Listening to Now: Judy Garland - "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
By Richard K. Barry I'll try not to torture Michael too much with various Christmas music offerings this year, but it snowed a bunch in Toronto today, and we put up the tree, so I'm in the mood. This is my favourite song of the season. It is, of course, Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" from the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis. No war on Christmas in my house. Of course, near as I can tell there is no such war anywhere.
By Michael J.W. Stickings The weather out there, as they say, is frightful. December has been an extremely cold month so far, and once more this weekend eastern Canada and the midwestern and northeastern U.S. are confronted with a fairly major winter storm. There hasn't been much snow yet here in Toronto, but it's coming, supposedly. And it's really cold today, as it has been all week. So just how frightful? Well, I went out for a walk earlier today and made this video. You can barely even recognize our urban metropolis through the overlay of winter:
Actually, this is more beautiful than frightful, and I had nothing to do with it. It was made by Dutch filmmaker and photographer Paul Klaver, who describes it as such:
Shot in Dutch nature reserve the Oostvaardersplassen during the production of De Nieuwe Wildernis (The New Wilderness). This was one of the coldest winters in Holland with record breaking temperatures.
The music is by Hans Zimmer, who writes not just great film scores (often better than the movies themselves) but music ideal for timelapse videos. And this one's a gorgeous presentation of winter at its most beautiful.
Tea Party Patriots said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has "declared war on the Tea Party" with his "smug and pretentious rant" against certain right-wing organizations.
The group made the charge in a fundraising email to supporters, seeking to win donations over the public feuding.
In the past two days, Boehner has repeatedly attacked the conservative groups that championed the October effort to defund ObamaCare and are now opposed to the recent budget deal negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
He has criticized the groups for being more interested in raising money than actually solving problems.
The letter quotes Boehner's statement that "outside groups" were "using our members and... the American people for their own goals."
"The last time we checked, we are the American people," the letter said.
The letter goes on to refer to Boehner as a "ruling class politician" who only pretends to be conservative while remaining a "tax-and-spend liberal" at heart.
Of course, that's all complete nonsense. Boehner has been critical of right-wing Republican groups that threaten the party's position in Congress, if not also nationally, but that's about it. If anyone or anything has declared war, it's the Tea Party itself, which is obstinate in its ideological extremism, dismissive of the realities of politics, and confrontational regarding the rest of the GOP, throwing primary challenges even at hardcore conservatives.
Behind the Ad: Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu says she is "fixing" Obamacare
By Richard K. Barry Who: The Mary Landrieu Senate campaign Where: Louisiana What's going on: Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is in a tough battle to keep her U.S. Senate seat. And if you need further proof, as Tip O'Neill used to say, that all politics is local, she is doing her best to keep Obamacare at arms length as she campaigns at home. Yes, she and other vulnerable Democrats are busy dirtying their diapers over the perceived disaster that has been the Obamacare rollout. Landrieu has launched her first TV ad of the season in which she argues that it wasn't her fault, and not even the fault of any Democrat who doesn't happen to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Built around news clips, the 30-second ad highlights legislation Landrieu introduced to let people keep their health care plans after the public outcry over hundreds of thousands of cancellations. Landrieu tries to pin the broken promise that Americans could keep their plans if they like them squarely on the president, not on the congressional Democrats who espoused the same talking point.
Well, one problem for the good senator is that she was, you may recall, a pivotal vote for the problematic law in the first place. If you don't recall, and you happen to live in Louisiana, conservative outside groups have spent and will continue to spend bucket loads of cash to remind you.
You can't hate the woman for doing what is needed to win. She's taking a hit in recent polls and only won in 2002 and 2008 by a mere 52 percent of the vote. Still, it makes you understand why people dislike politics so much.
By Frank Moraes Ezra Klein seems to have gotten everyone all talking about how Republicans are suddenly against high deductible healthcare plans,Obamacare Exposes Republican Hypocrisy on Health Care. You see, in the old days (last week), Republicans said, "We need high deductible plans that people can afford but also put the onus on them to manage their healthcare. They've been saying this fordecades. This is where those lauded health savings accounts come in. This was a great thing to complain about! Obamacare was stopping the market from working it's magic!
