments from last week: "It's astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming."

Putting aside the suggestion that the relentless and vicious assaults on Barack Obama and the administration by Beck, Hannity, and O'Reilly alone shouldn't have any bearing on how the White House treats the network, Tapper is ignoring that those shows set the agenda for the rest of the network. And of course, Tapper is ignoring that the attacks of Fox's triumvirate dictate his own network's -- and the rest of the media's -- agenda as well. Is there any doubt that Glenn Beck's war on ACORN -- he's reportedly mentioned ACORN 1,224 times (versus 50 mentions of Al Qaeda) since his Fox News show started -- is the primary reason his network and other media are still talking about the organization? Beck and his fellow Fox News personalities have repeatedly called for Obama administration officials to be fired, asked viewers to dig up information on administration officials, and fearmongered about Obama, his advisers, and his policies. How can that not affect Fox's "news" coverage of those same officials?

Fox's "news" staff regularly conflates commentary and news reporting. The network's "news" reporting is full of smears, falsehoods, deceptive editing, and GOP talking points. Just Thursday morning, the Fox & Friends crew parroted a House Republican press release and repeated its claim that the stimulus impact is "6 million jobs shy of what the administration promised us" since the administration stated "that 3.5 million jobs would be created. And, in fact, the United States has lost 2.7 million since the stimulus plan." However, the administration estimated 3.5 millions jobs created or saved by 2011. It's so much easier to read GOP talking points than actually do journalism!

The problems with Fox News aren't confined to "certain reports." Nor are they confined to Fox's "opinion programming."

Fox has organized and promoted campaigns against the administration. Fox has allowed its personalities to use the network to raise money for conservative PACs -- money that is used for more attacks on the administration.

And Fox News' actual "news" is anything but.

As Media Matters President Eric Burns pointed out this week, "Fox News is the story."

Beck's little red book of smears
On the walls of the Forbidden City, looming over Beijing's Tiananmen Square, there is a giant portrait of Mao Zedong. Mao's specter similarly looms over Glenn Beck's show.

Beck has figured out that Chairman Mao is the best vehicle for him to attack progressives as "communists." After all, communism is still kicking in China -- well, not really, but just enough for Beck to launch McCarthyism 2.0: Great Wall Edition.

And as was the case with Joseph McCarthy's crusade, no connection is too tenuous, no comment too innocuous. Beck's favorite target du jour is White House communications director Anita Dunn -- no doubt because she was the first to call out Fox News for its "war against Barack Obama and the White House."

Beck managed to dig up a speech Dunn gave to graduating students earlier this year in which Dunn called Mao one of her "favorite political philosophers" (she also mentioned Mother Teresa) and related this anecdote:

In 1947, when Mao Zedong was being challenged within his own party on his plan to basically take China over, Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist Chinese held the cities, they had the army, they had the air force, they had everything on their side. And people said, "How can you win? How can you do this? How can you do this against all of the odds against you?" And Mao Zedong said, you know, "You fight your war, and I'll fight mine." And think about that for a second.

And to think that she was allowed to encourage students to follow their own paths and not do what they are told! Wait a minute, isn't that pretty much the message Beck preaches every day?

Well, no matter. It doesn't matter what she said -- it's that she quoted Chairman Mao! Gasp! You know, like John McCain did -- repeatedly. And Newt Gingrich did. And numerous other conservatives did.

Dunn's reference to Mao even made its way to a straight news story on Monday's Special Report (take note, Jake Tapper).

On Monday, Beck ranted that, because of the overlap in the message of volunteerism from President Obama's "Corporation for National and Community Service and a call for more service and volunteerism" on network television from the Entertainment Industry Foundation, "[i]t's almost like we're living in Mao's China right now" and noted that NBC executive Mitch Metcalf is an "EIF board member," exclaiming, "[M]y God, it can't be." But, predictably, Beck's wild conspiracy theory overlooks that Fox Broadcasting Co. -- which airs Fox News programming and, like Fox News, is owned by News Corp. -- is also participating in EIF's volunteer initiative and has a vice president who sit on EIF's board of directors with Metcalf. Further, News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch sits on EIF's "honorary board of governors."

On Tuesday, Beck moved on to attacking "manufacturing czar" Ron Bloom because he once employed Mao's quote that power stems from the barrel of a gun -- a quote so threatening it can be found on a junior-high boy's Rage Against the Machine T-shirt.

Beck has taken Dunn's and Bloom's employment of these quotes to ridiculous levels, claiming Mao is "the man that [Dunn] turns to most" and that Bloom is the latest in "long line of White House officials who seem to just love Chairman Mao."

(Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs followed Beck's lead again, attacking both Dunn and Bloom over the quotes.)

And of course, it should be noted that Beck's (Chinese) communist witch hunt goes all the way to the top.

In one of his countless bizarre rants in front of a chalkboard last week, Beck started with the premise, "If the president of the United States, Barack Obama, said to you, 'You know who I really love? Chairman Mao.' " With a premise that absurd, you can only guess where it headed. He then proceeded to explain how people like Van Jones, Valerie Jarrett, and John Podesta were somehow used to "keep separating" Obama from Mao so people wouldn't see the direct connection between the two (the "six degrees of Obama"). You know, because President Obama loves Chairman Mao.

This from a guy who wrote that McCarthy made the "cries" of communism and socialism a "joke."

Other notable quotes this week:
"The Obama administration going to issue a new medical marijuana policy today, which I'm frankly thankful for folks, because we're going to need to be stoned to live for the next three and a half years." -- Rush Limbaugh on Monday. Limbaugh cleverly dubbed the proposal "Don't Ask, Don't Smell."
"[W]hy doesn't President Obama have his children vaccinated in front of us on TV?" -- Deirdre Imus on Wednesday's Hannity expressing concerns about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine.
"Jerome Corsi, a terrific author, an amazing, amazing book, an important book." -- Lou Dobbs on his radio show Wednesday following an interview with birther and widely discredited smear merchant Corsi.
"What was interesting to me is, just from my perspective having been in a White House, there is a network, MSNBC, that I could have said that about the evening anchors, or some people in the morning or -- I could have taken that tack, but I thought it was not the right thing to do, and I think it's mostly because it's really unproductive, it feels un-American, and it's not inspiring." -- former White House press secretary and Fox News contributor Dana Perino, ignoring her own role in advancing Bush administration attacks on NBC.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Top 10 Racist Limbaugh Quotes

By Casey Gane-McCalla

We never anticipated the popularity of this article, nor the controversy that it would cause. But all we can say is, “Thank you, Rush, for being you.”

1. Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?

No, but I’ve noticed that all racist bigots think like Rush Limbaugh. Comparing a respected black politician and minister to common criminals is Jim Crow racism. Maybe all black people look alike to him, but I’ve never seen a picture of a wanted criminal that looks like Jesse Jackson. A serial killer that looks like Rush Limbaugh on the other hand.

2. Right. So you go into Darfur and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela — who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders. You go to Ethiopia. You do the same thing.

The communist connection is an old way of dealing with black leaders. They used it on Martin Luther King, they’re using it on Barack Obama and Limbaugh used it on Nelson Mandela. By siding with the racist apartheid regime over a world-wide symbol of peace and freedom, Limbaugh has shown he’s a global racist.

3. Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.

Limbaugh is once again fear mongering and race baiting by associating professional black athletes with criminals and gangmembers. He continues the fear mongering association of good, decent, hard working African Americans as criminals.

4. The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.

Now Limbaugh is saying that an organization with a storied tradition of representing the positive black people for change in their communities are criminals and rioters. An organization that has been represented by intelligent professional African Americans, that has played a part in the Civil Rights movement and continues to be an intelligent, concerned voice for the African American community is degraded to common criminals. There you go Rush. Keep racism alive!!!!

5. They’re 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?

Decent human beings care Rush. Someone out of that 12% is the President of the United States. Not caring about black people? Even George Bush wouldn’t admit to that.

