Mike Bates

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The day before Thanksgiving brought encouraging news on unemployment.  CBS News.com reported "New Jobless Claims Plunge to 466K."  Investors.com headlined "Jobless Claims Dive To 466,000."  CNN Money.com issued a special report titled "Jobless claims plummet to 14-month low."  And the Financial Times included a link to the Calculated Risk blog article "Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Decline Sharply."  

Such good news, reported widely throughout the media, doubtless gave hope to many Americans.  If some of them wished to attribute this dramatic turnaround to Barack Obama's stimulus program, so much the better.  The truth, however, is that improvement in the number of jobless claims was less than electrifying.  The numbers touted in the media are, according to the Department of Labor, "seasonally adjusted" with a statistical technique designed to accommodate fluctuations in the job market.  Set that aside, and the numbers are not nearly as rosy.  As DOL's Employment and Training Administration reported:

The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 543,926 in the week ending Nov. 21, an increase of 68,080 from the previous week.

In today's Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Mary Mitchell elevates talk show host Oprah Winfrey to a new level:

You might not think you're going to miss Oprah, but you are. There are stories that only Oprah can do, and there are things that only Oprah and God can make happen.

Mitchell's adulation for Oprah is shared by many in the mainstream media.  From early shows devoted to male-bashing through attacks on free enterprise and limited government to her campaigning for Barack Obama's election, Winfrey has burnished her liberal credentials.

In bracketing Oprah with God, however, I wonder why Mitchell didn't include Obama, as in "There are things that only Oprah and God and the Federal government under the unparalleled leadership of Barack Hussein Obama can make happen."

On today's American Morning, anchor Kiran Chetry engaged Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele in a discussion of the Democrats' health care bill.  Citing a recent CNN poll, she claimed that a majority wants "some kind of public option":

CHETRY: I know one of the things that Republicans are very much against is the public option. And this is a huge hurdle that has to pass. This would mean that the government would have a government-sponsored insurance plan competing with private insurers. And that's a very controversial move.

But our latest CNN poll shows that 56 percent are now in favor of some sort of public option. What is that telling you, as Republicans go out there and talk to their constituents...

STEELE: Well, it doesn't...

CHETRY: ... about the need for some sort of affordable insurance?

STEELE: Well, it's a nice poll. I like to see how the question was asked to the people, because that number tells me that they don't know exactly what it is. When you say some kind of public option...

When outrage erupted this week over a government panel's recommendation that women have fewer mammograms, health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius was prepared with the Obama administration's favorite talking point: It's all Bush's fault.  Appearing Wednesday on CNN's The Situation Room, Sebelius told anchor Wolf Blitzer:

This panel was appointed by the prior administration, by former President George Bush, and given the charge to routinely look at a whole host of services to make sure that new preventive services which had benefit were being looked at by health care providers and that things that they felt did not have as much benefit as we move forward were also looked at by health care providers.

Senate majority whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) continued the theme on Friday as reported by Politico:

“The recommendation by this medical panel has been rejected by virtually everyone, including the current administration,” Durbin said. “They were appointed by President Bush.”

Yesterday, CBS News.com's Political Hotsheet blog reported on "Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and the Politics of the Health Care Vote."  It notes:

The focus is also on some Democrats with doubts, notably Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Nebraska's Ben Nelson, who aren't up but do represent very red states, and Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln, who is, and could face a tough test in 2010.

The piece later states that Nelson:

has cast many a conservative vote in representing a state that, while historically willing to send Democrats to the Senate, is nonetheless firmly Republican overall.

Many a conservative vote?  According to interest group ratings compiled by Project Vote Smart, for 2008 the American Conservative Union assigned Nelson a rating of 16.  The National Taxpayers Union gave him a rating of F. Nelson received a 100 from the liberal AFL-CIO for 2008 and an A for 2007-2008 from the liberal National Education Association.  For 2007, Nelson racked up a 5 with Americans for Tax Reform.