There was one small problem. And from a Republican standpoint, it wasn't a problem at all. Obamacare didn't have anything to say about cheap, high deductible insurance plans. Remember: Obamacare is the the conservative "free market" approach to healthcare reform. So the Republicans turn the "problem" into an "opportunity." They turned on a dime and started shouting, "Obamacare is killing people with these high deductible insurance plans!" Ezra Klein calls this hypocrisy.
Jonathan Chait calls it, The Heritage Uncertainty Principle. You can go over and read his article, if you want. But this is what I've been writing about for years. Let's start with the facts: Republicans do not want any healthcare reform. So when the Republicans turned against Obamacare, even though it was their very own healthcare reform policy, they weren't being hypocritical. Chait quotes Newt Gingrich saying, "[I]t started as a conservative effort to stop HillaryCare in the 1990s." And that's what I've been saying: any Republican healthcare "idea" is only one they support so long as it isn't up for consideration.
Michigan lawmakers passed a controversial measure on Wednesday that will ban all insurance plans in the state from covering abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger. The law, which takes effect in March, will force women and employers to purchase a separate abortion rider if they would like the procedure covered, even in cases of rape and incest.
Supporters of the “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act” argue that it allows people who are opposed to abortion to avoid paying into a plan that covers it. Opponents have nicknamed it the “rape insurance” initiative, because it would force some women to anticipate the possibility of being raped by purchasing the extra abortion insurance ahead of time.
The Michigan State Legislature first passed the measure last year, but Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed it, saying he does not “believe it is appropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant due to a rape that she needed to select elective insurance coverage.”
But the anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan was able to collect more than 300,000 voter signatures on a petition this year to force a second vote on the measure. Having been passed by both chambers, the bill automatically becomes law now, even without Snyder’s approval.
This law will no doubt be challenged in court, but the people who voted for it need to be voted out of office, and the so-called “right-to-life” people need to find a nice quiet island in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay where they can scrape gull crap off the rocks for the rest of their lives.
Yes, she went there, exposing herself as an ignoramus and, it would seem, a bigot:
On Wednesday night Megyn Kelly declared on her Fox News show that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. Discussing a piece in Slate by Aisha Harris about a black versus white Santa, Kelly that "just because it makes you feel uncomfortable it doesn't mean it has to change."
"You know, I've given her her due. Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?"
Santa Claus can be traced to a real life monk named St. Nicholas who lived in what is today Turkey, according to the History Channel.
Jesus Christ was born to a Jewish family around what is now Israel, and
his race has long been debated with several scholars saying he likely
looked like what many modern day people of Middle Eastern descent look
I get that there may be some confusion about Santa Claus, given that he's basically a Dutch cartoon character, but Jesus? Come on. Insofar as he was a real person, the guy was from Judea, basically the present-day West Bank. You know, because that's where Bethlehem is, and he was supposedly born in a manger there. I think the whole "Christ" story is bullshit, but who the hell doesn't know the story of Jesus's birth? Surely "God"-fearing Megyn does. And, you know, people from that part of the world aren't "white," unless you stupidly think "white" is anything, oh, non-black. But maybe "fact"-based Megyn thinks just that. Or maybe thinks Jesus is the cartoon character of the right-wing Christian imagination.
I was not expecting the budget deal to include extending unemployment benefits, so I was not surprised when it didn’t.
Individual pain aside, that will greatly undermine if not completely cancel the stimulative effect of the deal. It will also represent something of an official surrender by the federal government on unemployment, since the long-term unemployed are increasingly who we are talking about (short-term unemployment is now lower than it was in 2007).
The cost of another year of extended UI was estimated at about $25 billion—not much more than the symbolic money thrown at deficit reduction in the deal. That will bug a lot of congressional Democrats, as it should.
But not enough to get them to actually do anything about it.
I know how negotiations work and I know that compromise means that someone is going to get the short end of the deal. It’s always the people who have no power, which is why they get the short end of the deal: if they had any power…. you know the drill.
The maddening part of this reality is that both Democrats and Republicans all talk as if they actually give a shit about the unempowered unemployed. It’s a toss-up between the Galtian bootstrapism of the Republicans — hey, if you won’t work, you shouldn’t eat — and the synthetic sympathy of Democrats who wring their hands, say they’re really like to help, but don’t actually take it to the wall. They’re both saying the same thing.