6. [To an African American female caller]: Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.

Okay, Rush, that’s classy. The old African bone in the nose stereotype. Wasn’t funny when the racist white school kids called the black kids that and it’s definitely not funny when a grown man with audience of millions of easily influenced dittoheads says it either.

7. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. They’re interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well. I think there’s a little hope invested in McNabb and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he really didn’t deserve.

I wasn’t super offended by this, the whole black quarterback/coach thing has been going on for years in sports, but the quote was so offensive that Retired General Wesley Clarke said:

There can be no excuse for such statements. Mr. Limbaugh has the right to say whatever he wants, but ABC and ESPN have no obligation to sponsor such hateful and ignorant speech. Mr. Limbaugh should be fired immediately.

When a respected, retired general condemns the statement of a sportscaster, you know he’s gone too far.

8. Limbaugh’s many attacks on Obama.

Limbaugh has called Obama a ‘halfrican American’ has said that Obama was not Black but Arab because Kenya is an Arab region, even though Arabs are less than one percent of Kenya. Since mainstream America has become more accepting of African-Americans, Limbaugh has decided to play against its new racial fears, Arabs and Muslims. Despite the fact Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law school, Limbaugh has called him an ‘affirmative action candidate.’ Limbaugh even has repeatedly played a song on his radio show ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ using an antiquated Jim Crow era term for Black a man who many Americans are supporting for president. Way to go Rush.

So Rush Limbaugh has managed to make racist attacks on four of the most admired and respected people of African descent in the past one hundred years, in Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Colin Powell and Barack Obama. He has claimed that Joe the Plumber, who isn’t even a plumber is more important in this election than Colin Powell, a decorated military veteran who has served honorably in three administrations. How can the Republican party stand by this man and let their candidates appear on his show? Rush Limbaugh’s comments are so racist, they’re funny, in a Borat, Archie Bunker kind of way. What is not funny is the millions of dittoheads who listen to him, who take in and re-spout all the racist rhetoric that he spits. Limbaugh’s statements are echoed in the racist, angry Palin/McCain supporters who shout ‘kill him,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘communist,’ ‘traitor,’ ’socialist’ and ‘off with his head.’

9. We need segregated buses… This is Obama’s America.

Okay Limbaugh let’s take back all of the Civil Rights movement and bring segregation back. But you’re not a racist.

10. Obama’s entire economic program is reparations

So everything Obama is doing is a big plot to give money to Black people. Any evidence? Stop the racist fear-mongering.

We ran these two quotes as part of our original list of ten. However, in the fall of 2009, this post surfaced in the debate that followed Limbaugh’s dismissal from an investment group attempting to purchase the St. Louis Rams. NewsOne has, as yet, not been able to determine the veracity of these quotes. We note the following for the record:

These two quotes were both sourced to a book by Jack Huberman called “101 People Who Are Really Screwing America,” published by Nation Books in 2006. The author of this book, in turn, claims that he procured these quotes from a source which he has refused to reveal “on advice of counsel.”
Rush Limbaugh has vigorously denied that he said these things.
In sum, NewsOne can no longer vouch for the accuracy of these quotes. Nor can we trust Limbaugh, who never denied saying the other eight racist quotes on our original list, and whose own track record of duplicity gives us pause. We keep them in our post for their news value as a controversial, and perhaps dubious attribution. Segregated, of course. Which should make some people very happy.

1. I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.

2. You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [the confessed assassin of Martin Luther King]. We miss you, James. Godspeed.

(…because ten isn’t enough!)

Obama is “more African in his roots than he is American” and is “behaving like an African colonial despot”

How exactly does and African colonial despot behave? Trying to degrade our President by attacking his African roots?

Obama is an angry Black guy

Was John McCain an angry white guy? Was George Bush a dumb white man? Is your hero, Dick Cheney, an evil white demon? Why are you playing off the angry Black guy stereotype to disrespect our President?


Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.

You’re a foreigner. You shut your mouth or you get out.

“A Chavez is a Chavez. We’ve Always Had Problems with Them”

Glenn Beck: Slavery was a liberal cause

I've tried to stay away from all Glenn Beck-associated commentary in recent days -- he's such an easy target and I hate being part of a media herd. But his latest rant is just too funny. The Huffington Post has a video of Beck that's really worth viewing. In it he pontificates that progressives used to be called "tyrants," or "slave-owners -- people who encouraged you to become dependent on them."

That is just priceless. And pretty neat. Now that I'm done laughing about encouraged slaves were (but hey, at least he didn't say "enticed") I have to admit that although he's completely insane and thoroughly inaccurate, Beck also makes a rather elegant toss of the race dice.

Conservatives, of course, were slave-owners and liberals were not. Conservatives in the 19th century believed in the tyranny of state government and liberals did not. Everyone with a shred of understanding about American history knows that. We had a whole war over it.

But since Beck is probably not genuinely stupid, I'm going to say he's tapping into a sentiment that is very much alive in Confederate USA. Many southern conservatives (AKA the Republican base) still argue that the federal government had no right to restrict the tyranny of slave-owners. For it to do so was, well, tyrannical. As were later federal restrictions on state restrictions regarding segregation in schools, housing, public education, etc... Tyranny, tyranny, tyranny, tyranny!

And hey, Obama's half black and half white, so it's sort of neat. Kind of a two-fer. Either way he's to blame. (For being unduly encouraging or overly encouraged or promoting encouragement or something like that).

Seriously, you have to respect this. Saying so much with so few words is really a craft.

-Lisa Richardson

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Keep Going, Republicans! You're Doing Great! BOB CESCA

I have an important message for Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the most visible Republicans on the national stage: Keep going! You're doing great! If this was video, you would see me standing an applauding. Maybe holding up a lighter for an encore.

The Republican Party is shriveling faster than Rush Limbaugh on a flight home from the Dominican Republic.

While I believe America only benefits from a robust two-party system, the Republicans aren't really filling their seats at the table. The insufferable centrist Democrats, for better or worse, are covering the power void in an unofficial interim capacity and it wouldn't shock me if there was eventually a replacement party built up around the conservative Democrats and some of the center-right moderate Republicans.

Another theory for another time.

But it's clear that there will either be a clean break in the current party dynamic, or the more moderate, reasonable faction of the Republican Party will begin to seriously assert itself against the wingnuts who are, simply put, cartoonish stereotypes of themselves.

It's this latter group that appears to be scaring away GOP moderates and whatever remains of "intellectual" Republicans like, say, David Frum, David Brooks and Christopher Buckley. Center-right voters are becoming increasingly embarrassed to call themselves Republicans, and party identification has dwindled to 20 percent. And it's not necessarily borne out of an ideological split as much as it has a massive character gap.

Modern "wingnut" Republicans still share many of the core values of classic conservatism, but they've abandoned the all-important character traits of reason, consistency and intellectual honesty. They've entirely navigated their crazy train off the rails, specifically in terms of how they talk about their conservative values.

Call it the Malkinization of the Republican Party. Abandoning these traits frees them up to make the loudest noises possible without worrying about whether the noises actually make sense when assembled in the form of a sentence. The Glenn Beck strategy. If one guy stands on the sidewalk pleasantly handing out political leaflets, and another guy is positioned directly across the street shouting crazy gibberish, who's going to enjoy the most attention? Glenn Beck across the street of course, and it's not necessarily because he's making the most sense. He's just shouting gibberish.

But if polling is any indication, people don't want to be associated with a party that elevates crazy self-satirical wackaloons. Especially when they refuse to be honest about who they are, and, instead, try to keep up a very obvious and transparent masquerade.

For instance, Fox News Channel continues to refuse to admit that they're an extension of the Republican Party. They refuse to admit that the network's news programming has an obvious right-wing slant. Everyone knows it. So why don't they just admit it?