On today's CNN Newsroom, anchor Kyra Phillips went after the kids who supposedly bully a 10-year-old boy who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance because homosexual marriage isn't widely accepted.  Some of his classmates allegedly call him names.  Phillips's weapon of choice was name calling:

And a message to you boys who are bullying Will, shame on you. It's obvious you are jealous that Will is smarter and more well spoken than you are. Hopefully one day you will grow up and realize that you were being the wads, dork wads.

Phillips didn't say how she knows that Will is smarter and more well spoken than his purported tormentors.  On Monday, she reported that Will is "a terrific kid."  So what makes him so smart and terrific?

Today on its Web site and in its printed version, the Chicago Tribune reported on the large crowds greeting former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on her book tour.  More than a thousand enthusiastic admirers greeted her Wednesday in Grand Rapids.  Another thousand were already in line at 7:00 a.m. today for a book signing scheduled for 6:00 p.m. in Noblesville, Indiana.  Hundreds more gathered in line hours ahead of her appearance at a Ft. Wayne Meijer store.

The vision of Sarah Palin being cheered by so many common people in such common towns as Grand Rapids and Ft. Wayne and in such common venues as a Meijer store must be just too much for the deep thinkers at the Chicago Tribune.  Palin Derangement Syndrome kicked in.  Bad.  They had to provide their own version of what's happening.

"All this rightist hoopla is all so predictable," writes the newspaper's former national editor, Charles Madigan.  In the first part of the piece he decries criticism of Barack Obama's how low can you go bow to Japan's emperor and anti-Obama sentiment from the right:

Their congressional caucus, their blurting mouthpieces, their nattering nabobs of neocon nonsense, their Limbeckians (sounds like Jonathan Swift, doesn't it?) their addled and confused tea baggers, their Michelle Backmanians, they are all coming from the same place, a losers fantasyland where there is no reality other than what they think.

On CNN Saturday Morning News today, anchor Betty Nguyen interviewed a psychiatrist about Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 and wounded 30 others in a shooting spree Thursday in Fort Hood, Texas.  She began by delving into possible reason for Hasan's actions:

NGUYEN: Dr. Paul Ragan, a psychiatrist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder joins me now from Nashville. Dr. Ragan, let me ask you this. Are the Ft. Hood shootings the action of someone who might have suffered from PTSD?

DR. PAUL RAGAN, SPECIALIZES IN POST-TRAUMATIC SYNDROME: I think actually that's fairly unlikely. Dr. Hasan just finished a two-year fellowship at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress and he had only been an independent Army psychiatrist for about four months. That is at an operational base. So for him to have been suffering from PTSD I think is highly unlikely.

The Washington Post this afternoon reported "President Obama delivers remarks on Ft. Hood shooting at end of tribal leaders conference." The transcript begins:


[*] OBAMA: Please, everybody, have a seat. Let me first of all just thank Ken and the entire Department of the Interior staff for organizing just an extraordinary conference.

I want to thank my Cabinet members and senior administration officials who participated today. I hear that Dr. Joe Medicine Crow (ph) was around, and so I want to give a shout out to that Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It's good to see you.

Ah, the dangers of giving shout outs without a teleprompter.  Crow is not a Medal of Honor recipient.  As noted by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society:

On her segment of CNN Newsroom this morning, anchor Heidi Collins asked business correspondent Christine Romans about Senate action on extending yet again unemployment benefits:

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You're right. And Heidi, all of those things that you mentioned are incredibly important to your money and all of them could affect you very, very near-term here. This extension of the unemployment benefits, it would be the third.

The Senate has passed it. It goes to the House. It's expected to be voted on and passed very, very quickly here. Because, remember, your Congress member and your senator, they are being inundated in their offices with questions from people saying, wait, how am I going to survive when this check runs out? Seven thousand checks running out every week.

It would be a 14-week extension nationwide, 20 weeks of unemployment. More unemployment benefits for the states with 8.5 percent unemployment or more. And this would be paid by a two-year extension of an existing -- existing tax on employers. So this would be paid for by a tax on employers.

It would not come out of your pocket and my pocket. But it would be the third extension here, Heidi. And it's critically important. Like I said, so many people are losing their unemployment benefits right now. Some 200,000 have lost their jobless benefits just as the Senate has been negotiating this.