President Obama's handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday was met with a mostly muted reaction from conservatives and Republicans. Invoking memories of the Munich Agreement, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) broke the right's silence with a harsh assessment of the gesture. "It gives Raul some propaganda to continue to prop up his dictatorial, brutal regime, that's all," McCain said of the handshake between the two world leaders that took place at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. When asked if Obama should have extended his hand, McCain was quick to respond. "Of course not," the senator said. "Why should you shake hands with somebody who's keeping Americans in prison? I mean, what's the point?" Then, after a slight pause, McCain went there. "Neville Chamberlain shook hands with Hitler," he added.
Seriously. A fucking handshake. At a memorial service. For Nelson Mandela. It was the mature thing to do, nothing like the childish impetuousness that characterizes Republicans' interactions with pretty much everyone and everything. Maybe it signified a willingness to engage Cuba as a way of opening that country to liberty and democracy (as opposed to isolating it and enabling its totalitarian regime, as Republicans prefer), but maybe it signified nothing. So there. But while we're here, remind me again who sold arms to Iran, who cozied up to Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War, who propped up dictators like Pinochet, Noriega, and the Shah of Iran, who kissed and held hands with Saudi royals, and, oh, who tried to make nice with Gaddafi? Fucking hypocrite.
Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his "ranch" in Libya - interesting meeting with an interesting man. — John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) August 15, 2009
By Michael J.W. Stickings Yes, Steve King. Again. I think this is his eleventh appearance as CRD. The last one was... wait... a whole year ago? Huh. But it's not like he hasn't been crazy in 2013. One just tires of his craziness. I mean, he could be our CRD every day of every week of every month of every year. Alongside, you know, Louie Gohmert, Michele Bachmann, etc., etc. Republicans are nothing if not generous with the material they provide us. In any event, we did write about King in 2013, but the focus wasn't so much on "craziness" as on... anti-immigrant bigotry, with which the Iowa congressman is brimming. And, yes, he was at it again yesterday:
Rep. Steve King said Tuesday that granting amnesty to immigrants in this country illegally is more than the equivalent of giving a pass to a bank robber, it's like letting them keep the money, too.
"To grant amnesty is to pardon immigration lawbreakers and reward them with the objective of their crime," King said at a Washington panel on amnesty hosted by the conservative group Judicial Watch on Tuesday. "Whatever their objective is, the advocates of amnesty are seeking to grant them their objective."
"And it isn't just as if amnesty for someone whom, say, might go in and rob a bank, because granting them amnesty would be when they get out on the street with the loot, you would say to them, 'I'm going to give you amnesty, now you're not going to be able to rob the bank anymore,'" King said. "But this is giving them the loot, too. You get to rob the bank and keep the money. That's what amnesty really is, it's pardon them for the crime and reward them with the objective of it. And it breaks down our culture and our civilization."
Well, no, it's this sort of bigotry that's breaking down "our culture and our civilization," though of course what he means by our culture and our civilization is, well, disturbing. What does it mean? Well, what? No dark-skinned people? No Spanish-speaking people? Is White Iowa his utopia?
I think Barack Obama took a swing and a miss in his eulogy of Nelson Mandela this morning. In a rare moment, I believe he misread his audience.
In fairness, it’s easy to get caught up in the dignity of the moment, and the fact that nearly 100 world leaders – the single largest gathering in history – were in attendance. It was easy to be somber and reflective. It was easy to point to his struggle and his imprisonment.
Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I'm not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."
It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection - because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried - that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood - a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what's possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.
And yet, much of the front half of his speech was precisely an attempt to chisel in stone Mandela’s legacy to his people and to the world and in so doing, made him and the people of South Africa a portraiture.
Behind the Ad: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce likes coal and Republicans who agree
By Richard K. Barry As Roll Call reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released a second TV ad this week cheering on another Republican Senate candidate who loves coal. This time it's West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito who gets the helping hand as she attempts to capture the seat that will be left vacant due to Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller's departure.
The ad follows a TV ad released on Monday in Kentucky that focused on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to support coal. Coal is poised to play a central role in both states’ Senate races.
I'm quite taken by the folksiness of this piece. I think they dug up Grandpa Walton to do the voice over. Of course Grandpa Walton (aka Will Geer) was a well known lefty in real life, and he is dead. Maybe they got Wilford Brimley.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled plans to attend memorial events for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, citing travel and security costs, Israeli media reported Sunday.