Rush Limbaugh is playing the same game. When he was called out for his race-baiting by the NFL, he refused to acknowledge the fact that he markets in racially-insensitive language in order to play to the darker instincts of his audience. That's his thing and he's a multi-millionaire because of it. But he lacks the class and honesty to man-up to his shtick. The same goes for wingnut stereotype Erick Erickson and MSNBC's resident crank Pat Buchanan -- each of whom described the president's Nobel Peace Prize as the consequence of "affirmative action." But, but, but they're not race-baiting. They're -- well, yes, they're absolutely race-baiting in a way that would make Lee Atwater blush.

This inability to own their rhetoric doesn't help the Republicans and only damages what remains of their authenticity.

And it's this lack of authenticity that gives way to the wide array of contradictions and inconsistencies we're witnessing on the wingnut right. How can President Obama be Nixon, Carter, Mao, Stalin and Hitler at the same time? How can he have a Christian former pastor and also be a Muslim? How can liberals be both communists and Nazis? How can there possibly be Republicans who are attacking the Democrats for fiscal irresponsibility even though the Democrats have suction-cupped themselves to the door of the CBO?

I imagine the whiplash alone is scaring away whole chunks of former Republicans. One minute, they're expected to defend George W. Bush by suggesting that it undermines the troops to attack the commander in chief during a war, and then they're banking around on a dime to suddenly attack the new commander in chief during a war. I'm not sure how anyone can look themselves in the mirror and feel good about being that flagrantly inconsistent.

The same goes for matters of governing. The Republican Party could stand to show a little humility for their recent record. Instead of at least pretending to "grab a mop," as President Obama said this week, they continue to stomp their feet and hold their breath about everything from federal spending to war strategy to -- here's a laugh -- executive power and civil liberties. Suddenly the Republicans care about executive power abuses and the "trampling" of the Constitution, eh? That's rich.

Again, the whiplash must be excruciating.

Meanwhile, rather than debating the policy aspects of health care reform or Afghanistan or the economy, they're attacking the president for asking kids to stay in school, and outing principals and teachers for daring to teach their students about, you know, the President of the United States. Time well spent, Republicans. You'd think these educators were asking kids to worship (in tongues) a cardboard standee of the president.

But while there are several reasonable voices emerging from the twisted wreckage of the Republican Party, the current leaders don't appear to be taking the hint and are, instead, doubling down on the crazy. Make no mistake, I'm happy to see the Democrats flying solo, as aggravating as they might be sometimes. But, as I wrote earlier, I tend to view the Democratic squabbling as the interim two-party system in lieu of any sort of reasonable Republican opposition.

Meanwhile, keep going, Republicans! And buck up, little troopers. There's at least one thing you have going for you. Contrary to nearly every poll, Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post says it's been a good year for the Republicans. And there's always TIME Magazine's Mark Halperin who seems to always believe that positive news for the president is, instead, negative news for the president. As Republicans, you should appreciate and cherish how insanely upside-down that is. Congratulations. Ass-backwards support is better than no support at all.

Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog! Go!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New malpractice idea in health care debate


President Barack Obama's willingness to consider alternatives to medical malpractice lawsuits is providing a boost for taking such cases out of the courtroom and letting experts, not juries, decide their merits.

The idea of appointing neutral experts to sift malpractice facts from allegations appeals to conservatives in both political parties. They want to address medical liability as part of health care legislation that's now largely silent on the issue. Trial lawyers remain steadfastly opposed to curbs.

Nonetheless, the American Hospital Association has been shopping a new plan to lawmakers, hoping it will be considered during Senate floor debate on health care in the coming weeks.

Separately, at a Health and Human Services hearing next week, proponents of the idea will urge the administration to provide funds for a pilot program. Obama has set aside $25 million to test a range of alternatives to malpractice litigation, and the hearing is the first step in deciding how to distribute it.

"There is a progressive opportunity here to leapfrog what has been a stereotypically polarized debate in Washington," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank. "This serves both progressive and conservative goals. You wouldn't have to have a terrible injury and attract an enterprising malpractice lawyer to have access to court. And it would reduce malpractice premiums."

Doctors have maintained for years that fear of being sued leads them to order unneeded tests that raise costs for everyone. In Obama, they've found a Democratic president who accepts that premise.

Validation has also come from the Congressional Budget Office. In a turnaround, it recently concluded that malpractice curbs would lower the federal deficit by $54 billion over 10 years, mainly because Medicare and Medicaid wouldn't have to pay as much for defensive medicine.

What Obama doesn't accept is the idea of slapping hard limits on jury awards in malpractice cases, the remedy long advocated by doctors' groups. So the search is on for alternatives.

That's what Richard Umbdenstock, president of the hospital association, says his industry has come up with. "We are trying to offer this as a constructive approach, to see if we can generate some interest," he said.

Under the plan, patients who've suffered an injury at the hands of a medical professional or institution could take their case to a local panel of experts appointed by state authorities.

The patient wouldn't have to prove negligence, only that the doctor could have avoided the problem by following established guidelines for clinical practice.

If the experts find that a patient was harmed and the injury could have been avoided, the panel would offer compensation. Payments would not be open-ended, but based on a publicly available compensation schedule.

A patient who disagrees with the local panel's ruling could appeal to a higher-level panel, and ultimately, to a court.

The hospitals' proposal is similar to an idea for "health courts" from Common Good, a nonprofit group that advocates for changes in the legal system. All patients would benefit from such a system because it would create an incentive for doctors to follow clinical best practice guidelines, said lawyer Philip Howard, the group's founder.

It would also protect doctors who adhere to the standards, getting at the root of the problem of defensive medicine.

"Defensive medicine is the result of distrust by doctors in situations where they are blamed when a sick person get sicker, but they didn't do anything wrong," said Howard.

But trial lawyers say that such an approach could infringe on constitutional rights.

"We think that health courts take away the right to a jury trial," said Susan Steinman, policy director for the American Association for Justice, which represents lawyers.

It's unlikely that Congress would pass a law ordering states to adopt health courts. For one thing, trial lawyers are among the biggest contributors to Democratic candidates. But Harvard law and public health professor Michelle Mello says the federal government could encourage states to adopt such changes themselves, by offering financial grants. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., an influential voice on health care, has advocated such an approach.

The Obama administration is keeping all its options open. A stronger medical malpractice initiative could help the health care bill get votes from moderates and conservatives. It could also alienate some liberals. The political balance is unclear.

HHS spokesman Nick Papas said any proposal that advances the president's goals of protecting patients, reducing frivolous lawsuits, fairly and quickly compensating patients who are injured, and fostering more open communication between doctors and patients will be considered for funds under the administration's $25 million pilot program.

"Medical malpractice reform is a hand extended to the Republicans," said Marshall, the Democratic centrist. "But there's no telling if they might swat it away."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

MediaMatters Reviews the Week

Limbaugh's NFL dream slips through his "formerly nicotine-stained fingers"

Six years after Rush Limbaugh was forced to resign in disgrace from his gig on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown for, as CNN reported at the time, "his statement that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed," the nation's top conservative radio host was dropped from a group seeking to purchase the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

A statement released by Dave Checketts -- a member of the group seeking to buy the Rams and the chairman of the NHL's St. Louis Blues -- said Limbaugh was dropped because his "involvement ... has become a complication ... endangering our bid."

"Complication" sure is a nice way of putting what transpired this week.

In the week since El Rushbo confirmed his intention to help buy the Rams: the executive director of the NFL players union came out against Limbaugh's bid, saying football "overcomes division and rejects discrimination"; Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he "couldn't even think of" supporting Limbaugh's Rams bid due to his divisive rhetoric; NFL players reportedly said they "wouldn't play for" a Limbaugh-owned team due to his "flat-out racist" comments; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Limbaugh's "divisive comments are not what the N.F.L. is all about"; and a host of sports media figures blasted the very notion of the right-wing talker being an NFL owner based on his controversial statements.

As you might imagine, Limbaugh didn't take the controversy surrounding the bid or his ultimate exclusion from the group seeking to buy the Rams lying down.

Attempting to defend himself from mounting criticism, Limbaugh said -- with a straight face, no less -- "I'm colorblind. ... I treat everybody equally." Of course, such a statement ignores his "colorblind" history of racially charged comments. Who could forget these gems?

"We are being told that we have to hope [President Obama] succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles ... because his father was black." [1/21/09]
"I do believe" Obama is an "angry black guy." [7/27/09]
"Obama's entire economic program is reparations." [7/22/09]
Obama is "Halfrican-American." [7/24/07]
Or my personal favorite: the time Limbaugh invented a "racial component" to Iraq war vet Paul Hackett's decision to withdraw from a Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Senate in Ohio. Yep, after Hackett's departure from the race against then-Rep. Sherrod Brown, Rush said, "And don't forget, Sherrod Brown is black. There's a racial component here, too." In fact, Brown is white.

One needn't dig too far back -- Rush was happy to offer more racially charged statements this week. For starters, he whined that the NFL was an "outpost of racism and liberalism," apparently missing last month's report by the Center for Responsive Politics that showed that since 1989, NFL teams, owners, players and personnel gave overwhelmingly to the GOP.

In what can only be described as an odd attempt to beat back criticism for his past remarks, Limbaugh turned to basketball, complaining that rappers "own parts of NBA teams" and "[t]hey're celebrated -- 'Cool, daddy, cool!' " He even said that acclaimed sportscaster "Bob Costas is a ... very unhappy little diva." Is it any wonder that the world of professional athletics resoundingly rejected El Rushbo, dashing his dream of team ownership?

Limbaugh's defensive line was quick to come to his aid. Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter said NFL players would pick Rush over "Nazi collaborator" George Soros because "a lot of them" are "real Christians" -- as opposed to fake ones? MSNBC's resident cranky uncle and in-house bigot Pat Buchanan played defense, as well, which unsurprisingly resulted in more bigotry.

The Wall Street Journal came to Rush's defense with an op-ed making a ... I'll just say it -- stupid false comparison between Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann's work on NBC's Football Night in America. The Journal claimed not to have "heard anyone on the right say Mr. Olbermann's nightly ad-hominem rants should disqualify him from hanging around the NFL." Perhaps the Journal could use a hearing test, because various right-wing media figures and bloggers have done just that.

So, no, El Rushbo won't be purchasing a pro football team any time soon. He could always try his "formerly nicotine-stained" hand (or "fingers," as he would say) at owning a fantasy football team.

Then again, he's got the 2010 Miss America pageant to look forward to, where he'll be serving as a judge.

Other major stories this week
Fox News vs. The White House

Be sure to check out the latest from Media Matters' Eric Boehlert, who offers up a compelling "memo to the media," which reads, in part:

Fox News has changed the rules. Now the press needs to change the way it covers Fox News.

Rupert Murdoch's cable cabal is now, first and foremost, a political entity. Fox News has transformed itself into the Opposition Party of the Obama White House, which, of course, is unprecedented for a media company in modern-day America. That partisan embrace means the news media have to expand beyond typing up Fox News-ratings-are-up and the White-House-is-angry stories, and it needs to start treating the cable channel for what it is: a partisan animal.

The press needs to drop its longstanding gentleman's agreement not to write about other news outlets as news players -- not to get bogged down in criticizing the competition -- because those newsroom rules no longer apply. Fox News has exited the journalism community this year. It's a purely political player, and journalists ought to start covering it that way.

I understand Fox News still wants to enjoy the benefits of being seen as a news operation. It still wants the trappings and the professional protections that go with it. But it no longer functions as a news outlet, so why does the rest of the press naively treat it that way?

Fox News is now at the forefront of a political movement.


Completely detached from traditional newsroom standards, Fox News has become a political institution, and the press needs to start treating it that way. The press needs to treat Fox News the same way it treats the Republican National Committee, even though, frankly, the RNC probably can't match the in-your-face partisanship that Fox News flaunts 24/7. Think about it: Murdoch's "news" channel now out-flanks the Republican Party when it comes to ceaseless partisan attacks on the White House.

Truth is, in recent years the RNC used to use Fox news to help amplify the partisan raids that national Republicans launched against Democrats. It was within the RNC that the partisan strategy was mapped out and initiated. (i.e. it was the RNC that first pushed the Al-Gore-invented-the-Internet smear). But it was on talk radio and Fox News where the partisan bombs got dropped. Today, that relationship has, for the most part, been inversed. Now it's within Fox News that the partisan witch hunts are plotted and launched, and it's the RNC that plays catch-up to Glenn Beck and company.

And I'm sorry, but the Fox News defense that it's a just a few on-air pundits who (relentlessly) attack the White House and that the news team still plays it straight is, at this point, a joke. What kind of "news" team, in the span of five days, airs 22 clips of health reform forums featuring only people who oppose reform? What kind of "news" team tries to pass off a GOP press release as its own research -- typo and all? What kind of "news" team promotes a partisan political rally? (Or did I miss the 100-plus free ads that CNN aired in 2003 promoting an anti-war rally?)


It's clear that in 2009, Fox News is no longer in the business of journalism. Fox News isn't trying to inform people, it's trying to misinform them. That's not journalism. It's propaganda. But as long as the press continues to hold up the façade of journalism, Fox News will try to hide behind it.

Boehlert's takedown of Fox News can be read in its entirety here.

We're through Dobbs' foggy looking glass (or camera lens)

CNN's Lou Dobbs is none too pleased with his critics. At issue is a new television commercial from Media Matters and America's Voice that was to air during CNN's broadcast of its upcoming Latino in America special. In what appeared to be talking points prepared in the style of Mad Libs, Dobbs denounced the ad, claiming it was created by "George Soros attack groups" as "propaganda."

CNN, for its part, refused to run the ad -- skipping out on yet another opportunity to provide some accountability and distance itself from its ongoing Dobbs problem. In August, Media Matters bought a week of ad time on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News in Washington, D.C., New York, and Atlanta to air an ad calling on CNN to address Dobbs' repeated promotion of birther conspiracy theories. As The Huffington Post reported at the time, "[F]ive of the six cable providers contracted for the project have informed the group that they are declining to put the spot on CNN."

Dobbs was in rare form this week in going after his critics. He decried the "mad propaganda emanating ... from the extreme left, the Media Matters folks, all of them funded by George Soros" and complained to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) that "left-wing ethnocentric interest groups" are "calling for my firing from CNN." You know what happens when you point a finger, right, Lou? That's right: Three are pointing back at you.

Firing or reining in Dobbs may be a moot point anyway. According to recent reports, Dobbs met with Fox News president Roger Ailes over dinner last month. Could Dobbs be taking his immigrant-smearing hysteria and loony quest for Obama's already-available birth certificate to Fox Business Network?

We do agree with this one, perhaps Freudian, comment Dobbs made this week: "It's getting so you can't trust cable networks anymore."

EXCLUSIVE: CNN's Castellanos on the take from insurance industry

This week, Media Matters exclusively obtained evidence that CNN contributor Alex Castellanos' political consulting firm, National Media, is the ad buyer for the new ad blitz by the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plan (AHIP) that attacks Democratic health care reform plans.

According to the detailed ad buy information obtained by Media Matters, Castellanos is responsible for placing, beginning October 11, more than $1 million of AHIP advertising in five states. A review of National Media's client list indicates that Castellanos' work for AHIP isn't his only conflict with regard to health care reform. National Media has done work for the Federation of American Hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA, and the HCA Sunrise Hospital. Castellanos last appeared on CNN September 30; during a debate with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on The Situation Room, Castellanos defended Republican health care proposals.

After noting CNN's responsibility to properly identify Castellanos' industry ties and ensure that his obvious conflict of interest does not tarnish the network's future coverage of the health care debate, Washington Post Co.'s Greg Sargent reported that CNN admitted that Castellanos worked for the health insurance industry and promised full disclosure in the future.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

United States losing about 900,000 people

Iraqi death toll at more than 85,000
Rebecca Santana, Associated Press

Iraq's government said at least 85,000 people were killed from 2004 to 2008, officially answering one of the biggest questions of the conflict - how many perished in the sectarian violence that nearly led to a civil war.

What remains unanswered is how many died in the 2003 U.S. invasion and in the months of chaos that followed it.

A report by the Human Rights Ministry said 85,694 people were killed from the beginning of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008, and 147,195 were wounded. The figures included Iraqi civilians, military and police but did not cover U.S. military deaths, insurgents or foreigners, including contractors. And it did not include the first months of the war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The Associated Press reported similar figures in April based on government statistics obtained by the AP showing that the government had recorded 87,215 Iraqi deaths from 2005 to February 2009. The toll included violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings.

Until the AP report, the government's toll of Iraqi deaths had been one of the war's most closely guarded secrets. Both supporters and opponents of the conflict have accused the other of manipulating the toll to sway public opinion.

The 85,694 represents about 0.3 percent of Iraq's estimated 29 million population. In a sign of how significant the numbers are, that would be akin to the United States losing about 900,000 people over a similar period.

The ministry's report came out late Tuesday as part of a larger study on human rights in the country. It described the years that followed the invasion, which toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, as extremely violent.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nominees for the Hall of Jerks

POLITICO By: Roger Simon

Jerks. You know who you are. But why do there seem to be more of them around this year? Or did we always have the Joe Wilsons, and Alan Graysons, and John Ensigns and Kanye Wests and just not notice them as much?

We notice them now. They intrude upon our lives and must be labeled for what they are.
So others can have their Halls of Fame, we have the Hall of Jerks.

We are ignoring people who are jerks for a living - - the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs - - because their jerkiness is a provocation and a pose, a way of increasing ratings.

Instead, we are enshrining people who don’t actually believe they are jerks. But they are.

There are many kinds of jerks - - boors, creeps, doofusses - - and many definitions. As a starting point, one from the Urban Dictionary seems both poignant and apt.

A jerk, one contributor wrote, is a “person you really love that just doesn’t see how much you care for them, and yet, every so often actually treats you good, only to then act completely different from who they were when you first met them.”

Enter our first nominee.

1. JOHN EDWARDS. Mere infidelity does not get you in the Hall of Jerks. (We would be overrun.) No, you have to add something a little more slithery. Not even mere hypocrisy gets you in our hall, though Edwards does pin the hypocrisy needle to the wall.

Here is John Edwards on his high horse on Feb. 12, 1999, speaking about Bill Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

“I think this president has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter,” Edwards said. “It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen.”

But it was John Edwards who took our breath away, when he was dealing with his girlfriend Rielle Hunter. According to a story in The New York Times on Sept. 19, “Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.”

As we said, it’s not the affair. It’s not even the hypocrisy. We just think that anybody who makes promises to his lover about what he is going to do “after his wife dies” is a special kind of jerk.

2. TOM DELAY. Didn’t this guy resign his House seat in disgrace after corruption allegations? And prior to that, wasn’t he unanimously admonished by the House Ethics Committee for creating “the appearance that donors were being provided with special access”? And isn’t he the guy who continues to ally himself with the disgraceful “birther” movement by replying “I have no idea” when asked if he thought Barack Obama was a citizen?

So why did we have to endure DeLay shaking his booty on “Dancing with the Stars”? We do not wish to see him in sequins and high heels on TV or off. And isn’t “Dancing with the Stars” on during family hour? Don’t we have an FCC to save us from such things?

This week, announcing he had stress fractures in both feet, DeLay decided to dance on - - just before he decided to drop out.

“I’m insane or stupid - - what?” he said. “I can’t figure out which.”

The envelope, please. Yep, it’s like we figured: a toss-up.

3. SHEILA JOHNSON. Think only men can be jerks? Ha! We wish. How else can you explain the behavior of Sheila Johnson, who made fun of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds for stuttering?

Johnson, the billionaire co-founder of BET, who backs Deeds’ Republican opponent, Bob McDonnell, was addressing a group of supporters when she said: “We need someone who can really communicate. And Bob McDonnell can communicate. The other people that I talk to, and especially his op-op-op-op-op-op-opponent di-di-did this all through my interview with him. He could not articulate what needed to be done.”

Does Sheila Johnson wag her fingers in the faces of blind people? Does she pretend to have difficulty walking when she sees people with muscular dystrophy? Does she mock people in wheelchairs? We refuse to believe she was raised this way. We believe she developed this unpleasant character flaw on her own.

And when she apologized - - two weeks late and only after being caught - - she issued a classic non-apology apology. “I shouldn’t have done it in the manner in which I did, and for that I apologize for any offense he, or others, may have taken,” she said.

Hey, you don’t apologize for others taking offense. You apologize for being offensive.

4. DAVID LETTERMAN. We like David Letterman. We think he is very funny and smart and politically informed. He is also tall and rich and good looking and married to a lovely woman whom he dated for more than 20 years and who is the mother of his 5-year-old son.

So he has to hit on his employees to get dates?

We know he has been very funny about this on TV and has won over a lot of people who now view him as a victim. But we can’t help thinking: Did those women employees he hit on really feel they could say no to the boss? And isn’t that kind of a jerky thing to do?

So: The Top Ten Reasons David Letterman Should Stop Hitting on the Women Who Work for Him.

10. He is too old.

9. They are too young.

8. The difference between what he did and sexual harassment is … what exactly?

7. He is a role model for millions of Americans who have insomnia.

6. Even Bill Clinton would have told him not to. (Well, maybe not.)

5. He is in danger of becoming a stupid human trick.

4. Drew Barrymore will never flash him again.

3. He is going to end up with more troubles than a monkey on a rock.

2. Sarah Palin will never put him on the ticket now.

1. He will make the Hall of Jerks.

So that’s our freshman class. But we have a feeling we missed a few. Or more than a few. Nominations are now open.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Putting America’s Diet on a Diet

On his first day in Huntington, W. Va., Jamie Oliver spent the afternoon at Hillbilly Hot Dogs, pitching in to cook its signature 15-pound burger. That’s 10 pounds of meat, 5 pounds of custom-made bun, American cheese, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Then he learned how to perfect the Home Wrecker, the eatery’s famous 15-inch, one-pound hot dog (boil first, then grill in butter). For the Home Wrecker Challenge, the dog gets 11 toppings, including chili sauce, jalapeños, liquid nacho cheese and coleslaw. Finish it in 12 minutes or less and you get a T-shirt.

So much for local color. Earlier that day, Oliver met with a pediatrician, James Bailes, and a pastor, Steve Willis. Bailes told him about an 8-year-old patient who was 80 pounds overweight and had developed Type 2 diabetes. If the child’s diet didn’t change, the doctor said, he wouldn’t live to see 30. Willis told Oliver that he visits patients in local hospitals several days a week and sees the effects of long-term obesity firsthand. Since he can’t write a prescription for their resulting illnesses, he said, all he can do is pray with them.

Last year, an Associated Press article designated the Huntington-Ashland metropolitan area as the unhealthiest in America, based on its analysis of data collected in 2006 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half the adults in these five counties (two in West Virginia, two in Kentucky and one in Ohio) were obese, and the area led the nation in the incidence of heart disease and diabetes. The poverty rate was 19 percent, much higher than the national average. It also had the highest percentage of people 65 and older who had lost their teeth — nearly 50 percent.

All of which makes Huntington the perfect setting for the next Jamie Oliver Challenge. While he understands the allure of Home Wreckers and Big Macs alike, this British celebrity chef has made it his mission in recent years to break people’s dependence on fast food, believing that if they can learn to cook just a handful of dishes, they’ll get hooked on eating healthfully. The joy of a home-cooked meal, rudimentary as it sounds, has been at the core of his career from the start, and as he has matured, it has turned into a platform.

Oliver became famous at 23 for his television series “The Naked Chef,” which was broadcast from 1999 to 2001, first in Britain, then here, on the Food Network. The title referred not to his lack of clothing but to his belief in stripping pretense and mystery from the kitchen — the idea that anyone can cook and everyone should. He was loose and playful, measuring olive oil not in spoonfuls but in “glugs,” making a mess and having a ball. In the years since, that laddish charmer has morphed, somewhat unexpectedly, into a crusading community organizer. “Jamie’s School Dinners,” his award-winning four-part series, exposed the shameful state of school lunches in Britain and made for riveting television — he and the school cooks working feverishly to prepare dishes like tagine of lamb that the students either refused to try or dumped in the trash after one bite. When he eventually succeeded in getting them to abandon their processed poultry and fries and eat his food, the teachers reported a decrease in manic behavior and an increase in concentration. The school nurses noted a reduction in the number of asthma attacks. Those findings, along with “Feed Me Better,” his online campaign and petition drive, were the impetus for the British government to invest more than a billion dollars to overhaul school lunches.

In addition to TV specials like “Jamie’s Fowl Dinners” and “Jamie Saves Our Bacon” (exposing the state of the British poultry and pork industries, respectively), Oliver got personal with his series “Jamie’s Kitchen,” based on the Fifteen Foundation, which he created in 2002. Each year it sponsors 15 (give or take a few) young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those with criminal records or a history of drug abuse, and trains them in the restaurant business. To kick-start the program and to finance Fifteen, the upscale London restaurant that would employ them, he put up his own house as collateral — without telling his wife. In addition to the London flagship, whose customers have included Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton, branches of the restaurant have opened in Cornwall, Amsterdam and Melbourne. So far, the program has graduated 159 students at a cost of $49,500 each. Oliver endowed the foundation with proceeds from his book “Cook With Jamie,” and it now operates as an independent entity.

If he were just a professional do-gooder, Oliver, who is 34, would be a bore. But food has given his life focus and meaning since childhood, and he has honored it ever since. Born and raised in Essex, northeast of London, Oliver, the son of a pub owner, grew up hyperactive and dyslexic. In school, he failed every subject except Art (he got an A) and Geology (a C). By the time he was 6, his tough-love father, Trevor, put him to work in the pub, cleaning up. His father’s work ethic was such that on summer vacations he would aim the garden hose through Jamie’s bedroom window, soaking his bed to get him out of it, at 6:30 a.m. “People die in bed,” he liked to say.

It seems to have worked. By the time he was 13, Jamie was turning out between 100 and 120 meals on a Sunday night alongside the pub’s chef. In a work-study program, he spent six weeks at a high-end restaurant, starting at the appetizers station. When the head chef quit, he took over.

Though his father was proud of him, Oliver says, he is mindful that the pub owner’s motto remains “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.” Having started out as the ear, Oliver has worked hard to prove his father wrong. Cooking saved his life. He wants it save yours too. “Being in the kitchen is the most simple part of life,” he said. “People talk about it like it was some sort of science experiment.”

In last year’s U.K. series, “Jamie’s Ministry of Food,” Oliver expanded his reach past the school system into people’s homes. He chose Rotherham, an industrial town in northern England with a high rate of obesity and related illnesses, where 20 percent of the working-age population was on public assistance. He built a community center where residents could learn to cook inexpensively for their families while instilling the idea that healthful eating is not a luxury. “They thought that cooking a meal and feeding it to your family was for posh people,” he said. Some participants in the show had never even had a kitchen table. They ate takeout food on their floors.

That project has proved a success and the perfect model for Oliver’s mission in Huntington. The community center here will be called Jamie’s Kitchen and will teach both adults and children the basic skills for cooking healthful, economical meals at home. Oliver will also work with local schools on eliminating junk food in vending machines and in cafeterias, replacing reheated processed foods with meals cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients. But there is no guarantee of success. In spite of the resources the British government has allocated for school lunches, Oliver admits that only half the schools are functioning properly; the other half are still experiencing difficulty training cafeteria staff and enforcing new guidelines. And follow-up reports show that while students now understand the benefits of eating healthfully, many still opt out of their school-lunch plans, reverting to fast food instead.

What’s really happening is about more than old habits dying hard or the love of frying. The reason the world is still waiting for the Messiah is that most people don’t actually want one, no matter how many fresh fruits and vegetables he’s carrying. Oliver expects some of the same pushback in Huntington, whether it comes from recalcitrant teenagers, petty bureaucrats or parents who don’t like being told they’ve failed. It remains to be seen whether the contest between being threatened and resentful versus forthright and true can trump the American intoxication with show business: will this much-maligned area let a Member of the British Empire play Pygmalion and win? In this country, ordinary people seem willing to do or say almost anything to be immortalized in the latter-day vaudeville of reality shows. Oliver’s goals here, no matter how authentic, can be thwarted if the balance between camera hunger and social reform goes off-kilter. The series, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” is a co-production of his company and Ryan Seacrest Productions. ABC will broadcast it in six parts in early 2010.

Like Rotherham’s, Huntington’s economy was buoyed for years by the coal mines nearby as well as by manufacturing jobs in the chemical industry, glassworks, steel foundries and locomotive-parts plants. In 1950 its population was near 90,000. Manual labor took care of excess calories, if not hardened arteries. When the coal industry was modernized and the changing economy resulted in the loss of manufacturing jobs, the population dropped to less than 50,000; hospitals became one of the city’s largest employers. Another is Marshall University, home of the “Thundering Herd” football team and the subject of the 2006 film “We Are Marshall.” Its students are aficionados of the delicacies at Hillbilly Hot Dogs (a sign out front reads, “If you hit it on the run, we’ll put it on a bun”), and Oliver doesn’t blame them.

“That was 15 pounds of madness,” he said of the trademark burger, jumping into the car outside the restaurant. “But it tasted good.” He had been shooting all afternoon and was 90 minutes behind schedule, an occurrence his publicist calls “Jamie Time.” He gets so involved in what he’s doing that he tends to lose track. He was due downtown in 30 minutes to hold a town-hall meeting to talk about the show. On the way there, he agreed to run through Kroger, a local supermarket, to see what Huntington residents were buying.

As we drove there, Oliver talked about his first day in town. He likes to say that the C.D.C. statistics on obesity in the Huntington-Ashland metropolitan area are only a few percentage points higher than the national average. In fact, the C.D.C.’s numbers vary from year to year: obesity rates in the last two years hovered near the national average, 34 percent, but the A.P. report that brought Oliver to West Virginia was based on 2006 figures that put the area’s obesity rate at 45 percent. From what I saw in one day, the locals were plenty touchy about their collective waistlines, so Oliver was wise to tread lightly. That is typical of his style. Effortlessly charismatic, he has an easy warmth — happy to shake hands or pat a back, though he takes the business of listening to people quite seriously. When he finds a kindred spirit, a sharp focus, an open mind, he leaps, immediately connecting. He is genuinely polite, which is in itself so rare that it is genuinely winning. Though he is still hyperactive — if he’s standing he’s pacing; if he’s sitting, a leg bounces — his mind seems insatiable.

Oliver is at the head of a multinational corporation that has produced 12 television series and assorted specials seen in 130 countries; he has written 10 cookbooks that have been translated into 29 languages and sold almost 24 million copies in 56 countries. In addition to the Fifteen Foundation and restaurants, he has opened six Jamie’s Italian restaurants in the U.K. in the past two years, high-volume yet high-quality odes to a cuisine he loves; he sells his own brands of cookware, cutlery, tableware and gift foods; he publishes his own magazine; and he continues in his ninth year as spokesman for Sainsbury’s, an upscale supermarket chain in England. Because his company is privately held, it does not release its annual earnings, but he is said to be personally worth at least $65 million.