Last month it was school children merrily singing the praises of Barack Hussein Obama.  Mmm. Mmm.  Mm!  Today it's a Chicago Sun-Times article by writer Mary Houlihan headlined, "Political junkie still 7 years from voting, calls for Obama: Lorenzo's calls for Obama land him on HBO."  Begins Houlihan:

Lorenzo Rivera may be only 11 years old, but he knows more about politics than many adults.

The Chicago fifth-grader proves just how much in the new documentary "By the People: The Election of Barack Obama," where he is filmed making campaign calls on Obama's behalf in 2008.

In the movie, debuting at 8 p.m. Tuesday on HBO, filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams capture Lorenzo, only 9 at the time, handling a call to a confused voter with a calm and grace belying his young age.

Later in the article, Houlihan reports that the calm and graceful Lorenzo's father just happens to work for U. S. Senator Roland Burris (D-IL).  Quite a coincidence there.

Chief White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report Kenneth Walsh is mighty impressed.  In "He's Still No-Drama Obama," posted on the magazine's Web site, Walsh writes:

Face to face, President Obama seems even more unflappable, cerebral, and dispassionate than he appears on television.

And later:

I have interviewed each of the past five presidents— Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Obama—and Obama seems the most cerebral and the least emotional of them all.

"Cerebral" is one of the media's favorite adjectives to describe Obama these days.  In the current Newsweek, Anna Quindlen notes:

(Obama) is methodical, thoughtful, cerebral, a believer in consensus and process.

National Public Radio blogger Frank James describes Obama as "the urbane, super cool, cerebral president."

CNN's Rick Sanchez often describes his Newsroom segment as a "national conversation."  Increasingly, however, his program primarily consists of Sanchez mouthing current liberal talking points.

So it was today, as he excitedly asked viewers:

Do you want the public option that could make health insurance more competitive and cheaper, because it's looking like we may get it in some form at this point. Here's who else is going to be speaking in just a little bit, Senator Harry Reid is about to announce his position on this. I asked you this same question, by the way, a little while ago. How you felt about public option. You know, I've got to tell you, the numbers seem to show right now, it's about 61 percent in favor.

That 61 percent figure came from a recent CNN poll.  He could have, but didn't, cite another poll, one mentioned recently in The Hill:

Polling experts, however, have documented that many people don’t know what a public option is, and that small changes in language can cause poll results to vary widely. An August poll by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates showed that only 37 percent of those polled correctly identified the public option from a list of three choices.

On his segment of today's CNN Newsroom, anchor Rick Sanchez went for the hat trick, likening Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to the infamous Theophilus “Bull” Connor, Birmingham, Alabama’s late segregationist police commissioner who ruthlessly used police attack dogs and fire hoses to thwart 1963 civil rights demonstrators, no fewer than three times.

[SEE also Matt Balan's related post, with video.]

Sanchez prefaced his interview with the Arizona sheriff:

Well, perhaps not since Bull Connor whose aggressive police tactics against blacks in the South sparked civil rights legislation in 1964 has our country seen a showdown like the one going on right now between Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio and Washington, as in the feds.

ABC News's Web site includes the article "Is Obama 'Too Nice' to Make Tough Decisions?" by correspondent David Kerley.  The piece begins:

With problems for the president in Afghanistan, health care and unemployment, some critics on both the left and right are asking: Is the president essentially "too nice" to make the important decisions?

The National Journal magazine asks in a just-out edition, "Is He Tough Enough?"

"Be decisive," says Tom Tradewell, the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Even liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd says the president will have to "break some eggs" to cook up a more perfect union.

None of the people quoted assert the problem is Obama's affability.  Rather, the difficulty is the extreme caution he exercises, many times so as to not offend interest groups.  

You might think a major metropolitan newspaper that boasts "The Midwest's largest reporting team" on its front page would report on a suburban demonstration attracting thousands of people.  In the case of the Chicago Tribune, you'd be wrong.