Netanyahu, whose spending habits have recently come under fire, cited costs of about $2 million to travel to South Africa for the memorial, Haaretz reports.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama said Sunday that he won’t travel to South Africa either, AFP reports. It wasn’t immediately clear why, but the Dalai Lama has been visas to visit the country twice since 2009.
South Africa was one of the first members to vote in favor of creating the state of Israel and as relations between Israel and the rest of the Middle East worsened in subsequent decades, South Africa stood alone, from Egypt to the Cape of Good Hope as being Israel’s only ally on the continent.
In turn, Israel was the last nation standing in support of the apartheid forces in the nation. The rise of Mandela could not have sat well with them. Indeed,it has been rumoured that Israel launched a nuclear development program with the Botha government (possibly culminating in the “Vela incident,” altho no one has ever claimed responsibility for that) and forcing the United States into an uncomfortable position of covering up possible Israel nuclear capabilities. In 1997, Ha’aretz reported that indeed it was a South African weapons test, conducted using Israeli designs.
When Mandela took office, he received offers to visit every nation in the world…except Israel (which he visited anyway in 1999 in conjunction with a visit to the Palestinian territories.) To his death, Mandela was vociferous about his support for a Palestinian state.
By Richard K. Barry Having made positive statements about Nelson Mandela upon his passing, Newt Gingrich received significant criticism from fellow conservatives who continue to view Mandela as a terrorist, or something of the kind. A public statement and video appeared on Gingrich's website as a response to his critics. The full statement is also linked below. I'd say Gingrich's response speaks for itself and he deserves credit for saying what he said. I wonder, however, how often the United States has found itself on the wrong side of wars and conflicts for the sake of national liberation, and how easily Gingrich's comments could be applied in those cases as we look back over the course of history. Gingrich:
Yesterday I issued a heartfelt and personal statement about the passing of President Nelson Mandela. I said that his family and his country would be in my prayers and Callista’s prayers.
I was surprised by the hostility and vehemence of some of the people who reacted to me saying a kind word about a unique historic figure.
So let me say to those conservatives who don’t want to honor Nelson Mandela, what would you have done?
Sigh. I like Jonathan Bernstein a whole lot. He's a very smart guy and I've learned so much from him. But sometimes, he is such an idiot. This week he wrote, Still Hoping to Save the Filibuster. His argument is that with lifetime appointments, there really should be some kind of legislative check against the majority. So he offers up some ideas for how we could maintain something along the lines ofFilibuster Lite. One idea is that the majority would have to get unanimous agreement. He has other similar ideas.
The problem with all of them is the problem with the filibuster itself. And Bernstein himself has written repeatedly and at length that the problem was not the filibuster but the Republican Party. What would Bernstein's proposal mean with a big tent party like the Democrats and a tiny tent party like the Republicans? When the Republicans were in control, the most extreme judges would be put on the bench for life. But when the Democrats were in control, the Blue Dogs would insist on "moderate" judges; no more Ruth Bader Ginsburgs. (And note: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hardly an extremist.)
Martin Longman takes on all of Bernstein's proposals, Don't Revive the Filibuster. But even it doesn't get at the most important aspect of all of this. Namely that the Republicans wanted to kill the filibuster and they would have killed it the first chance they got, regardless of whether the Senate came up with some kind of deal or not.
At Esquire, Alan Goldfarb writes this interesting bit on the prohibition in certain states on drinking alcohol on Election Day before the polls are closed:
I don’t know about you, but on a typical Election Day I like to wake up, hit my local saloon, drink til the ballot looks blurry, and then head to my district’s polling center. I’ve found there’s no easier way to go from undecided voter to deciding I want to vote for: a slice of pizza. Luckily, I live in New York where tippling on Election Day is legal, but if I lived in Alaska, Kentucky, or South Carolina, I wouldn’t be allowed to imbibe whatsoever because alcohol cannot be served on Election Day until the polls close. (This is still a relic of a century ago when bars actually served as polling centers.) Looking at the list of men and women running those states, I have to wonder if perhaps they’d be faring better if a drunk electorate had done the voting instead.
I supposed it's fair to ask if, for example, the voters of Alaska chose someone as stupid as Sarah Palin as their governor because they were too drunk or too sober. And I say that as a resident of Toronto where the daily sobriety of our mayor is the more pressing issue. I won't even try to tackle how he got the top job in the first place, though we can drink on Election Day before the polls close in Ontario, for whatever that's worth.