All told, 2,150 people work for his businesses. He keeps every fact and figure in his head — no reading, no writing, no notes. The format he has worked out for so many of his series — Jamie identifies a problem, Jamie sets out to fix the problem, Jamie encounters evil forces along the way, Jamie triumphs — comes naturally to him because that’s exactly how he has lived his own life so far.

Once inside Kroger we started with produce. “I find it fascinating looking at people’s trolleys,” he said. “The ones here are twice the size they are at home.” He picked up a bag of salad greens. “A lot of these are washed in chlorine, so they lose their nutrition,” he said, tossing it back. “It takes no time to get lettuce and spin it about.” He picked up a bottle of salad dressing. “Four dollars? You can make your own for less than half that price.” He looked at its ingredients. “Water. I’ve never been taught to put water in any dressing.”

Well, how about those packages of cut-up fresh fruit? He shrugged. “I don’t understand why people can’t cut it up themselves. Don’t they own knives?”

Two little girls ran past us, playing tag while an older man trailed them, his cart bearing bananas and M&M’s. “Two things happen when shopping with kids,” Oliver said. “You either give in and buy everything they want, or if you’re a strong parent you make certain choices.”

We headed toward frozen foods. No one recognized him. Six weeks from now he’d be mobbed doing this. “Or punched,” he said. “I’m a respectful person, and I’m going to try to do things in the nice way. But it’s almost as if parents here have stopped saying no. It’s as if the kids rule the roost.” We came upon a table of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. “They’re a treat, there to be loved,” he said. “But start having them every day, job done. It’s harsh to say, but these parents, when they’ve been to the doctor and keep feeding their kids inappropriate food, that is child abuse. Same as a cigarette burn or a bruise.”

Town Hall awaited. Oliver is so practiced at doing these series that he spoke automatically in sound bites, sensing it was the moment to build suspense. “Ultimately, I’m a foreigner,” he said. “I’ve got no place being here, but I’ve got all the right reasons.” He headed for the door. “I just bloody hope I pull it out of the bag.”

THE DAY IN Huntington wasn’t my first meeting with Oliver. He came to New York in August on business and, in a borrowed apartment arranged by his publisher, cooked us some lunch before we sat down to talk. His new cookbook, “Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals,” is based on the “Ministry of Food” series and will be published by Hyperion on Oct. 13. He prepared a dish from it that he often makes for his daughters Poppy, who is 7, and Daisy, who is 6: Mini Shell Pasta With a Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce.

A timeout here for self-anointed Health Nazis. Oliver cooks and eats all kinds of meat and feels free to use butter, cream and cheese, in sane amounts. He is not a diet cop; he’s about scratch cooking, which to him means avoiding processed and fast food, learning pride of ownership, encouraging sparks of creativity and finding a reason to gather family and friends in one place. If you can make pancakes or an omelet, a pot of chili or spaghetti sauce and know how to perk up some vegetables, you can spend less and eat a more healthful meal that’s delicious.

Oliver’s hyperactivity finds its perfect expression when he’s cooking. His movements were almost balletic, charged and graceful, even when he stuck his finger straight into the pot of water to feel if it was near boiling. It was. He cut the pancetta with lightning speed. “I swear I could do that at 10 years old,” he said. “Tuck your fingers in, you never get cut.”

He dressed the salad, which he filled with fresh herbs, tossing it with his hands. Then he threw frozen peas into the pan with the pancetta. Two women who work for him moved in and out of the kitchen, talking on cellphones. “The key to life is to surround yourself with lots of women,” Oliver said. “Men would just lie to me. Girls say, ‘Give me half an hour and I’ll find out.’ They’re intelligent, more loyal and they make things happen. Everything I do is about team, really. So 90 percent of my team are women.” The dish was done within minutes. (It was also done within minutes when I made it at home, at a more leisurely pace, the following day.)

We sat at the dining-room table. “The key to life is to know what you’re good at and stay away from what you’re bad at,” he said. Well, the pasta was certainly delicious. As for the bad part, we talked about school. He said he recently ran into his “special needs” teacher, Mrs. Murphy, and actually blushed as he told me, “I gave her a big hug and kiss, and she said she was really proud of me.” Oliver has often recounted the story of being one of five children out of 150 pulled from regular classes each week to learn how to read and write, as the other kids taunted them, singing the phrase “special needs” to the tune of “Let It Be.”

He left school at 16 and graduated from Westminster Catering College. After a brief stint cooking in France, he returned to London to work at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street Restaurant, where he met his mentor, Gennaro Contaldo, who taught him to make bread and pasta and to love all things Italian. (Contaldo now supervises bread- and pasta-making at the Jamie’s Italian restaurants.) Then Oliver moved on to the trendy River Café, where a camera crew came to shoot one day and found him to be a natural.

Since 2000, Oliver has been married to his longtime love, Juliette Norton. A former model, she is known to his viewers and fans as “the lovely Jools.” They live in the Primrose Hill section of London and spend weekends at his farm in Essex, near where he grew up. His father’s pub, the Cricketers, is still in business. Oliver says: “I have my two girls waitressing there. Poppy is gentle, sensitive. Daisy is sort of a bit mad, incredibly funny. She eats for England. She’s only 6, and she’ll eat squid, she’ll try anything.”

Poppy and Daisy have an infant sister, Petal. Really.

“That’s Jools,” he said, easily. “My opinions in the name department don’t get much of a looking. We live very segregated sort of lives, really. Jools isn’t into anything workwise that I do. It means that home is home, and when I’m there I don’t talk about work. Like a lot of working mums or dads, I see the girls a bit in the morning, and then I really don’t see them until the weekend, which is the way it’s always been, so I don’t feel bad. Mum does a great job of being a mum.” But Oliver doesn’t just come home from work; he comes home from being an international entertainment conglomerate. That seems hard to leave at the door.

“It’s the battle of life isn’t it, trying to get the right balance,” he said. “The problem with me is, no one truly understands how I tick as a person, even my wife.” That includes his parents, he added. “When I started the Fifteen Foundation and opened that restaurant, I spent all my savings. It was kind of reckless, and the key people around me, the business accountants and my parents, it took them five years to get it. That’s why I try and take them to every graduation to meet the kids. You know my old man’s saying was ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,’ but I’ve spent the last eight years disagreeing with that. I like giving people a bit of extra.”

But his father still doesn’t understand him? Oliver’s leg bounced ferociously. “He’s really proud, but he doesn’t know how I manage to multitask. I don’t know if it’s part of my dyslexia, but I can jump from one place into another, into another. So whether it’s the restaurant or the charity or the direct-sales business or the next book — there’s probably 30 things going on now — I think it scares my dad because he’s always been very good at one thing. But he’s starting to relax. I think he thinks I’m happy, and ultimately you’re only as happy as your most miserable child, aren’t you?”

What is his mother, Sally, like? “She’s hilarious. A hundred-miles-an-hour avalanche of energy. She’s superbright and fairly encyclopedic about stuff, but at the same time she’s a complete liability. She just worries and flusters and runs around the place, saying inappropriate things. She’s fairly similar to me, really. But growing up, she was a brilliant mum and a great friend. Dad was strict, hard core, waking me up with the hose.”

Oliver got his revenge ­— or at least tried to. Before he started cooking in the pub, he and his friends set off a stink bomb there during dinner time, sending 30 people out onto the street without paying their bills. “That was just stupid, really,” Oliver said, chagrined that I mentioned it and seemingly still ashamed. “That was an attack on a family business by a moron child.”

High jinks aside, he said that his parents consistently supported him and his younger sister, Anna-Marie. “I was brought up in a family where they would wish the best for you,” he said. “But doing these projects like ‘School Dinners’ and ‘Ministry of Food,’ it amazed me that around so many of these people there was no positivity. With one woman, if she started doing good stuff for herself, people that were her own flesh and blood got jealous. With Fifteen, one of the biggest problems we have is the students’ families, the lack of positive role models. That’s why I disagree with Dad.” He spoke proudly of his graduates, mentioning one who works in New York at the renowned gastropub the Spotted Pig and another who is about to become the head chef at Jamie’s Italian in Guildford. Five years ago, Oliver said, he was on the South Bank of the Thames in a courtroom getting that young man out of jail.

“Look, I think the brilliant and beautiful thing in life is that anyone can do anything,” he said. “When I used to go to special needs, we got laughed at, but we’re not supposed to all be academic. What is education? A bunch of stuff that people think we should know. Ultimately if you can put a wall up, if you can paint, if you can work with other people and, most important, if you find out what you are good at, that’s the key. Kids can do detailed, technical things, and they can do them well. Have you seen them on skateboards and surfing? It doesn’t have to be a BMX, it can be a pot and a pan and a knife, but we wrap them up in cotton wool and treat them like babies and they’re not.”

It certainly didn’t hurt him to have started early. “No,” he said, “but it’s ironic that the one thing I hated I sort of specialize in now,” referring to the cookbooks. He added, good-naturedly, “When I do writing, it’s more imagination than sentences as we know it.” But he is very visual — remember that A in art — and he works on every aspect of the books’ photography and design. “Almost 24 million copies, by someone who swore he’d never ever do any revolting reading and writing when he left school,” Oliver said with smile of pure delight. “It’s funny how things work out.”

AFTER OUR DASH through Kroger, Oliver arrived at City Hall and disappeared backstage. The auditorium was less than half full, and the front rows were filled with local reporters. Mothers brought young children with an eye toward the camera. One even armed her daughter with an oversize school menu as a visual aid. Another woman seemed to have mistaken scratch cooking for “American Idol” — she raced back and forth, trying to persuade someone, anyone, to ask Oliver to listen to her daughter sing.

Oliver picked up the mike. “Hi, guys,” he began. “Some say this is the most unhealthy town in America. We’re going to spend the next few days getting under the skin of the problem, and we’re asking families, individuals, schools and churches to spread the word. Here, the odds are against you, you live an unhealthy life and die young. That’s what the report said. So, this is not a sparkly, pretty show. It’s about finding local ambassadors for change.”

He asked people to raise their hands if friends or family were affected by obesity and bad health. Almost every hand went up. Oliver nodded. “What do you think the problems are?” Among the answers were: too much processed food in school cafeterias; a need for better prenatal nutrition; a call to stop putting Kool-Aid in toddlers’ sippy cups (earlier, Oliver heard about infants’ bottles filled with Coca-Cola); suggestions that restaurants offer smaller portions and that children’s menus offer alternatives to burgers and fries.

Oliver took it in. “This isn’t a freak show here,” he said. “You’re only a few percent away from the national average. Every child should be taught to cook in school, not just talk about nutrition all day. Good food can be made in 15 minutes. This could be the first generation where the kids teach the parents.” That earned a round of applause.

“I got a billion dollars out of the British government and put it into the school system,” he went on. “But it’s still in transition, it’s not all glossy yet. When parents get angry anything can happen. So I’ll need your help. Hopefully over the next few months, we’ll do some really good things together.”

After he left the lectern, the crew restaged the applause they would use for his entrance. It was thin before, but now it ended with a standing ovation. The townsfolk seemed as quick a study on theatrics as they were on health reform; many angled to be interviewed, to establish themselves as characters.

They were actually so intent on chasing the limelight that few seemed to notice an untended table outside the rear of the auditorium. There, in what seemed the ultimate mixed message, was the 15-pound burger Oliver helped make that afternoon. Sitting near a bowl of candy and a half-eaten plate of sandwiches, it filled an enormous platter. It had been cut into pieces, but hardly any had been taken.

As Oliver spoke to the camera downstairs and audience members jockeyed for position upstairs, the table stood ignored. Until two little boys stormed it, prompting their mother to pull herself free from the media hubbub. They stopped just short and stared at the bounty before them.

“Is it free?” one son asked. She looked around, nervously. “Yes,” she said. He reached past the burger and grabbed a box of Milk Duds. Then she got back in line, to be on TV.

Alex Witchel is a staff writer for the magazine.

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.

Go Without Insurance Let Congress

Let me offer a modest proposal: If Congress fails to pass comprehensive health reform this year, its members should surrender health insurance in proportion with the American population that is uninsured.

It may be that the lulling effect of having very fine health insurance leaves members of Congress insensitive to the dysfunction of our existing insurance system. So what better way to attune our leaders to the needs of their constituents than to put them in the same position?

About 15 percent of Americans have no health insurance, according to the Census Bureau. Another 8 percent are underinsured, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a health policy research group. So I propose that if health reform fails this year, 15 percent of members of Congress, along with their families, randomly lose all health insurance and another 8 percent receive inadequate coverage.

Congressional critics of President Obama’s efforts to achieve health reform worry that universal coverage will be expensive, while their priority is to curb social spending. So here’s their chance to save government dollars in keeping with their own priorities.

Those same critics sometimes argue that universal coverage needn’t be a top priority because anybody can get coverage at the emergency room. Let them try that with their kids.

Some members also worry that a public option (an effective way to bring competition to the insurance market) would compete unfairly with private companies and amount to a step toward socialism. If they object so passionately to “socialized health,” why don’t they block their 911 service to socialized police and fire services, disconnect themselves from socialized sewers and avoid socialized interstate highways?

I wouldn’t wish the trauma of losing health insurance on anyone, but our politicians’ failure to assure health care for all citizens is such a longstanding and grievous breach of their responsibility that they deserve it. In January 1917, Progressive Magazine wrote: “At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without universal health insurance." More than 90 years later, we still have that distinction.

Theodore Roosevelt campaigned for national health insurance in 1912. Richard Nixon tried for universal coverage in 1974. Yet, even now, nearly half of Congress is vigorously opposed to such a plan.

Health care has often been debated as a technical or economic issue. That has been a mistake, I believe. At root, universal health care is not an economic or technical question but a moral one.

We accept that life is unfair, that some people will live in cramped apartments and others in sprawling mansions. But our existing insurance system is not simply inequitable but also lethal: a very recent, peer-reviewed article in the American Journal of Public Health finds that nearly 45,000 uninsured people die annually as a consequence of not having insurance. That’s one needless death every 12 minutes.

When nearly 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, we began wars and were willing to devote more than $1 trillion in additional expenses. Yet about the same number of Americans die from our failed insurance system every three weeks.

The obstacle isn’t so much money as priorities. America made it a priority to provide tax breaks, largely to the wealthy, in the Bush years, at a 10-year cost including interest of $2.4 trillion. Allocating less than half that much to assure equal access to health care isn’t deemed an equal priority.

The plan emerging in the Senate is no panacea. America needs to promote exercise and discourage sugary drinks to hold down the rise in obesity, diabetes and medical bills. We need more competition among insurance companies. And conservatives are right to call for tort reform to reduce the costs of malpractice insurance and defensive medicine.

But those steps are not a substitute for guaranteed health coverage for all Americans. And if health reform fails this year, then hopes for universal coverage will recede again. There was a lag of 19 years after the Nixon plan before another serious try, and a 16-year lag after the Clinton effort of 1993. Another 16-year delay would be accompanied by more than 700,000 unnecessary deaths. That’s more Americans than died in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq combined.

The collapse of health reform would be a political and policy failure, but it would also be a profound moral failure. Periodically, there are political questions that are fundamentally moral, including slavery in the 19th century and civil rights battles in the 1950s and ’60s. In the same way, allowing tens of thousands of Americans to die each year because they are uninsured is not simply unwise and unfortunate. It is also wrong — a moral blot on a great nation.