Today's Tribune print edition makes no mention of yesterday's Tea Party Express protest in New Lenox, Illinois, located only 36 miles from Chicago's Loop.  The Southtown Star did cover the event on its Web site, noting:

About 6,000 people packed the hillside venue at The Commons Performing Arts Pavilion for the protest, part of a nationwide Tea Party Express tour that includes speeches, musical performances and updates from a traveling Fox News correspondent.

Monday's audience was the largest yet, organizers said.

Today's Tribune devotes two stories, six pictures, and two maps to Oprah Winfrey's "takeover of downtown Chicago Monday."  And there are stories on disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's media blitz to hawk his new book, Chicago students getting free haircuts with which to start the new school year, and how more stores are now accepting food stamps.

In yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Mary Mitchell lauds Fred Hampton, a Black Panther leader killed 40 years ago by police.  In "Hampton's forgotten legacy:  Today's youth can learn something from Black Panther leader's humanitarian deeds," Mitchell soft-pedals the Panthers' extensive history of violence and radical politics in favor of citing some of Hampton's alleged good works:

He stood up for disadvantaged
People in Chicago are still so divided over Hampton that, a couple of years ago, efforts to erect a street sign in his honor caused an uproar.
Hampton will always be remembered by some for advocating violence.
But for many others -- those who benefitted from his courage -- he will always be remembered for giving hungry children a hot breakfast.
Or for opening a free walk-in health clinic on the West Side.
Or for trying to open a swimming pool, so poor black children could get relief from the heat.
Or for being a bold advocate for justice.

The Panthers' breakfast program for children has long been applauded, even by some conservatives, as a worthwhile endeavor.  Ignored are the severe problems associated with that program across the country.  Chicago was hardly an exception.

On yesterday's The Situation Room, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger spoke with host Suzanne Malveaux about polling done on ObamaCare:

MALVEAUX: Gloria, I want to start off with you.

One thing that the polls were showing is that most Americans, they support this idea of this public option, but they also believe that the president wants the government to take over the health care system.
Well, how does that -- how do you make sense of that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in fact, 53 percent believe that Obama wants to take over the health care system, and 42 percent say no. And I think what this shows is that the Republican PR about President Obama being big government, big deficit, big spender, has really taken hold over the congressional recess. People believe that he wants big government.   

What Borger is missing here is that the principal reason Americans view Obama as a big government, big deficit, big spending liberal is because he is.  "Republican PR" might emphasize that simple truth, but the facts speak for themselves and many Americans would have arrived at the same conclusion regardless.

Today on The Situation Room, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger discussed President Obama's rapidly declining approval ratings.  A question was posed by host Suzanne Malveaux:

MALVEAUX: What does it mean, Gloria, for the president to be losing out on these Independents?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a real possible for him. Remember that President Obama won the election with 52 percent of Independent voters. That number is down considerably to 43 percent, and Independents are the margin of difference here for him.

Now, the key to keeping those people is, right now, they are worried about the deficit. They see the president as a big spender. They see him aligned with so-called liberal leaders in the Democratic Congress. So, what he's got to do when -- after Labor Day is kind of show them that he is the kind of so-called post-partisan president that many of them thought they were electing.

The good news for President Obama in this is that they are not realigning themselves with the Republicans yet, because the Republican Party still has very high disapproval ratings.

Washington Post television critic Tom Shales conducts an online discussion on Tuesdays.  Today's session featured this exchange:

Dunn Loring, Va.: Re your column disparaging Liz Cheney's style, what was the last column you wrote so harshly criticizing a liberal pundit?

Tom Shales: Ah yes, it's our dear old Dunn Loringite. Dunn Loringer. Whatever. You have an ideological axe to grind and it's awfully predictable. Where do you get the idea that if someone criticizes a conservative they must also criticize a liberal? Is there some kind of "equal time" law or "fairness doctrine" that applies to everybody who says anything that is broadcast or cablecast? That's absurd. CONSERVATIVES DOMINATE THE BROADCAST AND CABLE MEDIA IN THIS COUNTRY. They have very little to complain about in terms of access to an audience. When was the last time you criticized a conservative? It's a meaningless question whichever way it is asked.

Shales disparages the questioner for having an ideological axe to grind, something he no doubt has never been accused of himself .  Later, there's a follow up question: